What an annoying word! We hear and experience it all the time, with seemingly no end to the “mis-” of it all.

Miscommunication is inevitable when we’re dealing with people. Right?

Maybe not. Being human guarantees we won’t “get it right” 100% of the time—it also means we strive to do and be better, so if we can reduce the amount of miscommunication on our end of things, we can contribute to the general death of “miscommunication”.

Though there are many things contributing to poor communication, speaking with clarity—our message is delivered inline with our intentions—goes a long, long, long way in preventing drama and repetitive conversations.

There are 4 skills we can employ to speak with clarity when conversations get tough:

  1. Story ≠ truth
  2. Say what you mean
  3. Share how you got to your conclusions
  4. Do NOT exaggerate

Reflecting on the previous night’s events, Patrick shook his head in disbelief.  He estimated a single email had blown up to at least 20 emails, 5 phone calls, 20+ texts, multiple hallway conversations, snaps, instant messages, etc.  Not good for his career.

Unfortunately, we tend to kick up a lot dust when it comes to tough conversations. 

Rewind back 12 hours.  Patrick was running the night shift.  After he had the team settled in on the schedule and made his rounds he sat down to catch up on emails.  Shortly after he began a new email popped up from the night operational administrator, Cindy.  It was short and direct.  “Prep room 8015 on the East wing.  We have a VIP arriving tomorrow morning and that room is to be held for them.”

That was it.  No explanation, no prep time, no suggestions on what to do with the patient and family recently assigned to the room in question.

As Patrick finished reading he felt his pulse quicken and face growing hot.  He said out loud to the computer screen: “Not this time, Cindy!  Always bossing us around like minions stops here!  We are not your puppets and I’m not screwing over my staff and my existing patients for you to play hero and suck up to the VIP and senior management.”

He replied simply, “No.  Cannot accommodate. Full.” Send.

As usual, Cindy was juggling the normal inundation of emails, calls, and texts associated with monitoring the entire hospital overnight.  She saw the response from Patrick and immediately responded. “Not an option.  This is a must do!  VIP expecting the accommodation.  Make it happen please.”  She copied Patrick’s director and her director on the response.  Send.

Enter directors with emails of their own.  Suddenly the email chain is broken.  Patrick is emailing his director.  Cindy is emailing hers.  The directors are calling Scheduling.  Cindy is texting a VP.  Patrick is texting his leads to not answer communication unless it’s from him.  Time is flying by.

By 1:00 AM at least 17 people are caught in the turmoil.  All sorts of communication are flowing by word of mouth, text, email, phone call, Snapchat, Messenger, Marco Polo, and instant message!

A meeting request for 6:00 AM hits like a brick.  It’s the VP, Gladys.  John sets back from his screen.  Across the hospital, Cindy does the same.  They plan their communication for the morning carefully, sort of like preparing for battle.

Tension was thick at 6:00 AM.  Glady’s walked in quickly, looked at the directors, Patrick, Cindy, and the others from Guest Relations, Admitting, Scheduling, and Housekeeping.  As she sat down, she stated, “The wife of our 3rd largest donor starts surgery in 15 minutes.  Somebody in here better tell me arrangements are in place for one of our best private rooms by the time she gets out of surgery at 1:00 PM!”  Patrick’s jaw nearly hit the table.  The patient currently in his best room on the West wing will be discharged by 8:30 AM.  It’s a no-brainer!”  He mentions the availability of the room.  Glady’s says, “Make it happen and text me to confirm the room is cleaned and ready by noon and again when our new patient and family are situated.”  She gets up and walks out.

Walking back to his office Patrick couldn’t believe the ridiculousness of the night.  He and Cindy had looked like fools and drug the entire team, including their directors and other departments into the mess over something that should have been solved in one phone call.

Where did things get sideways and what might have prevented the situation?

4 skills to speak with clarity:


  • Story ≠ Truth. Patrick’s story was that Cindy was using her authority to boss around his unit so she could look good for senior management.  His story created emotions that jumped him straight to attack mode.  The truth was that Cindy had received a call from the CEO, a text from her VP, an email from the surgeon, and an alert from admissions about the VIP arriving for emergency surgery and the urgency of having a room ready by 8:00 AM.  Earlier in the shift, she had walked through Patrick’s unit and saw the room empty.  She specifically suggested that room because it was available and in her story, thought it would pose the least disruption.  In addition, she selected Patrick’s unit because they had received such great compliments from the last several patient reviews and she wanted the best of the best for the VIP while offering Patrick and his staff an opportunity to shine.


  • Say what you mean. Don’t rely on subtext and don’t be over simplistic.  Cindy’s original request assumed Patrick understood he had options.  She sent it from her phone and didn’t want to type a bunch of detail on the phone keyboard.  While efficient to type, important information was left unsaid.  Patrick’s response, even shorter, tumbled into the All-or-Nothing trap.  The room either was or was not available, no other options.  Both were caught in a narrow, oversimplified view while misinterpreting the bigger picture on either side.


  • Share how you got to your conclusion. Patrick and Cindy both jumped straight into fight mode.  They made no effort to share how they got to their conclusions about the situation.  Without this vital information, they were stuck in story.  Most concerning in their case, is that if they choose to continue not sharing how they get to those conclusions and feelings of fight or flight mode, the cycle will repeat.  Eventually, one if not both, will find they’re out of a job.  Sharing the context of our conclusions provides space for learning and growth.  Often two sides can arrive at two perfectly logical conclusions yet far apart from each other based on the slightest of difference in interpretation, facts, experience, and individual strengths.  Sharing provides room to learn and understand the gaps.


  • Do NOT Exaggerate. Being certain you’re right while not making room for discussion or using words like “always” and “never” are examples of exaggeration in conversation. In either case you’re not making room for conversation.  Patrick’s first thought was Cindy “always” bosses his unit around.  In reality, Cindy works well with his unit most nights.  The exaggeration in his logic fueled his frustration an enabled the lightning quick jump to his story without leaving room for Cindy’s side.


*Bonus Skill*

Talk about the impact of your Strengths:

If you’ve taken StrengthsFinder, you know we each have unique combinations of Strengths that act as our filters for the way we receive, process, and send communication.  Your Strengths affect your thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Even if the other person hasn’t taken the Strengths assessment, sharing yours in a way that uses common language provides insight valuable to you both.  For example, Patrick might share with Cindy that two of his top Strengths are Responsibility and Discipline.  Because of those strengths, he carefully lays out specific, detailed plans to insure things run predictably and efficiently on his unit.  He feels deep responsibility to provide the absolute best care for patients and family.  Urgent and last-minute changes disrupt the normal unit flow and create opportunity for errors.  He doesn’t mind making changes provided he gets as much time and information as possible to assimilate the change into his team’s plan.

Successful communication is clear, open, understanding, and purposeful.  Successful communication moves us forward in accomplishing our goals.  Unfortunately, we tend kick up a lot of dust, clouding our view, and missing the goal.

How’s the communication at your office, hospital, shop floor, school, lab, university, or organization?  Things a little hazy?

If you want to clear up your communications, check out the only course of its kind that combines individual strengths and communication skills help your team know “How To Talk About It”.

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