3 common causes of misunderstanding in the workplace | Inquirer Business

3 common causes of misunderstanding in the workplace

/ 01:54 AM October 14, 2022

Communication seeks to achieve understanding among two individuals or groups. Much of communication deals with knowing what to say to another person with the goal of being understood.

We asked Maricel Badilla, our subject matter expert on communication and marketing, about some of the common causes of miscommunication and misunderstanding, which include generation gaps and cultural differences.


Generation gaps

This refers to differences in actions, beliefs and opinions that exist between individuals from different generations.

A simple example would be that generations have developed a variety of codes and nuances in the use of words. The term jingle, for instance, universally means a short song. In the ’80s however, the term jingle could also refer to peeing.


Even communication styles are different. Messages via chat can be considered official for a Z-ennial, but for a Gen X-er, anything official should be sent via email. The younger ones grew up with a dependence on technology, so sometimes a phone call or a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation can be stressful for them.

In a multigenerational workforce where Gen Zs, millennials, Gen X and baby boomers work together, we should learn to express our thoughts in a way that our bosses and subordinates will be able to understand what we want to say. The use of shortcuts GTG, BRB, GGSS and IDK may not be easily understood by the Gen X or boomer boss (If you don’t get these, you are one, so just Google!), and may think of LOL negatively as u-LOL.

Cultural differences

Cultural differences may also be a cause of misunderstanding. Touching one’s head is an act of endearment for Filipinos but to Thais, the head is the most sacred part of the body and should not be touched.

When presenting, there are those from future-oriented cultures who want to hear about the opportunities and potential benefits. There are those from past-oriented cultures wherein past achievements are important to gain respect and credibility.

Faulty translations may also be a cause of misunderstanding. Some words may mean differently in different dialects or languages and may be used inappropriately. The term “susu” in Bahasa pertains to milk while in Filipino it means breasts. Imagine what may happen if an Indonesian orders a cup of “susu” from a female food server in Manila.

It becomes a problem when one carelessly assumes the meaning of a word or phrase. This is more common in organizations with stakeholders that come from different nationalities.

As communicators, we should be mindful of how we say things, including our body language and facial expressions and the timing of the things we say. The goal of the communication process is to be understood and to seek common ground. We can all work together well by learning how best to communicate with the people we work for and with.


Badilla will facilitate a virtual workshop titled “Communicate to Collaborate: Adaptability and Openness for High Performance” on Nov. 24-25. The eight-hour, hands-on virtual workshop will help you learn communication tools and strategies, most especially if the organization has employees from different generations and/or cultures.

This workshop can also be customized specifically to the needs of your organization.

For more information, you may write to [email protected], or send an SMS to 0919-3428667 and 0998-9641731.

For your other online learning needs, Inquirer Academy could assist you in designing and facilitating a virtual workshop, a webinar, or a self-paced online course for your organization.

The author is the executive director of Inquirer Academy.

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