Poor Communication in the Workplace: Causes & Solutions

Updated February 17, 2017
employer having poor communication in the workplace
    employer having poor communication in the workplace
    valentinrussanov / E+ / Getty Images

You’ve probably experienced the all-too-common problem of a misunderstanding at your job. It’s important to identify the source of a communication error before it causes anxiety and mistrust among employees or even negatively affects a company’s success. However, identifying poor communication is only the beginning of solving the problem. Discover how to find the causes of poor communication in the workplace and the most effective ways to solve them.

Causes of Poor Communication in the Workplace

The workplace is like any other community in the world: it’s full of people. Whether you work on computer programs, speak face-to-face with customers, or present in front of wealthy investors, the lines of communication must be open, or the system will fail. Here are some common causes of poor communication in the workplace.


Unclear Objectives

Most modern companies operate from a top-down structure. The executive team makes big-picture decisions, the management team determines how they should carry those decisions out, and the employees do the work to meet management’s objectives. But what happens when the objectives aren’t clear?

When management doesn’t communicate their objectives, whether they’re day-to-day or long-term goals, their team can’t meet their expectations. This can lead to frustration in both the employee team and the management team, who must now communicate to their supervisors that goals have not been fulfilled.

Lack of Empowerment

Employees who are empowered aren’t afraid to speak up about obstacles or setbacks. They know management will hear them, their issues will be addressed, and no negative consequences will occur as a result of their speaking up.

However, in workplaces where employees don’t feel empowered, they are less likely to communicate about potential problems. Employees who fear for their jobs may prefer for a project to fail than to speak up and risk termination. They also may not see the point in speaking up if they have been ignored by management in the past.


Limited Collaboration

Teams work better when they can collaborate on projects and share ideas. They have ownership in the process and can feel proud of the project they created. But in a workplace that prefers to have executives and managers call the shots, employees may not be as inclined to collaborate. When they don’t care about a project as much, they tend to communicate poorly or not at all.

Lack of Professionalism

Many workplace misunderstandings come from mixing personal and professional life. Teams often become so comfortable with each other that they become comfortable talking about more personal issues that would normally be appropriate at work. They also might text or call each other rather than use the company’s official communication channels. Blurring the lines between employees and friends can erode a company’s professional etiquette and communication.


Poor Writing Skills

Your English teacher was telling you the truth when she said you’d need to know how to write a clear, understandable paper. Many communication errors in the workplace stem from poor writing, imprecise language, or an unclear tone. Employees who don’t have strong writing skills aren’t likely to express themselves well in an email or office memo.

Technological Discomfort

The modern workplace has gone through many technological changes in the last half-century. Some hires are often quick to adapt to changing systems, while other employees may be reluctant to change how they work. They miss important messages and operate with an improper amount of information because they’re uncomfortable with the work process itself.


Poor Management

Sometimes the cause is as simple as a hiring issue. Employees who move up the ranks to managers, or even managers who come from outside the company, may not be equipped to handle the needs of a busy department. They may micromanage their team, leading to resentment and lack of communication, or back off too much, which leaves the team with an absence of leadership.

Solutions for Poor Communication in the Workplace

As you probably already know, poor communication in the workplace is only a symptom of a bigger problem. Now that you know some of the possible causes for communication missteps, think about possible solutions for each of these problems. These solutions are helpful for any workplace communication problems and will hopefully increase productivity, collaboration, and morale.

employees having good workplace communication
    employees having good workplace communication
    Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Make Objectives Clear

Great communication starts from the top. When workplace objectives are clear, fair, and understandable, everyone wants to be on board. Employees who understand what’s expected of them on a daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly basis are more productive and happier at their jobs. Readdress these objectives at staff meetings and performance reviews to keep the conversation going.

Empower Employees

Employees want to feel like they have a say in their own future. Empower them to speak up about what they see in their jobs that prevents them from being more productive. The most important part of this step is to listen to what they say and act on it.

Encourage Collaboration

A collaborative workplace is a communicative workplace. Teams who regularly collaborate are more likely to communicate about other issues, as well. But don’t stop at department teams – mix up your employee groups for different collaborative projects. It’s an effective way to get employees out of their silos and into great communication patterns.


Reinforce Professional Etiquette

No one says that employees shouldn’t be friends. But at the workplace, it’s important to ensure professional etiquette is clear and fair. Making professional expectations clear whenever possible reinforces that employees use proper communication channels. It also eliminates unnecessary workplace drama and puts everyone on the same page.

Train Employees in Professional Writing

Business writing is a specific skill that may be overlooked in college and graduate programs. Rather than decipher unclear emails all day, take a day to host a professional writing workshop for all employees. Providing this training not only ensures that staff writing will improve, it helps to reestablish your objectives for clear and precise communication everywhere in the workplace.


Make a Technological Plan

Decide how you want your employees to communicate with you and with each other. If your company uses email for official communication, make sure everyone knows how to use it. If you’re bringing in a brand new messaging system, don’t assume that everyone is willing to adapt to it immediately. And if you notice that some employees aren’t as active in technological channels, try to engage with them to make sure their voice is still heard.

Provide Regular Management Training

Management isn’t an easy skill to pick up just because someone gets promoted. Managing a team involves careful attention and nuance, strong communication skills, and an ability to understand what an employee needs to get their job done. Providing regular management training ensures that a management team is up-to-date on the most effective communication methods possible, and that poor communication caused by management is addressed quickly.


Keeping Workplace Communication Clear

Understanding a workplace culture and its potential for communication problems can help you avoid a lot of misunderstandings. Using clear, effective writing is also an important aspect of improving workplace communication. See how many corporate buzzwords you recognize from your job – and try to use more precise language in the future.