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Top 10 Signs Your Team Communication Is Weak

All forms of communications have their weaknesses and should be utilized appropriately and within its limitations. Use the right tools for the job. All modes of communication operate on assumptions. We assume the person we’re talking to understands our language and/or industry jargon. We assume the other person will understand our tone.

However, have you stopped to consider the huge level of subjective “interpretation” required to reach an understanding? If you don’t know what I mean, respond to a loved one’s next text message with “ok.” That’s an “o” and a “k” followed by a period. For some reason, many, many people find this to be confrontational. Now don’t even get me started on capitalizing “OK” period.

All communication is as imperfect as the receiver of the communication. It is your job as the communicator to ensure clarity of your message. The following are the ten things every team leader should look out for…

10 Signs Your Team Communication Is Weak

1. You Speak In Absolutes

Refusing to see alternate sides of a situation, project, or conversation is akin to sticking your head in the sand. It is not leadership, and it’s not decisiveness. By eliminating intelligent communication, you just might be setting yourself up for failure. This not to say that you need belabor every possible alternative, but you need enough information to know you’re making a solid decision.

Understanding alternate views and angles then deciding upon which path to take is leadership and this is decisiveness.

2. Your Team Can’t Rephrase What Is Expected Of Them

If you want to check their level of understanding, ask your team members to explain back to you exactly what is required of her. This is a great opportunity to find any gaps in understanding or minor elements that she may have missed. If she can’t explain it to you, then you know there is a disconnect in communication.

When I was young, the best advice I got in terms of learning and understanding is to assume you’re going to have to teach whatever it is that you’re learning to someone else. If you can rephrase and accurately re-teach a subject, then you probably have a good understanding of it. We can apply this to our team as well. Often times, I do this just to be sure I understand what’s being told; “Okay, just to clarify, I am responsible for X, Y, and Z…” I especially do this in written communications when so much meaning seems to be buried in long-winded sentences with missing punctuation, and paragraphs of astronomic proportions.

3. Your Team Continually Misses Milestones And Deadlines

I hate to think that a team member willingly fails to meet deadlines. I refuse to think that a team member willingly decides not to do something of great importance. I refuse to think that your team member is so lazy as to decide to not do all of the tasks required of them to complete a project. What’s more likely is A.) you did not properly convey the requirements of the project or task. B.) You did not clearly set a deadline. C.) You did not convey the priority of a task over another. D.) You did not schedule realistically based on your knowledge of the team member and their abilities.

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All of these issues could be remedied by clear communication. How did you specify the requirements of the project? Was it written down? Was it in one comprehensive document? Did you just “loop them in” on a long email chain and hope they’d understand what was expected of them? Did you simplify, explain, then clarify? If you didn’t do any of this, did you at least foster an environment in which a team member could admit to you that they don’t understand? So many misunderstandings can be avoided just by having a worker admit that they don’t “got it”.

4. You Or Your Team Members Constantly Interrupts Each Other

I’m sure you’ve been guilty of perpetuating those conversations wherein you’re not really listening, but instead thinking about what you’re going to say next. Hearing someone speak words does not constitute listening to the meaning of those words.

A major indicator that someone isn’t actually processing what you are saying is that they interrupt you. Sure there are other reasons why you might be interrupted, but if your team is constantly interrupting one another while important information is being delineated, then you just might have weak intra-team communication.

If you constantly interrupt your team members you are not broadcasting to them that you’re not listening, but you’re telling them you don’t value what they are saying. Repeatedly undervaluing a team member is a great way to fracture your team, breed hostility, and cause irreparable damage to morale.

5. You’re Doing Other Things While Talking To A Team Member

If you are checking emails, instant messaging other team members, or distracted in any way while you are talking to a team member then you most likely suffer from weak communication.

Multitasking has been proven to be a scarce ability among us humans.Psychology Today says only 2% of the population can truly multitask. I can say with 98% certainty that you suck at multitasking. I suck at multitasking.

Everyone I know sucks at multitasking.

6. Your Written Communications Are Too Long

Do you remember taking those aptitude tests and standardized tests in elementary school? What was your reading comprehension score? How was your written communication? Yes, we’ve all gotten better at reading and writing since then, but how sure are you that your words will be interpreted accurately. We’re all reading emails on internet connected devices with notifications popping in, real life distractions stealing our attention, and then we all suffer from general misinterpretations and typos.

If you are communicating a complex idea that requires pages and pages of text, you might want to consider how it reads. Can you simplify it? Can you boil it down into bullet points or a supplemental checklist? Can you provide a summary beforehand so your team member knows the important points to look out for at the outset? Can you provide visual aides like a quick video or screenshots? Maybe this requires an additional voice-to-voice or eye-to-eye chat to clarify the main points.

Just know, any time your communications grow long, your paragraphs encompass too many points, you are at risk of being misunderstood.

7. You Only Use Email To Communicate

There are many tools for communication. Most of these require a proficient level of written language and solid reading comprehension to work smoothly. However, our levels of understanding fluctuate depending on the time of day, blood sugar level, and environment.

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If you only use email to communicate with your team, then your communication is probably weak. Even if you can get things done, even if you have zero misunderstandings, even if your team is “flawless” in your eyes, if you only use one mode of communication for every bit of information you might be unwittingly flying with weights attached.

Don’t use email when a phone call is more concise. Don’t use the phone when an instant message is better. Don’t use instant message when a bulleted checklist through a task management software like Podio or Asana would be clearer in conveying what needs to be done. Don’t distract your workers just to see if they “got it” if there are other ways to know if they “got it”.

As I’ve previously stated, most of you suck at multitasking. This means that most of your team sucks at multitasking too.

What we really engage in is called task switching… Pinging your designer through email when he’s in the midst of something creative forces him to break his flow, respond to your 3 word question – “you got it?” – and then try to get back into his previous headspace.

According to recent research by the American Psychological Association we can lose 40% of productivity due to task switching. This is time, energy, money, creativity, and content vanishing.

The alternative? Implement tools protocols and milestones to know how things are going. When you submit a work ticket to a team member, make it standard protocol for him to acknowledge that he has received the task. Make sure the task is clear with milestones for when you’d expect a progress report. Then follow up according to those guidelines you’ve outlined. Then trust!

This requires trust in your team. This requires trust in your systems. This requires trust in your own abilities to schedule and manage.

8. You Don’t Check In Regularly With With Your Clients.

If you don’t have a regular protocol for talking with your clients, then you probably suffer from weak communication. Even if this outreach is scheduled for just once a month, keeping in regular communication with your clients is important to knowing what’s working for them, what’s not working for them, and what unforeseen changes might need to be implemented.

We had a client who specializes in temporary-office and coworking services for whom we were running ppc ads in and around Miami Florida when hurricane Irma ravaged the area. Our team is many states away from the region. Our regular schedule of communications allowed us to get the information needed to save them money refocusing our efforts toward their centers that weren’t affected by the hurricane.

This boots on the ground knowledge was instrumental in guiding these decisions. Additionally, an unexpected consequence of the hurricane that ended up helping their business is many corporations directly affected by the hurricane needed temporary office accommodations so they could resume working while their permanent quarters were being repaired. This bit of firsthand knowledge that came directly from our client allowed us to retool our messaging and reach those potential customers with discounts and special offers.

9. You Use Team Communication Tools To Vent Anger

Sarcasm and anger have no place within the tools you use to communicate project requirements and deadlines. We’ve already established how difficult it could be just to understand someone’s intent based on email and chat, now you’re throwing tone in the mix?

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First is that pesky notification. For some reason, we feel that a notification of a chat or email is more important than what we’re currently working on. Why is this? I’m not sure, maybe we’re all pessimists and it’s the fear of the unknown. Maybe it’s the worry of something looming over you while you’re trying to focus. Regardless, if notifications are turned on, then you are interrupting your team any time you send that message.

Second, if you’re venting just to vent, well, you’re monopolizing your team’s time so you can feel better. Perhaps you have this sort of relationship, but you need to respect your people’s’ time and understand that if they’re doing one thing, then they’re actively choosing not to do another. That “other” thing might be more important than your ego. Having scheduled breaks and times to “cooler talk” can help keep morale up while safeguarding your team’s work time.

Alternatively, if a team member falls short on a task or project, schedule a time to talk face-to-face. If your team works remotely then call or video chat. Review their progress and set a plan in place to improve as not to make the mistake again… Venting into an IM or email only hurts your team’s performance.

If you’re telling a team member how they messed up, that is going to take a toll on their psyche. They are not going to feel good after that message comes in. They are not going to be able to concentrate on anything else for awhile. There will invariably be follow up questions and multiple defensive retorts. This will be a long distraction from their other work. Leave the “constructive” criticism for the end of the day – heck, leave it for Friday at 5pm if you can.

10. The Rumor Mill Is Churning

If your organization/team is plagued by rampantly running rumors, then you just might have weak communication. Perhaps this is by design, but just know that your workers know more than you probably think they know.

The strongest breeding ground for rumors is among people who don’t know what’s going on, but have just enough information to be dangerous. We’re all gossips, and if it pertains to our workplace then we want to know the details – even if those “details” are all conjecture.

Control the flow of information, but be clear on what’s going on within the organization. If your team doesn’t feel in-the-loop then they just might be assuming the worst and spreading damaging rumors that chip away at morale, motivation, and your bottom line.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Clear communication is vital. With more and more tools making it easier for us to communicate at an instant, it’s important for us to take a step back and ask, “is this the right mode of communication for this task? Am I being clear in my communication? Is this as simple as I can make it?”

Without clear and consistent modes of communication you might be underutilizing your – and your team’s – time, amplifying threats of failure, damaging morale, or missing opportunities to better serve your clients.

– The Bug Squasher Team

P.S. If you’re looking for an intuitive communication tool to bridge the gap between you, your developers, and clients check out The Bug Squasher.

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