Communication is essential to a smoothly running business. Organizations know this, and yours makes no exception. Or does it? Communication problems in the workplace are a lot more common than you think. Seventy-four percent of employees feel they are missing out on news and information, and 86% blame company failures on poor communication.
Furthermore, 96% of people would like a more empathetic approach to communication in the workplace, while almost 40% of the workforce feel like there isn't any productive conversation between them and the company. In this article, we will explore the most common examples of communication problems in the workplace and their solutions.
How can you identify communication problems in the workplace?
The statistics are staggering, but you may be wondering how to spot inefficient communication in your company. There are several warning signs, such as:
- Procedures are hardly ever followed. If you find that employees do things their own way instead of following the company processes, it means that there is a major communication problem;
- Employees don't know the company's mission or values. If a short and fun quiz reveals that the company's mission and values are a mystery to them, it's time to work on your internal communication and culture;
- Tasks are repeated. When you have several people (or teams) working on the same thing (unaware of each other) it’s a waste of resources, and there's no clear task division;
- Various departments complain about low response rates to their requests. This is usually the case with HR and IT when they need to migrate services or get everyone’s opinion about a certain topic. They send emails, set reminders, and still fail to reach the bulk of employees;
- Few employees show up at company events. You know it’s a workforce communication problem when people don’t come to the fun events. A simple announcement is not enough, and even having RSVPs is not a sure thing – you need reminders and incentives.
Read more: On designing a great L&D communication plan
The most common communication problems in the workplace and their solutions
Looking at the list above, you’ve probably identified the symptoms that are present in your company. Now you’re wondering what causes them and how you can fix or prevent them. Here are the most common communication problems in the workplace:
1. Communication barriers
This is a vast subject explored by several fields such as linguistics, neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology. However, there are some communication barriers that are most likely to cause problems in the workplace:
- Language barriers appear in global organizations where employees speak several languages. Even if there is one official language that everyone uses, there will be differences in proficiency, and translations will often fail to convey nuanced meanings. However, there are differences in vocabulary even between people speaking the same language in various regions of the world.
What to do about it: encourage employees to use concise language and avoid metaphors or figurative speech. Provide training and resources on industry-specific terminology and include language courses in your corporate learning strategy.
- The intensive use of jargon is often a reason for defective communication. In theory, jargon terminology facilitates communication by simplifying concepts. However, this only works when everyone is in the know. If they don't, it leads to misunderstandings or confusion.
What to do about it: provide training and resources for employees to become familiar with the jargon in your industry. Cultivate a learning culture in which all individuals feel safe to ask questions when something is unclear. There are instances when jargon is unavoidable, but try to use it sparingly for the most part.
- Physical barriers have become very common with the rise of hybrid and remote work. Not seeing a person's facial expressions takes a lot from the message, and misunderstandings can often occur.
What to do about it: make sure the communication technology you use is up-to-date and encourage employees to use the video option, especially in one-to-one and small group meetings. Provide office space for those who prefer to work or hold some of their meetings in person.
- Cultural barriers arise from a difference in norms and values. If they are not addressed, they lead to stereotyping and ostracization, both very harmful to a healthy working environment.
What to do about it: provide sensitivity training and immediately mediate any issues arising from cultural differences. Make sure the internal communication rules are clear and provide a comprehensive guide that also stresses the company's values – adhering to these will bring people closer by giving them something they have in common.
- Organizational barriers appear when employees don’t know how the company works and its processes. You see this when they fail to share important information and stumble when they have to ask for help to complete their projects.
What to do about it: create a clear organizational structure, emphasizing various points of contact. Include this in your onboarding program and promptly announce any modifications. If you find that one particular issue keeps coming up, have a company-wide refresh training to clarify it.
Read more: What you need to know about intercultural communication
2. The wrong technology
Having the right communication tools is integral to company success. First, you need a communication solution that works best in your environment. For example, suppose you have a global workforce scattered across various time zones. In that case, you'll need technology to help you curate the exchanged information so that employees from different parts of the world don't waste too much time sifting through emails and channels figuring out what is essential and what they can overlook.
What to do about it: make sure your communication tools are what teams and individuals need to do their job with minimal interruptions. Furthermore, harness the value of your company’s learning management system (LMS) for internal communication. Employees often need help on projects they can’t tackle alone, and these on-the-job learning opportunities shouldn't be missed. They can tap into the LMS resources and then collaborate using the advanced communication features. Using the LMS to work in groups, ask questions in a chat room, or reach out to mentors is easy.
3. Assumptions and misinterpretations
These are very frequent because people sometimes assume that others think as they do. It’s also common for employees to overlook possible differences in information levels and get frustrated when others don’t seem to be as effective as they are. If everyone is not on the same page on a project, there will be more friction than actual results. Some companies are actively trying to uncover and overcome bias in the workplace, but even in those environments, miscommunication happens.
What to do about it: set clear parameters for every project. It’s important for everyone to know exactly what to do and what the desired outcomes are. Furthermore, don’t rely solely on what is communicated at the start of a project. Hold regular meetings and encourage employees to reach out whenever they need to. Use paraphrasing and feedback as usual techniques in your internal discussions.
Read more: 5 Reasons why cross-training employees is beneficial for your company
4. Information overload
Information overload has employees struggling to do their job and keep a healthy work-life balance. Twenty-six percent of people want to delete all their emails and start over. Moreover, employees visit an average of 40 websites daily. The workforce is overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to deal with on a daily basis. Productivity suffers as 85% of work emails are opened within two minutes, and these interruptions eat up 28% of the workday. This takes a toll on the employees’ state of mind and subsequently on their motivation to perform well. With the skyrocketing turnover rates of the past two years, that’s not an extra issue you want to have.
What to do about it: deleting everyone's inboxes and starting fresh is not an option, appealing as that may sound to some. I have discussed some solutions to this workplace communication problem above: make sure you have the right communication tools and make the most of your company LMS to facilitate learning and collaboration. Furthermore, change the way you communicate within the company. Employees model what comes from the top, so if their inboxes and groups are constantly flooded, they will perpetuate that pattern. Have a healthy internal communication strategy and always keep channels open to feedback.
5. Lack of psychological safety
A big part of workplace communication is information sharing. However, not all employees feel comfortable speaking up, expressing opinions, and telling others what they have learned. This is a big issue, especially in today’s high-demand context. Employees sometimes fear that speaking up will have unwanted consequences, or if they show extra interest, they will be automatically saddled with a larger workload. Feeling unsafe in the workplace is a real barrier to effective communication and is very detrimental to organizational culture and business results.
What to do about it: psychological safety in the workplace entails building a climate in which people feel comfortable both being and expressing themselves. Allow time in your meetings for people to connect and make small talk. Ask your managers to have regular one on ones with their team members to discuss any issues they may have. Be as transparent as possible about what is going on in the organization and explain C-suite decisions in a straightforward way. You need your employees to trust their leaders and each other, and feel free to share information and ask for help or clarifications. In doing so, you avoid a great number of communication problems in the workplace.
Read more: What is institutional knowledge and how to successfully harness its value?
Solving communication problems in the workplace
Communication is a very complex process, influenced by several factors that range from language and vocabulary to cultural diversity and technological inadequacies. Poor communication in the workplace can cause many issues, from missed deadlines and squandering of resources to employee frustration and loss of motivation. You need to identify the workplace communication problems that are specific to your company and find the best solutions to fix them. Be mindful of the technology you use and how well it meets organizational needs, make the most of the social features of your LMS and build a communication culture focused on the essential to avoid information overload.