- For 400 companies with over 100,000 employees in the U.S. and U.K, the estimated cost of employee miscommunication is $37 billion. The average cost per company is $62.4 million per year. Smaller companies face significant costs as well.
- A study of 4,000 employees showed almost half (46%) were unsure of what was being asked of them by their line manager when given tasks and over a third (37%) experienced this uncertainty between one and three times a day.
- Poor communication plays a role in many organizational problems, including increased employee turnover, increased absenteeism, poor customer service, ineffective change management, failed project delivery, greater incidence of injuries, and higher litigation costs. All of these factors lead to decreased profitability and lower shareholder return.
What is poor communication?
|Poor communication…||And its costs…|
|A company worker sends an email or memo about something that needs to get done. The receiver does not understand what he or she needs to do.||The receiver asks the sender to clarify (wasted time), does the wrong work (wasted time and productivity), or ignores the message because she doesn’t understand it (total loss).|
|A company worker sends an email or text and the receiver interprets the tone as hostile, dismissive, or disrespectful.||The reader gets sidetracked responding emotionally to the message without handling the actual situation. The receiver complains to other employees about the sender, which sabotages organizational culture. Nothing gets done, because the tone hijacked the message.|
|A company worker writes a quick message to a customer, but doesn’t check it over. It turns out he spelled the customer’s name wrong, made obvious grammar errors, or mistakenly sent the message to the wrong person.||The customer is offended. She loses confidence in the company, and looks for a better provider. If she receives a message and realizes that it was not meant for her,she becomes seriously concerned about the security of her own information, and leaves the company immediately.|
|Someone writes a report or email and warns of an impending problem and suggests a possible solution… but his message is long, drawn-out, and never makes a clear point .||The reader either doesn’t finish reading the report or doesn’t realize how important it is. The problem goes unsolved and negative consequences occur.|
Poor communication – especially poor written communication – costs businesses billions of dollars a year. Some estimates range at about $26,000 per year per employee in lost time, diminished productivity, and increased errors. What’s sad is that the costs of poor communication can be avoided.
Avoiding the Costs of Poor Communication
How can you avoid the costs of murky memos, egregious emails, and loathsome letters? By giving your employees something they probably never learned in school: Guidance about what communication standards you expect them to keep. Here are a few standards that most organizations would benefit from adopting:
- 1.Make the main point or request within the first 40 words of every document.
Many people do not read to the end of the documents they receive. They may read the first few lines, and then lapse into skimming mode or bail out of the document altogether. If writers do not make their points early, they risk not having them heard at all.
- 2.Use language you know your reader will understand. Limit technical jargon.
If you use a word or acronym that the reader does not understand, what will he do? Scamper over to the dictionary and look it up? More likely, he will try to figure out the meaning from the context, and quietly resent the person who made him feel ignorant. If the reader guesses wrong, the writer’s meaning goes out the door.
Avoid jargon. Identify acronyms the first time you use them. Consider your reader before making word choices. Write for your reader!
- 3.Maintain an average sentence length of 20 words per sentence, as measured by MS Word’s Check Readability Statistics function.
Long sentences are hard to follow. When sentences are longer than 20 words, the reader’s brain gets tired. Of course, a smart reader can decipher even a gargantuan sentence, but he will probably have to read it several times. This takes up precious time and mental bandwidth that your workers can’t afford to spare.
- Re-read every document at least once before you send it.
How do you feel when you receive a document full of typos, grammar errors, punctuation errors, and the occasional misspelled name? Does it raise or lower your opinion of the writer?
When you are the reader, you know that you think less of a writer who didn’t proofread. Yet in the heat of the moment, you may say to yourself, “I don’t need to proofread. I don’t have time to proofread. I’m sure it’s fine,” and send an email or document whose contents you will live to regret. Remember the old saying: Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing right. Force yourself to re-read before you send.
Communication was once considered a “soft skill” -- nice to have, but not a core competency. In today’s interconnected world, however, communication is the electric current that keeps your business alive. If that current gets interrupted, your systems break down.
Need customers to understand your product? Need employees to understand their tasks? Need your coworkers to know what you need? Communication is what will get you results.
©2017 Elizabeth Danziger
* Miscommunication included actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood or were misinformed about company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three.