The impact of poor communication in business and 8 ways to get better at it

Picture of by Ros Jones

by Ros Jones

Business coach and author

Poor communication is at the heart of all our relationship problems from wars between countries, family relationships, and business relationships.

In business, good communication is vital within the team itself and also with our customers and all of our contacts.

The impact of poor communication in business


Within the team, poor communication will result in mistakes being made, delays to fulfilment of delivery and potentially loss of sales.

Between team members, poor communication often leads to “second guessing” or mind reading where someone guesses that a colleague is feeling a particular way because of x reason (they didn’t say good morning or spent time staring into their coffee or similar) or they assume something rather than seeking clarity through proactive and direct communication.

Poor communication with business customers will lead to poor customer relations which will lead to loss of sales and reputational damage.

Here are 8 ways to get better at communication in business


  1. Get better at listening

Active listening is a skill that is rarely taught but it’s a critical part of good communication. It’s vital that we listen carefully to the person we’re communicating with. If not, we run the risk of assuming what they mean, jumping in to interrupt them before they’ve finished, and thinking ahead about what we’re going to say next instead of really listening to the words, tone and true meaning of what the person is saying.

  1. Check understanding

If you’re listening to a customer’s request or complaint, be sure to clarify that you understand what they’re saying.

Everyone wants to feel understood. You could repeat a version of their words back to them by saying something like, for example, “Just so I can check that I’m clear about what you want, can I just confirm that you would like the extra large widget in pink and that you need it by Tuesday next week”.

Repeating back gives the customer the opportunity to correct or confirm what you’ve heard.

When speaking with a team member and asking them to do something, it’s really important that you check their understanding too. Otherwise there’s the risk that, when a business owner has asked someone to complete a task, they find that it’s been done incorrectly, or not been done at all because the person wasn’t given a deadline.

Until you have complete confidence that a member of your team knows exactly what you need doing, the way it should be done and the expectation around completion time, it’s a good idea to check their understanding: tell them exactly what you want. And then ask something like, “Just so I can be sure you know exactly what I need, Mary, can you just repeat what I asked for please?” Then when they’re clear about what you want, you could also add something like, “Is there anything that could stop you being able to do that?” or “Is there anything you need from someone else that will help you get that done?”

  1. Set expectations

As well as setting expectations with our team, we need to set clear expectations with our customers.

Be crystal clear about what they can expect from you and what you expect from them, the process of working with you, any terms and conditions, payment terms, method of communication, returns or complaints policy, how you will manage their information &c.

Check the customer’s understanding, usually by asking them to sign an agreement confirming their understanding and acceptance of the way you do business.

It’s critical that if you say you’re going to deliver to a customer on a certain date or time, that you do that. If you find you can’t for whatever reason, it’s also critical that you let them know as soon as you know.

Most customer complaints are caused because a business has not done what the customer expected. Good, clear communication is critical to ensure understanding of expectations.

  1. Team meetings

How, when and where you communicate with your team is also important to consider.

Without any formal arrangements in place, a business leader runs the risk of the “got a minute?” meetings where team members are allowed to interrupt continuously throughout the day with questions and issues as they arise. This is one of the causes of business leaders feeling overwhelmed and having to work late hours to catch up with their own work that couldn’t be completed because of “got a minute?” interruptions.

Be sure to agree when you’ll meet with your team members: perhaps it’s a 15 minute early morning catch up huddle or Zoom call or a meeting once a week. Whatever you decide, be sure to stick with it and be consistent, though if it’s not working, be prepared to be flexible and change the frequency as required.

Always have an agenda for your meetings and stick to it. This will save time, preventing people starting up individual discussions that are not relevant to the business.

  1. Communication media

With so many communication routes available now, it’s also important that you’re clear about the media your business will use for communicating either between team members or with customers. Otherwise, you risk some individuals not receiving the communication message because they don’t have access to the particular medium or platform you’ve chosen.

For example, if you decide you’re going to update the team with messages on WhatsApp, you need to be sure that everyone uses the system and actually reads the messages.

This is also important to agree with your customers. Some customers might prefer a phone call rather than a text message for example. Some might prefer to receive an email in which case you need to be sure they actually receive your emails and they’re not directed to the customer’s junk folder.

Remember to agree preferred communication systems, otherwise you risk having to check every conceivable communication avenue (of which there are a growing number!) for incoming messages.

  1. Communication style

To get really good at communication, we need to have awareness of our personal communication style because we may need to adapt our communication depending on who we’re speaking with and the circumstances.

DISC is a great tool to use to help you with awareness for adapting communication. It’s a personality profiling tool that helps individuals become more aware of their personal communication style and also how to recognise other personality types who will respond better to different styles of communicating. It teaches us how to adapt our style to help get the best out of other people.

  1. Be consistent

When communicating with customers it’s important that your team are trained in your business best practice so that your customers have a consistent experience when dealing with you. For example, you might want to have a standard way in which you expect your team to answer the telephone or to welcome customers and prospects into your shop.

Customers always want consistency in their dealings with your business. The easiest way to make sure this happens is to document your processes and ensure everyone is trained as appropriate.

  1. Be on brand

We need to be sure that the way team members communicate with each other and with your customers is congruent with your brand, ie what you stand for.

It’s important to have real clarity on what your business stands for, your vision for your business, the outcome you intend for your customers and the values and culture everyone in the business shares. This is important for attracting the right members to your team as well as the right customers for your business.

Once your vision, mission and values are agreed and published, all your communication to your customers must be congruent with this. For example if your mission is to provide all customers with first class service so that they will only ever want to do business with you, your communications have to be aligned with this, demonstrating consistently high customer service.

If you’d like to discuss any of the content of this article, I’d love to hear from you. Please just get in touch.



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