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4 ways to inadvertently sabotage communication

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 5 min read

Blue person in silhouette with red question markIn my last blog post, I wrote about some of the challenges associated with communicating in organisations.  In organisations of all sizes –from mid-sized to multinational—ensuring the right people have access to the right information at the right time is somewhat of a challenge.  In fact, it’s so easy for teams and organisations fall into patterns that are almost guaranteed to cause communication difficulties, frustration and information overload.  It’s almost like the communication channels have been sabotaged…


In fact, sometimes, our colleagues and stakeholders may inadvertently sabotage communication.  I’m sure they don’t do this deliberately, but there are some common pitfalls that can seriously hurt the ability for teams to communicate effectively.   Four pitfalls are listed below. These certainly aren’t the only pitfalls, and I’m sure they won’t be a surprise to you.  Yet they are four of the most important, and they occur time and time again.   If you see these warning signs, it might be time to take some action…


Common pitfalls:


1. Hide behind e-mail:  There is no doubt that e-mail can be a productive communication tool.  However, in some organisations it seems to be becoming the only way that some colleagues communicate with each other.  This can lead to situations where people “hide” behind e-mail; they will raise a concern, will ignore the other party’s point of view and refuse to discuss things in person or by phone.  An e-mail snowball ensues, and everyone’s time is wasted!   E-mail is an extremely thin medium for communication.  There’s no vocal tone, no body language, and it’s much harder to build rapport.  Whilst e-mail certainly has its place, it can be dangerous when over-used…  Solution: Encourage use of the highest bandwidth communication that is practical: Face-to-face “real world” meetings, video-conferencing and telephone are better than e-mail for the most complex issues. 


2. Send that 10,000 page report or document:  I hazard a guess we’re all guilty of this.  We carry out extensive research.  Or perhaps we carry out a business analysis assignment and write a terrifically in-depth and detailed document.  Perhaps we’ve been analysing the requirements for a new project and we send over a whopping textural specification.    In reality, very few stakeholders value reports by weight.  The trick is to write just enough… and that’s a challenge I’m sure we’ve all grappled with!  By really thinking about the needs of the document consumers, we can edit it down, so it provides them even better value.   Solution: Providing a concise, pertinent document that covers the essential information, linking out to appendices is often better.  Or perhaps sending out sections of the document to stakeholders who genuinely need to read/review parts of it.


3. Over-rely on text:  The adage goes that a “picture is worth 1,000 words”.   Often using a mixture of text, models and data visualization can help create a much better shared understanding.  Simply relying on text can lead to numerous misunderstandings.   Throw in international differences, and words can have totally different meanings even amongst countries that speak the same language.

Solution: Use rich pictures, models and data visualization as well as text. If you’re crunching data, a good analytics capability will help.


4. Send and forget:  I’m sure we’ve all worked with someone who does this. They send a long, rambling memo, letter or report and then think “right, I’m done. I’ve communicated. Time for lunch….”.   Communication should be a feedback loop.  If information is sent to a recipient, how can we be sure they’ve understood it?  How we know they even wanted it?  Perhaps they are just filing it away—I’m sure we’ve all received reports and memos that we just ‘file’ or ‘delete’ as they aren’t relevant to us.   Solution: Ask recipients whether they actually want or need the information we’re sending.  Ensure its meeting their needs.


I hazard a guess that the pitfalls above and the related suggestions won’t be new to you.  However, I also suspect that you will have seen them occur in organisations that you have worked with and for.  It’s worth calling out these pitfalls, and helping our teams and organisations to have a better chance of communicating well.


Good luck!

In which ways have you seen communication be sabotaged?  I’d love to hear your views and insight, so please keep the conversation going add a comment below. And if you like my blog, don’t forget to subscribe!


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions

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