Imagine working from home when an unexpected memo from your HR department comes in. The message states—without providing any reasoning, rationale, or explanation—that effective immediately, you now have to work in the office. You’d likely be asking yourself, “What happened to cause this policy change?” or “Is my company struggling financially?” The lack of communication leaves you feeling frustrated and confused.
This is the situation that Yahoo! employees encountered in 2013. The HR department sent out a memo to all remote employees, requiring them to begin reporting to the office. But instead of communicating why, the notice was vague and puzzling, leaving employees feeling upset, anxious, and in the dark.
A recent study by Gallup revealed that 93% of employees don’t feel their internal communications are accurate, timely, or transparent. And yet, miscommunication costs companies about $420,000 per year, according to other recent studies.
With lack of communication affecting the bottom line, why are so many struggling with clear communication? Additionally, how can communication challenges be better prevented?
In this article, we’ll help you and your business overcome common problems that arise with a lack of communication. By the end, you will understand:
- What a lack of communication is
- What causes poor communication
- Solutions to 5 common communication problems
- How effective communication is vital for success
What Is a Lack of Communication?
Communication: The thing humans forgot when we invented words.richard branson
A lack of communication occurs in business when essential information is withheld or not communicated clearly. When data is withheld or unclear, team members attempt to “fill in the blanks” of what is unknown or not understood. This leads to misinformation, incorrect assumptions, and mistakes.
Some problems caused by lack of communication in the workplace include:
- Duplicated employee efforts
- Stunted progress towards company goals
- Inability to finish projects
- Mistrust of leadership
- Reduced team morale and motivation
- Poor interpersonal work relationships
- Missed opportunities
- Siloed teams
- Toxic work culture
What Causes Poor Communication?
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.george bernard shaw
Lack of communication in the workplace stems from many causes. In Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, bestselling business author John C. Maxwell says, “Tone, reflection, timing, volume, pacing—everything you do with your voice communicates something and has the potential to help you connect to or disconnect from others when you speak.” Therefore, poor communication occurs when there is a lack of connection between what is being said and what is being heard.
The most common culprits of a lack of connection are:
- We assume others know what we mean.
- We regard “good communication” as common sense.
- We’re afraid of failure, so we avoid trying to communicate better.
- We believe we’re naturally good at communicating.
Often, these culprits and their consequences point toward a difference in communication style. Even with perfect communication abilities, a speaker with one style may cause a disconnect when speaking to someone with a different style. This is especially true if they aren’t aware of what their own communication style is, or that of the listener.
The Harvard Division of Continuing Education outlines the four communication styles as Direct, Functional, Collaborative, and Influencer. Not sure where you stand? Online assessments like LeadershipIQ can help you determine.
The bottom line is this: Improving our communication may require digging deep and re-examining our true style and abilities. Do you find that others often misunderstand you? Or fail to gain traction after you speak? Become honest with yourself and address any shortcomings you may have. Nobody is born communicating perfectly.
5 Problems Caused by Poor Communication
1. Constant Work Extensions
A never-ending cycle of revisions can also result from a lack of communication in the workplace. This can lead to constant work extensions, delays, and an inability to meet desired timelines. After all, an employee can’t meet initial expectations and results they aren’t aware of.
How to fix the problem: Don’t assume others understand or already know the expectations. Ask yourself, “What’s the objective or end goal? What does good look like? What’s the timing? And what are examples of what I’m looking for?” This four-pronged approach by experts at Bringing Up the Boss will help you set clear expectations.
How to put it into practice: Use tools and examples to illustrate desired outcomes. Furthermore, visuals, models, outlines, and drawings can all be extremely helpful for effective communication. Don’t be afraid to overexplain—more information is better than not enough.
2. Growing Team Resentment
When teams are siloed and poor communication causes conflict, resentment can build. For example, a team in one department working with another team may blame them for certain issues. It may not be the other team’s fault, but the two teams aren’t communicating, so they assume.
Consequently, employees feel less engaged and connected and more discouraged. This also leads to higher employee absenteeism, job abandonment, and reduced retention rates.
How to fix the problem: Keep communication lines open and make a concerted effort to collaborate.
How to put it into practice: Experts at Gallup describe five kinds of conversations managers should be having with their teams: role and relationship, quick connect, check-in, developmental coaching, and progress reviews. Integrate these conversation types and make sure all departments touch base regularly and openly.
3. Struggling to Give Effective Feedback
Effective feedback is critical for the performance and success of your teams. After all, how can people know how to improve if they don’t know what to change? Plus, employees want to receive feedback. When surveyed, 72% of employees reported feeling constructive criticism would improve their performance. Yet, 21% of managers admit to avoiding giving feedback if it’s negative, according to a survey by Harvard Business Review.
How to fix the problem: Practice open communication and provide feedback that is clear, direct, and constructive.
How to put it into practice: Set the bar high for your employees and establish clear expectations. Accept and acknowledge that only through providing feedback can others know how to thrive.
4. Bad Company Culture Reputation
Nobody wants to work at a company with a bad corporate culture. 86% of job seekers avoid these companies, according to Glassdoor. Further, researchers at SHRM found that one in five employees leave their jobs because of a bad environment. This happens because poor communication creates resentment and prohibits positive relationships from forming. It infects your entire culture like a disease, driving your employees away.
How to fix the problem: Review your company values, systems, and teams.
How to put it into practice: Pause and examine the organizational culture. What are the areas of strength? Weakness? Ensure your company values, systems, and teams reflect the set vision and goals. If they don’t, determine what to change so they are aligned and employees can work effectively.
5. Lack of Providing Deserved Recognition and Praise
People work better when they feel their efforts are acknowledged and valued. A Gallup survey revealed that 74% of respondents said receiving praise and recognition made them feel more useful. A study by Harvard Business Review, however, found that only 53% of managers reportedly give positive feedback. It may seem inconsequential, but failing to recognize accomplishments can negatively affect an employee’s sense of purpose and productivity.
How to fix the problem: Improving poor communication isn’t just about addressing what’s wrong; it’s also about praising what’s right.
How to put it into practice: Practice employee recognition by showing gratitude when deserved. For example, if a team member achieves a project goal, congratulate them. Then, share their success to encourage and empower others.
Clear Communication Is Key to Business Success
Communication is the real work of leadership.nitin nohria
Finding the sweet spot between effective communication, emotional intelligence, and radical candor can feel like catching lightning in a bottle. It’s a delicate balance of motivating empathetically while challenging people to grow. If you can master it, though, the ripple effects can be profound.
According to Sharesz T. Wilkinson, success mentor and member of the Harvard Business Review Council states, “Improving communication could save employees seventeen hours a week—and could save even small companies more than half a million dollars per year.”
Continue expanding your knowledge of effective communication with “Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: What You Should Know.“