Top 10 Reasons Why Communication Fails


We all had times when we were misunderstood or simply did not feel we truly understood what someone else was trying to say. When you have communicators from different national backgrounds, the chances of misunderstandings increase. If you also throw in the fact that only a handful of people in the room have English as a first language, the chances of misunderstandings are magnified even further.

Here are the top 10 reasons why messages may be understood by your intended audience:

What can you do about it?

Wisdom is realizing there is only so much you can impact or control, other factors you may be able to influence, but not change or control. Focus on what you are able to do.

Cultural impact: Whereas you may not be able to impact where someone grew up, you can learn more about the cultures of others on your team to correctly anticipate any possible impediments to your messages being understood or interpreted correctly.

Not my Language: Knowing how many of your team members do not have English as a first language can help you prepare your messages using simple sentence structures and more common words to avoid confusion.

Distractions (obvious): Ensure that there are no distractions to people being able to pay attention to and maximize their ability to understand you correctly during meetings. In remote settings, having participants on mute where ambient noise causes a distraction on the video call. You can also ask everyone to turn on their cameras to improve engagement during a remote call.

Fake news – Source reliability: Ensure that any data you plan to use is sourced from reliable sources – reputable research companies or institutions. Making the resource material or reports available to team members may further positively impact your ability to avoid your message not being accepted due to doubts about the source of key facts presented during your meeting.

What they know: Ensuring that intended meeting participants have enough pre-reading to help them fully engage with the topics you wish to discuss may avoid spending time filling in knowledge gaps that some may have on the topic. Where your topic may be controversial, do not shy away from mentioning opposing views and why you do not support those perspectives.

What they prefer: If you have a high number of team members who prefer to have material available earlier to study it and form their opinions, consider sending key reports out before the meeting. This will improve chances of having an engaging discussion about the topics you plan to cover in your meeting.  Some intended meeting participants may focus more on the financial data, or operational data etc. Be sure to have relevant information available to address predictable questions in these areas.

Judgement before you said a word: If there is something unusual about your appearance of name, consider mentioning it up front or tell a story about it to neutralize the observation and get their attention. Make sure you dress for the occasion to avoid interfering with your own messages.

The last four categories are not easy to impact since they are closely linked to everyone’s psychological make-up or habits. Based on past experiences, personal beliefs and values, people will naturally be drawn towards or away from agreeing with your perspective on a range of topics. Knowing your team or those who would attend your presentations, might help you avoid the pitfalls. Other than that, you may need to use pre-engagement and post-engagement activities to give your messages a higher chance of being correctly interpreted and understood.

The Checklist

Click below to download an excel checklist to help you do a quick check – where can you be more effective when you communicate? Perhaps the checklist shows areas impacting your communication with a key team member. Talking about specific areas impacting your communication success, you may be able to improve your ability to correctly interpret and understand each other’s messages.

Linking Performance Reviews and Merit Increases


Employee performance outcomes is one important aspect to be reviewed when it comes to considering merit increases. It is not the only consideration though. Overall merit increase budgets, inflation, changes in external benchmarks for specific roles, current compensation ratios etc. are all additional elements which would impact actual merit increases per department and employee.

The resource I have here ties a specific overall individual performance review score to a specific range of possible merit increases. Some managers require a highly structured and fixed process for determining % changes and this is one way to create one. One should however also be sure to consider the other aspects mentioned above: budget for increases that year, company performance in the last year (overall), the market value of specific roles (roles that are in high demand). Compensation has a powerful influence on employee engagement and retention, but it is not the only one. Employees also care about career growth, flexible benefits and being helped to develop further.

I would caution anyone to consider unintended outcomes when attempting to standardize and establish rigid structures for considering individual performance and linking that in a fixed way to merit increase percentages. While intentions may be good: to reward your best performers for their contributions and to ensure those with lesser performance improve or leave the company, a process that is overly structured could fail to accomplish that intention.

The approach shared above – see download link – indicates one way in which a group has established a direct link tying the performance review process directly to the merit increase process. This example does not take into account some of the considerations highlighted above when it comes to selecting the actual increase percentage and I chose to share this resource anyway, because it does happen that HR is asked for a process like the attached on a regular basis and I want to make an example available to you if you find yourself in that situation.

I do suggest you consider ways to incorporate the other aspects as outlined above when you finalize your proposal to implement a more structured approach to tie performance management to compensation review.

My main advice is to think it through carefully to ensure your good intentions have the best chance of being reinforced by your performance management process and pay-for-performance approach . And I would also add that you should remain flexible in working with your documented process. Be ready and willing to adjust and update it as you gather input about how successful your process is in driving desired outcomes – results and behavior that you and the executives would like to see in your pool of employees.

Ice Breaker for international teams


all hands2

In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and they may attend meetings at various international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives.

Cultures and sub-cultures

You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.

When I think of different cultures on a project team, I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)

In the exercise, participants answer questions from their own perspective being as true as possible to how things are done at the location or group that they represent in the exercise. Most people who have lived internationally for some years have already adapted to habits and ways that conform to expectations and habits for their new location and how people do things there. If your intention is to highlight the richness of different perspectives you have present at the event where you run this ice breaker – ask participants to think back to a time when they lived in location X or worked with group Y – how would they answer the question then?

The downloadable document above contains several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic of diversity and inclusion as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.

This ice-breaker can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people to the team from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but are from different offices. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches).

Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project.  Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.