Miscommunications happen. It’s a fact of business life. We can do everything to avoid them in the first place and yet, sometimes, this isn’t enough.

The surest way to prevent a miscommunication from slowing productivity—or derailing a project—is to address it is as soon as possible. Typically, email is the quickest way to do this.

This type of message needs to be written carefully to avoid further miscommunication or bruising relationships with your colleagues.

For the Initial Email:

  • Write a little, not a lot. Your initial message should be brief. Simply state that you want to make sure you have all the details straight or want to clarify something. Set up a time to speak in person or over the phone, and end the email.
  • Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that the miscommunication is on their part; it very well could be your mistake! The root of many miscommunications is an assumption.
  • Speak face-to-face or over the phone. An email just isn’t the right place to hash out details, especially if they’re touchy. Questions and confusions can be resolved much more easily (and quickly!) with a conversation. Better yet, these types of conversations are much more likely to strengthen your working relationship. Don’t hide behind your computer when a miscommunication arises, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

Here’s an example of an initial email:

Hi, Camryn & Phil—I’m not totally clear about my responsibilities in analyzing the survey’s engagement & satisfaction results. Just have a few quick questions.

Can we schedule a 15-minute face time conversation sometime this afternoon or tomorrow? I want to have all my ducks in a row before I dive in. Thanks!

This email clearly and concisely addresses the problem—and takes action to resolve it—without blaming anyone.

After the details are all straightened out and everyone is on the same page, emails can go a long way to prevent future miscommunications and make the entire project or task a more enjoyable, successful experience.

For the Follow-Up Email(s):

  • Articulate your thoughts from the conversation. After speaking about the miscommunication, take the time to write out your perspective briefly, of course. This affirms what was discussed, as well as encourages your colleagues to share their thoughts (which, in turn, builds a more open and communicative team). Try to use phrases like “I feel” or “I see.”
  • Write about you, not them. Write about your perspective. Never assume that you know theirs.
  • Touch base frequently. Consider emailing specific colleagues on a regular basis to update them on your progress and ask about theirs. This helps you and your team stay on the same page as you complete a project. Consider starting a group email, designated by a clear subject line (for example, “Product Analysis Progress Update”) that you can all respond to as needed.

Here’s an example of a Follow-Up email:

Camryn & Phil—Thanks for chatting with me yesterday. I believe we nailed down the details of our individual responsibilities. I’m excited to start plugging the data into the programs today. Thanks again!

A message like this goes a long way to alleviate tensions or stresses caused by a miscommunication. Better yet, it also helps prevents any further misunderstanding.

How about you? How have you addressed a misunderstanding via email? How did the miscommunication get resolved?

If you’d like more tips and strategies for writing emails, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and receive our Guide to Better Business Email Etiquette.

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