Communication is hard and it takes work—on both sides of the conversation—to improve it. Work that you might not even realize needs to be done. But, think about this: You probably spend more time second-guessing the intent behind poor communication than working to improve it.
“Oh, she didn’t copy me on purpose.”
“He’s withholding information to make my life harder.”
“Making us guess what he’s thinking is just a big power play.”
“Why would she put something that important in email?”
“What’s that supposed to mean anyway?”
“Why did she copy my boss?”
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” –George Bernard Shaw
Communicating well builds the most important ingredient of any successful team—trust. So take the time to establish clear expectations around how your team is communicating. Discuss where it’s working best and when it’s breaking down.
The good news is that once you’re aware something is wrong, you can fix it—like these seven common communication mistakes, which are all worth fixing, stat:
1. Assuming Mal Intent
Sure people play games—but not most of us, most of the time. Not everything is intentional, so don’t let an innocent oversight like being left off an email or out of a meeting degrade trust. Save yourself the angst (and drama) by going straight to the source and asking to be included—by clearing the air before it gets cloudy with assumptions.
2. Hiding Behind Email
Email is fast and easy, but rarely effective for important communication. Never assume “they got the memo,” and your work is done. Don’t use email as a way to communicate bad news, or as a way to escalate over a peer’s head by copying their boss. Email’s a great supporting tool, but it seldom plays well as the lead medium.
3. Failure to Write Down Decisions
Great teams with excellent communication skills can break down because they miss this simple step. High-trust teams will often raise a lot of creative ideas, debate pros and cons, then challenge the decisions some more. With all that discussion, team members each leave with their own memory of the decision, which may or may not match the recall of other team members. Writing down and reading back key decisions and next steps is an important way to keep everyone moving in the same direction.
4. Wasteful Meetings
Only hold a meeting if you’re looking to accomplish one of two things: to make decisions and/or to improve relationships. If you’re looking to dump information or share simple updates, save everyone the time and put it in an email or post it some other way. So whenever you’re holding a meeting, ask yourself if it is truly the best use of every attendee’s time. If the answer is no, revisit your meeting invite to include only those who are most vital to the conversation and decision-making process.
Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real communication can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.
6. Boring Packaging
Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories. Ditch the 35-page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.
7. Inept Listening
Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove; they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and create meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more managers listened to their people with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.
Nothing sends teams off track faster than poor communication. Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll go a long way toward improving your team’s productivity and engagement.