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April 24, 2019

More Tools, More Trouble: The Continuing Challenges of Poor Communications


A recently released study conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit suggests that having more ways to communicate doesn’t necessarily equate to better communication. To the contrary, the results suggest that internal communications activities remain problematic and have serious ramifications for an organization’s success. 

In the study, poor communication was cited as the cause for a delay or failure to complete a project by 44% of respondents, while 18% noted a loss of a sale. Low morale in the workplace was attributed to this issue by 31% of the participants. Likewise, 25% of those surveyed linked missing performance goals to less than stellar communications. These results represent the perspectives of more than 400 senior executives, managers and individual contributors at US companies both large and small in terms of revenues from less than $10 million to more than $1 billion.

Among the study’s key findings related to the causes for the poor communications were:

  • Barriers to understanding and collaboration are created by differing communication styles
    • The variety and changing nature of channels/tools adds to the complexity of an already challenging environment given variability factors such as age, experience and areas of expertise 
  • There is a generational gap associated with the use of social media and instant messaging in workplace communications
    • Millennials’ regularly use online tools, while Boomers don’t. So far, neither group seems to recognize and embrace the need to compromise on their preferences sometimes. The report also notes that millennials aspiring to leadership roles will need to work on interpersonal communication skills and becoming less reliant only on autonomous tools 
  • A disconnect exists between the tools considered most effective and the ones most commonly used
    • More visually orientated medium such as video conferencing, white boards, presentation decks or sketch pads were viewed as positive ways to communicate, yet email remained the most prevalent means of communications
    • Across generations, for 65% of those surveyed face-to-face communication is considered the most effective channel, yet only 22% report having these kinds of sessions daily.
    • Given the growing global and flexible nature that technology facilitates, building a comfort level with creating “face-to-face” in new ways will also be important; more than 60% of those surveyed reported working remotely in the past year 
  • Your place in the organizational structure influences the level of the impact of poor communications
    • Middle managers were seen as those most negatively impacted when communications are bungled. 
  • Employees see goal setting, training and access to variable tools as potential solutions
    • When asked for suggestions to the miscommunication dilemma, 78% indicated clearer goals for meetings would be helpful, 62% said company-wide training could make positive change and, interestingly, 63% of respondents felt offering a broader range of communication tools would be beneficial

If similar research was conducted in your workplace, would the trends identified be the same or different? 

How are you assessing your organization’s effectiveness relative to these findings?

—David Grossman

Click below to download this eBook—Use the Right Channels to Communicate with Impact—and see how being more purposeful when choosing communication channels leads to less clutter and more effective communications with employees.
Communication Channels Guide eBook

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