Communication Mistakes in Business and How to Avoid Them

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“The art of communication is the language of leadership,” James Humes once said. Indeed, effective communication is a cornerstone of a business that operates smoothly. However, achieving effective communication is challenging, and dangerous missteps can easily result in public relations disasters and unhappy employees.

Here are some common organizational communication missteps and information on how your business can avoid them.

Not Taking Responsibility

A business leader makes a statement.

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Writing for Your Thought Partner, David Grossman brought out some of the most outstanding communication mistakes among businesses in 2013. For instance, in August of that year, AOL CEO announced that the company would be cutting back on its number of Patch websites. During a conference call with 1,000 employees, he fired Patch’s creative director in front of everyone.

AOL’s CEO issued an apology for his actions, but instead of taking responsibility, he made excuses. An analysis by the Grossman Group of his apology revealed mistakes in his wording that downgraded the efficacy of his apology.
This incident underscores how important it is to take responsibility for mistakes. Writing for Forbes, Glen Llopis outlined for reasons why this is so vital:

  • It earns respect.
  • Vulnerability strengthens the team.
  • It provides an example for others.
  • It builds a culture of trust.


Extolling the value of customer communications management (CCM) software, Jeff Sammak wrote for CMS Wire, saying that programs of this nature help to “eliminate inefficiencies, mistakes and unnecessary costs associated with obsolete or manual processes.” Sammak went on to point out that this software reduces human error while still allowing for personalized communications with customers.

According to Boundless, “Efficient communication conveys a message and achieves a desired effect using the least possible effort and resources.” It stands to reason, then, that inefficient communication uses more effort and resources than necessary.

Boundless went on to point out that an efficient communication strategy considers the target audience of a message and the message’s goal. Carefully considering these two factors may lead to more effective communication and fewer misunderstandings.


Insperity, an HR firm, posted an article by Lana Gezalova in which she pointed out the problems with relying too much on business jargon. She gave this sentence as an example: “We’ve taken a solution-focused approach, dominated by our corporate values, to create a paradigm shift in the industry.” That statement could apply to a number of different situations; it does not say much of anything.

Gezalova further stated that relying too much on vague business jargon hinders clarity and can make the source sound like they are avoiding facts.

Writing for Wharton Magazine, Stacy Blackman gave some tips on how to be concise and clear when communicating in business:

  • Lead with the main point.
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon.
  • Use short sentences.

The above tips might be especially applicable to business writing. When you’re writing, Blackman also advises that you read your message aloud and use a grammar and spell check.


In the aforementioned article for Your Thought Partner, David Grossman highlighted another poor example of business communication. In February 2013, Yahoo sent out a memo to employees that told them that telecommuting would no longer be an option. The memo received a largely negative reaction because it did not clearly convey the reasons behind the policy change. The incident instigated a nationwide conversation about work-from-home options.

Transparency is important to keep company morale at optimum levels. Ken Lin, the founder and CEO of Credit Karma, wrote for Inc., “In a transparent company, people know what is happening and why. They feel more involved… In a transparent company, executives are part of the greater team and not locked off in a room no one can access. People end up feeling part of something.”

Lin wrote that his company’s transparency culture has three key factors:

  • An open-door policy.
  • Honest conversations brought about in part by town hall meetings.
  • Full disclosure about what the company is doing.

Sounding Ignorant

Sounding ignorant is one of the worst communication blunders you can make, according to an article written by Jason DeMers, the founder and CEO of AudienceBloom. He wrote, “Nobody knows everything, but being ignorant of a certain topic is not the same as showing your ignorance of a certain topic.” It is often better to remain silent on topics that you do not know a lot about.

You should also avoid using phrases that can give the impression you do not know what you are talking about. Writing for Entrepreneur, Serenity Gibbons listed some of these phrases:

  • “That’s ironic.” Many people misunderstand the meaning of the word “ironic.” It doesn’t refer to coincidences; it refers to situations in which the opposite of what was expected happens.
  • “Kinda” and “sorta.” These are extremely casual and could be seen as word whiskers or could make you sound unsure of yourself.
  • “No worries” or “no problem.” These phrases, often used as substitutes for “you’re welcome,” irritate many professionals.

Gibbons also suggests that you avoid using big words. Even if you’re using them correctly, they could give the impression that you are trying to make yourself look smart, which in turn could give the impression that you are not intelligent.

Using the Wrong Tone or Being Too Emotional

Writing for Inc., Lolly Daskal, the president and CEO of Lead from Within, pointed out some common communication mistakes, one of which is a lack of attention to tone. Particularly when you are in the midst of a challenging situation, it is important to control your tone. You do not want to come across as being on edge. Daskal recommends that you pause and take a breath before you speak, whether you are addressing a room full of people or an individual employee.

Avoiding organizational communication missteps can help you to avoid embarrassment and misunderstandings. If you are interested in learning more about communication to grow in your career, consider a Master of Communication Management degree from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.