How to avoid barriers of communication in the workplace

Poor communication can cost companies millions each year. In today’s multi-channel, hybrid workplace there can be barriers of communication that affect open, clear and effective messaging.
Claire Whelan
5 min read
barriers of communication

Poor communication can cost companies millions each year. In today’s multi-channel, hybrid workplace there can be barriers of communication that affect open, clear and effective messaging. Employees have different communication styles, channel preferences and objectives which can be confusing. So what does poor communication look like? What are the main barriers to effective communication and how can organizations overcome these challenges?

What does poor communication look like in an organization?

Poor communication in organizations can create a negative working environment. It can contribute to a lack of motivation, low morale and staff turnover.

In the modern workplace, there are many ways for teams to collaborate. Some choose to work with instant messaging tools like Slack. Others choose email, video calls or project management tools. With so many options, there needs to be a clear communication strategy in place.  

As we shift to a hybrid working model, our reliance on digital channels has increased. Clear communication is now more important than ever. Organizations need to make sure that they communicate all messages and company updates clearly. This will create trust and engagement which will contribute to employee loyalty and advocacy.

What causes barriers of communication in the workplace?

Unclear messaging

The number one reason for a breakdown in communication is unclear messaging. Effective communication starts with using clear and simple language. Using long sentences, complex words and passive voice can result in confusion and ambiguity amongst staff.

Language and cultural differences

Companies today are more diverse than ever. Employees can come from different cultures and speak many different languages.  Employers need to make sure they communicate in a way that everyone understands. Remember to consider context, use of idioms and jargon which may not translate easily.

Different communication styles

Different communication styles in business can make it challenging to align employees to a single company tone of voice. There are four 4 communication styles in business. Analytical, intuitive, functional and personal. Understanding the differences between them will help you to adjust and align communication at your company.

Physical location

Many companies have opted for a remote working policy. This is due to increased productivity, a better work-life balance for employees amongst other factors. But in order for a work-from-home policy to be effective, companies need to make sure that their teams are set up for success. If they don’t have access to the right equipment or are not trained to use the required technology it may not be possible to carry out their responsibilities.  

Communication skills 

Employees have had to learn lots of new skills while working from home. Improving communications skills is just one of them. Different people have different levels of communication skills. Some prefer written and others prefer verbal. This can create barriers of communication causing frustration among employees.

Information overload 

Employees can suffer from communication fatigue if an organization communicates too frequently and with too much information. Vital messages can get lost in the overload of information and employees may stop paying attention to messages entirely.

Use of passive voice

Active vs passive voice is a common argument among communicators. Most agree that active voice is the better choice for any communication. Passive voice feels too academic. It’s too wordy, it lacks clarity, and it evades responsibility. For example, saying  “mistakes were made.” We don’t know who made the mistake. Using passive voice when communicating with employees will ultimately lead to confusion. If you’re unsure whether you’re using passive voice or not, try the “by zombies” test.  

What is the cost of communication barriers in the workplace?

At a fundamental level, communication barriers in the workplace cost organizations money. David Gross reports in The Cost of Poor Communications that large organizations lost $62.4 million each year as a result of poor communication.

It’s not only large organizations that are affected by poor communication. In an article called Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money, Debra Hamilton revealed that miscommunication can cost small companies around $420,000 each year.

Of course, that is just the hard bottom-line costs. We also need to consider how poor communication affects employee engagement and the customer experience. Loyal staff and customers are increasingly difficult to retain and can be costly to lose.

So how can organizations avoid communication barriers in the workplace? They need to develop a sound communication strategy that unites their workers, delights their customers, and has clear, effective messaging.

How to minimize communication barriers in the workplace

Create a style guide

style guide is a document that maps out the way you communicate across your business. From grammar and punctuation to voice and tone, a style guide comprises the guidance your content creators need to deliver clear, consistent, accurate, and relatable content.

Create clear and concise messaging

Ensure that you write all communications in clear, simple language, without jargon. In a multi-cultural workplace, not everyone will be as comfortable with the organization’s primary language. Take the time to weed out specific cultural or language references that could cause misunderstandings. This is where a style guide will help. It will provide guidance to keep the tone and messaging at a universally simple level.

Use the right channel for the right message 

Ensure that everyone in the organization knows where the different types of communications come from  For example, it should be clear that management will communicate all quarterly updates by email and instant messaging is for urgent communications. In the absence of any guidelines or plan, workers may miss critical communications, key messages, or deadlines.

Be consistent

Decide on your rules for tone of voice, jargon, grammar and use of passive voice. Commit them to a style guide and stick with it. Inconsistency will weaken your communications and create confusion. It’s also a good idea to develop a routine or cadence. For example, certain channels are for specific types of messages and key updates are sent out at the same time each month. This consistency breeds trust and your workforce knows what to expect and when.

Build a culture of trust and engagement 

Companies that don’t have remote working guidelines can sometimes find that there is a lack of engagement with their employees. With no set rules, some people can have their camera off during a Zoom call or frequently mute themselves. This can result in poor collaboration and a disengaged workforce.

Research presented in the Harvard Business Review suggests employees who feel fully informed and more engaged are 21% more productive.

SHRM research shows that when there is more trust in the workplace, employees are 23% more likely to offer ideas and solutions.

Building relationships is key to an effective communication strategy. Create an open and respectful workplace where feedback is encouraged, and workers know that their voice is being heard. Make sure that all workers are familiar with your organization’s vision and goals. Involve them, even in small ways, in company-wide decisions that will affect them. Today’s workers are more engaged if they feel like they are part of something bigger than just their day-to-day job.

How VT Writer can help organizations enhance their communications

Clarity is essential to clear communication and plain language underpins it.  VT Writer provides instant measurable and scalable feedback on all documents. It highlights long sentences, complex jargon and passive voice instantly. A handy feature measures readability and grade level in seconds. Which makes sure that all content is written in plain language and ensures consistency across all your communications.

Our reliance on digital communications is on the rise. Instant messaging is emerging as a key channel for business communications. But in an increasingly multi-cultural, hybrid workplace it is arguably more important than ever that communications are clear and consistent. The goal for any organization should be to reduce miscommunications across all channels. You can achieve this with a comprehensive style guide, which sets the tone for company-wide messaging. 


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