Do Your Underperforming Employees Struggle with Communication Problems?

BY Kathy Crosett
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With U.S. residents being more polarized than ever before around social and political issues it’s no surprise that conflict is showing up in the workplace. Is conflict the root cause of why your underperforming employee can’t seem to step up and do the job? Or is something else, such as communication problems, at the heart of the problem? As the villainous character in the old-​time movie “Cool Hand Luke” stated, “What we’ve got here…is failure to communicate.” The manager’s challenge is to help struggling employees by improving communication and reducing conflict.

The Underperforming Employee, Communication Problems and Conflict

The Myers-​Briggs Company has updated its research on work conflict. Not surprising, they report an increase in incidents since their last published study which dates back to 2008. This issue has hit managers particularly hard, amounting to, “over 4 hours a week [spent] dealing with conflict on average," says John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-​Briggs Company.

What are the causes of conflict? Our research shows that managers have conflict with team members on the following topics:

  • Time commitment 39%
  • Work responsibilities 37%
  • Fairness in work assignments 34%
  • Flexibility in work hours 34%
  • Work performance expectations 32%

It’s easy to see how communication problems can influence a team member to gradually become an underperforming employee. Most managers engage with every team member the same way: their way. If their communication style is brusque and rushed, not every employee will feel comfortable asking questions to clarify a confusing assignment. Employees may try to figure out their problems on their own. And in solving their problems, their deliverables may fall short of expectations. This situation can lead to a conflict when the manager has to explain that the employee’s work performance isn’t where it should be. These uncomfortable conversations can leave employees feeling dejected.

Myer-​Briggs analysts point to common communication problems between team members and managers. Some employees need managers to spell out the objectives and expected results when making assignments. Other employees feel put off if the manager doesn’t spend a few minutes chatting about non-​work-​related topics before delving into work topics. How does a manager know which tactic works best with an employee? A psychometric assessment that reveals communication style preferences will provide insights.

Employee Conflict and Toxic Workplaces

The Myer-​Briggs data suggests that 49% of extroverted team members believe they manage conflict quite well. But 59% of introverts say that only have adequate conflict management skills, suggesting these employees may not be feeling the love in the workplace. These findings underscore the need to address communication problems in the workplace before a toxic culture emerges.

Employees who reported more hours spent in conflict were also likely to report lower levels of job satisfaction, according to the Myer-​Briggs survey. These days, more employees are experiencing conflict with coworkers. Interestingly, about 34% of surveyed employees indicated that conflict has increased since the start of the COVID-​19 pandemic. About 41% of in-​office workers have noticed more conflict, while 33% of remote workers say there is less conflict.

A workplace filled with conflict generally stresses out employees (38%) and makes them feel uncomfortable (20%). When managers don’t resolve conflict, 20% of employees say they have experienced a lack of cooperation, and 14% have dealt with poor morale. To best address the issue of conflict, employees would like to see their managers listen and ask for information (15%) and communicate more regularly and clearly (14%.)

Positive Conflict Management

Not all conflict yields negative outcomes. Team members should feel free to voice their differing opinions in a respectful way, especially about product design and development and workplace rules. When managers guide the conversations actively and to a positive end, 28% of employees say they have experienced more collaboration, and 16% say they’ve seen change and new perspectives in the workplace.

These attitudes serve as a testament to managers who guide their team members through communication problems and conflict.

Photo on Pexels by Liza Summer.

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