Breakdowns in Business Communication (And Solutions!)

For our whiteboard video production studio, successful communication in business – particularly around our clients’ messaging – is our number one concern. We realize that our relationship to communication runs deeper than some businesses. But no organization can afford to neglect its internal or external communications.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common obstacles to successful communication in business, and find some solutions for these concerns.

Understand Your Audience

First, let’s consider audience—or, more accurately, the problems associated with ignoring or underestimating your audience. In video production, it’s crucial to understand your audience’s preferences of format, length, and more. No matter the communication medium, however, the issue is significant.

In both internal and external communication in business, one size doesn’t fit all.

Be sure that your message is appropriate for your recipients. Maybe they are in another country with differing conversational norms. Or they could be in a different one of your offices that operates in a different culture than your own.  

You might not always be able to perfectly fit each communication to its audience. But you will earn credibility and authority with a message that reveals your desire to avoid controversial or inappropriate material. Making the effort to meet people where they are is almost always recognized. And the time it takes to adjust your communications will be well worth it.

But Don’t Underestimate Your Audience

Similarly, don’t underestimate your audience. This has less to do with culture and preferences than it does with bigger-picture ideas and valuing your listeners. Particularly in internal communications, avoid limiting your communications to instructions, and instead provide the reasoning behind company decisions and needs.

Your team will feel better if they understand their supervisors’ rationale behind processes. And over time, practicing broader disclosure and information sharing will increase team unity and trust.  They’ll feel more important to their organization. And they will have a better understanding of (and stake in) the company’s status as a whole.

Externally, the idea has traction as well. Telling a client what you can or cannot do for them is one thing. But explaining why or why not will give them the information they need to feel they understand your agreement. It will show them that you care about their needs and want them as a knowledgeable partner, not a mere revenue opportunity.  

Follow Up and Follow Through

Shelley Frost points to a common communication problem in business that often hinders the conclusion of internal information dispersal: lack of follow-up.  “If the communication doesn’t leave employees with a clear sense of how to follow through with actions, you are likely to see a breakdown and unfinished work,” writes Frost.  

Frost is articulating a failure in message retention—or, at the very least, a failure to create a message with a retainable next step.  TruScribe puts great importance on ending messaging with a call to action, or CTA. That ensures that this disconnect between message reception and corresponding action is unlikely.

Again, the point stands in regards to external communications as well.  A marketing message that fails to provide a CTA is, at best, raising awareness; more than likely, it will not lead to increased page views, engagement, or conversions.  Include your CTA so that your communications drive action as well as interest.

Communicate through Storytelling

Barbara Bean-Mellinger advocates a style of communication that can overcome engagement gaps in meetings and internal discussions: use storytelling.  We prize storytelling highly in whiteboard video, and here we see Bean-Mellinger bringing the human coding language into the conference room.  

Bean-Mellinger provides two examples of a meeting opener to show which is more engaging: “The purpose of today’s meeting is to talk about unplanned customer meetings,” vs. “Yesterday, I stopped in to see my favorite customer, and guess what I found?”

The brain is configured to recognize stories and want to hear their arc, from an extremely young age. Storytelling in marketing and brand-building is well-researched and highly effective, but internal storytelling deserves just as much celebration. Combined with a strong CTA at the end, storytelling can ensure heightened internal engagement and retention of your message.

Communicate Early and Often

Finally, Saige Driver identifies loss of control over external situations as a major problem for communication in business. Driver explains that if and when a major external event affects your business, “…you owe it to your employees to explain the situation to them before they hear it from sources outside the company.”

Your team should not get the impression, whether you intended it or not, that your organization meant to delay or avoid talking about current issues. Do the opposite, and “…communicate openly and freely, anticipating and answering questions before they are asked.”  

This shows that you have put yourself in your team’s shoes and thought ahead about their concerns. And you believe they deserve to hear your take—directly, and conversationally.

This solution is particularly salient in the era of COVID-19. As your organization adapts and shifts to meet the needs of an often-unpredictable public health and business climate, get in front of new and ongoing issues with updates and discussions of organizational plans. Ask questions and hear out team concerns.  Proactivity, not reactivity, is what makes people trust and rely on their leadership and peers.

Practice Open Communication with Clients

Lastly, take this proactive address outside of your office as well. If a situation has arisen that will, for example, require you to complete a project over deadline, don’t let anxiety over the client’s reaction stop you from telling them promptly and simply.

Clients’ reactions will likely only be unpleasant if you simply let the deadline pass without mentioning it, or tell them a day before they expect their project to be completed that you will need another two weeks.  Customers will usually express understanding and appreciation for your explanation if you address issues honestly and early.  So, particularly in 2020, communicate the effects of external situations promptly, honestly, and straightforwardly to internal and external audiences.

Key Takeaways

These solutions might not sound revolutionary, but their consistently-overlooked nature says that they might just prove revolutionary in practice.  If an organization is able to understand and appropriately address its audiences, follow up with a CTA that ensures retention and action, use storytelling to heighten engagement and address external situations appropriately, communications can be stronger and clearer.

What is your organization’s biggest strength, and weakness, when it comes to communication? 

How has your firm handled discussion of external situations? 

Do you feel valued in communications at your workplace, or underestimated? 

How might you promote some of these techniques in your organization?