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Causes of Poor Workplace Communication & How to Fix It

Igloo Software

January 12, 2022 · 7 min read

With so many employees working remotely because of the pandemic, strong communication has become a cornerstone of productivity. Whether it’s discussing project details, catching up on your coworkers’ weekends, or meeting with clients, all forms of dialogue at work serve a purpose. The purpose might vary with the topic, but primarily it brings people together, strengthens relationships, and enables better teamwork. This is why the value or amount of interactions between coworkers can have a significant impact on not only your employees, but also how your organization is run and the quality of its output.

While the focus on conversations has moved into the forefront of business operations, primarily since COVID-19 began, this is not something that will just recede into the background again in the next year or two. More and more companies are adopting increasingly-remote work environments moving forward. Whether a hybrid model, completely remote, or just less pressure to come into work in bad weather or around holidays, having the option to work from home is becoming an important criteria for job seekers and existing employees. This is why it’s essential to understand how it affects the communication of your workplace and, by extension, how that impacts your bottom line, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

Why is workplace communication important?

Low-quality (or lack of) interactions can have far-reaching impacts on your organization. Below, we’ll cover just a few of the impacts that reduced, vague, or siloed information has on your workplace, employees, and productivity.

An unstable workplace

Having inconsistent communication that isn’t clear can lead to unpredictability on projects, work relationships, and more. From missing deadlines because of unclear goals to strenuous interactions where people don’t understand what the other wants, discussions can be crucial in establishing an all-around-beneficial work environment.

When people talk about issues and information effectively and often, the organization is more connected, and misunderstandings or issues can be worked through much more easily. This lays the foundation of a productive, safe, and supportive workplace.

Decreased effectiveness and collaboration

Without discourse to bridge gaps between different teams and even team members, collaboration suffers, which leads to productivity dropping as well. We’ve discussed how silos impact performance before, and how open dialogues are one of the biggest factors in avoiding that. Rather than separating and building dividers between disciplines or areas of the company, teamwork and knowledge sharing should be encouraged.

Even if your company doesn’t have silos that break up groups, this also applies to interpersonal interactions. Within a single team there can be rifts that form, whether through actual disagreements or miscommunication and false assumptions. This can mean that work is done poorly or doesn’t get done on time because people don’t want to work with each other. By having more outlets and ways to express how someone feels, it minimizes the risk of this happening and allows teams to work more closely with each other towards a goal.

Conflict

Conflict and blame can break out when an unstable workplace is mixed with work not getting done properly or on time. Frustrations boiling over only worsen relationships and the work done by those involved, so mitigating this is paramount to a strong work environment.

Conflict can be a vicious cycle stemming from something as innocent as a misunderstanding that gets out of control and affects everyone in the workplace, but good communication can prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Demoralized employees

On the topic of cycles, demoralized employees are often both an effect, as well as a cause of poor communication. Lack of healthy interactions can seriously beat down employee morale and engagement, making them feel even more isolated.

Unhappy and stressed workers produce much lower-quality work, and because of that, are less likely to stay with a company. All of these impacts that unsatisfactory interactions have on your workplace build on each other to increase frustration and decrease productivity. By attacking the sources of what’s hurting discussions, we can minimize most of these issues and avoid harmful effects on the company and its employees.

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Causes of poor communication

Now that we see how much insufficient discourse can harm an organization and its employees, we need to determine what the root causes of it are. This is the only way to address the problem and implement a long-term solution. It may lead to uncomfortable conversations, but ones that need to be taken care of to move forward.

Unclear objectives

We can’t read other peoples’ minds, so without clear (and documented) goals and milestones, employees will struggle to meet the objectives you think they should understand and be working towards. Having the ability to go back and view precisely what a certain task requires and how a manager wants it accomplished, like a Content Manager, can make information more accessible and shareable.

When this breakdown in communication occurs, it usually leads to even further reduced interactions because the person doesn’t want to constantly ask for clarifications. By eliminating ambiguous goals, the focus can be on getting work done rather than attempting to guess what someone meant.

Poor leadership

Unclear objectives are a symptom of poor leadership overall, which can lead to frustration and resentment towards even the thought of interactions between managers and other employees. Leadership’s job is not only to guide the company, but also to take feedback from others and implement changes to improve the workplace. When workers feel like leadership doesn’t represent or listen to them, it can become difficult to connect and communicate freely between the two groups. This leads to even less feedback and exchange of ideas and the effects can spiral out of control.

Different communication methods

To be clear, diversity is a great aspect of an organization — we have a whole article about it here. But there can be drawbacks if not everyone takes the time to understand their coworkers’ backgrounds and how to best start a dialogue with them. Different upbringings and even previous work experiences can dictate how people interact, what they consider rude or normal, and much more. Similar to the other causes of poor communication, this often leads to situations where people don’t want to work with or talk to each other, hurting performance and relationships.

Burnt-out or demoralized employees

We mentioned that burnt-out employees need engagement and can be an effect of deficient conversations, but that it can also be a cause. A demoralized worker is less likely to seek help with an issue or try to connect and be social with coworkers. These seemingly small gestures can really strengthen trust and fellowship between employees, which alleviate some of the effects that we discussed, such as conflict and lack of collaboration.

How to fix poor communication

Clearly, businesses need to focus on encouraging quality discussions and social interactions to bring coworkers together. This is much easier said than done and there are many possible strategies, but it will set the foundation for your company’s collaboration and engagement in the future. The real question is: how do I go about doing this?

Create a designated social space for communication

The first place to start is to create a hub of discussion and knowledge where information can be stored for future reference, but also where people can interact in a more social manner. Talking around the water cooler doesn’t really happen anymore, but that doesn’t mean that its purpose in socializing employees has gone away. Forums, polls, and more can take the place of the water cooler to bring employees together to talk about non-work topics and engage people.

The best way to do this with the digital state of so many organizations is through an intranet. An intranet platform acts as an extension of your company’s culture and connects people and information, no matter where they are. It also provides the social aspect that causes many people to get burned out when they don’t have it. Depending on the platform, it can also be modular to match the issues an organization is having (particularly those we’re discussing here).

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Establish communication standards

To ensure that the hub of information and interaction is as effective and easy to use as possible, standards should be set for writing documents, goals, and more. By putting tasks and information in writing, it will also help eliminate unclear objectives becoming a point of contention. Not only this, but consistency means that everyone is on the same page and mistakes or discrepancies will be easier to spot out.

Break down silos

By making interactions between teams and cross-discipline groups easier, you can boost collaboration and knowledge sharing. This is important for productivity, but also in case a problem crops up that could use an extra set of eyes to determine a solution. In addition, it will end up teaching each team the basics of what the others do, giving them a better understanding of what are and aren’t realistic expectations for projects and work. This means a more cohesive and interconnected organization that works with each other rather than in isolation.

Seek feedback

The final note should be to seek feedback from those using these new ideas and platforms, listen to what they have to say, and act on it. This is what will make or break a communications plan because it needs to be adopted and used to make it effective. If people don’t like the interface or find it too cumbersome to use, they’ll revert back to the problems that started this situation.

Not just getting feedback, but seeking it out is important. If employees have to actively look for a place to give their opinion, it will likely end up both with less data and weighted towards the two ends of the spectrum (really good or really bad). People who don’t love it but don’t hate it are very unlikely to go out of their way to express that, but that’s still valuable information that there is room for improvement.

People are your most valuable asset

In today’s digital age and especially when working from home, people can feel increasingly isolated and unmotivated. It is the organization’s responsibility to make sure that they stay engaged with their work and team, and feel connected to each other. Communication is the key to enabling this, and should be a primary focus to ensure that employees can form relationships and share information with each other to develop and foster a stronger work culture.

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