REAL TALK: Startups are Hotbeds of Poor Communication

Startups are roller coasters…

Startups are marathons....

Startups are pressure cookers...

Regardless of which metaphor you prefer, the point is that startups are fast-paced, high-pressure, cortisol-inducing environments. This makes them ripe for lots of miscommunication and misinterpretation - across all levels.

As we often say here at FounderForward, it all starts with the Founder (and leadership team). So, today we are sharing four of the most common communication problems we see in hopes they will provide awareness and learning for others.

1. Lack of Presence in Conversations.

Too often founders are multi-tasking (i.e. checking email, slack, or social media) while also holding conversations. This is because the modus operandi at startups is to move FAST. Yet, all too often, multi-tasking and moving at break-neck speeds are the root causes of miscommunication and mistakes that ultimately slow overall productivity.

2. Poor Listening Skills.

Most of us - not just founders and startup folks - are not great listeners. This is exacerbated at startups where people are doing multiple tasks at once and moving a mile a minute (see above). As author Steven Covey puts it: "You’ve spent years of your life learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening?" Often we are so focused on what we want to say that we do not fully take in what others (employees, investors or customers) are trying to tell us.

3. Focusing on Answers, Not Questions.

Too often leaders are trying to get to the answer or solution so quickly that they skip over asking quality questions - of themselves and their team. Often founders are focused on answering, telling and directing over questioning, listening and co-creating solutions with their teams.

4. Using the Wrong Tools.

Much of our conversation and communication is non-verbal. In fact, research shows tone of voice and non-verbal behavior are far more important than the actual words communicated. In a world where slack has become the go-to communication tool for startups, much of the meaning and context of conversations easily gets lost or misconstrued.

 Photo by Rawpixel.com

Photo by Rawpixel.com

So…..How Do You Avoid These Communications Pitfalls? 

Stop multi-tasking and practice presence-based leadership. You will notice an immediate difference in your relationships when people feel like you are tuned-in and actually hearing them. This means you must get comfortable with slowing down. Once you slow down to get on the same page, you can then speed up and move as fast as you desire.

Also, try to catch yourself when your brain switches from listening to replying / interrupting mode. In doing so, you will literally train yourself to become a better listener. Per Covey, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

In addition, constantly be thinking about your “Questions to Statements Ratio” as you move through each day. Working to become a natural at socratic questioning will improve communication, collaboration and engagement - not to mention innovation.

Lastly, think about the tools you are using to communicate. Are you relegating too many ideas, important discussions, and employee interactions to Slack? When it comes to important communications, speed and efficiency should never trump effectiveness.  


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