Too busy to communicate properly? Then you aren’t doing your job

When a colleague spends 10 seconds creating a poorly formatted email, with no context, it’s really annoying. You spend time trying to decipher the message and wonder why you don’t understand what’s going on.

The same goes for meetings. Someone asks you a question in a meeting with a demeanour that suggests that you should know the answer, but you don’t know what they are talking about.

When a leader does this, it is a nightmare.

Why do people do this?

Because it’s the easy way to work, that’s why. It takes less effort to just throw out messages and to make assumptions.

Why spend time communicating clearly when your target audience will run around trying to figure it out for themselves without bothering you?

Unfortunately, the easy way to work is also the worst way, especially when you are in a leadership role.

The impact of being a poor communicator when you’re leading a team

There are a number of impacts that you may not be aware of when you concoct a hasty, poorly formatted email or call a meeting where nobody knows what will be discussed. It depends on the makeup of your team as to whether there will be lasting damage, or simply frustration and annoyance.

Let’s look at a few situations.

Situation 1: A leader cobbles together a short email with very little context, allocating work to a team member.

This situation has a number of potential impacts:

  1. The team member wastes significant time trying to understand the message, asking colleagues, searching the intranet and previous emails for a clue
  2. Depending on the personality of the team member, they sit “spinning their wheels” for hours before daring to approach their boss to ask for clarification. Many people have trouble speaking up, which makes this situation even worse. At the very least, they’ll call the leader and have a phone conversation which could have been a better idea in the first place.
  3. The team member gradually loses confidence in their ability, thinking that they just aren’t handling the work or smart enough to be part of the team. This loss of confidence results in a downward spiral of uncertainty, with the team member second-guessing their decisions and ability to complete the work. Ultimately, you’re left with a disengaged team member with no confidence to leave, or to do good work.

Situation 2: A leader calls a meeting and makes assumptions about what information a team member already knows

The meeting involves discussions about work which the leader assumes the team already knows about, with reference to previous conversations that they weren’t even a part of.

This has a similar impact to the situation above, except it’s more public. People in the meeting see that one of the team “doesn’t understand” what is happening and clearly “isn’t handling the work”. Many people are too afraid to speak up and question someone in a position of authority, so this poor leadership behaviour goes unchallenged.

The solution: Make sure that your team understands the context and has all the required information when you communicate

If your team doesn’t understand what’s going on — that’s YOUR problem as a leader.

This is even more important when you have new people in your team. Don’t assume they know everything — give them time to develop an understanding for the organisation and the industry.

Do you really want to be responsible for a team that is lacking confidence and second-guessing themselves? How do you think the leader of such a team would be perceived?

If it makes you feel like the alpha dog because you know everything and your team doesn’t, then you don’t deserve to have your job, because you aren’t doing it properly.

Go get another position and save us all the trouble of dealing with you.

Originally published at on January 8, 2016.