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Take Ten: Common Communication Errors in Organizations

Peterson, James A. Ph.D., FACSM

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: March-April 2011 - Volume 15 - Issue 2 - p 56
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e31820b7a05

10 Common Communication Errors in Organizations.

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

1. Not having a communication strategy Some organizations never think of having a communication strategy. Either they don't see a need to share much information or they figure that they can communicate however they wish, and it will work.

2. Shooting from the hip This misstep refers to the practice of communicating before the entity appropriately has planned out the purpose for and intent of its communication. This practice involves reactionary communication without forethought about the true intended message and, more importantly, without consideration of what the perceived message will be.

3. Belittling people and teams This common error refers to the practice of using organizations' communication efforts to personally attack the performance of a particular group/team of individuals or a specific person in such a way that it belittles them in front of other groups. Although nothing inherently is wrong with bringing attention to performance that does not meet expectations, it should never be done in a manner that belittles the people involved.

4. Pointing fingers This factor refers to the practice of using communication to assign specific blame for the failure to achieve a goal. Although a need will always exist to identify the causes of failure, it must never be done in a public venue in a way that involves pointing fingers at a colleague.

5. Not sharing all the facts This misstep refers to the practice of suppressing information. In many organizations, leadership hoards information to provide it with a greater sense of control. Unfortunately, when an entity hides the facts, the employee rumor mill takes over, often causing the line between fact and fiction to blur.

6. Letting rumors exist On occasion, staff members either fail to communicate important messages or hide many of the facts that should be communicated. When they allow such a situation to exist unchecked, organizations are supporting the establishment of what many individuals refer to as an "informal organizational communication hotline." This informal communication process, which involves information going from one individual to another, almost always results in morale and performance problems.

7. Using the wrong communication tools for messages When an organization fails to have a well thought-out communication strategy, it is likely to experience a host of problems that results from messages being sent through inappropriate communication platforms. Groups must know what they want to say and then make sure to communicate these intended messages using the proper tool.

8. Assuming everyone got the message because it was communicated once It is a relatively common occurrence in almost every organization in the world (whatever its role) for upper-level leadership to assume that because a communication was sent out, that every individual in the organization got the message. Most structured institutions/companies/entities have a preferred communication process and just take for granted that once their efforts to communicate particular information have been undertaken, their endeavors, in this regard, were successful. It is important to note that people receive messages in different ways. Furthermore, it also is essential to remember that some individuals may need to receive a specific message a few times before it sinks in.

9. Thinking of communication as a one-way process All too often, leadership and management assume that as long as they are sending out information, they are communicating effectively. Unfortunately, such an attitude is a common pitfall of many groups. In that regard, it is extremely critical that every health/fitness organization's communication strategy addresses the need to listen and solicit feedback. If staff members don't listen to each other, they may never know how to most effectively communicate with each other.

10. Overcommunicating Somewhat surprisingly, some organizations overcommunicate. The individuals in these entities often fall into the habit of not prioritizing what information is important to communicate and what is not necessary to communicate. As such, these individuals don't apply a filter to their communication efforts, and as a result, they communicate too much information. These health/fitness organizations overwhelm their staff members with a plethora of messages. As a result, members of these organizations tend to either ignore the information or are unable to ascertain what is important and what is not.

© 2011 American College of Sports Medicine.