The Pain of What Goes Unsaid: Four Ways Poor Workplace Communication Affects Your Productivity

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. —Peter F. Drucker, Austrian/American father of modern business management.

Communication. We’ve all heard a thousand times how important it is, and how a lack of it can kill a relationship. But even when it exists, if the quality is poor, the results can prove as frustrating as an English speaker trying to explain something to someone who only speaks German. Even those of us who DO speak the same language can be confused by differences as trivial as accents or word usage.

Is it any wonder, then, that poor communication can also sink business projects and kill productivity? Here are some of the results of poor communication habits that can sabotage productivity and team performance and how to avoid them:

  1. Exclusion. Poor communication may make someone feel excluded from the team. Even poorly thought-out jokes or nicknames can have a negative effect. I have a colleague whose supervisor at one job started calling him “Jumbo” instead of “Jim.” The nickname contributed to a toxic environment and a sense of alienation, so it should go without saying to treat employees respectfully and only use humor that is actually funny, not hurtful.

  2. Lack of direction. What do you do when your manager won’t make the team’s goals obvious, or provides only vague directives? Ask! Otherwise your poor productivity is your fault as much as theirs. If someone tells you, “Go climb that mountain,” and waves at a mountain range, do you just choose one and go? No, because you’ll have wasted time if you choose wrong. Always clarify, ask questions, and gain input before charging off in an assumed direction.

  3. Increased error. Unclear expectations inevitably result in higher error rates. If people don’t understand your directions, of course they’ll get your orders wrong. When you provide instructions, or teach a new process, request questions and ask questions until you’re both sure there’s clarity. Consider the Gene Hackman/Denzel Washington film Crimson Tide, where an American submarine commander receives fragmentary orders that seem to tell him to nuke a foreign city. Navy protocol is to repeat an order to the person who issued it to ensure it is correct. If the sub’s Executive Officer hadn’t mutinied against the commander to make him recheck the order, Armageddon would have resulted, as the commander had in fact misinterpreted the order.

  4. Loss of accountability. Engagement begins with communication. If you don’t know why your work matters because no one has told you, then you may feel it doesn’t matter at all. Unless workers feel valued, why should they care about their jobs beyond the paycheck? Poor communication may result in disengagement, and disengaged workers are less likely to feel accountable. If you’re the leader, specifically tell people, often, why they’re valuable to you, the team, and the organization.

Talk Before Doing

There may be no nuclear consequences to mistakes in your workplace, but poor communication can shoot down careers, and even companies. Whether you’re in a leadership position or not, keep your communications simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. At the very least, make sure you try to communicate, even if you’re bad at it. Better to try than to leave your coworkers hanging, wandering what you want of them.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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