The Tragic Unseen Costs of Digital Miscommunication

Digital miscommunication has far reaching negative consequences for all businesses by eating away at their productivity channels.

When thinking of causes of workplace inefficiency, things like a mismatch of employee and company values immediately comes to mind. However, what often doesn’t come up is how a company may be misusing digital communication, and the costly day-to-day as well as long-term ramifications of leaving it unaddressed.

The Quantitative Cost of Poor Digital Communication

Factors such as confidence in coworkers may not be issues that have a visible effect on revenue and profit, but there is definitely a correlation. Long-term miscommunication creates devastating losses regardless of the size of a business.

A survey of companies with around 100 employees found that inadequate communication between staff cost the companies an average of $420,000. And on a bigger scale, companies with 100,000 employees found an average loss of $62.4 million per year!

For businesses, time is money, and time spent on repealing the aftereffects of poor digital communication is a loss of money. A poorly constructed email containing instructions that makes an employee ask and then wait for clarification, can eat up valuable minutes of working time.

For example, the average hourly wage in the United States is $22.59 per hour, and if poor digital communication wastes about 10 minutes on average, that is $3.80 in pay per employee every email with no return.

It’s easy to see how the cost of digital miscommunication increases the more employees there are in a company, and how something as trivial as improper email construction can end up costing hours of productive work and thousands, if not millions, of dollars for no outcome.

The Qualitative Cost of Poor Digital Communication

Approximately 90% of a message’s meaning is conveyed by bodily and social cues, such as tone, context, and eye-contact, rather than the words used — and unsurprisingly enough, most of this is lost through email.

There is a human need to attribute meaning to everything due to preconceptions and biases, so the lack of human context in email invites inserting one’s own interpretations of the sender’s intentions which, in the case of poorly constructed emails, are often misinterpretations.

Misinterpretations of emails can lead to not properly understanding instructions, but it also breeds many other more complex problems which can lead to rising tensions, problem escalation, and a lack of collaborative spirit. For example, a bad experience with an unclear email can cause one to dismiss it as an effective form of communication, as well as have negative impressions of the sender.

Poor digital communication will often lead to further miscommunication, creating a vicious cycle of problems. Employee morale, workplace culture, collaboration, company reputation, the list goes on — these are all things that can be damaged.

Changing Poor Digital Communication Into Effective Conversations

Email conversation, like any other kind of conversation, requires people actively participating to make it work. To make it work well, they have to do even more in the form of self-reflection. Senders have to proofread before sending emails and ask themselves questions such as, “am I communicating effectively”?

This means being clear and concise with the message so the meaning isn’t lost. Whether this is done by removing unnecessary words or highlighting key points, the recipient should be able to reliably understand the email on first glance.

This means putting themselves into the recipient’s shoes so they can see how the other person would interpret the email. This involves the capacity to understand and share the feelings of the other person by giving the benefit of the doubt during moments of confusion.

This ultimately means being more empathetic to compensate for the lost human context, and remembering that it’s not a computer, but rather another person on the receiving end of your email.


Winston Tran is an undergraduate student majoring in cognitive science and double minoring in psychology and english. He is currently a summer business development intern at Turalt and enjoys writing blog posts every so often.

Turalt provides AI solutions to online communications pain in the workplace. We provide as-you-write, real-time feedback and insights into the impact of business communications.

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