Communication pitfalls

June 2015

Banana skinCommunication is a cornerstone of a great strategy; done well it will deliver the desired message and reduce any anxiety that may exist; done poorly and resistance to change will increase and performance may be affected. Justin York MBCS highlights some pitfalls, problems and solutions all too common in communication.

Corporate communication brings a number of problems, and it is necessary to understand the type of issue that you may come across:

Poor response: this refers to a lacklustre response or lack of engagement with a process (usually of change).

Resistance: the actions of people responding to the change do not reflect acceptance, regardless of the initial communication response.

Rumours: employees, when faced with significant change, often start rumours about what they think is going to happen; the so-called 'reading between the lines'!

Open hostility: hostile behaviour affecting the teams or organisation needs to be addressed quickly and effectively. Such open hostility is bad for morale, motivation and the business as a whole.

Reduced performance: over time a reduction in performance from a team member or whole team is noticed.

The severity of the above issues will vary between organisations, how adaptive the people are to change and how much change is going on at any one time.

Communication preferences

People have their own preference for receiving information and processing it; they typically fall into one of three preferences aligned with our senses:

Visual: around 60 per cent of the population are visually-orientated people and like pictures or images. They like to see drawings, colleagues to draw concepts or images that they can relate to.

Auditory: approximately 20 per cent of the population prefer auditory stimulation and messages, generally preferring their communication to be through the spoken and written word.

Kinaesthetic: the remaining 20 per cent of the population prefer the thinking / feeling approach to understanding communication and processing information. They are the hands-on people of an organisation and would very much prefer a walkthrough of a concept as opposed to pictures and words.

When thinking about preferences of the audience, it is essential to mix the language of presentations and briefings so that everyone feels that they have been included in the process. The delivery of presentations should therefore include words and images, which can also induce a feeling of connectedness for the kinaesthetic in the audience.



Drawings being done at the time

Bullet after Bullet

Continuous words
Will be looking at the screen or image being drawn
Auditory Words / Language Images / Drawings Will be looking from screen to speaker
Kinaesthetic Images / Words associated to feelings Just images or words Will be looking from screen to speaker then neutral

This table is a generalist view of the preferences; remember there will be a blend of preference as it is highly unusual to be 100 per cent one type.

Communication strategy

Communication needs to be clear and to the point, styled in a way that suits everyone; however you do need to ensure that you can pass the same message to all levels with subtly different techniques. It is essential that you work out who the communication is for and what they expect from it.

The key aspect of this development of a communication that encompasses all is not to lose the thread of the overall message and to make sure it remains the same.

A good communication strategy has to contain:

  • What is it you’re trying to communicate and how will you do it?
  • Who are the audience, (CEO, the board, senior managers, teams or individuals)?
  • What is the purpose of the communication, (new strategy, merger, redundancy etc.)?
  • Who will be communicating the message, and at what level?
  • What are you trying to achieve with the message?
  • What response are you looking for?

Once you have decided what your approach will be, then you can produce the material that will back the strategy. This may contain PowerPoint presentations, verbal briefings, written messages such as letters or emails and poster-type material. By making the delivery of the strategy as diverse as possible the maximum number of people can be engaged.


Delivery of communication must be congruent; body language, tone and pitch and the words all need to be in alignment. Research that states 55 per cent is body language, 38 per cent is the tone and pitch of delivery and seven per cent are the actual words.

The audience will believe incongruent communication less. This may lead to reading between the lines and an attitude of resistance. Imagine, a presenter who is delivering some important communication about change, but their posture is poor; tone and pitch are very monotone even when they are making a positive statement.

That scenario does not deliver a congruent message to the audience. Conversely imagine a presenter who has great posture, is animated, the tone and pitch are variable as they deliver a positive message; basically, the greater the congruency the less the chance of misunderstanding.


All individuals will undergo an emotional response when confronted with change and often how this change is communicated effects how it is accepted or rejected. The emotional responses felt by individuals are real and require some managing, particularly if the change will affect their role. Addressing concerns ahead of a more formal corporate communication will help to reduce the impact.

The 3E’s model asserts that individuals will have an expectation about what they are being told and they will have an experience (good or bad) that will result in an emotional response. If the expectation is met through experience, then the emotion will be positive and the expectations will be reinforced; if the expectation is not met as a result of experience then the emotion will be negative and expectations will be ‘dashed’.

The key assertion is that the communicators have the power to meet or deny expectation (assuming they know the expectations) through the delivered experience.

Reducing resistance to change to an absolute minimum will reduce management overheads allowing more time to drive the changes. It is essential that the message is further reinforced, through objectives and task assignment.

This article has discussed some of the fundamental issues that surround communication of strategy in organisations. These can be summarised as:

  • Know who it is you are communicating to and produce the appropriate level of material.
  • Mix the delivery medium (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) to engage as many of the people as possible.
  • Make your strategy clear and concise to reduce the amount of resistance that people will have to the change.
  • Show what’s in it for them to engage them further and gain their support.
  • Deliver your communication in a way that minimises reading between the lines; if you feel you can’t say something then don’t.
  • You cannot ‘not communicate’; body language makes up 55 per cent of what we say; when you’re communicating make sure your body language, tone and pitch and words are congruent.
  • Deliver your message like you mean it and believe in it.

Image: iStock/180956427

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    Project Eye wrote on 27th Jul 2015

    How do you measure the amount of information conveyed by body language so that you can come up with a precise proportion like 55%?

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