What Makes Communication Crumble (and How to Rebuild)
Published on: 7th November, 2022
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Good communication is worth billions to the world’s companies. How can you avoid the most common communication blunders? Faithful on the Clock Episode 60 outlines the biggest problems that make interactions fall apart and advises leaders and employees on how to address each issue.
[00:38] - The first reason good communication is important is that poor communication costs businesses real money.
[01:22] - Good communication also matters as a way to build and protect your own reputation.
[01:53] - Communicating well can build or grow the morale of your team.
[02:31] - The focus of the episode is not technical communication mistakes, but underlying issues that cause communication to falter.
[02:53] - The first big communication problem is our egos. People often think it makes them look stupid to wait before responding, or they can genuinely think they’re better than others. Other problems, such as the brain’s design to look for shortcuts, can hurt others or convolute our message.
[04:18] - Active listening is good advice for checking the ego, but there’s still a danger that if you focus on what you are learning, you’ll refocus back on yourself and your own growth again. Great communication is more about making the other person feel valued, not growing or solving problems.
[05:50] - The second communication blunder is a lack of balance, which can be in both quantity (frequency) or quality (details). Assumption is the big driver behind this imbalance. Analytics tools can help center you, as can proactively seeking feedback about what people need.
[07:04] - The third communication problem spot is letting emotions drive. Emotions fire faster than logic, and it’s easy for stress to shut down the rational centers of the brain. So it’s important to be an anchor for others, using the science of mirror neurons to cue them to be calm. You also need to pay attention to when to communicate and not let your emotions prompt you to reveal information at the wrong time.
[08:59] - The fourth communication hurdle is role confusion or poor delegation. Leaders who lack real vision can fail to give clarity as they delegate, even as they expect results. This forces those underneath them to step into new responsibilities without certainty that they really should do so. Being clear that you need more direction counts, and on the employer side, take the time to build a system of checks and balances for accountability.
There are three big reasons to get communication right in business–to protect yourself financially, hedge your reputation, and support the good morale necessary for a healthy culture.
The ego is the first communication hurdle. For instance, people can rush to speak for fear that waiting will make them look stupid, or they might not let someone else speak because they feel more entitled. Active listening is a good solution, but it must be focused on making the other person feel valued, not just your own personal growth. The Lord rewards true humility, so we shouldn’t be afraid to practice it.
Lack of balance is another big communication issue. Communication can be too sparse or overwhelming in terms of details, or it can be infrequent or too frequent. Assumption is often the underlying problem that fuels the lack of balance, but options like analytics tools and proactively gathering feedback can bring you to the middle ground.
People often suffer communication woes when they let their emotions take control. It can be neurologically difficult to think rationally when feelings are hot. Stepping back, such as by taking a walk to cool down, can be effective, as can working to be a calm model for people. It’s also important to get trustworthy people who can control their emotions when assessing whether it’s the right time to reveal information.
A final communication issue is role confusion or poor delegation. Leaders sometimes delegate without a clear vision of what they want, which forces those underneath them to shoulder new responsibilities under a cloud of confusion. Employees need to be upfront that they are lost, while employers have to make sure they have a system of checks and balances in the delegation process.
Use a survey or other tool to assess the current state of communication, both for you as an individual and for your company. Ask people for specifics about where you could improve.
What’s coming up next:
People across the county have been quiet quitting–that is, doing the bare minimum so their employer eventually lets them go. I’ll explain why this growing trend isn’t one to follow and present an alternative in Episode 61 of Faithful on the Clock.
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Hello, out there, everybody! I’m your host, Wanda Thibodeaux, and you’ve tuned in to Faithful on the Clock, the podcast that is lighting every last sparkler to get your faith and work aligned. Today’s episode is about one of the most important components of professional success–great communication. I’m gonna highlight some of the biggest blunders we make in getting our messages across, and then I’ll give you some practical tools to tuck away to fix them. Join me for that as soon as the intro music fades away.
To start the party today, I just want to acknowledge the three biggest reasons we have to pay attention to the way we communicate. And the first reason you probably have had put in your face once or twice, and that’s the fact that poor communication costs businesses real money. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, all that poor communication ends up costing companies with more than 100,000 employees an average of $62.4 million per year. And if you’re a smaller business of 100 employees or less, bad communication can suck away an average of $420,000 per year. And I mean, for a smaller business, that’s devastating, because you just don’t have the financial wiggle room the way larger companies do.
The second reason you’ve got to communicate well is for your own reputation. If you don’t communicate well, the unfortunate reality is that you’re gonna come across either as a less intelligent person, or as somebody that’s not very engaged. Either way, the result is that people feel like they can’t trust you with heavier responsibilities. And if they can’t trust you with heavier responsibilities, they’re gonna hesitate about working with you and really not be motivated to follow you at all.
And then, thirdly, communication ties to the morale of your team or your business. You know, part of the reason companies lose money here is that, when people can’t trust your messages, when they’re confused or mistakes are happening, they just really lose a sense that things can go well and that everybody’s behind the same purpose. They end up getting cynical and just feeling like they can’t speak up about anything because nobody’s gonna listen, or because they’re afraid they’re gonna get misunderstood or misinterpreted. So it’s just absolutely critical on multiple levels that you make communication a true priority right from day one.
Now, I’m not gonna go into all of the technical ways to improve communication, you know, the stuff like don’t put everybody and their brother on an email chain. That’s covered in so many other places, it’s easy to find that stuff. What I wanna talk about today are some of the kind of underlying issues that make communication fall apart.
So the first issue is problems with our own egos. So I want to give you Proverbs 29:23, which says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Jesus reflects that in Mark 10:40-50 when he tells the disciples that those who want to be great or first must be servants and slaves to all. But what usually happens with ego and communication is that we wanna show the other person that we’re intelligent. We don’t want to look stupid. And for some reason, we tend to think that, if we wait and just take time to think before we answer, then we look like we’re not smart or prepared enough. Or sometimes, we genuinely think we’re better than the person we’re talking to. You know, we can discriminate for all kinds of reasons, and we can get lost in a lot of confirmation and other biases. You know, the brain is designed to look for patterns and shortcuts, too, and so sometimes we just automatically assume we know what the other person is gonna say. And then we want to just cut them off because we don’t feel like it’s efficient for them to keep going. And we end up interrupting all the time. But in our rush to respond, we’re not always thinking about the other person’s feelings. We don’t pause to consider how they might interpret the words coming out of our mouth, and so either people get hurt or what we say is really convoluted.
So, a lot of people, when we talk about the ego getting in the way of communicating, the advice usually is to turn on good active listening and focus on what you’re learning from the other person. And that’s not bad advice. But I’m still kind of leery with it, because I think the tendency is that, when you think about what you are learning, it’s easy to just start focusing on your own growth again. So what I want you to see is that it’s not about growth. It’s not even in that moment about solving a problem. It’s about just making the other person feel valued. It’s about demonstrating better love and emotional intelligence so you can connect with the person in front of you through shared understanding. So if you think about that, I want you to take the stance that, in every conversation, your job is just to ask, “What do they need?” or “What’s their purpose?” If you ask yourself those questions through the conversation, it’s a really simple way to make sure that your attention is focused on them and that you resist that temptation to turn it back to yourself. And I’ll encourage you with Proverbs 22:4. That verse says, “The reward for humility and fear fo the Lord is riches and honor and life.” So you can be very sure that setting your ego aside as you communicate, that absolutely will not hurt you. In fact, it’s the path to the earthly security you probably want.
Now, the second big problem in communication is lack of balance. And there’s kind of two versions of that. So you might never give enough detail or you’re going so in depth that people get overwhelmed and zone out. But you also can have imbalance with communication frequency. So maybe interactions come once in a blue moon and people end up really anxious and confused because of it, or the messages are so frequent that they end up losing impact. And I think that the heart of the balance problem is assumption. Either you operate on optimism bias and assume nothing bad will happen if you don’t communicate, or you assume that people are such idiots that they need everything spelled out a million times in a row. So one thing you can consider is an analytics tool that can objectively measure what is going on. And those tools can make sure you cue the right people or check in at the right time. But you also can be proactive in asking what people want or need. You know, for example, at the end of the meeting, you can come right out and ask if people think you need to meet again or if you should reach out to somebody. Let people give you that feedback so that you're gauging how often to communicate and what to say based on real data.
Thirdly, and I see this everywhere, people will let their emotions drive. And what you have to understand is that the emotion part of your brain, the limbic brain, emotions fire much faster than rational thought. And so that’s where sometimes, you know, you’re upset, and stress actually can shut down the rational centers of the brain. So you just blurt out something you shouldn’t, or that nasty email goes out, because you’re not thinking clearly. And so–and this ties to active listening–but I really recommend that people practice stepping back. You know, maybe you go for a walk for a few minutes to cool down, or maybe you get in the habit of putting a five-minute delay on hitting that send button. And we know, too, that people have mirror neurons in the brain. And those neurons help us to synchronize and connect with each other. They get us to mimic, OK? And so if you stay calm, the person you’re talking to, they’re gonna subconsciously read that, and their brain is going to say, “OK, the person in front of me is calm. There’s not a threat, so I can be calm, too.” So knowing that, just remember Proverbs 15:1. That says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And just try to be an anchor for people, because they’ll take a cue if you give it. And one last thing in this problem area is that people can have trouble knowing when to communicate. You know, let’s say a representative isn’t authorized to give details on something, but they do it anyway because they just feel like the employees oughtta know, and it’s a sensitive issue, and so now it erupts into this HR or PR nightmare. So you have to have trustworthy people who can take all of the potential consequences and business considerations into account and not let their emotions destabilize the control of the company.
Now the last issue might make some of you out there uncomfortable, because it basically has to do with people not stepping up to do their jobs when they have to. So a lot of the time, leaders in a business, they’re just so busy all the time, right? And the only solution to get anything done is to delegate. We have a fantastic example of that with Moses in Exodus 18:13-26, where Moses was just burning out trying to judge every dispute the people in Israel had. And finally, Moses’ father-in-law came right out and said, “This isn’t good. You’re gonna wear out. It’s too heavy.” So Moses appointed some men to help him judge for Israel. But today sometimes what happens is the leaders try to delegate without having a real sense of what the project vision even is or what it’s going to really require. They just want to get things in motion so they start assigning people. But then the people they assign, they end up sitting around waiting for some real direction and clarity or centralization on things, because they technically don’t have the seniority or authority to make any final calls. And for things to really happen, those people have to step into responsibilities that might not actually even be in their role. And then the leaders, they go off to do their own work or they get pulled into a million other things, and then they’ll come back and say, “Hey, what’s the status on this?” or “Why is this taking so long to get done?” Well, it’s because people aren’t clear on what their job is or the reach they have anymore. So in a situation like that, as an employee, you have to have the guts to go to your manager or supervisor and say, “You know, it would really help me to know x”, or “I’m really uncomfortable with this right now, and I’d appreciate having x, y, and z in writing.” You know, just be upfront that you need more direction. If you can do that while still being really clear that you are all systems go for getting a solution in place, you'll come across as being a proactive team player. And from the employer side, it’s really important that you have a formal process and a team in place that can help you delegate the right way and at the right time, you know, kind of checks and balances so that you’re held accountable. It’s really important that you do not let emotions and the pressure of the clock drive, and that you really think about what you want and what the people below you are going to need on all levels to make that happen.
So those are really the 4 biggest communication trouble spots in my view. You’ve got ego, lack of balance, emotions driving, and then what I’ll call role confusion or poor delegation. And really, I think they all tie to the need for exceptional observation and situational awareness. The more you observe, the more aware you are of your context and what’s actually happening, the more you’ll be able to communicate with real respect on the things that really matter at the right time.
And by now, listeners, you know I always like to just close the show with a quick prayer to make sure we leave with a focus on God. So let’s pray.
Father in Heaven, as we think about good communication today, I pray that we will remember the absolute power and love and wisdom that’s always found in Your words. And I pray that today if we are upset or unsure or just need some guidance on what to do or say, we’ll come talk to You about it before we talk to anyone else so that Your power and love and wisdom can be spoken through us. Let us get into the scriptures and just know that they still have meaning. In Jesus’ name, I pray.
Well, as I try to be a good communicator I’m gonna know when it’s time to be quiet. On the next show, I’d love for you to join me as we talk gratitude. We’ve got Thanksgiving coming up real quick here in the United States, so I wanna talk to you about making sure your thanks in and out of the office is genuine. And if you haven’t already done so, go ahead and go to faithfulontheclock.captivate.fm and sign up for our email list. I wanna connect with each and every one of you and that’s the best way for me to keep everybody updated. So do not wait! Have a great two weeks, everybody, and be blessed.
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.