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How to Avoid These Common Communication Blunders in the Workplace Lots of executives and managers complain that their organization is terrible at communication.

By Cynthia Kay

Key Takeaways

  • Communication problems within a business are not unusual.
  • The good news is that they can be fixed with discipline and attention.
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As the owner of a media production and communications consulting company, I see terrible communication firsthand. I want to share a few real stories illustrating three common communication problems, and then provide several ways to improve communication within a company.


Many are jumping on the bandwagon of employee storytelling to make people feel like they are a part of the organization. A large furniture manufacturer decided to showcase employees' good work in a monthly video communication that my company produced. The manufacturer reached out to employees to have them submit their story or the story of a colleague. The senior vice president thought it would be fun to interview those selected in a talk show format. We produced a few but stopped because the leader could not find time to do the show.

Communication programs that start and then fizzle out leave employees frustrated and skeptical. (Note: I warned the company against using this format. It's great if a leader has the time and is committed to this program. I did not feel it would work here. It did not.)

Another client decided to do customer webinars. They started with two a month but soon discovered that gathering the content was time-consuming and quickly fell behind. After making a big splash about the effort, they suspended the effort. They then started again with a scaled-back offering of once a month. While it did not have a disastrous effect on their reputation, it would have been better to start slowly, build an audience and then expand.

Related: Correcting Leadership Communication Mishaps

Poor content and messaging

Getting the messaging right is critical for communication to be successful. That means getting input from the right people at the right time. For example, one of my customers had to delay a product launch. The product was ready. However, the team working on the various communication assets failed to include key experts early on. When the marketing tools were submitted for approval, they discovered that the messaging was not on target. Print and videos had to be reworked, which increased costs and caused delays in the launch.

Communication that fails to excite

Several years ago, a friend of mine worked at a major accounting firm. He had been lobbying to have me come in and work with some of their teams to improve their presentations. He was not successful until this happened:

An audit team went in to present to a client and renew the contract for the next year. They were informed after the meeting that the business would go to a competitor. When pressed to understand what happened, the client reported that the audit team's presentation was boring. That's right, boring.

I know what you are thinking: "Audits, albeit necessary, are not really exciting to most people." That's not the point. The client wanted to be engaged, perhaps even wowed. The team failed to communicate their excitement and desire to work with this client, and they lost the business.

Communication barriers

Organizations have great discipline when it comes to areas such as production or finance, but not when it comes to communication. Some don't recognize or prioritize the need for communication programs. They assume that it will happen naturally. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Over the years, many organizations have become siloed. Everyone has an initiative, but departments have no tools to collaborate and share information.

Reliance on voicemail, email, and social media increases miscommunication because people are not talking to each other. Instead of helping us, technology becomes a reason not to communicate. While virtual meetings have exploded, few know how to be effective, whether they are leading or participating. People have gotten sloppy about preparation and presentation.

These barriers can cause communication to get sidetracked and negatively impact business results, as my examples demonstrate. Much of the answer to overcoming communication barriers starts with senior executives and others in positions of influence who make it a priority.

Related: How to Harness the Power of Communication When Facing Challenges

Three steps to get communication on track

The first step to improving communication is to put a purposeful communication plan in place. One that is clear, consistent and achievable. Remember my storytelling example above? The plan does not need to be complicated. It does need to consider the entire organization — from those on the plant floor or front lines to those in the field and behind the scenes. What do people need to know? What are the best ways to communicate information so everyone can access it? What is the frequency of communication?

The second step is to build an organization of good communicators. Numerous studies report that 86% of employees and executives cite ineffective communication and collaboration as the main cause of workplace failures. Communication is not simply the job of human resources, the communication, or the marketing department. Everyone needs to be engaged. Some people are naturally good at this, but most need help. There are learning opportunities that can be accessed from various sources, but be sure that the level and content are appropriate for the team.

The third step is to use the right tools to share communication. This can be an internal portal, system of e-blasts, live meetings or live stream events. There are so many tools that it can be overwhelming. A communication consultant can help you navigate them, but the best advice is to use the simplest technology to get the job done. Finally, the results of the communication plan should be monitored. This can be something as simple as a communication survey.

Related: How Effective Employee Communication Boosts Productivity

Cynthia Kay

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

A small business leader for over 35 years.

Cynthia Kay is Founder of Cynthia Kay and Company, an award-winning media production company. She is an expert in small business and has worked with small business leaders across sectors, industries, and growth stages for 35+ years. She is the author of Small Business. Big Success.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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