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Real Talk: Communication gaps and how to overcome them

Feedback From The Field | By | 17 Feb 2022 | 4 minute read

Any leader knows that the success of an organization relies on every link in the chain remaining strong. When communication breaks down, we see a ripple effect. 86% of professionals chalk up workplace failures to ineffective communication and collaboration, and poor communication costs companies hundreds of thousands dollars each year. 

You get the picture. If teams are having issues communicating with each other and management, getting to the root of the problem is mission-critical. So how do you make it happen? Let’s talk about communication gaps on the job, what it is, why it matters, and how you can improve it.

What is a communication gap in the workplace?

In its most basic form, a ‘communication gap’ is what happens when there is a communication breakdown between two people (e.g. a manager and their direct report). When this occurs, the receiver may be unsure of what they’re supposed to do, and either out of overconfidence or fear of reprisal, they don’t ask the speaker to repeat their instructions.

Of course, it’s not only instructions that can be miscommunicated. Almost every job in the world relies on solid communication at all levels. So when gaps emerge, the fundamental elements that keep an organization functioning start to break down.

Example of a communication gap

A communication gap in the workplace is when a sales team fails to hit their target because they weren’t thoroughly briefed by management. They may be approaching the wrong audience, using the wrong tactics, or even selling the wrong product.

Gaps can also snowball into dangerous safety issues if there’s miscommunication about how potential accidents should be addressed. Tools like the SafetyCulture platform can quickly close this gap and empower employees to identify and report any issues on-site.

What causes a communication gap?

Direct human-to-human communication is the most obvious way that gaps can occur. A simple lapse in concentration or failure for a person to ask follow-up questions can result in unclear instructions. But a lack of ongoing training can also lead to a rise in communication gaps in the workplace.

Frontline workers, for example, have to deal with excessive spam and may find using email irrelevant and overwhelming. This is an increasingly dire situation with the rise of the hybrid worker and more organizations embracing a digital transformation. Frontline managers are not faultless either – a recent report found that they wasted an average of 453 hours every year due to poor communication (pre-pandemic), with the current figure equivalent to 9.3 working weeks wasted annually.

The power of your company’s communication ultimately comes down to how those at the top manage it. If the C-suite, managers, and others in leadership roles don’t take a vested interest in closing communication gaps organization-wide, how your people talk to each other will deteriorate. With 60% of companies not having a long-term strategy for internal communications, it seems that many organizations still aren’t addressing the root cause.

How do you solve communication gaps?

The good news is that leaders who understand the risks of communication gaps can take steps to plug them before they spiral out of control. There are two effective – and easy-to-implement – ways to improve internal comms for any organization, no matter your industry.

1. Create and enforce a comprehensive communication policy

This should outline what information can be shared, how it should be communicated, the types of information channels to use (e.g. surveys, interactive reports, brainstorming sessions, anonymous feedback, open discussions and complaints), as well as where employees can find the information they are looking for, such as on the company intranet, internal wiki, an announcement board or via their direct report.

2. Equip your teams with the right technology

Arming your teams with the right technology for their communication needs should be used in conjunction with a communication policy. For frontline workers, that could be providing them with mobile-first apps that can easily be integrated into the workday, while office-based staff should have access to a centralized platform that allows them to do their jobs and communicate with co-workers in one place.

Top tips to overcome communication issues in the workplace

Every workplace is different, so how you plug your communication gaps will depend on what works best for your organization.

Holistically, though, you should focus on a few core guidelines, including:

  • Setting baseline standards for company comms. This is usually achieved through a formal communication policy that covers how you expect your people to communicate both internally and externally.
  • Creating an environment that is conducive to free-flowing communication. No one wants to be afraid to speak up, especially when they feel they have misunderstood a co-worker or manager. Good communication starts from the top.
  • Conduct training and coaching sessions. While it may seem simple, some ideas are tough to explain clearly. Conduct a weekly coaching session or employ an AI coach like Marlee to help your team refine their communication skills and bridge understanding gaps.  
  • Being consistent and enforcing your communication policy across all departments. If your people feel you aren’t adhering to the expectations you initially set out, they will start to do their own thing and gaps will inevitably reappear.
  • Creating positive feedback loops where everyone from the newest employee to the most experienced member of the C-suite can feel comfortable about suggesting ways to improve company comms.

Building a team of people who are accountable in the workplace can go a long way to improving not just how everyone communicates, but how the organization functions as a whole.

No organization is perfect, and communication gaps will appear from time to time. How you uncover those gaps and the strategies used to plug them is what will determine whether your people communicate better or continue to struggle. You can empower them to be more communicative and accountable in the workplace with our FREE app SafetyCulture. You can also find more insights at the SafetyCulture blog.

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