Is $37 billion a big number? Even if you’re somebody who’s building his own rocket to vacation in space, yes, it is. And that’s what businesses lost due to poor communications — in 2011. In 2021 dollars, that would be $44.7 billion.

Do we have your attention now?

So unless you’re OK with frittering away essentially the GDP of Romania, this is an everybody problem. 

Are you talkin’ to me?

“Of course, I’m a good communicator” is what nearly everyone thinks. AAA studies have shown that 73% of people also think they’re above-average drivers. Obviously, not everyone is a great driver. And if you’ve spent any amount of time in society, you know that not everyone is a good communicator, either. 

We live in a golden age of communications. It’s easier than ever to communicate with anyone, anywhere. So why do we struggle with getting our point across?

Communication Breakdown

Messaging is the responsibility of the sender, not the receiver. If you find yourself growing annoyed that people often misunderstand you or just don’t “get it,” that’s on you. Instead of simply repeating what you’ve already said and expecting a different outcome, edit yourself. This applies to the boss as well. In fact, according to Inc. Magazine, 91% of employees cite communication skill as the top problem with bosses.

Poor communications results in:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Inefficient workflow
  • Frequent “do overs”
  • Information vacuums and silos
  • Decreased morale
  • Trust issues
  • Employee dissatisfaction
  • Loss of clients
  • Lower revenue 

It would be easy to blame emojis for this, but it’s far more pervasive than that. Texting, social media, and “underlistening” all contribute to shorthand, bad grammar, and a plow-through effect of blurting out whatever word salad comes to mind, no matter what comes of it.

What we no longer have here is a failure to communicate

So what are the course corrections we all can make to ensure that we mean what we say and say what we mean?

Don’t be lazy

Reread your emails. Edit your social posts. Use proper grammar and punctuation when you text. Getting into good habits with whatever you’re writing will have a carryover effect.

Hone your skills

Practice speaking in front of a mirror. Join Toastmasters. Read your company’s style guide, if there is one. Take an online test — or an online course (like this one), if you really want to jump in with both feet. Then go back and revisit step 1.

Recognize that knowledge gaps exist.

Communication between an executive Boomer and a junior analyst Gen-Z’er is more than just style. There’s a bit of an intimidation factor that goes along with it, from both sides. Keep the jargon and references to a minimum and opt instead for a common language to avoid missed messages.

Listen more

That’s right — active listening is a big part of effectively communicating. This is especially true if you find that you just can’t connect with a particular person or group. Take your cues from what they’re saying. Not everyone responds the same way to the same message. Keeping your ears (and eyes) open will help you hone your message. Science calls it “Theory of Mind,” seeing and understanding other people’s perspectives. Yes, it involves a bit of empathy. Time to connect.

Practice some transparency

OK, this one might be a bit more of an organizational fix. Information siloing, vacuums, misinformation — each of these things can be the result of a lack of proper communications. Make use of project sharing tools like Slack to help things stay organized and moving. Take steps to ensure that you’re staying consistent with your information among all of your teams. If marketing thinks one thing and sales hears something else, you have a problem. 

Investing wisely in tools to get that job done will help everyone get their job done.

Remember Step One

Because it bears repeating.

Ultimately, proper communication impacts E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G we do. Not just at work, but as humans. It’s what keeps us all connected. 

Don Seaman spends his professional life trying to put the alphabet into the right order to construct coherent thoughts that people can read. Now he does that for Surprise. You can find out more about this failed musician and retired superhero on LinkedIn and Twitter.