Follow TV Tropes


Poor Communication Kills

Go To
Talk about Not Hyperbole.

"It is all that is left unsaid upon which tragedies are built."


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 is the inability (or, sometimes, downright refusal) to communicate.

In many stories, particularly those that rely on Dramatic or Tragic Irony, miscommunication and misunderstanding can often play a role in setting off or allowing bad things to happen. This often happens in mystery stories, such as where a murderer kills an innocent victim due to a misunderstanding, as well as in Tragedies, where poor communication is often the result of the characters' own Fatal Flaws, which lead them to commit Tragic Mistakes that pave the way for everything to go pear-shaped. This is also an all-too-common occurrence in Real Life, where many real life tragedies could have been avoided had the right people shared information that could have prevented them, but didn't for all kinds of reasons.


In order for this trope to work, the misunderstanding or miscommunication needs to have a reason to occur, best borne out of the natural characterization of the characters involved. A character who has a hard time trusting someone, for example, is more likely to dismiss that someone's explanation of what's going on out of hand than to hear the person out. Someone who is naturally shy or has No Social Skills may also have trouble getting their point across. A Horrible Judge of Character may implicitly trust a villain who wants nothing but bad things for him, and tend not to believe those who tell him of the villain's evil intentions. A Ditherer may refuse to speak up on something because it would mean having to make a choice one way or the other.

Basically, the miscommunication or misunderstanding should be borne out of flaws and behaviors that a character has had from the start rather than something that happened because the author needed a story to go a certain way and derailed the characters involved, making them hold the Idiot Ball. Alternately, if everyone in the story has unreasonably bad communication skills, it may be an Idiot Plot. Authors who pull this trope badly run the risk of straining the audience's Willing Suspension of Disbelief.


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 listening is also a vital part of good communication).

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; Funny Phone Misunderstanding; Suspicious Missed Messages.

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. When communication is impeded not by character flaws but because of an outside force, see Impeded Communication.

Works using this trope will often discuss The Power of Language.

This is a trope rife with major plot points by necessity. Spoilers shall be unmarked.

    open/close all folders 

    Common ways to NOT get the point across 

  • Abilene Paradox: Doing something that you don't want to do because you think everyone else wants to do it.
  • Angrish: A character is too angry to get his point across coherently.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: A character goes out of their way to not give someone useful information, usually due to lack of trust.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: A character misunderstands an unfamiliar word as an insult.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: The character purposefully keeps quiet out of conflicted feelings.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: A character's attempts to be humorous just leaves their audience bemused, bothered and bewildered.
  • Cassandra Truth: A character who is never believed because her claims are seen as insane.
  • Cassandra Did It: When she's proven right, sometimes, everyone will just assume she did it.
  • Contagious Cassandra Truth: If the "Cassandra" convinces someone else they'll have exactly the same problem convincing anyone themselves.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: When it's acknowledged In-Universe that this trope happened.
  • Crying Wolf: The dumbass has lied to them before, so they think he's lying again even when he's telling the truth.
  • Cryptically Unhelpful Answer: The answers to questions are cryptic. As well as unhelpful.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Being mysterious for the sake of being vague, this rarely helps the heroes get anywhere or stop the villains.
  • Cue Card Pause: An unfortunately timed pause completely changes the meaning of a sentence.
  • Culture Clash: Each character is quite certain that the other understands what is meant.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: How most people get tongue tied into being a Cassandra Truth.
  • Divided We Fall: Your friends allies regard you as a greater threat than their (and your) enemies.
  • Does Not Know How to Say "Thanks": When a character tries to express his gratitude to someone but has no idea how to go about it.
  • The End Is Nigh: No-one believes those crazy guys with sandwich boards anyway.
  • Friend or Foe: You can't tell who to trust.
  • Headbutting Heroes: You and another hero do NOT get along.
  • Ignored Confession: If someone is impaired in any way, whatever revelation they say will be ignored. Even if it seems perfectly logical that it would be so.
  • Ignored Expert: A modern version of Cassandra, who has found irrefutable empirically acquired proof of doom that everyone refuses to believe.
  • Interrupted Cooldown Hug: Any time a non-violent solution against a nigh-unstoppable force seems likely, someone will shoot at it.
  • It Seemed Trivial: Someone keeps his mouth shut about a vital fact because he doesn't know how important that fact actually is.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Why any two Super Heroes or teams fight in comic books. At least it usually gets sorted out fairly quickly once someone asks Why Isn't It Attacking?
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Keeping vital information from the hero, either for valid reasons or "just because". Rarely ends amicably.
  • 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.
  • Mistaken Confession: A character confesses to something they weren't being asked about.
  • Moment Killer: A character who wants to get their point across is interrupted by another character.
  • Mondegreen: A character mishears the words of another.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: "Engineering, report!" "You'd better come down here and see this... and bring a Red Shirt with you."
  • Non-Answer: A response that superficially resembles an answer, but when looked at more closely, is not one at all.
  • Nonverbal Miscommunication: When words are out of the mix, things tend to get worse. If only someone created a language based on making signs... still they'd find a way to mess it up.
  • Non Voyage Party: Overhearing plans to throw a surprise party and thinking it's a farewell party.
  • Not Helping Your Case: The character falls under suspicion, and reacts in a way that makes him look even more suspicious.
  • No Listening Skills: Trying to tell this character anything is a fruitless endeavour.
  • No Longer with Us: Poor word choice causes one character to assume that another is dead.
  • No Time to Explain: An excuse for several of the following; considering how time works in movies, pretty much a non-excuse.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Silencing away children or allies when they have important news.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: This poor soul can't expose the Devil in Plain Sight. How infuriating!
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Two characters have a conversation, but each party is actually addressing a different topic than the other without realizing it for some time, if ever.
  • One Side of the Story: The result of several of these.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Overhearing only part of an important conversation and leaping to the wrong conclusion.
  • Rage Against the Mentor: The result of heroes getting fed up with abstruse and cryptic mentors and allies.
  • Remember That You Trust Me: Some loners never let the Aesop stick permanently.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: A frustrated person expresses a wish they wouldn't really want to come true, but someone close to them takes it literally and acts on it.
  • Right Hand vs. Left Hand: What happens when two groups who should be allies fight, simply because no one bothers to find out which side they're all on!
  • Self-Offense: A character detects someone approaching and, thinking it's a bad guy, attacks. Of course, it turns out they just attacked their ally.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: When Smart people Cannot Spit It Out because their language is too elevated.
  • Stopped Reading Too Soon: A character misses vital information stopping mid-paragraph.
  • Take Off Your Clothes: Asking someone to disrobe for non-sexual reasons and having your intentions misunderstood.
  • A Tale Told by an Idiot: A dimwitted character tries to explain a situation, but is not easily understood.
  • That Came Out Wrong: When someone utters a perfectly innocent remark, only for it to sound like something smutty.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: A result of some of these, usually from an initial lie being revealed.
  • Thought They Knew Already: A character causes problems by revealing something that they thought the person already knew, but they didn't.
  • Tongue-Tied: A character physically cannot tell anyone something important that will solve their problems easily because of some kind of magic or powers.
  • Tragically Misguided Favor: When you think you did something good for a person, but it turns out to be the worst thing that could happen.
  • Two Rights Make a Wrong: Two groups each put a plan into action without telling the other, with the result that neither is successful.
  • You Didn't Ask: Not sharing important information unless specifically asked to.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Very often in the disaster and horror genre, anyone who learns of the impending disaster in time to stop it loses the ability to not talk like a homeless schizophrenic.
  • You Know What You Did: A soap opera staple, the result of a loved one thinking you're cheating because of One Side of the Story. Worst part is the poor sap doesn't know what he did!
  • You Make Me Sic: A character writes something to another... but the only response they get is that their spelling needs work.

Example Subpages:

Other Examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • This Indian ad for the Suzuki Samurai bike shows a man who runs into a Japanese man next to a Suzuki Samurai bike. The first man asks the Japanese man several questions about the bike, to which he keeps replying with "no problem". The first man then asks if he can ride the bike, to which the Japanese man again replies with "no problem", and the first man hops on the bike and starts riding. Turns out the bike belongs to another civilian, and the Japanese man appears to be only able to say "no problem" in English.

  • Narrowly averted in Billy Birmingham'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!
  • 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?"
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • In 9 Chickweed Lane, Official Couple Amos 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).

    Films — Animation 
  • All over the place in Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. Stitch never properly explains that his spasms are completely uncontrollable, Lilo never asks why Stitch has been freaking out and wrecking things, and most importantly Jumba and Pleakley never tell anybody that Stitch is malfunctioning. In fact, they even make it a point to keep it a secret for reasons they never explain. If even just one of these characters communicated a little better, the entire plot could have been avoided. Especially annoying because both Lilo and Stitch have plenty of times where they should have nothing better to do but discuss what just happenednote , and yet somehow they just don't. Lilo can maybe be excused because she's only 6 or 7 years old, but Stitch is supposed to be as intelligent as a supercomputer.
  • In Shrek, after Lord Farquaad chooses Fiona as the princess he wants to marry, the Magic Mirror attempts to warn him about the "little thing that happens at night." However, Farquaad is so caught up in his own celebrating at being able to call himself a king that he cuts the Mirror off before he can explain. Had he let the Mirror finish, he would have learned that Fiona was cursed to turn into an ogre every night until she kisses her true love. Though in the case her true love being the fellow ogre, Shrek, she ends up just staying an ogre full-time anyway.
  • In The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, Melody is never told why she's not to go beyond the seawall. This becomes extremely problematic once Melody finds her grandfather's gift to her. She's also never told that Morgana is dangerous, and this allows the witch to manipulate Melody very easily.
  • 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. The circumstances might have stopped it from being a get out of jail free card, but it would have helped.
  • Strange Magic: If the Bog King had let the Sugar Plum Fairy explain why the love potion didn't work when he tried to use it on the girl he was in love with, he and everyone else would probably have been much happier for it.
  • 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, the game’s main villain. 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.
  • Frozen:
    • Anna gets struck in the head with Elsa's ice magic, so the sisters are separated for thirteen years to keep Anna from getting harmed again. Due to Anna's memories of the incident getting erased, she has no idea why Elsa shuts her out. A lot of the film's conflict (especially regarding Elsa's glove and the major argument between the two sisters over Anna's impromptu engagement to Hans) might have been avoided if Elsa or their parents had just told Anna about Elsa's powers when they felt she was old enough. One gets the idea that Elsa was ordered specifically not to tell her, and it seems to be suggestednote  that had they not been killed prematurely, they may have had a point in time where they were going to tell Anna something along the lines of "we had to isolate you from Elsa because she has this ability to make ice that she is unable to control".
    • The trolls have no idea how to help Elsa gain control of her powers — only that she shouldn't let fear control her. Ironically, they are coincidentally love experts, which is exactly what helps Elsa gain control of her powers.
  • The entire immediate conflict of Coco happens because of Miguel's mistaken belief of the identity of his great-great-grandfather.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part goes about this in a rather silly way. The Good All Along "villains" outright tell the protagonists what they plan to do, but the protagonists are under the impression that they're lying. It doesn't help that the villains used to run on Blue-and-Orange Morality (being "controlled" by a younger sister who was once a toddler), which means that the protagonists tend to shoot first whenever it comes to an actual fight and then mistake defensiveness as aggression. Consequently, genuine changes of heart get mistaken as brainwashing, and a genuine Sugar Bowl is interpreted as a Crapsaccharine World. This gets lampshaded pretty hard later on.
  • ParaNorman:
    • Little girl Aggie had no idea how to explain her ability to see and speak to the dead in terms that her accusers could see in any way except "witchcraft". In trying, she basically admits to being "guilty" and dies for it. The result is a curse that causes Judge Hopkins and his jury to turn into zombies, doomed to wander the streets looking for a way to properly pass on.
    • Old Mr Prenderghast clearly had decades during which he could have written out detailed instructions for whoever took over the task of keeping the witch asleep. Indeed, that information probably was in his study. But, being rather insane, his collection of information is a tangled mess that only makes sense to his irrational mind. He also seems to assume that Norman already knows what to do and just needs to be pushed into doing it.
  • Pretty much the entirety of Chicken Run would have not only been avoided, but they'd have escaped years ago had any of the hens actually bothered to listen to any of Fowler's ramblings. It's not until late in the movie that they even ask what the R.A.F. or "the old crate" was, and learn it was the Royal Air Force and a flying machine. Fowler on the other hand always assumed they were listening to him, and is genuinely surprised none of them know what either of those things are, as it's implied he's been going off about both for as long as he's been there.
  • At the climax of Tangled, just as Eugene and Rapunzel are about to kiss, the former saw the Stabbington Brothers waiting in the shore and in order to keep Rapunzel safe, he decides to head on shore to give the tiara to them. However, since he does not tell Rapunzel of their presence (whom she previously saw attempting to kill them), she is led to believe that Eugene truly abandoned her for the tiara, which traumatize her enough that led to Gothel successfully regaining hold of her to return to the tower.
  • The Man Called Flintstone: Secret agents contact Fred Flintstone and send him on a mission to capture the Green Goose. They don't bother to clarify that the Green Goose is a dangerous criminal, so Fred agrees because he thinks he's been hired to capture a rare bird. Naturally, when he learns of the Green Goose's true nature, he is terrified.
  • In Inside Out, Joy and Sadness focus on waking Riley up while Fear is on dream duty, but the other emotions have no idea that they doing this to get back to headquarters and Anger and Disgust chastise Fear for waking Riley up during a nightmare. Anger comes up with a plan to make Riley run away.

  • 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.
  • This trope is one of the problems in "Tyrant" by Disturbed.
    There's so many things that I wanted to say
    But the love turned to hate we kept pushing away
    And the words that came out turned it into a mess
    And it's like pulling teeth 'cause you'll never confess
  • The breakup in "The Story Of Us" by Taylor Swift happens because "Miscommunications lead to fall-out." And then, she wishes to reconcile: "I'd tell you I miss you but I don't know how!"

  • Narrowly avoided in the Thrilling Adventure Hour episode "Custard's Last Stand". Vague comments by Ginny West cause everyone present to believe she is going to hard reboot Gork the robot for having unauthorized emotions. A standoff ensues until Ginny reveals she was actually updating Troubleshooter records on Gork's model so another Troubleshooter wouldn't come along and hard reboot later. After everything settles down, Ginny reveals she had assumed Sparks Nevada knew what she was planning. Sparks quickly explains that he did not. The two take it as a sign that they need to get to know each other better.

  • Staple of the humor of The Men from the Ministry: poorly worded notes end up causing havoc, telephone-conversations are misinterpreted due to being heard only from one end and out-of-context and instructions aren't laid out properly leading to big misunderstandings among other things.

  • Communication: The reason why the relationship between Louise and Kirche got so toxic. Due to their families being enemies, Kirche was content with simply ignoring Louise for their time together at school, but Louise being Louise after a poor encounter, is the one who indulged in the family feuding with Kirche. Seeing and enjoying the fire Louise displayed in that encounter, Kirche decided to indulged in it as well, thinking that's what Louise actually wanted. This resulted in Kirche becoming unintentionally The Face of all the mockery Louise faced at school, with her giving the nickname Louise the Zero.
  • 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.
  • The Murderverse: Very narrowly averted in A Game of Mafia 2. Robin, due to their results as the Investigator, begins pushing to have Nagibaldi executed. Despite dropping some pretty blatant hints, Cutbug doesn't quite understand where they're getting this information and starts suspecting them as a result—but eventually Robin just straight-up spells it out for them.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • 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.
  • In Rocket Age Ganymedians didn't realise that human prospectors couldn't survive being separated from their organs, so their first attempts at taking prisoners went badly.
  • There is an uncertain story about Xiangqi that says that the General (analogous to the king in western Chess) was once called the Emperor, until the actual Emperor passing by a game overheard two players discussing killing or capturing the Emperor and misunderstood them. Heads rolled, and the General name stuck.

  • 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.
    • Romeo and Juliet sees Juliet faking her own death, and the message to Romeo explaining the situation never reaches him, causing Romeo to kill Paris and commit suicide. Upon discovering this just moments after Romeo dies, 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 Manipulative Bastard Iago to believe his wife had been cheating on him and kills her. Only when it is too late 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 Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Lovett deliberately invokes this trope when she remarks that Sweeney's wife, Lucy, poisoned herself after Judge Turpin sent Sweeney away on a trumped-up charge and then brutally raped her. While Lucy did in fact poison herself, she didn't die—instead, she lost her mind and became the homeless, taunting Beggar Woman. Even at the very beginning of the musical, the Beggar Woman seems to recognize Sweeney ("Hey, don't I know you, mister?"), and had Sweeney taken some time to speak with her—or even looked more closely at her—he might have realized who she was and kept a lot of innocent people, and Lucy herself, from dying.
  • In Wicked, the entire subplot involving Nessarose, Elphaba's younger sister, centers on this. In the first act, Glinda tries to stop Boq, a Munchkin hopelessly in love with her, from getting on her nerves by pairing him with Nessa. Boq's too much of a Nice Guy to tell Nessa what's really going on (although he does try), and Nessa, who's in a wheelchair and has never been shown any affection from the opposite sex, immediately decides that they're meant to be together. This leads to all sorts of disasters, including Nessa becoming the Wicked Witch of the East (she takes over leadership of Munchkinland after her father, the governor, dies and strips the Munchkins of their rights to keep Boq close to her) and Boq becoming the Tin Man when she screws up a spell designed to make him fall in love against his will. Heck, the whole situation indirectly brings Dorothy to Oz when Glinda (who's angry at her fiancee for leaving her for Elphaba) tells the Wizard and Madame Morrible that the witch's one weakness is her sister.
    • The above "fiancee" situation is another example. Fiyero is initially a Brainless Beauty and thus a perfect match for Glinda, but it isn't long before his more sensitive, activist side begins to emerge. He never clearly tells Glinda that he isn't the same party animal that he used to be, and as a result, she doesn't (or wills herself not to) see that he's no longer in love with her.
  • Elisabeth:
    • Franz Joseph's inability to communicate/mediate between his mother and wife causes much consternation. It arguably causes the death of little Sophie, because if there hadn't been such a rift between Sophie the elder and Sisi, the Empress might not have insisted on her daughters accompanying her to Hungary.
    • Sisi's unwillingness/inability to understand Rudolf's desperate situation is the last straw that drives him to suicide. The Japanese productions have her explicitly misjudge the situation as only political, and one Rudolf can get out of on his own because he's an adult capable of handling things maturely - making her more sympathetic than merely turning him away because she has cut her bonds with the Emperor.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.
  • In Shion's route for Star Struck Love, Kujo never explains to the heroine the reason why she should stay away from Shion. This leads to her believing that he's a terrible person and Shion locking her in a motel room.
  • 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 alive instead 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.
  • As with the anime, School Days has this down to an art form. Love triangle aside, a large portion of the conflict comes from Makoto never telling anyone other than Sekai that he and Kotonoha are dating.
  • Nasuverse: The tragedy of Saber in Fate/stay night as well as Saber of Red in Fate/Apocrypha. Arturia was immensely focused on serving Britain as the best king she could be. When Mordred reveals that she's Arturia's son (it's a long story) and wants the throne, Arturia rejects her and remains distant from her. Mordred takes this as Arturia hating her and lashes out by building a rebellion against Arturia while Arturia is busy chasing down Lancelot after the Guinevere affair, which eventually leads to Arturia and Mordred committing a Mutual Kill at the end of the Battle of Camlann, the defining moment of the fall of Camelot. As we learn from each other's respective sides of the story, Mordred only wanted the throne because she genuinely wanted to relieve her father of the burden of her royal duties and Arturia was essentially Married to the Job (she didn't think that anyone else was capable of ruling Britain competently, especially not the Hot-Blooded Mordred) in addition to being understandably uncomfortable with a child she wasn't aware of and didn't consent to having with her half-sister archnemesis as well as just being distant to everyone in general, even to her Knights. Of course, Mordred's mother Morgan le Faye engineered much of this intentionally to destroy Camelot; Mordred was always her weapon against Arturia, and she was careful to only reveal Mordred's parentage at the worst possible moment.
  • In The House in Fata Morgana, all of Jacopo's problems stem from the fact that he just won't talk things out with people. Behind Door 3, he won't talk to the White-Haired Girl to clear up the misunderstandings about the letter and learn that Maria was fucking with both of them the whole time, and behind the final door (as well as the prequel, A Requiem for Innocence), he does nothing but make the situation worse and worse with his refusal to talk to people after he becomes the lord. He doesn't talk to Gratien about his inability to help the slums yet (though granted, Gratien never gave him much of an opportunity), he doesn't explain to Morgana that he's not the original lord and that he never meant for her to get hurt when he captures her, and he doesn't explain his problems to Maria when she tries to assassinate him believing he was always the self-serving piece of shit he acts like he is.

    Web Animation 
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: When Kitten is forced to exchange his caretaker post with the Fab Custodes, he leaves just before the Emperor wakes up and asks for explanation. Dorn could've set things straight, but doesn't say a word, the Fab Custodes lie about the true reason, and when Magnus go to ask Kitten about the truth, he tells the heartbroken Custodian that the Emperor doesn't care for him because he (Magnus) is finally done with the Emperor's shit. It was literally two seconds that ruined everything. A later episode reveals that this is a gambit on Emp's part, and Dorn isn't in on it but does see it for what it is.
  • RWBY turns this trope into an anvil that needs to be dropped:
    • Ozpin is a Big Good involuntarily dragged into an eternal war with Salem, and he knows pretty much all the ups and downs about the things needed and done around the world. However, he has a habit of being "need to know" with the information and not telling people when it's really needed (like, say, before things go pear-shaped). This has lead to many many people, both Hunters/Huntresses and innocents, to die at the hands of the Grimm and Salem's associates and has, rightfully, pissed off Team RWBY and the remains of Team JNPR. Ozpin himself is well aware of this flaw, but past betrayals by trusted allies have left him too jaded to fully trust anyone.
    • In Volume 7, Blake and Yang promised General Ironwood that they won't tell anybody about the Amity Colosseum being turned into a satellite as part of a plan that involved uniting the entirety of Remnant against Salem and his minions. A promise that's broken once both of them decide to tell Robyn Hill the truth. For a time, it worked, as Robyn allied with Ironwood believing they were doing the right thing, however, as soon as Ironwood knows the truth, trust between Team RWBY and the Atlas authorities begin to crack and they begin to fight each other, thus attracting even more Grimm to Mantle and Atlas.
    • Volume 7 was this all around. Ruby's decision not to tell Ironwood what they knew about Salem until the almost literal last second when Grimm were attacking Mantle. Robyn being left in the dark about why Ironwood has been taking supplies resulted in her stealing from him and heavily crippling the supplies needed to launch the reboot for his communication systems. The resulting two miscommunications results in Ironwood's full turn to the dark side and forcing RWBY to split up to tackle different jobs.

    Web Original 
  • 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:
    Skitter: I'd always hated those parts in the TV shows and movies, where everything could be resolved with the simple truth. It was why I’d never been able to watch romantic comedies. It grated: the sitcom-esque comedic situations which would be resolved if people would only sit down, explain, and listen to one another, the tragedies which could have been prevented with a few simple words. I didn’t want to be one of those tragedies.
  • Mirror World: Most of the conflicts that occur within the story happen because none of the four Houses are capable of just sitting down and rationally talking to each other. This leads to lots of accusations and false claims of violence when most of the story's "antagonists" just want to live in peace. Even the supposed Big Bad is nothing more than a deity that was tired of being lonely and wanted to play with its "ants" in its "ant farm," but failed to simply tell anyone this until after thousands perished.
  • Parodied in "The Poptart Tragedy", a So Bad, It's Good story (most likely deliberately awful) about a boy and girl. The girl wants some Pop-Tarts, and asks her boyfriend to get them. When he returns, she tells him that she's pregnant and asks if he'll stay with her boyfriend. When he says "no," she cries and runs away—but without eating the Pop-Tarts, her blood sugar lowers and she tumbles to the ground, somehow dying. The boyfriend then reveals that he said he wasn't going to be her boyfriend because he planned on proposing, thus becoming her husband. Listen to the heart-rending tragedy narrated here.
  • A similar example occurs in "5ever." A girl asks her boyfriend if he will love her forever; again, he says no, and again, she runs away and dies (this time she's struck by a car). When he finds her corpse, he explains that he didn't plan on loving her forever — he was going to love her fiveever, which is apparently more than "four"ever.
  • Of all the things this could refer to in SCP Foundation, you wouldn't think it would be the SCP itself, but it has happened. SCP-2703 is a horned, tentacled griffon-thing, but she's also a polite and classy lady who just wants to have platonic dinner-dates and see shows with humans. Unfortunately, she chooses to advertise these things in ways that seem like prostitution (apparently she never realized what "For a good time, call..." in Bathroom Stall Graffiti refers to), and as such she's apparently had a bad experience with a would-be "friend".


Video Example(s):


Picture This

"It's nice to see you giving up your obsession with the boys and getting into the spirit of things." No, Linda, no she hasn't.

How well does it match the trope?

2.71 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / PoorCommunicationKills

Media sources:

Main / PoorCommunicationKills