5 workplace communication mistakes you should stop making

By Hannah Price

6 min read

5 workplace communication mistakes you should stop making
Illustration by Justin Alm

Are your employees satisfied with how you communicate in the workplace? Sure, you may think you have good communication skills - people understand what you’re saying and what you want - but communication runs a lot deeper than that.

Let’s go over some fundamentals - consider this short list of communication skills:

  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Friendliness
  • Listening
  • Feedback
  • Non-verbal communication (body language, eye-contact, tone, and hand gestures)

Take a moment and reflect upon the last conversation you had with a colleague. Were these present in your communication, or were you simply trying to get what you needed from the conversation?

If they weren’t present, it may be time to rethink the way you communicate at work. Good communication is critical to many things, including employee retention rates, high productivity, and employee engagement. If your employees are unhappy with how you express yourself and communicate, it’ll affect your bottom line.

However, if you’ve got those basic communication skills down-pat (and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself), that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. No matter how good your communication skills are, or how strong your team is, there are some forms of communication that irritate or unnerve almost every employee.

If you want to know how to improve your internal communication in the workplace, delve a bit deeper and consider how you approach these five key forms of workplace communications:

1. The employee review

For most people, an annual or probationary review is an uncomfortable conversation. Even if you get on really well with your employees, it’s a bit weird for them to have to sit in a room and focus an entire conversation on themselves. Even if they’re 100% prepared for the conversation, because the power lies solely in your hands, they’re on the back foot. They could be blind-sided at any moment.

“Managers have to understand how to have effective performance conversations with employees. Unfortunately, Gallup research suggests that many managers struggle in this area [...] employees largely do not believe that current performance discussions provide clarity or feel meaningful. They do not believe they have a voice in the conversation.” - Gallup, 2017 State of the American Workplace.

Ways to avoid this awkward conversation? Give clear and regular feedback throughout the year. If your employee is under or over performing, chat with them immediately. Employee communication is not an event; it's an on-going communication strategy.

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2. The closed door meetings

Nothing instills fear more than being called to a manager’s office, and on arrival, being asked to close the door behind you. You know the sound of a latch clicking as a door closes? For employees, that click is the sound of impending doom.

Of course, closed door meetings are important for many reasons. You can’t share all conversations with all employees. But, be conscious of the message a closed door sends to the people inside the room and outside the room.

Try to share high-level details of the meeting before you call it. It’ll help create an atmosphere of transparency. The more people understand, the more they trust. Also, consider holding meetings behind closed doors only when absolutely necessary or take confidential discussions outside of the office.

3. Phone calls and emails while on vacation

Ugh. This is the worst. You may love your job and the people you work with, but getting called in the middle of a vacation is completely disruptive. A moment ago, your mind was blissfully occupied with sweet nothingness. Then, the phone beeps. Suddenly, you’re thrown back into the world of work.

For some people, this is immediately irritating. It’s their time off. They earned it and they should be allowed to enjoy it uninterrupted. For others, they don’t really mind. Work is an important, ongoing part of their life that they’re happy to chip in with, even when they’re meant to be taking time off.

That’s why leaders have a huge part to play in this scenario. As a leader, you may not be able to prevent employees with FOMO from checking their email while on vacation, but you can control and limit what they’re seeing. Try to ensure they get a break from workplace communication. After all, you want them to return to work fully rested and raring to go, not in the exact same state as when they left.

If you know an employee has trouble “shutting off”, avoid emailing them while they’re away. You can always resend any threads when they return.

4. The email that CCs everybody

Email was intended for short direct communication, not company-wide collaboration. If you’re attempting to communicate with multiple people at once, email probably isn’t the best way. You may think it’s the safest way to get it into everyone’s hands at once, but how effective have you found that in the past?

In my experience, the group email generally leads to desensitization - most people don’t even read the content because they’re getting too many emails and the information isn’t aimed at them. This, in turn, leads to key information getting missed. Then, when people need to go back and find this information, it’s buried in a mass of endless emails.

If you’re familiar with this situation, it may be time to invest in a communication solution that actually fits your needs. Communication platforms allow employees to communicate without clogging email in-boxes and company-wide knowledge sharing. (If you want a two-minute mental break, you can see one in action here.)

5. The late night email

Don’t send that email if you don’t have to! Before you hit “Send”, consider this:

Is it office hours? No.
Is it an emergency? Yes.
Ok, but is that actually an emergency? Well, now that I think about it…  

If you’re sending an out of office hours email that isn’t an emergency, the best scenario you can hope for is your employee reads the email and feels more informed. However, this is still disruptive. They should be allowed their private time, in which they can safely switch off work. The worst situation is they get ticked off at you for bugging them, go to bed annoyed, and don’t sleep properly. Then you’ve got a grumpy, tired, and less productive employee the next day.

Unless it’s an emergency, you shouldn’t need to reach out to your team out of office hours. And, if it is an emergency, isn’t it more likely you’ll need to call them? So, the next time you consider sending an email after hours, consider if you would need to speak to the person directly about this matter. If not, the email can wait until the morning.

Finally, if your employee doesn’t see your email (or doesn’t respond), are you really allowed to get annoyed or angry at them? Communication expectations vary from one organization to the next, but if your employee is on their own time, it’s up to them how they choose to spend it. And it’s up to employers to respect that.

So there you have it, five workplace communications that even a communication guru should consider. If you’ve got any other examples of good or bad workplace communication, we’d love to hear from you!

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Hannah Price

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