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At countless associations around the world, one persistent issue is a silent killer: Miscommunication. 

Miscommunication thrives when organizations lack clarity, honesty and vulnerability. 

It can create needless tension between managers and employees. At its worst, miscommunication can alienate an association’s members and the public. 

Left unchecked, it can poison employees’ morale and cause associations to hemorrhage members. 

Luckily, there are plenty of concrete steps associations can take to avoid miscommunication — and gain benefits along the way. 

Repetition provides clarity

When associations enter periods of change, leaders typically call for a town hall meeting, issue a memo or send out an organization-wide email. Once the news goes out, many assume they can move on and attend to other tasks.

That’s when miscommunication can begin to creep in. It starts with one person who is confused by the message, then spreads like wildfire. Before long, everyone has forgotten the intricacies of the initial messaging and grown to accept the game of telephone at hand.

Associations should embrace the power of redundant communication. When things are in flux, leaders should be prepared to inform their teams what’s going on — and then tell them again, and again. 

Each repetition will further clarify instructions, provide opportunities for questions and keep everyone aligned. Employees will come away feeling focused, confident and ready to adapt.

Honesty builds long-lasting trust

Associations don’t have to be perfect to avoid miscommunication. Every organization has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s unrealistic to expect any association — or person, for that matter — to never make mistakes.

But it is realistic to expect honesty, which can minimize the impact of occasional miscommunication. 

Take Southwest Airlines, for instance. Though Southwest offers affordable fares and excellent customer services, it lacks the small luxuries its competitors provide. 

But because Southwest is honest about its priorities — namely, customer service — and consistent in its promises, customers accept and trust its brand. 

This holds true in interpersonal relationships, too. Managers who regularly welcome honesty can open the door to better communication. If employees feel comfortable speaking up when they don’t understand something, miscommunication can be eliminated before it ever takes root. 

When in doubt, remind employees that their honesty is always valued, and watch how honesty can transform your association’s relationship with the general public, too. 

Vulnerable feedback leads to better outcomes

Associations that encourage vulnerability can significantly improve the quality of communication. 

Like honesty, vulnerability builds trust. Managers can set the tone for vulnerable conversations by maintaining eye contact, using approachable body language and reiterating key points.

When people feel comfortable being vulnerable, they’re more likely to admit their mistakes or confusion. They’re also less likely to feel redundant communication is frustrating or patronizing. Instead, they’ll understand the purpose and appreciate that leaders are taking steps to keep everyone on the same page.

Remember that feedback is a two way street. Employees should feel comfortable making requests and offering observations, even if it means voicing critical feedback about the organization. When managers embrace vulnerability and truly listen to employees, they’ll discover new opportunities to resolve miscommunication before damage is done.

Heather Nolan
Post by Heather Nolan
October 20, 2020
Heather a skilled communicator with expertise in social media and marketing strategy, brand management and journalism. She uses storytelling and audience growth skills to help companies showcase their brand and expand their reach.