If you want to get frightened about the cost of poor communication, you’ll find plenty of fodder.

Here’s a smattering from the 2018 Statement of Employee Communication and Engagement annual report from Dynamic Signal:

·     60% report receiving more irrelevant than important company information they really need

·     75% report wasting significant time looking for important information, with 66% adding they waste 30-60 minutes a day looking for what they need

·     33% are so stressed by poor communication that they are ready to quit

It’s also common to see a disconnect between what leadership and employees think about communication. The same report noted these issues:

·     91% of leaders believe their company provides the right tools and guidance for employees to do their jobs

·     59% of employees say they miss vital information daily or weekly

More is More, Not Better

I had a boss ask me, “How do you like me as a supervisor?”

When asked a direct question, I give an honest response. (The fact that he asked what I liked should have tipped me off, right?)

“What I really appreciate about you,” I replied, “is how you don’t breathe down my neck or second-guess me. What I struggle with is knowing that, when I have a question and come into your office, I won’t get out in less than 30 minutes. And sometimes I don’t have 30 minutes to give, so I don’t ask.”

Most of us, confronted with the idea that “communication is poor,” think giving people more information is the answer. What that too often does is annoy the crap out of folks. Because it’s likely what they were looking for is not what we wanted to tell them.

So, like that supervisor, we just stole more time from their day that they’ll have to make up someplace else. And that’s after they finally locate whatever it was they were looking for.

Not that We Can Trust Other People’s Brains Anyway

There’s often a disconnect between our emotional brain (limbic system) and our thinking brain (cortex). Part of the emotional brain’s job is to motivate you to act on the goals that you set. One of the thinking brain’s functions is to be introspective our actions.

If you ask people, “How do you feel about working here?” they usually respond quickly in the positive or negative. That’s their emotional brain talking

If you ask them, “How do you feel about communication here?” you’re asking them to connect their emotional and human brains. Not so easy.

When things aren’t going well at the office, a lot of times you’ll hear that communication is poor. We all like to believe “if I’d just had that bit of information, I could have made a better decision.” That may or may not be true. But it’s sure a convenient way to use communication to kick the can down the road and deflect some responsibility.

How Can You Make Communication Better?

When someone says, “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing around here,” treat communication as a symptom rather than the actual issue.

Ask questions to get at the specifics, which helps them draw upon their emotional and human brains. “Tell me about a time when you saw that happen.”

You may discover it wasn’t communication at all. It could have been a poor description of the different responsibilities of two teams. Or an unclear process for handing off a customer complaint from one department to another. Or someone being out of the office and no policy about capturing information in a central place where others have access to it.

After you’re clear on the real problem, ask for ideas on how to improve what’s happening. Often people have thoughts – but keep these to themselves because no one asked. (I’ve seen workable solutions flow when a supervisor expresses an interest.)

This approach elevates you from a complainer (“communication has always been bad around here”). Now you’re a leader who 1) understands what’s happening, 2) makes others feel motivated and engaged because they were listened to, and 3) involves everyone in improving the deeper rather than surface issue.

Don’t dump on communication. Use better questions and your listening skills to lift your career – wherever you are on the corporate food chain.

Tired of hearing complaints about communication where you work? Let’s talk about taking a deeper dive and ending the drama and finger pointing.