Poor communication wreaks all kinds of havoc, from the workplace to the world stage. This page is dedicated to the topic of communication, specifically bad communication, and what goes wrong when it rears its ugly head.

No one will know if you don’t say something
March 7, 2019

As communications director for a national real estate developer, my department produced the employee newsletter every other month. One of the most fascinating dynamics I witnessed was when employees would come to someone in my department and express frustration that something happening in their personal lives wasn’t included in the write-up of employee news. The fact is that no one had informed anyone on my team about that new home or engagement or new degree or kids’ special honor, or the like. The bottom line: don’t rely on the grapevine; if you want someone to know something, say something. 

‘If you don’t hear from me, then…’
September 19, 2018

The easy way to respond to someone is simply to suggest if you don’t text, email, call or send a carrier pigeon by such-and-such a date and/or time, then you don’t have what the person you’re communicating with needs. It’s not a good communication habit. The person is hoping to hear from you, and he or she might have another someone to answer to. And, it’s not too far-stretched for you to get distracted and the time passes, sending the person who made the request of you off in the wrong direction based on your unintended silence. Instead, always set a date and/or time that you’ll get back to the person, regardless of whether you’ll be able to meet their request or not, then follow through with an answer to let the person know where things stand.

Not responding is, in fact, responding
August 16, 2018
Suppose a client or coworker emailed you with a request to perform a little task. You fully intend to fulfill that request, so you go about doing so. It might take a day or two, or maybe just a couple of hours, and you’re going to do it. Besides, you always do what people ask of you! And because YOU know you’re going to do it, there’s no need to take time in responding to the person’s request email, right? Wrong! For some reason, many people remain quiet when a simple, courteous gesture is to communicate, “I’ll get right back to you with that,” or “Sure! Coming right up; stay tuned.” Acknowledge the other person! Don’t, however, say, “No problem.” If it’s your job, it certainly isn’t a problem.
911 communication goes horribly wrong; a 16-year-old boy dies
Cincinnati.com, other news reports, April 16, 2018

“… Smith was placed on administrative leave Thursday, after it was revealed she is the person who failed to tell the officers the make, model or color of the minivan Kyle Plush was trapped inside of, Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said during Thursday’s press conference.” The teen died despite making two calls to 911 operators and providing information about his location and urgent need for help. The 911 operator said technical difficulties prevented her from hearing and, thus, reporting the necessary information.

In your business, what urgent communication should be identified by relevant staff members, and how can you ensure it gets delivered successfully every time? 

Blaming new communication tools is pointless
TBS commentary, April 16, 2018

When lamenting the lack of strong writing skills, I often get the same response: “It’s texting and emailing; that’s why they’re so bad.” OK, I get the fact that we often use technologies that encourage quick and careless writing. But I believe that’s an effect, not a cause, of poor writing skills or habits and the argument, to me, seems circular. Communicating more clearly and correctly whenever possible should be the goal, particularly when you do have time to add context or rearrange the points of the message for greater clarity to the recipient(s).

I can’t be the only one who didn’t know…
Personal experience, April 12, 2018

I drove from Georgia to Florida two weeks ago. I was picking up some large paintings and couldn’t take them on a plane, so flying, using CapitalOne mileage credits, was out of the question. So, I took those credits and applied them to my account as a PAYMENT. But, guess what? CapitalOne can’t walk and chew gum at the same time; it can’t count that PAYMENT toward my account as a PAYMENT because it can only count it as a “bonus.” So, I got charged a late fee. But, mind you — I didn’t get the cash back — CapitalOne did!

So, I was thinking… Companies probably get calls from customers all the time about such asinine policies that are hidden in 6-point type. I wonder why they don’t take, say, the top five complaints about such policies — and create a “What you need to know” list of the most important points from those legal pages. Make them clear and easy to read. Had I clicked on a document that stated, among five things I need to know about making that transaction, that it wouldn’t count as a “minimum payment due” toward the balance, then I might have saved those reward points for a later flight. Instead, I had to spend my time and theirs fighting that late fee (fortunately, I was successful in doing so).

It’s all about anticipating an argument, particularly common ones, and getting out in front of it with clear, upfront communication.

What policies do your customers least understand? How can you draw them out of the 6-point type and make them clear from the beginning of a transaction? 

The true cost of poor communication
FORBES, November 2017


Dean Brenner, president and founder of The Latimer Group, cites five areas where poor communication runs the greatest costs on employees and/or businesses:

1. Lack of focus
2. Failure of purpose
3. Lack of innovation
4. Drop in morale
5. Loss of credibility

5 strategies for better team communication
blog.voxer, June 13, 2014

This blog entry provides some impressive information, not the least of which is that a study from Siemens Enterprise Communications shows the cumulative cost per worker, per year due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers is $26,041. The same study, shown here in slides, reports that a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communications, which is an average annual cost of $528,443.

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