The High Cost of Poor Internal Communication — Shapiro Communications

On April 9, 2017, a passenger was forcibly dragged off a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY.

The passenger, Dr. David Dao, had refused to give up his seat as requested by a flight attendant. An argument ensued, and in the end, the United flight crew called the airport police to forcibly remove Dr. Dao from the plane, much to the horror of his fellow passengers.

The images of Dr. Dao struggling against airport police as they dragged him off the flight spread across social media and traditional news outlets like wildfire. United’s CEO issued a statement that immediately generated rebuke amongst the general population. The halls of Congress buzzed with discontent. Consumer groups threatened a massive United Airlines boycott.

“Enough is enough,” was the general sentiment. This was the proverbial last straw; people cannot be treated like this!

Guess what happened two months later? United released its quarterly earnings report, and revenue for that quarter was up 39% over the same quarter the previous year. Wow! So much for a consumer revolt: Bad behavior seems to have been rewarded.

If this is how United will treat their guests, what might United employees’ experience be like? If it’s anything close to this, or even something far less degrading, one must begin to consider the impact of poor internal communication on things like morale, dedication, and loyalty. These are good areas worth exploring, as the cost of poor internal communication can be rather significant.

What’s the Impact of Poor Internal Communication?

Before we jump to any quick conclusions here, it’s important to recognize that airlines are in a unique space. There is little competition, and people want to fly, so there’s a captive audience here who are willing to endure a lot of subpar customer service as long as they get to their destination safely. “It’s very difficult at this point in time for consumers to exact a penalty against airlines that have exhibited poor customer service,” according to Northeastern University economics professor John Kwoka, Jr.

Price will win out over service almost every time.

However, chances are you don’t work in an industry with the captive market, and limited competition airlines have. Can you imagine treating your clients, customer, guests, or employees this way? How long would anyone want to work with you? What would happen to your turnover and retention rates? How long would you stay in business?

In an article by John J. Trombetta and Donald P. Rogers, it was noted that “…communication openness and information adequacy are antecedents of organizational commitment and be used as predictors of organizational commitment.” In other words, good communication matters when it comes to an organization’s bottom line, particularly on the employee front.

“Communication plays a major role in employees’ job satisfaction,” said Vijai N. Giri and B. Pavan Kumar in a 2010 article published the National Academy of Psychology, India. They go on to state, “How an employee perceives a supervisor’s communication style, credibility, and content, as well as the organization’s communication system, will influence the amount of satisfaction (morale) he or she receives from the job.”

Once again, communication is front and center. The better your internal communication, the more value your organization will be able to derive from your workforce. Giri and Kumar’s conclusions on communication in the workplace state, in part, that, “Openness and Trust (sic) were found to be highly correlated with job satisfaction. Similarly, there was a high correlation of openness and desire for interaction with job performance.” I think it’s worth taking some time to dive deeper into these conclusions.

What’s the Solution?

The first area I’d like to explore is Trust. As the article stated, Trust was directly linked to job satisfaction. Trust is also the first of the Three Pillars of Exceptional Communication, with Emotions and Reason being the other two.

What is trust and how does our communication influence how trustworthy we are perceived by others?

Consider what about another person’s communication style causes you to experience that person as trustworthy.

  • Do they talk “at” you or “to” you? What is their tone?
  • Are they direct with what they have to say or say it in a more roundabout manner?
  • Do they make direct eye contact with you?
  • Does their body language match the words that are coming out of their mouth?

No matter the answer, these all influence how trustworthy we perceive a person to be. Not only that, but every person will have a different response to any particular style. Therefore, it’s imperative to know what other people are looking for when you’re communicating with them.

If you are unaware of or have not adequately developed your communication style to reach a broader audience, you may be inadvertently generating feelings of mistrust that will have a direct impact on that person’s job satisfaction.

As a general rule, more satisfied people are happier people. As also stated by Giri and Kumar, desire for interaction is directly linked with job performance. Note that satisfaction, happiness, and desire are all emotional states, so they fall under the second pillar of Exceptional Communication, Emotions.

If we are not fully aware of how our communication may be either positively or negatively influencing another person’s emotional state, we may be creating unintended friction in our relationships.

Therefore, we must develop a broad range of communication styles to influence a broad emotional range in others. Given that what may cause one person to feel happy may cause another person to become upset, it’s even more important to have flexibility in our communication style.

If we remain content with the one or two ways we now communicate, we’re limiting our ability to have a positive influence in our organization.

Emotions are also an integral part of organizational culture. “Organizational Culture has been shown to have a direct influence on staff satisfaction and commitment,” according to Dric W. MacIntosh and Alison Doherty in an article published in Sport Management Review.

I also did some informal polling of a regional HR group I’m a member of, and in every case, the HR professionals I spoke with talked about the significant costs of employee turnover as a direct result of dissatisfaction and a less than desired commitment level. They also recognized that these were the direct result of poor organizational communication practices, and although the costs of such turnover were difficult to quantify, they were seen as significantly eating into the organization’s bottom line.

It is for these reasons that every individual and organization must invest in developing superior communication practices. The airline industry may be able to drag their customers, and perhaps even metaphorically drag their employees down the aisle with little impact on their bottom line, but the rest of us cannot.

Develop your communication skills. Be aware of the Three Pillars of Exceptional Communication. Take the time to expand your communication practices, as walking someone down the aisle is a much better situation than dragging them.

Originally published at on January 9, 2018.

Professional Communication Consultant, Author of “Exceptionally Human”, Keynote Speaker, Performer