Innocent communication mistakes can leave a lasting impact on your team. Avoid these common communication mistakes that sabotage teamwork and degrade trust.
Have you ever heard yourself muttering these words, only to realize later it was an innocent communication mistake?
“Oh, she didn’t copy me on purpose.”
“He’s withholding information to make my life harder.”
“Making us guess what he’s thinking is just a big power play.”
“Why would she put something that important in email?”
“What’s that supposed to mean anyway?”
“Why did she copy my boss?”
5 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork
The real tragedy is, once you realize it was all a big communication mistake, you’ve already been looking out for corroborating evidence that the bad communicator is really a jerk. And when you’re looking to prove someone’s a bad guy, the “proof” comes in surround sound.
Here are a few common communication mistakes we see consistently screw up teamwork—even in team members trying to get along.
1. Assuming malintent
Sure, some people play games. But not most of us, most of the time.
Don’t let an innocent oversight like being left off an email or out of a meeting degrade trust.
I (Karin) will never forget the time an executive peer left me off a meeting invite a few months after I had transitioned into a new role. Our departments had some competing priorities and I had “been warned” by my new team about the games she could play.
I was sure it was intentional. I stewed on it for weeks. Finally, after I’d let the fuel from my fabricated fable of her intentions combust into full-on stupidity, I blew a gasket when she asked me to move one of my meetings around so she could attend. As the drama unraveled, it became obvious that the original oversight was just that—an oversight.
We cleared the air and it never happened again. I could have saved both of us a lot of angst by just picking up the phone and asking to be included.
2. Hiding behind email
Email is fast and easy, and tempting—particularly in remote teams. But rarely effective for important communication.
When communicating something mission-critical or controversial, don’t assume”they got the memo,” and your work is done.
The best communication happens five times, five different ways. Email is a great supporting tool but rarely plays well as the lead medium.
3. Not checking for understanding
We are life and business partners. Love one another. Have an incredibly interdependent life and business goals. We TEACH “check for understanding” as a foundational concept you can’t lead without in every leadership program we do.
And you know when we get ourselves in teamwork trouble? Assuming we know what the other person is thinking. And “acting on” their best interest.
Don’t assume someone is picking up what you’re putting down—check to see what they heard.
4. Failure to write down decisions
We’ve seen so many great teams with excellent communication skills create frustration and destroy trust because they miss this simple step.
High-trust teams will often raise a lot of creative ideas, debate pros and cons, and then challenge the decisions some more. All healthy. Once the debate has concluded be sure to summarize the final decisions, along with the next steps and timeline.
With all that discussion, team members each leave with their own memory of what was decided, which may or may not match the recall of other team members.
Writing down and reading back key decisions and next steps is an important way to keep the team all moving in the same direction.
Communicating well builds the most important ingredient of any successful team—trust. Take the time to establish clear expectations around how your team is communicating, and to discuss where it’s working best and how it’s breaking down.
5. The wrong CCs
Email “ccs” are a great thing to keep people informed without an obligation to act. AND, the minute you find yourself “cc-ing” to create action, it’s probably a good idea to step back and consider your motives. Sure, sometimes it’s vital to escalate the situation. If you’re escalating for more attention consider doing it more directly. If not, consider bagging the cc.
These are just a few common communication mistakes. If you want to improve communication, why not ask your team what’s driving them crazy?
“What communication mistakes could we do a better job of avoiding?” “What’s one thing we can do to improve our communication as a team?”
What are the biggest communication mistakes you’ve learned to avoid?