All businesses have communication challenges. Indeed, most people readily admit that communication at their place of work needs improvement. But business communication – especially written communication – is a hard thing to define, and an even harder thing to measure.
What makes it effective? What makes it ineffective? How do you assess your own team’s writing and communication skills? And then finally, how do you fix what’s broken?
All are critical questions. But to answer them, you must first understand what causes poor communication in the first place.
What Causes Poor Business Communication?
These causes are universal and affect all of us regardless of education, intelligence or corporate position:
- Academic modeling. People tend to write the way they were taught in school. Yet, writing a term paper, short story or book report is not like writing a business document such as an email, meeting minute, proposal, procedure or technical report.
- Composition at the keyboard. Most people type as they think through their document. But a good thinking process is rarely a good reporting process for business documents. Readers do not want to go on the writer’s journey of discovery. This rambling process, no matter how logical, makes for an unreadable document. Yet, this is the writing process of the masses.
These two causes create most of the communication-related problems businesses have – but as we mentioned above, they’re hard to identify. So, what signs should your team look for?
5 Signs of Poor Business Communication
1. Multiple Rewrites
Rewrites happen when messages are unclear. This is because an unclear message leaves its reader with unanswered questions. This forces the original sender to rewrite the message in a clearer way.
Your business can’t afford to waste valuable time sending or reading the same emails trying to find the hidden message. Be clear the first time around and save your team time and your company money.
2. Long Email Chains
We’ve all suffered through long email chains. Reading many emails written by different people over an extended period of time, and with everything linked together in one string, is frustrating and ineffective.
The primary cause? Once again, composition at the keyboard!
When each participant in an email chain writes as they think, without giving thought to how their readers think, the result is demoralizing. It also leads to the next three problems.
3. Work Not Getting Done
Work not getting done is typically caused by not having a clear deadline.
If the reader does not have a deadline, they will naturally push off your request and do something that does have a deadline. As a result, your email gets buried in all the other emails in the receiver’s inbox – and the task never gets done.
4. Low-Quality or Incorrect Work Product
Another sign of poor communication is incorrect, low-quality work.
This happens when the reader did not understand their task (likely due to an unclear message or confusing email chain) – and then failed to ask the right follow-up questions. Low-quality work is sometimes the hardest sign to identify because it involves a failure on behalf of both sender and receiver.
5. Misaligned Priorities
In your business, you likely interact with people who have different roles and responsibilities and, thus, different priorities. If you can’t communicate with these people, tasks get lost and work either slows down or doesn’t get done. This magnifies all of the above problems – rewrites, email chains, incomplete, low quality work – and in the process leads to more poor communication.
Do any of the above signs of poor business communication resonate with you or your team? If so, here’s a quick checklist you can use to identify and correct some of your bad habits:
- Don’t bury action items in narrative, academic paragraphs
- Don’t ramble, be clear and to the point
- Don’t begin emails with the hallmark phrases of rambling prose, such as:
- “Enclosed please find….”
- “The purpose of this email is to….”
- “Per your email….”
- “In confirmation of our phone call.…”
- Don’t end emails with an indirect, unclear exit strategy, such as:
- “Your prompt attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.”
- “Please respond at your earliest convenience.”
- “Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”
- “If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.”
- Don’t use formal language when natural language will work, such as:
- Utilize vs. use
- Commence vs. start
- Aforementioned vs. previous or prior
- Implement vs. begin
Every business wants more effective communication. But getting there starts with recognizing ineffective communication first. Hopefully, you’re now better prepared to spot the signs so you can start making improvements.
The easiest and quickest way to do this is by signing your team up for our online course, Writing to Get Things Done® (WGTD). Try it for free, or give us a call to add WGTD to your Leadership Development and onboarding curriculum.