On any list of the top “soft skills” for managers, communication is often in the top position. The ability to communicate clearly is sought after by nearly every employer and the benefits of good communication are often discussed; so, what happens when a manager or leader is not a good communicator?
Unfortunately, poor communication is a common problem in many organizations. Despite understanding that clear and concise communication, good listening and a culture of open and honest communication is the foundation of a happy and productive department, some managers still don’t make good communication a priority or recognize that they are ineffective communicators.
What Makes a Poor Communicator?
In the workplace, poor communication can take a number of forms. Someone who needs to develop better communication skills might, for instance:
- Give blanket instructions, leaving out key bits of information. It’s like being given a recipe for a stew, but the instructions fail to mention that you should cook the meat before adding the other ingredients. You’re left wondering why the stew didn’t come together correctly, only to have the recipe author mention the missing step after it’s too late. Sometimes, this happens because a leader makes assumptions about his or her team’s knowledge or feels like their team members should know what they mean without having to explain.
- Fail to articulate expectations. This might come up during a performance review when a boss says something like, “you aren’t meeting the sales expectations.” Unless that employee was given clear, specific goals to reach, it is impossible to know whether they are meeting the expectations or not.
- Shoot first, aim second. Typically, candor is valued in the workplace; however, when your manager speaks before he or she thinks, it can cause problems. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, even anger and frustration can result from a leader who always speaks his or her mind without thinking.
- Yell or use a harsh tone. No one likes to be yelled at. A boss who constantly yells, speaks sharply or throws temper tantrums is not an effective leader.
- Fail to share important information in a timely manner or contribute to rumors and speculation by not addressing issues. If there are rumors of layoffs, a good communicator will be as transparent as possible about what is going on and address the issue head on — even if the news is bad.
No one is perfect and many leaders may do one or more of these things occasionally; that doesn’t mean they are necessarily poor communicators. If these issues are consistently occurring, the consequences can be dire for the department and the company.
Why Communication Matters
The effects of poor communication can be far reaching within an organization. For starters, productivity suffers. Employees end up spending more time clarifying instructions — or redoing work that wasn’t done correctly — when they could be spending that time on more productive tasks. Morale suffers, especially when employees aren’t sure what to expect, they feel like they can’t do anything right or they are yelled at on a regular basis. Poor communication can also lead to high turnover, disciplinary problems (which may not be warranted) and resistance to change.
In short, there is a reason that so many businesses list communication skills at the top of their wish lists for employees: they are really the foundation for productive and engaged teams.
Identifying and Correcting the Problem
Sometimes, poor communication stems from a simple lack of skills. Not everyone is born a great communicator and without training and development, those skills aren’t likely to appear on their own; however, sometimes it goes a bit deeper than that.
Sometimes, it’s simply a case of a leader not wanting to engage or communicate until he or she has all the facts or has figured out what to say. This is common in cases where the company or department is facing challenges, such as impending layoffs. Hesitant because they do not want to say the wrong thing, the leader opts to say nothing. In other cases, a manager might not realize that he or she is not communicating or that they need to say something to their employees. They have forgotten what it’s like to not be in charge and how a lack of communication can cause issues in the department. Unfortunately, some leaders simply don’t value communication or see it as a priority. They want to develop and execute plans, not explain or discuss them; however, as many CEOs have discovered, without buy-in from employees, plans are not likely to be successful.
How can managers fix their problems? The first step is identifying communication breakdowns and weaknesses in this area. Getting feedback is the first step. Developing active listening skills, being mindful of nonverbal communication and learning to be specific with instructions and expectations can go a long way toward improving communication. If you feel like you’re lacking in this area, taking communication courses can help develop your skills. When you do, you’ll see your leadership skills improve, as well.