How to Overcome the Top Cause of Poor Communication in the Workplace


Ineffective communication costs individuals time and organizations money. Misunderstandings, ambiguous instructions, unclear calls to action, and confusion start as small stressors that can snowball into outcomes that impact organizational bottom lines.

A report from The Economist Intelligence Unit on “Communication Barriers in the Modern Workplace” found that poor communication results in lost sales, lost clients, low morale, delayed projects, and obstacles to innovation. Plus, our increased reliance on technology hasn’t exactly improved how we communicate in the workplace. While conference calls, video platforms, and messenger apps offer more tools to complement how we communicate and provide less formal and more timesaving modes of communication, technology doesn’t address the most common cause of poor communication: different workplace communication styles. According to the report, different communication styles cause more obstacles to communication than tight deadlines, role ambiguity, and unfit leadership.

So how do you know what’s your workplace communication style? Your workplace communication style is how you share information with others and how you like information shared with you. Professionals fall into one of four styles — personal, intuitive, functional, or analytical.

Your communication style is not about whether you’re empathetic, casual, straight to the point, concise, long-winded, comical, or stoic. While these attributes highlight how we approach conversations with our colleagues, they offer no guidance on what kind of information we prioritize and value in our workplace conversations.

Knowing your own and your colleagues’ communication styles immediately makes you a more effective communicator because you can speak to your colleague in “their language” — meaning you know what information to emphasize so the listener can more clearly and understand the value of your idea , recommendation, instruction, or call to action. Professionals with different communication styles emphasize different information when speaking.

Here’s an overview of all four styles:

Personal Communication Style

Professionals with a personal communication style emphasize how others feel. When sharing and listening for information, they prioritize details related to shared interests and values. They need to know how your idea, recommendation, instruction, or call to action will influence the stakeholder’s attitude or point of view.

Functional Communication Style

Professionals with a functional communication style emphasizes the order of operations. When sharing and listening for information, they prioritize tasks and timelines. They need to know how your idea, recommendation, instruction, or call to action impacts their day-to-day or department plan.

Intuitive Communication Style

Professionals with an intuitive communication style emphasize the big picture. When sharing and listening for information, they prioritize the desired result and overarching story. They need to know how your idea, recommendation, instruction, or call to action helps them achieve an important goal in the near future.

Analytical Communication Style

Professionals with an analytical communication style emphasizes accuracy and mathematical reasoning. When sharing and listening for information, they prioritize data and facts. They need to know your idea, recommendation, instruction, or call to action provides an explicit path to a performance indicator or established outcome.

Start by Asking the Question

Knowing that the biggest barrier to effective communication is different communication styles — the fact that professionals prioritize different information when sharing ideas, seeking buy-in, delivering instructions, articulating visions, and sharing recommendations — means that organizational leaders are accountable for helping their employees strengthen awareness of their individual communication style and the information style of their colleagues.

This can be done by training managers and individuals to ask clients and colleagues a simple question: What information would most help you understand the value of this idea/project/initiative? Is it stakeholder impact (personal), analysis and evidence (analytical), day-to-day implementation (functional), or a broad overview of how we achieve to the bottom line (intuitive)? The answer to this question will give them insight into their communication style, and a guide to speaking their language.

Small Adjustment, Big Impact

We spend a significant portion of our daily work communicating. According to McKinsey, the average worker spends 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mails, and, according to Atlassian, the average professional has 62 meetings in a month. Understanding and accommodating our colleagues’ workplace communication styles will save us stress, give us back more time, and improve your organization’s bottom line. Being conscious of different communication styles means we make small adjustments in the short term for a big impact in the long term.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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