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The Truth About Communication in the Workplace

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” These communication tips will help stop the spread of workplace confusion.

Imagine some frustrating interactions you have throughout your workday. Your voice isn’t being heard during meetings; Department Heads send vague, confusing emails. You feel a rising sense of anxiety that your direct reports won’t execute on the tasks asked of them.

Each of these cases has one thing in common: a failure of communication.

When communicating, our essential goal is to reach a mutual understanding. We aim to have everyone in the same boat, rowing in the same direction.


One of the fastest paths to a communication breakdown is assuming your listeners know the same knowledge as you.

As Alain Hunkins, author of Cracking the Leadership Code, puts it, “You’re the center of your information. It is crystal clear in your mind, but no one else has the same background.  This lack of context, the inability to frame things, can create misunderstanding.”

The antidote to avoiding assumption-based confusion is clarity. Ensure your message is straightforward and quantifiable, and when in doubt, provide an extensive amount of information rather than not enough.

Unsure whether thought has landed? Ask your listeners. See if they can paraphrase your words back to you. Don’t assume your message was received just because the words were spoken aloud. Similarly, avoid making the assumption that an email sent is an understanding gained. In the halting and frequently one-way communication of email, follow-up with your conversation partner is critical.


Anyone who has ever received a vague, confusing, or downright pointless email can appreciate that more communication is not the same thing as good communication. Before you fire off a Slack chat or hit “send” on a companywide email, take a moment to consider what you’re trying to achieve.

Knowing clearly what your goal is can help you choose the right medium for communication. For instance, before you call a meeting with your whole staff, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if this is the best way of getting everyone on the same page. Could the same message be conveyed in an email thread? Research indicates people often mindlessly slip into wasting time at work, usually through “cyberloafing” activities like checking social media. Avoid contributing to this well of distractions by drowning your colleagues in unnecessary communication.


There is an idea pioneered by the academic Albert Mehrabian called the “7-38-55” rule. The rule holds that only 7% of communication is verbal, 55% is body language, and the remaining 38% is the tone of voice. While subsequent analysis has found that this breakdown isn’t as simple as it seems, a lot of how we communicate indeed comes down to tone.

When it comes to verbal communication, the way, you say something matters. Hunkins notes that advertisers often run with this concept when creating emotionally persuasive materials. “People are driven way more strongly by emotions than by logic. The tone of our voice sends messages about how we’re feeling.”

Taking note of your tone isn’t just for verbal communication. In writing, the style is conveyed through language choice and formatting. Take, for instance, when a relative sends you an email where every other word is capitalized or where each sentence ends with an exclamation point. In either case, it feels like the sender is shouting their words at you.

In a workplace setting, your written tone matters. Be aware of the difference between sending a chatty, unpunctuated instant message to an office friend versus sending a project update to your boss. By focusing on the tone of your writing and your speech, you’ll be more likely to meet your goals at work.


Communication is a two-way street. If you’re not listening, then you’re not communicating effectively. It’s that simple.

There’s a difference between active and passive listening. Active listening means you’ve fully absorbed what the speaker has said and demonstrated that you understood their words. Notably, this means not interrupting, asking follow-up questions, and not dragging the conversation away from the speaker’s topic.

At my company, each of our guests has an opinion about our club. But we consider their feedback invaluable, as that is how we know what is working and what is not. Admittedly, this feedback is not always easy to hear, but we can deliver a more robust experience by absorbing our customers’ needs and wants.

To be clear, listening doesn’t mean reflexively agreeing with everything you’re told. More so, every participant in a conversation has a responsibility to foster an environment conducive to open communication. Active listening and avoiding judgmental language, and respecting others’ perspectives are a big part of effective and transparent communication.

Fred W. Layman III, USPTA, NGCOA, GSGA, SCGA, USGA, General Manager/COO, The Windermere Club, is the President of an Augusta, Georgia based club lifestyle management and consulting firm focused on supporting golf club owners, country clubs, residential developers, asset managers and community boards in the successful operation of their resort, club, tennis, golf, and food and beverage operations. His articles can be viewed on FredLayman.com. Email: Fred@FredLayman.com
Background: Golf and Tennis Club Owner, Developer, Home Builder, Hospitality, Lifestyle and Leisure

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