What Leads to Communication Problems in the Workplace Between Departments?

Miscommunication can lead to arguments and bad feelings between departments.
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You thought you had an understanding with the accounting department, but when you all sit down to discuss the latest project, it feels as though somebody’s speaking ancient Egyptian -- and you don’t think it’s you. A look at your team members' faces shows they feel the same way. Before you let your frustration get the better of you, consider some of the possible reasons why your communication may have gone awry.


Every profession has its own jargon. If you’ve always worked in health care but never in the non-profit outpatient sector, you probably have no idea that the acronym FQHC stands for “federally qualified health center,” let alone what an FQHC is or does. Acronyms can make communication faster and more efficient, but only if all the players understand the terms. Pay close attention to people’s expressions when you speak. If anyone looks the slightest bit puzzled by a term, take time to explain it.


Today’s workplace can be incredibly diverse. You may all speak English, but one team member grew up in a fully bilingual household where both English and Spanish were spoken, while another grew up speaking primarily Cantonese and learned English as an adult. In this situation, it’s probably not the technical terms that will be the problem, it’s idioms or slang that people will find puzzling. When your British colleague makes an offhand comment about an agony aunt, it may take you a few minutes to figure out she means a newspaper advice columnist.

Unresolved Conflicts

Conflict can begin with a communication problem, but it can also set the stage for communication difficulties in the future. People will disagree -- which is perfectly normal. However, if the conflict isn’t resolved, it may lead to hurt feelings, resentment or chronic anger on both sides. Like a couple headed for divorce, if one side makes a comment, the other side takes it personally and fires back. After a few exchanges of this sort, communication between the two departments can become a battleground.


Gender can affect communication, especially if one department is primarily composed of men and another of women. Men, for example, may focus on data and statistics while women want to share experiences, according to Simma Lieberman, author of “Putting Diversity to Work.” Women may want to spend time discussing possible problems at length to gain understanding, while men may prefer to cut to the chase and start working on solutions. The difference in styles may make one group impatient with or puzzled by the other.

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