How to Overcome Breakdowns in Communication to Ensure Your Team Understands Your Message

“If one had to name a single all-purpose instrument of leadership, it would be communication.” —John Gardner, author


Communication may be our most important cultural tool, and it very well may be our most critical business, leadership, and managerial tool. Communication is how information is shared and received. Without it, we cannot enable, empower, encourage, or inspire people to become their best. Therefore, we need to be mindful of what triggers communication to break down among our team and learn what we need to do to avoid these common pitfalls. Some common barriers and breakdowns in communication include:

  • Trying to communicate too much information at one time
  • 100% reliance on emails
  • Boring or ineffective meetings
  • Not enough pertinent or compelling information is being shared
  • An unwillingness to listen
  • No check for understanding

Peter Drucker, a business consultant, once accurately noted: “Communication is in the mind of the recipient. You’re just making noise if the other person does not understand you.” There is a common misconception among leaders and supervisors that as soon as they get a title or a position of influence or power, they immediately become a good leader and an effective communicator. When they talk, they assume people listen. And when they ask for something, people oblige. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The reality is that when the supervisor communicates, what is being said is often not understood.

When you are explaining why something is important and what is expected, you must ensure that you are understood. The goal of effective communication, for any leader, is to achieve understanding. When it comes to effective communication, the burden is on the communicator, not the recipient, to ensure the message is clear and understandable. As supervisors and leaders, you deliver important information that is vital to your team’s success. It is your responsibility to make certain everyone on your team hears and understands your messages.

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they are significantly different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” —Sidney Harris, American journalist

Communicating Effectively When Speaking

You need to be aware of how you verbally communicate your messages, especially being mindful of your tone and body language. Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Communication suggests that body language communicates 55% of our message or how we are feeling. 38% of our message comes from our tone of voice, while only 7% comes from the actual words we use. Be aware and cognizant of your body language when speaking. Make sure you’re presenting well, making eye contact, smiling, and projecting your voice confidently. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind to communicate effectively when speaking:

  • Keep it simple and get to the point. The fewer words, the better
  • Ensure the timing and environment are appropriate for listening
  • Check for understanding; ask to have the message explained back to you
  • Believe in what you’re saying. If you don’t believe in it, don’t say it. Far too often, leaders communicate with a lack of conviction, or their body language and facial expressions contradict what they are saying

Remember, your employees watch your every move. When you communicate, they will be looking for clues on whether you believe in what you are saying or writing. Your actions speak louder than words.

Communicating Effectively When Writing Emails and Memos

With our modern technology, it’s easier than ever to make sure our written messages are grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. Also, written messages last forever. Therefore, we should take our time and pay careful attention to how we write our messages. So, avoid writing and sending email messages hastily. Your credibility and the extent to which your message will be understood are at stake. Here are some guidelines for communicating effectively via emails:

  • Always include a clearly defined subject line
  • Avoid using the “reply all” function unless it’s absolutely necessary
  • Confirm you have the correct email addresses
  • Avoid using all caps as it can be misunderstood off-putting, abrasive, or harsh communication
  • Avoid using email to share confidential or sensitive information
  • Reply promptly within 24 hours whenever possible

The best communicators in the world didn’t become great overnight. They practiced, over and over again, until they mastered the art and science of effective communication. Consider these practices and tactics and incorporate them into your daily communications with your team. You’ll ensure everyone understands your message, and you’ll develop some great relationships along the way.

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