Clarifying missunderstandings

Communication is fundamental in the workplace. It can either be verbal or written and internal (with colleagues and managers) or external (with clients – suppliers etc.). Getting it wrong can be embarrassing and even costly. This activity will look at ways in which misunderstandings can be clarified so that you are able to proceed.

Misunderstandings at work can be difficult. They can typically arise from two situations; either you misunderstand something that was communicated to you, or you communicate to another person and they do not understand what you mean. In either situation there are words and phrases that you can use to help clarify the situation; these have been categorized into three sections below:


Asking for clarification

The following sentences can be used when you do not understand something you have heard/ read and require clarification:

What do you mean by …?

Do you mean …?

Could you repeat that? (spoken communication only)

Could you clarify what you mean by …?

Could you be more specific …?

Could you give me an example of …?

Could you elaborate on that please?


Expressing a lack of understanding

The following sentences can be used when you need to state that you do not understand something:

I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean.

I’m not sure I follow you.

I don’t see what you are getting at.

I don’t know what you mean.

Remember that in order to be polite, we often start phrases such as these with the word ‘Sorry’.


Clarifying your point

The following sentence can be used when something you have communicated has not been understood:

Let me put it another way ….

Let me explain what I mean ….

Sorry, let me explain.

Let me expand on that.

In other words …

To say it another way ….


The majority of terms used are polite and formal. As we are discussing misunderstandings at work, blunt, to the point messages may be too harsh and should be avoided.