Failure teaches lessons. Talking about the gains and successes when leadership uses intentional communication techniques in a workforce is fun. However, much can be learned from looking at communication failures.
Miscommunication on display
I wish you could have been with me at a struggling local transportation firm. Talking first with the head of HR and then the CFO, I asked each what metric they used to predict success. “Longevity at the job. We keep people for their entire career,” said the HR manager.
The CFO differed. “Productivity. We may have employees for a long time, but they’re low energy and disengaged.”
To quote the prison guard in “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Lack of clarity leads to disconnects
When intentional communication fails between a leader and their team, the first symptom is usually a disconnect between the organization’s goals and each person’s objectives and actions. For example, let’s assume the leader fails to clearly and intentionally communicate expectations to their team. As a result, the team will likely have a different understanding of what they need to achieve, leading to confusion, misalignment, missed deadlines or bad outcomes.
For another example, if a leader in a software company tells their team to prioritize speedy delivery of their products, the unintentional result may have the team interpret this as a mandate to sacrifice quality in the process. In that case, with output not meeting the desired quality standards, the manager and the client will end up dissatisfied with the team’s performance. Simply put, poor communication will usually lead to a breakdown in trust and collaboration.
Lessons learned: Here are six common reasons intentional communication can fail:
1. Lack of clarity. If the message being communicated is unclear or the intent behind the communication is ambiguous, it can be difficult for the receiver to understand the message and act accordingly.
2. Misunderstandings. Misunderstandings can arise when the sender and receiver interpret the same message differently. For example, if the sender is using technical jargon or a language unfamiliar to the receiver, it can lead to confusion and misunderstandings.
3. Poor timing. Communication can also fail if the timing is not right. For example, if the receiver is distracted or not in the right frame of mind to receive the message, it may not be accepted as intended.
4. Lack of trust. Communication can be undermined if there is a lack of trust between the sender and receiver. The message may not be received as intended if the receiver perceives the sender as untrustworthy or not credible.
5. Emotional barriers. Emotional barriers like fear, anxiety and anger can interfere with effective communication. If the receiver is experiencing strong emotions, they may not be able to receive or interpret the message correctly.
6. Cultural differences. Cultural differences can also impact communication. If the sender and receiver are from different cultures, they may have different communication styles and expectations, which can lead to misunderstandings.
What should leaders do?
What is the punchline? Be clear, concise, intentional and transparent in your communication.
You should also ensure that the receiver receives and understands the message. Listening actively and seeking feedback are essential to confirm that the message has been accepted as intended. Building trust, being aware of cultural differences and selecting the right timing and medium of communication can also help enhance intentional communications’ effectiveness.
Leaders must communicate clearly and effectively, ensure that their team members understand their expectations and encourage open communication to address any misunderstandings promptly. By doing so, they can build a collaborative and cohesive team, foster a culture of trust and transparency, and ultimately achieve better results.