Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Diagnosing (And Curing) Your Communication Issues

By definition, the creative process involves generating something out of nothing. This means that clear communication about thoughts, ideas, and expectations serve as a linchpin of the entire process. Done well, your ability to collaborate soars. Done poorly, it falters (along with your creativity).

Anytime two or more people come together to work on a project, there’s a risk of misunderstanding. This could happen within a project team or between a freelancer and client or boss and employee. Quickly diagnosing and curing your communication issues can empower you to consistently deliver or receive on-time, on-point results that leave everyone delighted instead of disappointed.

To help you maximize your efficiency and effectiveness on your project teams, I’ve outlined three common communication challenges and some solutions to avoid or fix the issues.

Diagnosing a Communication Challenge

Sometimes something seems “off” in your collaboration, but you have trouble pinpointing exactly what’s bothering you. Before you determine a fix, you have to self-diagnose your situation. Below are three of the most common communication challenges. Also, it’s important to note that you may have different challenges with different people and/or as a project progresses, the communication challenges you face with someone may change.

Radio Silence: Too little communication that causes anxiety

Your communication challenge may fall into this bucket if you feel like your initial discussions were rushed. You don’t receive status updates frequently enough. You find yourself worrying or wondering about the project often. Potential problems don’t come out until it’s too late to easily solve them.

Constant Pings: Too much communication that leads to annoyance

On the opposite end of the spectrum, over-communication can also lead to stress. This occurs when you have endless meetings to discuss the project but little to no movement on actual execution. It can also happen when you find yourself fielding a continuous stream of questions, sorting through irrelevant information, and hearing about even the most minor of issues—that you aren’t even responsible for solving.

Disconnect: Miscommunication that creates frustration

Sometimes you have the right frequency and quantity of communication but there’s a lack of mutual understanding. Maybe you think that you know what other people want but when you show them what you’ve been working on, they’re disappointed. Other times you thought you had answered someone’s question but they’re still confused. Or worse yet, you both end up doing the same work or parts of the project get dropped because you thought they thought one thing and they thought you thought something else.

The 4 Communication Solutions

Although the communication challenges vary, the fundamental steps to solve them remain the same. To set yourself up for success on a new project or try to salvage one that’s veering off course, try these strategies:

1. Act fast

If you feel uncomfortable about the communication, don’t wait, hope for the best, or ignore it. Take action. Telling yourself, “I’ll deal with it later” only increases the chances of flared tempers and misunderstood expectations. Confront the issue. That could mean deciding not to proceed with a partnership because severe communication differences will cause inefficiency and stress. Or in the midst of a project it could mean setting up a conversation to work through next steps.

2. Clarify deliverables

A sure way to set both sides up for confusion and disappointment is to not know what you want, when you want it, and how you expect it to be delivered. If you don’t know the definition of “done,” pow-wow to determine it. You should get down to this level of granularity: “On August 10, we will have a landing page launched for the public, which includes a video of the founders and a newsletter sign up form.”

3. Set (or reset) expectations

Each individual has a natural communication style, but to work effectively within a team, you need to determine how much communication needs to happen to make everyone comfortable. This could mean requesting weekly status meetings or progress reports at certain milestones. Or it could look like setting up a series of “If, Then” communication triggers.

For example: “If you will be out of the office for a week, then give me a status report a couple of days before you leave.” Or, “If you encounter an issue that will lead to a delay, then notify me as soon as possible.” You can also ask for people to not communicate with you about certain things. For example: “Please, don’t CC me on every e-mail between you and the printer.” Or, “Please don’t tell me about issues if they’re problems you can fix yourself.”

4. Try a different method

Some people communicate brilliantly over the phone but jumble everything up by e-mail. Others do great with sketches but never understand your written descriptions. When in doubt, try a different format: write it out, talk through it, draw sketches, give examples, or do whatever you can to make the concepts in your head translate into something the other person can understand and vice versa.


If you’ve tried all of the above strategies and neither side feels satisfied, it could be time to part ways instead of continuing to feel frustrated with one another. Communication forms the glue of professional partnerships so without it, they can’t stick.

How about you?

What do you do when you don’t understand or aren’t understood? 

More insights on: Office Dynamics

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

more posts →
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at
load comments (10)
  • don108

    While these three items are minor annoyances, they are simply NOT the major issue with communication issues. The major problem is most simply defined as: the map is not the territory. Specifically, that means the map (words you use to communicate) is simply a map (of the meanings represented by the words) and not the actually territory (the meaning you wish to convey) itself.

    This can best be exemplified by this exchange:
    Politician: “I support better schools!”
    Voter: “I agree.”

    Politician’s meaning: “I’m for destroying teacher unions, larger class sizes, school vouchers. That’s how we’ll get better schools.”
    Voter’s interpretation of politician’s meaning: “He’s for strengthening teacher unions, smaller class sizes, and no vouchers. Since that’s how we’ll get better schools, and since he supports that, I’ll vote for him.”

    So the problem is using the same words but having different meanings. Politicians on all sides of the aisle use this to gain unearned voter support.

    The solution–in personal life and in business–is to pay attention to the feedback you receive. It doesn’t matter what you say if the person you’re talking to has different interpretations of the words you use. The effectiveness of communication cannot be judged by the words you use. It should be judged by the response you get.

    Even if you’re positive about the meanings of your words, you need to be able to change to meet what the person/people you’re communicating with think your words should mean. This ability to change to meet the communication needs of the people you want to deal with is a sign of a good communicator.

    What is mentioned in this brief article are just side issues.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Good point that we need to be sure to use precision in our communication and make sure that we understand what people actually “mean” when they say something.

      That’s why I recommended trying other methods of explanation, such as pictures or examples of similar projects. These forms of communication can take creative ideas from the abstract to the concrete.

      To your brilliance!

      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • YacoRoca

    Thank you very much Elizabeth. These are all spot on and how they’ve been handled has proven to shift the balance between stressful and pleasing relationships.

    The key difference has definitely been acting fast on diagnosing/solving, and every client with whom communication remained fresh has actually led to both valuable projects and friendships.

    It gets dicier in groups, where any given combination of these might happen between each person involved. I’ve found one other way of addressing the matter is to clarify the objectives those deliverables will help the client reach. Who or what is not helping us get there… what then, is that thing leading to, or that person trying to achieve? It can help pin point whether an assumption was wrong or if (gulp) anyone has their own agenda.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Excellent point!

      When we go from one-on-one to a larger group, you need to be aware that multiple factors and dynamics may be at work. In those cases, the best solution can often be to pull people out one-on-one to discuss and resolve issues openly and honestly so that they don’t pull down the entire project team.

      To your brilliance!

      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • MotherWit

    I have a boss who regularly comes down on me for doing an assignment ‘wrong’. Though I have done as I was told, it was not according to some unspoken qualification that to him ‘should be obvious to anyone’. Of course, after a few instances of this I began asking for clarifications up front. But when I do, he gets angry. He says he ‘shouldn’t have to micromanage’ me and I should ‘use my brain’ to figure out how to do it. Apparently his stance is that if it’s obvious to him, but not to me, then I’m doing something wrong. Oh, and he won’t read emails or other written communication.

    He’s otherwise a great boss, and I like him. I just have to deal with this situation about once a month when a non-routine job comes up. Do you have any ideas or tips on how to deal with it?

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Yes-You’re not alone in this situation. I actually recently coached a client on the same topic.

      We started out with the approach that you also tried of asking clarifying questions. That did help to start to get unspoken expectations on the table. But we noticed sometimes managers thought this made him seem like he needed too much direction to execute.

      This is the new strategy that we decided on to help with the situation during a one-on-one with a boss:

      “I’ve noticed that it’s very important to you that projects be completed in the way you prefer. However, I’ve also noticed that when I ask for clarification on your expectations for non-routine assignments, you interpret that as lack of effort on my part. What do you recommend that I do to make sure I’m clear on your preferences on new jobs?”

      Or another approach is to come up with an initial plan to show that you have thought through the various options and aren’t mentally lazy. Then ask for him to review the plan before you execute so he has a chance to give you feedback.

      To your brilliance!

      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Prashant

    Nice article really this is very important when you fresher in the organization.


  • Anmol Dabra

    Thank You
    A very nice article.
    It is only the good communication with which we can convey our message easily to anyone.
    and it is the important part in everyone’s life. :D

  • Web Outsourcing Gateway

    Clearly explain yourself or listen to what the other person is talking about, even if its difficult in your part. Communication makes it easier for you to understand another person, especially when it comes to work and business. It is better to have a shared meaning and shared understanding when it comes to negotiating with someone. Thanks for this post!

  • RasLeBol

    Great and very helpful article, Elizabeth!

    For my part, I am well aware of my shortcomings. I am very lousy at communicating my thoughts/ideas, transmitting other’s thoughts/ideas and clearly understanding the problem of other people. And this kind of impact negatively on how the other co-workers view me.

    Any idea on how to tackle these drawbacks?

    Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,151 other followers