27 reasons why communication in the workplace fails

Effective and clear communication is essential for maintaining a productive and harmonious work environment Here are 27 of the worst behaviours which cause communication to fail — and what you can do to prevent them from having a negative influence on your business. Bought to you by Clear Books.
  1. Hiding information
Obviously, everyone doesn’t need to know everything, but if staff feel like a new bombshell is dropped on them every day, morale will decrease and, in turn, perhaps they’ll start keeping important details from others too. Make sure you keep staff up-to-date with the big decisions and deliver news in a timely and considered way.

  1. Gossiping about colleagues
Although it might be tempting at times, talking badly of others behind their backs, especially at work, can only reflect badly on the person doing it. If you get a reputation for being a gossip, people will think twice before trusting you with important information.

  1. Delivering inconsistent messages
Nothing is surer to frustrate an employee than being told to do X one day and its opposite, Y, the next — particularly if the reason for this U-turn is not clearly communicated. If you clearly state the strategy and reasoning behind a reversed decision, people will be more accepting.

  1. Failing to create clear business and team goals
If a stranger visits your office, they should be able to ask any employee what your business’s overarching goal is. If the employee doesn’t know the answer, it will affect both how they do their own job and how they communicate with colleagues to achieve objectives.

  1. Covering up mistakes
If you make a mistake, own up to it. In a professional environment, there’s no excuse for lying, particularly on issues that affect your colleagues and could harm their job or even career. People respect someone who admits they’re sometimes wrong and is willing to learn from these mistakes.

  1. Letting people down
If someone asks for your help, you should either assist or clearly explain why you can’t. Never agree to something that you don’t have the time or inclination to do. Wasting other people’s time causes resentment and makes you look like you’re unwilling to work in a team.

  1. Overreacting to the small stuff
Similarly, it’s important for staff to recognise when a task is urgent or when it can be left to resolve itself. If you get a reputation for micro-managing or panicking over small things, it will harm communication as people won’t know whether to take what you say seriously or dismiss it as trivial.

  1. Neglecting employees’ personal lives
Everyone has a personal life, which from time to time will affect their work life — whether it’s a bereavement, child care or illness. Create an open environment where staff can talk to you as an adult so you can come to a reasonable arrangement that suits everyone.

  1. Failing to practise what you preach
If you expect employees to be at their desks by 9 or to call you if they are ill, then make sure you abide by your own rules, or at least don’t contradict them. Younger employees, in particular, expect to work in a flat hierarchy and to be treated fairly.

  1. Demotivating employees
If employees are stuck doing the same thing every day with no opportunity to progress or even discuss their levels of job satisfaction, they will become demotivated and this will affect their ability and inclination to communicate with colleagues, customers, and managers.

  1. Crossing wires
Some people aren’t natural communicators and may prefer to work alone or perhaps dislike explaining things. If you spot someone like this, it might be worth giving them communication or assertiveness training, or making sure that someone who does have these skills is responsible for managing certain projects.

  1. Preventing people from contributing ideas
When someone joins your company, particularly if they’re young or new to the industry, it’s important that they know they have both the right and the responsibility to offer opinions and suggestions. In turn, more seasoned staff should be open to hearing new perspectives.

  1. Failing to set clear deadlines and instructions
If you want something completed by a certain time, you must make this very clear to the person you’re asking. Most people are juggling multiple projects so it will help both you and them if you’re explicit about what you need and by when.

  1. Reacting badly to requests
Even if you’re incredibly stressed, keep in mind how you react to requests to make sure people don’t become wary of asking for your help, or even start avoiding you. If you do get to breaking point, try to remove yourself from the situation, even briefly.

  1. Lack of training
If staff are not adequately trained to do their jobs, tasks won’t be completed properly and this will cause resentment amongst colleagues. Keep an eye out to see if anyone seems to be struggling with certain aspects of their workload and arrange appropriate training.

  1. Dismissing others’ experience and value
The most important aspect of any workplace is respect. It’s important that staff are open to listening and responding to each other, no matter what. Diversity awareness and training can help to ensure employees know what is expected of them and help everyone to learn from each other’s varied experiences.

  1. Sticking to work chat all the time
We’re not robots and we can’t work without being influenced by human qualities such as emotion, judgement, intuition etc. If you can bond with your colleagues on a personal level, even in a small way, you’ll know their communication style and be able to work more efficiently.

  1. Forgetting to catch up regularly
It’s easy to drift along day to day without having an in-depth conversation about what’s going on. Make time for your staff by arranging regular catch-ups to make sure they’re happy and that you’re both on the same page in terms of the company goals and direction.

  1. Arranging pointless and uninspiring meetings
On the other hand, it’s important that when you do meet, the meeting is productive and has a clear schedule. There’s nothing more frustrating than a bunch of people staring at each other waiting for someone else to speak because no one knows why they’re there. Make sure someone is responsible for taking charge of every meeting.

  1. Rationing resources
If employees have to share scarce resources, this can cause petty arguments, and resentments build up. Of course, you don’t need to buy a separate kettle for everyone but make sure that a lack of basic items isn’t needlessly making your employees’ days just that little bit worse.

  1. Making snap-judgements on others’ ideas
If no one was allowed to fail, then no one would ever take risks. Make sure that employees know that they can take the odd (calculated) risk or can share a seemingly ridiculous idea in a brainstorming session without fear that they will be laughed at or treated negatively.

  1. Working from home
If no one ever sees each other because they’re working remotely this can have a bad effect on general communication. The same goes for being in the office but always wearing headphones or creating other barriers to talking face-to-face. Of course there are times when both of these things can be helpful — but in moderation.

  1. Restricting employees’ environment
It’s important that employees have somewhere they can go besides their desk where they can gather informally to chat and spark conversations. A lunch room, a pool table or an area with comfy sofas can all fulfil this need.

  1. Segregating teams
If different teams are never forced to work together or encouraged to understand each other’s roles, resentment will build as everyone heads off on their own path. Everyone should be aware of other departments’ needs to work together to achieve a common goal.

  1. Leaving integral people out of the loop
When beginning a new project make sure you consider everyone who will play a role. Don’t just pull people in at the last minute when their opinion and expertise have become irrelevant because all of the decisions have been made.

  1. Allowing an unclear organisational structure
Everyone in the company should know who to go to for certain things. If someone needs information, they should immediately know, or be able to quickly find out, who holds this knowledge. A dedicated table or chart in an obvious place can help with this.

  1. Relying on email
Staying at your desk and sending messages to someone sitting just across the room is becoming more and more widespread. However face-to-face communication is fundamental to ensure you have correctly communicated and understood a message’s nuances — particularly if it’s a difficult technical or sensitive conversation.


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