Lack of communication in the workplace: causes and effects

By Hani Khan
Lack of communication - woman in orange shirt looking at computer screen with confused look on her face
This article was originally published on April 19, 2021, and was updated on Aug 19, 2023.

Workplace communication is the exchange of information and ideas within an organization. Effective workplace communication is essential for companies to work effectively and productively.

With great internal communication between employees and employers comes increased morale, productivity, and commitment, especially with employers who spend the time and energy to create open communication lines.

These types of managers quickly build trust among employees, resulting in increased productivity and performance. Employees who effectively communicate with their colleagues and bosses continue to be valuable assets to the company.

Why is communication so important in the workplace?

  • It avoids confusion
  • It provides purpose
  • It fosters a transparent company culture
  • It creates accountability
  • It builds productivity and growth

Effective communication in the workplace is central to reaching all business goals, as it defines organizational goals and helps coworkers better collaborate with one another. However, not all communication in a business environment is created equal. Some companies suffer from poor communication, resulting in friction, frustration, and confusion.

Poor communication often creates a tense environment where people are not motivated to be productive and not inspired to collaborate. This lack of motivation then affects how employees relate to clients and potential customers, negatively affecting the bottom line. So what is poor communication, exactly, and what are some of the causes and effects of poor communication?

What is poor communication in the workplace?

Poor workplace communication might mean that lines of communication are entirely broken, but this is relatively rare. More often, communication issues occur when there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is heard, whether between colleagues or between an employee and a manager. More specifically, the understanding between two people is not mutual when the person being communicated with misunderstands what you’re trying to communicate.

Here’s an example. An employer sets a deadline for turning in data on Friday, and an employee readily agrees to get the data in on Friday. On the surface, this may seem like good communication. However, the employee might think they have until 5 p.m. to deliver the data when it is actually due on Friday at 10 a.m. This mismatch of deadlines stemmed from poor communication — the information communicated between the employer and employee was incomplete.

What are the causes of poor communication in the workplace?

Poor Leadership

Employees look to business owners and their managers for direction in the workplace. Good communication that starts from the top down motivates staff members to be more productive and innovative. These good leaders clearly communicate objectives, goals, and future visions.

Poor leaders, on the other hand, are often indecisive and unable to inspire their teams. They may be impatient in their communication style, conveying that impatience through their tone of voice, facial expressions, or other means of nonverbal communication.

Poor communication and bad leadership may also stem from managers who lack information themselves. These managers are unable to answer questions or clarify points, so their employees are left even more confused and frustrated than when they started.

Unclear Objectives

Goals and objectives are powerful in business, as they focus attention on achieving desirable outcomes, such as profitability. Profitability does not just happen magically. It requires attentive employees who know what management expects them to accomplish and transparent objectives provide that direction.

If organizations lack clear strategic goals, or if managers are not informed of the tactical objectives their teams are expected to meet, employees will not receive the direction they need. This leads to confusion and frustration. Employees may end up underperforming even when trying their best.

Limited Feedback

Feedback is information that flows to a person who performed an action, informing that person of the results of that action. It is one of the most important forms of communication because it’s where real learning happens.

Effective employee feedback, both positive and negative, provides valuable information for making important decisions and improvements in the future. Top-performing companies recognize feedback as a key step in their continuous improvement cycles.

Without clear testing steps for each iteration and action, feedback will be limited. For example, does a new website form represent a significant improvement over the old one? Is a new product feature significantly easier to use? Without good feedback, employees will not have clear direction for improvement.

Demoralized Employees

When an employee loses interest in their work, they often become disengaged, creating communication problems for the company. Employees who feel demoralized often feel unvalued, unappreciated, and even disrespected despite their capacities and talents. This will often lead to the employee becoming unproductive and irritable, disregarding open lines of communication.

Restoring employee morale may involve reevaluating workplace culture to create an environment in which employees are personally invested enough to work—and communicate—with a good attitude.

Learn 5 Ways to Motivate Disengaged Employees

Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Diverse work environments have been proven to help companies grow, as they bring in new ideas for greater creativity and innovation. However, one challenge of increasing diversity in the workplace is the potential for poor communication. Different people from different backgrounds relay messages in different ways, with varied nonverbal cues, and the way messages are interpreted will often be different.

For example, forming a circle with your thumb and index finger means “OK” in the United States. In Japan, however, this same gesture means “money.” To combat these types of communication mismatches, companies should invest in DEI efforts, such as diversity classes that focus on communication to educate employees.Lack of communication - Simpplr named intranet leader by Gartner Wave

What are the effects of poor communication in the workplace?

Unpredictable Work Environment

Poor communication causes a lack of predictability and stability within the workplace, leading to an uneasy environment for employees to work in. Employees might not clearly understand their objectives for the week or might misunderstand the process for a project, leading to poor productivity and ineffectiveness at their job. Employees and employers have a responsibility to facilitate an active dialogue in order to create a stable work environment in which employees can do their best work.

Less Effective Collaboration

Collaboration and communication go hand in hand. If employees are unable to communicate effectively, collaboration is very likely to suffer as well. Collaboration in the workplace is important in many ways, from promoting self-analysis to efficient problem-solving. Without collaboration, teams end up working in isolated silos, unaware of the progress and learning that has been achieved in other areas.

Workplace Conflict

The effects of poor communication may cause tensions to rise, resulting in potential conflicts between employees. Although they might not be immediately obvious, these tensions can cause two-way communication to break down even more.

An unwillingness to communicate may cause employees to make the wrong assumptions, resulting in work that has to be repeated—sometimes over and over. Good communication prevents workplace tensions from arising in the first place.

Low Morale

With poor communication, employees may have a harder time meeting expectations and deadlines, resulting in them falling behind. This could leave them with a sense of guilt, embarrassment, or even low self-esteem. This, in turn, can lead to significant drops in job satisfaction and a significant rise in attrition.

Lack of communication between management and employees

Although the lack of effective communication between management and employees can lead to significant frustration, poor communication is rarely intentional. In most cases, breakdowns in communication can be traced back to poor communication skills or simply not having the right communication tools.

Tips for more effective communication in the workplace

Effective workplace communication starts with strong workplace communication skills. The following communication strategies and effective communication practices can significantly improve communication between coworkers.

Active Listening

Ineffective communication often begins when the desire to communicate information is so strong that it overpowers the impulse to listen. Effective teams employ strong two-way communication to ensure that messages are communicated well in both directions.

When a manager conveys information, for example, employees may raise concerns about what they are being asked to do. Managers need to listen actively to those concerns, repeating them to ensure understanding and addressing them directly.

Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback is the art of conveying feedback that is clear, actionable, and positive. For example, a creative director might say something like this: “I love how you’ve incorporated our brand elements into this design. Let’s make this section here larger to really draw the eye to the focal point. Nice work.”

The first statement is positive, making sure the listener feels appreciated. The next statement provides clear, actionable direction that the artist can easily follow. It will improve the design while also conveying information the artist can learn from. The final statement returns to the overarching message of appreciation, recognizing the effort that the artist has put into the work.

Eye Contact

In oral communication, maintaining eye contact while listening will reassure the speaker that they are being heard. It is important, however, that facial expressions remain calm and open. Eye contact can be perceived as aggressive or derogatory when accompanied by negative emotional cues.

Nonverbal Communication

Eye contact is just one example of the nonverbal communication that makes up a huge portion of the information we take in during face-to-face communication. Effective workplace communication skills involve profound self-awareness of body language and facial expressions. The speaker must be aware not just of the words they’re choosing but of the way in which those words are delivered.

One common misconception is the idea that strong communication is delivered with a sense of force. In fact, remaining calm, even under pressure, conveys inner strength and is a far more effective communication method. A team leader who listens openly and addresses concerns with empathy is much more likely to foster active team collaboration and achieve operational results.

Frequent Communication

To combat poor communication, good team leaders write project descriptions clearly, assign individual tasks fairly, check in regularly to ask how things are, and set aside time each week to address workplace concerns. They also maintain an open-door policy to make sure grievances are addressed quickly and efficiently.

For these leaders, informal conversations, casual interactions, and honest communication often play key roles in their effective communication skills.

How to address poor communication in the workplace

To open communication channels, break down communication barriers, and build more effective teams, conveying key communication skills may not be enough. Company goals and company policies need to be conveyed consistently, across multiple communication channels. Senior management depends on middle management to bridge the gap between strategy and tactics, fostering collaboration and strong communication across every human interaction.

This requires more than good communication skills—effective communication also requires the right communication tools. At the managerial level, this might include project management tools to keep everyone on the same page or video conferencing tools to include remote teams in face-to-face interactions. Effective teams need many types of workplace internal communication tools to foster and maintain employee satisfaction.

For enterprise organizations, company communications present an even bigger problem. Maintaining a strong, vibrant company culture across remote teams in different cities and even around the world requires communication tools that are designed to address these unique needs.

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Improving company communications—how to solve poor communication in the workplace

From demoralized employees to workplace conflicts, poor communication detrimentally affects an organization’s productivity and overall workplace culture. Improving communications can prove valuable for any business, leading to increased productivity, higher morale, and a positive benefit to the bottom line.

Enterprise businesses in particular need to prioritize investment in communication for a strong, vibrant corporate culture—including new technologies that can promote and maintain open lines of communication across a widely distributed workforce.

Here at Simpplr, we devote our time to simplifying employee communication, making it easier to connect and align with your employees. Our modern intranet solution opens multiple lines of communication with your employees so you can reach them where they are—in the ways they want to communicate—fostering an open culture of growth and transparent communication.

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