Malik Mentoring: Common Communication Barriers Between Employees and Executives

In a conversation with a friend who was caught off guard during her performance review, she thought she was up for promotion as she had accomplished tangible projects that brought her accolades from her boss and results that aligned with the department’s goals. The disappointment came when there was no promotion. What had her upset the most was that there was no communication or feedback in regards to the reasons for not considering the accolades and results she produced.  She loves her company, her job, and her team—if she leaves, she is leaving due to a lack of effective communication by her executive, not because of the job. Can the organization afford this in the middle of the great resignation? 

This conversation made me realize that the ability to communicate effectively across organizational lines is essential to success as a leader. Yet, the communication gap between frontline employees and higher-up executives continue widening.

A recent study indicates that 90% of employees would prefer hearing bad company news to being kept in the dark. In the same survey, over 50% of employees said they felt their contribution to overall company performance was significantly enhanced by sharing company information.  

The communication gap between executives and employees exists for many reasons, but most experts agree on one thing: it’s bad for business. The impacts of poor communication between frontline employees and higher-up executives in an organization can be far-reaching. To bridge this divide, organizations need to start by recognizing the importance of effective communication along with the impact it has on various aspects of business performance.

Whatever the case may be for your business, it’s important to address this issue now so that as your company grows, it grows together rather than apart. This will help prevent silos from forming and create a culture that breeds success.

Here are some of the most common communication barriers in the context of an executive-employee relationship:

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  • Execution versus intention: Executives tend to focus on the big picture, while employees pay more attention to what’s right in front of them as they carry out their job responsibilities. That difference in perspective can create confusion and conflict when it comes to communicating priorities and aligning expectations. For example, executives may see the big picture value of an initiative, but if it doesn’t seem connected to employees’ day-to-day responsibilities, they may not understand why it’s important or feel motivated to invest in it. The solution? Start with the end goal in mind. Make sure everyone understands how their work contributes to that end goal—and how much it matters—so they’ll be motivated to give it their all.
  • Fear of authority: This can make employees feel like they can’t speak up or ask questions. It often occurs because leaders are seen as “all-knowing.” To overcome this barrier, you should use an open-door policy, encourage two-way communication, and create an environment that encourages trust and accountability.
  • Active listening: Communication is a two-way street requiring great effort from both the speaker and the listener. Most communication problems can be solved by incorporating some more active listening into the way we interact with people. If you’re only half-listening when your employees speak to you, they’ll know. It’s important that you take the time to listen fully and process what they’re saying before responding. When leaders value employee feedback and ask for it frequently, it encourages and allows for healthy communication all around.
  • Inconsistent messaging from executives: Employees don’t know what to do when they are told different things about the same issue by different people in positions of authority. This can leave them feeling confused and unsure of how to proceed. This barrier can be addressed at the source—by enforcing a consistent flow of information from the top down. Create a message management plan. First, identify the key messages that you want your employees to know and understand. Next, identify who will be delivering those messages, and what their role is in the organization. Then, make sure that everyone who has a responsibility for communicating with employees knows the key messages, and understands their role in communicating them. When there is a clear path for information to go from the executives to the employees, there’s less room for confusion and miscommunication.

At the end of the day, executives that have a solid communication plan between their employees can lower turnover, improve customer service, and increase employee productivity, which can ultimately lead to increased profitability. With so much at stake—the need to overcome communication gaps is particularly pronounced. 

It’s important to address communication issues to create a culture that breeds success. Your challenge –  identify your common communication barriers. 


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