Lack Of Communication In The Workplace: Causes, Effects, & Solutions

Ioana Andrei
By Ioana Andrei, Updated on July 03, 2024, 11 min read

Miscommunication in the workplace prevents feedback and collaboration, demotivates employees, and can increase long-term costs.

 

We get it—changing your communication culture and practices takes time. But practical steps like implementing collaborative workflows and reciprocal mentoring will gradually reduce miscommunication in your workplace.

 

In this article, we deep-dive into the causes and impacts of miscommunication, analyze workplace miscommunication examples, and offer 5 winning strategies for solving communication hurdles—including picking a robust collaboration platform.

 

Let’s jump in.

 

 

What Does Effective Communication at Work Look Like?

Workplace communication requires interpersonal skills including verbal and nonverbal abilities, conflict resolution, and giving and receiving feedback. Along with the right processes and tools, these skills boost collaboration and productivity while strengthening relationships.

 

Effective communications are structured, clear, to the point, and emotionally intelligent. Here are two contrasting examples.

 

  • Effective communication example: “I’ve finished setting up the employee expenses table in the ‘Q2 expenses’ Excel sheet. Do you have time to add this quarter’s figures by the end of this week?”

 

  • Ineffective communication example: “The table’s done, can you finish it up?”

 

 

What Causes a Lack of Communication in the Workplace?

Workplace miscommunication has various root causes. Usual culprits include:

 

An unclear or rigid organizational structure

An ineffective organizational structure slows down communication. First, team responsibilities or reporting lines need to be clarified about goal, task, or result ownership.

 

Conversely, an overly rigid team structure could create communication silos, preventing updates and best practices from circulating freely between departments or projects.

 

 

Poor leadership examples

Leaders set the tone for communication and collaboration practices in their companies. For instance, regularly building rapport in meetings encourages other staff to follow suit.

 

However, managers with poor communication hygiene might not:

 

  • Set specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) goals.
  • Confirm task priority levels.
  • Set clear or realistic deadlines.
  • Use professional language around coworkers. Encourage questions or feedback.
  • Send transparent company updates.

 

Such behaviors limit clarity and creativity. Coupled with micromanagement, they also diminish employees’ trust in leadership.

 

 

Lack of training and mentoring

Organizations neglect staff communication training due to tight budgets and schedules, or a lower perceived return on investment (ROI) compared to income-generating activities.

 

As a result, well-meaning employees lack essential communication skills such as reading body language or offering detailed feedback. Similarly, without regular 1-to-1 mentoring, workers miss out on hands-on communication practice and advice.

 

Scattered collaboration processes

A lack of collaboration blueprints—say, step-by-step processes and workflows—creates confusion and delays. An example is non-documented processes for requesting paid leave.

 

Similarly, critical task details such as templated and stakeholder details might be siloed or out of date. Overall, scattered processes increase repetitive and overlapping communications.

 

Ineffective resources or environment

Where and how colleagues interact can cause miscommunication in the workplace, too. For instance, an office that isolates individuals or teams, or that’s noisy and chaotic, hinders productive interactions.

 

Also, some companies use outdated technology (like WhatsApp for work) or advanced platforms (like Spike) without training staff on effective use. Such tech hurdles prevent detailed conversations, effective feedback, and real-time updates.

 

Individual backgrounds and preferences

Using one communication style with all coworkers can also cause misunderstandings. For example, someone who speaks bluntly without building rapport might offend colleagues preferring slower, more indirect interactions.

 

Miscommunication can also appear due to a lack of sensitivity toward cultural differences. Employees should feel safe to educate one another about their communication needs and boundaries.

 

 

The Impact of Poor Communication in the Workplace

 

Whether they’re texts or town hall updates, here’s how poor communications affect your workplace.

 

An unhealthy company culture

Patchy company-wide communication seeps into your team culture. New starters and seasoned staff alike adopt unhealthy behaviors because “everyone is doing it.” Say, for instance, that they mirror an executive who speaks very casually with expletives—this could snowball into harassment incidents over time.

 

Employee disengagement and turnover

Imagine managers don’t fully communicate expectations and you learn your company is being acquired from social networks. Unsurprisingly, six in ten Americans quit jobs they feel disrespected in.

 

Poor communication is a slippery slope leading to employee frustration, resentment, and burnout. Workers that don’t leave might, instead, quiet-quit—meaning they perform minimally while fantasizing about better places to work.

 

Lower productivity

Miscommunication can cost you up to $26,000 a year per employee in lost productivity. Here are some scenarios. First, under-emphasizing quality standards lead to poor-quality work.

 

Similarly, sorting out misunderstandings takes time away from tasks, while little team-level rapport demotivates and slows down employees.

 

Poorer customer experience

Finally, poor team communication can affect your customers’ experience, whether you’re targeting businesses or consumers. For example, team silos keep product updates from client-facing teams like sales or customer service.

 

Within the same team, individuals might not use a “single source of truth” (for example, financial data from an accounting app) and share contradicting information with clients. In both cases, low customer satisfaction could lead to you losing repeat business and positive referrals.

 

 

Common Scenarios of Poor Communication in the Workplace

Now, let’s dive into a few real-life workplace miscommunication examples.

 

Scenario 1: The team leader doesn’t adequately communicate tasks and goals.

Klara manages two people in the procurement team. While she’s supportive, she doesn’t delegate tasks effectively.

 

For example, her direct reports are often unsure of tasks and targets. They overlap on tasks and are unsure of their performance, which lowers morale.

 

  • Potential root cause: Task assignment and performance evaluation processes are lacking, along with open feedback.

 

  • Potential solution: Klara and other managers could attend periodic management communication training, with an emphasis on setting SMART goals and encouraging questions.

 

Scenario 2: One team doesn’t communicate essential updates with another.

A software company’s marketing and product departments don’t collaborate well. The product team conducts research and development (R&D) to penetrate new client verticals but doesn’t share features or target customer details outside the team.

 

So, the marketing team’s product promos and new vertical messaging face delays, limiting business growth.

 

  • Potential root cause: The two teams are operating in interpersonal and digital siloes. The business lacks processes for sharing cross-departmental resources and teams seem to prioritize department goals over company ones.

 

  • Potential solution: The teams could exchange updates on weekly calls and share digital resources on document collaboration software. Additionally, a neutral figure—like the COO—could moderate a team-building session to strengthen rapport.

 

Scenario 3: Office-based employees get more information than remote colleagues.

About 75% of a firm’s employees work primarily from the office and 25% work exclusively from home. Many remote roles are in customer support.

 

The leadership team communicates company updates in person at weekly town hall meetings. However, most remote workers don’t get the full scoop, which limits their ability to solve customer problems efficiently.

 

  • Potential root cause: This hybrid workplace is not leveraging digital channels such as email and chat. Plus, leaders aren’t setting a great example for inclusive communication.

 

  • Potential solution: The company could conduct hybrid all-hands meetings and additionally send updates by chat and email. It could also run leadership communication training, and review and update its inclusivity practices.

 

 

5 Ways to Resolve Workplace Communication Issues

 

Many organizations bump into communication issues, so don’t panic. Here are five techniques to restore a healthy flow.

 

1. Address the root cause, not the symptom

Ninety percent of an iceberg is underwater—and miscommunication causes are beneath the surface, too. When you only address the symptoms (for instance, an individual’s behavior rather than a team pattern), root causes continue to provoke new misunderstandings.

 

Example:

Sanjay and Lottie are direct collaborators but don’t consistently share project updates, lowering productivity. Instead of over-investing time and labor in improving their 1-to-1 communication, identify and address underlying problems.

 

These might include a lack of collaborative processes and tools or a culture of inter-team rivalry. A quick and effective way to find miscommunication root causes is the “Five Whys” technique.

 

You start with a problem statement, then ask “Why?” at least five times to reach an end-statement you can action. Say the problem statement is “Most team meetings are unproductive.” Your five-why analysis could be:

 

  1. Why? There are few meeting objectives or actions.
  2. Why? Meeting organizers don’t prepare agendas.
  3. Why? There’s no expectation for organizers to prepare agendas.
  4. Why? The company prioritizes having meetings over outcomes.
  5. Why? Leaders don’t understand the value of goal-based meetings.

 

You can use the last point to tailor a communication workshop for your leadership team and design new meeting guidelines.

 

 

2. Personalize your communication approach

Your workforce has a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and personality types. And different communication approaches suit different employee categories. For example, East Asian cultures often prioritize politeness and defer to authority, whereas North Americans might communicate on an eye-level, semi-formal basis.

 

Similarly, analytical staff members (say, in engineering or accounting) may prefer data-based arguments, whereas creative types (like your branding and PR colleagues) might emphasize storytelling and nonverbal communication.

 

To avoid misinterpretations and conflicts, personalize oral, written, and nonverbal communications—plus channels and timings—according to team and individual preferences. To identify what these are, look for patterns in how coworkers communicate, including in their tone of voice, structure, and length of communication.

 

Pro tip:

Online personality tools such as Crystal predict team members’ personality types (using models such as DISC, which tracks behaviors on dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance dimensions) based on how they communicate.

 

They also help tailor responses to coworkers’ personalities to maximize productivity. You could also send a company-wide survey to determine group-level comms preferences and make decisions on collaboration apps and meeting policies.

 

For instance, ask survey takers to rank their preferred channels (chat, email, team call, 1-to-1 meeting) for specific scenarios, such as project updates, informal conversations, and performance feedback.

 

Example:

Send critical updates on channels tailored to specific team members to ensure they promptly understand and act on the information. Say a client has commissioned a new long-term project.

 

Send an email announcement to colleagues who prefer reading in-depth information, and arrange a video call with those who learn best interactively.

 

 

3. Mix training with everyday practice

Provide regular—at least yearly—communication best practice training to employees across seniority levels. As an illustration, include:

 

  • Frameworks to structure ideas: For example, the pyramid principle suggests leading with the conclusion (the top of the pyramid) and then backing it with high-level and low-level arguments.

 

  • Nonverbal communication tips: Maintain eye contact, avoid fidgeting, and nod and smile when appropriate, to signal support and openness.

 

  • Active listening exercises: Practice listening to a colleague without planning your response, and imagine yourself in their position.

 

That said, one-off training isn’t enough. Daily repetition is essential to building habits, so managers must lead by example and encourage mentees to practice communication techniques.

 

Plus, to support productivity and a healthy, inclusive culture, leaders should:

 

  • Set SMART goals for teams and individuals. For example, a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound HR goal is “Reduce time-to-hire by 20% within twelve months.”

 

  • Use the Why, How, What method to outline tasks. Promoted by TED Talk speaker Simon Sinek, it encourages you not only to tell people what to do, but also why and how. Document plans, instructions, and results in writing. For example, send follow-up emails summarizing meeting decisions and action points. Also, pre-empt staff questions and speed up workflows with a digital team knowledge base (say, on social media posting guidelines).

 

  • Read the room before taking a communication approach. You might notice, for instance, that your team avoids eye contact and is very quiet at the start of a meeting. Spend a few minutes on individual check-ins to identify any obstacles, setting an example with a share like “I have some concerns about project ‘X’ but I’m optimistic.”

 

 

4. Optimize your communication culture

While processes and training are essential, employees also need a social environment that encourages questions, feedback, and out-there ideas.

 

Plus, they should feel safe discussing personal needs and adjustments, and potential conflicts in the workplace—this improves general well-being and gives collaboration an extra boost. Culture (like Rome) isn’t built in a day. However, you can set a solid foundation with initiatives like:

 

  • Open-door policy: Remind employees that they can simply walk into managers’ (physical or virtual) offices to discuss any issue at any point.

 

  • Open feedback: Add a feedback section to town hall meetings to facilitate suggestions between teams and seniority levels.

 

  • Employee suggestion boxes: Create a year-round (physical and/or digital) suggestion box, to gather diverse views on your firm’s products, branding, ethics, and other areas.

 

  • Reciprocal mentoring: Pair colleagues with complementary experiences—for instance, engineering and marketing, or senior and junior—to enhance rapport and knowledge sharing.

 

 

5. Pick the right communication platform for your team

With over three in four employees working in remote or hybrid settings, a digital communication hub is a must for productive teamwork. Choose a platform you can tailor to your team’s needs, which offers:

 

  • A variety of channels for different communication types. Some examples are video calls for team and company updates, private chats for cross-team collaboration, and surveys for employee suggestions.

 

  • Team productivity features like shared tasks and documents. These act as your single source of truth for project information, workflows, and company policies.

 

  • Advanced tools that streamline communication. For instance, you could schedule automated team comms and generate responses with AI.

 

Spike Teamspace is an all-in-one communication platform that merges channels like email, chat, and video calls with workflow-optimizing features including an AI assistant and collaborative docs.

 

Its conversational email lets you find people and info quickly, while interactive team channels and AI-polished comms help you build a stronger rapport and culture.

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Closing the Communication Gap: How Spike Teamspace Can Help

 

 

Letting miscommunication run wild means risking lower productivity, unhappy staff, and even unhappier customers. However, by tackling root causes like rigid team structures, personalizing your approach, mixing training with practice, and nurturing a collaborative culture, you’ll reduce communication hiccups.

 

Teams also need a robust tech platform for their conversations, workflows, and documents. Spike Teamspace makes collaboration a breeze with an intuitive chat-and-email inbox, real-time task and doc sharing, one-click video meetings, AI message generation, and more.

Ioana Andrei
Ioana Andrei Ioana has worked for 4+ years as a management consultant in the tech and telecom industries. With a wealth of enterprise and start-up client experience, Ioana is also an accomplished SaaS and B2B tech writer.

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