If you want a recipe for success, good communication is an essential ingredient. But according to a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit for visual productivity platform Lucidchart, miscommunications still run rampant in typical companies. The usual suspects--for example, differing backgrounds of employees--certainly contribute to the problem. But the survey honed in on four miscommunication sources most businesses haven't dealt with.

Where we're going wrong

1. We're using the tools we think are crappiest the most. Email outpaces other options, but less than half (40 percent) think it's an effective means of communication. We like visual tools like presentation decks (60 percent) and whiteboards/sketch pads (50 percent) way better for getting complex ideas across, but only 9 percent of respondents say they actually take advantage of them on the job. This might be because workers are afraid to break rank and branch out to tools that are seen as less proven or ubiquitous.

2. We're not dealing with the differing preferences and views between generations. Millennials (33 percent) tend to see themselves as functional communicators. They talk about jobs in terms of processes and steps, which makes total sense given that millennials have been raised to take a can-do attitude and that there's always an answer to given problems. But baby boomers (34 percent) and those from Generation X (39 percent) are more focused on human connections, seeing themselves as personal communicators. And this is understandable given that, without modern technologies, older generations were brought up to work more face-to-face and focus on the quality of their connections. Subsequently, different generations are dividing into camps in terms of communication tools. Just 12 percent of boomers use social media and instant messaging in their daily communications, for instance, while roughly a third (31 percent) of millennials do.

3. The people in the middle are getting beat up the most. While mid-level managers and directors have an advantage in their ability to understand the perspectives of those above and below them, they have to communicate in many different directions at once. Preferences and needs can be different not only from level to level, but from department to department. That means the people in the middle have to have a wider variety of communication options at their disposal, and often, they don't. About half (49 percent) of director-level respondents admitted that frequent or very frequent miscommunications happen on their watch.

4. We make improper assumptions about communication based on gender. Women have been portrayed as nurturing, emotional caregivers for years, but guess what. Only 27 percent of women identify as personal communicators who focus on human relationships and connections. Men actually identify with this style significantly more (37 percent). Failure to acknowledge this reality does equal disservice to both genders, making men seem less capable of empathy and women less capable of no-fuss analytics. But women are more likely than men to feel stressed from critical feedback from managers (51 percent versus 41 percent) and challenging performance goals (45 percent versus 36 percent). This might be because, as they fight for equality, women still might feel unsure if they have real job security or if they are taken seriously. Men, who outnumber women at the top, might feel less anxiety because they are able to gain a sense of comradery with their male teammates.

Quantifying what happens if you do nothing

 To be absolutely clear on why communication breakdowns need to be nipped in the bud, the survey broke down key areas where poor connections wreak havoc:

  • Increased stress (52 percent)
  • Delay or failure to complete projects (44 percent)
  • Low company morale (31 percent)
  • Missed performance goals (25 percent)

And if those issues don't get your attention, let's talk about money. 18 percent of respondents reported that communication breakdowns resulted in lost sales, a third of which were valued between $100,000 and $999,999.

What workers say will help, and what both employees and employers can do

Nathan Rawlins, Lucidchart's CMO, points out that workers already have given big clues about how to address the above issues through the survey.

  • Set clearer goals and agendas for meetings (78 percent)
  • Offer more company training (62 percent)
  • Broaden the range of communication tools at workers' disposal (63 percent)

He emphasizes that, when it comes to tools, technology makes it very easy to find new ways to connect well. But he also emphasizes that leaders have to step up and take responsibility.

"Companies first need to recognize that there's a problem and commit to fixing it. Most employers don't even understand that this is a challenge. We talk about things like diversity, but we don't necessarily talk about how there are diverse ways of communicating. As we build workplaces that allow a lot of different types of people to thrive, we have to step back and make sure that our trainings and onboarding programs include an emphasis on cognitive diversity and how to work with someone who might not communicate the same way we do."

But this is also supposed to be a time for worker empowerment. That means that workers can band together to insist that management address communication gaps--you can help leaders see what you need. Ask for a few minutes to discuss the issue in a focused way, emphasizing your desire to assist. Gather data ahead of time for your team or higher-ups, such as communication platform metrics or a survey from your own workers, to make your case. You'll not only help your business, but also come across as a leader in your own right.

Published on: Apr 24, 2018