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Lead Your Team Strategy

4 Common Communication Failures (And How to Fix Them)

4 Common Communication Failures (And How to Fix Them)
Credit: pathdoc/Shutterstock

Everyone knows communication is key in the business world. To run a successful team, employees, managers and top executives need to communicate clearly and effectively. 

However, sometimes the flow of information is interrupted, and some stakeholders are left in the dark. Lack of communication can result in negative consequences, from angry employees and customers to missed opportunities and lost profits.

"Messages are sent and received whether or not companies choose to communicate," said Tim Eisenhauer, co-founder and president of enterprise social network platform Axero. "Lack of communication can send a strong message, too."

It should come as no surprise, then, that employee engagement can take a serious hit if you're not regularly checking in with your staff.

"Oftentimes, small businesses operate under the assumption that employees know what's going on or, if not, they will figure it out on their own," said Jeff Corbin, founder and CEO of APPrise Mobile, creator of theEMPLOYEEapp. "However, in most instances, this is not the case. As a result, issues involving employee communications and engagement tend to fall to the bottom of the priority list."

Business News Daily talked to business leaders and experts about the four most common communication failures and how you can fix them.

Employers and employees can get in touch via phone calls, text messages, chat services and social networks nowadays. And yet, across the board, most companies still use email as their primary method of communication. Phil Simon, business consultant and author of "Message Not Received" (Wiley, 2015), said the average person receives 120 to 150 emails per day. While message delivery is typically reliable, he said, it's very likely that a person will misplace, delete or not even see a specific email, and, therefore, could miss a crucial piece of information.

Simon also noted that employees can quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of information they're required to process through their inboxes, especially when it's full of confusing industry jargon.

"You'd be shocked at how often people send out jargon [in emails] and expect people to understand," Simon told Business News Daily. "If they don't understand, they make decisions based on that faulty understanding."

If there's a market- or economic-related circumstance affecting your business, you owe it to your employees to explain the situation to them before they hear it from sources outside the company. Jennifer Connelly, founder and CEO of public relations firm JConnelly, said some businesses make the mistake of letting external sources control the message their workers and stakeholders receive, instead of becoming a source of news for them.

"When it comes to internal communication, I often see businesses taking a laissez-faire, wait-and-see approach," Connelly said. "This … opens the door to misinformation, rumor and innuendo – all of which pose significant harm to a brand. It is critical for companies to communicate openly and freely, anticipating and answering questions before they are asked."

Silos occur when people in different roles or departments focus only on their own objectives and don't collaborate with others who could provide them with a fresh perspective on the "big picture." While this tends to happen in larger companies, Enon Landenberg, founder and CEO of business technology and consulting company sFBI, said it can happen at smaller businesses, too.

"It's very possible for departments to focus too much on their own work and miss out on the big ideas that only come from collaboration," Landenberg said. "Egos [can prevent] honest discussions about the quality of work, necessary improvements and fresh ideas."

With more companies trying to improve work-life balance, the number of remote employees continues to increase. The International Data Corporation (IDC) expects deskless employees to account for about 72 percent of the total American workforce by 2020. Even though mobile employees aren't in the office, it's still important that they are kept in the loop.

"When remote workers and their managers aren't communicating effectively, employees might be missing vital information they need to do their jobs," said Stacey Epstein, CEO of mobile communication platform Zinc. "Even when managers and corporate teams are trying their best to keep employees informed, deskless workers just have a different way of communicating and end up missing messages, thus feeling left out and disappointed."

According to a study by Zogby Analytics, the most commonly reported obstacles to efficiency for remote workers is lack of information (38 percent) and timeliness of information (39 percent). While in-office workers are able to communicate face-to-face, deskless employees have to rely on technology.

"What we see now is a fragmented system, where some teams are relying on email or phones, while others are texting or [using] video chat, and the process of switching between the various apps is not only confusing, but a distraction and a way for information to get lost," Epstein told Business News Daily.

If these situations sound familiar, you need to start fixing the way your team shares and discusses information. You can start by limiting the number of internal emails you send. Corbin said emails often go ignored when there's too many of them, so your message is far less likely to come across.

Similarly, Simon noted that "urgent" internal emails, as well as those that go on for several messages, should be avoided at all costs for this reason.

"If it's really urgent, pick up the phone," he said. "[I follow] the three-email rule: After three messages, we talk."

You can also set technology standards for your company so that everyone on your team – in-office or remote – is communicating with each other through the same channels, whether it's a chat tool, corporate intranet or video conferencing service.

Technology will only get you so far, though. It's important to lead by example and encourage employees to open up, both to you and to one another.

"Executives need to maintain an open dialogue with their teams, sharing as much information as possible and encouraging employees to voice concerns or questions," Connelly said. "Maintaining clear lines of communication is one of the best ways to build a trusted, engaged and dedicated workforce."

"Make yourself available for conversations ... and encourage questions," Landenberg added. "That kind of behavior sets the tone for the whole business, one where employees feel comfortable reaching out to each other."

Eisenhauer reminded employers to show that they value the staff's input by truly listening to them. 

"Consider ... the kind of culture you want your business to have," he said. "It's vitally important to give employees a way to voice their opinions. Business leaders should never assume they know what their employees think. Instead, they should provide a way for employees to tell them."

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Saige Driver

Saige Driver graduated from Ball State University in 2015 with a degree in journalism. She started her career at a radio station in Indiana, and is currently a B2B staff writer at Business News Daily. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.