The impact of poor communication
Poor communication in the workplace has immediate negative consequences but can also snowball to a point that it impacts the business more widely. This is one of the key findings of a survey on communication barriers in the modern workplace.
The research, which was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, involved surveying 403 people with roles ranging from junior positions up to senior executives. Each respondent worked for a US company with those companies varying in size from those with a turnover of less than US$10m a year to those with a turnover in excess of US$1bn.
The survey found that 44 percent of respondents believe communication barriers lead to project delays, failures, and cancellation. Low morale was cited as a consequence of communication barriers by 31 percent of respondents, while a quarter said that communication barriers result in missed performance goals.
The cause of poor communication in the workplace
So, communication barriers in the workplace have negative consequences, but what causes poor communication in the first place? The researchers sought to answer this question too and they found the main cause was different styles of communication between individuals. In their findings, the researchers added that “generational and functional differences” regarding communication preferences makes this more complex.
For example, 31 percent of millennials use instant messaging at work on a daily basis. That figure drops to 12 percent for baby boomers. Following on from this, one-third of millennials describe themselves as functional communicators compared to 21 percent of baby boomers. Baby boomers were more likely to describe themselves as personal communicators – 34 percent compared to 23 percent of millennials.
Functional communicators are described in the survey as those who focus on processes and plan thoroughly. Personal communicators, on the other hand, are those who concentrate on establishing and building personal relationships and connections.
Others causes of communication barriers
Another cause of workplace communication barriers is the tools people choose to use. Specifically, whether people choose to use tools that are seen to be effective instead of those that are not.
To illustrate this, the researchers found that respondents believe communication tools like video conferencing (55 percent), whiteboards (50 percent), and presentation decks (60 percent) are effective. Despite this, email remains the most commonly used communication tool even though it is regarded by the survey respondents as being less effective than other communication options.
A total of 60 percent of respondents said they use email daily. This compares to video conferencing, which only 7 percent of survey participants use daily. For whiteboards and presentation decks, the figure is 9 percent.
Other causes of poor communication in the workplace include unclear responsibilities (34 percent cited this cause) and time pressures (felt by 31 percent of respondents). Respondents also highlighted a lack of strong leadership (29 percent), personal differences with colleagues (27 percent), client demands (23 percent), and the prevailing corporate culture in the business (also 23 percent).
Methods of communication
A majority of respondents to the survey across different generations and job roles all believe that face-to-face meetings are effective – 65 percent to be exact. However, only 22 percent say they use face-to-face meetings on a daily basis.
Email was the only method of communication that a majority of respondents to the survey said they use each day. Of the five main modes of communication used on a daily basis (email, instant messaging, phone, face-to-face meetings, and social media), social media was the least used with less than 10 percent of respondents saying they use it on a daily basis.
Those most affected by poor communication
Who is most affected by communication barriers? According to the research, directors and middle managers are most affected by poor communication in the workplace. In the survey, 49 percent of directors and middle managers said they frequently or very frequently experience the consequences of poor communication. This compares to only 28 percent of C-suite executives.
Improving communication in the workplace
The survey didn’t just focus on the problems and issues currently experienced in the workplace. It also looked at initiatives and strategies that respondents believe can improve communication.
Have clearer goals for all scheduled meetings came out on top with 79 percent of survey participants saying this was either very significant or somewhat significant. Holding more face-to-face meetings was also regarded as important, with 71 percent of respondents believing this to be very or somewhat significant.
Training to improve internal communications was viewed as being important too (by 62 percent of respondents), as was having access to a wider range of communication tools (by 63 percent of respondents).
Our ‘Learning Map’ is a tried and tested organisational communication tool that has been used with over half a million employees over the last 20 years. This award-winning approach involves the use of tools that engage people in meaningful discussions about the direction of their organisation and their role within it. By visualising the organisation, its challenges and opportunities and bringing it all to life with compelling narrative and dialogue, we’ve been able to get employees fully immersed in their organisation’s ‘big picture’, often for the first time.
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