10 Team Communication Problems and Issues in the Workplace

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Communication Problems and How to Fix Them

Leigh Branham, author of 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, says that exit polls show people leave their jobs because there’s not enough feedback or coaching. What’s another word for feedback? Communication. “The root problems are managers' inattention to people they supervise, irregular or nonexistent feedback, criticism instead of praise, and other indicators that feedback isn’t valued or valuable. Practices to improve coaching and feedback include focusing it on new hires, setting up buddy or mentor programs with experienced employees, and holding managers accountable for feedback,” says Branham. Communication issues abound but can be easily fixed.

Top Ten Communication Issues in the Workplace

There are many more than just ten problems with team communication issues and the evils listed here may not make your own list. But basically, these are the things that keep workforce teams from operating efficiently or impact the team as a whole with respect to morale. #1. Failure to Listen The inability to listen is a huge problem. Often you will see co-workers interrupting speakers or planning what they will say next instead of effectively listening. Other distractions are when team members roll their eyes at comments or just discount their worker’s premise; and still others just forget to pay attention, they are too distracted or have a short attention span. Obviously these all reflect on their failure to listen. Try This: Stress the importance of listening before you begin a discussion. Talk about how inattention keeps people from learning the different points of view and that they wouldn’t like that happening to them. Suggest that they focus on the person and the point they are making; to write notes later; and to keep their own contributions brief and relevant. Stress that they maintain eye contact with each speaker involved. Set a great example. #2. Locale or Distance to Office Due to the high incidence of globalization, distance learning, or freelance contributions, many communications are conducted by email, memo, or short video conferencing. When offices are located away from its contributors, the detachment and inability to interact is a huge communication barrier. Projects get stalled or are often misunderstood. Try This: Conduct meetings on a regular schedule. When the team assembles, touch base with all members to solicit feedback. Try to schedule live interaction for important issues and do not rely on emails or memos to do the job. When the conference call or meeting is over, ask each participant to summarize the meeting’s content and post it where all members can read it and agree. #3. Culture Differences The office has become a melting pot stocked with people of diverse backgrounds and cultural customs. People tend to “hang” with others familiar to their culture or habits. When these individual groups assemble, managers face the challenges of small group dynamics and team communication issues. Try This: People often cling to “like-minded” individuals or want to share space with others in their culture. Try to mix them together or have assigned seats to break them up. Make sure that during brainstorming sessions, everyone is contributing—even if you have to walk the floor to listen. If someone is reticent, ask them for feedback. The most important thing however, is to repeat back what you’ve heard. Make sure that your understanding is clear. By re-framing your understanding, it allows others to know you are listening and fosters communication. #4. Attitude & Ego Too often teamwork stops because of someone’s ego. They refuse to admit they might be part of the problem. Conflicts also arise because of inequity, and rather than make the situation more equal, someone becomes defensive instead of taking responsibility. Try This: The nature of some workers may not be likely to change due to an attitude problem or ego. Someone may think that a discussion doesn’t go their way and often confuse cooperation with “winning an argument.” The team manager should try to turn the conversation back to where it belongs, on the issues at hand. Mutual understanding or coming to a resolution that reflects everyone’s needs is often difficult and needs to be softened with a consistent goal message, and making sure that your facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice match the message. Sometimes people just need to agree to disagree and follow the program as directed. #5. Authority or Hierarchy Problems A worker may feel reticent about approaching and talking to their manager. Someone may be quietly stewing about an issue and never broach the subject. Another may think that the discussion is too personal. Try This: Try to segregate or make an appointment to speak with the co-worker face-to-face if possible. Ensure that confidentiality of the discussion is of utmost important to you. Set-up the talk before problems escalate, if possible; and put questions in the context of why you are asking. For example, “I would like to learn more about the research on the needs of the client prior to publication, is this a good time to ask some questions? Then suss out the error and correct the problem. #6. Poorly Written Communication Poorly written materials, incorrect syntax, bad grammar and items out of context are all too frequent in interoffice business publications and lead straight to confusion. Try This: Make sure to proofread the copy and always have another set of discriminating eyes check for mistakes. For important directives or changes of any kind, run them by the best editor in the office. #7. Gender Bias The battle over which gender makes the best leader is taking the focus away from the real issue. Then too, sometimes workers only want to relate to people of the same gender. Try This: Don’t wait for an invitation to speak. Speak loudly and make sure your viewpoints are expressed; establish eye contact, and own your space. Never issue disclaimers, engage in demeaning yourself—and avoid unwarranted apologies. #8. Focus or Listening Problems Inability of employees to interpret the information or provide adequate focus leads to team communication problems. The gap in age, the hole left by a boomer generation retiring, and other societal weaknesses make this communication barrier very real. Try This: Make eye contact with the person and try to find some common ground to initiate the discussion using the group focus technique. Don’t acquiesce to “dumbing down” but use analogies to help explain difficult principles. #9. Knowledge-Inadequate Knowledge Group functions may suffer setbacks due to ineffective education or lack of understanding or other inadequate knowledge foundation. Try This: Occasionally the use of industry jargon is the culprit and a simple question and answer “in plain English” will correct the problem. Often a weakness in education becomes quite apparent in annual performance reviews. Extra efforts will need to be made to guarantee that all persons know and understand what they are told. But some things even additional training won’t satisfy. #10 Cliques, Groups and Friendships A tight and exclusive grouping of individuals who bond together for one reason or another can be problematic if they are not objective. Try This: Avoid any character reference or label and don’t try to analyze what you think ‘they know.’ It is too easy to fall into faulty perceptions. Stress that in a business environment all workers need to try to assimilate so that differences can be minimized and that with cooperation, the task at hand will move quicker and with less angst. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from people who demonstrate effective communication skills.

Reference & Resource

Books: The Communication Problem Solver: Simple Tools and Techniques for Busy Managers, Nannette Rundle Carroll (AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 2009) 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, Leigh Branham (AMACOM 2005)

This post is part of the series: Leadership Skills, Styles and Tactics

This article series deals with the difference between management and leadership; the challenges leaders face, basic concepts of strategic leadership and the top ten communication issues and how to avoid them

  1. Explaining the Difference Between Management and Leadership
  2. Basic Concepts of Strategic Leadership
  3. Greatest Leadership Challenges Facing Today’s Project Managers
  4. Top 10 Team Communication Issues and How to Avoid Them
  5. Exercises to Help Facilitate Group Decision Making