The 12 Communication Mistakes You Should Avoid as a Leader

The 12 Communication Mistakes You Should Avoid as a Leader

The way you communicate could be killing your team’s productivity, diminishing your influence, and decimating engagement.

It’s not that you are intentionally doing it – it’s just that what may be seen as “normal” or what is seen as common practice in businesses and leaders may be hurting instead of helping.

What are the mistakes you could be making that hurt communication with your team and employees? Let’s look at them now.

1. You withhold information

You could be doing this for multiple reasons.

Sometimes leaders (or people in general) hold information as a power play. Information is power, so they try to keep as much as they can to themselves.

Sometimes it’s a lack of trust. You don’t trust your team with the information, so you don’t tell them. You only tell them what you think they need to know.

Sometimes it’s because leaders think they are better or above those whom they are supposed to serve. They think people should just do as they are told and ask no questions.

Sometimes it’s because you just don’t think about it. You may not see it as important to share the information, you think they may or should already know, or it just gets lost in the shuffle.

Whatever reason you may withhold information, it’s not healthy. Unless it’s something that can’t be shared due to legal or other similar reasons, information should be shared freely.

For one, it lets your team know they are trusted, and it can help build loyalty. When you don’t share information, it builds distrust.

And people are going to talk, it just may not be the truth.

It also helps your team make better decisions and do their jobs better. If they don’t have all the information, how can they make the best decisions? How can they solve the problems well? How can they prioritize what’s important?

Don’t withhold information, share it.

2. You wait too long to communicate (it’s not timely)

This one is similar to the one above, but it has more to do with timing than not sharing it at all.

Sometimes you may wait to share information because you want to make sure you have all the information. While gathering more information can be good at times, you have to be careful, because waiting too long, as we’ll discuss in a minute, can be harmful.

Sometimes it’s better to let people know what you know now and tell them you will update as you learn more.

Sometimes it’s out of fear. Leaders fear people’s responses, so they delay and waffle about sharing information.

Sometimes it’s because the leader is busy or trying to craft the “perfect message” to share or other similar reasons.

Whatever the reason, when you wait too long to share information, like withholding it, it can build distrust. And, like withholding it, if you wait too long to let people know what’s going on, people will talk anyway, and we as humans generally assume the negative.

3. You don’t model what you preach

You don’t just communicate with your words, emails, videos, or memos, you communicate by your actions. And, when your actions don’t match your words, that creates issues.

You are seen as hypocritical.

People won’t take the information seriously because if you don’t treat it as important, then they won’t either. It’s like the old saying with parents: Do as I say, not as I do.

It doesn’t work with parents toward kids, and it doesn’t work with leaders to teams, or employees.

Your actions need to match your words.

4. Your communication is unclear

Your communication is unclear

This is a major mistake that many leaders (and humans in general) make.

Sometimes people think complicated is good. They think complicated messages make them look smart or make them look professional.

Just look at all the technical journals and business manuals and so on (along with many memos, emails, presentations, speeches… and the list can go on).

These may use big words for the sake of big words, technical jargon, and random mumbo jumbo. They think they are writing well.

They are wrong.

It doesn’t make you look smart or professional. It’s just confusing.

The best writing and speaking (the best communication) is simple, clear, and concise.

Using big words doesn’t make you look smart – writing and speaking in a way that people understand what you are saying does.

When you can make the complex easy to understand, that makes anyone look better.

Avoid the jargon, mumbo jumbo, and complex writing for the sake of complex writing. Use the least complicated word needed to give the message you are trying to give.

Make your communication clear.

5. You communicate based off false assumptions

Sometimes as leaders, and as people, we make assumptions. Okay, maybe it’s more than sometimes. It’s something we naturally do.

The problem is when you just base your decisions and communications based off assumptions instead of making sure you have all the facts.

Leaders can sometimes get a little arrogant and assume they know. They assume they know what the problem is, so they act on it. They assume why someone did what they did or failed to do what they were supposed to do, so they act on it.

They assume people think as they do or know what they know, so they communicate based on that assumption.

The problem is, often our assumptions are wrong.

Take time to recognize your assumptions, make sure you know the facts, and base your actions and communication based off facts, not just assumptions.

6. Your expectations are unclear

Sometimes you think your expectations are clear, but they aren’t.

A lot can have to do with the above – assumptions.

You think they have background knowledge, so you don’t share any. You think they know what you mean when you say something, so you don’t make sure they don’t see it differently.

Sometimes what is clear to you is confusing to others.

Then, down the road when the results come in, they don’t match what we were thinking because our expectations weren’t communicated as clearly as they should have been.

Make sure that your expectations are communicated clearly. Ask questions and see if the other person sees it the same way you see it. If possible, give samples or examples to help them understand what is expected.

7. You spin the truth

Sometimes when things are going negatively, leaders try to spin the truth to make it better than it really is.

There are layoffs, so they spin it to try to make it look better.

There won’t be raises, so they spin it to seem not as bad.

There are problems they aren’t handling, so they spin it to try to be “positive”.

Spinning just comes across as fake. People recognize when you spin information. Don’t do that.

It builds distrust. You lose influence. And people will talk on their own about what is “really” happening.

Be clear and truthful about the facts.

8. You ignore the negative and focus only on the positive

In one organization I was associated with, there were a lot of negatives and problems, but no one ever seemed to talk about them. They just try to put a spin on it all and focus on “all the great things happening here”.

Or if people brought up negative items, sometimes the mentality seemed to be “just be positive”.

Being positive is great. We shouldn’t focus only on the negatives. However, when you completely ignore the negatives, it doesn’t help either.

When you ignore the negatives and pretend they aren’t there, it makes you look fake, out of touch, and incompetent.

When you just tell people to “be positive” and don’t actually address the issues, it builds distrust and hurts loyalty.

Yes, don’t focus on the negative only, but do address the problems going on. Don’t hide from them. It just hurts you when you do.   

9. You don’t listen (and there’s no channel for feedback)

You don’t listen (and there’s no channel for feedback)

It’s vital as a leader that you listen.


Yet, so many don’t do it.

Many leaders assume they know what’s going on, assume what the problem is, or fear what people might say, so they never take the time to listen or ask.

For some, it’s arrogance. They know better than those “below” them, obviously.

For some, it’s insecurity. They may fear looking bad by not having an answer or not being able to solve issues, so they just don’t listen.

There are probably many other reasons, but whatever the reason, not listening is dangerous.

For one, it demotivates people. It hurts loyalty and trust.

It keeps problems from being solved. As a leader, you are often detached from what’s really going on. It’s by listening that you find out about issues and problems.

It keeps you from getting great ideas. Your employees often have great ways to improve processes or even new products – if you would listen.

Yet, again, many don’t. I remember in one organization I was part of, there were many issues and problems, and I had many ideas and suggestions to make things better, but no one asked or seemed to care.

Everyone seemed to assume they knew better.

It was very demoralizing.

Listen to your team and employees. Create systems for feedback to reach you, whatever position you are in.

Be humble and realize there’s a lot you don’t know and that others may have better ideas than yours, even (gasp) your employees.

Listen to Podcast – Episode 10: Make It Safe

10. You’ve created a culture of fear

Cultures of fear destroy communication because of the fear.

When people fear speaking up, admitting mistakes, sharing problems, disagreeing about solutions, or sharing ideas, your company misses out on so much because of it.

Not only are employees disengaged and demoralized, but you also don’t hear about problems that need to be solved until they grow much bigger, and you don’t hear about ideas that could benefit you and your company greatly.

Create a safe culture where people feel safe speaking up without fear of negative consequences, being judged, or being made to feel stupid.

Also Read: 15 Ways We Create a Culture of Fear as Leaders

11. You only communicate when things are negative

Instead of only focusing on the positive and ignoring the negative (as mentioned previously), some leaders only speak up when something is negative.

For example, your team generally does their jobs well. You never say anything or praise them.

However, one week, someone messes up. What do you do? You get onto them.

The only time they hear anything is when they mess up.

Don’t be that way.

Feedback, especially positive feedback (such as gratitude and appreciation and recognizing good work) should be frequent.

You should let people know how they can improve, but it shouldn’t be the only time they hear from you.

12. You don’t speak up when you should

I get it: sometimes we fear for our jobs. Sometimes we fear others’ responses. Sometimes we don’t want to rock the boat.

However, especially as leaders, when we don’t speak up when we should, we are doing our team and our company a disservice.

This happens a lot in meetings. Our boss may present a proposal – but everybody fears the boss’s response if they disagree, so everyone agrees.

Then the decision is made (which is going to be harmful), and people talk badly about the decision outside the meeting.

As a leader, it’s your duty to speak up.

Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last says:

“The most common display of a lack of integrity in the business world is when a leader of an organization says what others want to hear and not the truth.”

Keith Ferrazzi in Leading Without Authority says,

“If you ever catch yourself being so deferential to the chain of command that you fail to speak your mind and hide the truth, you are not just letting yourself down, you’re letting the whole company down. You’re cheating your employer. It’s no different than if you falsify your expense report. It’s low-integrity, unprofessional behavior.”

Unless you seriously will lose your job because of saying something (which in that case you may want to be looking for another job anyway – and even then you may still speak up, depending), speak up.

Say what needs to be said, even when it’s hard.

Yes, use tact when needed, but as a leader, you need to say what needs to be said, even when it’s hard.

You Can Avoid These Communication Mistakes  

Now that you know about the mistakes, you can avoid them.

Take some time to examine your own communication and see what areas you need to work on, then start fixing them, one by one.


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