Communication Problems

There may be a communication problem when the workplace is missing the flow and is just not working the way it should. Workplaces are a common spot for communication issues to pop up. Coworkers are often not privy to each other’s communication styles, and pressure surrounding projects can cause a breakdown. These issues, if left unchecked, can contribute to a massive issue with employee retention and happiness, as well as a decrease in productivity over time.

Knowing when and why a communication issue may occur can help a manager or supervisor understand how to handle the problem. Learning about the signs of a communication problem can help one understand when the issue may come to a head. Understanding the root cause can help one find a solution that works effectively.

This article will discuss the warning signs of a communication problem in the workplace, everyday issues that are the cause of the communication problem, and the possible solutions to remedy the problem.  

Signs of Communication Problems: 

The first step in understanding when a team or a whole workplace is dealing with a communication issue is to notice the signs that there are problems with communication throughout the workplace. 

These signs may be pronounced and illuminate the issue quickly, or they may be subtle and take time to notice before the issue can be addressed. Understanding what issues within the team may point to a more significant communication issue can help a leader resolve the larger and more minor issues simultaneously. 

Common signs that there is a communication problem include:

  • Missing Work: A common sign of a communication issue at work is that work is not getting done. This is especially true if the person is unaware they had been told to do the work. This typically indicates the assignments are not being communicated clearly or effectively and people are often missing assignments. This can be from a lack of certainty when assigning problems or an unclear communication style from a supervisor.  
  • Duplicated Work: Another indicator of a communication problem at work is duplicated work. This means that multiple people are doing the same assignment because they are unsure of the exact assignment and do not feel confident that it is not their work. Clear communication will help avoid continuing duplicated work.
  • Mismatched Priorities: Another common sign of communication issues is the mismatch of priorities on concurrent projects that employees are working on. This means that an employee may prioritize the completion of one project at the expense of another when the employer would have preferred the neglected project finished first. Establishing priorities is an integral part of working communication. The lack of consistent priorities may signify that communication is lacking.   
  • Disjointed Work: Communication may also be lacking if the finished project does not flow together well. This is particularly true when there is a group project when different people are in charge of different parts, and the parts do not work together. This is a sign that there is an issue with a breakdown in communication among peers.  
  • Unmet Expectations: When employees are handing work very different from the picture the employer or manager had when it was assigned, the communication between the supervisor and employee breaks down.  

Noticing that there is an issue with communication that is affecting the workplace is the first step in navigating the issue and finding a solution.

Common Workplace Communication Issues: 

The second step in resolving a communication issue is to identify the source and type of communication issue. Doing so will help identify the specific steps that the workplace leadership can take to resolve the issue.

Each communication issue will likely have a different cause and will need a different set of steps. Still, there are general types of disputes that can contribute to communication issues affecting productivity and workplace morale. First, we will identify these categories and then look at some specific issues that arise out of these categories. Some common types of issues include:

  • Assumptions: People will make assumptions about many things. This can be not very objective, or it can be past experiences that influence how people view a specific situation. This also includes misinterpretations of a person’s words or tone.  
  • Safety: This is a category in which the issues are caused by a lack of encouragement or safe space to voice issues, questions, or management concerns. When the employees do not feel safe asking questions, it can cause them to continuously turn in work that is not correct or what is expected.  
  • Lack: There are a variety of communication issues that arise out of missing or lacking communication. Many people will feel in the dark if they do not receive communication either approving or suggesting ways to improve the work.  
  • Cultural: Another common issue in communication is cultural differences that are not acknowledged and addressed. Different cultures have different standards and interpretations of communication that can influence the way that people interact with each other. 
  • Barriers: This includes a variety of issues that create barriers to communication. This is an action or situation that interrupts the flow of communication from one party to the other. This is an overarching category, but it is also a catch-all for the issues that do not fall into other categories.  

Important considerations need to be made when one of the categories is affected. But it can often be hard to place a specific issue within a category, so it is also essential to understand some of the examples of the categories.  

Assumptions:

Assumptions are ideas that people have about the words or actions of others that are based on their own experiences or biases. 

These often show up when employees turn in work that does not meet expectations, fail to prioritize well or avoid particular supervisors. Common issues that could be considered assumptions or misinterpretations include:

      • Details or parameters of a project are missed or assumed.
      • Employees react strongly to criticism or correction from certain supervisors or other employees.
      • Inconsistent understanding of priorities or projects causes issues within the workplace. 

Safety: 

Another category of issues is caused by a lack of safety for the employees to voice concerns. This will often result in similar issues to assumptions, but with a common thread of extreme disciplinary action when an employee makes a mistake. 

Common safety issues include:

      • Employees failed to complete work correctly and did not ask questions to clarify the work. 
      • Certain employees face disciplinary action multiple times for misunderstanding assignments.  
      • Employees refuse to ask questions or offer feedback across the board.
      • High turnover because employees are either being fired or quitting.

Lack: 

This is a type of communication issue that is caused by a general lack of information sharing in the workplace. For example, employees will often miss assignments, priorities, or directions because they are not shared. Common lack issues include:

      • Employees consistently go to one person for information that all employees should know. 
      • Assignments are consistently missing from specific teams or employees because they are unaware of the assignment.  
      • Assignments are wrong in the same way many times because employees are not receiving feedback on their assignments.
      • Increased turnover can happen because employees do not know if they are doing well or not. 

Cultural: 

This type of communication issue is caused by differences in cultural approaches to work and communication. This can result in animosity between coworkers and issues with parameters in projects. Common cultural communication differences include:

      • Misinterpretation of priorities or assignments because culture influenced what was the most important.
      • Misunderstandings between employees can cause long-term animosity.  
      • Inconsistent work schedules that make projects difficult to complete.  

Barriers: 

The catch-all category for communication issues is the barriers category. Theoretically, most communication issues are caused by barriers in communication in some way. Common communication barriers, aside from some specific ones listed above, include:

  • Physical Barriers: Physical barriers will often be logistical barriers, either in remote employees or office spaces resistant to the communication that needs to occur. When physical barriers exist, employees may have difficulty communicating well because they cannot rely on the nonverbal cues that would be present without the physical barriers.  
  • Emotional Barriers: A person’s emotional barriers may cause a communication issue in the workplace. It could be that one person is unsafe sharing their feelings with the team. Which causes the productivity to break down, or it may be that certain topics are not allowed in the space, which can cause an issue if one of these barriers is breached.  
  • Listening Skills: Occasionally, people will have poor listening skills, leading to a breakdown in communication. This is a major barrier to communication because it may not be received well regardless of how something is communicated.  
  • Attitude: Another barrier to communication can be the attitude of the person either giving or receiving information. A person’s attitude can be a barrier in communication because it affects how they will listen and speak. A poor attitude can also cause other people to make assumptions about the issues and cause other barriers to pop up.

Identifying the cause of the issues is essential in resolving the issue in the workplace. 

Problems are always best solved when their root cause is taken out.  

Possible Fixes for Workplace Communication Issues: 

Now that we have identified common signs of issues in communication and common causes of issues, it is time to discuss the steps that employers and employees can take to help aid in workplace communication. 

Common fixes for workplace communication issues include:

  • Communication Standards: Communication standards are a baseline for the communication that the company expects. This can be a form for giving assignments, a chain of command for questions and concerns, and a clear framework for assignment feedback.  
  • Consistency: Another critical way to help employees and employers communicate better is to be consistent in following established standards and how the communication is handed down. If a situation should be a priority, it should always be communicated in the same way.  
  • Training: Another option is training specific to the situation. This can be especially helpful if the communication issues are caused by cultural differences or other issues in which people must understand where another person is coming from. If listening is causing issues, then it may help to provide training on effective listening and understanding techniques.  
  • Encourage Feedback: Managers and employers should encourage feedback to help foster a safe community for people to voice their concerns and establish norms for everyone to follow. This is best done by high-level people demonstrating feedback and the reception of it to their employees.  
  • Avoid Overwhelm: Another common issue for employees is feeling overwhelmed by the number of ways an assignment can be assigned to them or the priorities or parameters that may be set. Establishing a way for employees to receive assignments, priorities, and parameters can help avoid employees feeling overwhelmed by navigating the different communication.
  • Agendas: If a meeting is being hosted and important information will be communicated, an agenda should always be set to avoid employees losing track of the information necessary for the meeting. This will help move through meetings more efficiently as well.
  • Remote Communication: In today’s world, remote employees are more common than not. Ensuring that norms are established for remote employees with special consideration of the needs they may have when they cannot see the body language of the in-person team. This can help them feel included and understand the needs of the management. 

There are many other ways an employer may look to remedy issues with communication in the workplace. Still, it is important to tailor their needs to the issue that is the cause of the breakdown. Clear communication starts at the top, and it is best to model communication effectively throughout the company. However, when breakdowns inevitably happen, it is crucial to find ways to work through them and resolve the issue stronger.  

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