4 Common Communication Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t make the same mistakes as us!

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #116

Recently one of the lisabmarshall marketing interns sent out an email to all of my LinkedIn contacts. In her zeal, she made a few unfortunate communication errors that, quite frankly, upset quite a few people. So, I wanted to start this episode by saying, I’m sorry. This episode is dedicated to her and to anyone else who recently made a mistake in communication. (Now that I think about it, I just dedicated an episode to myself!)

The podcast edition of this article was sponsored by Audible. You can get a free audiobook to keep when you sign up for a free 14-day trial at audiblepodcast.com/lisa (It’s really a great service.)

Common Communication Mistakes to Avoid

So, today’s quick and dirty tip is just a reminder that communication mistakes happen all the time. To recover, try to undo your mistake, apologize, and perhaps ask what you can do to make up for the error. (By the way, it’s the last step that most people don’t do and is perhaps the most important step.)

We’re Sorry for Our BIG Communication Mistake

In our case, unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do to “undo” the mistake. After the unfortunate incident, I didn’t want to compound the issue by sending a bulk email apology, so I went directly to step 2 and updated my social media statuses with a sincere apology. I spent the better part of this week emailing apologies and trying to set things straight. (Again, both the intern and I are extremely sorry for the mistake. It really was just an innocent misunderstanding of the assignment.)

When I was telling the story to my friend Larissa, she reminded me of the old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So the intern and I decided to co-write this two-part program on surviving a communication mishap. Rest assured that in the second part (out later this month), we’ll cover very practical tips to help you avoid the embarrassment we endured.

But, for this episode, we thought you might like to hear some stories of common communication mistakes just reassure you that they happen all the time. And yes, they can be embarrassing, but they are inevitable. So, if you are reading/listening this now because of a recent error, I’m hoping these stories will help give you some perspective and perhaps even a smile. You’ll know you’re not alone! No matter how skilled you are as a communicator, occasionally we make a mistake. 

Communication Mistake #1: Crossed-Wires

One of my favorite stories of miscommunication comes from author, Shela Dean. We recently took a workshop together and she shared this story. She said to me:

When Dale [Shela’s husban first began spending nights at my house, he used the guest bathroom. One morning, as I was heading for my shower, he asked, “Can we shower at the same time?” “Sure!” I responded enthusiastically, and then quickly hopped into my shower and waited for him. Minutes later the water went ice cold and I learned just how effective “taking a cold shower” can be.

Shela explained to me:

What I heard was, “Can we shower together?” What he meant was, “Can we run both showers at the same time?”

In this case the misunderstanding was simply a crossed wire and didn’t cause any real harm. But, as Shela points out in her book, repeated unspoken crossed-wires can take a big toll on a relationship. Small mistakes can have big consequences. The same thing holds for communication mistakes at work.

Communication Mistake #2: A Company Wide Communication Mistake

To recover from a communication mistake, apologize and ask what you can do to make up for the error.

On the day that I started a new job (this was when email was just beginning to become popular--and yes, I am THAT old), I confidently walked in, sat down, and read the first email in my inbox, which had been sent to the entire company. Then, in one awful moment, I accidentally hit “reply all” instead of “reply.’” Instantly the whole office, my new workplace, was asking “Who is this Lisa Marshall person? Doesn’t this idiot know how to use email?” Needless to say, that was not my best first impression as the new program manager of technology! I simply shrugged, said, oops, and moved on. I couldn’t undo it and apologizing to the entire company would have made it worse.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.