June 23, 2019

Rachel Strella

5 Reasons Why Communication Goes South and What You Can Do About It


I’ve written several posts about our core values, going in-depth on service, relationships and commitment to excellence. Our final core value is communication.

It may seem simplistic, but truthfully, it’s the most challenging value to fulfill. In fact, it’s a significant source of frustration for many organizations.

Because communication is so important to me, I’ve identified what I’ve witnessed that may explain why communication challenges occur.

Life gets in the way. I often hear statements that go unfilled such as ‘I will call you tomorrow,’ or ‘I’ll finish that tonight.’ No matter how small, though, when those commitments fall wayside, it damages trust. We all know someone who says these things and we already don’t believe them because they rarely follow-through. While I understand that sh*t happens, I think it’s important to revise the expectation by offering an update on the situation and then actually following through on the new expectation. It’s not a difficult principal, but we’re creatures of habit. Changing our programming takes effort. And, it doesn’t happen overnight. Our team knows that when we say we will do something, we will do it. It must be literal, not just intentional.

Lack of accountability.  I see this happen when there are too many hands in the pot and the chain of command is not clearly established. John has three bosses and he’s told different things by different bosses. He’s not clear which boss has the final say, so John just does whatever he thinks is correct and hopes he doesn’t get his hand slapped. Accountability at all levels is crucial to proper communication. Sadly, too many organizations have not established a distinct chain of command, so chaos ensues. When no one is accountable, there’s a he said/she said culture. It can lead to resentment, but it can also lead to lost productivity, and ultimately, lost revenue.

There’s a clog in the drain.  If accountability is clear and miscommunication still occurs, then the expectations are not followed by all. For example, let’s say it was Susie’s job to let Tom know that Judy is out for the day, and Judy didn’t tell Susie. This would cause Tom and Susie frustration, especially if Tom was to deliver key information to a customer and he now does not have that information because Judy was the lead on that project. If we can find the source of the clog, we can prevent its domino effect.

Expectations are unclear or undefined. This is a frustrating issue, but it happens more often than you might think. For example, Tammy is upset at contractor Joe because Joe didn’t do the job he was hired to do. Joe believes he did his job because the work is done. Tammy says the job wasn’t done at the level she expected and she doesn’t want to pay him for it. So, the question then becomes, “were the proper expectations identified?” It’s so easy to make assumptions about what an end result should look like, but unless we’ve agreed on established outcomes, we are operating under our own beliefs.

Scaling up. “Growing pains,” are a very real occurrence for any organization that’s achieving its goals and taking on more work. In fact, it’s a root cause of many of the communication breakdowns we already discussed. Growing organizations typically hire more people. Liam once reported to Angela, but now Liam reports to report to Angela and Mike. A new hire, Tim, is also to report Angela and Mike. Liam, used to doing a certain job, is now sharing it with Tim and he’s not sure which projects are his and which belong to Tim. He asked Angela, but she needs to ask Mike. Mike’s out of the office this week. When growth occurs, we need a new structure to accommodate that growth. This means re-evaluating and re-defining team roles which include changing the accountability chart, the flow of communication, and the expectations of the team.

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In a perfect world, we are born communicators. Since that’s far from reality, I’ve come to learn that strong communication requires a conscious effort. My hope is that this post will help. As they said, “awareness is the first step.”

What communication challenges have you experienced?

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