How to Deal With Poor Communication In the Workplace: 10 Tips

Effective communication is the fountain from which great work springs. Read on for tips on dealing with poor team communication.

A melding of great minds can often achieve a goal in a more innovative, exciting way than just one person. In some cases, though, communication problems can put a big damper on a team’s work. That falls on you to solve: Sharing ideas is how you build team collaboration, but what if it’s just not happening? Below, learn how to deal with poor communication in the workplace and keep everyone engaged, productive, and thinking out of the box. 

How to deal with poor communication in the workplace

Teams are a collection of differing thoughts, opinions, and experiences – and that all can help you overcome obstacles in creative ways. But it just won’t happen if your team isn’t communicating. Or maybe they are communicating but their viewpoints are so different that your meetings spiral into heated arguments. You can solve these problems before they even start with the below tips.

1Come up with a communication strategy

Some teams can brainstorm without any formal sort of communication rules. Other teams might be full of people who talk over each other rather than with each other. In that case, it’s time to set some ground rules. Your goal isn’t to control what people say and how they say it – it’s instead to give everyone space to air their thoughts. For example, a communication strategy can be as simple as sticking firmly to your meeting agenda or only allowing questions once someone has finished talking. 

Foster better communication

Collaborate on meeting agendas and note-taking while keeping track of action items to help you communicate more effectively. Try a tool like Fellow!

2Create a safe space for communication

Some team members might struggle with face-to-face communication due to some sort of anxiety. Maybe they’re worried you’ll just ignore their thoughts, or maybe they think their ideas won’t mean much.  You can counter these feelings if you create an emotionally safe work environment. That means clearly welcoming all team members’ ideas. The more, the merrier – that’s how you get more team members participating, engaged, and communicating.

During your team meetings, try to give everyone a chance to speak. You can also directly ask a team member for their opinions when it seems like they have something on the tip of their tongue. Another way to help them feel comfortable sharing: Keep an open-door policy and be open to feedback.

3Use consistent communication channels

Effective communication should be consistent. That’s especially true if you communicate through multiple channels – email, project management tools, meetings. For example, let’s say a team member expects task instructions in your project management tool but you email them instead. They could entirely miss that email and not start the project. Being consistent with where and how you communicate solves this problem.

You should also update your team on some sort of predictable schedule. If you only reach out when there’s a big issue, your team can start to associate hearing from you with bad news. As a result, they might start to dread it when your name pops up in their inbox or on their caller ID. They might become hesitant to communicate with you in general. 

4Be open to feedback

An excellent way to improve communication between you and your team is to show them that you’re open to it in the first place. You can easily ask for peer feedback through group surveys or during one-on-one meetings

Effective communication is a two-way street, especially when you’re asking for feedback. If you simply talk at your team without listening to what they’re saying, it can cause them to think their voice doesn’t matter. If that bad habit continues for long enough, your team could come to think of proper communication as part and parcel of your workplace culture. At that point, you might see employee engagement start to fall, which typically means your productivity and retention rates will also drop. 

5Use the right technology for your organization

It’s important to use a consistent communication platform, and it’s just as important to use the right channels. Tech plays a big part here. It’s easy to default to email – it’s fast and cost-effective – but not every team member uses email the same way. Some team members check emails as part of their day-to-day routine, but others might focus so much on work they miss emails.

In cases like this where email doesn’t quite work, try finding a communication platform that’s more connected to your work. Project management systems with tags, notifications, and comments are a great example. It’s where your team will go to see what’s on their plate – so why not also have everyone communicate there too?

6Hold regular meetings

It’s an obvious but important tip: Hold regular meetings with your team. They’re a great way to get everyone communicating since there will be no tasks and no screens to focus on – just people and conversation. 

Meetings are also a great place to get differing opinions out in the open. Somewhere among all these ideas is the best way to work toward team goals while getting the best results and making everyone happy. Plus, if your team is having trouble effectively communicating with email and the like, getting everyone in the same room can potentially fix the problem.

That said, you need to run your meetings well for great communication – badly run meetings can make your communication worse. To make your meetings as productive as possible, invite only the people who need to be there. Keep things short, but still long enough to be meaningful. Limit tangents and stay on-topic as much as possible. Everyone should walk out of the room with clear meeting action items and an equally clear mind.

7Set communication standards for remote team members

Although working from home can be better for some team members than in-person work, it can make communication a good deal tougher. Without everyone gathered together in person and easily accessible, important information can more easily slip through the cracks. Remote communication standards can bridge the gap. 

Your standards can include daily updates via private Slack messages and weekly one-on-one phone calls. It can also mean clear guidance on when something is complex or urgent enough to call you instead of emailing you. Think of your standards as the digital version of swinging by a team member’s desk for updates. 

8Make all your files easily accessible

Communication is more than what your team members say to one another. It also includes written communications that people look at well after they’re created, such as employee handbooks. Great communication includes making these items easily accessible. There’s only so much time in the workday, so your team shouldn’t have to dig too much to find the files they need. A digital file and folder naming and storage system is a great start.

9Create an accountability system

Proper communication within your organization means holding your team members accountable for their work. Your project management system can help here – you can use it to put faces and deadlines to tasks. This way, your team members know what’s due when – and they also know to communicate with you if there’s an issue with hitting the deadline. You’ll leave less room for misinterpretation, which makes for better communication. 

10Keep your conversations professional

Fun banter between team members is great, but it can cross a line. You should be clear on what is and isn’t appropriate for the workplace. A negative or disturbing personal story can linger on your team’s mind too long and lead to a drop in productivity. Mixing too much of one’s personal life with their professional one can often lead to the same outcome. 

Most of the time, the more personal workplace communication gets, the less professional it becomes. While this openness can be great for some types of company culture,  team members who are more like friends might not openly share negative feedback. That lack of communication can eventually lead to workplace conflict. Try to encourage a gentle boundary between everyone’s work and personal lives to avoid this outcome. 

What are the factors that cause workplace communication issues?

It’s one thing to fix workplace communication issues. It’s another to prevent them in the first place – that’s how you avoid workplace conflict before it can happen. Watch for the below factors that can cause workplace communication issues to be proactive instead of reactive.

1Tone of voice

In-person communication is more than just the words you say; it’s how you say them. Even if you don’t mean for something to hurt someone, sometimes, your tone of voice will come off that way. If you put work into keeping a consistently affirming, patient tone, you can make yourself seem approachable and kind even if you’re delivering negative feedback.

2Body language

Body language plays a key role in nonverbal communication. We all interpret facial expressions and gestures without even trying – it’s hardwired in our brains. But it’s so hard-coded into our brains that we interpret some cues a certain way when that’s just not right at all. To avoid body language miscommunication, look at their whole context. For example, slouching in a meeting is way different than lounging out at home. Meeting slouchers might be bored, but home lounging is just having a good time.

3Faulty listening 

It should come as no surprise that a lack of careful listening is the cause of so many communication issues in the workplace. Effective conversation is a two-way street, and when one side is blocked, what’s being said has nowhere to go. 

Active listening is the solution – it benefits everyone at your organization. Paying attention to your team members as they speak shows them you’re willing to open the floor to them and seriously consider their ideas. Team members who actively listen also hear most, if not all, of what they need to do great work. 

4Missing information 

Sometimes, key information for a task or project simply isn’t shared with the people who need it. That’s rarely intentional, and it can be hard to control until well afterward. In fact, a team member might have no idea they’re working with incomplete information until you notice it. You might not find out either until the team member gets confused enough to ask for help or does poor work. Sharing all the necessary information from the get-go is your best way to solve the problem here.

5Assumptions of previous knowledge

It’s always best not to assume that every team member brings the same knowledge to the table. For example, let’s say someone misses a meeting, so you email them the meeting notes. But what if they’re one of those people that misses emails because they’re so focused on work? In that case, they’re at a higher risk of getting something wrong. So don’t assume they have that previous knowledge – check in with them another way to make sure you’re on the same page.

6Misaligned expectations 

Lofty goals – especially SMART goals – can help your team check all its boxes more efficiently and effectively. They can also sink the ship if you aren’t clear on them. Maybe a team member thinks you’re expecting them to hit a certain mark when you actually expect them to go further. You can’t just go back and make up all that lost time when they submit work that isn’t fully there. Be clear on your expectations from the start to avoid this miscommunication.

7Insufficient leadership 

This factor in poor communication can be the root of all your other communication issues. For example, your team depends on your organization’s leadership to deliver company updates and additional important information. When that leadership is absent, most teams are left without information and motivation. That’s a recipe for flawed work – but you can avoid it. 

Communication is the key to success

The larger your organization grows, the more important clear, consistent communication becomes. Think about it like this: The seeds for many of your favorite products came from meetings, where communication got them out on the table. Continued communication also grew these seeds into the products you love. 
For similarly productive meetings, turn to Fellow. With Fellow, you can collaborate on meeting agendas and note-taking while keeping track of action items. You can also seek feedback to help you communicate more effectively. No matter what you’re working on, Fellow can help start – and continue – the conversation.

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