The 5 Hurdles to Clear to Improve Corporate Communication

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What’s the biggest hidden source of stress, wasted time, and confusion in business? Poor communication. This is why it’s always a good investment to upskill and learn how to improve corporate communication on a regular basis. 

Business communication is any kind of transfer of information within a company, including written and verbal. Communication is how we create and grow relationships, and relationships are how you thrive in business. 

It’s fair to say that 80% of friction in the workplace comes from miscommunication. (The other 20% usually comes because you’ve hired the wrong person. We can help with that too.)

Communication is the process of duplicating an image or idea in the mind of another. Successfully done, you create total understanding. 

It’s a two way process – you communicate, the other person listens, then your task is to find out what they actually understood. (Which may be different from what you were trying to communicate.) 

It’s simple in theory. In reality, it’s an art that only improves with deliberate practice. 

Most people who think they’re ‘above average’ communicators simply haven’t gone deeper to find out what images they’re creating in the minds of others. This kind of ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s the root of unnecessary stress and wasted energy at work. 

Obstacles to Improving Corporate Communication

Hurdle #1: Underlying Assumptions

The first obstacle to good internal communications in your company are invisible assumptions. This is when you assume conditions to be true (that aren’t) or that the person you’re talking to knows something (they don’t) or that you both have the same goal (not always the case.) 

One classic example of invisible assumptions is the ‘too stupid to own a computer’ customer service conversation. It’s become a legend in the computer industry because all too often assumptions are the spanner that’s caused the misunderstanding.

If you want to be clearly understood, first surface any underlying assumptions held by you or the person you’re talking to. Many disagreements happen because people are not even talking about the same thing (though they may think they are.)

So here are some tools for uncovering assumptions:

  • Ask open ended questions. The person answering will fill in detail themselves, and this is an excellent way to discover what their assumptions are. A useful open-ended question to start with is: “What do you understand when I talk about [X]?” 
  • Use a neutral and natural tone when asking questions. This helps people to answer in a calm and objective way
  • Go back to first principles – are you even talking about the same thing?  

Here’s an example of communication breaking down due to underlying assumptions: 

A business owner talks about their business, and the person listening assumes they’re talking about a brick & mortar business, when they actually own an online ecommerce business. 

This can lead to many misunderstandings about basic terms such as ‘storefront,’ ‘inventory,’ ‘advertising,’ and ‘staff.’ 

The only way to clear up these misunderstandings is to go back to first principles. With open ended questions, discover what assumptions have been invisibly steering the conversation off the rails. 

Hurdle #2: Avoiding hurting someone’s feelings

Another major reason for communication breakdowns in the workplace is the idea that critiquing someone on inadequate work or mistakes will ‘hurt their feelings’ and should be avoided. 

Here’s the truth: your real friends will tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. 

If you avoid telling people things that may upset them, you’re gaining short term comfort. But you’re losing a long term relationship founded on honesty and transparency. This will ultimately hurt the person far more. 

No one learns if they don’t know where they’re falling short. Improving corporate communication means you’re willing to be uncomfortable in the short term, and have difficult conversations in order to create long term trust. 

Hurdle #3 Unintended Tone

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ — Maya Angelou 

On the surface, the quote above seems to run contrary to Hurdle #2 – avoiding hurting people’s feelings. Go a level deeper, though, and you’ll find they’re totally in alignment. 

Many people are uncomfortable when they’re giving feedback they think may upset someone. This leads to them using unintended tone in their communication. They may sound or seem more critical or defensive than they intended to, triggering a similar response in the other person. 

A large part of the emotional response to feedback comes from the tone the person uses. Someone can say ‘this work needs improvement,’ and their tone can convey a huge range of emotions. They can sound encouraging, disappointed, angry, optimistic — all using exactly the words.  

When you give honest feedback in a calm, natural tone, it’s far easier to communicate your intention to support the person you’re giving the feedback to. 

Of course, sometimes people are going to be upset no matter what you say, or how you say it. This is beyond your control, however a neutral tone goes a long way to giving constructive criticism. 

Hurdle #4: Written Communication has Different Rules

More than ever before, corporate communication means written communication. Whether it’s via email, chat, or text message, much of what we say is written. 

The issue is that each mode transferring information requires different communication styles, and therefore written communication has different rules. It’s much easier to misunderstand a written note about emotions, because you don’t have body language or tone to deliver subtlety. Something can come across as harsh or brusque when you weren’t intending it. You don’t have the chance for a rapid back-and-forth conversation to make sure the person understands your meaning. (And vice versa.)

Here’s the criteria for written vs. verbal: it’s better to talk with someone face to face when you’re discussing something that’s emotionally charged. But if you’re wanting to convey a list of facts, written communication is the better choice

Hurdle #5: Information Overwhelm

Endless email chains, 45 minute meetings that could be summed up in a 3 sentence email, five different chat channels to keep up with — corporate communication can be overwhelming. 

Many business people nowadays feel like it takes half a morning just to catch up with where each project is at, let alone make meaningful progress. 

Here are some ways to prevent overwhelm in your communication: 

  • Convey just 2-3 facts per email
  • If you have questions, again, limit yourself to 2-3 questions per email
  • Read your written communications before you send them. Do they make sense?
    If you’re referring to ‘it,’ or ‘that thing’ – will people actually know what you mean? Again, invisible assumptions cause confusion
  • If you’re asking a question, propose an answer if you can. Then the respondee can either go ‘yes, that’s fine, do that,’ or propose an alternative. Whenever communicating, your aim is to cut out unnecessary steps. 

In Summary…

Being an effective corporate communicator is a skill that will help you for the rest of your life. Great communicators have great relationships, build strong teams, have good employee engagement, are effective at sales, and know how to handle conflict productively.

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