When issues within work relationships are in place and/or discussed, it is inevitable that they come down to communication problems. Communication itself is the primary component in all relationships, in fact, and it seems to offer additional challenges within working interactions. This happens as well between colleagues, and management and subordinates alike. Workplaces usually exist based on certain parameters and shared goals of functioning, which are important to all concerned because their livelihoods depend on the workplaces. Challenges in communication here then go well beyond issues between friends or acquaintances, simply because the individual investment in the environment is so important. The following then explores a variety of communication challenges with the workplace, and affirms that, in virtually all cases of challenged relationships through communication problems, awareness and effort are necessary to improve the relationships.
It is interesting, to begin with, that when co-workers experience breakdowns or conflicts in communication, there is an expectation that management will resolve the issues. This exists apart from the common – and mistaken – idea that any problems within communication will “work themselves out” in time. In the workplace, it is usual that management is trusted to ensure proper functioning, so the expectation that management will fix issues is reasonable. All too often, however, and as research supports, management frequently distances itself from interpersonal issues when co-worker communication breaks down (Waldron, Kassing, 2010, p. 198). This is likely due to a number of factors, ranging from management’s belief that any personal issue should be addressed only by those creating it, and the perception that it is inappropriate for managers to involve themselves in what are often matters of personal dislike or resistance. Generally speaking, management is not inclined to interfere, even as it depends upon effective communication between employees. This being the case, employees themselves must accept some responsibility for understanding the communication problem and resolving it, and because this goes directly to their own interests and work.

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Another challenge within workplace communication is as ordinary as it is important. The shared concerns of all to contribute to the source of their livelihoods notwithstanding, it is inevitable that personality clashes generate blocks to communication, or even destructive behaviors. This may occur in a limitless variety of ways. It is common, for example, that one manager’s or co-worker’s communication style of friendliness or informality is perceived by the other as unprofessional and/or inconsiderate. In the workplace and important to all relationships, parameters of communication must be developed which both support open interaction ans reflect mutual respect, between co-workers and between management and subordinates. Adding to challenges here is how the widespread practice of telework further blurs the lines between professional and personal, or informal, communication. The individual working from home has a different perception of who they are and how in command of communication they may be, which would be more formalized in the workplace environment (Fieseler, Meckel, & Ranzini, 2015, p. 155). The challenge of appropriate and effective communication then becomes greater, and likely because those involved in the situation are not fully aware of how the difference in environment alone encourages greater independence and informality in the teleworker.

The above reinforces how effort is necessary if workplace communication is to succeed, and this in turn relies upon openness and a willingness to accept that, in most cases, no intent to create poor communication is in place. It is supported by research that the quality of forgiveness is important in developing healthy communication and relationships between management and employees, or in any workplace situation. An individual may communicate in a way the other feels is inappropriate and, unless the actual issue is openly addressed, it is likely that a tense and unproductive relationship will follow. Forgiveness, in the sense of both parties being open to accepting the other’s perception, is then a transformational process (Waldron, Kassing, 2010, p. 110), and this requires both open awareness and a willingness to make an effort.

Then, increased diversity in workplaces presents another issue in communication, as different cultures have very different ideas as to how interactions should occur. Americans alone struggle with communicating at work in ways that are not liable to be misinterpreted as too personal or violating another’s rights, particularly in cases of management and subordinates. Cultural diversity then adds to the issues. It is noted, for example, that Mexican and Mexican American workers in the U.S. are usually uncomfortable with the informal interactions typically in place between management and employees in American businesses. Mexican culture tends to insist on authority as “keeping a distance” from workers, and behaving and communicating in non-personal ways (Novinger, 2013, p. 137). Other cultures have different expectations but, again, the most important behavior all must engage in is awareness of the other’s point of view, which will promote the efforts needed to resolve the communication difficulties.

It is strange that communication, perceived as critical in all human relationships, is so often taken for granted, and the workplace is no exception. Challenges here in fact take on further dimensions simply because of the importance of the environment. Nonetheless, and just as people are inclined to believe that a failure in communication is either not their fault or responsibility, or a thing that will “naturally” resolve itself, changes in thinking and behavior are necessary. As the above supports, and in virtually all cases of challenges in workplace relationships through communication problems, the two agents of awareness and effort are necessary to improve the relationships.

  • Fieseler, C., Meckel, M., & Ranzini, G. (2015). Professional Personae‐How Organizational Identification Shapes Online Identity in the Workplace. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 20(2), 153-170.
  • Novinger, T. (2013). Intercultural Communication: A Practical Guide. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Waldron, V. R., & Kassing, J. W. (2010). Managing Risk in Communication Encounters: Strategies for the Workplace. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.