Communication is a skill at the root of all relationships. Good communication is essential for healthy relationships. Professional relationships are no exception. Whether between a customer and an employee, a company president and an employee or between co-workers, professional communication in the workplace is a crucial part of the health of any business culture.
Communication is a process where there is an exchange of information between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. Communication includes words, body language, and expressions through different mediums: face-to-face contact, phone or video calls, or written exchanges such as emailing, chatting, or texting. Each method presents opportunities for a breakdown and miscommunication.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion
that it has taken place.”
~George Bernard Shaw
When clear communication does not occur, or if what you are trying to communicate is missed altogether or misunderstood, there can be significant consequences to a business. A lack of communication skills is often the culprit, and at times, it is as simple as talking without thinking. And at other times, clear communication is distorted by our beliefs, biases, and perspective.
What Is a Lack of Communication?
Simply put, a lack of communication omits essential information or communicates unclearly or ineffectively. Each party in a broken communication scenario may experience intensified emotions, confusion, and form assumptions and fabricated stories about the other party or the situation. Some direct consequences of poor communication in the workplace for teams are:
- Strained employee relationships
- Ineffective project development and work habits
- Poor employee morale
- Lack of respect for each other or management
- Gossip and backbiting
- Wasted time and resources
As shared by SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, in “The Cost of Poor Communications,” a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees. That number is per company!
Here are some examples of scenarios that represent troublesome communication:
Scenario #1: Disregarding emails from a team member when you collaborate on a project together, especially when it’s a high priority or with a tight timeline.
Try this instead: Coordinate with team members to keep a project flowing. If emailing is not the best way for team members to coordinate with you, work together to establish the best communication methods. Then respond expediently according to priorities.
Scenario #2: Hurrying a team member on a phone call because you’re on a tight timeline.
Try this instead: Let your team member know that you are on a tight timeline and ask if you can set up a different time to discuss the reason for their call. Agree on a time and how you will reach each other. This consideration takes only a minute, yet allows you to give your team member full attention and keep yourself on track with your project. Taking that minute also helps your co-worker feel valued. Then, don't answer the phone and put a "do not disturb" message in play when possible.
Scenario #3: Sending a text to a co-worker that you’re running late for an important meeting but not supplying an ETA.
Try this instead: Let your co-worker know to go ahead with the meeting without you if you’re going to be more than five minutes late for the meeting. If your lateness happens to extend beyond five minutes, providing a little more information helps your co-worker know how to proceed and what to expect on your arrival. It is disrespectful to others who are on time for a meeting (and a waste of time) to wait for someone late.
Scenario #4: Smiling and nodding in a virtual meeting when you disagree with your team’s discussion or decision.
Try this instead: Speak up and share your perspective; you may hold a vital piece of the puzzle. A team must be on the same page to be an effective team. It is important to be able to speak up as a valuable team member. If it is inappropriate to state your objections in a virtual meeting (i.e., there’s not enough time to convey your ideas adequately), request a follow-up meeting without derailing the facilitator or leader.
Scenario #5: Reprimanding a new employee for incorrect or incomplete work even though the employee was improperly trained.
Try this instead: Explain to the employee the correct process and how to complete tasks accurately and completely. Find out where the breakdown was in communication. If the error didn't occur in communication, ensure that the person gets adequate training moving forward. Then, set up a procedure to handle employee training more thoroughly in the future.
Scenario #6: Allowing a co-worker or manager to disrupt your focus and waste your time with banter irrelevant to the project at hand, even while you sizzle with frustration and resentment.
Try this instead: Let them know that you have a very full day with some tight timelines and need to stay focused. A co-worker or manager may not realize their talking is disruptive to your work. Be sure to set a boundary respectfully before you get frustrated.
In each of the above examples, neither party benefits from the experience. In some of these situations, there was an expectation that wasn't communicated. Ineffective communication does not foster positive working relationships or an effective team—it hinders productivity and wastes time and resources. Each situation is open for interpretation without enough information leaving loose ends for all parties involved.
Related Reading: "The Most Grievous Mistake in Communication."
Using Improper Channels Often Result in Communication Breakdowns
Another overlooked time-waster and obstacle to effective communication is using improper channels to communicate. When done inefficiently, the inattention to this area wastes time and decreases productivity that translates to lost profit. Haphazardly choosing a channel or method of communication ill-fit for situations (just because it may be convenient) has a similar result to miscommunications or missing information.
Here are some examples:
- Sending an email on an urgent topic where a prompt response is needed; a phone call or in-person are better channels to quickly handle the situation.
- Scheduling an hour-long meeting with six people to share information on a project (1 hour x 6 people = 6 hours). Instead, assess if the information is better shared in a concise email (or on a project platform, i.e., Basecamp) and would be a better use of everyone’s time. This way, each person has written information at their fingertips to refer to and can read it when convenient.
However, sometimes allowing people to meet in person is the right choice, especially when asking questions, and a creative interaction results in saving time and benefiting the project's quality.
- A long string of group texting between co-workers complaining about a manager doesn’t affect the situation positively. Instead, take the issue to the manager in person, and when possible, include all people involved. Set up enough time for a meaningful conversation and a resolution.
The above examples of improper channels used to communicate can result in unnecessary wasted time. The key is to ask yourself, "What is the most effective way to communicate in this situation?" The answer will depend on the priorities, how urgent the matter is, and the people involved.
Good Communication Supports an Effective Team Environment
Effective communication is crucial for building relationships and protecting the flow of day-to-day business. A workplace with effective, timely, and properly used communication channels foster a culture of teamwork. Therefore, good communication will support clearly defined roles, timely solutions to problems, increased employee morale, higher retention, and augmented profits.
Related Reading: "Why Is Communication Important in the Workplace?"
Heartmanity's executive coaches and trainers are highly skilled and effective in teaching communication skills to leaders and teams. Are you ready to bring skills, purpose, and clarity to your team’s communication?
Contact Heartmanity today for a customized program and bring effective communication to your company.