What Every Leader Needs to Know about Workplace Communication

Good leaders recognize that team communication can either help or hinder overall employee engagement and performance.

A certain level of conflict is inevitable in any diverse organization – simply due to differing values, viewpoints, temperaments, experiences, and agendas. In the case of situational or external factors, conflict can arise out of competition for resources, recognition or growth opportunities as well as organizational changes or restructuring. An optimal level of workplace conflict is not only healthy and normal, but can often serve to generate innovation, creativity and progress.

However, ongoing or unaddressed conflict, due to dysfunctional communication, poor leadership, misconceptions, distorted perceptions and internal biases, can quickly escalate and exert a strong negative impact on other individuals, or whole teams or divisions within a workplace. Unhealthy conflict can lead to decreased team morale and performance, increased stress, and increased criticism and finger-pointing. In extreme cases, if left unchecked, poor communication can give rise to heated confrontations, bullying and social exclusion – all of which are highly detrimental to any environment.

So what are the real impacts of poor communication?  More importantly, what can we do as leaders to not only mitigate these, but actually enhance overall communication and collaboration to build a positive and productive workplace?

In terms of immediate impacts on business, decreased employee engagement and performance can cause projects to stall as teams find it more difficult to collaborate. Work slows as employees are demotivated, stressed and distracted by unhealthy or disruptive workplace dynamics. Generally, unhappy employees do not ensure happy customers. As customer service suffers this inevitably impacts customer loyalty and, with it, supply and demand, resulting in reduced productivity and profitability – thereby hurting your bottom line.

In the long term, ongoing conflict can lead to more disgruntled or debilitated employees which equates to higher turnover, minimal performance, and increased absenteeism due to anxiety, apathy or mental health impacts. Deeply entrenched divisions among teams can lead to sabotaging tactics, outright defiance, or even toxic cultures which, in turn, damage a business’s brand and ability to attract top candidates.

Once roadblocks to solutions-focused communication occurs, it can be very challenging to resolve a conflict and reverse its damage without outside intervention, i.e., ridiculing, yelling, personal attacks, power struggles, name calling or threatening. If all else fails and resolution cannot be achieved internally, rely on a neutral third party who is diplomatic and non-judgemental.  A skilled mediator is an active listener who is empathetic and sensitive to both verbal and non-verbal communication, fully aware of individual coping styles, and knowledgeable of de-escalation & conflict resolution practices, team building strategies, and organizational psychology.

When leading teams, it is useful to understand the profound impacts that temperament can have on our communication and interaction styles within the workplace. Our core needs, motivators, and stressors will undeniably colour how we perceive the world, and how we engage, understand and interpret others of different temperaments and experiences. A leader with a global perspective can identify common ground and promote a shared vision that supersedes that of the diverse individual positions, thereby allowing both sides to compromise, save face, and reach a mutually-beneficial agreement.

Considering the high costs of negative workplace communication, ongoing proactive strategies to create a positive, inclusive and collaborative culture is far less costly and much more fun.

Effective leaders appreciate the clear link and causal relationship between strong collaborative communication and overall performance and productivity.  According to S. O’Neal and J. Gebauer in Talent Management in the 21st Century: Attracting, Retaining and Engaging Employees of Choice, one of the most important drivers of employee engagement is effective communication which ensures that employees feel valued and critical to their organizations’ success.

With an average of 7 out of 8 employees currently disengaged, how have you made your employees feel valued today?

© 2017 InspireWorks Consulting