Communication. What's the fuss all about?

21 January 2020 By Yvonne Lewandowski


As we get set for another busy and productive year, we can sometimes lose focus on a fundamental thing that can make or break a workplace: communication. According to US firm Gartner, research revealed that up to 70% of poor business decisions or mistakes are due to ineffective communication, directly impacting how a business performs.


So, how do we keep focused on communication and developing our skills all year round?


How communication works

Chatting to work colleagues or pitching an idea in a meeting may seem quite simple on the surface, but communication is deceptively complex and has many elements. At its foundations, there is the sender, the message and the receiver. The sender has a message they want to get across, and they want the receiver to interpret the message the way it was intended. Typically, we focus on the words being used, but words only make up 25% of communication. The remaining 75% is made up primarily of body language, voice and tone, with active listening and questioning rounding it out. The receiver needs to be able to interpret this mix in the way the sender intended.


To add further complexity, consider the medium of communication: emails, texts, phone, Skype and face-to-face are all ways we communicate daily, and each of these has a place and purpose. Emails and texts are often used for efficient communication, where face-to-face conversations are opportunities to connect with others and take more time and effort. And then there’s jargon. Every industry, sector and organisation uses jargon, and if it’s widely used (but not understood), it can cause unintended confusion, never mind how the context and content interfere with how our message is interpreted.


So, with all of this at play, it’s no wonder that issues can arise.


Intent vs. Impact: how was your message received?


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw


Individuals communicate and interpret information differently, so it’s no surprise that misunderstandings happen. Our intention can get lost in translation and as a result have unintended impacts. Leadership is grounded in effective communication. Understanding how your team receives and interprets information is key to ensuring that what you intended to communicate is what is actually heard.


Leaders always have an impact on those around them, so it’s up to us to ensure that it’s the impact we want. How often do we make throwaway comments or write hasty emails in the name of efficiency? While it might be efficient, the result could have unintended consequences. As we begin 2020, what is the impact and impression we want to have on our people?


To ensure we start 2020 in a way that makes those around us feel appreciated and valued, here are some recommendations to ensure communication lands the way it is intended.


Understanding your team

Empathy and understanding are critical to building trust and are the foundation of open and honest relationships. Investing the time to build relationships with your team will allow you to use language and channels that resonate and will ensure that messages are communicated effectively and interpreted how they are intended.  


Active listening

One of the fundamental skills of communication is active listening. In many ways, good listening skills are the foundation of any leadership role as they give you a better understanding of the people you work with and the team you lead.


So, what is active listening?

1. Be prepared to listen;

2. Be open-minded;

3. Establish eye contact;

4. Use open ended questions to obtain more information;

5. Ask if the person would like to hear your opinion or advice before giving it. 


There is a multitude of benefits to be gained by using active listening, not only with your team, but with all those we interact with both at work and at home.


The key to active listening is, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!


As we begin a new year and a new decade, remember communication is complex. The rush of the new year productivity, the beginning of new projects and potential new employees can lead to unintended miscommunication and misunderstandings. Taking a pause can make all the difference to how your message is received and interpreted and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to start 2020 feeling appreciated and that their contribution matters.


About the author

Yvonne Lewandowksi leads the Leadership, Culture and Diversity practice at Meritos and has more than 20 years extensive experience in human resources. If you're interested in connecting with Yvonne, you can find her on LinkedIn here. You can also reach her via email at