What to Do When Others Misinterpret Your Words

What should you do when a team member has not understand your task assignment? What do you do when somebody misinterprets your words? What to do when others are not doing what you meant?

The first reaction might be focusing on telling others what they would need to do. Some people might end up blaming others for not doing the job as it should have done.

Don’t do that.

If somebody misinterprets your words then it’s your job to articulate yourself better
The policy “If you are saying something, and others don’t get the message – then it must be on the receiving end” is a bad one. The first thing you might want to check is to make absolutely certain where the problem lies. Not for the reason to blame, but for the reason to solve the problem. As they say: unless you first locate the problem, you cannot fix it. Your team members might give you hints that will help you locate the problem. They might tell what you should have done, and you can use these clues to spot the problem.

If your focus on thinking what others should have done better, then you might be missing some obvious mistakes you are doing. Even if I first think that the other should have done a better job, I can think about my own behavior and see if there’s some improvements in my approach. Often I can spot some obvious flaws in my approach and can make the necessary adjustments.

Some practical examples:

  • If your sound artist is not doing the kind of music you want, then you can tell him what kind of music you want. You can also ask him to help you to help him. Ask him to tell you what he needs you to do, and then do that.
  • If your animator is not doing the kind of work you expect, then give samples to animations what you want to see. Heck, show examples using your own body. Wave your arms and jump if necessary. Again you can ask your artist to help you with it.
  • If the level designer cannot follow your plan, then you might want to check out your plan together and ask for specific details what’s wrong with it.
  • If the marketing department doesn’t get the idea on what’s the big idea, then go on and show examples on how other studios have marketed their product and describe and show how your product is different.

Do this
If you blame the other (or worse – don’t even say that aloud) you are kind of stuck. If others misinterpret your words as a leader, then it’s your job to take any necessary actions to make sure the message reaches the other end. Improve your own approach, involve the other party and ask specific questions regarding what’s not clear. Don’t focus on finding out whose fault it is. Make it a situation where both parties are focusing on finding the solution.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. James. Yeah I’ve been accused of “micro managing” in the past. But I used to like to explain in detail the first few times then get them to do more on their own initiative after that.

  2. @Jake: Good one… and a good post.

    @James: Yeh, even when reading might take longer now… we all know that change in plans in the definition phase is much less expensive that change made in the coding/modeling/composing phase.

  3. I fully agree here. Usually I try and thoroughly explain everything from the start as I know how much it annoys me if I’m left in the dark or work has to be redone due to.

    I have found that this can sometimes have the unwanted side effect of sounding condescending (at times), aside from the fact that it takes longer to write and read, but I’d rather someone pick me up on explaining too much than too little.

  4. Yeah I 100% agree Juuso. When I used to run an accounting software software business, if my helpdesk staff complained that the customer didn’t understand them and did something wrong etc, I’d say “you need to improve how you communicate to them then so there can be no misinterpretation”. For example, if you say “Shut down the PC”, a large % of shop workers will just press the off button, they won’t use wondows to shut it down properly. Also if you say “close the server” meaning the “server program”, they will just power off the PC. So the correct wording was very important to get the correct action, save time, and avoid frustration.

  5. It’s your job to articulate better, but sometimes no matter how good you do it the other person doesn’t get it, so your job is to find new person.

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