Communication is key – so why do we get it wrong?

Communication is key.
Communication is key.
Luis Alvarez

In an ever-changing world people are finding themselves rattled by industries that require new skills, or often don’t require workers for jobs that can be done by machines or AI. Regardless of your occupation or position, though, there are some skills – soft skills – that will always be invaluable.

“Strengthening a soft skill is one of the best investments you can make in your career, as they never go out of style,” said LinkedIn learning editor Paul Petrone. “The rise of AI [artificial intelligence] is only making soft skills increasingly important, as they are precisely the type of skills robots can’t automate.”

In the first of two parts, we look at why communication is one of the most important skills that can set you apart – and how something that sounds so simple can easily go wrong.



It doesn’t matter if you’re working from the corner of your bedroom, in a factory, in retail or at a call centre, communication is going to be a big part of your day – whether it’s with colleagues, clients or customers.

Research by US firm Gartner shows that 70% of problems in workplaces can be attributed to poor communication, which can lead to increased stress, poor decision-making, muddied audit trails, legal disputes and business losses.


So, it’s about talking?

Yes, and emails – and increasingly these days, video calls too.


Why is it important?

Effective communication is the same as it’s been since people first began chatting to one another – all we want is for our message to be sent and received accurately, at work or in our personal lives.

Bad communication and miscommunication, however, mean losing customers, clients, business and, if you’re Nasa, even a multimillion-dollar spacecraft. 

The Mars Orbiter incident of 1999 is one of the best, or perhaps worst, incidents of poor communication. Nasa launched the $125-million spacecraft . . . and lost it not long after, all because the two engineering teams working on it were using different measurements – one team was using metric, the other imperial. 

The teams were clearly not communicating effectively, which led to the Orbiter departing from its intended flight path and burning up in Mars' atmosphere.


So many emails

Communicating effectively has become complicated in the past decade or so by the sheer volume of written communication we have to deal with daily, forcing us to read emails quickly and reply hastily, says Nick Read, a business lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

He reckons most people receive about 123 business emails daily and spend less than four minutes on each of them. A third of all emails are never opened, according to research by technology market research firm The Radicati Group. 

“Communicating digitally is fraught with risk of miscommunication. So much of communication is delivered non-verbally. And, unfortunately, emojis don’t make up that gap,” says Greg Harris of Quantum Workplace, which surveyed 1 400 people on communication in the workplace in a study titled The State of Miscommunication: 6 Insights on Effective Workplace Communication.


Talk to me?

The State of Miscommunication found that only half of the people they surveyed were having “great or excellent” conversations at work with their peers or managers.

Common problems included people who felt uncomfortable or scared to speak up at work, meetings that left participants confused about what was expected of them and information that was over-explained or under-explained and created confusion. 

Video conferences often bring the same issues as in-person meetings – they are too long, speakers ramble on and participants are left confused about what’s expected of them after the meeting. Many people also feel uncomfortable about speaking out or asking questions during video meetings. 







We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24