The article “How to Recover after a Communication Breakdown” by Charlie Powell shares how to respond when a communication breakdown occurs. This includes how to determine what went wrong; how to rebuild after a breakdown; and how to prevent breakdowns in the future. In what he calls the “anatomy of communication,” he shares five major aspects of communication as well as the questions to ask when something goes wrong.

  1. Sender: this is the person/organization trying to deliver a message. When something goes wrong, it’s important to review whether the message was sent to all relevant parties and whether the message was appropriately shared.
  2. Coding: this is the language of the communication. If there is a breakdown in communication, review the clarity of the message and double-check the details provided.
  3. Channel: the medium by which the message was sent. When there is a problem, ask the following questions about the channel: How many mediums were used? Were there reminders? Or were there too many reminders?
  4. Decoding: the translation of the message. When determining if decoding is the problem in a communication breakdown, review whether the receivers understood the message you intended. If not, what caused the block? Are they uninterested? Distracted?
  5. Feedback: this is how each receiver responds. If there is no response, then you know there was a breakdown at some point. This could range from disinterest to a critical event happening that prevented attendance.

Powell noted how outside forces such as distractions and emotions can be a major hindrance in making sure communication hits its mark. It is important to mitigate these outside factors as much as possible and have important communications done in a quiet office. Powell also remarked that in high risk environments – such as a veterinary clinic – communication is most essential and breakdowns are common. By really understanding the five core aspects of a message and the distractions that happen in your environment, you can learn how to be a better communicator and not only remedy the problem when a breakdown happens but also prevent future ones.

When someone is upset and comes to you, find a quiet, secluded area where you can empathize without placating. Also assess your own emotions, because emotions of the sender are a common component of communication breakdown.

The most difficult challenge to overcome: a situation where one or more involved parties have lost trust in another person because of acts that were intentional. “Some say,” the article says, “that lost trust can never be regained.” Powell therefore encourages forethought, so that when a breakdown occurs, you can help prevent escalation, which would have a negative impact on your team working together well.