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Lack of communication in the workplace: Why it’s so bad & how to fix it


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Miscommunications, misunderstandings, and—at worst—a complete lack of communication leads to mistakes and problems in many walks of life. The business world is no exception.

In fact, ineffective communication costs organizations $2 trillion per year across the US—more than $15,000 per employee in lost productivity.

What can you do to improve communications with your team, customers, and business partners? In this post, we’ll look at:

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What is a lack of communication in the workplace?

We can define lack of communication as a disconnect between what’s been said and what’s been understood. In the workplace, this disconnect can occur between colleagues, or between management and employees.

Why does it happen?

Many people assume that communication comes naturally in the business world. If you’re sending marketing emails, picking up the phone, or sending someone messages, you’re communicating—there isn’t much more to it, right?


Just having the means to communicate doesn’t automatically make for effective teamwork. A lack of communication in the workplace can still occur if everyone isn’t sharing team knowledge regularly or if they’re not aware of the best ways to talk to teammates or customers.

If your communications infrastructure isn’t working properly, it could be because you’re using outdated tools—like an old phone system that can’t support text messaging or out-of-office workers. Or it could be that your team doesn’t know how to effectively use the systems they’ve been given, due to a lack of training.Other causes include unclear objectives, confusing messaging from leaders, and information overload. Criticism without constructive feedback is also a form of poor communication, alongside ineffective management of remote teams and misunderstandings in a culturally diverse workforce. 

The effects of poor communication in the workplace

Inefficiency, low morale, and a dip in revenue: these can all be caused by poor communication.

Reduced productivity

Poor communication means that employees don’t have clarity on their roles and the tasks they need to perform, which leads to a dent in productivity. For example, two team members might unwittingly work on the same thing and produce duplicate work—while another task gets left undone.

Errors and omissions

Unclear instructions can also affect the quality of work, with avoidable errors creeping in. When this happens, your team has to spend more time (and resources) fixing the problems. It also means your standards of service will slip, from missing client deadlines to omitting to pay a supplier.

Ineffective collaboration

Lack of communication makes it harder for colleagues to work well together. If there’s conflict within the team due to misunderstandings, team members may feel unwilling to share ideas or help each other out. They’ll end up working in silos.

False information

If there’s no culture of open communication at your workplace, employees feel afraid to ask questions when they’re not given enough information about a task. They’ll make assumptions about what they need to do, which may be wrong. 

Plus, lack of communication about changes in the workplace leads to speculation and false information being passed around.

Low morale

In this type of environment, employees lose motivation and start to distrust management, while leaders become frustrated by the downturn in productivity. You’ll see an increase in absenteeism and staff turnover—and unhappy staff means unhappy customers.

How to improve communication in the workplace

If your business is suffering through lack of communication at work, you need to get to the root of why it’s happening. 

Does your team not have the systems, tools, and processes they need to effectively communicate with team members and clients, or are they not trained in how to communicate properly? Do your team members simply not have the characteristics you’d find in an effective team?

Let’s walk through a few different ways you can improve workplace communication.

1. Put the right systems and tools in place.

One of the biggest reasons why communication is lacking within an organization is because team members don’t have the right tools or a collaboration hub to efficiently talk with each other or clients. 

Your team may be trying their best to communicate, but if they’re struggling with outdated technology or clumsy processes, communication can only be so strong.

Obviously, that means that having multiple communication tools that allow your team to communicate with each other and customers in multiple ways is good, right?

Well, not exactly. Yes, different conversations sometimes require different channels, so having the option to video call, message, or just hop on the phone can help team members resolve challenges quickly. However, if you’re spending time bouncing between different tools, you could be wasting time, losing track of past conversations, or even forgetting to check in where someone might be trying to get in touch. Having too many tools can create entirely new communication problems.

An all-in-one communication platform, like the RingCentral RingEX, offers you the flexibility of communicating in the most efficient way possible without overwhelming your inbox:


If you have a customer support team, RingCentral’s Omnichannel Contact Center allows you to communicate with other agents through video conferencing software, instant messaging, phone calls, and more. Internally, you can collaborate between teams and departments to give teams the feedback and instruction they need to work efficiently.

Externally, you can also use RingCentral to keep track of customer conversations and questions to determine how well you’re addressing those concerns. Integrate business SMS, email, social media, and chat conversations all in one place to help with customer service teamwork.

(It’ll also help you spend less time switching between apps and more time actually responding to customers.)

2. Find where communication is breaking down.

Communication breakdown happens in a number of ways. Employees might not know which tasks they should be focusing on, customer service reps might struggle to articulately answer customer questions, or misunderstood instructions might pass through an entire department like a game of telephone.

While each of these problems might result in poor workplace communication, the approach you take to fixing each one will be different. Your first step is determining where your team is struggling to communicate so you can appropriately fill in any gaps.

Whether you’re dealing with issues inside your company or handling customer-facing communication challenges, discovering the holes in your current communication processes comes down to two things: interviewing and observing.

Talk with your team members to see where they see communication problems within departments or processes. What are you currently doing that isn’t working? What areas can you improve on? How would your team prefer to communicate with their team members?

Get a feel for what your team expects out of communication at work. Identify the areas they’re struggling to connect and what they would like to see fill those gaps.

For example, if you have a lot of remote workers, you might need to establish protocols for asynchronous communication.

Understand customer preferences

If you’re seeing challenges with customer collaboration and communication, do the same thing with your customers. Ask where they believe their questions are going unanswered, and what changes they’d like to see in your communication process. 

Would they prefer calling you over sending you a message on your website? If so, you should have an inbound calling strategy. Maybe they’d rather connect through social media instead of email. Are you hitting these customer expectations?

Customers expect brands to respond quickly on social media, with 16% expecting a response within minutes

Getting a feel for what your audience expects communication-wise can give you a great start. However, it isn’t going to show you all of the communication challenges your company is facing. To discover the problems that might be slipping under the radar, you need to turn to analytics and process monitoring.

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See where customers might be reaching out and going unanswered. For example, are you getting messages on social media but not following up? More on social media best practices here.

Are customers sending emails to a support inbox and not getting a response back, or are they receiving canned customer support emails that don’t answer their questions? That’s not good for your customer retention rate.

Once you identify the gaps in your current communication processes, you can more effectively fill them.

3. Hire team members with strong communication skills.

Identifying gaps in your process and equipping your team with the right tools can help improve communication immensely, but if your team doesn’t have strong skills (or a willingness to learn), you’ll probably still struggle with communication issues.

When hiring new team members, communication ability should be something you always look out for—especially when hiring for a customer-facing role. It’s a key customer service skill, after all.

Pay close attention to how a potential employee communicates through the job process (this is important for your employee retention strategy later on, too), but look beyond just their ability to craft a well-written email. Make sure they follow instructions, observe how they listen to problems or challenges, and how they relay solutions to those issues.

Behavioral questions, such as asking them to walk you through a scenario or role-playing interview questions, can help you weed out candidates who may not have the communication skills you need within your company.

By prioritizing communication skills early on (as well as treating it as a skill to continuously develop) you can avoid bad habits from developing within your team.

Train employees in effective communication

For existing team members, it’s vital that you offer regular training to enhance communication skills in the workplace. Even when you’ve hired people who are natural communicators, they still need to brush up on those skills periodically. (And managers need training, too.)

For example, you might have customer service reps practice empathy exercises with each other and train staff on how to raise an issue with their manager. Teach them how to understand non-verbal cues such as gestures and facial expressions, and to recognize and respect cultural differences within the workforce.

It’s also important that employees know how to use your communications tools and channels effectively, and that they’re unafraid to ask for extra training (on this or anything else) if they feel they need it.

When everyone has the chance to learn and develop their communication skills, they’re better placed to adapt to an evolving workplace with remote colleagues, culturally diverse teams, and changing customer behaviors.

4. Lead from the front

You can’t expect your employees to communicate effectively if the leadership isn’t leading by example. In a larger organization, set up a system for disseminating important information from C-suite to managers and from managers to employees, so that nobody’s out of the loop.

Managers need to ensure their teams understand the company’s objectives as well as giving clear instructions for tasks and projects. That way, everyone understands their own responsibilities, and that they’re working toward a shared goal.

Frequency of communication is also important, with regular check-ins to make sure employees are motivated and engaged. Giving feedback—and keeping it constructive—lets them know that they’re making progress and shows them where improvement is required.

Aim to foster an environment where people feel comfortable raising issues if they don’t understand a task or if they have any other concerns. Teams should also feel confident in sharing their ideas and opinions with colleagues and with leaders.

Make lack of communication a thing of the past

Most of the time, people don’t realize that they’re communicating poorly. They think they’re getting the point across and only discover the problem after it’s too late.

As long as communication isn’t a priority within your company, these problems will continue to happen. To truly fix a lack of communication, you need to continuously talk with customers, employees, and managers to discover where communication might be failing—and then implement the correct tools, processes, or systems to help fill those gaps.

Lack of communication FAQs

Why is communication important in the workplace?

Knowing how to communicate effectively at work is key to the smooth running of any business. It fosters efficiency and productivity, since everyone understands what they need to do and has the tools to do it. 

It improves collaboration and teamwork, as well as trust and transparency. When employees feel listened to, they’ll remain engaged and motivated. And that’s good for customers as well as staff.

What is effective communication in the workplace?

Effective communication means expressing yourself clearly to avoid confusion, demonstrating empathy, and listening to others. In the workplace, this means setting clear objectives and keeping the lines of communication open at all times. It means that the workplace is a safe space for sharing ideas and raising concerns.

Originally published Jul 10, 2024, updated Jul 18, 2024

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