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8 Toxic Communication Traps to Avoid

How do toxic communication traps impact the success of your business?

When done well, communication can be one of your most powerful tools—causing teams to unite, turnover to go down, and creativity and production to skyrocket. When you lack great communication, you create an atmosphere of fear, anger and distrust of fellow employees and leadership. Your company will end up a place where no one—including you—wants to work.

In fact, according to an Ethics and Workplace Survey by Deloitte, nearly half (48%) of employees who plan to quit their jobs do so because of lack of transparent leadership communication.

So how do you make sure you don’t fall into the trap of bad communication? In this article, we’re going to share the toxic communication missteps you need to avoid in your business.

Let’s get started.

8 Toxic Communication Traps to Avoid

1. Mushroom Communication

Companies that are winning have high levels of communication that’s intentional and effective. They share almost everything with their teams, whether good news or bad. Trust your team and avoid what Dave calls “mushroom communication”: keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure.

Here at Dave’s company, almost nothing is off limits. The exception to the rule is disclosing revenue in actual dollar figures. It's hard for many to understand the difference between gross and net, even when you explain it. Share percentages instead.

So how in the world does he keep everyone in the loop? Some of the company’s communication tools include a mission statement, sharing the story, and the weekly report.

Tools to Keep Your Team in the Loop

A Mission Statement

Every company needs a mission statement. In just a few words, it tells the world and your team who you are, who you are not, and what you stand for. It’s also a great out-of-bounds marker. If an opportunity comes your way and it doesn’t fit into your mission statement, pass.

Dave believes the mission statement is so important that every person on his team is required to memorize the company’s mission statement:

Ramsey Solutions provides biblically based, commonsense education and empowerment that give HOPE to everyone in every walk of life.

Sharing the Story

Want to let your team know they are participating in work that matters? Then use one of the most powerful communication tools around: Tell your story.

Let them know how you got where you are today, including your hardships, sacrifices, and victories as well as all the times you refused to quit. It pulls the whole team together and lets them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.

The Weekly Report

Each Friday, every person on Dave’s team is required to turn in a quick, one-page report that answers the question “Why should (insert leader’s name) be glad I work here?” As a leader, it gives you insight into how your team is doing. For your team members, it helps them understand the value they are bringing to your company. The key, though, to the success of the weekly report is actually reading and reacting to them every week. Otherwise, they are wasted.

Dave gives the team the freedom to be creative on the weekly, with just a few guidelines, including:

  • The report should be written as a letter to themselves, answering the question, "Why should (your name) be glad I work here?"
  • It’s limited to one page
  • It contains a high and low point of the week, which can pertain to either business or personal lives

2. Gossip

As a small-business owner, your biggest foe isn’t your competition, sluggish sales or a bad economy. And it’s something so common that almost no one realizes the harm it causes.


Every business goes through five distinct stages. Find out which stage your business is in with our free assessment.

Gossip has the power to destroy everything you’ve built—killing unity, loyalty and your culture. It is insidious and contagious. It’s communication at its worst.

One thing you will never find at Ramsey Solutions is gossip. Everyone knows that if they have a problem, they need to take it to their leader and no one else. In fact, it’s an official policy and a fireable offense. “Gossip has the power to divide and destroy everything you have built,” Dave says.

Your first step for shutting down gossip is to take a look in the mirror. Are you guilty of talking negatively about someone on your team to anyone who is not one of your leaders? As the owner or leader of your company, your team watches everything you do and will naturally follow your example.

Next, create a no-gossip policy for your company. Here’s how.

  • Schedule a meeting to tell your team about your no-gossip policy.
  • At the meeting, explain that gossip is a fireable offense.
  • Outline exactly what constitutes gossip. By definition, it’s saying something negative about anyone or anything to someone who can’t do anything about it.

This policy encourages team members to tell their leaders about the bad stuff—not each other. In fact, we follow a rule: Negatives go up, and positives go all around.

3. Avoiding Tough Conversations

Unless you’re a bully, having a hard conversation with a team member is never easy. If you are having an issue with an employee, it needs to be handled as soon as possible.

If you sanction incompetence, it not only hurts you and the person involved, it also hurts your whole staff as they watch bad behavior go unacknowledged. Like Dave says, “If you allow people to misbehave, underachieve, have a bad attitude, gossip and generally avoid excellence, please don’t expect to attract and keep great talent.”

So how do you start the conversation? Here are a few tips:

  • Get it on your calendar and block out enough time to get the issue solved. You can’t procrastinate if an appointment is scheduled.
  • The idea of the meeting is to course correct and teach, not to embarrass or demoralize someone. Nothing is ever accomplished by being cruel.
  • For most of us, the first response to an uncomfortable conversation is to shift to a different subject. But as a leader, it’s the last thing you want to do. You have to concentrate on the problem at hand and keep on course.

4. Not Sharing Your Vision

When you share where you’re headed, they get inspired. When you don’t, they end up feeling like they’re just working a J-O-B.

Get your team excited by letting them know the positive impact it will have on the company, the team, the community and the team member personally.

Share your vision with them early and as often as possible. In fact, Dave says it is impossible to talk about your vision too much. "When you cast a big vision, the team sees what part they play, and you are pulling people into goals instead of pushing them," he says.

5. Not Listening

As an entrepreneur, your job is to get things done, so you never have time for a lot of chit-chat. But if you don’t take the time to listen to your team, you may be actually hurting progress.

Great leaders have conversations with their employees—not one-sided dialogues. It’s where leaders learn what’s going on in the trenches. Plus, listening shows your employees you value what they have to say and you trust them. That means better business for everyone involved.

6. Failing to Repeat Your Vision

In the world of advertising, repetition is king. If you want someone to not only hear what you’re saying but also retain it, you have to tell them over and over again. One and done never works.

The same holds true for your team. Pastor Andy Stanley says you have to cast your vision 21 times before anyone hears it. And we agree. It also works with information too. Be clear, give lots of details, and share the message until you’re sick of saying it. And then do it again!

7. Not Defining What Winning Looks Like

Imagine getting a new job. You’re super excited about it and want to do as well as possible... but then you realize you don’t exactly know what you need to do to be successful at the position.

That’s what your team members feel like when you don’t define what winning looks like for them. But take heart! It’s one of the most common mistakes small-business owners make.

To ensure they know what they’re doing, create a detailed, written job description before you ever hire someone for a position. At Dave’s company, it’s called a Key Results Area (KRA).

A KRA clearly defines in detail what the team member needs to do to be successful at their job. By writing the requirements down, you clarify the position for both yourself and the potential team member.

8. Avoid Shining a Light on Problems

When things go wrong at your company—and they invariably will—the worse possible action you can take is to try and hide it. Your team will know something is up, whether you tell them or not. And their minds will immediately go to the worst-case scenario.

No matter how uncomfortable, let your employees know what’s going on. The policy at Ramsey Solutions is simple: When in doubt, overshare. Here are a few of the guidelines Dave and his leaders use when talking about issues.

  • Start the conversation with a reminder: The team is mature enough to handle the information they’re about to hear, so the leader will be oversharing.
  • Also remind everyone that the company has a no-gossip policy in place. If a team member has a question or problem, they need to bring it to their leader.
  • Never embarrass or publicly shame anyone while oversharing.

If you only talk to your team about how great everything is, you’ll lose credibility. Every business, big and small, runs into issues, and your employees need to know about them. No one wants to go to meetings that are all hype and fluff.

Communication is the grease that keeps your company’s gears running smoothly. When done well, your team will unite and your business will grow. Now that’s something to talk about.

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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