Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council November 15, 2017.
We all aspire to be better communicators. We all know that communicating well will help us accomplish our goals, impress our colleagues and our superiors and generate business. We all want to feel confident and project leadership.
But while we see the benefits of good communication, we generally think about poor communication as a momentary setback. We fail to see the ways in which poor communication costs us personally over the long term, in a loss of credibility and a drag on advancement. As individuals, poor communication essentially equals an inability to communicate our value to the team — and a loss of value could mean the loss of a job.
There’s a bigger picture, too: Company leadership often fail to see how poor communication hinders the organization as a whole. Collectively, poor communication can disrupt business on a fundamental level.
Where do we most often see the cost of communication failure?
1. Lack of focus: In an organization where communication is not prioritized, meetings are inefficient and ineffective. Because little gets accomplished in them, more meetings get scheduled, so that every member of the team feels overbooked, under-informed and generally unhappy.
2. Failure of purpose: When we are unable to communicate well on a day-to-day basis, it is generally symptomatic of a larger communication disruption. If a company can’t communicate its vision and purpose, it has effectively lost them.
3. Lack of innovation: Imagine yourself in a meeting where a team is presenting a new project, product or process. The audience has clearly checked out: Half the room is checking a device and the other half is flipping through the PowerPoint deck to try to figure out the point of this meeting. Does anyone understand the new product or its benefits? Probably not, which means that it will likely be discarded. Multiply this across multiple meetings and multiple products, and you have a company that is stagnating.
4. Drop in morale: The sum of all these issues? The people who work and make the company successful aren’t happy. And that means they aren’t as productive and/or that they are looking to leave the company for a better job.
5. Loss of credibility: This can happen at both a company and an individual level. As an individual, your ability to express yourself confidently and persuasively has a direct effect on your ability to effectively accomplish your goals. As a company, the way your goals and innovation are represented outwardly — through client meetings or public relations — has an immediate impact on your business metrics. Without clear, effective communication, everything from sales growth to stock price will decline.
The next question is, why is poor communication at an organizational level so common? Generally, I’ve found that it is because most people and organizations lack a system to truly improve their communication. Instead, the focus is on creating PowerPoint templates and emphasizing “executive” (read: not nervous) demeanor. That transfers the entire responsibility for communicating better to the individual, without adequately providing the tools to do so. It’s a recipe for failure.
Now, how can we do better?
First, we can take an organizational view of communication opportunities. When a persuasive challenge arises, how difficult a challenge is it? What degree of change are we asking for? What hurdles do we face in enacting that change?
Next, what skills do all our team members have? Is one person a master of confident, persuasive delivery? Who can craft the most persuasive message and who knows how to support a message with a powerful slide deck? How do we most effectively deploy our talent? And how do we equip our talent with a full toolbox of skills?
Finally, using these assessments, map a plan to for the most effective way to address this specific challenge and this specific audience.
This doesn’t mean that Sally Star takes every meeting. Joe Ordinary is using similar assessment models and skill enhancement techniques to improve his communication proficiency. On an individual level, we are honing our abilities, and ratcheting up our challenges at every opportunity. But on an organizational level, we are matching skills to challenges. Not only does it set up the company for success, but it eliminates the tendency to set up individuals for failure.
By investing in a system for evaluating challenges and rising to meet them, we can flip that column of costs into benefits, both individual and organizational.