Communications Fail = Cultural Death by a Thousand Cuts
Have you ever approached a few co-workers in the break room and had no idea what they were discussing? Have you been in a meeting listening carefully, but realized you didn’t know what your project manager was talking about? Was it an email you missed? A phone call? A conversation? Or, was someone supposed to tell you this information? Faced with this confusion, you may start searching through your files, sorting through your emails, maybe secretly texting one of your co-workers across the room begging for their help, yet the discussion continues, and you are left in the dark.
Effective communication is an important skill that affects the outcome of every situation. Whether the goal is growing connections, relationships, or just addressing the problem of being lonely in the world, it’s crucial to understand what people have to say and have some sense of why they’re saying it.
And in business, communication is vital to a company’s success. Leaders need to communicate with their teams, so they can keep the project life cycle afloat, as opposed to sinking into a bottomless pit. Most leaders know this. Yet, many companies still face the cost of bad communication: a decrease in productivity, mistakes, and frustration due to misunderstandings. Additionally, employee trust suffers when companies demonstrate poor communication, and that can lead to employee disengagement, or worse, failure of the employee and/or the company as a whole.
In order for a business to succeed, high productivity in their employees is essential. Increased productivity means employees are engaged in their work and working together to fulfill a common goal: a well-done, completed project. However, bad communication can cause a project life cycle to twist and turn, and eventually fall off track if not watched carefully when productivity starts to decrease. This cost doesn’t always reflect that employees aren’t communicating. It could also mean that people are misinformed, misunderstood, or confused. It’s even possible that the information was given to the wrong person, and that person can’t perform the necessary task. These kinds of bumps are examples of ineffective communication that affect not only the project, but the state of mind of employees as they begin to withdraw from the project, co-workers, and eventually the company. When that happens, the company is left with fewer people to work, more hours needed to finish a project, incomplete projects, or all three.
When communication is lacking, employees often begin to make more mistakes. Often, it’s a matter of missing the essential information to do the task they’re asked to do. This can cause a chain of reactions as many people are put on hold until the mistake has been addressed, putting pressure on the one or two employees who can solve the problem. Unfortunately, even with good communication, mistakes will be made from time to time, as no project or person is perfect. It is important to recognize these mistakes early and address them effectively so that they don’t start to negatively affect deadlines and employee engagement.
Trust is a two-way street in any organization. Leaders must be able to trust the staff, and staff must have an adequate level of trust and faith in their boss or employer. The first few months of employment will often be the foundation upon which this mutual trust is built. The stronger the trust, the more engaged employees will be in their work, and the more committed they will be to completing their part in a project on time. When communication is ineffective or entirely lacking, levels of trust between colleagues, or between leaders and staff, begins to erode. Sometimes, it can result in staff losing faith in the company’s ability to provide secure employment, or in the company’s willingness to care about their best interest in addition to that of the bottom line. This lack of trust can be contagious whether or not the employee has experienced had any problems of their own. When key staff is not privy to information that has a direct impact on them and their work, it’s a short leap to believing they aren’t valued enough to be given essential information; this can lead to team members doubting their abilities.
HOW TO TRANSFORM BAD COMMUNICATION INTO GOOD COMMUNICATION
Effective communication drives productivity, reduces the potential for mistakes, and builds strong relationships in virtually any type of organization. While it may take a while to recover from the effects of poor communication, there are steps that can be taken to help rebuild trust, productivity, and accuracy. According to John Baldoni from the Harvard Business Review, you should:
- Acknowledge the problem
- Apologize for the mistakes
- Refocus on the reason for the communication
- Allow people to express their points of view (Baldoni).
It’s also important to have team-building events to strengthen bonds between fellow employees and leaders. Play some games, have a happy hour evening out, enjoy a team lunch away from the office -- anything to help release the daily stress built up from a day’s worth of work, and allow staff to get to know one another in a non-work setting. A strong team is the foundation of a successful company.
Baldoni, John. “Good Recoveries from Bad Communications.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing. 23 July 2014. Web. 17 May 2018.