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 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 involve making 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. 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.
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.
- 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.
- Cell Phones Are Useless: characters are unable to communicate by phone due to a plot-convenient malfunction, such as a lack of signal or a flat battery.
- Contagious Cassandra Truth: If the "Cassandra" convinces someone else they'll have exactly the same problem convincing anyone themselves.
- Conveniently Interrupted Document: Parts of a Fictional Document are redacted or otherwise rendered illegible, or a character is interrupted in the course of reading them, preventing the character from finding out what they need to know.
- Corrupted Data: The message cannot be read on arrival
- "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
friendsallies 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- That Came Out Wrong: When someone utters a perfectly innocent remark, only for it it to sound like something smutty.
- Third-Act Misunderstanding: A result of some of these, usually from an initial lie being revealed.
- 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.
- Anime and Manga
- Fan Works
- Live-Action Films
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- Real Life
- 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 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!
- It's shown in Suicide Squad that Amanda Waller has a habit of "lone wolf" antics, keeping things to herself and quite often, it blows up in her face.
Bronze Tiger: Why would he do this. If he knew you had it handled...Waller: He didn't. I chose not to confide my plans in Colonel Flagg.Tiger: You were playing one of your damn lone hands again!
- When slimy ex-NSC chief Tolliver tells corrupt Senator Cray about the Squad, they threaten to expose it to the public if Waller doesn't help Cray win re-election. Waller keeps them at bay before finding evidence to blackmail them into silence. However, not knowing of this, Flag is convinced that the only way to save the Squad is to go kill Tolliver and Cray himself. Which just ends up exposing the Squad to the public after all and Waller losing control. Lampshaded.
Waller: If it wasn't for me, Kobra would have won! I'm the one who smoked him out!President: And you never told me.
- The reason Tolliver was fired in the first place is that he sent the Squad into Russia to rescue a Soviet dissident imprisoned for a book criticizing the government. It never occured to Tolliver to do some checking with sources who could tell him that maybe the woman wanted to remain in jail as a martyr and it got the Squad into serious trouble in Russia.
- In "The Janus Directive" crossover, it looks like Waller has been replaced by a double by villain Kobra. As it happens, Waller beat her double and learned of Kobra's plans. Rather than tell anyone, Waller plays it close to the vest to get more information. As a result, Kobra's forces kill 38 Checkmate Knight agents, Checkmate headquarters is destroyed, nearly the entire Force of July is wiped out and Kobra comes within seconds of killing half the planet. Incredibly, Waller is actually upset when the President demotes her for this, pointing out if Waller had come forward earlier, it would have saved a lot of lives.
- 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.
- Batman has a lot of problems involving this;
- 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.
- The Batfamily as a whole has a very big problem with this. More than a few problems have been caused because many of them keep their allies in the dark. Case in point: In War Games, Stephanie Brown inadvertently started a massive gang-war when she activated a contingency plan designed to unite the Gotham gangs under one leader, Matches Malone. The reason it failed was because Batman neglected to mention that Matches Malone is simply another one of his aliases.
- In the beginning of Red Daughter of Krypton storyline, Supergirl was drowning in mindless rage after becoming a Red Lantern. Her friend Siobhan tried to reach her out and get her to calm down and get her mind back, and it seemed to be working... until a N.Y.P.D. VTOL came along, and threatened Supergirl. Supergirl attacked the transport in retaliation and Siobhan realized there would be no talking her down now and she had to fight her to save the city.
- In Supergirl (Rebirth), the DEO (Department of Extra-normal Operations) didn't necessarily want to hurt Lar-On, but they didn't want an alien to tear their base down. Lar-On didn't want to hurt anyone but he couldn't explain he only wanted to be left alone because he didn't speak or understand English. Thus, they fought.
- 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 being manipulated. 10 minutes of talking and he could have had the Jedi on his side instead of losing 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 title character is trying to get a badly injured friend to the hospital but her unfamiliarity with modern society makes things tense. Can she even recognize a hospital? Fortunately the closest one uses a caduceus as a symbol of healing, which she herself uses.
- The famous "Marvel misunderstanding" — the stock situation in which superheroes who unexpectedly run into each other promptly start a fight because at least one side jumps to the conclusion that the other is up to no good. Once in a while even lampshaded by more self-aware characters (such as Quasar in one of his own issues).
- 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.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (IDW), this drives the plot of issue #23; Cassie the Kelpie has friends who have been stranded behind the Ponyville dam. Does she A: go and politely ask Twilight Sparkle for help, allowing the super-powerful unicorn to telekinetically lift the stranded water-dwellers to join Cassie? Or B: use her Magic Music to Mind Control the entire population of Ponyville into tearing down the dam, flooding their village and causing immense property damage just to get her friends back? You guessed it, she goes with B, only to be foiled by the Mane Six's pets, which leads to her finally going with A. And somehow, only Rainbow Dash thinks she deserves to be called out on this.
- In the Garth Ennis written Adventures of the Rifle Brigade, Lieutenant Cecil Milk calls up Captain Darcy to tell him "It's on," meaning a stag party for their old friend. However, Darcy thinks Milk is telling him their team has a special mission. So when Darcy called up Milk to say the plane was ready, Milk assumed a mission had come up. It's not until they're captured by the Nazis that they talk it over and realize they've gone a commando raid by mistake and the top brass have no idea where they are and no rescue coming.
- A Silver Age example can be found in Incredible Hulk #165: To Become A God: a Mad Scientist who has founded a mobile deep sea colony is at war with his born-below son, who wants to see the surface world that his father abandoned, but his father refuses to take him and the other youths topside. With the Hulk's help, the son leads a rebellion and leads the youths to the surface... where they all die horribly due to being adapted for the high-pressure underwater environment. Apparently, daddy dearest never bothered to simply tell his son that his mutations would make him burst in the low-pressure atmosphere above the waves.
- Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Sam Wilson openly calls the X-Men "morons" for charging into this on the belief there was a mutant psychic without even bothering to turn on the TV and see if anything else was happening in the world. He lampshades how the X-Men are so tied into their own mission of protecting mutants that it doesn't occur to them there's more to the world.
- 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).
- 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. 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.
- 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 suggested 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Actually, the lampshading is wrong as Godot could've prevented the entire thing from happening had the letter, which led to the entire events of the case, been burned when Godot had first obtained it!
- 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.
- In Boyfriend Of The Dead, the Twins are nearly killed by Alex before N can explain that they are just harmlessly reenacting The Shining and not actually after anyone's flesh.
- In Koan of the Day, the guru asks the tortoise for money and a misunderstanding occurs.
- Order of the Stick:
- 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.
- In a particularly tragic example of this, Varsuuvius in the Battle of Azure City is inadvertently discovered by fleeing soldiers who stumble upon hir while invisible. They ask V to save them with V's magic, but since V fled the battle because V 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 V said "I am out of spells you fools! Flee for your lives!", though doing so might have made the hobgoblins aware of V 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 Vaarsuvius tells V's mate Inkyrius that V made a Deal with the Devil to save V's mate and their children, and Inkyrius gets angry. V insists that Inkyrius doesn't know the whole story. Inkyrius admits this, but calls V on keeping the power V needed to save their family, and asks V to make a choice between V's power and their family. V could have tried to explain more, if only to justify why V needs (or wants) to hold on to the power a little longer, but instead V just says that V 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 V do so. Though V's mental state may be justified (for one thing, the sleep deprivation from the last entry is at it's worst here).
- 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 V's 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 back to bite him in the ass when the insanely overzealous Miko Miyazaki misinterprets his behavior as that of a traitor and kills him. This leads to Miko's fall from paladinhood, 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 the prequel story "Uncivil Servant" Belkar, after learning that he can make money by killing things that are causing problems for a town, decides to kill off the criminal gangs in that town, only to discover after he had killed them that they were not actually criminals gangs at all, but were actually the town's police and fire departments, who were trying to recruit him for their volleyball teams and he had seen them at a Not What It Looks Like moment.
- 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.
- Poor communication started an escalation of distrust between Barry and Klaus, which is the cause of much of the later grief. Barry and "the Clays" hid Agatha from Klaus for eighteen years because they believe he is a servant of the Other. Upon discovering Agatha's identity, Klaus is very suspicious because she was hidden from him for eighteen years, so she orders her locked up and sedated. Punch and Judy take this as further proof of his ill-intentions and fight back.
- The entire Sturmhalten story arc, fitting for the introduction to the backstabbing Sturmvarous family. Even years later, fans have some difficulty figuring out exactly what happened because Tarvek spent the entire arc lying to basically everyone. Tarvek deliberately sabotaged Agatha's holographic message to the Baron, which she intended to use to explain how her mother was the Other and had possessed her. 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". Furthermore, 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 is 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 then 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.
- This almost causes major problems in a side story taking place after the main story is completed. Hadrian Greenclaw returns home to Mechanicsburg to discover that the heads of the major crime families are planning to kill Agatha. They're worried that as a "hero," she won't allow their criminal enterprises to continue. Hadrian is horrified and launches a counter-conspiracy to kill them all and put his own lieutenants in their place, making him the king of the Mechanicsburg underworld. So far so good. The problem is that he assumes that Van, the seneschal, was one of the co-conspirators, and tried to kill him too. Why did he think that? Because Van always knows everything, which means the conspiracy could only have gone forward with his approval. Ivo notes that Van has been playing the "I am an omniscient genius" card a little too much.
Van: Hadrian... I... uh... I didn't know any of this.
Van: It's a big town... I can't know everything...
Hadrian: You? Miss something like this? You? The man who used to brag: "Muahaha! Nothing shall happen in this town without my agents knowing about it!"
Van: That was my Career Day essay! In fifth grade!
Ivo: Hyu vos vun creepy kid.
- This strip of The Perry Bible Fellowship.
- 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.
- 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.
- When Magus regains physical form, he expresses his belief that an unconscious Ellen would rather be male, and that he wants to help with that. He says "We're running out of time. I'd rather not do it this way..." and aims a spell at her, prompting Elliot to tackle him and begin fighting. It turns out that Magus meant that he needed to forcibly wake up Ellen (which could cause headaches and nausea, hence why he'd rather not) in order to talk to her and confirm that she wants to be male before doing anything else. When Elliot points out that it sounded a lot like Magus intended to transform her then and there without her permission, he admits that yeah, it was understandable to take his words that way.
- 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.
- Inverted in Freefall: both Raibert and Florence had reasons not to read each other's messages. As a result, despite his ordering that an upgrade not go out, she went and sabotaged it -- fortunately, because his order was being ignored. As a consequence, about 450 millions robots did NOT have their minds and personalities erased.
- 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.
- Awkward Zombie: Apparently this pretty much sums up the author's feelings about the game Bravely Default.
- Welcome To Pixelton: A giant eats the protagonists, and they kill him by pressing the self-destruct button in his stomach. Unfortunately, that must have been a feature, because it turns out the giant is from a race of transporters who carry passengers in their stomachs, and he was a big fan of the protagonists who wanted them to meet his family. Oops.
- In Galebound Din refuses to explain the nature of Conan's Compelling Voice power, which results in Pascal dying.
- Homestuck: For most of the story, most of the characters aren't actually able to talk to each other and communicate through electronic means. The trolls and humans have completely different cultures. They are all pre-teens, an age group not known for its good judgement (though most of them are pretty bright for their age). And whenever someone does try to ask another person who knows more about the whole situation for advice, that person is usually wrong and/or trying to manipulate them. The end result is a bunch of ill-informed kids messing around with reality itself.
- In Godslave, both Blacksmiths would probably fare much better against Edith if they only bothered to explain her just why keeping Anpu around isn't good for her. As it is, she's convinced they're morally bankrupt bad guys, and them telling her nothing beyond "he's only trouble" (something she knows already) doesn't help.
- Broken Telephone may as well be titled "Poor Communication Kills: The Webcomic."
- Sonic The GUN Project: If Shadow had been upfront with Sonic, Knuckles and Sally in the first encounter in the first issue, they could've likely stopped Commander Tower sooner. By the time he did, the three had unwittingly clued in Tower that Shadow was onto him and forced him to get involved.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: In Chapter 13, poor phrasing on both sides during a tense combat situation kept both Sigrun and Mikkel from realizing that there still was a troll under the tank, giving the thing ample time to break through the vehicle's floor before Lalli noticed its presence, and time to bite Tuuri before Lalli could take care of it.
- Schlock Mercenary: Lieutenant Ebbirnoth, the company's de facto Xenobiologist, spends a large chunk of Book 16 unable to speak intelligibly due to a botched resurrection. Otherwise he could have warned the others about the Essperin ability to merge with technology.
- The Fear Mythos: The Choir alters audio, often leading to a literal example of poor communication killing.
- 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. Horrible's Sing-Along 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 worked up the courage to tell Penny how he felt at the start, he may never have built the Death Ray, leading to her tragic death.
- In Touhou roleplay Touhou: a Glimmer of an Outside World Reimu was suspecting Yukari in making the rift in the sky, and Yukari was thinking Reimu's new costume is Evil Costume Switch. Once they start to "communicate," they dug themselves deeper in each other's eyes.
- 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:
Skitter:Id always hated those parts in the TV shows and movies, where everything could be resolved with the simple truth. It was why Id 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 didnt want to be one of those tragedies.
- Noob has a couple of blatant cases.
- 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 Manchild 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.
- In Ten Little Roosters, at least three members could have been spared deaths if they had spoken up:
- In episode 3, Chris confronts Burnie and tells him he ran into the killer. Instead of answering Burnie's response ("You saw the killer?! Who is it?!"), he starts describing it more like a The Lord of the Rings-style thing, leading to Burnie's annoyed "The Reason You Suck" Speech , Chris' Heroic Sacrifice-slash-Stupid Sacrifice and Burnie's Ironic Death the following episode.
- In episode 9, Adam, who is hiding in the mocap room, spots Miles rummaging through Monty Oum's workstation and inches his way to the window and whispers "Miles? Is that you?" instead of speaking louder. Because of this, Miles has no idea the killer is strangling Adam and mistakes a video file of it for "dot sex".
- Starship Exeter episode The Tressaurian Intersection. During the final battle, damage enables the captive Tressaurian (a Gorn-like lizard) to escape the brig's Force-Field Door. Its subsequent actions jeopardize the mission and actually cause the deaths of several crewmembers including one we'd come to know. Pity nobody thought to tell the Tressaurian that the mission was helping his people..
- 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.
- Critical Role: More than once Tiberius damages team members with his Fireball spell, which could have been avoided had he communicated better with the DM. Played for laughs when a fan sent him a set of area effect markers so that in the future he would be able to check his spell ranges properly, to make sure no one who's not supposed to is in the way.
- 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.
- The Wizards Of Aus: Jack's troops communicate orders by horn. A single note for each order. The actual order being determined by the pitch of the blown note. This, naturally, leads to a few mishaps.
Jack: Does our main system of communication rely on everybody having perfect pitch? Is... is that a thing?
Horatio: Hang on, no. This is the one for the escape. [blows horn]
[a giant boulder comes flying past and hits some soldiers off screen]
Jack: Did you just. Tell. The trebuchet men to fire?
- 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.
- Aventures has a literal case, since Fred wanted to move along the campaign's plot what was supposed to be his character Théo asking the dying druidess if she has a last request or rites sounds like a death threat which shock the druidess enough to kill her on the spot.
- This is Ozpin's big problem in RWBY. Being the Big Good in a seeming Eternal War with Salem, 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.