In sales, we talk a great deal about the importance of effective communication with our customers. As people, we also talk about the value of communication in every good relationship we have in our lives. So, what happens when communication breaks down in the workplace? Relationships can suffer, goals become muddled, and gossip ensues. How can we manage these situations when they arise? And how can we find ways to prevent communication breakdown in the first place?

Why does communication break down?

According to the leading job search site,, several factors lead to poor communication in the workplace, including:

  • Unconfirmed understanding: Confusion sets in, and goals can become skewed when a request or statement is left open to interpretation. Asking clarification questions throughout a conversation facilitates comprehension and ensures the message is being accurately understood.
  • Poor communication skills: Some people are simply not as great at communication as others. This is where a training program that focuses on a model of communication can be helpful.
  • Lack of clear objectives: It can be exciting to explore new ideas in a group setting or team meeting, for instance. However, if there are no next steps established or deliverables put in place, people can be left wondering where to go from there.
  • Fear of punishment: When integrity is not a valued part of a company’s culture, employees might withhold information for fear their honesty could have negative consequences. Additionally, employees may develop an aversion to asking clarifying questions if they are afraid of repercussions for not understanding the first request.
  • Gossip: The rumor mill churns when messages are left unclear, and this causes big issues with productive communication in the workplace.
  • Remote communication: Text, email, and conference calls can make it difficult to discern how someone feels when they communicate because voice inflection, facial expressions, and tone are lost.

Each of these factors has a profound impact on more than just communication. Communication breakdowns also influence productivity and job satisfaction, which leads to low morale, unpredictable work environments, missed deadlines and workplace conflict. These obstacles take away from the time employees should be working toward a common goal. Instead of carrying out daily tasks, employees must take time out of their days for remediation and managers must facilitate it.

How do we combat the effects of poor communication?

The challenges discussed above often start with a lack of understanding due to miscommunication. In the age of digital communication especially, these miscues happen often; we leave inflection and tone to the reader’s imagination when we craft our emails and chats.

So, what can we do to try to mitigate communication issues in the workplace before they start?

  1. Ensure your expectations are clear and measurable: Tangible goals allow employees to assess their performance and adjust or improve when necessary. So, for example, when launching a new project or developing a new SOP, make sure you know your marching orders before walking away from a brainstorming session. If your objectives are ambiguous, ask your manager for more information or collaborate with your colleagues to gain a better understanding.
  2. Consider a communication training course: Carew’s Excellence in Professional Communication™ program focuses on building a common language throughout an organization. When employees and teams are aligned, communication breakdown is typically far away.
  3. Encourage and demonstrate an open-door policy: You work alongside your team and interact with your colleagues daily. Having the ability to do that without fear of judgment makes for a better overall working environment. Be approachable, open-minded, and transparent to foster mutual respect amongst your coworkers. Open-door policies are not just for managers!

It is possible and worthwhile to overcome the challenges brought on by poor communication. A business whose employees speak the same language and who seek mutual understanding will achieve greater success in accomplishing any initiative.