Avoiding communication breakdown
The 4 C’s Part 1: “That’s Not What I Meant!”

How to avoid communication breakdowns through preparation and action

Even when we speak the same language, the message we intend doesn’t always get through. And that’s a costly problem. Miscommunication can cause:

  • Distrust
  • Stress
  • Wasted time
  • Broken relationships
  • Mistakes
  • Wasted money!
  • Confusion
  • Incorrect assumptions


  • Doubt
  • Conflict

Even when we think we’ve done a good job, messages break down. Here are three common reasons why (covered in more detail here).

  • Message not delivered.
    Maybe you meant to send it but forgot or ran out of time. Maybe you avoided it because you knew the person wouldn’t want to hear it. Maybe someone was out when you delivered it. Maybe someone was supposed to relay your message and didn’t.
  • Message not complete.
    Maybe it went through too many people and got muddled along the way. Maybe you thought you were being thorough, but you missed key elements the audience needed. Maybe you rushed and left out an important detail. Or maybe it sounded like a good idea, but nobody was assigned to do it or nobody followed up to make sure it got done—so it didn’t.
  • Message not understood.
    Maybe it was perfectly clear to you, but your audience interpreted it another way (this is called an “assumption gap”). Maybe your audience got distracted and didn’t pay attention. Maybe the medium was wrong—too much information to convey in a conversation or too complicated to explain in an email or not appropriate for a text or IM. Maybe it got lost in translation—too much jargon, acronyms, or idioms kept people from understanding it the way you intended.

Regardless of the reason, miscommunication is the SENDER’S responsibility!
It’s up to you to OWN the messages you send and if and how they’re received. Getting familiar with communication problems can help you avoid them.

Get in the habit of “noticing and naming” why communication broke down—whether in a message you sent or one you received.

These 5 considerations (covered in more detail here) will help you better prepare any communication:

5 Considerations to Avoid Miscommunication

  • Audience: Who and how
    • Who’s your audience? What are they thinking? How are they feeling?
    • What do they think about you?
    • What’s the best way to communicate to them, given the situation?
    • How will you engage them?
    • How do you want them to receive the message?
  • Message: What and why
    • What is the message and WHY is it important to THEM? (WIFM!)
    • What problem are you trying to solve?
    • What do you want your audience to know?
    • What’s the impact you want to make with the message?
  • Messenger: Tailor delivery
    • Strategize: Are you the right person to deliver it? Should others participate?
    • Be committed to what you’re delivering—if you don’t believe in the message, waiver, or hesitate, it won’t work.
    • How do you want your audience to perceive you?
    • Match your energy to the situation; positive and negative messages alike will feed off your energy.
    • Don’t wing it. Structure the message so it makes sense for your audience.
    • Rehearse—practice does make perfect!
  • Timing: When and how long
    • Find the right time—the best time—to deliver the message.
    • Set aside enough time for questions.
    • Allow time after delivery to confirm the audience understand the message.
  • Method: Medium and setting
    • Determine the best delivery mode—privately in person, in a group setting, over videoconference, by phone, by email.

Beyond Delivery: Conversation!
Often, you’re not simply “delivering a message.” You want to have a productive conversation and avoid miscommunication throughout. For that we turn to the 4 C’s: Connect, Communicate, Confirm, Collaborate. We’ll start to unpack those in our next post .

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