“Poor Communication” – What Does It Really Mean?

Not sure I’ve ever encountered an organization that doesn’t complain about “poor communication.” But what does it really mean?

Too often companies respond to the complaint with meetings, memos, newsletters, announcements, presentations, and videos without ever touching the real cause of the complaints.

There are four main reasons why employees complain about a lack of communication, none of which are resolved with more communication!

1. Employees don’t know what is important

An unclear strategy and priorities make it impossible for employees to make smart decisions. While poor communication of the strategy and priorities is one possible cause, more often there isn’t a clear strategy, the strategy is too complex, and/or there are too many priorities. If there are too many priorities, there are no priorities. If employees don’t know what is important, they assume someone is failing to tell them and thus, poor communication is the complaint.

2. Employees don’t know who is supposed to do what when

Ill-defined roles, responsibilities, and processes are another common culprit. Communication may be part of the problem but, more likely, roles, responsibilities, and processes are simply poorly defined. The resulting confusion is annoying at best. People begging for clarification often complain about poor communication.

3. Employees don’t do what they are supposed to do

A lack of commitment, discipline, and/or accountability by even a small minority of employees can create the feeling that no one knows who is supposed to do what. You can clarify and communicate roles and responsibilities until you are blue in the face but if employees just do their own thing, confusion ensues, and others will complain about poor communication.

4. Employees don’t like surprises that affect their work and lives

The way decisions are made and communicated is often more important than the decision itself if you are affecting employees’ sense of security and control. When surprised, even if the surprise isn’t bad, the lack of awareness, input, and control often leaves people feeling unnerved and complaining about poor communication. However, if you let people know a decision is underway and give them reason to believe that their needs are understood and their perspectives are represented, they will accept even bad decisions with fewer ruffled feathers and complaints.

As with any problem, reducing complaints about poor communication requires eliminating the cause of the complaint. “Poor communication” is unlikely to be resolved by flooding the workforce with messages, memos, and meetings. Well-intentioned ideas, such as these, generated without knowledge of the cause have little chance of being effective and almost always waste significant time and money.