Do you remember playing the “broken down telephone” game as a child? The one where a message was passed down a line of players, each one whispering the message to the next – and then laughing at how drastically the message had changed from the original? It’s not unlike what actually happens in the workplace. Each player in the game represents a different barrier to effective workplace communication.
There are probably as many different barriers to effective workplace communication as there are people trying to communicate. We are, after all, highly complex beings using very sophisticated language skills to duplicate concepts in our minds into the minds of others. Something is bound to go wrong.
In terms of different barriers to effective workplace communication, here are some of the main culprits:
Poor listening skills: It has been said that we listen in order to reply rather than to understand. We occupy our thinking with what we think is being said and what we think about what we think is being said, rather than what is actually being said. When you communicate with someone simply assume that they are not hearing what you are actually saying. Check out their understanding by asking for feedback. Ask them what they have understood you to say, and then correct the misperceptions.
Lack of purpose: You must have attended at least one meeting where you came away wondering what it was all about and what the purpose was? And after that meeting you decided that unless you were compelled by force, you would not attend any further meetings convened by that person. A major barrier to effective communication is that the person is not clear about the purpose of their communication. In effect, they don’t know what response they are looking for. In a busy workplace people do not have time for purposeless words. Before you call that next meeting, or write that email or have that conversation, ask yourself the question: “Why am I communicating this and what do I want this person to do as a result of this?” And then frame your words to ensure that response.
Low levels of rapport: Unless you have built credibility with your listeners, at the back of their mind is the question: “Why should I listen to you?” We are inundated with so much information that we become selective about what we allow in and what we notice. To be allowed into someone else’s thought space we have to build rapport with them so that they regard information coming from us as valuable, useful or credible. Why are you reading this article? At some point you decided that what I have to say here is useful and that I have some credibility – so you have continued to read. Others looked at the title and author name and moved on. We can’t have the necessary level of rapport with everyone. Don’t assume that because you are someone’s manager or colleague you have automatic right of access. Take time to show listening to you is of value, and others will begin to hear.
Too much communication: There’s a traffic jam on the information super-highway, and each day we venture out into it, either willingly or reluctantly. It can’t be avoided. To cope with all the information coming our way, we filter everything to find what we really need – and we ignore the rest. In the workplace we are tempted to send out communications because we can and because it is easy. We send out email circulars about everything, and we hit “reply to all”, not because everyone really needs to see our response but because we think they should take note of what we have to say. Eventually the recipients simply hit “delete” on anything that doesn’t immediately show itself as relevant. To be an effective communicator, be a rare communicator. If you only communicate relevant information and don’t abuse the system to let everyone know about every thought that crosses you mind, recipients will get to know that when something comes from you it is worth sitting up and noticing.
To overcome the different barriers to effective workplace communication, ensure that you are a relevant, rare and interesting communicator. After a while, people will be looking out for your next contribution.