Personal Assistance Service (PAS) | 2200 West Main Street | Erwin Square Tower | 4th Floor, Suite 400A | Durham, NC 27705 | 919-416-1PAS (919-416-1727)

Supervisor Newsletter Archives

Communication: Barriers to Effective Communication

Q. Supervisors want to avoid conflicts with employees, and that results in many of us not holding them accountable. What resources are available to help supervisors feel more comfortable handling conflict?

A. Seeking to reduce conflicts is a worthy pursuit, but this is different from being “conflict avoidant.” Conflict avoidance is an unhelpful approach to conflict management that seeks to evade or steer clear of disagreements, quarrels, and the work needed to resolve them.  Problems therefore grow worse, rather than being transformed into opportunities that can lead to more efficient work systems and higher productivity.  Supervisors who avoid conflict are typically unaware that systematic steps and procedures for resolving conflict exist, and that conflicts can ultimately become success stories, not bad memories. Personal Assistance Service can be a valuable resource for supervisors who want to increase their comfort level in managing conflict. The Personal Assistance Service Counselors are knowledgeable about conflict resolution strategies and skills. Contact Personal Assistance Service for a consultative appointment to discuss ways to resolve rather than avoid conflict and encourage your supervisor peers to do the same.

Q. I’ve read that poor communication is the number one key complaint in employee surveys. What other common problems lead to employee dissatisfaction with organizations?

A. Other problems ranking high but not as high as communication complaints (mostly related to the lack of information flow from the top of the organization) are lack of recognition and praise, lack of training and educational opportunities, lack of flexibility in work schedules, and lack of authority given to employees. Having “more authority” is associated with a human need to want more control of one’s work in some fashion or form. The key is helping employees to not feel like a cog in a wheel. Consider how to improve communication, feedback, and recognition, and offer ways to insert training and educational opportunities into your employees’ experiences at work.  If you are stumped when it comes to how to get started with these suggestions, consider creating a peer advisory or brainstorming group to discuss the issues. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that will emerge from such an approach.

Q. What negatively impacts the morale and productivity of the workplace the most?

A. Poor communication consistently ranks No. 1 as the leading complaint affecting productivity in modern businesses around the world. Why is this? The answer is that managers either don't know what to do about it or they don't have systems in place to ensure better communication, or both. To improve communication, make sure employees and management are educated about the importance of communication, and teach employees how to communicate effectively. Teach them how to give feedback, communicate in a timely way, share information properly, and create ways that employees can cross-dialog with each other regularly. Consider rewarding good communication. Make communication part of the work unit or workplace culture with systems that keep communication moving. Internal memos and company/departmental news are important, but they cannot fill the need for interpersonal communication in the workplace. Consider getting some consultative help from Personal Assistance Service (919-416-1727), or check into classes/training offered by Learning and Organizational Development (919-613-7600) about communication or ideas on strategic goals to advance your initiatives in this area.

Q. What's the most significant problem in the workplace that inhibits productivity, causes conflicts between employees and managers, and creates the most risk for employees and the organization?

A. The answer is poor workplace communication. Because nothing happens without communication and because every dimension of an organization's mission depends on communication, it will always be the single most important influencer of productivity or lack of it. There are many types of barriers that can affect workplace communication. For example, consider new hires. Upon hiring new workers, you should always provide a performance plan that describes the most important duties in detail and how they should be completed. It sounds simple, but Personal Assistance Service commonly receives this surprisingly common complaint from employees: "I don't know what they want me to do." or, "No one has given me a job description." Imagine the conflict, misunderstanding, anger, and productivity issues that this communication barrier creates. Another common communication barrier that employees complain about is that they are not told of performance problems soon enough. When they are made aware of performance problems they feel blindsided and fearful that it is too late to successfully turn things around.

Q. How can I keep conflict within our team from negatively impacting clients and patients?

A. Two often-forgotten truths about teams are that conflict is normal and that teams must meet. To prevent team conflicts from spilling over to affect clients, patients, or other departments, you can have a regular meeting to address staff concerns so they are resolved early, while they're small and manageable. Knowing that staff have such a forum to air conflicts and internal issues will reduce the likelihood that frustrated staff members will act out. Start with weekly meetings if employees interact with one another daily. Discuss content issues first (information, scheduling, reports, etc.) and process issues second (communication, clarification of roles, frustrations, conflicts). In the second part of your meeting, ask the group to discuss process and issues or concerns among members. You might next move to concerns about roles and duties, within the work unit. Also discuss concerns associated with the larger organization or needed resources. As problems resolve, you will see meetings shorten. Start meetings on time, and always give the opportunity for the "process" discussions, even if weeks or months pass without staff raising concerns.

Q. How can I help employees experience more positive communication and less negativity with one another?

A. When employee interaction is not positive; you'll discover that poor workplace communication in general is often the culprit. Communication breakdowns, a lack of information sharing, miscommunication, and unresolved tension often feed the negativity. Do the following to help improve employee communication: Beyond regular business matters, discuss the status of healthy communication among employees. Actually make workplace communication a meeting agenda item, because it really is a business matter. Ask, "Does anyone here have issues or concerns they would like to share or discuss regarding our communication with one another or within the organization?" "What about issues regarding our individual roles and duties? Is there anything we need to discuss?" "What about unresolved resource issues, needs, or concerns?" Over time, you will witness less friction and less of a need to process these questions as positivity increases among your employees.

Q. How can I get employees to come forward in a straight-forward manner to discuss their concerns about the work unit? Some pout and complain to peers but in meetings never speak up. I think the behavior leads to morale issues and encourages similar behavior in others.

A. Even if there are plenty of opportunities to raise concerns with you about the work unit, some employees will remain silent and seek to air frustration with coworkers in gripe sessions. Doing so is a dependable way to gain sympathy, bond with peers, or join with others who do the same thing. Some of this is not harmful, and most workplaces experience some of it. A problem arises when this becomes a primary way of venting frustrations. These employees are keeping valuable information from you that could improve the efficiency and productivity of the organization or work unit. Encourage employees to take the risk and share their ideas as well as their concerns with you and in meetings. Ask them how you can help make it safe for them to be more forthcoming with their thoughts about the work unit. Don't forget to consider a referral to Personal Assistance Service for your employee(s). Personal Assistance Service can help employees explore and identify factors that might prevent them from communicating more openly and assist them in discovering ways to be more assertive in their communication.

Q. A lack of communication is a bit of a problem within my work division. I encourage people to share information more efficiently and frequently, but invariably everyone reverts back to their old habits. These are "people issues," so can PAS help?

A. When communication is problematic and the flow of information is poor, search for barriers and how to overcome them. Frequently, barriers are physical or rooted in inefficient communication channels. But that is only scratching the surface. Barriers to communication in organizations can arise from attitude problems, poor supervision, personality conflicts, language differences, culture clashes, personal problems, and more. This is where PAS can provide an added dimension of help. Consult with PAS to see if you can discover potential behavioral or human-factor-related dimensions to this problem. The counselors at PAS are educated in communication dynamics and have plenty of experience in understanding the role of sender and receiver, tangible and intangible barriers, and interventions to improve communication.