communication

Ineffective Communication Explained: And How To Avoid It

Communication is the basis of all human interaction. We’ve all heard this phrase, and yet just because someone is communicating doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re communicating effectively or even correctly. 

Ineffective communication occurs more often than we think, and it is the basis of many forms of misunderstandings between people. Indeed, a majority of misunderstandings can be traced back to people forwarding or interpreting information incorrectly. 

But what is ineffective communication? 

Ineffective communication is a disruption of failure in the process of communication. Ineffective communication isn’t unavoidable. To communicate effectively, one must become active listeners, avoid emotion-driven talk, create safe spaces for communication, & developing norms for communication, etc.

We’ve explored this term in-depth in the sections below. 

Effective vs. Ineffective Communication: The Difference 

So, what’s the difference between effective and ineffective communication? What determines if one chunk of communication was effective–and another wasn’t? 

Well, before we jump into the difference between these forms of communication, let’s understand the basic meaning of the term communication first.

In the simplest terms, communication is the exchange of information by speaking, writing, or through some other medium.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what communication is, let’s delve deeper into the next two points. 

Effective communication occurs when there is no discrepancy in communication and everything goes smoothly i.e the speaker understands the message as you intended it. 

Effective communication is how all forms of communication ought to be. However, that’s not always the case, as you’ve probably experienced yourself. 

Many times, people misunderstand each other. The sender might give off the wrong message, or the receiver might interpret them incorrectly, thus distorting the actual message. 

This is what causes ineffective communication.

Ineffective communication is a disruption of failure in the process of communication.

What Causes Ineffective Communication? 

cultural diversity

There are many reasons why ineffective communication might occur. Some of them have been mentioned below.

1. Cultural Diversity

Earth is home to a multitude of cultures, most of which are quite distinct from each other. And thanks to globalization, a lot of these cultures are in closer proximity with each other than they were years ago. 

While this proximity is a good thing as it allows for people to have more diverse experiences and to learn how to respect another culture, one thing that becomes a barrier to this better understanding between people belonging to different cultures is language. 

As each culture as different languages and means of communication, ineffective communication becomes commonplace.

Even fire gestures that may seem common to different cultures, or words that are used in both languages, the way these gestures or phrases are used might be quite distinct–sometimes even opposite.

2. Ignorance & Biases 

Another common cause of ineffective communication is ignorance. However, just because a person is ignorant doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a horrible human being.

Ignorance and bias-ness often go hand in hand. Although, of course, they can occur independently too.

However, in both these cases, a person’s judgment becomes colored, which leads to Ineffective communication between people.

Sometimes, people are ignorant about a topic without even realizing it. Even we might be ignorant about one topic or other. So, a better way to make it easier for us to communicate with ignorant people would be to educate them about them. 

3. Distance 

Another common cause of misunderstandings is distance. This might hold even more important now when the pandemic has turned distance into a virtue, and close proximity with others a strict no-no. 

Lack of face-to-face face interactions and heightened distance is another common factor that causes misunderstandings. Ineffective communication and conflicts are especially evident in workplaces, most of which are operating remotely.  

4. Emotional Factors 

A heightened emotional state is another reason why ineffective communication might take place. 

If, for example, a person is extremely angry or sad, they will tend to focus on specific bits of information and leave out other factors. 

This causes ineffective communication and misunderstandings, as what the communicator wishes to share might not be what the receiver comprehends–indeed, in some cases, it might even be the opposite of what they intended. 

5. Excessive Reliance On Digital Communication

Another cause of misunderstandings is the increased reliance on texts and phone calls to communicate with people–even about important issues–rather than face-to-face interactions. 

Not only does the meaning of words spoken becomes more ambiguous through textual mediums, but unless and until the person speaking is standing in front of you, you’re also missing out on important interpersonal cues like body language, facial expressions, etc. Those are absolutely imperative to effective communication. 

6. Power & Hierarchy 

Another reason for ineffective communication is the hierarchies of power seen in many places.

Power dynamics and the politics that come into play are often a cause of Ineffective communication, especially between those at the very top of the hierarchy and those at the bottom.

This is because these two distinct categories of people rarely ever talk to each other face to face: instead, they rely on intermediaries, which can distort the actual message they intend to share with each other. 

Ineffective Communication In Life 

electronic communication

Consequences Of Ineffective Communication 

There are many consequences of ineffective communication in life. Some of them have been listed below. 

1. Misunderstandings 

The most common consequence of ineffective communication is misunderstanding between people. 

Misunderstandings can occur between people in the workplace, between partners, parents, and children, etc. They can have lasting consequences for any relationship, or even cause it to end altogether.

If left unaddressed, they can lead to the point below…

2. Conflict 

Another common consequence of ineffective communication is conflict between people. 

If people interpret what others are saying inappropriately, they might find something the other person said offensive, even when the person had no intention of offending them. 

They might also feel that other people are working against them and thus conflict among people is common when ineffective communication occurs. 

3. Breaking Down Of Relationships

Another common consequence of ineffective communication in life is the breaking down of relationships. This doesn’t just include romantic relationships. 

Ineffective Communication also plays a hand in breaking down relationships between parents and children, between siblings, friends, etc. 

Indeed, most relationship problems could be solved–or even avoided in the first place–if people only communicated effectively. 

4. Inability To Attain Success

If you wish to achieve success in life, then effective communication is a must. If you’re unable to communicate efficiently with others, then you will not be able to communicate your vision, ideas & potential with them.

Unless and until you are able to communicate with others, you will not be able to navigate the complex web of life. This will, thus, inhibit your success.

5. Emotional Costs

Communication is the key to everything in life, be it your relationship, your goals, your career. If you wish to move forward, you must learn how to communicate effectively. If you cannot, then you will be kept from a lot of things that you wish to achieve.

As mentioned before, you may also face conflicts in your personal life. The combined emotional costs of these things can be heavy and can have a lasting impact on your life.

Avoiding Ineffective Communication In Life

1. Don’t Listen To Just Respond

This is something that a lot of people tend to do: when they listen, they’re not actually comprehending what the other person is saying. Instead, they’re simply waiting for the person to complete talking so that they can start speaking themselves.

Next time you’re listening to someone, actually listen to what they’re saying. You’ll be surprised at how much difference it can make.

2. Becoming More Confident

Another way to become more efficient communicators is to work on your confidence level. Granted, confidence is not a guarantee that you will become an excellent communicator. Many confident people don’t necessarily have the most efficient communication skills.

However, if you’re someone who is feeling a lack of self-worth, then this can be detrimental to your communication with other people.

This is because people who feel low in self-worth tend to question their opinion and are less likely to correct someone when they feel their message has been incorrectly understood.

Also, a severe lack of confidence can cause people to withdraw into themselves and not communicate with the outside world at all. This can further exuberate their lack of confidence, thus maintaining a vicious cycle.

3. Avoid Emotionally Driven Talk

Emotions are an integral part of any relationship, be it with your life partner, your parents, children or even your friends. However, it’s also true that when we let an intense emotion get the best of us (for eg: extreme anger or grief) we tend to say things that we do not mean.

So, next time you’re hit by a heavy wave of emotion, take a moment to yourself. Chances are, you’ll realize that all the things you felt were the right thing to say might not be appropriate, after all.

4. Pay Attention To Your Body Language

Remember that communication does not happen through just one channel. Speech is a part of communication, not the whole of it. Your body language, facial expressions, etc. play as much of a role in communication as the words you speak.

So, pay attention to how you’re handling yourself while having a conversation. What do your gestures say that you’re not telling yourself?

5. Introspect

Many times, the reason why we communicate ineffectively might not have to do with the actual communication taking place. Sometimes, it’s our own unsureness about what we wish to communicate that might be causing the problem.

If you’re unsure about your own thoughts or feelings about a particular topic, how do you expect another person to understand it? So, next time you’re unsure, take some time to introspect and come to terms with your own thoughts.

Ineffective Communication In the Workplace

workplace communication

Consequences Of Ineffective Communication in the Workplace

1. Inability To Achieve Goals 

There are many goals in life that cannot be achieved by one person by themselves. For instance, if a family wishes to decide whether to buy a new home, you can’t just take a decision that’s acceptable to all members unless they communicate effectively. 

Similarly, in the workplace, collaboration is a common occurrence. The organization needs to work together as a whole in order to reach its goal. 

Unless and until people are communicating effectively with each other, they will not be able to trust each other or might even have conflicts amongst themselves. 

This will lead to goals being unfulfilled. 

2. Inability To Coordinate

Group coordination is a must in any workplace. People need to work with each other for groups, projects, presentations, etc.

Unless and until there is efficient communication between members of a group, they will not be able to perform as effectively. In fact, if communication within the group is ineffective, then this may as well lead to conflict, arguments, and sometimes even the breakdown of the group itself.

3. Reduced Productivity

Another consequence of ineffective communication in the workplace is reduced productivity. Think about it: an organization is like a human body. For it to function effectively, all different parts must coordinate with each other and perform their roles.

If different parts are not coordinating effectively, or if one part sends the wrong message to another, then the body starts breaking down. And that’s exactly what happens with an organization that doesn’t harbor effective communication habits.

4. Lower Morale

Another impact of a ineffective communication is lower morale. Camaraderie between co-workers as well as effective and quick communication from superiors is something that every employee desires.

If employees do not attain these goals, then their morale level tends to take a hit. They become dissatisfied. For an organization to meet its goals and be productive, it is vital for employees to be both: high in satisfaction as well as morale.

5. Impact On Turnover

Recruitment of employees is a giant cost to any company. If employees feel that their demands are not being understood and met, or if they feel like there is a lack of communication in a workplace, then they will most likely begin a search for a new role.

That is why it’s imperative to have effective channels of communication in a workplace. To find out more about what causes ineffective communication in the workplace, check out our article on Barriers To Communication In The Workplace.

Avoiding Ineffective Communication in the Workplace

1. Creating A Safe Space

If you want your employees to communicate openly with you, then you need to make them feel comfortable enough to do so. Unless and until you provide them with a safe place to voice their thoughts and feelings, this cannot happen.

So, make sure to have a system in place where employees know what they’re telling you will remain confidential. Make them understand that it is safe for them to voice their thoughts and feelings in the organization and that this will not be used against them.

2. Communication Must Be Consistent

Another thing to keep in mind is that your communication with your employees (and vice versa) should be consistent. That is, don’t just open up all doors of communication one day and then shut them back the next day.

Instead, make sure you communicate with them consistently, and that they’re encouraged to do the same with you.

3. Keep In Regular Touch With Remote Employees

The pandemic has made work-for-home the norm rather than the rule. Granted, the world is beginning to open up again. But companies and organizations are still not working with their full force. Many employees are still choosing to work from home.

In such a hybrid scenario, it becomes important to not just stay in touch with the employees that are physically showing up for work, but also to keep in touch with the ones who’re still working from home. This will boost their morale, and also help them feel more in touch with the organization.

4. Seek Feedback

Often, organizations might feel that they have an excellent workplace environment and that they communicate efficiently with their employees. However, the actual story might be completely different.

So, in order to understand where you actually stand in relation to communication, it’s best to get a first-person opinion from the people at the other end of the continuum i.e your employees.

5. Norms & Accountability

Have clear norms in place for how you’re going to be communicating with your employees. Is it going to be a face-to-face interaction, or through emails and surveys? Decide in advance, and make sure that your employees are aware of it.

Also, make sure to hold both: yourself and the employee accountable for effective communication to take place.

However, don’t start a blame game. You don’t just want to hold employees who’re not communicating accountable. Rather, you want to understand why they’re unable to communicate and come to a solution as to how they can do so in the future.

Examples Of Common Communication Problem In Life & Workplace 

1. Failure To Understand Or Communicate Fully

Normally, workplaces involve the rapid exchange of messages, emails, calls, etc. Employees are expected to respond quickly, and thus sometimes overlook details. This can cause misunderstandings and communication gaps.

A similar problem lies in normal life. Sometimes, we quickly say yes or no to a request that another person is making without waiting to hear the entirety of their speech.

The onus to avoid partial understanding of messages lies on both: the sender as well as the receiver of the information.

Solution: To avoid this, the sender should confirm if the receiver has fully understood their message. The receiver too, should pay their full attention and actually read/listen to the entire information.

2. Assuming It’s Someone Else’s Responsibility

This is especially common when working with teams. Team members might assume that a task they were assigned was actually supposed to be performed by someone else.

Similarly, outside of the workplace, people also tend to assume that another person has things covered. For example, you might assume it’s your roommate’s turn to buy groceries or do the dishes. Unfortunately, your roommate is probably assuming the same thing about you.

Solution: To avoid this, you can physically list out duties and responsibilities assigned to different people.

3. Problems With Confidentiality

What is okay to tell others and what should be kept to yourself? When is it alright to tell other people something that you discussed with another person in private?

There is no straightforward answer to such questions regarding the confidentiality of conversations. Often, what is appropriate and what isn’t depends on the context as well as the people involved.

Solution: The best way to avoid any misunderstanding would be to actually ask the other person whether they’d be comfortable with you sharing the information with someone else.

Bonus: Ineffective Communication In Healthcare

With the rise in the burden on healthcare due to the pandemic, we can see multiple scenarios of consequences of ineffective communication in hospitals.

Lack of effective communication in healthcare can cause poor outcomes for patients and their families, faulty decision-making, wastage of resources, and a rapid escalation of an otherwise normal situation.

So, it’s imperative to stress how important it is to have quick and effective communication within the healthcare system. The above-mentioned points can be used for the same.

Conclusion

To sum up, ineffective communication is a disruption of failure in the process of communication. Ineffective communication can cause many problems, both in the workplace as well as in normal life.

In normal life, it can lead to conflicts, breakdown of relationships, and emotional issues. In the workplace, it can lead to reduced productivity, lack of collaboration as well as a fall in employee morale.

Therefore, it is important to take step to communicate efficiently.

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.