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.

Checklists for Stretch Assignments


Stretch assignments are useful for learning and personal growth and development, because they purposefully contain elements that are challenging in areas where the assignee needs to develop. Designed correctly, a stretch assignment confronts one with the necessity  to get out of your comfort zone in order to succeed.

The starting point for designing such an assignment can be multiple data sources:

  • the person’s own development needs compared to established leadership competencies,
  • key proven areas of mastery that a company requires from their leaders to advance to the next level,
  • a mindset or  mindset shift that is required to move the company and its leaders into a new way of operating; or
  • to build competency in specific important areas that are or will be important to the future of the company.

A stretch is not defined in a general way, but rather it is very specific to a person. While a stretch could mean that one requirement is for the person (plus family, if appropriate) to move to an international location, it inevitably would also include other job-related challenges. Examples include supervising more people, having financial performance targets (for someone who has only had functional roles in the past) or having more complexity such as multiple geographical areas to manage. The key balance to maintain when designing stretch assignments is to ensure that the assignee is put under a certain amount of pressure to learn and grow, but not so much pressure that he or she fails.

Mitigating failure risks

There are a few things you can implement to help monitor how things are going with each assignee and to provide a “safety net” for an assignee to get support from.

  1. Assign subject-matter experts as coaches – depending on the scope of the assignment.
  2. Assign a leadership development coach to help the assignee reflect on experiences, frame up challenges and cognitively choose best solutions and explore new ways of operating to be more successful in the assigned areas of responsibility.
  3. Set up internal-company networking events for the assignees to meet, have opportunities to mingle and share experiences and also include a pre-determined learning event tied to overall leadership development objectives within the company.
  4. Set up a structure of communication moments with the “home” organization supervisor and colleagues – this is especially important if you plan to return the assignee to the same organization at the end of the assignment. Maintaining ties would greatly improve a successful return and reintegration after an assignment. Communication moments like these can also greatly help colleagues NOT on assignment to learn from the experiences and best-in-class solutions their colleague on assignment is mastering.

New and challenging assignments often cause assignees to experience some stress. Supporting assignees to successfully navigate through the new challenges means you should pay attention to a change in behavior or performance which could indicate that he or she is stuck on the learning curve. Signs that things are going wrong are important to notice early-on to maximize chances of turning things around and avoiding an assignment disappointment and/or incurring an assignee retention risk. Pre-departure training should be provided to both assignees and their coaches to understand and recognize signs that things may not be going well and to understand ways to become unstuck in every situation.

Some warning signals:

stretch-assignments-signs-of-failure

Expectations for goal achievement by assignees must be specifically captured in a plan and communicated to an assignee along with available rewards for over-achievement of goals. The specific strategic importance of the assignment should also be highlighted as well as the developmental needs to be addressed during the assignment.

Tips for stretch-assignment coordinators:

  1. Ensure that there is a structure that enables assignees to succeed and always follow-through with the check-in points and feedback activities to ensure all is well.
  2. Ensure that all those involved in assignments are clear on the role of management, role and responsibilities of supporting coaches, the role and responsibilities of assignees and the role and responsibilities of assignment supervisors and “home office” supervisors.
  3. Adequately prepare assignees for their assignments: cultural awareness training (for international assignments), language skills (where needed) and if accompanied by family members – consider a session to discuss the practicalities of moving to a new location with those family members present.
  4. Ensure that the assignees get interim feedback on how their assignments are going -at least 3 times per year, but more often if this can be managed. This provides opportunities to refocus and apply new approaches as needed to ensure the assignment is successful.
  5. Provide assignees and stakeholders in assignments ample notification about the end date of an assignment. This assures minimum surprises and helps everyone to plan actions leading to a well-organized return upon assignment completion.

When assignments are successful in achieving or exceeding on all the objectives, assignees should return from their experiences with increased confidence, leadership skills, and maturity. The personal growth and development they experienced should enhance their ability to make better decisions and build stronger interpersonal relationships with those they lead and follow. Being mindful of how to setup and manage stretch assignments can make all of that a reality.