One of the biggest complaints in the workplace is a lack of communication, or poorly executed communication. I see this all the time and I bet you have too. So why is it that communication fails at work and what can we do to fix it? There are several key causes that I’ve come across in my own work experience. Let’s analyze these primary reasons below. The good news is all of them can be remedied with awareness, persistence, patience, and a positive attitude.
10 Key Reasons Why Communication Fails At Work
How many of the below reasons have you seen on the job? I’ve seen all ten!
- Lack of leadership
- Poor planning
- Time management problems
- Power struggles
- Fear of confidentiality leaks
- Lack of proper training
- Assuming everyone’s already aware
- Insufficient, inefficient meetings
10 Ways To Fix Communication Fails And Restore Order And Harmony
Now let’s go through some effective ways we can fix each one of the above 10 key reasons why communication fails at work. Send a copy of this to your coworkers or slip it anonymously on their desk or in the break room!
- Leadership: Without strong leaders at the head of every group, department, and office, communication breaks down very quickly. Leadership doesn’t come naturally to everyone but it can be learned. A strong leader has to keep lines of communication open in multiple directions – up, across, and down. Leaders also have to be willing to stay aware about what’s happening outside of their departments and actively contribute. I used to see bad things happen when Department A made business changes they thought were great without Department B’s consent, and there were lots of negative downstream affects to Department B. Now, the two departments have regular conference calls to discuss all the pros and cons before making any business changes. Not only does this help avoid unexpected surprises, the two teams found new ways to streamline processes together.
- Organization: I absolutely love being organized, but a lot of people don’t. It’s a struggle for most people, but you need to have solid organizational skills to succeed in business. If you can’t even keep yourself straight, how in the world are you going to keep those around you informed and in order? Start off by making sure your calendar is up to date. You can’t communicate well if you’re missing meetings and conference calls. Next, make a prioritized to do list with your large scale projects all the way down to the tiny stuff. Keep it all in one place so you’ll never lose track of it. It makes a great reference point when putting together meeting agendas and emails.
- Proper Planning: I’ve done a lot of project management in my career and can tell you it takes a lot of planning and communication to pull things off smoothly. Trying to do things off the cuff all the time may seem convenient, but it’s often not that effective. People need time to prepare in advance before being told to do something or put on the spot. Effective communication also takes a lot of follow through. Plan for all the various stages of your work and schedule regular times to check in with all parties involved. Chances are high there are things you didn’t think of that can be addressed quickly if you communicate regularly. Then you’ll have enough time to make adjustments before going live with new changes.
- Get Proactive: We all get lazy on the job from time to time, I get it. But if you get lazy with communication, you’re playing with fire. Anytime you get an unusual client request, make sure you inform your manager about it. Don’t skip or cancel meetings just because you don’t feel like going. A lot of times people get bored with their jobs because they aren’t staying involved enough. If you have too much time on your hands, talk to your direct manager about it and look for ways to increase your contributions. It could very well get you a lot closer to getting a raise or a promotion. The more proactive you are, the better informed you’ll be and thus better equipped to communicate across your company.
- Time Management: Are you always running around from one place to another feeling frazzled? Well guess what – your coworkers think you’re a stress case and don’t want to be around you. I’ve been there, I know how hard it can be, but it is possible to change. Slow down. Prioritize. Delegate. Take control of your schedule. You have to make time to communicate with people in a calm, professional manner. As much as you may think it’s okay to only focus on what you’re doing, a business is a collective unit. You can’t forget about your coworkers and the other office initiatives.
- Put Politics Aside: Every office has politics, some are just worse than others. When it comes to communication, you have to put politics aside. I knew a CEO who was so controlling that he preferred not to tell anyone anything at all to avoid upsetting a few people in a large group. I’ve also known a leader who liked to hold on to information because he thought that keeping those below him in the dark made himself look more powerful. Oh the stubborn and crazy things people do.
- Build Trust And Security Protocols: A large part of open communication is trust. People need to feel safe in order to share their thoughts and opinions and that takes trust. Sticking to your word, avoiding gossip, and never stealing someone else’s credit are ways to build trust. If your line of work involves a lot of confidential information, implement security protocols that keep your data safe but also allow communication to flow.
- Training And Documentation: A lot of times communication fails at work because people simply don’t know what they are supposed to communicate up, across, and down. Set clear expectations and stick to them. If you need to make changes, that’s okay as long as you make sure to inform everyone involved. Keep meeting notes and project plans documented so if people are out of the office they can quickly get up to speed when they return.
- Don’t Jump To Conclusions: Another common mistake when it comes to office communication is assuming that people are already in the know. Chances are they are not. As much as we’d like email to be the most effective form of communication, a lot of times it doesn’t work. People fail to read emails all the time. I see this every single day. I’ve missed things myself, we all have. So when things are important you have to follow up in person. If you’re unsure if someone got your message, you have to ask them. A lot of managers also incorrectly assume that their staff is aware of all the various initiatives going on across the company. It’s a managers job to inform them directly, not to rely on casual word of mouth from other groups alone.
- Hold Regular, Effective Meetings: The higher up you get, the more and more meetings you have to attend. I’ve definitely seen this trend in my career. When you’re in a lot of meetings with higher ups, it’s easy to forget to pass the relevant pieces of information down. Scheduling department and one on one staff meetings feels like a chore when you’re already in tons of manager meetings, but it’s a must. The easiest way is to decide on a schedule and stick to it, otherwise 8 months could quickly go by between staff meetings and that can be frustrating for your team. If it’s been a long time since you had a meeting with your manager, speak up and get one on the calendar. Someone has to take the initiative! Also, always have an agenda put together before you hold a meeting. You’ll stay on topic a lot easier, and won’t forget to cover any important items. And try your best to give people a heads up before holding a meeting so they can prepare and come up with a list of topics they want to discuss as well.
Untemplaters,why do you think communication fails at work? What has been the biggest struggle you’ve had on the job regarding communication? What are some of the attributes a strong communicator has that you know?
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Pete Richardson says
Great advice Syndey. I can see all 10 of those issues in the current project I’m part of at work. It’s amazing that the same basic mistakes are made over and over again, in one company after another.
A lot of workplaces could benefit by having this article printed out and stuck on the wall!
Buck Inspire says
Great advice Sydney! Communication is so overlooked because everyone assumes they have decent communication skills. Everyone focuses on other items and neglect what could be the most critical piece to the machine. As one matures, we can easily see how important it is. Workplaces will function better if they add a short piece on communication when joining their workforce. Perhaps school systems should add communication along side the basics like math, science, and history.
Thanks Buck. Yeah I agree that colleges should offer more communications classes. It’s something we think is a fluff topic until we actually start working and realize how hard and difficult it really can be.
Financial Samurai says
It’s all about setting expectations so there are NO surprises.
Another reason for poor communication is insecurity, which relates to fear.
Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia says
Communication at my company (a massive Fortune 50) is horrible. One of the reasons is because the organization is so complex. In my personal interactions, it seems communication breaks down because 1) people are so overworked that they don’t have time to pay attention 2) people (oftentimes managers) just don’t understand the business and so communication (both ways) suffers immensely.
Education should have good communication, however they do it poorly. For example, effective meetings should never last longer than 45 minutes or they lose effectiveness. All of our meetings and professional development is 90 minutes. I wish I could do something about it, but why would they listen to a teacher?
Bryce @ Save and Conquer says
Very good communication methods. I also tell people working on the project that I want to be told immediately if they encounter something that does not meet the expectations or requirements of the customer. Like if a part is out of dimensional specification, or has been assembled incorrectly, or was broken during testing, or if there was an anomaly during testing. I think that people who work with me are generally happy because I do my best to communicate.