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Paying a rich price for poor communication

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Earlier this year, I visited a close friend in Seattle.

Having been there many times, we usually select a different point of interest for side excursions. One year it was Cannon Beach, Ore.; another, Port Townsend, Wash.

This year, we went a bit farther to Vancouver in British Columbia.

Traveling for me always is a great learning experience, and this was no exception. During our four-hour train ride to Vancouver, we heard two co-worker passengers openly discussing issues in their workplace. Their voices became louder as their passion continued to grow, and those around them could hear every word.

The co-workers' conversation on how poor communication in their company was leading to a serious lack of trust among employees – they included. That lack of trust was causing many long-term and dedicated employees to look for new jobs – they included.

Could these have been your employees?

How would you feel if you knew your employees were losing trust in your company and looking to leave because of poor communication? What would you do?

As a business owner, many things were running through my head as I tried hard not to listen to this conversation. After all, I was on vacation.

At first, I thought maybe I could help them identify ways of respectfully approaching their supervisor and discussing the situation. But, of course, it wasn't my business or my place to join the conversation.

At the same time, I couldn't help thinking about how I would feel if I were the owner or leader of this company. What steps would I have taken to correct the situation?

One thing is for sure, the co-workers' company is not alone in the struggle with poor communication and lack of trust.

Poor communication resulting in a lack of trust has been a growing concern in businesses worldwide. When employees, customers and vendors are left guessing and assuming, it creates a huge gap in the relationship. And that gets filled with rumors, gossip and mistrust.

In most cases, trust can be repaired or rebuilt when consistent and measurable processes are put in place to improve communication. However, when poor communication is unaddressed, it causes great losses in efficiency, performance, lost time, revenue, profitability and trust.

Bottom line: Poor communication is very costly in any business, in any industry, in any part of the world.

Many surveys about communication have been done by respected companies such as Siemens International and SIS International Research. And their results seem to be consistent.

In most small and mid-size companies, the average time lost because of ineffective/poor communication is about 17.5 hours per week. That's 17.5 hours per person, per week.

Even if that sounds high, just a third of that average per week is painful for any size company.

Add the erosion of trust to the equation, and include the loss of current employees – plus the cost of recruiting and training new ones – and the number grows exponentially.

The upside of technology: The more advanced it is, the more efficiently we should be able to manufacture products, respond to internal and external customers, compete in the global economy, learn, teach and train, solve health and resource problems and so on.

The downside of technology: The more advanced it is, the more we seem to lose our basic interpersonal communication skills in the workplace, community and home environment.

With more methods of communication available, we still need to remind ourselves that clear, concise and frequent communication is a basic human need, ranking high on the list along with shelter, water and food.

Bonnie Sussman-Versace – business leader, entrepreneur and principal of Focused LLC in Wyomissing – is dedicated to developing leaders, enhancing cultures and improving performance for business growth and prosperity. She can be reached at bversace@focusedllc.net.

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