Tips for Avoiding Startup Miscommunication Disasters

Miscommunication is about as common as dirt in startup companies.

Just as its the main source of conflict and plot in comedy, misunderstanding from miscommunication is one of the main sources of conflict between coworkers. If you want to keep the comedies of errors from turning into tragedies, there are some simple things you and your team can do to communicate better.

Work together in person whenever possible

In-person time is invaluable for learning and teaching the little idiosyncrasies, expectations, scripts, and norms which you and your coworkers follow as you do your work. These are the things you must know when a miscommunication happens if you want to keep miscommunication from escalating into conflict.

If you know that Bob is a nice guy but a real staid, introverted guy, you’re not going to be bothered by his terse emails. If you know that Tim is a real go-getter and an opinionated guy by nature, you’re not going to be as bothered by his opinionated and hard-driving email style.

Get vocal (and visual)

Having a disagreement over text (like Slack) or email? Switch mediums. Intention is often lost in translation in text. Until your coworkers know your personality well, it can be hard to determine tone from written messages. What to you might just be a simple confirmation might to them be laden with emotional subtext if it’s received as abrupt or terse.

If in-person work isn’t possible, there are some alternatives. Still, those alternatives need to mimic real in-person conversation as much as possible. Try a video call – it’s hard to misconstrue facial and body expressions. If that doesn’t work, a phone call will at least preserve tone of voice.

Use emojis

Still rely on text and emails for a lot of your messaging with coworkers? If you want to be very clear about your intended tone with a message (and you do), consider using an emoji or better punctuation to signal your intent. This is one my coworker taught me, and he uses it to great effect.


“Sure. thanks.” – what your coworker thinks: What did I do to piss this guy/gal off?


“Sure thing – thanks! 😃”what your coworker thinks: 😃 We are doing great!

Be intentional about feedback

Set aside dedicated time to share and receive feedback from your coworkers. Ask for frank feedback about the the things you do that bug them, the things you do that help, and the things you could be doing better.

The point here is to set aside dedicated and “criticism-safe” time and space to allow for direct and honest feedback on things that would normally get buried or internalized. You want people to tell you outright what you are doing wrong. It’s a lot better than letting things fester under the surface.

Spend time together outside of work

Fun time away from work is a powerful time to build relationships with your colleagues. If they discover that you share hobbies, or backgrounds, or experiences, they’re going to be much less likely to assume negative intent from you when a miscommunication happens. You can forge friendships with your coworkers during the time outside of work, and friendships can easily handle the occasional disagreement or miscommunication.

You can do this even if your coworkers are remote. Be intentional about sparking conversations about non-work things. Praise them. Point out commonalities. Ask questions about their lives.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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