In the past several months I’ve seen the affect that poor communication has on the efficiency of an organization. It’s not so much that it is the source of problems but it compounds all problems dramatically. Like the relationship between a spark and a powder keg, the more problematic an organization is, the more sensitive it is to bad communication.

In these situations, really good communication is critical to emerging from a bad situation healthier than you were before. Conversely, bad communication leads to a much, much deeper problem.

Bad Communication

But what is bad communication? Based on what I’ve seen, bad communication is any information that is conveyed in a way that intentionally or unintentionally misdirects the listener or reader from the axiom of the subject-matter.

As an engineer, if I’m talking about a specific bug that needs to be fixed to a stakeholder (say, a product manager or a user), I can poorly communicate the problem by injecting my opinion about why the problem happened in the first place, the history of this problem, or anything else that is not specifically relate to the problem being discussed. The listener or reader will walk away from that conversation with little or no understanding of the bug and, inadvertently, will establish some opinion on something entirely unrelated that may or may not be accurate. Not only has the original point been missed, but we’ve actually injected misinformation - or, at best, an unrelated opinion.

The problem gets much worse after that. The unrelated information gets propogated throughout the organization - with each telling a little bit more inaccurate and a little bit more infused with opinion and misinformation. This is, of course, the telephone game. Fun at a party, a churn-generator in an office place.


I recently listed to a blink about brevity - I was pleasantly surprised by the immediately applicable information in it. The approach, I think, is sound and can be used in just about any type of written communication. Besides the formatting of your written communication, the part that is most important to a communicator is the concision: convey your point in one sentence then follow up with context if necessary.


The importance of context cannot be overstated. Unless I’m very sure that context is already understood, I will tend to give a brief background to the situation after I’ve made my point - I also separate out the context from the point using some kind of clear separation to make it easier to find. Verbally, I separate it out with “Let me give you some context on this - if you’re not already aware”. The lesson here is Do not assume this person knows anything about what brought you to this point. Even if you think they should know, remember that people have a lot going on typically and forgetfulness is both common and understandable.

In-Person Communication

If you are talking to someone in person or on video you have the benefit of watching their reaction and adjusting your communication to clarify areas where you sense confusion or are being asked questions. Two way communication can also be difficult because without the context, questions can derail the point you’re trying to make. So remembering what got you to this point and steering the conversation back to your purpose is an important part of synchronous communication. I sometimes find it helpful to have written notes in front of me, if possible, as visual reminder of the path I was originally on.

Wrapping It Up

Keep your information sharing to only the information that needs to be shared, make it concise and follow it up - clearly separated - with the context of what helped you get to that conclusion. In synchronous communication, answer questions and comments but always pull the conversation back to your original point.