The truth behind workplace communication problems

Much has been written about all the ways leaders and companies fail to effectively support communication among employees. It’s true they mess up a lot on communications. Even leaders that work the hardest and get it right most often still face regular negative feedback from employees on the subject.

It’s easy to get discouraged when your initiatives fall flat. But the fact is, employers, it’s not always you! Employees also have a role to play in making things better and there are times when they need to hear the truth about that. So here it is: Bosses, you probably aren’t being honest with your employees about their role in improving communications around the office.

Privilege and initiative

People who continually complain about poor communication do so for two primary reasons. First, they have unrealistic expectations about what information they should be getting. Often employees want information they aren’t entitled to. Not all things can or should be shared. Not all decisions can or should be collaborative. It is a leader’s job to find out what their people want to know and make it clear which is which.

Second, there are employees who fail to initiate contact with co-workers and develop the relationships that lead to getting the information they need. The best employees solve communication problems by taking ownership and finding out what they need to know. They get up and go see the person that isn’t communicating with them and ask for information, over and over again if necessary. The decision to take initiative and make it happen can set someone apart in the workplace.

To all the employees who are reading this: Stop sending emails to the person down the hall and complaining about them not being responsive. Get up and go ask for what you need. Follow up with rigor. Be the person most in the know because you take the most initiative. It’s no coincidence that the most visible people in your company complain the least about communication. Rest assured, as you advance in your career it doesn’t get easier to get good communication, you just get better at making it happen. Start learning now.

Make it personal

In the end there are two kinds of people, those who look around and say, “This place has poor communication,” and those who look at themselves and decide to deal with their circumstances through personal initiative or a realignment of their expectations.

Employees should talk to their co-workers about their weekend, their families and their interests. Building authentic relationships with people makes a huge difference in their willingness to communicate and collaborate. Shrugging past people in the parking lot on the way in doesn’t lead to warm communication vibes later when trying to get work-related information from them.

People interact with the people they feel the most valued by, the safest with, and most liked by. Taking initiative and ownership for communication can make a huge difference in personal performance and change the culture of the organization in the process.

Under Daniel Flowers’ leadership, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank received Feeding America’s 2012 Food Bank of the Year award, the highest recognition achievable by food banks.