“Communication is your ticket to success, if you pay attention and learn to do it effectively.”Theo Gold
Bad communication literally drains organizations of valuable resources. One survey shows that even for companies with only 100 employees, poor communication costs the business, on average, about $420,000 every year. Yet, profit losses are only one consequence of this organizational problem. Workplaces with poor communication are difficult environments to perform in. People who work for companies where effective communication isn’t a top priority face high degrees of frustration and low levels of job satisfaction. For example, a lack of employee recognition and appreciation can result in team members feeling like they’re being taken for granted. When this happens, businesses suffer in ways that go beyond the bottom line. As a consequence of poor communication, organizational leaders have difficulty with workplace conflict, employee retention, productivity, and profitability.
To avoid this problem, learn more about what poor communication is, identify the most common communication issues, and get tips for making effective communication an integral part of your business’s work culture.
What is Poor Communication?
Poor communication happens when what one person says is different from what another person understands. This is often the result of information shared in an improper, hasty, or overly complex manner. Messages become muddled, and assumptions run rampant. In terms of who poorly communicates in an organization, there is no one type of person. It can happen at every level of a company. For example, managers may poorly communicate with those they direct, co-workers might read each others’ meanings incorrectly, and employees may ineffectively describe situations to their bosses. As a result, many people may feel frustrated, leading to decreased productivity and the breakdown of professional relationships.
Examples of Poor Communication
Poor communication in the workplace can take many forms. Some are easier to identify than others, but all of them harm employees and the business as a whole. For this reason, companies must pinpoint their problems. Figuring out the source of organizational issues is the first step toward fixing them.
Here are some of the most common reasons lack of communication occurs:
- Gossip: Rumors remain one of the most common examples of poor communication. Anyone in the company, from the CEO down to newly hired interns, can be the source of gossip. Gossip is often full of inaccuracies and exaggerations, even if people don’t mean it that way. A co-worker spreading a rumor about reorganization leading to future layoffs is just one example of gossip growing out of control.
- Written Communication: At a time when remote work has become the norm, face-to-face communication is less common. Without the type of verbal cues associated with simply speaking to another human being, people can interpret written communication incorrectly. For example, a manager’s email to an employee could be blunt and direct, but the employee may interpret the message as the manager being angry and unsatisfied.
- Lack of Confirmation: No email is perfect. That’s why people must confirm the information they receive. However, this is a step that too many people skip, leading to further misunderstandings. For example, if an employee sends an email asking their coworker for help on a project, the coworker should send an email back confirming their availability. Otherwise, the first employee may assume their coworker can immediately help out.
- Lack of Reviews: At the same time, communication may become confusing if people don’t review the messages they put out there. For example, an email sent in a hurry may contain numerous typos and errors that would normally be found if the sender simply reviewed the email before sending it.
What Causes Poor Communication?
The growing acceptance of remote work has led to fewer in-person interactions. It’s also led to a general lack of communication. Poor communication also sometimes results from several factors including poor leadership, unclear organization, and the individual skills of the workers. In fact, if a workforce, in general, has poor communication skills, misunderstandings may become common.
Another major reason for poor communication comes from a lack of emotional intelligence in the workplace. Strong emotional intelligence among workers means they build solid relationships. They work together as a team, which of course indicates they communicate well with each other. This goes the same for leaders, who must work on improving their own emotional intelligence to create a company culture that tries to better their communication practices at every turn. Emotional intelligence helps everyone understand each other, increasing social awareness in the process.
Toxic workplace cultures can also hinder communication. If leaders don’t create the conditions for a safe environment where open communication happens, people will likely choose not to communicate at all. For example, an employee with a great idea for improving productivity may not share his idea because management never listens to him. Or a worker may not alert her boss about a potential problem because the boss only pretends to listen while not actually doing anything about it.
The Effects of Poor Communication
The consequences of poor communication range far and wide. One possible result is low morale among employees. Workers who feel others don’t understand what they’re trying to say will often suffer from a lack of confidence or won’t feel appreciated. This can lead to increased negativity and mistrust in the workplace. Additionally, employees may also feel like their work is meaningless. As a result, they won’t be satisfied with their jobs, which affects employee retention.
Working in an environment where people don’t effectively express themselves is stressful. When communication dwindles, it also leads to a lack of accountability and the ownership of mistakes. This can result in blame-shifting, emotional exhaustion, isolation, and more serious communication problems. As this happens, team members are kept from connecting, collaborating, and building strong relationships, which harms the business.
5 Ways to Fix Poor Communication
While many leaders understand why poor communication is bad for a business, fixing it isn’t always easy. Unlike analyzing KPIs, communication can be tough to measure and examine. Fortunately, the following guidelines should help leaders improve communication.
1. Create Standards and Set Expectations
Leaders must create the right expectations and standards for their companies. A leader might ask, “Do team members all use the same platform for communicating?” A recent survey from Zogby found that 41 percent of employees say that the organization they work for “doesn’t have (or doesn’t make known) a standard set of mobile communication tools for the organization.” In such cases, setting expectations and establishing those standards must take priority.
How to create communication standards:
- Write down communication policies in the employee handbook.
- Regularly review policies in one-on-one interviews. You can even review one policy at a time during team meetings.
- Explain why the policies exist.
- Hold employees accountable when failing to meet these standards.
- Practice the standards yourself. Be the example and admit when you fall short.
2. Examine the Culture
Poor communication may be a result of the company culture. Make sure that the culture fosters policies that encourage open communication. Everyone should feel free to voice their opinions and provide feedback no matter the issue. In fact, that goes for communication in either direction, toward the top of the corporate ladder or toward entry-level employees. With a culture that makes open communication easier, workers will trust each other more. As Stephen R. Covey puts it, “When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”
Every company is different, so take the time to properly examine the culture your organization has. Do managers have an open-door policy where people feel comfortable voicing their opinions? If not, why not? Is someone holding back communication? What do the employees think about speaking up? Do organizational leaders act when others communicate with them? Do they respond positively or with hostility? Always work to instill a sense of optimism with all communications.
3. Confirm and Clarify
Like any important message, follow-up messages should confirm what you are communicating. Additionally, this is also an opportunity to ask for more details if needed. These messages clear up misunderstandings, which prevent future headaches. As a rule of thumb, know it’s never safe to assume what someone is saying, especially when so much communication now happens through written messages. A quick follow-up is all it takes to catch a possible mistake.
4. Make Meetings Count
Most people don’t like attending meetings. As much as it may be tempting to eliminate them, some meetings are necessary to ensure things get done on time. Meetings are where a lot of important communication is shared, so getting them right is a vital part of any company strategy. When meetings do happen, make sure they’re carried out efficiently, with clearly stated goals and plans of action. In addition to this, emphasize getting everyone on the same page and allow time for questions.
5. Provide Feedback
Feedback on communication skills provides important information as to how well people are doing at any given time. Make this feedback part of weekly one-on-one meetings. It’s possible most people with poor communication skills simply need guidance and training. Give feedback in a positive way, one that encourages improvement and development. At the same time, hold people accountable if problems with communication continue to occur.
The Importance of Effective Communication
The nature of the workplace changes every day, especially with the growth of remote work. However, one thing that does not change is the importance of communication. By following the above steps, companies will ensure communication doesn’t become a major obstacle to success. With better communication, employees will feel more comfortable talking to each other and their managers. Executives will feel confident discussing policies and issues with everyone else. The whole culture will change to one where people can speak their minds, leading to improved productivity and fewer workplace conflicts. Everyone will feel like their work matters and that they’re receiving the recognition they deserve. They’ll feel more engaged and ready to contribute even more to the success of the company.
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