How to Solve Today’s Top 10 Communication Challenges

Dr. Kevin Gazzara
8 min readDec 28, 2019

After spending 30+ years in the corporate world and consulting for the last 12 years I still find that there is a positive correlation between companies that have great communication and the health of their organization. We consistently talk about the importance of good communications and the perils bad communications, yet in the execution, most of us fall short in meeting our own expectations and those of others. There are many great communicators in history and in the world today. Look at John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, they were masters at concisely communicating a message to us through story and connection.

As humans, when we are listening to another person communicate, we will only interpret a conversation in one of two ways, either as an opportunity or a threat, there is really no middle ground, we fall on one side of the fence or the other. If you take the goal to deliver your message as an opportunity, even if it is a difficult message, you have a better chance to be seen as a great communicator. Many people are born with a talent for communicating and others have to develop it as a skill. The good news is that you can develop the skill to become an amazing communicator. The first step is by raising our awareness of the barriers to good communication so that we can address these obstacles quickly and even eliminate them.

Today’s Top 10 Communication Challenges

  1. Perceptual Differences

When we arrive in this world as a newborn baby, nature provides us with different capacities both physically and mentally. And we leave the hospital to enter our different nurture environments which further shape who we are and our styles of communication. Generally, by the age of five, the foundation has established our perception of the world and how we communicate. In other words, our persona has been molded by nature and nurture. Recognizing that this “persona” and perception is different for both us as the sender and the other person as the receiver is the first potential barrier to recognize. Everyone has their own way of looking at issues and decoding information. There can be a breakdown even when everyone is looking at the same situation but interpreting it differently. It means some will end up drawing conclusions different than what may be expected.

Tip: Take the time to objectively describe what you see, provide some insight on the reasoning and get others to do the same so that you both are on the same page as decisions are made and relationships are developed.

2. Hierarchy Pressure

Organizations all have a hierarchy; some are flatter than other so everyone is viewed more equally and some have more of a pyramid structure with the king at the top and all of the minions at the bottom. Either way, there is usually someone that you report directly or indirectly and this hierarchy can create a real or perceived barrier for communication. Great leaders recognize this potential issue and communicate in such a way that deemphasizes position and emphasizes the item at hand. Generally using your position to decide is viewed as power-play and it does not gain the buy-in desired.

Tip: As a manager, or someone higher in the hierarchy, avoid using words that emphasize your position (“from my position, at this level, etc.”) to create an artificial barrier to open two-way communication.

3. Knowledge Gaps

In leadership terms, “competence” is one practice that builds your credibility and provides you the ability to get others to listen. As the gap between what you know and what the listener knows becomes wider, the ability to be credible diminishes. Recognizing there is a gap is critical so that what you want to communicate is actually what is received and understood by the party or parties.

Tip: Acknowledge each party’s level of expertise and knowledge, narrow the gap through discovery questions and be respectful of each level.

4. Value Dissimilarities

Philosophical, ideological and moral differences are common and unfortunately, they create differences in what one person values vs. another. Religious orientation, personal upbringing, and education can all play a role in this creating huge gaps and dissimilarities especially on how business issues are perceived. It calls for greater intervention to make sure that everybody is reading from the same page, regardless of the dissimilarities in what they value for the sake of the development of the organization and for making good decisions.

Tip: Don’t try to change another person’s values, it can’t be done without years of tireless effort, and even then, you still may be unsuccessful. Separate the value differences from the communication as much as possible, and if you can’t, then agree to disagree and move on.

5. Style Variances

Our styles present themselves through our behaviors. Our behaviors are constructed from both nature (what we are born with) and nurture (the environment we have grown up within). Style conflicts arise from the 2 dimensions of focus and pace; 1) our focus on task or people, and 2) the pace at which we prefer to do our work, either at a fast or deliberate (sometimes referred to as slow) pace. People with a different focus or a different pace tend to contribute to the foundation for conflict. The truth is that people have different ways of approaching issues. While some might be aggressive, others can be complacent towards the same issues.

Tip: Listen for the focus words people are using, is it more task or people? Then listen for their pace, is it fast or deliberate? Mirror their focus and pace with works that work for them, not you, and you will find they become better listeners.

6. Personality Conflicts

Beside perceptual differences, personality conflicts are probably the most common deterrent to creating a productive workplace. Personality is primarily driven by behavioral styles. Our behaviors are constructed from both nature (what we are born with) and nurture (the environment we have grown up within. Personality conflicts arise from the combination of behavioral styles and values differences. Put these two together, then add delivery styles together and you have the perfect storm for personality conflict.

Tip: Identify the elements that contribute and detract from personality differences and discuss these with the other person. Try to reach an agreement or compromise to keep the most severe detractors under control so you can focus on accomplishing the tasks at hand.

7. Divergent Goals

A divergent goal is one that is in conflict with an organizational goal or someone else’s goal. Divergent goals are often called “hidden agendas”, these are where an individual uses an organizational goal to future their own success at the expense of the greater good. If you are working in a team environment you need to ensure your goals align with the team goals. If this is not the case, then then it should be addressed quickly so that the team goals are not jeopardized and the hidden agenda doesn’t make you look like a saboteur.

Tip: Try to reframe or modify the goals so that all parties can see alignment with the team goals. If the alignment is not possible, then make some hard decisions on who stays and who leaves the team.

8. Personal Attacks

When communicating, focus on the task/issue/topic, not the person. As mentioned in the introduction, when we are listening to another person communication will only a conversation in one of two ways, either as an opportunity or a threat. If you make it about the person instead of the task there is a high probability that they will feel attacked, and once that happens, they’ve stopped listening. There is already enough potential for conflict, don’t add to it by making the issue about the other person instead of the task or behavior.

Tip: Practice observation (objective) without interpretation (subjective), stick to the facts. Check for understanding during the communication, especially if it appears that the other person is shutting down or becoming aggravated.

9. Previous Baggage

The past belongs to the past but a good number of people have a tendency of dwelling too much on the past. Some will hold on to grudges for far too long deterring them from making any positive progress or change. Such baggage can interfere with focusing on the future and this can be terrible for any organization or business. Matters should be handled and settled as soon as they happen if the organization is to move forward as a unit by focusing on future goals and growth even at personal levels.

Tip: If there is an elephant in the room from previous baggage, address it quickly and collectively try to get it out of the room so the communication can move forward as objectively as possible.

10. Communication Clarity

Congratulations if you have read this far. This communication challenge is the most important and also the most difficult to deliver well consistently. Being a clear communicator is the #1 recognized trait of a great leader. Simple is always better and sooner is better than later. The best communicators have three elements in all of their communications when setting goals; 1) Quantity (how much), 2) Quality (how it will be measured) and, 3) Pace (time to complete with milestones to measure progress). Most communications are too vague and the person delivering them does not take the chance to check for understanding.

Tip: Ensure that quantity, quality and pace are in the communication, check for understanding by getting the listener to repeat your communication in their own words.

I hope you found this valuable on How to Solve Today’s Top 10 Communication Challenges. You can find more Management and Leadership knowledge on our website www.MagnaLeadership.com. We are trusted advisors for executives of small to mid-sized organizations who realize an investment in their emerging leaders solves their growth and engagement challenges.

Dr. Kevin Gazzara — is a senior partner and founder of Magna Leadership Solutions, based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the author of “The Leader of OZ” www.leaderofoz.com. He is an international speaker and recognized as a Management & Leadership Expert and an Executive Coach. Kevin is a professor at 5 Universities developing and teaching programs to help others achieve their full potential. Please connect with Kevin and Magna Leadership Solutions through our website: www.magnaleadership.com, on Twitter: https://twitter.com/doctorkevin, on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevingazzara, or our Facebook Fan Page at https://www.facebook.com/MagnaLeadership

I would be excited to speak with you about your current leadership and communication challenges. Please click here to book any open time on my calendar: https://Magnaleadershipkevin.youcanbook.me

If you have any comments, suggestions or ideas, I encourage you to share your thoughts with me and my readers in the comments below.

Thank you,
Dr. Kevin Gazzara
Magna Leadership Solutions LLC
Founder and Senior Partner

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Dr. Kevin Gazzara

CEO of Magna Leadership Solutions, Certified ICF &Positive Intelligence Coach, Management Expert, Professor, Speaker, Author. Contact: Kevin@Magnaleadership.com