“There is no confusion, I was quite clear!”

So proclaimed my client in a conversation last summer as I was helping evaluate the under-performance of an employee recently transferred to a new role.

My client made this claim when I brought to his attention that his employee told me he was confused by what was expected of him in this new role.

Last week, with another client, I learned that a new supervisor who has been having conflicts with her direct reports has been evaluating work at a much higher standard than her predecessor.

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It seems there was little conversation about the change in standards and expectations when the change in managers occurred.

Last week when I was delivering a seminar there was a collective groan accompanied by head nods from the 30 business professionals in the audience when I asked if anyone has experienced “mixed messages” from leadership in their workplace.

Communication is blamed for most workplace ills.

Yet, that “communication” issue is rarely defined in a way it can be effectively addressed. For that reason it doesn’t get addressed, causing the same issues to continue manifesting in the workplace to varying degrees.

Organizational leaders need to do nothing more than ask employees for specific examples of mixed messages in their work environment.

Upon first inquiry there may not be much of a response because employees will be uncertain as to how to identify these mixed messages, even though they are experiencing them daily.

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But, in inquiring into mixed messages in the workplace, organizational leaders must ask for the inquiry to be on-going and request employees to begin identifying a “mixed-message” whenever and wherever something comes to their attention.

Depending on the organization’s culture these mixed messages by leaders in the workplace may be hard to uncover.

Employees may be leery bringing these perceived mixed messages to the attention of superiors for fear of retribution. Additionally, there may be other issues causing low trust in the workplace that cause people to hold back.

Therefore, leaders must project an openness to hearing examples of mixed messages, even if they are the culprit, and continue to ask for more examples to be brought to their attention.

Over time, two things will result from this approach:

  1. A tremendous amount will be learned about the leaders’ own communication style, as well as the communication throughout the organization.
  2. A significantly higher level of trust will develop in the workplace that will increase performance across all levels of the organization.

Those are two outcomes all organizations should be investing in.

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