The High Price of Poor Communication

By Mary Verstraete

On my way to a consulting project,  I stepped into an elevator to hear two men intensely discussing their upcoming meeting. One said, “We will have to be careful in the conversation with her so that she will hear what we have to say. This has to be done in an appropriate manner. She has to listen at some point because there is too much at stake.” With his head against the elevator wall, the other person responded, “This is such a mess.”

An internal conversation was happening in my own mind. “I wish you knew about coaching skills. You could be talking about how to be effective in defusing the situation and be experiencing a higher level of confidence going into that meeting.”

Soon I heard, “People are so stupid, present company excluded,” acknowledged by a quick glance my way.

Even though a laugh was shared as I stepped off the elevator, this was not a good day for these two gentlemen! They were correct, however; appropriate manner can be everything in determining a positive outcome or a waste of time.

As I continued to reflect upon the conversation, I recognized that the situation the men were facing was a chronic symptom of poor and inadequate communication.

Let’s look at the findings of poor communication.

Did you know:

Poor communication comes in different forms:

  • Long, cryptic or rambling e-mails that are misunderstood or incorrectly perceived, resulting in hurt feelings, ill will, and inaction
  • Poor communication systems and processes that leaves people wondering what the proper steps are to resolve their challenges
  • Long, unproductive meetings without a clear purpose and reaching no conclusion. This equals poor productivity and wastes the collective time of everyone who attended the meeting
  • Not understanding a customer or the client needs, generating a lack of trust
  • Distracted supervisors who do not genuinely listen to their team, resulting in alienation and low morale
  • Not understanding different generations, communication styles and preferences, which lead to inappropriate statements

The results:

  • Squandering time because poor communication takes longer to process and untangle misunderstandings
  • Eroding trust and loyalty because of lack of clarity
  • Stressed relationships or even worse, destroyed because of hurtful or accusatory statements
  • Low morale because of insensitive, ineffective, and inadequate communication
  • Employee turnover where replacement costs can be as high as three times the person’s annual salary. Watson Wyatt study found that companies were 50% more likely to report turnover levels below the industry average. (2003/2004, 3 November. [Watson Wyatt & Company)

Of course these lists could be considerably longer . . . but are long enough to illustrate that:

Ineffective communication exacts a high toll for companies in lost relationships, business, profits, and productivity.

On a positive note, thoughtful communication delivers unparalleled benefits:

  • Trust
  • Employee engagement and commitment
  • Healthy morale
  • Talent retention
  • Loyalty

Engaged workers are the lifeblood of any organization. My bent toward leaders learning effective communication skills always comes to the forefront in my consulting work. The one question that resounds:

How can we develop lasting relationships, build a healthy business, and make a positive influence without communication excellence?

Being intentional in effective communication is central to achieving these elements. This reminds me of the George Bernard Shaw quote:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.