Business Communication Challenges

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Modern businesses can segment messaging to target small customer groups or instantly deliver news to large, scattered workforces. However, these opportunities haven't made business communications any less challenging than before. While organizations quickly learn the consequences of failing to communicate to customers and outside stakeholders effectively, ineffective internal communications may be trickier to spot until it's too late.

Preference Problems

Employees may find it difficult to reconcile their communications preferences with those of their co-workers. An older worker might prefer to communicate by phone, for example, while his younger colleague relies on electronic communications. If the younger worker responds to a voicemail message by an e-mail instead of returning the call, the older worker may feel disrespected,

It's best to use the method that your counterpart prefers. If your contact in IT always responds to your e-mails quickly, but takes a long time to return a phone call, relaying your questions electronically is the more efficient solution.

Communicating Bad News

Telling your boss that you've just lost a key account isn't easy for most. Nor is it easy to relay the news to a longtime vendor that you're switching your business to her competitor. Robert Bies, a professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, notes that this often causes people to delay telling the other party about the bad news.

Instead, Bies suggests a multi-pronged communications strategy to overcome those challenges. Prepare stakeholders for the bad news in advance. Deliver the news promptly and honestly, then mitigate it with possible solutions and any evident silver lining. You might say, for example, that you have several leads in mind to replace the lost business that would require less travel for your sales force

Tip

  • Some employees may feel uncomfortable communicating frankly with their bosses because of their position within the company or their background. Women in particular may struggle with this, according to linguistics expert Deborah Tannen.

Too Much -- Or Not Enough

How much information to disseminate to employees and outside stakeholders is a constant challenge for managers. Scary news, like a reorganization, can lead to strong reactions if it seemingly comes out of the blue. Alerting individuals in one-on-one or smaller meetings can let a leader know who likely will object to the news, and what their reasons are.

On the other hand, a manager also can provide too much information if the conclusion to the message is vague or open-ended. Announcing that layoffs may be coming in the near future, for example, leads to anxiety and may cause key staffers to try to take other jobs. It also can decrease office productivity if employees spend their time gossiping and working on their resumes.

Informal Communications Can Prove Costly

Unlike workplace chatter, electronic communications leave a written record of what took place. A quick e-mail can recap a conversation and provide a valuable confirmation in case there are questions later. However, maintaining records of e-mail traffic, chat software and other informal electronic workplace conversations can be a headache for those in IT -- not to mention the legal team. Seemingly offhand conversations can prove costly. The U.S. Justice Department, for example, used chat room comments to help make its currency manipulation case against major banks like UBS, Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Project Management

A 2013 report by the Project Management Institute found that for every billion dollars spent on projects, $75 million is at risky solely as the result of ineffective communications. Gaps may occur when not all stakeholders have the same understanding of the project's benefits, or when the language used to deliver messages is unclear. PMI suggests you tailor your communications to meet the needs of each stakeholder groups. A project proposal to redesign a website, for example, might focus on the high-level benefits when you meet with senior company leaders. It would use more technical language and specific data when it's presented to the people who will have to perform the work.

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