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Communication Breakdown in the Workplace

Communication breakdown
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Do you remember when we were at school and had group projects? The idea was to work as a team and share ideas. Fun, huh? There was just this one itsy-bitsy thing: not everyone was heard or taken into consideration. It was really hard to communicate your opinion unless you were the loud one on the team. 

The same holds today when we are adults working on a bit more serious projects. Effective communication can go a long way when working in a company. Many would say that one of the biggest factors for failure in the business world is poor decision-making. While that can cost a company millions of dollars, there is an even bigger threat: communication breakdown. This is even more true today with the pandemic happening around the world. Most of the businesses started doing remote work which meant we had to learn new ways to communicate. In a nutshell, saying workplace communication is important would be a huge understatement. The phrase “It goes without saying” should be removed in the world of business, because if something is important then it goes WITH saying. In this fast-paced digital world, having a clear understanding of your goals and tasks can make or break a business. 

What is communication?

Before we go all negative here and explain what can go fantastically wrong, let’s explain what communication is.

The most general definition of communication is an exchange of information between two or more people. It’s basically a two-way street. If one party doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, we get miscommunication. Once we add more people to that equation, we get a melting pot. 

Having good communication is reflected in improved business performance, better productivity, and higher staff retention. Communication must be a priority for an organization. If there are issues, everyone should get involved and try to overcome them. 

How does communication breakdown happen?

Let’s have a look at the following basic scenario. Jackie and Clare are working on a project together. They need to complete a task to get the job done, but both of them think that the other one will take care of it. The whole thing leads to a missed deadline and finger-pointing between the two of them over who did what. This could’ve been prevented if they talked about it more openly. The issue wasn’t the lack of resources but the breakdown of the communication. This is only one example of communication gone completely haywire.

So how does this happen? Here are some of the culprits we need to watch out for: 

  1. Relying on assumptions – as I mentioned in the example above, who will do what might cause confusion. Once the employees start making assumptions, this is an indicator of poor management communication from the top down. 
  2. Misinterpretation – when we are holding face-to-face meetings it’s easier to get clarity. You can always ask follow-up questions at the moment. However, with the written communication we are mostly using right now, that opportunity is lost.
  3. Assuming everyone understands the company’s jargon – this is especially common when new people join a team. The employees continue to use their corporate language, and the new ones don’t feel comfortable asking what it all means. When this happens, they lack understanding and usually stop listening. 
  4. One-way communication – of course, some level of authority is necessary, but still managers and employees need to collaborate with each other. If the relationship starts to look like a dictator versus a servant, then it’s time to do some reevaluation. 
  5. Constant negative feedback – it’s alright to get negative feedback from time to time, it’s even healthy. It helps us do better next time. The problem is if we constantly get criticized, and not get praised when we are doing something good. Focusing on the negative makes people feel unvalued by the company. Soon, there will be another company that will encourage them and make them feel seen. 
  6. Cultural differences – if we work with international clients or employees from abroad, then we are faced with cultural diversity. It is important to try and mix people from different backgrounds, however, managers tend to be persuaded by people from a similar or same culture, which leaves everyone to face challenges when communicating.  

There are many more causes of communication breakdown, but they are all easy to solve once we decide it’s time to address them. To solve communication problems we basically need to communicate. This is crucial in finding the solution within an organization. So what to do next?

How to avoid communication breakdown?

Now that we’ve diagnosed the roots of the problems, it’s time to dig into some solutions. 

  1. Create a safe space for sharing ideas – we are not all comfortable with sharing ideas or voicing concerns in front of others. Personally, when I speak publicly I feel like I’m put on the stand. What I’d suggest here is to give everyone a chance to provide anonymous feedback, or just emphasize that there is not fallout when sharing ideas 
  2. Have an open-door policy – as I said earlier, not all of us want to speak publicly so just keep your door open, or in today’s world, your chat. But be careful. This can lead to multiple interruptions throughout the day. Another thing is that many will become dependent on you to answer their questions at any time. I’d suggest determining certain hours where people are welcome to ask questions so that you can focus on your own work the rest of the time.
  3. Speaking of an open-door policy, listen – so not just open doors, but ears too, cause communication goes both ways. Additionally, we should practice empathy when we communicate; put ourselves in other’s shoes instead of becoming Judgy McJudgerson, and try to encourage others to speak up. When we praise and encourage people, they start to feel welcomed and valued, and they will probably put more effort into their work. Daily stand-ups or one-on-ones should be our general practice where everyone gets to have their voice. 
  4. Invest in the right software tools – the right tools can empower communication. All of the communication issues can be exacerbated by the physical distance we are all facing right now. Relying on our written communication has been no picnic. Without facial expressions and body language, it’s incredibly easy to misinterpret someone. So just throw an emoji here and there and the next best thing –  turn on your camera once in a while. Naturally, to achieve this you need the right software. On this note, Chanty would be a great asset. It can also function as a knowledge-sharing platform and one central place to go for all necessary information. Search for tasks, review goals and talk to your teammates across the company.
  5. Define the chain of command – everyone should have a clear idea of who to talk to and whom they need to report to. Assign one lead for a task who will be in charge of the entire progress and flow of information. And naturally, tell everyone. 
  6. Use team-building – when people get to know each other on a personal level, the professional one becomes a bit easier. Team-building is a great ice-breaker for getting to know each other. And it doesn’t have to be a weekend getaway. Team-building can be a fun game during or after working hours (following all the safety measures of course). Even a simple call over drinks on a Friday can do the trick.

Communication first

I’m afraid communication breakdown is something we’ll all have to face at one point or another in our career. Rather than focusing on the negative, we should all thrive to do our best and foster better relationships with the people around us. Creating strong relationships takes time and effort, but in the end, it’s worth it. Having open communication with your teammates helps everyone feel satisfied and comfortable in their work. Hopefully, these insights can help us find a path to healthier and more productive relationships with each other, a team or organization, and management. If we seek to improve internal communication by implementing best practice techniques, we can all excel in our work and career. So feel free to drop me a line and tell me how it goes. Have you ever experienced communication breakdowns and how did you overcome them?

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Mia Naumoska

Mia Naumoska is a Chief Marketing Officer at Chanty - easy-to-use team collaboration tool with a mission to help companies boost their team’s productivity.
Having over a decade of experience in the marketing field, Mia is responsible for Chanty’s overall marketing strategy, managing an amazing team of marketing experts.
Feel free to connect with Mia on LinkedIn.

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