What are the barriers to good communication in the workplace? Some of these barriers are psychological, others are emotional, and some physical.
Top nine barriers to effective workplace communication
- Inattention during conversations
University Professor and author, Warren Bennis, identified the 'management of attention' as one of the core competencies of highly successful leaders.
Three things help with the management of attention:
- Reduce manageable distractions. Multi-tasking is not efficient. Shifting from one activity to the next can give the illusion of efficiency. But you are short changing yourself on each activity.
- Focus on one conversation at a time. If the conversation is worth having, it is worth your complete undivided attention.
- Identify your most attentive time of the day. Important conversations ought to take place in high energy times. Ask yourself: How present am I in this conversation?
- Restricted information channels
You’ll get told "on a need to know basis” is a common refrain from the traditional manager. This is based on the assumption that employees can’t be trusted with confidential information. The assumption is that managers can be trusted, but employees can’t. This is erroneous. Granted, there are more employees than managers, but the idea of not communicating because of a lack of trust is a barrier to genuine, open dialogue. It is a two-way street too: Employees have to be willing to share bad news to managers too.
- Lack of feedback
Australian managers are worst in the world at giving timely, relevant, and balanced feedback. Feedback ought to be a dialogue, not a monologue.
- A culture of not asking questions
Managers coming from a technical background have been trained to answer questions, not ask them. But leaders are in the business of asking questions, not answering them.
- Too much formality
Conversations in the boss's office are not necessarily going to be the best conversations. In paramilitary organisations, based on positional power, conversations can be accompanied by lots of paperwork and red tape. This stifles conversation. The best conversations occur around the watercooler, in the hallways, in the car driving back from a client or customer meeting.
- Over-reliance on email
The average person spends 2.5 hours a day on email. What would those 2.5 hours be spend doing before email was invented? Conversation? Having a conversation via email is not a real conversation. It's asynchronous; that is, the sending and receiving doesn’t happen at the same time. Ask yourself before firing off an email: Would this be best discussed in person or via the telephone?
- Lack of role models
If senior managers aren't communicating openly and regularly, this sends a signal across the organisation to follow suit. This is one of biggest cultural barriers.
- Fear of emotion
“I don’t want to open a can of worms” or “I'll let sleeping dogs lie” are common statements in workplaces everywhere. Avoiding conversations on the basis that they may engender some emotion won't make the issue go away.
- Physical office layout
There are two issues with physical layout: proximity and layout. Proximity refers to the relative physical distance between people. Layout refers to the way the office is configured. The further someone is from the centre of the action, the more likely they are to be less involved and engaged in the daily operations.
We've found that the move to open office plans does encourage open communication. But because people can be heard, due to the lack of privacy, there are less meaningful interactions. Managers often say to me “I have an open door policy”; I feel like saying, “Yes, but do you have an open mind?”
Which of these barriers are holding you back?