17 MARCH, 2023


Effective communication is a cornerstone of any successful workplace. Whether you’re working remotely or in an office setting, communicating with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders is essential to achieving business goals and fostering positive relationships. However, despite its importance, communication breakdowns are all too common in the modern workplace and the consequences can be extremely damaging. Misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and even conflict can all arise from poor communication.

In this article, we’ll cover a range of strategies that you can use to enhance organisational communication and understand how to prevent communication breakdown in the workplace.

What is a communication breakdown in the workplace?

A communication breakdown occurs when there is a failure or interruption in the process of exchanging information or ideas between two or more people. It can happen for a variety of reasons, such as misinterpretation, miscommunication, or even lack of communication. Communication breakdowns can result in misunderstandings, confusion, and even conflict, which can all have negative consequences for individuals and organisations alike.

Communication breakdowns can occur in any type of communication, including verbal, written, and nonverbal. For example, a verbal communication breakdown might occur when someone mishears or misinterprets what another person has said. A written communication breakdown, meanwhile, might occur when someone misreads or misunderstands an email or text message. A nonverbal communication breakdown in the workplace might occur when someone misinterprets a gesture or facial expression.

Communication breakdowns can also occur due to cultural or language differences. For example, a person from one culture may interpret a certain gesture or tone of voice differently than someone from another culture, leading to a breakdown in communication at work.

Preventing communication breakdowns is essential to maintaining effective organisational communication and avoiding misunderstandings and conflicts in the workplace. By understanding the causes and effects of communication breakdowns, individuals and organisations can take proactive steps to improve communication and prevent breakdowns from occurring.

Strategies to avoid communications breakdowns

  1. Encourage open communication

    By improving team dynamics through open communication, organisations can actively prevent breakdowns in communication at work.

    Open communication means creating an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas with each other, regardless of their position or seniority within the organisation.

    When team members feel that they can speak freely and be heard, they are more likely to share important information and insights that can help prevent misunderstandings and mistakes. Open communication also helps to build trust and strengthen relationships among team members, as well as between teams and external stakeholders.

    To encourage open communication in the workplace, organisations should establish clear communication protocols and encourage regular communication among team members. This can include regular team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and open-door policies that allow team members to approach managers or colleagues with questions or concerns.

  2. Leverage technology

    Leveraging technology is another important strategy for understanding how to prevent communication breakdown in the workplace, particularly in today’s increasingly digital and remote work environment. Technology can help facilitate communication, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing among team members, regardless of their physical location or work schedule.

    One way to leverage technology is to use digital communication tools, such as instant messaging, video conferencing, and email, to stay connected with team members. These tools allow team members to communicate in real-time and share information quickly and easily, without the need for face-to-face interactions.

    Another way to leverage technology is to use project management software or other digital tools that can help track progress, assign tasks, and manage deadlines. These tools can help ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page and has access to the information they need to do their jobs effectively.

  3. Develop communication capability

    Effective communication requires a range of skills, including active listening, clear and concise speaking, and the ability to interpret nonverbal cues. Targeted learning and training can assist team members to communicate effectively, and avoid misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication.

    Developing  communication skills can include training on how to listen actively, ask clarifying questions, and respond appropriately to feedback, as well as how to write clear and concise emails, documents, and reports that are easy for others to understand.

    Professional learning can also help team members navigate more complex communication challenges in the workplace, such as how to handle difficult conversations or communicate effectively with clients and stakeholders. For example, participants may learn strategies for de-escalating conflict or tips for communicating technical information to non-experts.

    Establishing a common language and communication framework within the organisation through a learning opportunity can assist in preventing misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

  4. Avoid assumptions

    When team members make assumptions about what others mean or intend, they risk misinterpreting the message and creating misunderstandings or conflicts. Assumptions can be particularly problematic when communicating across different departments, cultures, or seniority levels.

    To avoid assumptions, team members should strive to clarify their understanding of the message or information being communicated. This can include asking questions, paraphrasing what has been said to ensure understanding, and providing feedback to the speaker about how their message is being received.

    Another way to avoid assumptions is to be aware of any biases or preconceptions that may be influencing your interpretation of the message. For example, if you have had negative experiences with a particular team member in the past, you may be more likely to assume negative intentions in their communication, even if none exist. By being aware of these biases, you can work to counteract them and approach communication with an open mind.

  5. Use visual aids regularly

    Using visual aids regularly is an effective strategy for preventing a communication breakdown in the workplace. Visual aids, such as graphs, charts, and diagrams, can help to convey complex information in a clear and easily understandable way. They can also help to capture the attention of the audience and make the information more memorable.

    Using visual aids can also be particularly helpful when communicating with remote team members. In a study conducted by Forbes, 65% of remote workers reported that visual communication tools, such as video conferencing and screen sharing, helped them to feel more connected with their team.

    When using visual aids, it is important to keep in mind the principles of good design. Visual aids should be simple, clear, and easy to read. They should also be relevant to the message being communicated and support the key points being made.

  6. Give regular feedback

    Feedback is essential for ensuring that team members understand their roles and responsibilities, are meeting expectations, and are aligned with the goals of the organisation.

    When team members do not receive regular feedback, they may be left to assume that they are doing a good job, even if their performance is not meeting expectations. This can lead to misunderstandings and communication breakdowns when there is a mismatch between what is expected and what is being delivered.

    Regular feedback can help to prevent a breakdown in communication at work by providing team members with a clear understanding of their performance and how it can be improved. This feedback can be both positive, such as acknowledging good work and progress towards goals, and constructive, such as identifying areas for improvement and providing guidance on how to improve.

    Feedback should be specific, timely, and actionable. This means providing feedback that is focused on specific behaviours or outcomes, delivered as close to the time of the behaviour as possible, and provides clear guidance on how to improve.

  7. Resolve language barriers

    With an increasingly globalised workforce, it is common for team members to come from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Language barriers can create misunderstandings, frustration, and even safety risks, particularly in industries where safety is a top priority.

    To overcome language barriers, organisations should provide training and resources to team members who speak different languages. This can include language classes, translation services, and cultural sensitivity training. Organisations can also consider hiring interpreters or bilingual team members to facilitate communication.

    In addition to these resources, it is also important to use plain language in communication. Avoiding jargon, idioms, and other forms of complex language can help to ensure that everyone understands the message. Using simple, clear language can also assist in preventing misunderstandings and ensure that key information is communicated effectively.

    To identify and address language barriers, organisations should encourage open communication and feedback from team members. This can include asking team members for feedback on communication styles, identifying areas where language barriers may be impacting performance or safety, and seeking input on ways to improve communication.

Find out why soft skills are more important than ever

As we continue to navigate the ever-changing workplace landscape, it’s important to focus on developing soft skills that will prepare individuals and organisations for the future of work.

Download DeakinCo.’s Report on Premium Skills to discover how investing in soft skills can revolutionise your organisation’s approach to communication.