Combat communication problems

Avoid this productivity killer

We are continuing to work through the top 11 productivity killers we recently uncovered. Moving down the list to No.2, it’s time to banish communication problems once and for all.

Communication is a two-way street. When interactions don’t quite work it can be nothing short of hilarious – think of The Two Ronnies’ ‘fork handles’ or Basil Fawlty’s troubles with the audibly challenged Mrs Richards – but it’s not so funny in the workplace.

“There have been many times where a lack of communication can hinder progress, whether that is from stakeholders when reviewing requirements or from management when passing down tasks or information that is required to complete work and move forward. Incorrect or miscommunication is also another part of the above that can lead to many disruptions to productivity.”

– Craig, Director, Telecoms company

In addition, finding the perfect balance between getting your message across and bombarding your co-workers with information overload is tricky. It’s a fine line, but if done correctly, the cogs of the workflow machine keep on turning. If the line is crossed, however, productivity is quickly diminished and employees find themselves doing unnecessary tasks or work that is just plain wrong.

86% of employees blame ineffective communication or lack of collaboration for workplace failures, according to a survey by leadership development firm, Fierce.

Halley Bock, the chief executive of Fierce says: “Learning to communicate effectively takes time and practice. Like any skill, communication must be carefully honed.”

We all communicate every single day, in many different forms – it’s a habit. And habits can be broken, changed and improved for the better.

7 ways to put an end to communication problems

At TallyPro we want productivity killers to become a thing of the past, so here are seven ways to improve communication so that time isn’t wasted and output flourishes.

1. Listen!

But you’re not the problem, right? Wrong. We’re all guilty of nodding along and giving the occasional “mmhmm” filler while we think about what’s for dinner later.

Honing our listening skills is more challenging than it may seem and requires you to be actively engaged.

Fraser Burt, a sales consultant, recommended a method for improving your listening skills. He said to think of each conversation as a set of facts that you will be tested on at the end. Take in the information and keep a checklist of points in your mind that the person makes.

Get into the habit of responding to the person with at least a couple of key things they said to show them that you listened while also giving you the chance to double check you understood correctly.

2. Communicate with purpose

We’ve touched on listening, but when it comes to you needing to get your message across, there are several ways to communicate effectively. Your words are only a small part of relating to your employees.

More emphasis needs to be placed on learning how to control body language and tonality, as they contribute heavily toward successful communication.

Eye contact is the key. It indicates that both parties are focused and engaged in the conversation at hand. How frustrating is it to try and have a conversation with someone who is either looking down at his or her phone or browsing the office to see what else is going on?

It’s blatantly obvious that something from that conversation will get lost in the ether.

Other important factors to consider are maintaining a relaxed stance and facial expression with your arms uncrossed, as this can seem defensive. Don’t forget to smile (when appropriate) and nod along to affirm that you are listening.

Simple changes can make all the difference. We all have a part to play in avoiding communication problems in the office, so start with the simple stuff that you can do as an individual. Who knows, maybe it will catch on…

3. Use multiple lines of communication

Another contributor to our top 11 productivity killers, Debbie, described how things can become complicated with contrasting ideas from different people.

“Shifting goalposts due to a lack of communication is a real frustration. For example, developing and building a report based on requirements from one person, only to have another person then ask for the report to be stopped or changed because they feel it has no worth. This results in wasted development time and demoralisation at spending time creating something only for someone else to overrule it, usually without talking to you first and making the decision based on incorrect or assumed information.”

– Debbie, Engagement Officer, Charity Sector

Sales analyst Fraser says that after a meeting, he will often write the key points in an email to send out so that people can have it in writing, while also having received the information in person. He also suggested that, if he thinks it is necessary, later in the day or week following the meeting, he will phone key people to double check that the goal or message is clear.

We all process information and learn in different ways. Using several methods to communicate the same message is catering to everyone – just don’t become a stuck record or you risk becoming white noise.

4. Check yourself

We’ve all been there in our social lives: a miscommunication causes an unnecessary argument. If you don’t find a way to remove the emotional side of things, you could over-react, or, on the other end of the spectrum, seem utterly unimpressed.

In the workplace, reactions like this can have huge ramifications.

Amongst leading to poor productivity, it could lead to demotivated and disgruntled employees and worst case – lawsuits.

When a new challenge arises, if you get the chance take stock before reacting, then when you address the situation make sure that those on the receiving end haven’t taken it the wrong way. While your intentions may be good, everyone experiences situations within their own emotional context. Get clarification that you are on the same page with a simple phrase like: “How do you feel about the issues we’ve talked about?”

5. Ask questions and create a receptive atmosphere

99% of employees prefer a workplace in which people identify and discuss issues truthfully and effectively (Fierce), yet less than half of the people that took part in the Fierce survey said their organisation’s tendency is to do just that.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there – but it doesn’t mean we can’t foster an open environment in the workplace where everyone from the chief executive to the new intern can feel comfortable enough to make his or her voice heard.

Many aspects of communicating effectively comes into this and it needs to include everyone in the office for it to be successful – listening, speaking to people with respect, asking questions, checking in and allowing people those one-on-one moments to share their thoughts.

One method could involve adding an anonymous suggestion box or email chain to allow people to begin to feel comfortable in making suggestions without the fear of being trampled or disrespected. From there, if something important crops up, sit down with your colleagues to discuss it and hear other people’s thoughts.

It shows your employees that you are listening to their needs and that you respect their opinions as an essential member of the organisation.

90% of employees think that decision-makers should seek out other perspectives before making a final decision about the company, with approximately 40% of those feeling as though leaders and decision-makers consistently fail to do so.

6. Engage your employees

TallyPro’s No.1 productivity killer keeps cropping up: unnecessary meetings. The never-ending meetings we seem to find ourselves in are supposed to be useful tools to get everyone on the same page. But as we discovered, this is often where communication is actually at its worst!

Typically, in meetings, people aren’t engaged and, frankly, knowing that they are stuck for an hour listening to one person waffle on doesn’t exactly inspire good listening skills.

It’s probable that those in attendance will not remember everything that was shared in a meeting and we need to fix that. But how can we make people really listen and understand what we’re trying to say?

People want and need to be fully engaged for a message to resonate. Try a stand-up meeting and get everyone moving. Maybe get people to change positions in the huddle based on their role in the project, or maybe ask staff to use parts of their body to highlight how they feel about an issue. For example, “stand-up/sit-down if you agree with X.” Or “put one hand up if you’re happy with the course of action.”

Avoid letting people slump down into a chair and disappear into the background, get every person there involved in some way – it will make a world of difference.

7. Stop micromanaging – trust your staff

There is nothing that kills productivity more than the boss trying to control every single aspect of a project. You hired these people – let them do their job!

Communication problems can often lead to bosses choosing to do work themselves that could easily be delegated. Improve communication skills and tasks can be handled more efficiently.

Communicate exactly what needs to be done beforehand, and as mentioned above, disseminate the information in several different forms. Then leave the employee to it. To stay updated, arrange weekly status update meetings or encourage regular progress emails.

It’s easy to waste time when working in a group or team, as more than 97% of those surveyed by Fierce believe the lack of alignment within a team has a direct impact on the outcome of any given task or project.

If you’re worried about your staff spending too much time on one aspect of a project or want to really optimise productivity without micromanaging you should consider time tracking software such as TallyPro. It’s the perfect tool for addressing concerns like these whilst also helping you to avoid causing any unnecessary upset.