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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Communication mistakes can be fatal – prevent them!

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Miss Taken is a character depicting a type of miscommunication

What is a leading cause of medical mistakes, business blunders, and relationship breakdowns?

Meet “Miss Taken” – AKA the message is wrong, often without the sender or receiver even realizing the error.

Communication errors can result from many sources: Improper word usage, switching negative and positive, typos, improper grammar, inaccurate numbers or statistics, misplaced decimal points, incorrect punctuation, and more.

Have you ever encountered “Miss Taken”?

If you’ve sent or received a message with a mistake, the answer is YES.

Let’s look at the consequences of “Miss Taken.”

Communication mistakes in medicine

In medical settings, communication mistakes can be fatal. In healthcare, “Miss Taken” most often shows up during the transfer of patients, referred to as “hand-offs.” The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare found the leading cause of serious adverse events is miscommunication during these transfers. Their goal is to improve communication in healthcare settings, resulting in zero harm.

A benchmarking report of malpractice cases found poor communication to be a factor in 30% of all cases and in 37% of high-severity injury cases. Communication breakdowns occurred between providers as well as between providers and patients. According to this report:

“Information is the currency of safe care, and communication is the vehicle by which that currency moves. Every health care encounter involves communication between a patient and a provider, and in most cases, between multiple providers who are part of the care team… Across all specialties and care delivery settings, miscommunication begets misinformation. If the systems that providers rely on to alert them to information gaps or discrepancies are inadequate, then misinformation can lead to mismanaged care, unmet expectations, and patient harm.”

Communication mistakes in business

“Miss Taken” also shows up in business, industry, academic, and government settings and leads to errors costing billions, not to mention unhappy customers, employees, and leaders. A classic example to illustrate the progression of communication errors is referred to as the Project Management Tree Swing Cartoon:

The Project Management Tree Swing Cartoon, source:

“Miss Taken” is apparent in every illustration above. It shows how communication mistakes often go unchecked and grow progressively worse. When they are noticed is when the “blame game” begins. And that leads to even more problems.

Communication mistakes in relationships

“Miss Taken” also shows up in families, social groups, and all types of settings where people gather, causing relationship issues and breakdowns. Most communication failures in relationships are caused by other types of miscommunication, such as “Miss Understanding” and “Miss Perception,” but “Miss Taken” makes an appearance when we aren’t careful.

Preventing communication mistakes

How can we prevent communication mistakes? Check your messages. Check your facts. Double-check them. Have someone else check them. If possible, allow time between crafting a message and delivering it. If you are the recipient and something seems wrong, ask, “Did you mean…?”

Communication mistakes can be fatal - prevent them! Find out what your most common communication errors are by taking the free quiz.

“Although we live in an information technology age, we often find ourselves in failure to communicate situations.” ~ Johnny Tan

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