The effects of poor communication in the workplace

Without effective communication, teams can’t function — and without teams, it’s hard to run a business. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that the effects of poor communication in the workplace are more widespread than you might think. Nearly 60 percent of employees say their leadership doesn’t provide them with clear instructions, and their leaders — almost 70 percent of managers, in fact — confess they are frequently uncomfortable communicating with employees.

We’ll link to some resources that can help improve in-house communication at the end of this article. First, though, let’s take a look at some of the worst effects of poor communication in the workplace. Once you know the stakes, the decision to invest in communication training becomes a lot easier. 

Poor communication in the workplace can lead to unhappy clients 

Patty Caballero, CEO of PSC Consulting, LLC, works with small and medium-sized businesses to improve communications and public relations. She recalls a company that was so busy managing its external communications, leaders forgot to pass key messaging to their own staff.

“There was big legislation that was going to impact the direction of the company,” Caballero says. “Management was ready to answer questions from the media, and they had public affairs involved. But after the legislation passed, clients started calling, very concerned about how this would impact them. Nobody had taken the time to prepare the sales department for those questions. Everyone was so focused on what was happening in Congress that they didn’t give their frontline staff the answers they needed.”

That wasn’t a great day for client relations. The moral of the story is that the effects of poor communication in the workplace can threaten the relationships that keep your business afloat.       

Poor communication at work can damage employee trust 

How do you think the sales employees in the above example felt? In a stunning failure of communication, their leaders hadn’t given them the information they needed to succeed. The employees came to the conclusion that “The leaders want us to do this, but they can’t even get it straight,” Caballero says. Situations like that can lead to serious problems down the line.

“When your employees don’t trust the company, it impacts everything because that becomes part of the culture,” Caballero says. “Employees are at their best when they’re happy and confident in the company, and they’re serving as ambassadors in the work they do.” In order to create this positive culture, management teams need strong communication.  

Without excellent workplace communication, collaboration is less effective

“Today’s work is collaborative,” says Alexandra West, creative director at Nerd/Noir and founder of Art at Work. “There are very few people that work in a silo, just doing something on their own. Most people are part of a team.”

Collaboration and communication go hand in hand. “If you aren’t able to communicate effectively, it’s very doubtful you’re going to be able to collaborate effectively,” West says. So the effects of poor communication in the workplace set every collaborative project up for failure — and almost everything is a collaboration.  

Better communication can help improve diversity and inclusion 

Strong workplace communication starts with creating a sense of psychological safety so that every employee feels like their organization welcomes their thoughts and contributions. A culture of fear and judgment is a serious communication failure — and one that can cut companies off from the necessary contributions of diverse voices.

“This psychological safety is really, really important,” West says. “A lot of companies are focusing on hiring for diversity, but they’re dropping the ball on the inclusion part. And creating a space where you get those unique points of view and unique ideas on the table is really mission critical, because the more diverse those ideas are, the better your ultimate solution is going to be.” 

Businesses rely on workplace communication to accomplish their goals 

“The headline about workplace communication is that, if you get it right, your business will achieve its goals,” says Jen Thornton, founder of 304 Coaching. “If you get it wrong, it will not.” Remember that communication is a two-way street. Not only do managers need to convey clear, detailed messages to staff, but they need to keep channels open for employee insights. Employee feedback surveys are an excellent tool for bottom-up information sharing. 

Workplace communication resources

Ultimately, the chance of missing a goal is the scariest effect of poor communication in the workplace; it can actually lead to stagnation and business failure. There are plenty of online resources available to help you build a more effective communication strategy. Here is a comprehensive guide to effective workplace communication that you can use for further reference.

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