Woman speaking with colleagues

We’ve all received a head-scratching message before. Maybe an email seemed incomplete, which made next steps confusing. Perhaps the intent of a communication was difficult to grasp. And it’s feasible that a message was so far out of left field and lacked the context required to understand the point. Those sorts of interactions are challenging to manage in the course of an active day or week.

Then, there are those messages that pack a real punch – where people may end up feeling frustrated, isolated or demoralized. When those exchanges build up, it’s detrimental to employee engagement and company culture.

To reduce miscommunication headaches, I encourage Human Resources and Learning & Development teams to consider if five common gaps may be plaguing their organizations.

#1 – One-way Traffic

When one-way traffic is the norm, communication flows in primarily one direction, and in most cases, that direction is top-down. This command-and-control attitude can cause individuals to feel like they have very little agency over their roles or their direction. When employees lack influence, they often begin to disconnect.

While disengagement alone should be a concern for leaders, one-way traffic also diminishes innovation. Companies that do not actively solicit feedback and input from their people miss out on new ideas or learnings from the staff members who are doing the work and are hearing from customers most often.

Think about whether this challenge is negatively impacting the business by answering:

  • What aspects of culture encourage employee voice? What elements deter from it?
  • What channels and mechanisms are in place to gather staff inputs?
  • What initiatives and programs encourage interaction and feedback between levels and teams?

#2 – Information Inequity

Silos can arise when different groups have more insight into updates and changes than others. This challenge often occurs simply because individuals forget to connect with and inform one another. While often unintentional, the effect is still problematic.

When certain coworkers have more access to information than others, it impacts efficiency and productivity because not everyone is working from the same playbook. It can also cause rifts when employees feel discouraged and disempowered from making decisions or sharing their insights.

Reflect on the following questions to understand if information inequities could be showing up:

  • Does information access differ between in-office and remote staff, or between certain groups or levels? How so?
  • How are company and project updates disseminated across the organization, cross-functionally and within teams?
  • What expectations do managers have when it comes to information sharing with their direct reports and teams?

#3 – Relational Rifts

While it’s clearly important to accomplish tasks and complete projects at work, it’s also valuable to build positive relationships with colleagues. Team members who feel connected to their coworkers tend to build relational trust, which has been shown to boost innovation and team performance.

That means employees should not take a purely transaction approach to their interactions. If they do, people are likely to feel more isolated. It can also reduce collaboration and collective problem-solving as individuals become more accustomed to working on their own rather than engaging with colleagues.

Consider the following to identify potential relational rifts:

  • What are the drivers of relational trust? How are they being supported in the business?
  • How is team building perceived in the corporation?
  • What opportunities or initiatives are in place to foster a sense of belonging?

#4 – Feedback Fractures

Feedback is an incredible tool that can help team members grow and improve. However, when it’s not provided, or it is delivered poorly, employees may misunderstand where they are exceling and where they can do better. Those missed opportunities create a disconnect between the individual’s desired and actual work product.

It can also impact their long-term development. Having opportunities to grow is the number one driver of a great culture, and feedback is an effective way to amplify learning in employees’ day-to-day experiences. If staff are not able to give and receive constructive input, the work environment may suffer.

To analyze the state of feedback, respond to these questions:

  • In what ways do staff typically receive constructive input on their performance?
  • What norms, trainings or policies encourage regular growth conversations?
  • What skills are needed to give feedback? How are these talents being cultivated?

#5 – Intent-impact Gaps

I’ve written about intent-impact gaps before, and I bring them up again because they happen ALL THE TIME! The gap occurs when a person delivers a message with one intention and the recipient walks away with a different interpretation. The result can be as simple as a misunderstanding that impacts efficiency, or it can have much bigger ramifications.

For example, if colleagues feel like they have been slighted or dismissed, it can create conflict. Over time, that conflict can lead to distrust and unproductive working relationships that damage team dynamics and ultimately, an organization’s culture.

Use the prompts below to assess if intent-impact gaps may be appearing in the organization:

  • What trainings or resources are offered to help employees recognize and adapt to different behavioral and thinking styles?
  • How is conflict treated across the business?
  • What HR and L&D programs encourage empathy and active listening?

After responding to the questions above, certain communication gaps may rise to the top as potential obstacles to company success. To design next steps, download our recent guide: Bridge the Gap to a Better Workplace Culture. Inside are reflection questions to further diagnose challenges as well as recommendations to overcome these common organizational issues.

Close 5 common communication gaps to build a better company culture

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