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According to many anthropologists, one of the turning points in human development was a growing ability to communicate. In fiction, one of the turning points in dramatic development was the ability not to communicate.
Sometimes, this poor communication can be entirely legitimate. After all, miscommunication and misunderstanding are Truth in Television, and some stories are written with this point in mind. This often happens in mystery stories, such as where a murderer kills an innocent victimdue to a misunderstanding.
But frequently, a situation arises where the author wants the plot to go a certain direction, but for it to do so, one or more characters have to misunderstand each other. Common enough in Real Life, so it should be no trouble to pull off in fiction, right? Well, there's a few problems... the misunderstanding is pretty easy to clear up, and the characters are pretty good speakers who are on good terms and speak frankly to each other without needlessly holding back.
So what's the author to do? They have the coolestplot twist or Climax Boss fight, but it absolutely hinges on these guys being, however briefly, unable to articulate their point. To solve this problem, the author reduces the characters' verbal skills to those of three-year-olds. Shy three-year-olds, with a stutter. And then we see that poor communication kills.
All the characters involved go out of character for a moment so that they can't (or won't) tell their side of the story, or creates a false urgency because there's "No Time to Explain", or just plain making them act like a disgruntled loner and telling their friends to Figure It Out Yourself when cooperation (or at least non-interference) is infinitely preferable. No matter which reason, it seems that at least half of the people involved have simultaneously gotten hold of the Idiot Ball, if not everyone.
Or to summarize: Poor Communication Kills is when a misunderstanding is entirely implausible and against the characters' previously exhibited communication skills, personality, and relationship(s), and any normal person could clear up the misunderstanding in less than 30 seconds and solve the plot. (However, those rarer instances when in-character poor communication kills can count, too.) This is a frequent companion trope of the Idiot Ball and can often drive an Idiot Plot right off a cliff.
Though similar, this trope does not include things like Selective Obliviousness, You're Just Jealous, or Sarcastic Confession, as those are failures to listen rather than speak; though, honestly, authors can nerf even that ability when they need the Reasonable Authority Figure to become a useless adult.
NOTE: though the trope name includes "kills", no death has to happen. It's a pun: "poor communication skills" and "poor communication kills" — death does sometimes happen as a result of poor communication.
Compare Dramatically Missing the Point; Open Mouth, Insert Foot; Impeded Messenger; Doomed Appointment.
Contrast: Just Eat Gilligan, Amnesia Danger. See Facial Dialogue for those times in which a character seems unable to communicate, but actually can get entire encyclopedias of information across with just body language and a twist of the eyebrow.
This is a trope rife with major plot points by necessity. Spoilers shall be unmarked.
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Common ways to NOT get the point across
Angrish - A character is too angry to get his point across coherently.
Locked Out of the Loop - Keeping vital information from the hero, either for valid reasons or "just because". Rarely ends amicably.
Lost In Transmission - You are getting some vital information when suddenly, right as you are being told the key ingredient, the phone cuts out. Or the radio falls into static, or the computer has a psychotic break from reality. In any case, you are now standing there with a green wire in one hand, a red wire in the other, and no idea which one you were supposed to cut.
Love You and Everybody - A character confesses platonic love for something, and is misunderstood to mean romantic love.
Mathematician's Answer - You ask someone a question, and the answer they give you is completely correct and completely useless.
Metaphorically True - Telling the recipient something the speaker knows is not true, or at least mostly not true (and is likely very aware that the listener will take it the wrong way), but considers it justified as being true.
You Make Me Sic - A character writes something to another... but the only response they get is that their spelling needs work.
Anime and Manga
In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Hohenheim could have said, for instance, "Alphonse. Edward. Dad has something very important to do and might be gone for a long time. Take care of each other and your mom until I get back okay?" Instead, he gives his kids what amounts to a Death Glare with the expressions on Al and Ed's face making it look like they think their dad hates them and having "Dad abandoned us" issues when their mom dies. That's good parenting right there. This might have been intentional, however, given how much Hohenheim hates himself, and it could have also been meant to be a deterrent to keep them from seeking him out and getting themselves killed.
In Gakuen Tengoku, Oshino's inability to articulate the fact that he's a new teacher got him his ass beat.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni takes a very... er... literal angle on this because most arcs are One Side of the Story, and that the series in general contains proliferation of Cryptic Conversations and characters who Cannot Spit It Out. In fact, the latter point becomes a major Aesop of the series. In some cases the use of this trope is mildly justified by the fact that the 'main' character hasn't really known the rest of the cast for that long — and the things they're not talking about are often rather more serious secrets than is usual for this trope. Like, say, the fact that you just murdered someone.
One Detective Conan case had an injured American tourist recuperating in a Japanese household and falling in love with a young woman. Because of a mouth injury, at first he could only communicate by writing out Japanese phrases phonetically. As he was leaving, the young woman asked if he loved her, and he wrote down the word "shine", referring to his earlier words that he wanted a "shining bride", but which she quite naturally interpreted as "shi-ne," which happens to be Japanese for "die". The woman committed suicide after he left, and when he came back he ended up murdering her father and a family friend in revenge. What an Idiot.
Another one: A manager murders the lead singer of her rock band because he was an abusive Jerkass. It turns out that the singer was in love with the manager, but was upset over her getting rhinoplasty because he liked her the way she was. His rude behavior was him lashing out when he was really mad at himself for inspiring her to change herself just to please him.
Only barely averted in a more recent story about a wife who tends to go overboard and her fed-up husband who thought she was ruining his relationships with his workmates by emailing them with her suspicions she was actually thanking them for taking him out on camping trips but to be careful because of his rare blood type; because they didn't want to accidentally hurt him they stopped asking him out. Unfortunately he didn't realize this until after he tricked her into attacking him to cure his hiccups so he could kill her. Fortunately she survived and even forgave him — after all they're going to be parents!
A woman killed her sister because she stole her boyfriend. Turns out the boyfriend was actually the one who initiated everything by falling for his girlfriend's sister and telling the sister to pretend that she was the one who initiated things, not the guy.
Monster sometimes relies on this trope. The show is full of characters who know bits and pieces of the overall puzzle; two of them will often unknowingly meet up, but fail to say the right things. Examples include Tenma's first meeting with Grimmer and Nina's first meeting with Lotte (who even mentions her friend Johan, just never by name).
Elfen Lied is also a noteworthy offender. The good guys have almost enough information to explain the whole plot and background story, but never get the idea that any of their friends might be interested in their personal side adventures.
Most trouble in Binbou Shimai Monogatari stems from the two sisters simply not talking with each other about what's bothering them.
In The Movie finale to the series, the ELS attempt to understand humanity by absorbing and assimilating them, apparently not realizing that doing so is killing the humans they're trying it on. They also attempt to contact Innovators and proto-Innovators telepathically, but the sheer amount of information they transmit sounds like screaming to these telepaths, and basically Mind Rapes them.
A significant amount of the angst had Kira (or anyone else on the Archangel) felt the need say to ZAFT something along the lines of "Hey, there's about 30 civilians on board this ship". Then again,Yzak would most likely just shoot them anyway, believing them to be fleeing soldiers.
Athrun telling Nicol that the pilot Strike was a friend of his whom tragic circumstances forced him into reluctantly fighting, and not evil and hell bent on slaughtering them would have likely saved Nicol's life later on. Instead Nicol suicides into Strike in a vain attempt to save Athrun's life, which was never in danger because Kira would likely have just left Athrun alone.
In Gundam SEED Destiny, after destroying the Freedom and apparently killing Kira, Shinn goes up to Athrun (who's his team leader) and says "I got revenge, for both of us"...and Athrun punches him in the face. Shinn was referring to how Freedom destroyed Athrun's Saviour Gundam and left him badly injured, and is completely unaware that Kira and Athrun are childhood friends, so he's incredibly confused and angry at this expression of anti-gratitude.
Destiny is good at this. The entire conflict between the old and new cast could have been entirely avoided if both sides would at least have made an attempt to speak to each other. Kira and his friends intervene when Orb faces the Minerva to try to get Orb to back off, but after this fails Kira proceeds to just shoot at everyone (non lethally of course) without even trying to say anything to Minerva. Not even explaintion their intentions or a "Lay off of Orb and we'll help you get out alive." nothing. And Minerva instead of contacting Kira's side to ask what the hell they are doing, just kind of silently glares at them. Later on, when Zaft's invading Orb to get Djbril after the corrupt administration insists on protecting him, Kira and co show up halfway to take over control of Orb again, ordering everyone not currently fighting Zaft to go find Djbril to kick him out. But they don't tell Zaft this. Instead they keep fighting them, while trying to get Djbril with limited manpower instead of trying to work something out. As a result Djbril gets away.
In Appleseed Ex Machina the government advises the general public to hand over very handy Connexus-devices by saying that they've been "deemed harmful." Instead of simply saying, "These devices turn you into insane cyber-zombie and may force the police to shoot you." Needless to say, few listen.
Mai gets involved with the HiME Festival by being told she'll have to risk the most important thing to her. She assumes it's her life, as does apparently every other HiME. Not quite.
Nagi informs the HiME that the HiME Star is descending and will continue to do so until someone gains its power. The earthquakes and weather shifts caused by its movement make the HiME consider that it will destroy the world otherwise. Not really, but the perceived time crunch forces several of the more impulsive HiME into actions they might've waited before taking otherwise.
Yukariko blames Nao for attacking her after the above revelation, in reality an illusion projected by her CHILD. Nao, already a bitter, cynical girl by nature, assumes the HiME coming to confront her about attacking Yukariko are attacking her first, and loses an eye in the resulting fight, firmly shoving her from Anti-Hero into an antagonist slot.
Mikoto's training and arguable brainwashing at a young age repeatedly spawn Diabolus Ex Machina, killing Takumi and Yuiichi both.
Shizuru's failure to inform Haruka she was leaving the school to look after her grievously hurt best friend leads to Haruka tracking her down, seeing Shizuru's private actions while Natsuki is asleep, and jumping to all the wrong conclusions. Her eventual accusations of her molesting Natsuki while she slept, in Natsuki's hearing, cause Natsuki to react...poorly to Shizuru's attempts to reassure her, and the perceived rejection causes Shizuru to have a psychotic break and kill lots of people that "could threaten Natsuki", ending in the deaths of Haruka, Section 1, Nao's mother, and Shizuru and Natsuki themselves in the final showdown.
In the manga Saitama Chainsaw Shoujo, the main character is a bad speaker with self-confidence issues whose only two friends suddenly stop talking to her after a transfer student joins the school and steals her boyfriend. She doesn't take it well, feeling crushed and friendless, and soon decides that revenge followed by suicide is the only option she has left.
Another: Seriously, you couldn't tell the New Transfer Student that the entire class's lives depended on ignoring a student's existence so you could avoid an evil ghost curse BEFORE he started attending class and tried making friends with said ignored student and not trust you because you chose to be threateningly vague about it until THREE PEOPLE DIED and it became obvious that the "Charm" was no longer an option...
Of course Mei acting ambiguously and not letting anyone know her long lost twin sister was actually the first victim in the curse didn't help things either. Nor did Akazawa blaming her for everything since it seemed that at that point in the anime/manga mostly everyone was so past the Despair Event Horizon that they were willing to agree and...well, things just got worse after that...
The entire series of Ranma ½ is made of this trope. This is lampshaded at least once, after Akane beat up Ranma who was trying to get a scroll with a secret technique, which was incidentally in the Hotspring Akane was in. After Akane's father explains she says Ranma could have just told her. His rather accurate response is "And just how often do you listen before clobbering me?"
Parodied in Hayate the Combat Butler. There is an episode that has Hayate spending the night at Hinagiku's house; then Hinagiku end up bumping with Ayumu, Hayate's other love interest and Hina's new friend as well. That's when she says this is bad, and the narrator detailedly explains this trope, commenting that Hinagiku fears that Ayumu will find out somehow that Hayate is inside the house, then will run away and get frustrated because of a misunderstanding. And then it happens.
Although it hasn't killed anyone yet, Hayate seems to be a master at this. The entire story was started because he couldn't articulate himself correctly.
The time it nearly resulted in someone getting killed was in Izumi's arc. Her father asks him if his child, Izumi loves him, and he answers 'yes' Kotetsu. Hayate ends up having to fight in a lava pit, what is supposed to be a fight to the death. Izumi gets closer to dying because she's wearing silk.
Code Geass' Lelouch, in his arrogance and tendency towards accepting inordinate amounts of responsibility and refusing to make excuses, is guilty of this multiple times. The best (or worst) example is when he decides against telling Suzaku the truth about geassing Euphemia; instead of telling him it was an accident caused by Mode Lock, he instead accepts full responsibility for it. Suzaku can tell he is lying, but the damage has already been done: Schneizel had Kanon secretly spy on the conversation, and later plays the admission by itself when meeting with the Black Knights, which, along with some other questionable evidence presented in such a way to cause distrust, lead the Black Knights to turn on their leader.
Even earlier than that, Lelouch and Euphemia's critical lack of communication results in the situation becoming much worse than it needed to be. Lelouch assumed that he was being undermined, rather than understanding that Euphemia, caring for Lelouch, Cornelia and Nunnally, couldn't accept the idea of Cornelia and Lelouch potentially killing one another, deciding that forcing Lelouch to surrender would be better for Nunnally. She does try to communicate to him beforehand, but their meeting is cut short, and Euphemia no longer has the option to delay. When she actually gets the time to tell him, he agrees with her sentiment, but she has only barely avoided being mind controlled... and Lelouch has already displayed signs of falling into Mode Lock, leading to a lot of unfortunate and unnecessary deaths immediately afterwards.
In Sekirei, the protagonist's sister gets a Sekirei named Shiina. His goal is to find Kusano, his sister (whether they're actually related is unknown, but Shiina is #107 and Kusano is #108). Yukari proceeds to heartlessly beat any Ashikabi she comes across (she's become a massive bitch in the process somehow, even though some of her victims deserved it) and then ask them where Kusano is. Kusano is one of her brother's Sekirei.
Even if she thinks she can't call him (you're not allowed to talk about Sekirei to Muggles, and she doesn't know he's an Ashikabi), visiting Izumo Inn would have resolved this whole subplot and now she's been kidnapped by Higa.
There are numerous small scale incidents of this, mainly because everyone likes to keep everyone else Locked Out of the Loop, especially Minato.
Near the end of The Vision of Escaflowne, Van attempts to kill Dilandau and Allen leaps to his rescue, apparently having never bothered to let Van in on the fact that Dilandau is actually Allen's younger sister who has been sex-changed and driven psychotic by Zaibach. Rather than explain, "Hey, don't kill him, he's my kid sister, Allen tells Van that Allen himself should be held responsible for all of Dilandau's crimes. And rather than ask for further explanation, Van's response is along the lines of, "Okay, sure, then let's fight to the death."
It could be argued that they just really, really wanted to beat the crap out of each other. Both knew full well that Allen's statements were "crazy" and begging for explanation, but further discussion would take away their long-awaited excuse to fight.
The entire "White Devil incident" from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS and a good deal of angst on Teana's part could've been avoided with either more feedback from Nanoha or a single mention from Teana about Nanoha's own training (presumably leading to her learning about the latter's Heroic RROD earlier).
Poor communication leads to at least three-fourths of the fights in this series. The antagonists usually have very good reasons for their actions, it just takes a few Starlight Breakers before they're willing to talk about it.
In a filler arc of Naruto ended with the 6 Tails being captured, likely entirely because no one decided to warn him about the Akatsuki.
Add to that Utakata being to afraid to tell any of the heroes that he's a Jinchuuriki in the first place in the end did more harm than good.
Eureka Seven's Holland. If you take a shot for every time he conceals important information from other people (especially Renton), don't expect to be awaken by the end of any given episode. No, nobody necessarily dies because of it, but he was the source of much pain and frustration for everyone just because he wouldn't talk.
Possibly one of the best examples: at a point in the series, Eureka tries to "return to the earth" due to her Coralian nature; after that, her body goes through mild modifications and she gets comatose. Nobody wants to tell Renton that Eureka is not human, so nobody tells him anything. This reaches the stupid level when Holland decides to go on a LFO to find a priest who could help her. Renton practically begs for him to tell him what's happening to Eureka. Any normal person would simply say, "Eureka's sick. Rare disease. Gonna get a doctor". Holland, on the other hand, goes "SHUT UP, BRAT!" and punches Renton in the face. Smooth.
It's even Lampshaded in Super Robot Wars Z, with several of the other characters (including Garrod, amusingly enough) calling Holland out for his douchebaggery after Renton leaves.
Dewey and Dominic go the opposite way. Dominic delivers a report on Gekko State, specifically detailing Renton becoming Eureka's partner. Even after Dominic stresses the importance of his report Dewey either never receives or never reads the report because it wasn't deemed important enough. This massively comes back to bite them in the ass.
Kanade Tachibana in Angel Beats!. Bad enough that it's caused a war with a nearly 100% death toll for all its participants, regularly. It's a good thing nobody stays dead there.
Maison Ikkoku features a lot of this, while playing with or subverting it at other times. Godai attempts to explain himself several times, but the situations he finds himself in are often so outlandish that Kyoko doesn't believe him. It's played straight for Coach Mitaka and his potential fiancee Asuna by the end, though- it ends up removing him from the picture entirely.
In Not Simple, the protagonist Ian commits suicide after hearing that the woman he loved (and whom he planned to run away together with once they reunited) died since he last saw her three years ago. This was told to him by a girl named Irene, whose mother had recounted the story of Ian and her Aunt to her since the Aunt died. However, it all turned out to be a mistake, as Irene was unaware that it was actually her mother who had met and planned to run away with Ian... she was just lying to protect her daughter's feelings.
Used heavily but then averted in Heroic Age, in that the aliens attack and war against humans without warning, but when several actions make it clear they have a hard time understanding each others' motives, both sides enter negotiations and call a truce.
The two major conflicts in Mahou Sensei Negima! could theoretically have been mostly avoided, had the Big Bads just sat down with everybody else and explained the situation and proposed solution, rather than causing massive amounts of trouble and not telling anyone why they're doing what they're doing. Case in point, if Chao and/or Fate would have taken the time to explain that Mundus Magicus was in danger of collapsing rather than going freelance and causing tons of collateral damage, they probably would have solved the problem by now.
In later chapters (300+), Negi seems to have understood this, but most of his opponents are too pissed off against him to listen. He's also been pretty vague about what he's going to do about that, so it at least goes both ways.
In Bleach, a filler villain spent the majority of his lifetime becoming a captain so that he could kill Yamamoto for killing his father, spending countless years researching and acquiring a bakkoto, which his father had told him about in his last words, and he assumed Yamamoto had killed him for using one to become more powerful. Then it turns out his father's last words were "Beware the Bakkoto," telling his son to STAY AWAY FROM the things which had killed him. Because Amagai didn't hear ONE WORD, he completely misinterpreted the meaning of his father's last words, and died.Yep. Furthermore, when he confronts Yamamoto about this, Yamamoto doesn't bother to justify his actions and explain what really happened.
Another filler villain got his master sealed away for a hundred or so years because their relationship deteriorated, causing him not to be able to hear his call, and come to his side. SoMuramasa spent a century and a half trying to recruit a force to free his master Kouga.. Only to be stabbed to death by said master because the fact that Kouga was a Jerkass to him before he got sealed away meant that Muramasa couldn't hear him calling him. Again, yep.
During the Fullbring arc, half of the problems could have been avoided if Ishida had shared his suspicions about Ginjo earlier. Ryuuken even calls them out on not sharing information. Although he's the one to talk, considering the number this trope's done on his relationship with his kid...
Really almost ALL the problems could be solved with proper communication. Ichigo never really tries to explain to his friends that Tsukishima isn't what he appears to be, instead he has emotional breakdowns and attacks him in front of everyone (every bit appearing as insane as they accuse him of acting). Ichigo's father and Urahara never tell him that they're working on a way to restore his powers, instead just having secret back alley meetings behind his back giving him every reason to feel paranoid and isolated. And one of the only major problems that DOESN'T come to pass, that Soul Society has been secretly keeping tabs on him, comes out well BECAUSE Ukitake let Ichigo know about it ahead of time so Ichigo could reciprocate with a little trust.
This is a Running Gag with Princess Vivi in One Piece. She constantly forgets to inform the Straw Hats about very important things from Baroque Works agents to the Alabastian desert wildlife until they have already happened.
A more serious example occurs when Luffy and Usopp were arguing about whether to keep the Going Merry, who was beyond fixing. Usopp misinterprets Luffy's decision to not fix Merry as "dumping" whatever became useless (and Usopp had been dealing with confidence issues since the beginning). Usopp fails to mention that he believes that the ship is sentient which goes a long way to explain his behavior.
The Stand user Tizziano from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure can actually invoke this with his Stand Talking Heads. It attaches to it's victim's tongue and makes them say the opposite of what they intended. This also extends to writing and gesturing. Useless as an offensive stand, but it works to silence the one witness to another, more offense-based stand.
Tsukigasa would have no story if it weren't for this trope. Nobody remotely discussed what exactly happened when Azuma cut Kuroe's arm off or their feelings for each other, leading to everyone having a completely different idea of what went on and who regretted what. When Kuroe comes back it still takes them a long time to finally come out with the truth. Kuroe is also nearly arrested by Tatsumi because he was too stubborn to reveal he wasn't actively a criminal in front of Azuma.
In Kanon, Yuichi Aizawa used to visit his aunt Akiko and cousin Nayuki in their quiet little town every holiday, but one year something happened and he left for seven years. The entire plot would be brought to a halt if not for this and There Are No Therapists.
In The Idolmaster, The Producer doesn't clear Miki's misconception about her entering the idol unit that Ritsuko created, which almost ends up with Miki quitting being an idol for good a few episodes later.
The main character in Steins;Gate apparently doesn't think it's worth mentioning to anyone that one of the people they know is a spy and is going to murder one of them and kidnap the rest. He goes through countless iterations without it ever occurring to him at any point that he might want to discuss the situation with his friends, who are directly endangered by their own ignorance. Worse, this means that if he ever screws up, he won't be able to change the past to reverse it and have another attempt; if he made sure to tell a friend on each iteration, they could reverse things even if he were killed. He did end up realizing this and told Kurisu because she was the most reliable and only person he realized would take him seriously.
In Fate/Zero, if Kariya had only bothered to explain to Tokiomi why giving Sakura to Zouken Matou was a horrible, unforgivable idea, rather than just ranting semi-incoherently and attacking, he might have managed to get an ally in seeking to free Sakura from Zouken as soon as possible, rather than ending up with both of them dead (albeit one by a third party) and Sakura in Zouken's hands for another ten years at minimum.
A good chunk of the main arc of Sailor Moon's R saga. Mamoru/Darien gets a series of dreams that suggest something horrible will happen to Usagi/Serena if they stay together. Rather than warn Usagi, Mamoru decides to push her away. It takes him about 20 episodes to finally tell Usagi about the dreams, by which point Usagi is driven to the Despair Event Horizon and nearly killed by the arc's Big Bad in at least one occasion.
Otherwise, in Different Story, Mami misinterpreted Kyoko's "I see you a little differently than a friend" as she was seeing Mami as senior, whom she will abandoned after she got strong. In reality, Kyoko's thinking Mami as family.
Sayaka hates Homura because she thinks Homura deliberately waited until after Mami was killed before showing up to save the day. Madoka was there and knows that Mami tied Homura up with magic ribbons that only dissipated when Mami died, but is unable to speak up before Sayaka leaves.
Many of the skits in Daily Lives of High School Boys could have been resolved in a far less humiliating way if the character(s) involved had actually spoken out instead of Internal Monologue-ing for five or so minutes. The frequency of this theme is actually one of the main points of that brought the suspicion for the author being the "Bomber Grape," as most of the latter's Touhou comics use it for Running Gags.
Jeremy tries to tell Sandra, Ian, and William a couple different times that Greg is abusing him. However, due mostly to Cannot Spit It Out, his efforts are trampled and he eventually tampers with Greg's car and kills him, and by accident, Sandra.
During the Cell Saga Dragon Ball Z, Goku's utter failure to explain his plan for defeating Cell. Had he taken a moment during the several days of prep time that Cell gave them to explain that he intended for Gohan to fight Cell, someone - Piccolo, maybe, or even Gohan himself - could have told him just why this was a bad idea. Yes, Gohan was the only one strong enough to have a chance against Cell, but if Goku had been a bit more open from the beginning, at the very least he might have taken the fight more seriously. Instead, we ended up with the fiasco that resulted in his death and very nearly resulted in his son's.
Then again, this isGoku we're talking about here. Keep in mind, he didn't exactly drag Gohan towards Cell so that he could fight him. Also, his interaction with Gohan had the latter doubting whether he could take Cell, so Goku was at least aware of Gohan's self-doubt. He chose to assuage his son of it with his support, and some would say, a great deal of pressure. It wasn't just Piccolo yelling at him that got him to consider it might be a bad idea. After all, him and the others were calling him out throughout Gohan's fight with Cell. He had to see for himself that his son was in real trouble for it all to sink in. So, a simple talking to wasn't gonna fly with this guy. He had to see for himself.
For that matter, Bulma apparently didn't think it was important to tell 16 that she removed the nuke inside his body. This comes back to bite them when he tries to self-destruct in order to kill Cell and can't because the bomb was removed.
Holy crap, Berserk. This is probably one of the biggest themes of the manga, in that Griffith's downward spiral, leading ultimaley to the eclipse, the merging of the worlds and all that other stuff could all have been avoided has him and Guts ever simply talked things out with one another. The phrase "the world's most tragic misunderstanding" has been used on more than a few occasions to describe the series, and it's pretty accurate.
In the case of School Days, literally. This trope's role in the series really can't be overstated — every time a misunderstanding can happen, it does. The worst part is that the characters know it's happening ("Wait, he's dating her? But she said..."), yet they never make the effort to sort it out. Lives are destroyed because the right people are never all together in one conversation.
In Kurokami, had the Big Bad simply explained that he was out to kill off a whopping third of the entire human population because if he didn't, a Bigger Bad would come along and kill off every single living being on the planet, at the very least, the good guys might have been at least more willing to sit down and talk things out. It didn't help that the Big Bad seemed to only employ Obviously Eviljerkasses into his organization.
In Magic Knight Rayearth, Clef's failure to give the girls the full version of the legend of the Magic Knights results in a fair bit of trauma.note It's true that he was separated early on, but he still had a way to communicate. But because he Cannot Spit It Out, he tells the girls a Metaphorical Truth (or, in the Darkhorse translation, an outright lie) and they are subsequently shattered when they learn that they were summoned to kill Emeraude, not save her. The girls spend most of Part II trying to subvert this trope.
In Suite Pretty Cure ♪, Hibiki and Kanade's friendship is shattered prior to the series starting because they told each other that they'd wait for each other by a tree at the school entrance on the first day of school. Their school has four entrances and they didn't say which one. It takes a year, the two become Cures, and two children doing the same thing to realize where they messed up.
In the first chronological arc of Ooku: the Inner Chambers, Reverend Kasuga takes every opportunity to convince the young abbot Arikoto that he was selected to become a catamite for the pleasure of the Shogun (with everything from imprisonment up to and including murdering people before his eyes to secure his "consent"). Had she taken him aside and told him that the actual Shogun Iemitsu had been dead for years and she was trying to avoid a catastrophic Succession Crisis by getting his teenaged bastard daughterknocked up to begin with he may have been less resistant to the idea if for no other reason than avoiding civil strife being a better reason to abandon his priestly vows than the amusement of a corrupt rulernote (she had no plans to let him leave Edo alive anyway, so if he still refused she could start cutting bits off his entourage then).
Played for Laughs in the manga version of Tenchi Muyo! with one light-hearted comic. Sasami gets her first case of the hiccups and the gang starts trying to let it go its way. However, Mihoshi accidentally took her superior's old wives' tale about how one hiccuping 100 times would kill them as a real threat and tells everyone before he could mention it. The gang quickly tries to figure out how to solve her problem, but as she reaches the 100th hiccup, Tenchi hits a low-grade Godzilla Threshold - he startles her by saying he loves her. It works and later Washu approaches Tenchi and mentions that the whole thing was a old wives' tale and she really was in no danger.
In Umi Monogatari, Kanon never told Kojima she liked him out of fear and naturally assumed he was going to dump her, which made him grow distant from her because he felt she didn't reciprocate his feelings.
In her Establishing Character Moment in Ichiban Ushiro No Daimaou, Junko physically assaults Akuto because she saw him with her grandmother and just jumped to conclusions that he was trying to mug her. After Akuto is prophecised to be the next Demon King, Junko alternates between being friendly with him and just trying to kill him because she constantly misinterprets his attempts to do good as being evil and rarely, if ever, gives him a chance to explain. Her tendency to do this is even lampshaded in episode 3: after Keena causes the lynch mob Junko assembled to turn on Junko as well, Junko insists that it's all a misunderstanding, only for Akuto to inform her that he's been trying to tell her the exact same thing all along, and the mob is unlikely to listen to her any more than she did to him.
Narrowly averted in Billy Burmingham's comedy album Still the 12th Man:
Richie Benaud: Alright Security, take them out.
Security: With pleasure, Mr. Benaud. *cocks gun*
Richie Benaud: Not that kind of "take them out", Security! Take them out of the building!
In 9 Chickweed Lane, Official CoupleAmos and Edda broke up mostly because she wouldn't tell him what was upsetting her (his dreamy ramblings about the concert violinist they'd watched) and it never occurred to him A) to ask what was wrong or B) the answer might be him. They do reunite... without ever actually resolving the issue that split them up. This has become a running theme in Edda and Amos' relationship: Edda reacting to an emotional moment by freaking out and bolting, then cluing Amos in long after the fact (and then only when a third party points out the inappropriateness of her actions).
G.I. Joe, late in the series. Cobra has captured a bunch of G.I.Joes. Cobra Commander, off-site, says to let them go. Unfortunately he conveys this as 'Get rid of them'. The officers on site dither and whine. Instead of calling back to ask 'You mean shoot them?' they agree to let a mook do it. Several Joes get their heads ventilated. GRAPHICALLY. Yikes.
In an issue of X-Factor, where Siryn is trying to tell Jamie she's pregnant and Jamie thinks she leaving the team. Following a brief argument after which Jamie storms off, Monet points out to Siryn that rather than Jamie being an insensitive ass, he obviously didn't know what she was trying to say.
Oh Jason, if only Batman had told you he loved you. How much trouble, trauma and violent murder could have been avoided? Possibly justified in that Batman thinks his love for his boys is perfectly obvious. And Jason probably wouldn't have believed him anyway.
In Jango Fett: Open Seasons, the Mandalorians and Jedi fight a pitched battle that leaves all of the Mandos except Fett dead and most of the Jedi still in the snow, as well. This happened because Fett's archnemesis implicated the Mandalorians in mass murder of civilians and the Jedi reacted accordingly. However, the Jedi are Jedi; they tell the Mandalorians to surrender and promise that they'll be treated fairly. If Fett had surrendered and tried to clear up the misunderstanding, things might have ended differently. Granted, a massive force of clearly hostile Jedi stepped into his camp and told them to surrender, and Fett knew that his archnemesis was behind it.
All the more reason to explain it to them. Jedi or not, no one likes beiing manipulated. 10 minutes of talking and he could have had the jedi on his side instead of loseing his whole army.
The controversial "Ragnarok Now" arc of Uncanny Avengers ends with the Scarlet Witch being killed by Rogue, who thinks she betrayed the Avengers and sided with the Apocalypse Twins. In reality, Scarlet Witch had only pretended to sell out her friends, and was actively working to take down the Twins' plan from the inside.
Almost in Promethea. The titular character is trying to get a badly injured friend to the hospital but her unfamilarity with modern society makes things tense. Can she even recognize a hospital? Fortunately the closest one uses a cadecus as a symbol of healing, which she herself uses.
An Archie Comics Free Comic Book Day comic lampshaded how much Archie relies on this trope for its humor. A "Real World" kid pops into the Archie universe, points out the poor communication, and everyone starts trying to be more understanding. The Universe is instantly boring.
The Original Sin side story Hulk vs Iron Man reveals this as a major part of the Hulk's origin: a drunken Tony Stark got into an argument over the Gamma Bomb with Bruce Banner and he decided to go fiddle with the Bomb itself. However, he ended up making the bomb yield weaker than it should, making the damage lesser than it should. However, Bruce was still angry, deleted an e-mail Tony gave him warning him of what he did, then blocked him outright.
The entire basis for Twilights List. Twilight Sparkle launches off into an extremely long-winded explanation about how she thought about who would be the perfect match for a practice date, but Rainbow Dash, being tired and used to Twilight Sparkle going on about stuff she doesn't care about, tunes her out. At the end of it, however, Twilight asks Rainbow Dash out... which Rainbow Dash thought was Twilight legitimately asking her out on a date out of the blue.
In Connecting The Dots, the Konoha Twelve, who speak authentic Japanese, are dumped into the DCAU, where most of our heroes don't know English. Due to worries of an invasion, aggressive headbutting on either side, and the aforementioned Language Barrier, many battles take place before J'onn comes in and telepathically implants English into the ninjas' heads to let them talk things out.
In-character poor communication: In With Strings Attached, because the four detest the Hunter and get into a pissing match with him as they travel, they don't tell him crucial things about their worldview, notably that they're Actual Pacifists and don't kill, and that they can easily protect themselves. Thus, when they're set upon by a pack of Poison Wolves, the Hunter immediately springs into action and kills about half of them, causing Paul to nearly attack him and to have a Heroic BSOD later, partly because he knew very well that their lack of communication both doomed the animals and almost made him a murderer.
The Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha fanfic Game Theory has a rather massive one, when Chrono assumes that Nanoha is working with Fate and attacks her in her home, which is a major factor in Nanoha deciding to actually help Fate fight the TSAB.
Hivefled: Gamzee messaged Equius and Eridan, the only two members of the gang who he knew would be available to answer, to ask for advice when his mentor started touching him inappropriately. Equius can't imagine not wanting to obey every whim of his superiors, Eridan is willing to use any method to get ahead, and both are jealous that he has such a prestigious mentor, who is also his bloodlink, so they assume he's bragging (trolls having no concept of incest) and refuse to help him. It doesn't really help that Gamzee's dialogue is difficult to follow at the best of times, or that his mentor's actions were so bizarre and random that Gamzee barely knew what was going on either. Admittedly there is little they could have actually done to help, but they assumed he knew what was coming, which he didn't because of a combination of being drugged and being in denial that his mentor would actually hurt him, and didn't warn him.
Later in the story, the humans begin to think (from what little the trolls have told them about their past) that Gamzee is an escaped criminal, possibly a rapist, who was justly punished by his ancestor, and the others are helping him. The real situation is exactlythe opposite of that, but because Gamzee is still too traumatized to talk about it and the others won't bring it up for his sake, the humans have no way of knowing that. It probably isn't going to end well.
This is the actual name of a chapter in Families, wherein the use of this trope in Spike's storyline comes to a head — his refusal to talk to Twilight about why he feels so guilty, along with making the Cutie Mark Crusaders promise not to tell anyone, leads to him running away rather than confront his problem.
Fluttershy tried to call out to Rainbow Dash when she was running away, though being Fluttershy, she called out Rainbow Dash in her whispery voice. Things might have turned out differently had she made her voice louder.
Phoenix not being able to explain to Twilight Sparkle why he's accusing Fluttershy at that moment caused more than a few problems.
Inverted in Part 3 - Twilight when Apple Bloom lets Twilight know that she saw Rainbow Dash moving the storm cloud to the Everfree Forest, and that RD told her not to tell anypony about it. Had this come out in court, it would have been much more difficult (if not impossible) to extend the trial.
Cruise Control went to tell the cops about how something "big" was going to go down in the forest. However, he was in his cocky personality and wasn't taken seriously, and thus the murder happens.
Subverted in A Delicate Balance: A case of Gossip Evolution leads Rainbow Dash to believe that Fluttershy is developing romantic feelings for Twilight, and she rushes off to inform Rarity and Pinkie of her discovery. Rather than believing her, Rarity traces the rumor back to its source and immediately realizes how far off it is.
In The Ballad of Twilight Sparkle, Applejack and Rainbow Dash have a drunken fling; afterwards, the latter avoids the former because she fears that Applejack's feelings were not genuine. Applejack tries to track her down, and asks Rarity to tell Dash (while Dash is secretly eavesdropping) that "she's not that kind of mare". Dash is naturally heartbroken. It's not until they have a direct confrontation several chapter later that Applejack clarifies things: she's not the kind of mare to love 'em and leave 'em, and genuinely wants to continue what they started.
In Reality Checks Nyxverse's Nightmare Night and Nyx story, Spell Nexus tried to inform Luna about a defense mechanism built into the former Nightmare Moon castle, but Luna apparently fell asleep multiple times trying to read the memo. He probably should have followed up on that(but considering he was still getting over being Brainwashed and Crazy, it's a bit easier to understand why he might have forgotten).
In the Harry Potter fanfic Where Your Treasure Is, a known Death Eater winds up in Australia, and Hermione's parents are killed as a result of her not telling the Order where she'd put them and the Order not telling her that there was a well-known and very vicious Death Eater in Australia.
The Teen Titans story Coincidence And Misunderstandings is kicked off by Raven assuming that her team would ask if they want to know more about her and the Titans assuming that Raven would tell them if she wanted them to know.
A considerable amount of the conflict in An Alternate Keitaro Urashima stems from the fact that Granny Hina attempted to manipulate Keitaro into taking over the Inn. She refuses to explain just why she's so dead-set on this; as a result, by the time she's willing to give him so much as a HINT as to what her true reasons are, he's long past the point where he's even remotely willing to cooperate.
In addition, the whole subplot with Ryuichi and Ogi could have been avoided had the latter confessed to his friend that he wasn't entirely innocent. Although it should be noted that Ogi HAD explain what happen but Ryuichi refuse to listen when Ogi did and still continue to not listen.
In Mega Man Reawakened, it's revealed that Dr. Light wasn't designing weapons, but his pride and Robert's led to a falling out over the matter.
Iwanako, the main character of Mean Time To Breakdown, is a Stepford Smiler who copes with problems by bottling everything up and claiming she's fine when she's really not. This problem is both caused by and feeds into her strained relationship with her family, creating a Vicious Cycle of negative feedback. Her parents and brother neglect to consider how she feels, making her think that they won't care even if she complains, so she bites her tongue. Since she doesn't complain, they think she's coping alright and continue to go about business as usual, reinforcing her belief that they don't care. And on and on...
In the Facing The Future Series, after a bunch of ghosts try to play Relationship Sabotage on them, Danny and Sam pretend to break up to get them to stop. However, since they didn't tell their friends it was an act (because they were being spied on by the ghosts constantly), their friends thought the ghosts caused the problem and attacked the Ghost Zone.
In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, Caitlin's Sigilyph notices Alder's eyes glowing briefly while he speaks to Caitlin, who is starting to lose control of her psychic powers because of 'M. Realizing that Alder may be controlled by 'M, Sigilyph tries to warn Caitlin's other Pokémon. Unfortunately, said Sigilyph happens to be The Unintelligible.
It's right there in the title with Misunderstandings, where a language barrier prevents both the ponies and the human protagonist can't discern each other's motives due to both a language barrier and the latter's poor treatment at the hooves of an evil circus ringmaster.
In Her Biggest Mistake Hermione's insecurities led her to believe that Harry was "settling" for her as a "safe" choice and that she needed to put the "if you love something, set it free" cliche into practice. When she told him that he didn't really know what love was and that he should go out and find "the one that's just right for you" he interpreted it as a rejection and pretty much went around in a haze until the day he finally gave up the will to live.
In Jus Primae Noctis The author mostly averts this, where in the original series it happened quite a lot, but does it believably. Also, It becomes the base of the main plot, because technically one of the first things Louise canonically did was bring up how her being naked around a servant/human familiar of the opposite gender was no big deal, but it was left at that. If Saito had found out the ramifications and implications, it might have saved some grief these past few years.
In Act II chapter 29, after explaining the rules of the Eia Dreahl to the rest of the group, Kokoa specifies that the first girl to give Tsukune a nosebleed wins and that the loser would have to forfeit Tsukune to the winner forever under penalty of death, but not that the pact was only meant to be between herself and Moka; thus, any girl who gives Tsukune a nosebleed can claim him for her own, an opportunity that Yukari is quick to seize.
In Act IV chapter 20, Astreal informs the boys that Kokoa "wants" them, failing to specify that she wanted them to watch how far she could push her overcharge; the boys end up thinking she wanted the entire group to have an orgy, with Gin actually stripping down on the spot.
Jack from Rise of the Guardians is guilty about this halfway through. After the other Guardians think he betrayed them, all he would have had to say was "I found Pitch's lair, and the tooth fairies." Instead, he just stutters and mumbles, and doesn't defend himself.
Wreck-It Ralph: A lack of communication is the catalyst for the entire plot of the movie. Fix-It Felix, the protagonist of the game, is a good guy who genuinely tries to be courteous to Ralph. However, he's unable to be an effective mediator between Ralph and the Jerkass NPCs of their game, which is what causes the confrontation that leads to Ralph leaving the game. Also, Felix simply has no frame of reference for how horrible Ralph feels. This means that, since Ralph never tries to communicate his feelings to either Felix or anyone else in their game, he has no way of knowing that Ralph isn't happy. Even the fact that Ralph is homeless can be blamed on a lack of communication. If he had asked, or even implied, Felix would have certainly taken the thirty seconds out of his day to give Ralph a house. He never did, because he legitimately thought that Ralph was happy where he was.
Films — Live-Action
Discussed in The Perfect Score between Desmond and Roy. Roy points out that Desmond should just talk to his mom.
The movie 28 Days Later, opens with a group of environmentalists attempting to break open cages of seemingly abused monkeys. A scientist tries to stop them and is given a chance to explain why they shouldn't torture him like he (seemingly) has done to the monkeys. His answer? " [They have] Rage." He doesn't try to explain that the Rage he is talking about is not just an emotion, even though there's a large enough of a pause to do so. Instead, he, for some reason, expects these people who have not worked in his lab, nor understand that the monkeys are sick, to comprehend a word that apparently now has two meanings.
The environmentalists are also equally guilty. After seeing the scientist go into a panic at the idea of releasing the chimps, they never think to clarify what he's talking about, ask why he's panicking or even do enough research to know if the chimps are infected with any dangerous diseases. Although to be fair, a crazy, animal torturing scientist going on about how you need to kill your best friend within the next 10 seconds or they'll become a zombie isn't likely to convince a person either way.
This can be called Star Wars Prequel Communication.
In the Attack of the Clones, Mace Windu and Yoda fail to tell the Council of the increase in the powers of the dark side. This has telling consequences for the future.
In Revenge Of The Sith, Master Yoda helps get the entire Jedi Order put to the sword because he couldn't get across to Anakin how important it was to be clear-headed when he tries to change what his visions show him. He just told Anakin what to do, expecting either that Anakin would simply do what he was told or that he would respect Yoda's wisdom. Yoda does this rather than take the time to explain that if he was so terrified of losing someone, he would be willing to do anything to save them, no matter how far-fetched, dangerous, or self-destructive. And that this is a bad mental state to make any kind of decision in.
The novelization is even worse at this. The Jedi act cold, distant and shifty towards Anakin; even commanding him to spy on Palpatine (who is a close friend of his) without a proper explaination. On the other hand, Padme is having secret meetings with other Senators to prepare a plan in the case Palpatine does not relinquish his emergency powers after the end of the war; and does not tell a word to Anakin in fear she may offend him. Of course that, being a Magnificent Bastard, Palpatine takes advantage of these facts to trick Anakin into believing the Council is plotting to take over the Republic and Padme is having an affair.
When Anakin tells Windu of the fact that Sidious is a Sith Lord, Windu fails to tell anybody outside of the four who leave with him (the novelisation states that Yoda is informed). So when it goes tits up, it really does look like the Jedi attempted a coup to everyone.
The Finnish film Tali-Ihantala 1944 has a scene that shows the tragic results of a language barrier between the Finnish troops and Swedish volunteers. One of the Finnish veterans is instructing the volunteer troops on using a panzerfaust, stressing the fact that the weapon releases a lethal tail flame upon firing. However, he tells this in Finnish, which the Swedish troops do not understand. Later, during an ambush against Soviet tanks, one of the volunteers gets killed by the tail flame. One of the Finnish soldiers tries to warn him not to hold the weapon against his shoulder while firing, but since the warning is again in Finnish, he does not understand it and fires anyway.
For some reason, Peter never managed to explain to Harry Osborn in Spider-Man Trilogy that he was killed by his own glider, and in the end of the trilogy it was revealed that Harry's butler had known this since Norman's death and never said a word about it.
In John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), the movie begins with a man chasing after a dog with explosives and a rifle, trying to warn the others that the dog is a monster in disguise and must be destroyed. The man's warning is unheeded and he is shot and killed because he was speaking Norwegian while the main characters were American and couldn't understand.
As mentioned in the 28 Days Later entry, it's hard to imagine the main characters reacting any different no matter what language the guy had been speaking.
Subverted in Mars Attacks!!. At first it appears that poor communication is the cause of the Martians' attacks on the humans. Later it's made clear that the Martians intended to invade and destroy humanity anyway. Apparently, they just really hate (or are afraid of) birds.
In The One, the protagonist routinely tells other police officers about his sociopathic alternate-universe duplicate with the words "He is me," instead of "He looks exactly like me." While it's possible that the police might not have believed him, he never seems to make any effort to tell the mundane cops about his doppelganger, so he has to fend them off as well.
Daredevil: No I didn't. That guy did. Over there. The Bad Guy.
Electra: Oh. I didn't see him. OK. My bad. Let's go get him.
This is what caused General Ashdown to kick John Connor out of La Résistance in Terminator Salvation. Of course, what Ashdown didn't know was that John Connor wanted to save someone vital to Tech-Com (his father, Kyle Reese, then a teenager), and even though Connor didn't give the full details to his own unit, the whole unit rebels against Ashdown by siding with Connor so he could save Reese. (Of course, Ashdown doesn't know about the rebellion until after he learns that the attack on Skynet wouldn't go forward until Connor gave the order, thereby deposing Ashdown mere minutes before he gets blown to smithereens.)
In the film Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, the college kids' inherrent belief that Tucker and Dale are murderous backwards hillbillies leads them to believe that they kidnapped one of their friends, rather than helping her out of the lake as they had actually done. Then again later this mindset causes them to all start dying from their own stupidity. One of them took a risk and tried to simply talk to Tucker about their friend... only to run in fear from a chainsaw wielding Tucker (who had accidentally sawed open a bee hive and was running for his life). The poor sensible kid ended up running straight into a branch and impaling himself on it, leading the rest of the college kids' to believe Tucker did it and reinforcing their misconceptions.
That being said, Tucker was guilty of it himself on at least that occasion, considering he runs in the same direction as the kid while waving the chainsaw around, which is an unbelievably stupid thing to do no matter the situation. Even as he looks over at the scared kid running away from him he doesn't put two and two together.
In My Cousin Vinny, When Vinny's cousin and his friend are first arrested, they end up digging themselves deeper as they answer the police's questions while simply assuming they were being arrested for shoplifting, and the police never even mention to the two why they were arrested until well into the process.
Incidentally, this demonstrates why you should never, ever answer police questions without legal counsel.
Early in The Strangers, the protagonist calls for his friend to give him a ride back home from his isolated cabin in the woods, right about the time that three masked lunatics decide to sabotage his only car and try to kill him. Later, when the friend arrives to find that someone's broken into the cabin (and a few minutes after someone throws a rock through his car's window), his first instinct is to silently tiptoe into the cabin...without thinking to phone the police or call out to the protagonist to let him know that he's arrived. The protagonist, who's barricaded himself inside with a shotgun, thinks he's one of the masked assailants, and shoots him dead.
Happens in Aliens several times. Lieutenant Gorman orders the marines not to use their firearms or explosives when going after the captives, but never explains why. As a result, some use their firearms anyway, which later ruptures the cooling system and sets the station on a course towards nuclear meltdown. Later, Ripley finds out that Burke was responsible for the whole alien menace to begin with, but doesn't tell anyone. She just threatens him with arrest after they return back home and then lies down and takes a nap.....
In The Terror, the loyal Stefan confronts the old woman living in the cabin on the Baron's lands. He knows she's a witch, has some sort of plan against the Baron, and threatens to burn her out if she doesn't leave. She tells him she's avenging Eric. What Stefan doesn't ask is who Eric is to her, thus setting up the rest of the movie.
A recurring theme in Frances Ha, reflective of the protagonist's chaotic life in general
Frances breaks up with her boyfriend Dan (among other reasons) because she is unwilling to move out from her and her best friend Sophie's place, yet Sophie moves out anyway.
Frances travels to Paris for the weekend on a whim, hoping to meet a friend of hers there (and getting into massive credit card debt in the process). When she gets there, she fails to reach her friend, then finds out that Sophie is holding a farewell party that very evening (in New York) before moving to Japan. When on her way to the airport to fly to back to the US, her friend finally calls her back, asking if she's free that night.
Frances spends only two days in Paris (not really doing anything), because she has a meeting with her dance teacher the following Monday. When she has her meeting, her teacher points out that Frances could always have postponed it, and that she almost did so herself on account of a sniffle.
In Texas Chainsaw 3D a lawyer gives the main character a letter and tells her to read it as soon as possible. Despite acting quite reasonably and intelligently up to this point in the movie, and having several hours where nothing much happens afterwards, she never gets around to it until the very end of the movie, where it turns out the letter explains pretty much the entire movie. Had she actually read the letter, they could have easily avoided the deaths of several people which follow, including her friends and boyfriend.
A major and recurring theme of Dr. Strangelove. Mandrake has problems reaching the president to recall the bombers, he finds a Pay Phone but has not enough pocket change and a brief issue with British vs American terms. Finally one of the bombers cannot be recalled via the Override Command because its communication system has been destroyed. Armageddon ensues. And of course the Soviets didn't tell the world about their Doomsday Device because their premier "loves surprises." It's even enforced by Big Bad General Ripper, whose first action in launching his nuclear attack on Russia is ordering his staff to destroy all their radios (so they won't know he's lying and that the Russians aren't actually attacking).
In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this is what leads to the fight between Gambit and Wolverine, who Gambit thinks is trying to take him back to Stryker's prison on Three Mile Island. After learning that he wants to stop Stryker, Gambit is more than happy to help.
In Knight and Day, June calls Roy out on this. Early on in the film, a case of mistaken identities leads to June getting put on a certain plane in an assassination attempt, and Roy's attempt to tell June to not get on is merely, "Sometimes things happen for a reason." Later on, when Roy claims that he warned her, June says, "That's like a needlepoint expression or a bumper sticker! Next time, try, 'June, if you get on this plane, you will fucking die.'"
In 7 Zwerge - Der Wald ist nicht genug, the entire plot of the movie is based on the dwarves trying to find out Rumpelstiltskin's name. However, one them already knew it the whole time but got interrupted whenever he was about to mention it. It doesn't help that he's the Cloudcuckoolander.
The Harry Potter books run on this trope, otherwise they'd all be 100 pages long. The most prominent offenders:
Dumbledore is even worse, in every single book concealing information from Harry that often could save Harry the entire plot. Dumbledore claims in book 5 to realize why this is a terrible idea after it literally gets someone killed... and then is right back at it the next book, failing to tell Harry that Dumbledore knows about Draco's plot, anything that would reassure Harry about trusting Snape, or that Dumbledore is going to die soon regardless.
Sirius can't even communicate well enough to explain to a bunch of frightened children that he's not actually going to murder them, he somehow failed to say the words "I didn't kill those people, here, check my wand", and the entire disaster in Order of the Phoenix would have been avoided if he'd simply outright said to Harry "Hey, here's this two way mirror your dad used to own, you can use it to talk to me any time."
Dracula, where the excessively gentlemanly heroes deliberately choose not to tell Mina Harker about their vampire hunt so as not to distress her, thus making her the perfect target. Ironically, once the damage is done and they must let her in on it, she copes rather better than her husband did.
And it's also the reason that Lucy and her mother died; if the men had been upfront with the women, then there would be no plot.
Every....single...protagonist in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series appears to suffer from this. Seriously. While the bad guys are also killing each other off to determine who gets to be The Dragon, the Big Bad at least can give clear orders and expect to see them carried out. Usually.
Considering the whole Aiel vs. the Whitecloaks vs. the Rebel Tower vs. the White Tower vs. Elaida vs. the Asha'man vs.... well, everyone the Dark one could probably just sit back and wait for the good guys to kill each other off, although at least half of the disputes arise or are at least made worse by agents of the Dark one amongst them.
Just looking at specific protagonists: Rand doesn't tell anyone anything about anything. He doesn't want his idyllic hometown or his lovers targeted by his enemies, people think he's a dangerous lunatic, and he's trying to fight several Chessmasters at once. Mat hasn't told Rand what he's been doing for the last five books partly because he likes avoiding responsibility, but mostly because he would need a channeler's help to do it and he doesn't trust or want to be indebted to them. Perrin hasn't told Rand anything for the last four books because it's taken him that long to accomplish what everyone thought would be a simple assignment. Elayne and Egwene have been keeping their distance from Rand for six books because being seen in contact with him would subvert their own political power. Nynaeve and Min don't tell anyone anything because they're worried about Rand's fragile mental state and don't want to do anything he could possibly interpret as a betrayal. Any one of those might make sense, but all of them together... especially considering how many problems the reader knows the lack of communication has caused...
The series also shows the corollary: when the protagonists finally get a clue and start working together and sharing information, plots get solved. Since Brandon Sanderson took over the series, the pattern of nobody talking to anyone else has broken, and this has allowed them to start preparing for Tarmon Gai'don. Even before then, Rand only survived the Battle of Shadar Logoth because Cadsuane forced him to take some backup along instead of running off and trying to cleanse saidin with only Nynaeve's assistance.
In The Republic Of Trees, Isobel tells Michael that she broke up with her previous boyfriend because he wanted something from her that she wouldn't give him... he wanted her to stop cheating on him As the result, Michael learns the truth at the worst possible moment and the already unstable situation spirals out of control to Lord of the Flies proportions.
In The Ruins, poor communication literally kills, as the Mayan-speaking locals are unable to effectively warn the main characters away from the titular ruins. Truth in Television, as it's very common for Mayans in the poor rural areas of Mexico to speak no or very little Spanish, much less English.
In the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire, Robb could have avoided a whole mess of trouble if he'd just confided in his underlings a bit more. He goes off to fight the Lannister's western army and leaves his uncle Edmure to hold Riverrun. When the Lannister eastern army starts harrying Riverrun's borders, Edmure rides off with his army and succeeds beating them back to a full retreat. Cue celebrations and parties... until Robb returns and, after publicly honoring his uncle's success, browbeats him in private for disobeying his orders. Turns out he had planned to lure the eastern army into attacking Riverrun so he could come in from the south and crush it between his army and the castle.
"But I was never told of this!"
"You were told to hold the castle. What part of that did you fail to comprehend?"
Likewise, Doran Martell keeps much of his plans hidden from his family and their allies. This ultimately leads to an ill-fated round of Xanatos Speed Chess that ends with his son Quentyn dying a slow and agonizing death.
That's not entirelly accurate. Quentyn died horribly, but it was his own fault for thinking he could control a dragon, just like Daenerys did. Doran Martell's secrets made his daughter, Arianne, think that he was pushing her aside in order to make Quentyn his heir. To avoid that, she kidnaps Princess Myrcella and things go downhill from there.
Herman Melville took this trope literally in his novella Billy Budd, in which Billy, a Christlike figure whose only flaw is a tendency to stutter when he gets upset, killed the master-at-arms, Claggart, after Claggart falsely accused him of conspiracy to mutiny. He got so upset when he couldn't stop stuttering long enough to defend himself that he punched Claggart in the temple and he died. All three main characters—Billy, Claggart, and Captain Vere—die. But, then again, without it all of Melville's lovely symbolism falls apart, and we can't have that.
David Weber has this on a grander scale then most with his Hell's Gate series when poor communication causes two civilizations, which hadn't even known the other existed until recently, to start what is promising to be a long and brutal war.
Deliberately tampered with communication restarts the Manticore-Haven war. The guy who did it wanted to make the Havenite president just angry enough that she was almost ready to go to war and he could step in and save the day. He underestimates by about one degree of anger, and millions die. Suffice it to say he's lucky he died in a genuine accident, because the president in question was preparing to have him charged with treason and executed.
An unintentional example from that series was the attempted McQueen coup: McQueen knew that she'd eventually be considered too much of a threat by the Committee for Public Safety and would be eliminated, and so starts planning her contingency plan for when the time came. Pierre and St-Just also recognized she'd be a threat and would probably have to be eliminated so start planning their contingency plan for when the time came. A partially overheard conversation results in McQueen believing they were moving against her immediately (instead of merely planning to at some point in the future), causing her to launch her own plan prematurely.
Occurs in the very first book: Honor pursues the Havenite Q-Ship running from the Medusa system when she realizes that their plan to grab the system would have the Q-ship "fleeing" to a waiting squadron of warships. She's right, but the premature start of the Medusan uprising the Havenites were promoting screwed up their plan so the captain was running to tell the warships not to come into the system. But he couldn't admit it because it would confirm Haven's covert actions, and the resulting combat destroys the Q-ship, nearly destroys Harrington's ship, and costs her a large chunk of her crew, even though it should have been blazingly obvious to him that the jig was up and the Manticorans obviously knew what was going on.
In The Forever War, a war that lasts centuries between humans and an alien race turns out to be based on a misunderstanding. Considering that the author is a Vietnam vet, one need merely read The Pentagon Papers to see where he gets his idea.
A large part of later books in the Ender’s Game series. Turns out the formics were not hostile, but simply unaware that humans were intelligent, at least on an individual level. After the second war, they tried to apologize, but were destroyed before they learned to communicate with us. In addition, the whole debate over whether two alien species can communicate and coexist is dominant, especially as a situation gets closer and closer to "Communicate with them, or commit Xenocide." Placing our heroes in the exact same situation as the formics.
Also, the main plot of Speaker for the Dead occurs because no one stops to ask the Piggies "Say, why exactly did you kill those two people and ritually disembowel them?" Seemingly, neither of the people who got disemboweled thought to say anything along the lines of "Why are you doing this?...What's the third life?...Oh, I see. Uh, humans don't do that. It'll just kill us horribly. Please don't."
Being There is a variation; the whole plot is based on characters misinterpreting most everything Chance the Gardener says (with the twist that he cannot correct them because he isn't able to understand what's going on).
Due to the secret nature of Dreamland ops, the characters of Dale Brown's books often find themselves going up against ostensible allies both within and without America even when there's not supposed to be overt conflict.
Metro 2033 with the Dark Ones, they just want to find a way to help the humans out, but the telepathy caused people to go mad and thought they were out to kill them like other mutants. Needless to say Artyom realize this a bit too late as he plants the transmitter.
In Arrow's Fall, part of the Heralds of Valdemar series, the novel's primary romantic tension is caused by Dirk assuming himself to be part of a Love Triangle consisting of himself, Kris, and Talia, and trying to pull an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, when in fact both Kris and Talia are trying to get her hooked up with Dirk. Dirk's stubborn refusal to discuss the matter with either of them sends him into a breakdown, and causes the resolution to be put off until after Talia nearly dies and Kris does die.
In the Agatha Christie novel Sparkling Cyanide, Sandra Farraday knows that her husband Stephan is having an affair with Rosemary Barton, is afraid Stephan will leave her for Rosemary, and is prepared to kill Rosemary to prevent that from happening. Stephan, on the other hand, has grown tired of Rosemary and realized that Sandra is his real true love, but he's afraid that Sandra will leave him when she finds out about it, and is prepared to kill Rosemary to prevent the affair from becoming public. Technically, poor communication didn't actually kill in this case, since neither Stephan nor Sandra was the murderer, but it very easily could have.
The Key to Rondo could plausibly have instead been titled: Poor Communication Kills: The Novel.
In The Elenium series, an Eshandist leader had a speech problem and at one battle he yelled "Fall on your foes!" but mangled it and his followers heard "Fall on your swords!" He spent the next several years wondering why he lost.
In The Onion's Our Dumb Century'', all the casualties of World War I turn out to be this. Archduke Fraz Ferdinand wasn't assassinated he just went on vacation; when he finally returns, sees what happened, and explains the misunderstanding, the war is called off and the survivors go home mildly embarrassed.
In a Star Wars novella, Imperial officer Kyle Katarn defects to the Rebel Alliance after he finds out that the Empire recently killed his father. He embarks on a black ops mission to recover part of the Death Star schematics, but is, naturally, monitored by the rebels to see if his turn was legitimate. When he's seen meeting with another Imperial, Mon Mothma gives the order to agent Jan Ors to kill him. What they don't know is that the officer was an old friend of Kyle's whom Kyle had persuaded to help him. Jan and Kyle end up in a Mexican Standoff, and if Jan hadn't found it impossible to kill the man that she was developing feelings for, the scenario would have ended in tragedy.
There have been some terrible cases of this trope occurring across the Star Wars Expanded Universe. One of the biggest ones was the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. It turns out that a number of people like Palpatine/Sidious, Vergere, Thrawn, and Darth Krayt knew about their existence and simply did not tell the galaxy at large - and giving vague hints to only a few people at the most. Sure, most of these people were villains and some of them were neutral, but a lot of grief (among other things) could have spared if people were simply told about it. The same things can be applied to Jacen and Abeloth, as well as Darth Bane's Sith Order and the Jedi Order.
In Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Pelagia spends decades waiting for Corelli, during which time she adopts an abandoned baby (named after him, no less). Turns out that Corelli did come back relatively early on, but saw her with the baby, assumed she must've had it with another man, and stormed off without talking to her. When Pelagia asks if he didn't consider the possibility that she was raped in his absence, he admits thatit probably wouldn't have made a difference to him.
In The Shahnameh, a series of accidents and deception both well and ill-intentioned result in Rostem killing Sohrab, the outcome neither of them wanted.
The Idiot. No one seems capable of actually saying what they mean—even Prince Myshkin, the most innocently outspoken character, falls prey to this tendency—and the misunderstandings and suspicions that arise from this are major driving forces on the plot.
In Dirge for Prester John, John and his people have completely different ideas of what war is. He knows it means a lot of bloodshed (even if he naively also thinks of glory). His people think of the mating season of the cranes and pygmies.
The Culture Clash variety happens in The Left Hand of Darkness, in which a very large mess could have been avoided if Estraven had been more straightforward with Genly as to what his goals were. Justified, since in Gethenian culture advice is considered an insult, and Estraven was trying to avoid damaging Genly's honor; only later did he realize his mistake.
In the early The Dresden Files books Harry has a chronic problem with not giving his mundane allies enough information. He wises up about it quite a bit in later books, but not before quite a bit of damage is done:
In Storm Front Murphy actually starts to suspect that he's the killer because he keeps balking at telling her anything about the case (partially because the White Council suspects him as well and would see him researching the curse as evidence) and walks right into a giant scorpion in Harry's office created by the actual killer.
At the beginning of Fool Moon Harry does not see fit to tell a young and inexperienced magic user everything he can about a magic circle diagram that she's asking about, instead simply telling her that a set of runes in the diagram must be a mistake, because he can tell it binds creatures of both flesh and spirit and he doesn't want her messing with demons. Only later does he learn that she was trying to use the circle to confine a loup-garou, and not having enough information about it has gotten her killed and left the loup-garou free to rampage around Chicago racking up a substantial body count.
In Grave Peril, Harry tells Susan pretty much everything about the politics in going to the vampire party... except for one thing: he's only allowed to give protection to one guest. Anyone else who shows up with him is fair game. Naturally, this omission screws everything up when Susan copies his invitation without his knowledge in order to crash the party.
The Ice Palace is virtually built of this trope. The whole story begins with a tragic Cannot Spit It Out moment where one of the two main characters (two eleven year old girls) freaks the other one out, and the result is an incredibly huge guilt trip where one of them freezes to death inside a frozen waterfall, and the other goes through a long Despair Event Horizon for five months (i.e. the rest of the book).
One of the Inspector Montalbano books has a bad case of mishearing- Montalbano's lieutenant, Mimi, comes to his house late at night, looking very stressed, and tells him that he's got something that he needs to tell him: he's decided to get married. He phrases this as 'I've decided to take a wife', but Montalbano hears it as 'I've decided to take my life' and freaks out. It takes a while to sort out the situation, but they get there.
Jeremy from Strength & Justice: Side: Strength has a bad case of Cannot Spit It Out with his girlfriend over sharing information that there is a possible implication that the Law Enforcement, Inc. they work for might be involved in taking away people's magical powers by force. It finally culminates in his girlfriend thinking he's cheating on her, complete with confrontation.
Simona Ahrnstedt gives us a really painful example of Can Not Spit It Out in her debut novel, Överenskommelser. It's the story about young Beatrice, who's bullied and pressured by her abusive and tyrannical uncle into an engagement with a man. A man who's not only like forty years older than her, but he also treats women like they're dirt under his shoes. So what does she do? Of course, she tells nobody the truth about why she agreed to marry this man (he would get her beautiful but weak cousin instead, if she didn't sacrifice herself). To be fair, she really is in a crappy situation, but still, yikes... And unfortunately, her love interest Seth is no better. Since he thinks that she willingly rejected him to marry an old disgusting aristocrat, stupid pride keeps him from admitting that he loves her. Several misunderstandings between them (sigh...) leads to much misery for them both (including that Beatrice gets brutally raped and battered on her wedding night).
A lot of the tragedy in The Reynard Cycle could have been avoided if Persephone had only made it clearer to Reynard that, though she finds him charming, she would never seriously consider having a relationship with him.
In the Relativity story "Highway Robbery", the heroes are trying to catch a pair of car thieves, and send out two people as live bait to drive around aimlessly for several hours. There's a communicator in each car, so that if something happens, Mission Control will know about it. After doing this for several hours with no luck, they decide to go home and try again the next day. As she begins driving home, Melody's car is stolen (with her in it), but mission control has switched off their communicator and is unaware of it. In their defense, it was about 4 a.m. at this point and everyone was getting punchy.
Ava believes this is what happened when she reports on Countess Elinor in The Kingdom of Little Wounds. All she said was the woman had a lover, and then Elinor was arrested for high treason.
In the In Spiritu Et Veritate series by Zoe Reed, Kyla is forced under threat of death to break up with Camille over the phone during the climax of the first book. Fully three-quarters of the second book is spent with them still broken up, Kyla under the impression that Camille hasn't forgiven her and Camille under the impression that Kyla dumped her of her own volition. Camille is the more egregious case, since shortly after the phone call she finds Kyla tied up by the bad guy and doesn't connect the two.
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's revealed that humanity was only the third most intelligent lifeform on Earth, behind mice and dolphins. Dolphins knew of the impending destruction of the planet Earth. They made many attempts to alert mankind to the impending doom, but they were mistaken as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for tidbits, so they eventually decided to leave Earth by their own means. The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards somersault through a hoop while whistling the Star Spangled Banner, when in fact the message was this: "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish."
Friends is built on this trope. You can actually watch the writers become more dependent on this trope as the series progresses. The best (worst?) example is when Chandler attempts to masturbate and Monica (his wife) interrupts him. He quickly changes the channel to a show about sharks, and Monica presumes this means he finds sharks sexually stimulating.
The infamous break up between Ross and Rachel stems heavily from this trope. Had Rachel been more clear on what "being on a break" meant, Ross would not have misinterpreted it as a break up. Of course, a running joke in the later seasons was that her reasoning on this made sense only to her.
The season 9 opener episode, The One Where No One Proposes, is built around this trope.
In Heroes episodes 2.09 and 2.10; Mohinder utterly failed to tell Overprotective Dad Noah that he didn't need Claire, just a pint of blood to save a life and stop a plague rather than kidnap her. Instead he made it seem like he had done a Face-Heel Turn and was going after this Overprotective Dad's daughter and bringing about the season's Tear Jerker episode.
Peter and Hiro ended up in a fight because neither was all too keen on examining why each was doing what they're doing by defending and attacking Adam respectively. And these are people who can stop time! Hiro and Peter could have had talked it out while sipping tea in Tokyo and come back with the whole thing handily resolved, were it not for "With great power goes all intelligence".
The Writer's Strike is probably the reason they had to speed through that. If the season was allowed to take its natural course they might have done all that (well, maybe not the sipping tea in Tokyo part).
According to a behind the scenes look, that scene was going to end with the plague vial falling to the floor and shattering, leading into a massive 'plague containment' arc. Which the Writer's Strike truncated. So it was going to turn out even stupider.
That's nothing. In the first episode of Volume Four, Claire gets word that Nathan is sending government agents out to get Peter and Matt. So she calls Peter. Reasonable enough, right? She tells him people are after Matt ... then completely fails to mention they're after Peter too.
Fans (and detractors) of LOST have commented on the characters' apparent inability to ask the right questions. In particular, they've had Juliet among them since her Heel-Face Turn, but have not asked her any questions about the intentions or nature of the Others. This tendency was lampshaded in the season 4 episode "Cabin Fever," as Christian says to Locke, "So why don't you ask the one question that does matter?"
Not just the lack of asking "the right questions", But the lack of SHARING vital information as well, for whatever reason..
One (somewhat minor) example: Jack has been angsting over his deceased father since Day 1. Through a chance bit of conversation (Jack quotes a saying his father was fond of), Sawyer realized that he met Jack's father right before he died. He told Sawyer about how he wanted to patch things up with his son, but he was too much of a coward to pick up the phone. For no reason other than sheer cussedness, Sawyer decides to keep this to himself.
Although, oddly enough, Sawyer did bring it up by the end of the season, creating a rather emotional conversation. Presumably, Sawyer wanted to think about it before telling Jack. Their tense relationship at the time it was discovered probably didn't help.
Actually played for laughs early on, when Michael is incredulous when the others talk about polar bears, and a confused Charlie says "You didn't hear about the polar bear?"
The climax of the Firefly episode "The Message" has the intrepid crew under siege and almost certainly about to die at the hands of an overzealous cop hunting down Mal and Zoe's friend, Tracey. Shepherd Book hatches a plan: the first part is surrendering to the cop and telling him they're going to turn Tracey over to him. Tracey, upon hearing this, becomes understandably upset, but it's not until after he's flipped out for several seconds, threatened the crew with a gun, held Kaylee hostage, and finally been mortally wounded by Mal that they inform him that the rest of the plan was to threaten and blackmail the cop into leaving without actually giving him what he came for. Tracey, rather than angrily demanding why they didn't tell him that in the first place, feels bad for screwing up the plan before dying moments later.
Numerous situations like this seem to crop up in Firefly, particularly around Mal's tactics. Friends new and old are asked to implicitly trust him right at the point where he has given every indication that he's changeable as the wind and about to screw them (Simon and River frequently being the subjects here — perhaps most notably in "Safe"). This generally complicates things further, as above, by making the ostensible rescuees filled with anger and suspicion.
Safe wasn't really like that. Shepherd Book had been shot, Simon and River had wandered off and gotten kidnapped. Mal didn't have time to look for them.
In Babylon 5, the whole Human/Minbari war starts because of this, mostly because they don't know each-others language or cultural traditions.
To Minbari, it is common courtesy to show all your weapons to other soldiers, so they can see that you have nothing hidden and mean no treachery. Which on a warship means getting all your weapons ready but leaving defenses powered down. The humans noticed the first part and mistook a power spike for powering up the weapons (also, the Minbari sensors overpowered their own sensors) and started firing in presumed self-defence, killing the Minbari's revered leader, resulting in them declaring holy war against the human race and making no attempt to communicate with the humans, neither to tell them the reason the Minbari are trying to kill them all, nor to get any explanation for the humans' actions. Ironically Dukhat, the Minbari leader, had ordered to close the gunports to avoid this in the exact same moment the Human commander ordered to open fire.
Interestingly, when a Minbari warship shows up at Babylon 5 showing all weapons as common courtesy, the warship's captain Neroon arrogantly refuses to explain himself; the more level-headed Minbari Ambassador Delenn goes to the bridge to enlighten the Bab 5 crew about this tradition and invite them to confirm that the weapons are not powered. Apparently, even ten years after the Earth-Minbari War, all the details of the misunderstanding that kicked it off are still not common knowledge in the Earth Alliance, due to the Minbari's poor communication skills.
An example within an example is the fact that Delenn didn't bother to explain that little tradition before the Minbari ships arrived.
Sheridan once mentions that the need for proper communication was the first thing he learned at the Academy.
In the In the Beginning TV movie, Sheridan even warns his superior not to send that particular commanding officer with a bad record of First Contact situations (such as something called the Omega Incident) to meet an ancient and powerful race, claiming he was impulsive. Had a less impulsive officer been in command, it's possible the whole war would've been averted. The superior officer unfortunately didn't listen, citing that Jankowski had been cleared of responsibility in the Omega Incident.
Later, Sheridan is sent to meet a friend of Delenn's who wants to open a back-channel of communications between humans and Minbari hosted by G'Kar. Unfortunately, Londo assumes that the Narns are scheming against the Centauri and sends a warship to attack the meeting. Sheridan and G'Kar are the only survivors.
There's a whole lot of other unnecessary lack of communication. Just watch the end of Season 1 / the beginning of Season 2.
In Teen Wolf, the show's Hypercompetent Sidekick Stiles Stilinski hangs a lampshade on this trope and states that a complete lack of communication is the main reason why all of the characters are having so many problems in season two. He points out that nobody trusts anyone else and the inability to effectively communicate between werewolves and humans was eventually going to get someone killed.
Also, most of the plot of the first five episodes in season one could have been skipped if Derek had just taken five minutes out of brooding and TOLD Scott he hadn't been the one to bite him.
Victoria Argent wasn't able to talk to Allison one last time before she kills herself (to stop from becoming a werewolf), so she is unable to tell her daughter what led to her death (that she tried to kill Scott and Derek bit her in Scott's defence). Then Scott doesn't tell Allison what happened either, because he doesn't want to damage Allison's memory of her mother. This allows Gerard to manipulate Allison by casting Derek in the worst light possible.
Kamen Rider, any series under the writing of Toshiki Inoue tends to suffer from this. Agito, Faiz, and Kiva all had near-identical situations: a member of the secondary cast (Ryo Ashihara/Gills, Yuji Kiba/Horse Orphenoch, and Keisuke Nago/IXA, respectively) is friends with the main character while despising and seeking to destroy his Rider identity (Ashihara because he thinks Agito killed the woman he loved, Yuji because he thinks Faiz is a pawn for Smart Brain, and Nago because he thinks Kiva is an Omnicidal Maniac). Shoichi, Takumi, and Wataru never think to reveal their identities in order to defuse the situation, which lets the tension build. In the end, Ryo, Yuji, and Nago find out by accident, and they're all relieved; Ryo and Yuji because they know guys like Shoichi and Takumi could never be murderers, and Nago because he thinks the power of Kiva is in good hands with Wataru.
In "Trial by Fire", an episode from the revival version of The Outer Limits, alien forces are hovering above the Earth, and have sent out a message to the world's leaders. The message, unfortunately, is unable to be deciphered, and the President of the US is presented with two options - Preemptive strike, or wait things out and hope they can translate the message. He eventually takes the Hawk approach and launches a nuclear warhead at the UFOs, which fails. As a retaliatory strike comes in, he's informed that they just cracked the code... by submerging the audio beneath water; it was a message of Peace. But what were you expecting? There's a reason that the trope Cruel Twist Ending was originally called Outer Limits Twist.
There was an additional factor in the form of the Russians threatening to launch a nuclear strike against the US if they don't aid them in attacking the aliens.
Dear Lord, Roswell. Max and Liz have a giant misunderstanding in season two that fans will never get over.
Happens so many times on Smallville, usually because the A.I. of Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude is a total prick and insists on talking cryptically.
Solitude: Brainiac infects Martha with a deadly kryptonian virus. Clark questions Jor-El, and all he says is that "I am sorry, my son. The wheel of fate has already been set in motion. Even you cannot alter destiny." This Is Wrong on So Many Levels.
Jor-El didn't do it...obviously.
Is it that hard to deny it? Given that Jor-El tried to kill Chloe in Arrival, probably would not be too easy to convince Clark, but it's worth a shot.
After Chloe saves Clark, everything is sort of...unchanged.
Lazarus: Jor-El warns Clark Kent that "a great darkness" is coming. Sure enough, Lex Luthor (actually his clone) returns. Clark defeats him and reports his success. Jor-El reveals that he doesn't really give a crap about Lex Luthor. The "great darkness" he was refering to was Darkseid, who arrives on Earth safely and unnoticed. To make this situation even worse, Jor-El just tells off Clark for the mistakes he made during the episode and shuts himself and the fortress down, without telling Clark anything about the actual threat.
On Torchwood, Gwen tries to keep her actual job in Torchwood secret from her boyfriend in the least helpful way. Despite Torchwood's ability to set up dummy companies, create false identities and twist the truth when the need be Gwen never uses any of this to give her boyfriend any reason to calm down about her job. Instead she is openly ambiguous about why she works such long hours and gets called away so often. Even her boss says she shouldn't let her personal life drift, but never makes any good suggestions to Gwen as to how to do so. This can get frustrating for the viewer because obviously some people on the police force know Gwen does something working for Torchwood, and people out in the world know Torchwood does something (The woman in the first episode of series 2 mutters "Bloody Torchwood" as they pass by.)
Rex gets aggravated by the tendency of Gwen and Jack to run off and try to handle things on their own instead of just asking for help. He lampshades this trope when Gwen receives a message through the special contact lenses that her family is being held hostage until she brings them Jack. Given the fact that the bad guys could only see whatever Gwen could see or receive a transcript of what was said while Gwen was looking at someone, she could easily have told Rex and Esther (and, you know, Jack, before kidnapping him what was going on without tipping her hand.
Much of the latter half of Battlestar Galactica, if not the entire series, could have been avoided if the humans and cylons had ever just sat down and compared notes, but even after the humans have cylon allies, they still don't even seem to consider sharing information with each other, despite all the half-information and lingering questions they all have about prophecies, the backstory, etc.
In Have Gun — Will Travel, Paladin's business card can cause some confusion over his profession that can occasionally lead to rather unfortunate mix-ups. More often than not the confusion is resolved without anyone dying, but on every now and then... This is actually what gets him started as a hero in the pilot, he was tricked into fighting a "notorious killer" who was actually also a good guy and ended up taking on the dead man's quest after learning the truth.
When the producer of a local television mentions that there is room for only one more dancer (either Theo or Cockroach), Theo repeatedly insists on Cockroach going in. At first, Cockroach objects, because Theo had the tickets. Eventually, Cockroach accepts, causing Theo to become extremely bitter about it. He starts acting like a jerk around his family until Clair tells him that it was his own fault for being dishonest.
A few years later, Sondra has to forfeit a night out with Elvin and two friends, but she repeatedly insists that Elvin continue as originally planned. She thinks that Elvin will make a final objection, but he caves in and accepts. Later on, she gives Elvin the silent treatment until Clair puts the blame on Sondra for not expressing her true feelings.
Harm and Captain Reed in "Desert Son" do not get along, and Reed gives the bare minimum of assistance when Harm and Meg go to investigate the accident site. This plus one knocked over road sign nearly get Meg and Harm killed when they accidentally enter the Free Fire Zone.
In "Scimitar", Meg is not let in on the secret part of their mission and is left to improvise when she discovers that Harm is in danger.
Frasier often relied on the titular character, an eloquent, educated man who could often string together the most complicated of sentences, being rendered incoherent when a simple explanation could extricate him from a difficult situation.
One episode played with this dynamic when Frasier's dad tried to return $40 that was mistakenly given to him by a bank's ATM. He patiently, articulately explains the situation in terms so clear even a child could understand...and the bank employees all misunderstand him and what he wants.
How I Met Your Mother: There's an episode where Barney runs the New York City marathon without any prior training. He finally feels the effects while riding the subway a little later: his legs lock up and he can't stand. Eventually, a pregnant woman, an old lady and a little boy in crutches enter the crowded train and ask for his seat. Instead of just explaining that his legs don't work, he simply mutters, "I'm sorry. I can't." Now, New York being New York, it's possible no one would have believed him, but the explanation would have been better than the vague thing he actually did say.
An episode of Scrubs focused on the effects JD's insane hours at the hospital were having on his life. It manifested in particularly dramatic fashion on a date, where JD, upon looking at the incredibly gorgeous gir0l he was about to kiss, instead saw the hideous cancer patient he was treating earlier in the day. He mumbled something incoherent and walked away. The next day, when the girl asked him why he bailed, JD actually said nothing instead of explaining the situation. JD's narration even lampshaded the communication failure, and it was included in a trio of scenes where males proved utterly incapable of communication with their girlfriends.
About half of the Winchester family drama in Supernatural could have been avoided if Sam and Dean simply told each other about their problems rather than insisting they're fine. Also, Castiel's slide into evil in Season 6 could have been avoided if he'd simply asked the Winchesters for help, and if the Winchesters hadn't blown off the civil war in heaven as somebody else's problem.
The final seal keeping Lucifer imprisoned could have remained intact if certain parties who wanted the Apocalypse to happen didn't do their best to make sure the Winchesters don't learn until it's too late that Lilith's purpose isn't to break the final seal, she is the seal and her purpose is to be slain by Sam, Lucifer's true vessel. It also doesn't help that Sam made the spectacularly poor decision to trust a demon and that Dean all but disowned Sam when he found out instead of reaching out to him. Bobby called Dean out on that.
So many problems on Merlin could have been solved instantly if Merlin wasn't almost pathologically secretive - and not just on his magical abilities (which he is justified in keeping to himself) but things such as traitors in Camelot and other characters getting magically brainwashed.
Sort of justified in his case. Said traitors are usually miles above him in social hierarchy and could easily make his life hell (or just get him off guard in an empty corridor, he isn't invincible). Also, said enchantments and such would have to not only be explained how he knew it was there but he would then forfeit the freedom to unobtrusively make it go away with magic.
Biggles: Are you gay? Algae: I should very well say so, old fruit! (Biggles shoots Algae)
In the Ever Decreasing Circles episode "Manure", laid-back Paul Ryman is away at a Pro-Am golf tournament and asks his neighbour Martin Bryce to take a delivery of manure for him. However, Martin is busy obsessing over the fact that Paul's garden seems to be free of molehills, unlike his own, so when the tractor of manure arrives, he is standing in Paul's driveway when he tells the driver, "Well, I don't want it on my driveway, do I!? Put it on Mr. Ryman's!" The driver promptly dumps the manure in Martin's driveway.
In UFO, one episode has Foster being saved by an alien after he's injured. However, the explosion in which he was hurt also destroyed his communication device. He and the alien manage just fine, communicating with gestures, but once he's rescued, things don't work too well. Foster tries to tell his rescuers to save the alien, but they can't hear him. Finally, one of them gets the idea of pressing the faceplate of his spacesuit to Foster's. Foster tells him, "There's an alien. Help him - he's a friend." Unfortunately, the only word that gets through is "alien". They figure he's been attacked and shoot the alien, while Foster can't tell them to stop.
In the Dad's Army episode Ring Dem Bells, Wilson and Pike go into the Eight Bells pub with the platoon dressed as Nazis for a training video. Instead of just explaining to the barman what's going on, they cause widespread panic.
Several episodes of House actually are this trope. Any kind of small detail about the patient or their family members not revealed, generally ends with the patient having at least one near death experience.
An early episode revolved around a lacrosse player who got injured during a game. The answer to his problem stems from the kid actually being adopted and his biological mother not being vaccinated. This is entirely the parents' fault, as this fact was never revealed by them. Although the kid already knows.
In Season Six, Riley neglects to tell Buffy he needs the demon he's just sent her after captured alive. His new wife criticizes him for it.
Faith's induction into the Scoobies helped to temper her lawless approach to slaying (which Buffy initially didn't know about). However, Buffy lied to her about Angel's resurrection, which allowed Gwendolyn Post to use this to turn Faith against the gang.
In Chicago PD, Voight continually clashes with Violent Crimes, with their Lieutenant annoyed that Voight doesn't share information - to which Voight retorts that neither does Violent Crimes share any information with Intelligence. Both parties claim to leave voice messages for each other. Towards the end of the episode, Intelligence rolls up to an apartment where they believe a drug dealer is going to be killed... and Violent Crimes rolls up, telling Voight they're following up on the car belonging to some cartel hitmen, which was spotted at the apartment. It results in one Intelligence detective being shot in the neck, and pronounced dead on arrival.
In the Intelligence episode "Delta Force", Gabriel's old Delta Force friend Norris committed a series of political assassinations because his CIA handler somehow misinterpreted a very terse message from D.C. saying that the U.S. was in favor of Bolivian presidential candidate Javier Leon as "eliminate Javier Leon's competition".
The Nova episode "The Spy Factory" accuses the NSA and CIA of this during the lead-up to 9/11, sitting on intelligence they had on al-Qa'ida rather than passing it along to the FBI so they could do something with it.
Spock would literally rather die than have the problem explained to Starfleet Command. This is apparently true of all Vulcans at this point in history.
It's possible that Kirk could've explained things to Komack in a way that would've gotten him permission to go to Vulcan without letting too much slip. Kirk even had his Chief Medical Officer's statement that Spock would die if he didn't return to Vulcan, and didn't bother to mention it to the Admiral.
Poor communication also almost killed Kirk in this episode. Would it have hurt T'Pau to tell him that the fight was a death match before he signed up?
Huge example in season 3 of Angel. Wesley translates a prophecy that Angel will kill his son, Connor. Instead of telling Angel (or Gunn, or Fred), Wesley kidnaps Connor and loses him to Angel's archenemy, which results in Connor being raised in a Hell dimension and growing up to hate Angel fiercely. While the urge to protect baby Connor is understandable, everyone gives Wesley a hard time about not just telling them what was going on in the first place so they could help him make a better decision.
This is how Joel got off the Satellite of Love in Mystery Science Theater 3000. Gypsy had caught a transmission from Deep 13 with Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank plotting to kill Mike Nelson, utterly sick of how he's marching around like he owns the place. Gypsy misinterprets this as them wanting to kill Joel and sets off to "save" Joel from the Mads. While she does save Joel, she doesn't save the other robots or herself and leads to Mike being the one stuck up there.
Used quite Anviliciously in the song "One Tin Soldier". In it a town has a "treasure" hidden under a mountain, which a valley kingdom covets. They invade, kill everyone, and find the "treasure" is just a plaque which says "Peace on Earth". Worse, when they first demand it the mountain people make a vague offer to share their treasure with their "brothers" instead of just telling them the truth.
Steven Curtis Chapman covered this topic in "Still Called Today," which stresses the importance of making the wrong things right before it's too late.
Then there's Exalted, in which Lytek, God of Exaltation, who's known for a very long time about the Great Curse, has utterly failed to tell anyone else about this for 2000+ years. By this point, if he does tell anyone, it's likely he'll be mined for starmetal.
One of the Fluff asides in Reign involves an instance of Nonverbal Miscommunication that rises to this level — the mercenary commander had a troop of mixed nationality that each knew one of three different sets of military hand signals; he'd only bothered to check that they all knew hand signals, not that they all knew the same ones. His signal to "hold up" was variously interpreted correctly, as an order to attack, or as an order to retreat, and they were routed in the chaos resulting.
In Warhammer, the Slaans - the mage-priests of the Lizardmen - sleep most of the time, and when they wake up, they speak in very short sentences without any context. As a result, unpleasant things have happened. When the High Elves arrived in Lustria, they were brought before a Slaan who said, "They should not be here". His Saurus guards read this as "Destroy all High Elves" and killed them. Whether he actually meant "Send them home" will never be known.
Damn it, Emperor. Do you have any idea how much trouble you would have saved if you were only able to occasionally explain stuff to your kids? The Horus Heresy, for one. Simply adding "I have fragile crap under construction down there" to his sorcery prohibition would prevent Magnus from acting like a moron — between a working webway, alive and loyal Thousand Sons and the fact that most of humanity's knowledge of Warp is a handful of crumbs from Magnus's table, the setback could be minimized even if Horus Heresy happened anyway.
Gilbert and Sullivan were also fond of this trope, but they actually hang a lampshade on it in the Act I finale of The Mikado, when Katisha tries to tell the people of Titipu that Nanki Poo is the son of the Mikado, only to have the chorus interrupt her every time she opens her mouth.
William Shakespeare seemed to be fond of this trope. The most famous example is probably Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet fakes her own death, and her message to Romeo explaining the situation never reaches him, causing Romeo to kill Paris and commit suicide. Upon discovering this, Juliet also kills herself.
Discussed in Bells Are Ringing, where answering service girl Ella tries to explain to a policeman that "my job is to get messages to people on time" and imagines herself at "Veronaphone" passing Juliet's message on to Romeo.
"See what I could have done? Maybe I'm right! Maybe I'm wrong! But if I'd got that message through on time, I'm telling you—THOSE TWO KIDS WOULD BE ALIVE TODAY!"
Othello was easily swayed by Iago to believe his wife had been cheating on him and kills her. Only later does he realize that if he had bothered to verify the truth with anyone other than Iago, the stories wouldn't have matched up. Emilia at least was smart enough to figure out what was going on.
In The Glass Menagerie, Tom doesn't tell Jim that the dinner he invited Jim to serves the purpose of introducing Jim as a suitor to Tom's sister, Laura. Jim is engaged to be married.
In Agarest Senki we have a situation with Valeria and Ladius. Ladius has currently gone rogue and on the run after being suspended from duty (he's a general) and framed for being the leader of a rebel army by the higher ups in Gridamas' army (he talked it through, instead of fighting, with the rebels which gave the higher ups their opening). Valeria (fellow general, childhood friend and in love with Ladius) is assigned to capture him. Cue her hunting him down and them ending up fighting till Ladius incapacitates her. She promptly BEGS him to explain why he went AWOL but he (sadly while feeling like an asshole) says he can't right now (due in part to not trusting the higher ups in Gridamas, to protect Valeria in case she tries to protect him and to prevent the rebels he's with from getting killed). They do meet up later when she joins him but not after a lot of emotional pain for both at the above problem. A simple "The Gridamas army framed me so I had to go rogue to prove my innocence" would have solved everything.
About half of everything bad that happens in Tales of Symphonia or Tales of the Abyss could be averted if not for the characters' refusal to explain certain things in order to keep certain information from the player, even when it is extremly obvious and logical that they should do so. The general hierarchy of screwedness is as follows:
"Don't worry about it" - You should be very worried.
"It's not important" - It's extremely important.
"It's nothing." - It's definitely something. And said something is a thing that needs to be shared with the rest of the group. Now.
"But could that mean?... No, impossible." - Yes it does and no it's not.
"I'll tell you later." - They'll tell you after a sizeable portion of the world's population has died as a result of them not sharing this information. This is always somehow yourfault.
Also shows up in the game that Symphonia is a prequel to, Tales of Phantasia, in which the entirety of the plot, with all its casualties, was the result of Dhaos not having bothered to explain that he needed a mana seed and the humans were currently using too much mana for the tree to produce one, and instead going directly to "attack humans until their mana usage drops", which proves counterproductive.
And by counterproductive, we mean in starting a war meant to get humans to use less mana (without actually telling them to use less mana) he provokes them into firing the mana canon at his monster army, burning away a RIDICULOUS amount of mana.
In The Last Blade, three siblings end up fighting each other with bladed weapons because A) the one suspected of killing their master is too much of a loner to bother saying he's innocent, B) his brother won't stop and listen to their sister (who knows who really killed their master), and C) they both find it appropriate to thwart their sister's attempts to communicate with them by attacking her with swords.
In Imperishable night Keine attacks the protagonists thinking that they are out to attack the human village. Later on you fight either Marisa or Reimu depending on who you didn't pick to play as. Marisa is simply clueless so you end up blowing her away rather than explaining and Reimu accuses whoever you're playing as of causing the endless night. Once you find Eirin, the instigator of the game's events, you discover that she was about to take the false moon down anyways.
In Touhou Labyrinth, a whole slew of people pick on Reimu's party because they think Reimu caused the incident and wouldn't hear it any other way until they get blown up in the face. They are visibly shocked when they meet Sanae later, who claims that people must be senile to thinks someone as lazy as Reimu can cause an incident of its scale. Yukari to Rinnosuke (and the party eventually) as well, although she does have a good reason for the fact that she Cannot Spit It Out The same people are also the ones who are really straight examples of Defeat Means Friendship in the game, as opposed to most optional characters who aren't really recruited so much via Defeat Means Friendship as opposed to Defeat Means You're Coming Whether You Like It Or Not.
In Neverwinter Nights 2, Shadra Jerro wouldn't had had to die if she could have gotten her Grandfather line out before her grandfather Amnon Jerro blasted her for releasing the demons and devils that gave him his extra powers (and minor demon army).
Also, a lot of people wouldn't have had to die if Ammon Jerro had just returned to Neverwinter and tried convincing people that the King of Shadows was becoming a threat again. It is not entirely unlikely they would have taken him seriously - since he originally died fighting him. Instead he launches his own search for the Shards to remake the Silver Sword of Gith, and on his way settles a few old scores - leaving quite a few dead bodies - many of whom were on the PC's side.
Furthermore, while trying to get Neverwinter's support is a questionable idea, simply stopping to talk to the hero one of the many times they crossed paths would've prevented a LOT of unnecessary bloodshed. To make it worse, when they do finally team up, Ammon keeps blaming the hero for everything that's happened. It takes influence and the right words in an optional scene to finally get him to admit to some guilt over his deeds.
Not to mention how the conflict and bloodshed of chapter 1 could've easily been avoided if Zeearie had actually explained why she needed the silver shards. Justified in this case. The githyanki are Scary Dogmatic Aliens who believe they should exterminate all other intelligent life to prevent anyone from enslaving them as the mindflayers did. Shooting first and asking questions later kinda comes with the territory.
Knights of the Old Republic contains a joke the player character can tell based on this trope. A group of Sith ask the player to make them laugh, and they'll let him live in return. The player can fight, or go right into a wonderful joke (requires decent ranks in Persuade): Two Mandalorians are walking through the forests of Dxun, when they're attacked by an animal. One is critically wounded, but the other manages to kill the beast. The standing one radios back to base, saying, "My partner's wounded! What do I do?" His commanding officer responds, "Relax, trooper. First, make sure if your partner's dead." Blasterfire echoes through the communicator, followed by "Okay, now what?"
Partially into the second third of Final Fantasy V, the party passes through a town of werewolves led by Kelgar, a wolf who once fought Exdeath alongside Galuf. As Galuf explains that the other three party members came from the "other half" of the world, Kelgar jumps to the conclusion that they work for Exdeath and were responsible for his release. Without giving Galuf a chance to deny this (never mind that he was the one who introduced them in the first place), he challenges main character Bartz to a fight to the death, which ends with the wolf bedridden for the rest of his life. Any possible explanation of how he reached his conclusion would be appreciated, especially considering that the two halves have never been at war at any point, and that the player is meant to acknowledge that Kelgar is a hero.
Pretty much all of StarCraft: Brood War is an example of poor communication killing, or Kerrigan taking advantage of people's poor communication.
Judicator Aldaris learns that Kerrigan is mind-controlling the Dark Templar Matriarch and using the Protoss to kill renegade Cerebrates. Instead of calmly informing Zeratul (who already suspects something is wrong with Raszagal) and Artanis upon their return to Shakuras, he incites a rebellion and babbles on like a deranged zealot. He nearly does get to tell them what's going on, but by then he wasted so much time spouting off apparent nonsense that Kerrigan manages to surround and kill him.
Stukov knows that Duran is a traitor and probably infested, which would have been more than enough reason for DuGalle to get rid of Duran, and that the Psi Disruptor is the best way to defeat the Zerg. Instead of talking to his best friend about his concerns, he takes a large contingent of troops and begins operating the Disruptor, which he was supposed to have destroyed, making himself look like a traitor in the process. By the time he spills his guts, he's as good as dead anyways and Duran has escaped.
In a bizarre example, your poor communication also kills. Your character witnesses Duran abandon his position and allow the zerg to overrun a UED position. In the very next mission, your character also witnesses Duran tricking DuGalle into thinking that Stukov is the real traitor. Your character inexplicably does not mention Duran's treachery.
Also done in StarCraft II. Valerian Mengsk seeks to ally his forces with Raynor's Raiders to stop Kerrigan. Yet he only waits to tell them this after they've fought their way into his ship, killing a lot of marines in the process and causing plenty of damage. One simple transmission could have saved so much trouble. Though it is in character for Valerian to be overly dramatic.
Oi, you lot! Night elves! You know that big forest you've got, with the moonglades and everything? Yeah, you might want to consider putting up a sign that says "KEEP OUT or please knock in case of ancient enemy when all must unite." I know it doesn't have the style of killing everyone who "defiles these lands," but you could still do that. The sign might cut down on the actual defilement. That way if the ancient thing did show up, it wouldn't find the living at each other's throats and you'd all have an easier time. If you couldn't keep the sign in repair since you're above noticing such vulgarities as the flow of time, you could invent an alarm clock. Surely someone who basks in their own greatness as much as you do can do that. Of course, if you prefer killing people, it's not my place to judge. I was just figuring.
Newer lore reveals that the Night Elves attacked based on information given by Goblins, and that the decision fell on Cenarius. He deemed the invading orcs to be demonic tainted (which by definition they are). The Orcs behaved accordingly demonic. The peons working the forests, furthermore, complain of noises scaring them away from their tasks in the first place. Really, the flaw in communication here would come from Cenarius, Cairne Bloodhoof, and the local Trolls: Allied to the Orcs, knowledgeable of their plans, no doubt familiar with Night Elves, and present in the operation, they still kept their mouths quiet.
Ahem* Illidan Stormrage is a good example even by night elf standards. Just about everything he's ever done, especially after he was freed from his prison, has been a terrible idea done for the right reasons, but since he never bothers to tell anyone, they assume he's evil. Specifically:
He consumes the Super-Oh-My-God powerful demonic artifact, the Skull of Gul'Dan and turns into a half demon, but only because that's the only way he can not only deny the Burning Legion its power, but defeat the otherwise invulnerable burning legion forces that would've conquered Azeroth. He never mentions this to anyone, so his brother tells him to go away, since he's clearly only looking after himself.
He uses another powerful artifact to attempt to destroy the Scourge (and Yogg-Saron by virtue of the fact that Saron's prison is well inside the line of fire), but doesn't bother to tell anyone, so everyone rushes to stop him assuming he's doing something evil.
He attacks the Scourge in Icecrown, trying to finish what he started, but never bothers to let his brother or any of the people with massive armies and a score to settle know, so he loses the fight.
He conquers Outland to raise an army not only to defeat the Burning Legion, but also to try fighting the Scourge again, but never tells anyone so we go and kill him in World of Warcraft.
Despite being dead, he will probably do this sort of thing at least three more times, including once in an alternative timeline. Indeed, he did it again in the novels The War of the Ancients (which actually happens before what was already mentioned), like when he joins the Burning Legion to act as a mole... but never tells anyone, so everyone thinks he really is a traitor. Or when he creates another Well of Eternity...
In fact, with the way he was treated in Burning Crusade, (made the main villain until Blizzard remembered that the Burning Crusade was the Burning Legion's Crusade and not Illidan's, and added Kil'jaeden as a last-minute boss) it would seem as if Illidan forgot to remind Blizzard themselves about his previous motivations. PoorIllidan. Of course, most of it is his own fault, and on at least a few occasions he was motivated to act alone by wanting the glory of being the lone hero.
Also, Medivh could have been a lot more forthcoming when he warned people about the approaching conflict. Its not a big shocker that King Menethil, Arthas, Antonidas et. all don't believe him when he shows up, rambles about coming catastrophe in vague terms, then flies away in a huff when he's not immediately obeyed.
Any online game where you have to work as a team, such as in Left 4 Dead. Things will quickly go down the drain if players fail to even tell their teammates what plans they have or what is going on.
In Left 4 Dead especially, this quickly reaches horrifying levels when A) you realize that the overwhelming majority of players do not own (or do not correctly use) microphones, B) your allies do have microphones but don't speak your native language, and C) for a brief period during the development cycle, Valve was planning to deliberately not include voice chat functionality (supposedly to help immerse the player in the Zombie Horror atmosphere, although this idea was implemented in Resident Evil Outbreak, which probably did not help the games sell.)
Even if no one uses any form of communication in Left 4 Dead, the survivor characters constantly vocalize what is going on so that everyone can understand the current situation. Despite this, some players fail to save others who are in trouble because they weren't listening.
This is utilized in a malicious manner by the titular Mastermind in a flash movie based off of Mastermind: World Conqueror. He uses it to confuse a superhero before pressing the Shark Tank button.
Superhero: I'm here to deliver a tall frosty glass of justice!
Mastermind: No, no, I ordered a glass of just ice!
Superhero: Just ice?
Mastermind: Yeah, a glass with only ice in it! Seriously, not a single *** ing thing gets done around here... *** .
Superhero: I'll get a glass for you, then.
Mastermind: Be a dear, won't you? [presses button]
While a lack of communication will cause casualties, in America's Army this trope is also subverted. When a player throws a grenade, the soldier will shout "Frag out" (albeit in a foreign language), giving away his position and alerting the enemy to the incoming grenade.
In Devil May Cry 3, Dante finds Arkham's dead body, and is immediately confronted about it by his daughter. She asks if Dante killed him, and in spite of having no involvement whatsoever in his death, Dante responds "So what if I did?" Cue a fierce battle between the two...
Near the end of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, we learn that the "vampire", Anton, is upset because he thought Sophia had left him for another man. Understandable, as she said something that could easily be interpreted that way! Is that really better than saying, "You're going to be a father, but I can't raise a child here. Since you can't leave, I've got to leave you."
In Brütal Legend, Eddie uses some very flimsy evidence and some epic conclusion jumping to accuse Ophelia of being a demon - cue a broken cutie, Face-Heel Turn, and pain for everybody. Then it gets worse. All of which could have been avoided if Eddie hadn't been such a prat, and they'd spent a couple of minutes talking things out.
Also had Ophelia just come out with her fears about Eddie in the first place, they might have avoided it. Clearly shown near the ending when both Eddie and Ophelia think the other is Succoria, the Ruler of the Demons.
The Mars Clan from Golden Sun. Though you'd have a hard time believing the civilization was acting for the greater good when their first team of warriors accidentally destroy the hero's hometown and show no remorse for it. It also doesn't help that Agatio, their champion in the second game, wanted to take over the world.
It is mentioned that Saturos and Menardi (and the rest of their ill-fated group in the prologue) tried to explain the truth to the Vale elders, but were disbelieved, forcing them to take drastic action.
A second example in The Lost Age: when Sheba tells Karst about the fate of Saturos & Menardi, she simply says that Isaac killed them both. This makes Isaac seem to be a murderer, so Karst's Roaring Rampage of Revenge seems reasonable, as does her later confusion when Felix tries to defend Isaac from her. The truth is that Saturos & Menardi attacked Isaac & friends with intent to kill, and their deaths were a double-suicide after Isaac & friends successfully fought them off, nonlethally, despite their use of the Dangerous Forbidden Technique. Did anybody ever explain this to Karst? No.
The backstory of off-beat adventure game Woodruff and The Schnibble of Azimuth has a shining example: when humans first arrived at the Hill, the Bouzouks decided to scare them off. Their means was a giant statue of an armed, armored Bouzouk warrior. The humans read this as a threat, and the resulting war began a long history of mistreatment for the Bouzouks.
The liberation of a powerful demon in the end of Dawn of War could be averted if the Eldar bothered to learn phrases on High Gothic significantly different from "Stupid mon-keigh, you don't know what you're doing!"
Also in the sequel. True, the Tyranids are a huge threat to the sector, but perhaps it would've been a good idea to actually warn us humans about it rather than, say, raiding our planets and manipulating Ork uprisings. What's Eldar for "Stupid pointy-eared bastards, you don't know what you're doing!"?
Phantom of Inferno. The whole problem with Cal in Act 3 could have been completely averted if Reiji had just told her how happy he was to see that she was still aliveinstead of keeping it in monologue and being defensive and confrontational at every given opportunity for no particular reason. Cal even prompts Reiji to tell his side of the story several times in hopes that he'll give her an excuse to back down.
Storeowner Bosco's paranoia is a subplot in the first two seasons of Sam & Max games. His paranoia is somewhat justified, as he is indeed being watched by private detectives sent by his mother, who never gets over a long-past incidence when a mysterious man trashed the store. Turns out the vandal is none but Bosco himself traveling back in time. Being constantly under surveillance takes the toll of Bosco's sanity, turning him into a full-blown Conspiracy Theorist, and the mother dies because of her son's conspiracy-motivated experiment. A crazy son accidentally killing his mother: it is very depressing once the Fridge Horror sinks in.
The Architect in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening. He is seeking ways in which the humans and the Darkspawn could coexist peacefully. One of his experiments fails, threatening the Arling of Amaranthine; he decides that the best course of action is to send a posse of hundreds of Darkspawn led by his disciple Withered to seek help from the Grey Wardens, traditional enemies of the Darkspawn. Needless to say the Wardens interpret this as an attack, and the Withered decides to improvise, planning to kill everybody except the Wardens so that they could be taken as prisoners to the Architect, who could then explain that he means no harm. It works as well as expected. And when your own character meets him, he decides that before explaining anything he should do some experiments with your blood first. He truly is the king of poor communication skills. Perhaps incidentally, he bears a resemblance to Warcraft's Illidan Stormrage.
He is a little better in The Calling prequel novel, but not by much. Apparently, he doesn't understand the concept of "arguing", when he simply kills Genevieve for having doubts about his plan. He does spend the time explaining to everyone his idea.
With much of Dragon Age II feeling kind of rushed, many of the side quests simply end in completely unnecessary massacres. If you're pro-Mage, the Best Served Cold quest is one long example of this - just about every member of Thrask's mage-templar alliance assumes you're hunting them on Meredith's orders and attacks you on sight.
One of the worst offenders would be Marethari, who tells Merrill that trying to repair an ancient magic mirror was dangerous and would only end badly. While Merrill was very convinced and even accepted exile instead of giving up, there was absolutely no reason not to tell her that the demon who told her how it can be repaired was tricking her into releasing it from its prision. While willing to risk her own life, she would never let anyone else come to harm and even if she had not believed it, there was no reason not to try explaining it. Her death can then lead the ENTIRE CLAN to attack Merril, forcing you to wipe them all out, unless you pick the right dialogue option.
Arguably, the player character is an even worse example. Why not tell your own mother to beware of suitors sending white lilies? This turns out to be the signature of a serial killer using the body parts of older women to create a pieced-together recreation of his dead wife.
In Team Fortress 2, if only the BLU Soldier and RED Demoman had just talked to each other instead of rushing at each other with rocket launcher and pipe bombs a-blazing, the whole WAR could have been averted, their friendship could have been saved, and they could be having ribs together right now.
This trope was invoked by the Announcer in the first place, because if the Soldier and Demoman had talked to each other first, they could have come to the conclusion both teams were being played, convinced their teammates of this, convinced their superiors of this, and rallied both companies together, which would lead to the Administrator, Saxton, and every higher-up at Mann Co. and TF Industries collectively having more dots on their domes than any Hale could hope to survive. Machiavellian and disgusting though she may be, the Administrator had pragmatic reasons for breaking them up.
"Talking?! Friendship is even worse than I thought. No, this won't do at all. If they talk, Miss Pauling, they might talk about work. And if they talk about work... they might talk about us."
The plot of Birth by Sleep practically runs on this. If Terra and Aqua had compared notes more often they probably could have prevented most of the disaster and would have been able to stop Vanitas and Ventus making Xehanort's weapon and if Master Eraqus had just told the three of them "Xehanort can't be trusted" they would probably be around to stop the events of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, many of which wouldn't have even happened in the first place, instead of each being trapped somewhere. That's not even considering how much could have been prevented if had told them everything elsehe knowsabout the guy. Now factor in Mickey Mouse. If you remember from KHII, he had actually met Xehanort as Ansem the Wise's apprentice in the past. However, since he never met or heard about Terra OR Xehanort in Birth by Sleep, he can't get suspicious, despite his master, Yen Sid knowing about it all.
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is absolutely full of this. You have Axel witholding information from Roxas and Xion, Xion keeping secrets from Axel and Roxas, DiZ and Riku keeping Mickey in the dark as far as their plans go, and any actual cooperation between the trios at a minimum. The result of all this is bleak, to say the least.
This almost happens in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, where Niccolò Machiavelli likes being so secretive and mysterious that he alienates his closest allies, which along with some circumstancial evidence leads them becoming convinced that he's a traitor to their cause. Only a happy coincidence and quick acting on Ezio's part prevent him from getting a dagger in his back. Afterwards they even acknowledge that they should actually talk with each other more often.
In Revelations, Ezio is asked by Prince Suleiman to assassinate the Janissary captain Tarik Barleti, both for the assassination attempt on Suleiman and for colluding with an enemy of the empire. Although Ezio successfully kills his target, the dying Tarik reveals that he'd actually been acting on his own initiative as a double agent (intending to undermine said enemy of the empire), and Suleiman later mourns that Tarik had not informed him of this.
In The Lost Archive DLC, Lucy Stillman betrayed the Assassins and joined the Templars because her former mentor William Miles cut off all communications with her during her deep cover assignment, effectively abandoning her for years. Warren Vidic, knowing she was an Assassin all along filled the void in her life and convinced her to join the Templars. The Assassins and their allies seem to have a real problem with this trope.
Assassins Creed III is a massive Gambit Pileup that comes because nobody clearly explains themselves. Connor assassinates Templars who claim to be doing good but whose Jerkish attitudes and arrogant refusal to explain it to people lesser than them, results in them dying painfully. Connor and his own father, Haytham are too proud to truly express themselves and in the end nobody wins, with the hero getting a Pyrrhic Victory that he admits is "not enough".
Half the frustration of playing Operator's Side/Lifeline, where the player has to verbally convey instructions to the character (i.e., "run", "shoot", "dodge left"). If the game cannot interpret what the player is attempting to say correctly, the character will not do what the player wants her to do. It can require a very high level of patience to put up with a mediocre game if the player tends to speak with an accent (by "accent", something that deviates from "standard English", i.e., that found in Chicago.)
In Freespace, the original conflict between the Terrans and Vasudans is largely sparked by the Terrans screwing up a Vasudan linguistic ritual called "The Conversation."
Damn near the entire plot of Arc Rise Fantasia took place because Prince Weiss never bothered to explain the setting's Dark Secrets to his brothers until it was too late and they had already both unknowingly made a Deal with the Devil, one of them having gone too far in doing so to turn back in good conscience.
Similarly, Alf seems to refuse to tell L'Arc's party anything about what he has learned about the gods, Hozone, or the Laws, and proceeds to attack L'Arc because of what he does because he isn't being told anything.
Odin Sphere, from the first of Gwendolyn's chapters to the last of Velvet's, is built on this trope. The characters never talk about what's important before it's too late and it ends up not only killing (especially Oswald, who kills himself because he thinks Gwendolyn doesn't love him), but going the whole nine yards causing The End of the World as We Know It. Not only does Poor Communication Kills set the plot in motion, it keeps it going, and going, and going.
In the 1st Degree had this trope occur. Ruby knew that her boyfriend Tobin had a gun in his possession, but she said nothing about it because she was afraid (which she puts a Lampshade Hanging on). She may have a point, because Tobin was a bad boyfriend for her. Simon showed Tobin the gun Zack had locked in his desk drawer, because Simon was worried that Zack was going to kill his boss Tobin. Too bad he didn't realize that Tobin was going to kill Zack and not the other way around until it was too late. Yvonne Barnes actually has a tape recording of Tobin threatening her husband Zack, because Tobin was trying to get money as part of insurance fraud, and Zack didn't want to be part of it. She did not reveal anything about this before, because she was trying to protect her husband's reputation from being ruined by him being implicated in an art theft and insurance fraud.
In Solatorobo, Idol Singer Cocona receives a letter from the Howler Sky Pirates warning her of their imminent arrival, and it's Red's job to stop them from apparently attempting to kidnap her. After fighting off a few of them, their leader explains that the sky pirates are just really big fans of hers and wanted to get some autographs. The letter was just a friendly warning about them coming over, which is hard to come across as benign, given their occupation.
Pretty much the entirety of Dragon Quest IX could have been prevented by someone letting Corvus know Serena was tricked instead of selling him out to the Gittish Empire. Greygnarl had already trashed Gitt and killed all the important bad guys after Corvus's capture, and whatever means Corvus used to resurrect them all and then kill God while still shackled in his prison could presumably have been used somewhat less destructively for an SOS to the Celestrians to break him out.
Pretty much the entire Mass Effect universe is caused by failure to communicate on multiple levels.
The Protheans could have warned the current Cycle about the Reapers and given the appropriate technological upgrades, but they suffered from terminal ethnocentrism and it didn't occur to them to record their warnings or tech specs in a format suited to the species that looked ready to reach spaceflight in time, instead recording them in a format that required tactile telepathy - a sense unique to the Prothean species. And then we find out they did leave behind a VI on the Asari homeworld for that purpose. But the Asari government kept it secret, which fits the trope even better.
The Catalyst, tasked with negotiating between naturals and synthetics, didn't bother to negotiate at all, instead repeatedly deciding to start from scratch without explaining the why until it was far too late.
The Reapers, protecting naturals from synthetics and visa-versa, jumped right to the "kill them all and create a Reaper out what remains" stage, rather than explaining why they saw it as necessary to give people (natural or synthetic) a chance to prove otherwise.
The Leviathan DLC indicates the Catalyst's terrible reasoning might have been a simple application of Literal Genie in the Leviathans wording its directive poorly. To try and smooth out trouble with their era's slave species building machines that turned on them (cutting off the Leviathans from enough tribute to make them care without really understanding the situation), the Leviathans gave the Catalyst the directive to preserve organic life at all costs. It concluded the simplest way to do this was to harvest it regularly and force it into the near-indestructible Reaper shells. Shepard can later point out to a dying reaper that this doesn't change that the preservation only works as an excuse for the repeated genocide in that the species exist as Reaper power sources; the culture of the species that created the reaper he points this out to is long, long dead. The Reaper is implied to be so dumbfounded by this realization it spends its final moments in stunned silence before shutting down without a hint of resistance.
This trope caused the First Contact War. A turian patrol ran across a group of human merchant ships opening a mass relay. This is illegal under Citadel law (it previously led to the Rachni Wars), but the humans didn't know that and the turians didn't bother to explain. Instead they opened fire and destroyed all but one of the ships, which got away. The Arcturus Fleet retaliated, flattening the entire turian patrol. The turians captured the human colony Shanxi, the Systems Alliance fought back, and things were going to hell in a handbasket until the asari stepped in and sorted out the whole mess.
The entire plot of Poacher (minus the first few minutes) wouldn't have happened if Rebecca's father had told her that Compacts were against their treaty with the Dark Ones. Derek lampshades this:
Rebecca: Dad never wanted to educate me like he did Magnus. I think he wanted me to stay innocent. His little girl.
Derek: Well, that backfired on 'im, didn't it.
BlazBlue utterly runs on this trope, with a large number of characters either failing to get their point across or failing to understand the point as intended. While things could clear up in Chronophantasma, many issues in Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift could be easily resolved if everyone was able to express themselves clearly. Takamagahara was resetting every instance where things did not go according to their plans, and Terumi had no choice but to play along until he could lobotomize them. This does not excuse the fact he was willing to manipulate the rules of communication for his own ends, however, both before and after said lobotomy.
Despite being the Big Good Duumvirate, Rachel and Jubei are remarkably poor at explaining themselves clearly: Jubei is too cryptic for his own good, whereas Rachel is particularly condescending. Both of them left their charges - especially Ragna and Noel, the cruxes of Terumi's plans in Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift, respectively - ill prepared for dealing with Terumi when the time came to deal with him. While neither are particularlyintelligent, the cryptic nature of the advice they got from Rachel and Jubei didn't help at all.
Litchi's case is a particularly gratuitous instance of this trope. While Rachel and Kokonoe weren't helpful to her for their own reasons, both sides could have contained their tempers just a bit better and gotten their point across - Litchi wanted to inform the others she was succumbing to Boundary corruption in her mission to save Arakune, and Rachel and Kokonoe wanted to tell her why he's too far gone for her to help, but they slammed each others' Berserk Buttons in the process. In Chronophantasma, Rachel finally explains that Litchi is attempting to observe Arakune, which would require that she observe herself as well, except Litchi's emotional instability makes it hard for her to keep her priorities straight - and the corruption Litchi is facing is a consequence of her ineptitude at observation. Back in Continuum Shift Hazama (a.k.a. the aforementioned Terumi) offered Litchi a cure for Arakune in exchange for her joining the NOL, which she did due to being out of other options - though she believes he won't hold his end of the bargain.
Even when it doesn't relate to Litchi, Kokonoe can still bugger it up. In Continuum Shift, she tells Noel through Lambda-11's communique that she's the Eye of the Azure, but plays to type and refuses to elaborate when Noel tries to get details from her (at least Rachel tried to tell her, as CS Arcade demonstrates). Also, in Chronophantasma, when she and Kagura discover that Tsubaki Yayoi is under a spell, she insists on talking behind closed doors instead of doing the sensible thing and inviting Makoto and Noel in to discuss the matter - this in blatant ignorance of the fact that as an ex-Intelligence officer and known spy, if Makoto wanted to eavesdrop, she would do so regardless of Kokonoe's wishes (and Kokonoe laments this when the inevitable happens and Makoto barges in after hearing about Kagura wanting to kill Tsubaki as a last resort). It takes a small order of Xanatos Speed Chess by Kagura and Hibiki to rein Makoto in after the fact.
Trinity Glassfille tries not to obey this trope, and conveys all the information she needs to in as concise a manner as possible. She knows she can only manifest outside of Muchorin for a limited time, and has to make every second count. Further, due to being manipulated by Terumi into lifting Nine's geas, which directly contributed to both her and Nine's deaths and led her into her current predicament, she knows full well how important clear communication is. It seems she learned her lesson well - while Bang ran into Relius, who would seek the Lynchpin, he learned enough from Trinity to know how to use Rettenjou to activate it, and it pays dividends when he actually does.
The aforementioned Makoto Nanaya refuses to play by this trope, and works to both express herself clearly and gather reliable and accurate information whenever possible. This actually makes sense, as such handling of information is one of the big responsibilities of an Intelligence officer. The aforementioned Noel caused much of the plot by forgetting Makoto's advice to steer clear of Hazama (aka Terumi, but Makoto didn't know that yet) if possible. To show how dependent on this trope Terumi's plans truly are, Slight Hope has Makoto as the central character. In the true ending, long story short, Terumi's plans fell apart.
In Legend of Mana, Escad attempts to tell anyone who will listen that Irwin is trying to destroy the world. Unfortunately, he's such a Jerkass that no one will listen — but it turns out that Jerkass Has a Point. And it quite literally kills someone when Escad and Daena come to blows.
Happens in "Resonance" half way through the game. Anna (or the player) is tasked to decide what to do with Resonance; destroy the vault or open it. However, no matter the decision, Ed hastily shoots Anna in the head. All this happened, despite Ed's pleas to talk things out, because Anna wouldn't say what she was thinking.
Poor communication is what causes the epic boss fight between Batman and Mr. Freeze in Batman: Arkham City. Batman and Freeze have been forced by the Joker to create a cure for his disease. Batman arrives to collect it, and Freeze demands that Batman must find and rescue his wife Nora first. Batman reads this as Freeze refusing to hand it over, becomes hostile, and tries to steal it. Freeze reads that as Batman refusing to find his wife, and reacts accordingly.
In Shin Megami Tensei IV, a lot of pain and horror could have been avoided if Asmodeus and Koga Sobaru had taken time to explain the reasons for their actions to Flynn instead of immediately attacking him.
In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers, much of the story could've been avoided if Grovyle had bothered trying explain his motives in detail as soon as possible, rather then waiting until the supposedly good, Obviously Evil villain decides to make his move by capturing the hero.
In the cutscene that kicks off the Revenge mission/ending of Grand Theft Auto IV, where Pegorino tells Niko about the upcoming deal with Dimitri, Niko never bothers to explain to Pegorino the dangers of doing business with Dimitri beyond an off-hand remark that "he and I have history." That oversight leads to a chain of events that culminates in Kate getting killed.
If only Tower hadn't assumed that Sentry-1 was broadcasting an all-clear signal at the end of the opening video for the Heavy Gear video game (made worse by her talking over his desperate attempt to warn them), they might have been able to muster a defense. Instead, Sentry-1 was blown to pieces in a Curb-Stomp Battle and it's implied that Tower and the rest of the base soon suffered the same fate.
Ace Attorney has this problem a lot. Vague letters or notes with no clear addressee on them are the most common culprits, although the entire backstory of "Bridge to the Turnabout" could have been solved by good communication without anyone dying. The last one is tragically lampshaded by Godot, who points out that the whole situation would never have happened if he had simply told Phoenix what was going on instead of trying to redeem himself.
In this strip, Thog is questioned by a prison guard, and gives an honest and accurate account that confirms Elan's attempt to explain that he was framed by his Evil Twin brother Nale. However, Thog's statement is chock-full of homophones (and far more elaborate than his usual speech), rendering it comprehensible (with a bit of effort) to the reader but total gibberish to the guard.
Elan's aforementioned attempt to explain just digs him into deeper trouble, but that isn't an example of this trope — for him, it's perfectly in character to go off on ill-considered tangents.
In a particularly tragic example of this, Varsuuvius in the Battle of Azure City is inadvertently discovered by fleeing soldiers who stumble upon him while invisible. They ask hir to save them with hir magic, but since s/he fled the battle because s/he was out of spells, the soldiers stand around allowing the hobgoblins to catch up and slaughter them. V might have convinced them to continue running if s/he said "I am out of spells you fools! Flee for your lives!", though doing so might have made the hobgoblins aware of him as well. V spends the next few months in a sleep-deprived equivalent state so as not to relive that nightmare.
It gets worse: when V tells hir mate that s/he made a Deal with the Devil to save hir and their children, and s/he gets angry. S/he insists that s/he doesn't know the whole story. S/he admits this, but calls hir on keeping the power she needed to save their family, and asks hir to make a choice between hir power and their family. V could have tried to explain more, if only to justify hirself and why s/he needs (or wants) to keep hir power a little longer, but instead s/he just says that s/he needs to make everything right again. An ultimatum had been issued and time was slipping away, but for someone who wants to keep both, V certainly isn't acting in a manner that will let hir do so. Though hir mental state may be justified.
Roy's eagerness to get resurrected and his father being a Jerkass cause him to miss a crucial piece of information — namely, the details of V's brief defection to Evil. Since V is too ashamed to tell hir friends the details either, the combination of failed and missed communication places V in exactly the position desired by the IFCC in the first place: to establish control of Girard's Gate for themselves.
Lord Shojo's death is a literal example of this trope. While in some ways, his Obfuscating Insanity and scheming served him well during his life, it comes to bite him in the ass when the insanely overzealous Miko misinterprets his behavior as that of a traitor and kills him. This subsequently leads to the fall of Azure City to Redcloak's hobgoblin army, the deaths of nearly all of the paladins of the Sapphire Guard at Xykon's hand, and the destruction of the Gate that they were guarding.
In Girl Genius, much bloodshed could be avoided if certain main characters (most notably Agatha Heterodyne and Baron Klaus Wulfenbach and his son Gilgamesh) simply sat down and talked to each other. Instead, distrust and misunderstandings lead to characters fighting each other and working at cross-purposes when they could be allies, while the real enemy gets away. On top of that, every last one of them is either a Mad Scientist or a creation thereof, both classifications of individual not normally known for their ability to think on a level we usually call "normal", let alone communicate on it.
To begin with, an escalation of distrust between Barry and Klaus. Barry and "Clays" let Beetle alone know that they're here and the heir is here too. Back on the airship, Klaus upon discovery who Agatha is immediately ordered to lock her up and keep sedated, and much the same for Punch and Judy.
During the Sturmhalten story arc. Tarvek deliberately sabotaging Agatha's holographic message to the Baron about Lucrezia being the Other and having taken over her body didn't help either. Instead, the edited message made it sounds like she was accusing the Baron of being the Other. And Dimo apparently forgot his previous conviction that the Baron should be informed ASAP about the Geisterdamen with the Hive Engines leaving Sturmhalten through underground tunnels. Various characters have pieces of the puzzle, but crucial information is not relayed. If only they shared this information, they could easily resolve their problems. At this stage, Baron Wulfenbach would dissect Agatha, seeing as how she's possessed by the Other and all that's holding her back is a single flimsy amulet. As Gilgamesh said, "let's be fair: He does have cause".
A lot of grief might have been saved had DuPree actually sent a device team down to analyze Agatha's transmitter in Sturmhalten, instead of just joking about doing it and then bombing the damn thing.
Exemplified in this comic, where the wrong impression is given simply because the relaying party has a different perception of the words, and thus gets the meaning wrong. (On the other hand, that example is subverted on the very next page, when Agatha makes it clear that she doesn't trust the Castle's interpretation of the scene.)
What probably makes the problem worse is that the Big Bad is very good at sowing deception and hostility within groups. She being the most obvious root of mistrust between Barry and Klaus, while the problems caused in later chapters were most definitely due to the Big Bad's moles and hidden supporters along with seceretly mind controlling first Agatha and now the Baron
However, they eventually could compare notes with Gil, making him the guy who knows the most about what's going on. Gil was the only party Klaus and Agatha both have reason to trust and who would be in a position to MAKE them both listen. Except that Klaus ended up either convinced or compelled to pretend that Gil is wasped.
In Panthera, Onca, who is inexperienced with her transformation, and consequently has trouble speaking in it, barely manages to convey the message that they've been tricked and are fighting the good guys instead of the bad guys to Tigris. However, in an almost comedic case of You Have to Believe Me, she fails to provide any of the evidence that led her to this conclusion, resulting in Tigris being disgusted that the villains managed to trick Onca into switching sides in a few hours. It doesn't help that Tigris views Onca as dangerously incompetent and naive.
In El Goonish Shive, this is averted by Justin when confronted with an angry, incomprehensible fire monster; his first response is to try and work out a way to communicate, rather than go straight to beating the tar out of it. It attacks anyway, but it's the thought that counts.
In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures , Aaryana nearly kills Dan because an Oracle's vaguely worded answer strongly implied that Dan killed her beloved mentor Destania aka Dan's mother. The misunderstanding is immediately cleared up by Dan's sister before any murder happens. Later in one strip the characters wonder why Oracles are always so vague; the last panel reveals that the cryptic bullcrap act is mandated by the Oracles' Union.
This trope is what made Split Screen go: Jan went for a decade without speaking to her childhood best friend/love interest, rather than confess her feelings or confront Jeremy about his. When she does finally confess to him, she says her feelings are past tense. Jeremy, on the other hand, dodges and avoids the subject, past and present, rather than tell her how he felt, resulting in mixed messages that only fueled Jan's frustration.
A literal example in Survival of the Fittest Simon Wood mistakes Darnell Butler for a player of the game (not altogether unreasonable, as he is holding a bloodied sword) and attacks, obstentatiously to buy his girlfriend time to escape. Before Darnell can get the chance to explain, he has accidentally killed Simon.
Played for laughs in Dr Horribles Singalong Blog. When Dr. Horrible tries to warn Captain Hammer about the broken Death Ray, he interrupts, saying "I have no time for your warnings, Dr. Horrible". Then proceeds to toss off a one-liner before firing. It Doesnt End Well
The whole musical is based around a more tragic instance, though. If Billy had just told Penny how he felt at the start, he may never have built the death ray, leading to her tragic death.
Justified in Atop the Fourth Wall, where much mutual suffering is caused to both Linkara and Jaeris because the latter wouldn't just ask for help, instead taking what he needed by force. However, he had tried to ask for help in the past... and it failed miserably (and lethally, for the people trying to help).
In Chapter 19.2 of Worm, Skitter explicitly recalls and sets out to defy this trope when talking to Weld and Miss Militia about Calvert.
In the first situation, the guild finds out that Gaea somehow got Fantöm to help her level up. Later on, they get confronted by Fantöm's teammates, two of which are his guild leader and the guild's recruiter. Omega Zell, who dreams of being the next Fantöm, somehow interprets the leader's "We're looking for a member of your guild. It's about Fantöm" as "We're looking for an understudy for Fantöm and we completely forgot about the bad impression Omega Zell gave our recruiter last Season". Omega Zell says he's the person they're looking for and it's only in the middle of strangling him that Fantöm's leader says "Actually, we're looking for the person who has been blackmailing Fantöm". After Omega Zell's Man Child guildmate asked what the strangling was about.
In the second situation, Gaea doesn't pay much attention to her place getting broken into but nothing being stolen because she thought that her impulsive and extremely strong roomate had simply forgotten her keys.
In Manipulation Game Of Fun after Aspiration send a pm to Checklad on day 3 asking whom he considered an enemy or ally, Checklad immediately went ahead to try and kill him. Why? The pm was so poorly worded that it was seen as a threat to Checklad, it let to Aspiration's dead on day 4.
Adventure Time: Princess Bubblegum needs the Ice King to howl with pain. She tells Finn and Jake that part, but not why. And then leaves them to guard him. She was called away at the last moment, but it wouldn't have been particularly hard to say, "A plague is affecting my land and I need his howls to cure it."
In Burning Low,after learning about Finn's new relationship with Flame Princess, she tries to warn he and Jake that FP's physical instability risks world-ending catastrophe if she became too excited. Unfortunately, her warning came in the form of a long, boring technobabble-heavy slide show that neither of the boys paid attention to, leading to them assuming that PB's real problem was mere jealousy. A lot of unnecessary heartache and near-Armageddon followed. PB really should take a couple of speech classes to get her point across more quickly.
In The Lich, Billy tells Finn that he needs the gems of power from the Princesses' crowns to help save the world from the Lich. Finn steals the gems from the crowns, going so far as to attack Princess Bubblegum, without ever explaining why. As a result, PB is too late when she warns him that "Billy" is really the Lich.
As the Kangaroo Court episode shows, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender does not have a future as a defense attorney. More specifically, he was put on trial for "crimes" his past life had committed, and when his friends Katara and Sokka coach him with various innocence proving facts, he sort of... spazzes out.
There's also the communication gap of life-or-death proportions in "The Phoenix King". Zuko is outraged at the rest of the Gaang's seemingly slacking off when Sozin's Comet is due any day. Turns out they forgot to tell him that they've figured the Fire Nation already rules the whole world so they might as well just wait until after the comet's come and gone before fighting the Fire Lord again. Zuko then tells them the Fire Nation is going to use the comet to burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground, which he's slightly more justified in withholding from the rest as he assumed they were still planning to have the fight before the comet arrived.
Aang: Why didn't you tell me about your dad's crazy plan before?
Zuko: I didn't think I had to. I assumed you were still going to fight him before the comet. No one told me you decided to wait!
Thankfully, though, he at least manages to bridge said communication gap, because everyone takes Sozin's Comet way more seriously after that!
The The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes episode "Everything Is Wonderful" fits this trope to a T. All Tony Stark had to do was inform business rival Simon Williams that the latter's company was going under and Stark himself was only purchasing it to save it. Instead of doing this flat-out, he remained aloof, inattentive, unfeeling, and cold as Simon was practically weeping at his feet. Hank Pym called him out on it, and even though Stark knew what he was doing, it still didn't drive him to run after Simon as he stormed out in a huff. And then Simon gets transformed into a being of pure energy, driven only to destroy Stark for his perceived callousness.
In one episode of Chowder a rat that ordered a roast from the main cast burst out of his rat hole snarling and lunging at them. It's not until the very end after a harrowing car chase that he tells them that he is their customer.
The relationship between Rex and his brother Cesar in season 3 of Generator Rex goes downhill because Cesar is too tight-lipped to explain why he is cooperating with Black Knight and helping her to collect the Meta-Nanites. He's planning to give that power to Rex.
Near the end of the second season of Justice League Unlimited, the Watchtower's energy cannon is hacked into and used to blow up the headquarters of the Government Conspiracy, also destroying a good portion of a small town, for the sake of making the League look bad. The League goes out to help the survivors, and a man asks The Flash why they're helping when they shot at them in the first place. Instead of saying "Our satellite was hijacked by an enemy," Flash stutters out, "We didn't... I..."
Another example was in The Terror Beyond; Solomon Grundy has been "recruited" by Aquaman and Doctor Fate to help prevent a Cthluhu-Expy from coming unsealed. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Hawkgirl come to stop them, believing they were up to no good. Rather than explaining the situation, Fate teleports Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Supes, and Grundy across the globe to have them fight it out, while he gets his ass handed to him by Hawkgirl. Great job, Doc.
Then there was the time Metron stopped time to warn Luthor not to continue in his attempt to revive Brainiac, but neglected to explain why. It was Darkseid he was about to bring back to life.
In the episode "Eclipsed", the whole thing could've been avoided if Mophir had just simply warn the soldiers in the cave about the dangers of the black stone it contain during the intro. Instead, he started a fight that he lost, one of the soldiers got his hands on the stone, and the evil snake spirit got free.
In "Party of One", Pinkie Pie interrogates Spike to find out why the other ponies are avoiding her after-party-party for Gummy. Her aggression freaks him out and he takes her demand ("tell me that my friends are avoiding me because they don't like my parties and THEY DON'T WANT TO BE MY FRIENDS ANYMORE!") literally. She takes it as confirmation of her fears and becomes bitter and miserable. These two are already experts at Comically Missing the Point, so it's not really much of a change from the usual for either of them to act like that.
Similarly, in "Swarm of the Century", Pinkie actually knows exactly how to rid the town of the Parasprites, but utterly fails to explain this to anyone else other than make bizarre-sounding comments that would have made sense in context, causing a whole slew of other problems when the others think she's just being Pinkie Pie and ignore her.
Averted in "Green Isn't Your Color", since the plot is driven by deliberate secret-keeping rather than a character's inability to articulate.
It happens again in "Bridle Gossip", where Zecora attempts to warn the cast that they've wandered into a patch of magical plants. Unfortunately, because she insists on rhyming everything, it ends up sounding like a threat, and when the effects of the plants kick in the cast blames Zecora for cursing them. It doesn't help that that they're already somewhat scared of her. It could, however, be justified on the basis that she was new in Ponyville and was still learning the local language.
The entire plot of "A Bird in the Hoof" could have been avoided entirely if Princess Celestia had simply mentioned that Philomena was a phoenix, though the fair share goes to Fluttershy for not asking.
In "A Canterlot Wedding", Twilight Sparkle notices her brother's bride acting suspiciously in a number of ways, but the most sensitive way she can express this is to burst in on the wedding rehearsal shouting that "SHE'S EVIL!" which only makes everyone turn against her. The lack of messages given to Twilight about the wedding early on due to heightened security, making her find out about the wedding just a day or two away from the actual wedding might have contributed to this.
Twilight's lack of evidence might also be justified in the sense that she had no possible way of collecting any in this case, let alone any that could not be contradicted.
Especially annoying because the episode immediately prior featured the lesson "Don't jump to conclusions'' and Twilight should have had it fresh in her mind.
In "One Bad Apple", the entire plot of the episode could have been resolved in the first 10 minutes easily if the CMC had just talked to Applejack about it to begin with, which Sweetie Bellerepeatedly tried to get the others to do to start with.
My Little Pony Equestria Girls shows that all the human versions of the Mane Six suffer from this, as Sunset Shimmer is able to destroy their friendship simply by dropping a few pieces of misinformation that could easily be cleared up. Instead, they all assume the worst of each other, and it takes several years and the influence of Twilight before they think to actually talk to each other about what happened. After that, it takes about five minutes before they make up.
In My Little Pony And Friends, this is the Accidental Aesop of an episode mostly devoted to What Measure Is a Non-Cute?; while the Crabnasties do look much uglier than the Flories, a big part of what led the ponies to side with the latter was the former's relentless efforts at ripping a trail of destruction through Dream Valley in an attempt to find the Flories and their refusal to stop and explain who they were and what they were doing.
In one episode of Phineas and Ferb Candace jumps to the conclusion that her best friend is dumping her when she gets the text message "CYL BFF". Cryptic, but one might expect a teenager glued to her phone to know that it meant "See you later, best friend forever" and not "Candace, you loser. Bad friendships fail".
Parodied in The Simpsons, when Fat Tony and his mob come to kill Homer in one episode, they find themselves under fire from an unknown sniper. Attempting to get a visual on their assailant, Fat Tony asks Johnny Tightlips if he saw the shooter. Unfortunately, Johnny "sees alotta things". Which isn't exactly that helpful in the current situation.
In another episode, Johnny Tightlips has been shot during a gunfight:
It doesn't help that when Mr. Garrison and his partner, Mr. Slave, are asked to make a speech in front of the parents, they're intentionally trying to be as offensive as possible with their homosexuality as part of a Get Rich Quick Scheme to sue the school for discrimination. He becomes increasingly frustrated as the audience can't stop talking about how "brave" they're being.
And just to top it off - Mr. Garrison and Mr. Slave are subsequently sent to the same "Rehabilitation Camp" as the boys had been sent to, since they "obviously [couldn't] tolerate your own behavior!"
There was also another episode, "Raisins", where Wendy broke up with Stan. Stan gets Jimmy to tell her that she is a "continuing source of inspiration to him". Unfortunately, Jimmy gets stuck on the first syllable of "continuing", so it sounds like he's saying "you are a cunt". Wendy is offended and walks away, and only then can Jimmy finish the sentence. Maybe not a good idea to send the boy with the ghastly stutter on this errand.
Subverted in "The F Word". When the boys write "fags get out!" to get rid of the obnoxiously loud Harley bikers, the town demands an explanation to why they wrote hate speech against homosexuals. The boys explain they were referring to the bikers and the whole misunderstanding is solved in about 5 minutes.
Invoked in the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Chocolate With Nuts" with a character that is so insanely enthusiastic about the prospect of buying some chocolate from door-to-door salesmen Spongebob and Patrick that he scares them away for the entire episode, both afraid that they've pressed his Berserk Button instead. "CHOCOLAAATE!"
"Good Ol' Whatshisname" has two examples — first Mr. Krabs tells SpongeBob and Squidward to find out their customers' names, having read in a book that doing so will make them more likely to visit the Krusty Krab often. Squidward isn't interested in this, so Mr. Krabs turns it into a contest. "The employee who learns more names wins this," he says as he holds up a brochure. Squidward assumes that he was referring to the cruise vacation depicted in the brochure, but he would have remained disinterested in the contest if he realised that Mr. Krabs was literally presenting the brochure as the actual prize. Regardless, SpongBob and Squidward are tied, and Mr. Krabs points out a mystery guy whose name is unknown even to SpongeBob (who records the customers' names in a book). Squidward comes up to the guy and asks for his name. The guy responds, "What Zit Tooya". Unfortunately, it sounds like, "What's it to ya?" Squidward asks for his name again, this time under the pretense that he's entering it into a sweepstakes. Tooya gives his name again, but Squidward still misunderstands and resorts to stealing his wallet. In the end, by the time Squidward finds Tooya's name, the police arrests him for both the theft and running a stop sign as he made his getaway, and it isn't until Mr. Krabs visits him in jail when the misunderstanding about the brochure comes to light.
Many of the worse parts of Transformers Animated could have been avoided if Sumdac had told them about how he found their "friend" Megatron...
Megatron realized this too — the first thing he did when Sumdac noticed he had been reactivated was to make up a sob story about how he was ashamed of his ruined state and made Sumdac promise not to reveal his condition to his "fellow" Autobots.
Quite a few episodes of The Backyardigans are driven by this trope. A prime example is "The Snow Fort": Tyrone and Pablo play Mounties guarding the world's biggest snowball inside a snow fort, prepared to defend it at all costs from raiders, while Uniqua and Tasha play a ski rescue team looking for someone in need of rescue. The rescue team finds the Mounties' snow fort and conclude that someone's in trouble inside, while the Mounties spot the rescue duo and assume them to be raiders; conflict ensues.
In one episode of Family Guy where Joe is caught cheating on his wife, Bonnie, Joe weakly attempts to justify his cheating by saying Bonnie cheated on him when she was in Paris because Peter told him about it. Lois interjects by saying that Bonnie thought about cheating but she never actually did it. The entire situation came to be all because Peter wasn't fully paying attention to Lois.
Joe: DAMMIT, PETER!
Peter: Now, hold on. In my defense, it is my experience that I am generally correct about most things.
In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano suffers from this after getting framed for multiple murders, organizing a bombing of the Jedi Temple and conspiring with the enemy. Due to a series of unlikely events, any outside observers are led to believe that she is guilty. Inexplicably, she fails to tell anyone the complete chain of events from her point of view, despite multiple opportunities. Had she done so, it would have cast serious doubts on her guilt, and even a prejudiced prosecutor, not to mention the Jedi Order, would have wanted to interview/interrogate Barriss Offee and Asajj Ventress before ever putting Ahsoka on trial.
There is a (false) urban legend about Napoleon standing over a mass of prisoners. His men asked what to do, and Napoleon coughed, said something about it, and all the prisoners were killed. Apparently, the words "Ma sacrée toux!" (My damned cough!) sound a lot like "Massacrez tout!" (Kill them all!) Oops.
There is a similar Urban Legend about a man on death row (somewhere in All the Little Germanies), and his wife writing a pardon plea to the King. The king's response lacked a single, very crucial comma: "Ich komme nicht köpfen!" which could either be interpreted as "Ich komme, nicht köpfen!" ("I will come; don't behead him!") or "Ich komme nicht, köpfen!" ("I won't come; behead him!"). The executioner's ultimate decision is not known.
This seems to be a common joke in countries where it is linguistically possible. There is an almost identical story in Russia, involving the phrase, "Помиловать нельзя казнить," which, depending on where the comma is placed, either means, "Pardon [him], do not execute," or "Cannot pardon [him]. Execute."
A real life example of this trope occurred during the Crimean War, during the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized in the famous Tennyson poem. Poor communication, mutual jealousy and just plain incompetence among the British commanders led to the slaughter of hundreds of brave soldiers, sadly enough.
The top level commander wanted the cavalry to attack the nearby guns to the south. Unfortunately, due to the topography, the cavalry commanders could not see the guns he was referring to. When asked which guns the order referred to, Captain Nolan (the man who brought the message) responded with an incredibly vague sweep of his arm, seemingly indicating the guns they could see, which lay at the end of a well-defended valley. The rest is history.
Another example from the same war took place during the Battle of the Chernaya, where the Russians had a superiority in numbers (58,000 vs. 37,000) over the Allied forces (French, Sardinians, and Ottomans). The advance forces arrived to the engagement site and Prince Gorchakov, the Russian general, sent a note to his field commanders: "Let's start this". He meant for them to start deploying their forces in preparation for the reinforcements' arrival. The commanders interpreted the note as a signal to attack immediately. The unprepared Russian forces met stiff resistance and were forced to retreat with casualties much higher than the Allies.
The anime industry in the US and UK. Unless it pertains to them being awesome, most companies will say absolutely nothing in regards to their shows. Often, any issue that happens will hit fans square in the chops even when there was a perfectly decent amount of time for someone, like ADV, to say that they had lost the rights to something.
This was also one of the contributing factors to the end of the UK's Anime Central on TV.
The aviation industry uses a standardized vocabulary, English is used even when the pilots and controllers aren't native speakers, and air traffic instructions must be repeated by pilots to ensure mutual understanding. Many crashes and incidents have been caused because someone ignores, misunderstands, or assumes wrongly what someone else said.
The most notable plane crash caused by miscommunication is also the deadliest in aviation history - the March 27, 1977 Tenerife airport disaster, when KLM Flight 4805, a diverted Boeing 747-200, tried to take off on a foggy runway at Los Rodeos Airport while Pan Am Flight 1036, a Boeing 747-100 named "Clipper Victor" (and the aircraft that flew the 747's inaugural commercial flight) was taxiing on it. The result was that all 234 passengers and 14 crew on the KLM were killed, as well as 9 of the 16 crew and 326 of the 380 passengers on the Pan Am. To elaborate:
To start off with, these were two aircraft of many who had been diverted to Tenerife when a bomb detonation and second bomb threat at Gran Canaria airport in Madrid, Spain caused a ton of aircraft diversions. The island of Tenerife had only one airport, and it was packed to the brim with jetliners waiting on the tarmac for clearances back to Madrid for the better part of a day. The KLM and Pan Am in question were the last in line to takeoff at night.
The KLM Boeing 747 was directed by the tower to taxi all the way down the runway, then do a 180 degree turn (called a "backtaxi" turn) to line up for takeoff. While it was doing its turn, the Pan Am Boeing 747 was directed to taxi behind the KLM, then turn off at an exit partway down the runway. It is here that several miscommunications caused the disaster:
The first was that the Pan Am plane missed its exit. Its pilot, Victor Grubbs, was instructed to take the third exit exit to the taxiway. This could have referred to exit C3, or may have meant for the Pan Am to turn upon reaching the third exit not counting the first one it started at which would have meant C4 (the controller even counted off "one...two...three, third exit, when asked for a clarification). Seeing as how exit C3 would have required the pilots to turn the plane an impractically tight 135 degree left turn they continued on to C4, but there is still debate over which exit the controller meant. Either way this was later deemed not to be a contributing factor in the crash.
Many of the communication problems leading to the crash have to do with communications between the KLM and the tower. When the KLM completed its turnaround, the Pan Am was still on the runway. Once the plane stopped, the KLM's copilot Klaas Meurs radioed to the tower, "The KLM four eight zero five is now ready for take-off and we are waiting for our ATC clearance." The KLM crew then received instructions which specified the route that the aircraft was to follow after takeoff. The instructions used the word "takeoff," but did not include an explicit statement that they were cleared for takeoff.
Making things worse was that the pilot, Jacob van Zanten, then started to open the throttles, thinking he had been given clearance and the Pan Am was off the runway. Meurs radioed then to the tower, "We are now at takeoff" - a phrase the controller interpreted as meaning the KLM was telling him, "We are sitting at the end of the runway waiting for you to give us takeoff clearance," not "We are taking off right now."
The tower then sent a message to the KLM, saying "OK.... Stand by for take-off, I will call you." However, the KLM pilots did not hear this message, because at the exact same moment the tower controller spoke the message, the pilots of the Pan Am, who had overheard the entire communication and realized the KLM was unaware that the Pan Am was still occupying the runway, pressed their talk button, saying "we're still taxiing down the runway, the Clipper one seven three six." Due to the way two-way radio systems work, only one person can speak at a time and two attempting to speak at once causes a loud buzz called a heterodyne. Due to the Pan Am and the tower both trying to speak at the same time, all the KLM pilots heard was "OK [buzz]." Either message by itself would have prevented the disaster by telling the KLM pilots they did not have takeoff clearance.
There was fog so dense that visibility was basically non-existent. Neither plane could see the other, and neither did the control tower. The control tower was guiding the planes completely blindly, by radio commands only.
There was a language confusion of Dutch, Spanish and English between the tower, the KLM, and the Pan Am: The tower international communication was in Spanish. The KLM cockpit crew used Dutch for internal communication, and also spoke with heavy Dutch accents, making it impossible for the Spanish tower crew to understand them. The Pan Am crew spoke American English. The tower also used non-standard phrases when communicating with the planes. For example, at one point, the tower controller said, "Papa Alpha one seven three six, report when runway clear". One can clearly see that this message was directed at the Pan Am, but in all other communications with the Pan Am, it had been addressed with its proper callsign, "Clipper 1-7-3-6." It's possible that the KLM crew did not realize that this was a transmission meant for the Pan Am, not for them.
There is a reason why English is the mandated language of communication in aviation.
Analysis of background audio on the cockpit voice recorders hints that the tower controllers may have been distracted by a football match on the radio.
There was also an in-aircraft communication problem—the captain of the KLM aircraft was a chief pilot for the airline (he was featured in all their advertising, for example), and the co-pilot noticed that they hadn't properly received clearance to takeoff. However, the crew were nearing mandated work-time limits; they had to get off the ground soon, or they would have to stay overnight. The pilot chose to ignore his co-pilot's observation/recommendation, and the co-pilot didn't force the point. After this incident, Crew Resource Management (CRM) became mandatory training for airlines, to teach aircrews to work together for safety purposes.
The book "Airport International" closed a chapter with an incident where the pilot called for "takeoff power"—putting the engines at takeoff power—and his co-pilot interpreted it as an order to "take off power", and crashed the plane. "Fortunately, these strangers met on a simulator."
Avianca Flight 52 ran out of fuel while circling to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport and crashed because the JFK air traffic controllers were unaware of the flight's critical fuel status. The reason? The pilots used the word "priority" when requesting permission to land. In air traffic control jargon, "priority" means "We'd like to land now, but can wait if we need to," not, "We can't keep flying much longer and we must land immediately." As a result, the plane was put into a holding pattern much longer than it should have been, causing it to deplete its fuel reserves and crash into the woods near Cove Neck.
Many midair collisions are the result of communication errors:
If the deadliest plane crash in all aviation history was the result of communication errors, then that also applies to the deadliest mid-air collision in aviation history, the 1996 Charkhi Dadri collision between a climbing Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747 and a descending Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76. The crash was attributed to the Kazakh pilots' poor English skills which led them to descend well below assigned altitude to that of the Saudi 747. Worse, ATC had no radar capable of measuring altitudes to warn them (their primitive system only had blips that told them the locations of the aircraft, but they had no markings with flight information).
The midair collision crash of PSA Flight 182 in San Diego was caused in part by a critical misinterpreted word: the copilot on an airliner reported that he thought they'd passed by a small plane already, however a burst of static made it sound to the ground controller that they were passing the plane, leading the controller to assume they had the plane in sight and knew where it was relative to them: if he'd heard the word in the past tense, he might have realized they didn't know where the plane was as his radar clearly showed it was still in front of them.
The Überlingen mid-air collision on July 1, 2002 happened when a DHL Boeing 757's tailfin cut through a Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev Tu-154 at a 90 degree angle over Überlingen, Germany, killing all 71 people on both aircraft. The cause of the crash was attributed to several factors, most of which had to do with the controller on duty, Peter Nielsen. About 20 months after the crash, Nielsen was murdered at his house by Vitaly Kaloyev, an architect who lost his wife and two children in the crash. In a way, protocol and Nielsen failed to see the incoming collision for a number of reasons:
Nielsen was the sole controller dispatching planes in the airspace where the collision occurred that night. His backup controller was resting in another room. This was in violation of guidelines requiring two controllers to be on duty, but management took a blind eye to it.
Right before the collision happened, Nielsen was trying to use a patchy phone line to contact Friedrichshafen Airport and tell them that a delayed Aero Lloyd Airbus A320 was approaching them. The main line at Skyguide was out for maintenance, and the backup line was malfunctioning. Due to this, he didn't see a problem until about one minute before the collision. The malfunctioning phone lines also kept air traffic controllers at another control center from phoning in a warning to Nielsen.
Nielsen inadvertently told the Tupolev pilots the incorrect position of the DHL aircraft, telling them it was at their two o'clock position (to their right) when it was actually at their ten o'clock position (to their left).
While all of the facts surrounding Nielsen are true, the main contributing factor was that both aircraft's TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) systems sounded. What each aircraft did in response caused the collision: the DHL plane received a TCAS order to descend, and it followed the orders of its TCAS. The Tupolev received a TCAS order to climb, but it received instructions from Nielsen to descend. The Tupolev pilots were conflicted, and listened to Nielsen's instructions to descend, which kept the two planes on a collision course. A collision caused by conflicting orders would never happen in the United States because FAA regulations stipulate that if a pilot receives air traffic control instructions contrary to what his TCAS is telling him to do, he must disregard the air traffic controller.
In fact, the type of TCAS conflict that caused the Uberlingen collision had happened before. Eighteen months before the crash, a near mid-air collision occurred near Tokyo between two Japan Airlines aircraft in January 2001. A Boeing 747 leaving Haneda Airport and a McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 heading into Narita International Airport crossed paths. Both received TCAS orders. The DC-10 followed its TCAS orders and the 747 followed air traffic control orders. When the planes saw each other, the 747's crew took evasive action. How close did the two plane comes to hitting? According to this picture, they came within about 35 feet of colliding◊ and filled each other's windscreens. About 100 people on the 747 were seriously injured by the evasive actions of their pilots, while there were no injuries on the DC-10. Japanese authorities wanted the ICAO to implement changes to prevent this kind of incident from happening again. The ICAO did not investigate the Japan Airlines incident until after the Uberlingen collision.
Preventing this sort of situation is why modern militaries and other organizations make such a big deal about communicating in specific ways: NATO armies have a standard method to issue orders, air traffic control and pilots (and submarine and ship crews) acknowledge instructions by repeating them back, and so on.
It has been claimed that bad communication is the number one cause of major military disasters as seen in the films Gallipoli, Bravo Two Zero and Black Hawk Down. The Grenada invasion of 1983 was full of communication snafus, but was saved due to the incompetence of the defenders.
Much of the butchery on the first day of the Somme was due to this: word of initial lodgements in the enemy front line with requests for urgent reinforcement prompted dispatch of said reinforcements, which is good military sense ("reinforce success"). Alas, by the time the message got through (no walkie-talkies in those days), the picture had changed and the reinforcements were massacred; the advancing barrage couldn't be called back to deal with unsuppressed machine guns; etc. etc. The tragedy of an industrial war in which communications technology lagged behind everything else. The British eventually fixed the problem by de-emphasising initiative and dash in favour of carefully rehearsed and scripted advances onto limited objectives and improvements in artillery technique, to the point where the last 100 days of the First World War was a series of unbroken victories over the Germans.
The War of 1812, at least for the British. Especially as the long travel period required to carry any message between the British and American governments caused the Battle of New Orleans, the largest battle of the war, to be fought two months after both sides signed an armistice. The signed copy just hadn't gotten to the British commanders or the American government yet. The entirety of the war was this in some sense. America declared war due to several reasons stemming from the Napoleonic wars, such as blockading of ports and the impression of their sailors into the British navy. The law which had allowed the impression of sailors had been repealed just prior to the American declaration of war, but with the travel time across the Atlantic nobody knew one of the major reasons had been eliminated.
There's supposedly a story about British forces during The Korean War requesting help from a American unit with "I think we're in a bit of a sticky situation here." The Americans didn't understand that was typical British understatement, and it didn't end well.
The Lydian king Croesus, thought to be the richest man of his age, went to the Oracle of the Delphi to ask what would happen if he invaded Persia. After being told that he "will destroy a great empire", Croesus went ahead and launched the invasion. Things did not go well for him, and he narrowly escaped being burned alive by Cyrus the Great. Later he sent another emissary to the Oracle asking for an explanation. Her response: Croesus had destroyed a great empire - his own.
The assumption though is that this was deliberate poor communication on the part of the Oracle so they could claim they were correct no matter who had won.
Henry II and the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket had disagreements over the rights and privileges of the Church. Four knights recently returned from the crusades overhead Henry saying "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" and interpreted this as a royal command. On December 29, 1170, they arrived at Canterbury and killed Becket when he refused to leave the cathedral. Henry soon after undertook public penance for his part in the murder, both because Becket was a friend (even if their friendship had been strained to the breaking point), and because his knights did murder the Archbishop of Canterbury, on what they assumed to be his orders.
Actually, what Henry really said was even more likely to accidentally spur his knights into rash action. It was something along the lines of "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"
Nicely spoofed in the first series of Black Adder, when two knights overhear the King merely quoting Henry II in midst of a discussion about how glad he is not to have the same trouble (the King is actually very pleased with the job Edmund is doing as the new Archbishop). Of course, it doesn't help that the King is played by BRIAN BLESSED and so everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like an angry command.
Or that the person he was quoting to wasn't paying attention, so he got frustrated and had to yell it more than once.
The Japanese High Command responded to the American demand for a surrender prior to the atomic bombings using the word mokusatsu as the operative phrase. ''Mokusatsu" has a spectrum of meanings, ranging from the innocuous, "No comment," to "We are ignoring in contempt." Guess which translation got back to the Americans. This has been used by the NSA as a textbook example of never assuming what the intended meaning of an ambiguous phrase is while translating. Nevertheless, seeing as only one response (unconditional surrender) would have been acceptable anyway, it's important not to overstate this episode.
Another Japanese example was their fetish for compartmentalization and utter secrecy, in part to fool Allied codebreakers and in part to prevent people becoming demoralized at how bad their military situation really was. The ultimate example was the Battle of Midway; the Japanese Army was not informed for several months how bad the naval situation had become.
There's a reason that in the US armed forces (and possibly other english-speaking NATO allies) you will have your ass chewed for requesting that someone "repeat" their last transmission. The proper request is "say again" because when "repeat" is used as a proword it means to send another artillery or naval gunfire barrage to the previous coordinates. Fire discipline is a wonderful thing.
"The world wonders" - during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in WWII a part of cryptographic padding (essentially a nonsense text to throw off enemy cryptographes) caused William F. Halsey of the USN 3rd Fleet to stop pursuit of a fleeing carrier group that was used as a decoy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_world_wonders
The start of that pursuit had another example. When Halsey telegraphed a message said that "Task Force 34 will be formed" and would guard the San Bernardino Strait, other admirals assumed the Task Force would be formed right now while Halsey meant he might form it in the future. When Halsey announced he was going after the carriers, those admirals assumed Task Force 34 was still guarding the strait, when in fact it was completely open and gave the main Japanese fleet a practically clear path to the American transport ships they were supposed to protect. When the tiny American fleet left to defend it send for help, the message "Where repeat where is Task Force 34 the world wonders" was send, which was intended as an inquiry but with the three added words sounded like biting sarcasm to Halsey. Luckily, the Japanese didn't know where Halsey's fleet was either and when the tiny US destroyer force attacked the huge Japanese fleet, the Japanese assumed they must be backed by the whole US fleet and retreated.
Another tragic example in that battle is that survivors weren't rescued until two days after the battle due to numerous communication errors, such as search planes giving out the wrong coordinates.
Ever heard of the Shiloh Baptist Church Panic? It's widely considered to be one of the most bizarre disasters in U.S. history. On September 19, 1902, the predominantly African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama was hosting a convention with Booker T. Washington as the keynote speaker, and had recently moved to a new building, which featured a steep, narrow stairwell with brick walls on either side that led from the front doors to the sanctuary. During Washington's speech, the choir director and a man in the audience got in an argument over a vacant seat. Someone egged them on, yelling "Fight! Fight!" Unfortunately, the crowd — 2,000 strong — misheard it as "Fire!" They rose en masse and made a mad dash for the stairs, pushing, shoving, tripping at the top of the stairs and falling, while others fainted out of sheer fright and were trampled. Eventually, the only way out of the church was blocked by a screaming wall of people 10 feet high. 110 people died from suffocation and internal injuries, and many more were injured.
During World War 2 a joint Navy/Air Force operation to supply the besieged island of Malta came to grief (or nearly so) because of a misunderstanding over the distance RAF airplanes had to cover to get there after taking off from an aircraft-carrier. The Royal Air Force always used statute miles and therefore thought the number was given in statute miles, but the Royal Navy had, as it always did, given the distance in nautical miles (1 nautical mile = 1.151 statute miles).
The San Bernardino train disaster, involving a cargo train taking a heavy load down a steep incline and going out of control, was caused by two of these.
First the cargo manifest wasn't filled out properly, leaving out the weight of the cargo, so a clerk did a quick visual inspection to guage the weight. The clerk didn't know that the cargo was heavier than the coal the cars were designed for, so he filled out 2/3 full, when they were actually at their full weight.
Second, the main engineer asked for two extra locomotives to help with braking, knowing that some of the existing engines on the front of the train had faulty brakes. However, he was never told that one of the additional rear helper engines also had faulty brakes, and the engineer on those engines never mentioned it, thinking the lead engineer was already told about the braking problem. So a massive derailment happened at Duffy Street. Then there was a gas explosion two weeks later.
When the Mars Climate Orbiter was built, Maryland contractors built it under the assumption NASA was using the imperial system. NASA was actually using metric, so all the calculations for the Orbiter were off - with the result that a $330 million piece of technology vanished completely once it hit Mars' atmosphere.
Although this is perhaps more a case of "stupidity kills", as NASA spelt out very clearly in their contract with Lockheed that metric was to be used. Lockheed were just morons.
Imperial/metric's been a common case of these across many disciplines. Probably too long a list to even start, but when it happens on planes.
One flight across African desert was only saved by the onboard engineer who ignored the navigator's fuel calculations (where the navigator thought miles to be kilometers, which would naturally give you about half the required load) and just filled full - hilarity reinforced by "complicated" nature of the TU-134's fuel gauges. Far into the flight, after several minutes of total angst in the cabin when the navigator realized his mistake, the engineer presented them with real fuel loads and commented: "Your fuel's gone, now we're flying on mine".
The Gimli Glider. The Air Canada Boeing 767 ran out of fuel half way through a Montreal to Edmonton flight due to the adoption of the metric system; the pilots managed to land it like a glider at the closed Gimli RCAF base - which had to do with the pilot's experience as a skilled glider pilot. Fortunately, no one was killed or even seriously injured.
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was full of poor communication, some of it intentional. The company responsible for one of the most critical components of the shuttle (the O-rings that sealed the joints of the SRBs) had not tested them properly in very-low-temperature conditions. What information they had suggested that anything below about 40F would cause them to not function properly. The weather on the day of the launch was 31F, with an estimated temperature of about 8F around the O-rings. The company responsible for these critical components (Morton Thiokol) stalled for hours before lying to NASA and telling them to go ahead with launch and that the parts would hold. The reasoning after the fact by the engineers responsible for why they didn't do more to prevent the disaster is that they kept silent in protest of their employer's actions, knowing that the launch would inevitably fail and being unable to stop this because their employer would not risk the loss of business by telling NASA to hold back the launch. It didn't help matters that NASA put a great deal of pressure on Morton Thiokol to see the shuttle launched on time, giving them the impression that they would lose NASA's business if they didn't launch.
Russell Peters talks about a variant of this in one of his routines. He says that when a Filipino girl asked if he wanted to see her "susu" (breasts), he was confused because to Indians, "susu" means "pee-pee". So he tells the girl "Eww, no, flush it!", but the girl just thinks he's really kinky.
William the Conqueror's coronation was greeted so loudly outside Westminster Abbey that his soldiers thought a riot had erupted and proceeded to massacre everyone.
One of the main causes of the Russo-Japanese War was Russia not responding to Japan's requests to negotiate over Korea.
During the intifada, one group of Palestinian militants refused to adhere to Israel's practice of Daylight Savings Time, and rigged a bomb to explode at a specified time by their West Bank clocks. The infiltrator assigned to place the device assumed its stated detonation-time was by the Israeli clocks, so thought he had an hour longer in which to plant it than its timer allowed. The bomb was still on his person when it went off, killing no one but him.
There's a rather dark joke about two hunters on a trip where one fell out of the tree stand and lay unconscious. His friend calls 911 saying he thinks his friend is dead. The operator's instructions are "Okay, first thing is to make sure he's dead." There's a pause on the other end before a gunshot is heard, with the hunter coming back and asking "Okay, now what?"
A limo driver was driving a bride and her bridesmaids to a party when a fire sparked inside. The driver was completely unaware and one of the women kept screaming "Smoke! Smoke!" (she either didn't speak good English or she was too panicked to speak more clearly), causing the driver to think the woman wanted him to pull over for cigarettes. It wasn't until the woman got more frantic and hysterical that the driver then realized something was wrong. By the time he pulled over and called for help, at least 6 women, including the bride, were killed in the fire.
A recent example from Sweden: a woman had passed out in Gothenburg while she was walking with her pitbull. When police and an ambulance arrived to help her, the dog acted violently and aggressively towards the potential saviors of the woman, thinking that they were going to harm her. Sadly, the situation ended with the dog getting shot in order to be able to carry the woman safely to the nearest hospital.
During World War I the Italian army was plagued by the high command's refusal to meaningfully communicate: artillery barrages meant to suppress enemy forces would be interrupted because the general commanding the sector had guessed the troops were already entering the enemy trenches, critical information on impending enemy offensives would be dismissed as false or not given to the commander in chief (who, after ignoring them the first time, had smarted up), a possibly decisive offensive was ruined by lack of communications between the different units, and, to top everything else, a general had guessed the incoming Austro-Hungarian offensive of Caporetto and prepared an artillery trap with orders to not fire until he gave the order only to find out that he had no radio the enemy artillery had interrupted his phone lines, the usual mist blocked light signals, and the gunners couldn't hear his acustic signals over the noise of the battle (Caporetto was a Curb-Stomp Battle in Austro-Hungarian favour, if you were wondering).
The 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster. The captain of the SS Newfoundland told 132 of his men to go and hunt with the crew of the SS Stephano and then spend the night on that ship. But the Stephano's captain told them to return to the Newfoundland when they were finished hunting. The ships didn't have radios (widely considered to be too expensive at the time), so the Newfoundland captain didn't know about this instruction. The sailors ended up stranded on the ice for 48 hours in a terrible winter storm and 78 of them died. They were only rescued because the Newfoundland captain happened to see them with his binoculars while surveying the ice floes. No one had been looking for them because each captain assumed the men were safe on the other ship.
The Navy's response to the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during the Second World War.
There's a joke about a man driving along a winding road in the country. A woman drives past him from the opposite direction, sticks her head out the window, and yells, "PIG!" The offended man yells back, "BITCH!" Then he drives around the next corner and crashes into a large pig that was standing in the middle of the road.
Ship-based Buccaneer Broadcaster Radio Caroline managed to ride out the Great Storm of October 1987 but its overlarge 250-foot antenna mast suffered some damage. An engineer was scheduled to inspect the mast but didn't make it out to the ship because the sea was still too rough. Those on land assumed the engineer had visited the ship and declared the mast sound, while those on the ship assumed his visit was delayed. (Just to clarify, the ship couldn't simply radio its shore personnel because pirate radio ships are banned from non-emergency ship-to-shore communications.) Next time a big storm blew up a few weeks later the mast collapsed and had to be cut loose to avoid sinking the ship. The station eventually built a smaller antenna system, but the signal was never as strong again. What was more, without the big mast to counterweight its ballast the ship rolled more and was reportedly much less comfortable to work on.
There are (Possibly exaggerated or made up) historical records about a battle during the Austro-Turkish war that took place in Karansebes. The details are too many to describe in this example, but the summarized version is that the inability of the soldiers to understand the language of their superiors led to one of the most catastrophic and tragic friendly fire events in military history, which resulted in the almost complete annihilation of the Austrian army stationed there. This is a clear example of how poor communication can spell the doom of entire armies.
The sinking of the RMS Titanic is filled with this. There are many, many points in which better communication between various parties (Between ships, between captain and crew, between crew and passengers, ect.) could have greatly lessened, even outright prevented, the tragedy.
Crowd control in large public events, such as concerts or sports events, can be seen as a form of communication between the event organizers and the public. Failure at this has resulted in crowd disasters, mostly caused by compressive asphyxia. An example is the 1979 The Who concert disaster, where 11 people died because the crowd misinterpreted a sound check for the start of the show and rushed to the hall entrance, packing against locked doors, causing 11 people to be asphyxiated to death. Many such disasters (such as the infamous Hillsborough disaster, which caused the death of 96 people) are caused by poor crowd control, often caused by poor communication within the organizers, and between the organizers and the public.