To educate our team on how communications can be misinterpreted, we held an internal meeting to talk through causes of communication distortion and solutions to overcome them.

When companies invest in improving communication skills, they reap a multitude of benefits. These include improved quality and efficiency, increased employee loyalty and motivation, reduced discontent among teams, and enhanced workplace community.

At Audacious Inquiry (Ai), we’ve spent some time thinking about the skills and characteristics that our high performers demonstrate so we can encourage those skills throughout the company. One of those characteristics, or “core competencies”, is the ability to synthesize information quickly and communicate clearly. Communication is not only a vital part of being a high performer, but also supports all four of Ai’s other core competencies (i.e., being accountable for customer results, demonstrating urgency in solving problems, seeking opportunities to contribute, and encouraging diversity of people and ideas).

Every good communicator can be tripped up by common pitfalls. In this post I’ve highlighted three causes of communication distortion to be aware of and provided tips to help you improve workplace communication.

1. Encoding: The act of producing a message.

We’re constantly encoding messages at work. Encoding is subject to distortion when the sender encodes messages in a way that causes important information to be left out. Begin with the end in mind—before producing a message, think about what it is that needs to be communicated. The next time you send an email or leave a note on a Post-It on a colleague’s desk, consider whether the takeaways are fully addressed, and if your tone is coming across in the desired way.

Example: A calendar invite from someone in HR to meet one-on-one will often produce anxiety- even if you put details in the body of the invite, people often don’t think to look there. However, accompanying the invite with a separate email that explains the purpose and agenda will help the person feel more comfortable and ready to participate.

Tip: When producing a message, ensure that it’s appropriately matched to what you are trying to convey to your audience.

2. Channels and Media: The way messages are sent from one person to another.

We send messages via a number of channels including email, instant messages, conference lines, phone calls, in-person meetings, videoconferencing, and more. While all these channels help to communicate and bring a geographically diverse team together, keep in mind that they are subject to channel noise, which could come from poor service on phone calls or weak Wi-Fi connections that prevent messages from being sent all together.

• Example: Sometimes a videoconference can add a lot of value by bringing remote team members face-to-face, while other times setting up the required equipment can add a lot of extra time to what could have been a quick call.

Tip: Consider the content and participants when determining the channel.

3. Feedback: Receiver’s reaction to the sender’s message.

Feedback is a vital part of effective communication. The information gathered from the receiver’s feedback can be used strategically to change approaches or alter assessment of processes and outcomes. The absence of feedback can create significant distortions and eliminates the sender’s ability to modify their communication in the future. Ultimately what matters is whether you actually get your point across to your audience, not whether you’ve tried to communicate. Without feedback it can be difficult to know whether your audience understands your message and which methods are most effective. Try giving the audience multiple ways to send their feedback, including anonymous methods to get the most candid responses.

• Example: “We’d love your feedback about our upgrades, please click here to take our short survey.”

• Tip: Encourage feedback from the receiver by asking for it directly and providing them easy access.

Improving your understanding of the basics of communication distortion can help you avoid common pitfalls and take your communication skills to the next level. We held an internal education session on communication recently, and when we sent out the anonymous feedback survey afterwards we were a little worried that people might say it wasn’t useful or that the content was obvious. In fact, everyone said the content was very useful and they’d like to attend more sessions on this topic. Even experienced communicators can benefit from going back to the basics sometimes, and part of being a high performer is recognizing that there’s always more to learn!

Stay tuned for more blog posts in the upcoming months on how to become a high performer in the workplace.


Angelica Conway
HR Associate | Audacious Inquiry