Fixing Common Communications Failures

John Krautzel
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Communication is a key part of a solid business foundation; weaknesses in the system can undermine progress, culture and productivity. The effects of a communications failure often build slowly over time, which means the problem can be difficult to spot before it's too late. By seeking out and fixing common problems with business communication, you can avoid unexpected consequences and build a stronger company.

Lack of Transparency

One of the most common — and potentially destructive — business communications failure is a lack of transparency. When employees feel like they are only getting part of the story, it can create an atmosphere of mistrust that sabotages your corporate culture. To fix this problem, establish a tradition of openness. Make a point to provide regular updates, and make sure that your messages are not unintentionally vague. To prevent rumors from getting out of hand, encourage your workers to ask questions if they're concerned or confused. Most importantly, don't try shield workers from alarming news. Being honest about the company's failures and struggles demonstrates that you're serious about keeping employees in the loop, which can build trust in the long term.

Communication Silos

A communications silo happens when individual teams or groups communicate only with each other. Discussions tend to be vertical, focused only on tasks that are crucial to the department or the role. This type of communications failure can result in a number of missed opportunities. When a marketing department fails to seek feedback from the sales, advertising and product development teams, for example, their materials may be less targeted and effective. The solution is to implement processes that support lateral communication. Encourage collaboration by updating your project management process to include cross-department integration from the start, or hold regular open forums to present new ideas for cross-departmental feedback.

Lack of Action

Feedback and open discussion within a company are important, but only if they have a measurable impact. The final step in the process — taking action — is often prone to communications failure. When your employees and managers see that their input is not acknowledged or acted on, they have little reason to offer feedback in the future. Worse, this communications failure sends the message to employees that their ideas are not respected or valued, which demotivates them and weakens your corporate culture. To keep your staff engaged, it's crucial to consider each idea seriously and follow up with the employee. If the idea is useful, explain how you're integrating it into the business. If not, explain why and discuss alternate possibilities. Even when action isn't possible, engaging your employees makes them feel heard and leads to other useful insights.

Both large and small businesses can experience communications failure. With proactive steps, you can stop these insidious problems in their tracks and replace them with more productive systems.

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