Five ingredients of miscommunication.

Published by Cristina Pana on


In my professional and personal experience, I find myself in many miscommunication situations. Talking to my friends, clients and work colleagues and looking retrospectively, I came to the conclusion that there are five ingredients that mixed together result in miscommunication.

Firstly, we often find ourselves in situations of misunderstanding and disagreement. It sometimes happen, failing to interpret or understand the words or actions of someone correctly.

With a little bit of patience and openness, this can be clarified. As a little kid I was amused by a 2 stupid dogs episode. They are fighting over a vase, more exactly on the pronunciation of it. Vaaz or veis, british or american pronunciation, you can reach an agreement on how to say it at the end on the day.  Or break the vase, nevertheless you have a conclusion on the matter.

At the same time, what goes beyond misunderstanding and has a strong impact on communication, is the missed understanding. The critical information I am missing, the what I don’t know I don’t know.

Likewise, it can come in the form of unintentionally withholding information. We easily fall in the trap of “This is redundant / This is obvious” and we forget to think: Who needs to know what I know?. I see this behaviour especially in duplicated work and effort. Working with a limited pool of data makes it more likely to take inferior decisions.

Add up speed. The need for rush in taking action, doing things and thinking fast.

In the software development industry the emphasis is set on being agile and dynamic, in delivering fast and reduce the time to market. Thus having a lot of pressure in crunching data fast and reacting quickly. And being quick does not always translate in good decision making or expressing yourself clearly and explicit. 

In addition to this, imagine a layer of personal expectations. This is a big distraction from paying attention to the other person in as much as possible objective manner.

Imagine this as a loud voice, that you hear in the same time people are talking to you. Who do you think gets to be heard first or speaks louder? 

Above all, sprinkle a bit of hubris (noun, excessive pride or self-confidence) and you have a perfect miscommunication pie.

The ‘I am right, you don’t understand’, ‘My solution works 100%’, I won’t listen to other points of view, I know what’s best’, ‘It is impossible to fail’. See these familiar examples of hubris:

  • The Titanic was practically unsinkable
  • Luke Skywalker makes the decision to leave Dagobah and face Darth Vader alone
  • Nokia thought they were the world’s best mobile phone company.

Consider you are at a sprint planning with complex user stories to estimate. Or a retrospective after a harder sprint. Maybe in a debate on what technology or tool to choose. Or in a product increment review with executives and stakeholders. These are certainly good opportunities for miscommunication to happen.

How to handle all of this camouflaged traps? With this purpose in mind, I will share some ideas and practices in the next blog post that may help you in managing these interactions.


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