“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Poor internal communication has considerable negative impact on the workplace, yet we so often fail to recognize it simply because of the pervasive problem so eloquently stated by George Bernard Shaw: we fail to communicate because we assume we’ve already done it. In perhaps no other setting is communication more taken for granted than it is in the workplace.
Workplace communication problems manifest in all kinds of disastrous ways: insufficient training, lack of job definition, ignorance about company outlook, and distrust, the cancer of any company’s health. So how can you tell when poor internal communication is plaguing your company? Here are five ways it is sure to show up.
1. It isn’t your shining strength
This may seem obvious, but if communication isn’t one of the things your company does best, it is probably one of your biggest problems. Put another way, keeping up communication within your company is like maintaining good sanitary practices at a restaurant—anything less than stellar can and will lead to big problems.
The truth behind this is that good communication doesn’t just happen automatically. Miscommunication, gossip, complaining, and passive-aggressive silence . . . those are the things that crop up on their own. Strong corporate communication requires constant intention and attention. When the evidence of bad communication becomes impossible to ignore, it usually comes in the form of a colossal mistake, a toxic culture, and/or the loss of one or more of your best employees or managers.
Action point: make an effort to improve your internal communications beyond just a few subtle tweaks. Don’t just make it better, make it outstanding.
Are you finding instances of multiple people completing identical tasks unnecessarily? Maybe you find the same few reminders being repeated meeting after meeting or constantly having to go back and fix the same mistakes again and again.
The easy excuse is to blame the employees “responsible” for either not knowing a job had already been done or not knowing how to do things correctly. But this problem is more frequently the product of poorly communicating procedures, roles, and best practices as well as not listening or watching for clues that better training or procedure changes need to take place.
Action point: if you’ve said the same thing 10 million times to no effect, or the same tasks continually get repeated, think of how you can dramatically change the way best practices get taught or progress gets reported.
Everyone in IT is completely insulated from everyone in accounting who is completely insulated from everyone in sales who is completely insulated from . . . the cycle goes on and on. Communication may be great within each department while being nonexistent beyond those groups.
Many factors contribute in complicated fashion to a silo mentality, but a central theme among them all is the challenge of communication. If every department has a strong understanding of what the others do, what their strengths are, what they do to contribute to the success of the company, and what they need from other departments to truly thrive, every individual component of the organization will feel less like an isolated unit and more like an integral part of the team.
Action point: try creating an illustrated workflow chart, report, or animation that effectively portrays how each department contributes to workplace success.
4. Employee gossip
Scholarly research indicates that gossip comprises 14% of conversation during workplace breaks and that it leads to workplace cynicism. Gossip may seem like an inevitable reality because people are always going to talk. But a lot of workplace gossip fills the void left by communication failures in the corporate culture.
When the corporate mission is effectively and genuinely communicated, when successes are properly accredited and stumbles fairly acknowledged and understood, there is far less for employees to explain with conspiracy theories and speculation. But when the only top-down public discourse is blustery spin or ho-hum corporate announcements, or even silence, employees will do their own communication, and it won’t be pretty.
Action point: Make your communication vibrant, interesting, engaging, and worth sharing. If you can’t say it with excitement, it might not be worth saying. And if you have nothing exciting to say, the problems go well beyond communication.
5. Customer complaints
Complaints in general can often be traced to something not being communicated properly—some deficiency hasn’t been addressed or some key mission point hasn’t sufficiently been taught. Keep in mind that almost all of your team members want to do a good job, succeed, and help others do the same. So most things that go wrong could be remedied with better communication—in one direction or another.
This could be a problem of poor communication, training, or listening from the corporate side. If customers aren’t satisfied, be attentive to signs of feedback you may have been ignoring.
Action point: Imagine the satisfaction of your typical customer as a story. Do you tell that story regularly? Does everyone at the company know that story backward and forward? If that is communicated well, consistently, and creatively, the most important part of your business will be front of mind for your whole team.
Here’s an overall, across-the-board suggestion for improving internal communication: step up beyond the conventional means and incorporate the tactics that make outbound communication successful. Visual communications such as infographics, whiteboard animations, and explainer videos have been well established for communicating to customers—your team is no less important than your clientele, and communication is essential for training, morale, mission-casting, and more.