MarketSavvy Blog

Top Five Communication Challenges and How to Manage Them

POSTED BY: Megan Walker

MS you are 300118We all have our communication challenges and pet peeves. Two that come to mind that bug me include "you're" not being used correctly ("you're" is short for "you are"); and people in service roles mixing up or not using the "hi how are you today?" greeting as anticipated ("well you thanks hello"). But these are pretty trivial.

What we are focussing on in this blog are the more serious communication challenges that can affect productivity and wellbeing. Here are my top five with some handy tips for managing the various situations.

1. Personal / professional boundaries

Depending on the service being delivered, it is generally a good idea to maintain some personal boundaries with your clients. This might involve not sharing details of your private life (where you live, children's schools, partner's occupation etc) or your personal beliefs. This allows you to treat your client separately from yourself, to view their situation as separate from yours, to give them the objectivity and impartiality required to deliver a quality service, and to avoid clients becoming overly attached and expecting you to meet all of their needs.

If privacy is very important to you and your role, consider increasing the security filters on your social media so only friends can see your photos and posts. Basic Facebook privacy settings.

The Australian Psychological Society has excellent guidelines for managing professional and personal boundaries that are useful for professionals in all workplaces (adapt for your situation).

Here are some tips for striking the right balance

  • Give your clients emergency contact details (ie. Lifeline) so they have support in a crisis
  • Try to avoid giving out your personal information and mobile number
  • Establish clear physical boundaries
  • Dress modestly and appropriately
  • Use appropriate language and avoid swearing
  • Refrain from discussing your personal life
  • Try to avoid seeing your client outside of work

You will want to use your discretion with the tips listed above. For example, in some situations hugging a client may be perfectly acceptable but in other situations this would not be appropriate.

Boundaries at work

With your colleagues and team members, you will also need to decide how much social and personal contact you want to have. Some people enjoy being friends with their co-workers and others choose to "be friendly but not friends" with their team members. Some organisations can be very social and it is a good idea to gauge this expectation before taking on a new role.

MS clingy coworker 300118If you are in a situation where your co-workers want to spend every waking minute with you, you can simply say "I really enjoy working with you, but outside of work I need to recharge my batteries and spend time with my family. Thanks for the offer, but lets have coffee or lunch together one day next week instead". This statement sets boundaries without creating a situation where people feel rejected.

Note - BTW, it is always a good idea personally and professionally to avoid gossip.

MS angry customer 3001182. Angry customers

Nobody has the right to yell at you or threaten you and you have my permission to hang up the phone, block the sender or deny service to the abusive customer who is not known to you. We'll cover actual clients and face to face situations in a moment as these need to be handled carefully.

However, sometimes the upset customer or client has been wronged and we need to take responsibility, apologise and improve their situation. This can be challenging on a personal level but it is the right thing to do and will prevent further damage to your brand.

For the angry customer, here are some de-escalation strategies (thank you to Dr Ilze Grobler, Clinical Psychologist, Zest Infusion for this information taken from one of our recent webinars):

  • Remember that patients who are feeling ill, scared or anxious are more likely to be difficult
  • Remain calm
  • Validate the client's anger / frustration by saying something like: "I can understand that this is very frustrating for you" or "I understand your problem and I assure you I am trying everything to help you. Please take a seat and I will let you know as soon as I have any information"
  • An angry patient in front of you means that you still have an opportunity to put the situation right. Best effort does not mean you need to drop everything you are doing. If you are serving another client, you can say: "I will do my best to assist you with the problem as soon as possible, however I just need to look after this person in front of you." If the client is on the phone: "I will do my best to help you, however I have a client here with me right now. Can you hold? Can I call you back?"
  • If you start to feel threatened ask for assistance from a senior staff member
  • Complete an incident form on any such occasion
  • Do you have a duress procedure or panic button?

MS bad review 3001183. Negative posts / reviews

Eeks. The combination of wide-spread internet access and reality TV has created a culture where we all have a voice, an opinion and a megaphone. This is great when used in-line with our values, and also powerful to drive justice and change, but negative posts and reviews can be damaging for personal brands and reputation permanently (what goes on the internet stays on the internet).

So what do you do if you receive a negative review?

  • You should delete any posts or reviews that include profanity
  • Try and keep all other posts as they are. Transparency is important along with how you handle the comment
  • Let the person posting the comment know that you have heard them
  • Thank the person for their feedback and provide your contact details so you can help them in a more direct way (phone or email). Let them know you are sorry to hear of their situation and you want to find out more so you can rectify it
  • Let them know when somebody will be in touch

Note - your other followers will be keen to see how you handle the situation. They may even come to your defence.

The following inforgraphic from Kuno Creative shows a great way of managing negative posts / reviews:

MS Kuno Creative Negative Review chart 300118

MS Steve Carroll yelling 3001184. The bad-mouther(s)

Not dissimilar to the online situation, the good old fashioned bad-mouthers are out to air their grievances, share their negative story, gain an audience, gain sympathy and warn others.

It can be hard to know when this verbal communication is taking place (where are the trending analytics?), but there's a few things you can do to direct the feedback back to you:

  • Have complaint forms in your physical locations
  • Have posters on show that say "please let us know if there's anything we can do to improve your experience"
  • Ask for feedback on your website, in your email footers, on your blog etc
  • Encourage your face to face team members to ask for feedback
  • Listen out for disgruntled murmerings and ask for feedback

If you hear of a disgruntled customer and you have their contact details, give them a call. Start by saying "I am touching base to hear your thoughts on your last experience with X, is there anything you can tell us that will help us improve?". Listen carefully to what they have to say without interrupting. Stay positive, stay calm. Thank the person for sharing their situation with you and give them your phone number (nicely) so that if they have feedback in the future they have your direct contact details.

If the person has been wronged, apologise and make amends. They have actually done you a favour by highlighting an issue that could have caused further damage if left unchecked. So make sure you stay in touch with the person and let them know what resolution was made.

MS tender loving care 3001185. Communication that requires TLC

Older people

Be sure to deliver information in a way that is age and stage appropriate. Many residents / clients will be happy with email, SMS, Facebook, newsletters and posters; whereas others may require information to be provided via written form only (for hearing issues), with visual aids, by diagram or via regular reminders of single tasks or appointments.

It is also important to:

  • Vary your approach for each individual
  • Approach your communication with compassion, time and patience
  • Ask don't tell
  • Be ready to repeat information if needed
  • Answer questions and wait for the person to respond
  • Don't assume a "one size fits all" approach to your communications (ie. not all 75 year olds want the same things)

People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds

While you want to maintain consistency with your communication style, it helps to understand who you are speaking with and identify ways to vary your style to increase comfort and success for all parties involved. This may include:

  • Tailoring your approach for each situation without stereotyping
  • Changing the amount of space between you and the other person
  • Taking a different approach when it comes to eye contact
  • Giving compliments in a factual way
  • Being sensitive when giving instructions
  • Supporting your information with diagrams
  • Asking appropriate questions and avoiding sensitive topics where possible
  • Seeking the assistance of an interpreter

It is also a good idea to:

  • Speak clearly and slowly
  • Use your normal tone of voice
  • Avoid slang of any kind
  • Allow plenty of time for questions
  • Confirm that the information is understood

Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

It is important to build rapport before starting any conversation. This may include:

  • Introducing yourself warmly and positively
  • Talking about who you are and where you are from
  • Asking your client where they are from and getting them to tell you their story 
  • Respecting silence
  • Avoiding prolonged eye contact as a sign of respect

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not speak English as their first language. Some also speak English in different dialects such as Kriol, Aboriginal English and Torres Strait Creole. You will need to:

  • Speak slowly and clearly using your normal voice
  • Avoid jargon or complex terms
  • Explain why you need to ask questions
  • Confirm that the information is understood
  • Seek the assistance of a tribal interpreter or use diagrams and videos to explain the information

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People place more importance on family and community than schedules, so you may have to be flexible when arranging meetings.


MS down syndrome couple 300118People with a disability

Like so many of the other examples above, it is always best to tailor your approach to the individual and situation. Avoid making assumptions or adopting one communication style.

When communicating with people with a disability, you:

  • Need to speak slowly and clearly
  • May need to repeat the information
  • Allow time for the person to ask questions
  • Find out what is important to them and what they need
  • Check to see if the information is understood

It is also a good idea to ask for a family member or carer to be present to help reinforce the information or to assist the person fulfil any tasks or actions.

Join us for our upcoming webinar

Market Savvy - Facebook banner NDIS webinar

Do you work with people with a disability? We'd love to see you at our upcoming webinar. Katrina Johnson (CEO of CATS Inc for over 20 years) will explain what to expect under NDIS and how to prepare your clients for a smooth integration process. This webinar is for health professionals and people in the disability sector. Click here for more information.

More information

Market Savvy specialises in health and not for profit marketing. Just sing out if you would like any further information on our services: megan[@]

Best wishes
Megan Walker