Soft Skills Insights

We unpack behavior science, habit research, and academic research to provide practical insight into how to upgrade your people's critical thinking, communication, people management, and time management skills

4 Tools to Reduce Miscommunication

communication critical thinking Jul 21, 2022
4 Tools to Reduce Miscommunication

Miscommunication is one of the leading causes of project delays and failures. According to the Project Management Institute, “ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one-third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.” The consequences of miscommunication are costly too, costing the average company of at least 100,000 employees over $62 million per year.  Miscommunication affects employees too, leading to low morale and missed performance goals, according to a study by The Economist.

Clear and coherent communication is difficult because it relies on strong critical thinking. All good communication flows from good thinking. This is why we include comprehension as the first milestone in the first phase of our Critical Thinking Roadmap.

But even if you’re thinking critically, communication can be challenging because it requires 3 acts of conversion. First, you have to convert your thoughts into words, then you have to convert your words into words that make sense to the other person, and third, they have to convert your words into their thoughts. Conversion gaps happen when we fail to communicate in ways that reflect our thinking or we communicate in ways that don’t make sense to our audience.

How to Close Conversion Gaps

To close these 3 “conversion gaps”, we recommend using 4 critical thinking tools: 

  • Why/What/How/When 
  • Rearticulation Test
  • Prototyping
  • Rapid Iteration


When delegating work or receiving an assignment from someone else, make sure you understand these 4 dimensions of the assignment: why, what, how, and when. It is common to leave one or more of these elements out because it may seem obvious to you as either the one delegating the task or the one receiving the assignment.  

For example, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that when physicians referred a patient to a specialty consultant, they made explicit the purpose of the referral in only 76% of cases. How could they overlook providing this most essential piece of information in a quarter of cases? To them, the reason was obvious. They failed to appreciate the gap between what was in their heads and the heads of the specialists. 

The why/what/how/when tool helps you avoid forgetting to share important information by giving you a clear framework of information to share every time. When delegating to more experienced or competent team members, you can share only the why or why and what, and then ask them to fill in the rest.

Rearticulation Test

To ensure you understand the task assigned to you, try rearticulating the assignment in your own words – in either written or verbal form – and share your rearticulation with the one assigning you the work. The rearticulation test closes the conversion gap by giving the communicator the chance to see if they accurately converted their thoughts into words and to see if their words accurately converted into thoughts in your head. When rearticulating, make sure you put it in your own words versus simply repeating what they shared. 

It’s not uncommon for the one delegating the assignment to make adjustments to the assignment after hearing it played back to them. If you’re the one delegating especially to new or inexperienced team members, consider requiring them to rearticulate assignments before beginning them.


A prototype is a simplified model of the desired deliverable designed to enable the testing of an idea or concept. For example, a prototype of a written report could be an outline of the report. A prototype of a financial model could be a sketch of the model’s structure. The goal of a prototype is to convert some element(s) of the final deliverable into something tangible so that you don’t risk experiencing a conversion gap by leaving the conversation in the realm of your thoughts or words. People find it much easier to respond to something tangible. 

Prototypes are particularly helpful for longer, more resource-intensive projects, assignments you’ve haven’t done before, or abstract, more conceptual assignments. They, more than the first 2 tools, close the conversion gap between our thoughts and words. 

Rapid Iteration

Iteration is the process of bringing your work back to your supervisor or client and getting their feedback. If the iterative cycles are short (i.e., the time between check-ins is short), there is a smaller chance that you will get off track or diverge in perspectives. To rapidly iterate, think of the key decision points involved in your work and then schedule check-ins at times when you’ll have reached each of those decision points. Rapid iteration shrinks the conversion gap by minimizing the amount of conversion necessary in between check-ins.

Miscommunication is very common because of the conversion gaps you must overcome to avoid it, but this doesn’t have to be the case. If you take an intentional approach to using these 4 tools, you’ll be much more likely to deliver projects on time and on target, save your organization money, and improve your morale and professional development.


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