Survey: Identifying the biggest workplace comms hurdles

Fresh research offers candid insights for communicators eager to tackle the most daunting messaging mountains at work.

The high costs of miscommunication

One of the biggest threats to your business is something we all do every day, often mindlessly and off the cuff—communicate.

The Economist has partnered with Lucidchart to produce a report on modern workplace communication barriers. The data extracted from more than 400 U.S. executives, managers and junior employees provides insight into:

  • What are the true costs and causes of business miscommunication?
  • Which tools and styles do workers prefer?
  • How can employers streamline companywide communications and accommodate a plethora of platforms and preferences?

Here are some of the salient takeaways from The Economist’s research:

Poor communication has a tremendous impact on the workplace. If you think miscommunication is an ancillary issue, think again. According to The Economist, “Respondents say communication barriers are leading to a delay or failure to complete projects (44 percent), low morale (31 percent), missed performance goals (25 percent) and even lost sales (18 percent)—some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

To put it mildly, miscommunication can harm productivity, profitability and engagement.

The most frequently cited cause of communication barriers is fundamentally human: different communication styles. According to the report: “Different communication styles (42 percent), unclear responsibilities (34 percent) and time pressures (31 percent) are the three most frequently cited causes of poor communication.”

Accommodating “different communication styles” is the crucial messaging mountain ever communicator must climb. Different folks require different strokes, and it’s up to you to determine how best to tailor communications to reach your unique colleagues. Spelling out crystal-clear goals, roles, objectives and expectations is always helpful, too.

The use of instant messaging and social media at work reflects a gap between how generations use certain communication tools. According to the report: “Nearly a third of millennials (31 percent) say they use instant messaging at work every day, compared with only 12 percent of baby boomers. Tomorrow’s executives will find they have to adapt if they want to be effective today when working with older generations that prefer to pick up a phone. At the same time, older generations would be wise to embrace the new communication tools on which developing leaders will continue to rely.”

There are major generational differences in terms of communication channels, platforms and preferences, but a bit of face-to-face never goes out of style. The Economist found:

Sixty-five percent of respondents say that face-to-face meetings are a very effective mode of communication—and this number does not vary significantly among generations.

There is a discrepancy between the communication tools that people find most effective and the ones they regularly use. Email still reigns supreme as the preferred mode of workplace communication—despite being viewed as an ineffective means of conveying information. The report suggests that visual-based communications could merit more attention and use: “Video conferencing, presentation decks, white boards and sketch pads are largely seen as somewhat or very effective at helping respondents share ideas and understand them well.”

How much is miscommunication or muddled messaging costing your business? It could be a lot more than you might even realize. For more on this topic, read the rest of The Economist’s report here.

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