One of the most important skills as a leader is the ability to communicate effectively. Poor communication in any business leads to strained working relationships, mistakes, inefficiency, and even ongoing conflicts. Despite these adverse consequences, miscommunication in the workplace continues to be a problem for many businesses. In a recent survey, 81% of employees said that miscommunication occurred in their organization very frequently or at least some of the time.
While no leader can be expected to communicate perfectly all of the time, there are some best practices that all leaders should follow to minimize communication breakdowns and strengthen teams. Before looking at these core strategies, it’s important to understand why miscommunication is one of the greatest risks to business performance and growth.
The Problem With Poor Workplace Communication
When employees don’t receive clear information – or misinterpret the information they receive – it ultimately leads to confusion and misunderstandings. This leads to employees taking longer to achieve tasks, or can result in people prioritizing the wrong tasks. With insufficient access to the right information and resources, employee motivation levels also decrease, which undermines productivity.
Furthermore, poor communication leads to less effective collaboration between individuals and teams, which fosters mistrust and weakens company culture. If workers don’t feel like they’re being heard or struggle to get their points across to management and coworkers, loyalty to the company suffers. This results in low job satisfaction and higher stress levels, and ultimately increases employee turnover.
Leaders who don’t communicate effectively also create a working environment where employees are less accountable for their work. In these environments, employees don’t understand what is expected of them and are less likely to perform well, and business goals are less likely to be achieved.
Finally, poor leadership communication and direction increase the likelihood of workplace tensions. For example, a worker might be left to complete certain tasks that they assumed another employee was responsible for. If these issues occur frequently, team cohesion can be severely damaged and working relationships rapidly deteriorate. This lowers employee self-esteem and overall team morale, which also impacts relationships with clients and customers.
Strategies to Minimize Miscommunication
To reduce miscommunication in the workplace and build a healthier company culture, keep in mind the following nine best practices:
1. Communicate to the Right People
Some leaders make the mistake of delivering messages to people who actually don’t need to be involved. It might sound obvious, but effective communication is about tailoring each message to the right audience. This means only delivering messages to people who need the information to achieve certain tasks, or who might be affected by the communication. Before sending out any information, consider who actually needs to know and which people should have a say in the message.
2. Use the Right Tone
Keeping your emotions under control – whether it’s anger, frustration, or disappointment – is crucial. When speaking to an individual or group, or composing a written message, it’s important to communicate with calmness and confidence, especially in times of crisis. When you’re calm and collected, messages come across more powerfully and people are ultimately more receptive to what you have to say.
With this in mind, it’s crucial to get into the right frame of mind before any communication. Consider the audience you’re addressing. Can you use a more casual tone, or should it sound more formal? Take a few moments to collect your thoughts and think about what you will say and how you will say it.
3. Nurture a Transparent Culture
The most effective leaders set the tone for workplace communication and establish clear communication conventions that every employee can agree to respect. When leaders set this standard for open communication, more employees are likely to follow suit, which helps to minimize errors and supports employee wellbeing. Encouraging honesty is especially important. When employees are comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of repercussions, working relationships become stronger and any potential issues become more evident and can be addressed.
4. Be Clear and Concise
Whether you’re speaking to an individual or writing a mass email, avoid complex language and get straight to the point. Speaking plainly not only removes ambiguity from messages but also helps to build trust with your team. Additionally, when you’re explaining a particular plan of action, explain the reasons behind the assigned task and how it fits into the company’s plans and objectives. When people understand why certain steps should be taken, they’re more likely to get on board.
5. Talk One-On-One When Possible
One of the simplest ways to avoid miscommunication is to talk face-to-face with individuals. In written messages, people can’t read your facial expressions and body language, they can’t hear your tone of voice, and they can’t respond with instant feedback. This can result in people misinterpreting the message or making wrong assumptions about your intentions and objectives. If you can’t meet face-to-face for some reason, voice calls or video chats can work well, allowing people to at least hear your tone of voice.
Every leader knows that finding the time for regular one-on-one chats is a challenge, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure employees feel a valued part of the team.
6. Be Aware of Non-Verbal Signals
While the words used to communicate can be extremely important, it’s crucial that leaders remember the power of non-verbal signals. As already mentioned, people don’t just rely on words to interpret messages; they pick up on body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and eye contact. This is why the best leaders are always mindful of their non-verbal communication. They pay attention to the way they stand and the gestures they make, they’re aware of how they occupy the personal space of others, and they control their facial expressions to avoid giving off any unintentional signals. These actions come naturally to some leaders, but anyone can fine-tune their non-verbal skills.
7. Listen Carefully
Many leaders still underestimate the importance of listening, which is one of the most important non-verbal communication skills. Careful listening leads to greater understanding and more empathetic responses, meaning leaders can make better decisions that align with employees’ needs and expectations.
Listening to suggestions from employees also encourages creativity and innovation in the workplace. Unfortunately, many employees still feel like they’re not being heard. In a recent global study, 34% of employees said that their company doesn’t listen to their ideas for improving the business.
Instead of making assumptions about how employees think and feel about certain issues, make an effort to really listen to what they’re saying. Actively listening ensures employees feel more appreciated and empowered in the workplace.
8. Optimize Written Messages
Written messages, whether they’re in the form of letters, texts, or emails, can be one of the trickiest forms of communication because they can be easily misinterpreted. If messages are poorly written or don’t hit the right tone, they can be confusing or even sound offensive. Following are a few best practices to keep in mind:
• Make sure the purpose of the communication is crystal clear. By clarifying your main objective from the outset, you can create an appropriate introduction and conclusion.
• Tailor your language and tone to the audience you’re addressing.
• Use as few words as possible and use bullet points to highlight important information.
• After creating the first draft, edit your writing for readability, tone, grammar, and punctuation. Then edit it again at least once more.
• Read your message out loud to get a sense of how it will sound to others. Edit the piece again before you send it out.
• If you struggle to create coherent written messages, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted colleague for feedback and to proofread your writing.
• If you sense a delivered message has been misinterpreted, follow up with in-person meetings to make sure messages are received and understood.
9. Ask for Feedback
While you may be happy with your communication style, not everyone around you will always feel the same way. This is why the most successful leaders constantly solicit feedback and respond accordingly. By determining how others perceive your style of communication, you can learn what is working and what isn’t, and then tweak your communication techniques to get the best results. Crucially, listen to all points of view and then take steps to address any communication breakdowns.
It’s also important to find out how different people prefer to communicate. Some people prefer morning one-on-one meetings to clarify goals and objectives, whereas others prefer casual, afternoon group meetings. Knowing the communication preferences of staff means you can develop tailored communication strategies to help every team member thrive at work.
Miscommunication can happen at any time and at all levels in any company. After all, human error is a constant factor in any industry. However, the most successful leaders are able to minimize communication mistakes by using a combination of the strategies outlined above.
Ultimately, it’s about respecting the unique needs of each employee and tailoring communication strategies to each specific audience and scenario. This helps to build a supportive and inclusive working environment for all employees, which boosts motivation levels, improves staff retention, and increases productivity. Following these best practices will go a long way to preventing miscommunication from happening in the first place and help to strengthen your business for the long term.
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