A Simple Plan to Avoiding Cancer of Communication

communication, breakdown of communications, how to avoid communication breakdowns

When you hear the word cancer, you probably want to cringe.

Just writing the word cancer makes me want to delete it. I’m not a fan of hearing or reading the word, but we need to face it.

What is cancer? According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancerous cells are also called malignant cells.”

My dad died in May 2004 from cancer. In 2001 he was electrocuted at work which awakened the asbestos that sat in his lungs from a long slumber. Eventually, the asbestos turned into cancer. My dad went from weighing a normal weight of about 160 – 170 lbs. to 75 lbs. when he passed away. He was literally skin and bone.

Just as people can become infected with cancer so can businesses.


“According to Charlie Sheen, “We have cancer of communication. No one listens anymore.” Charlie made this statement when he appeared on Dr. Oz‘s talk show on January 16, 2013.

Whatever you may think of Charlie Sheen, he’s right. If you don’t listen to your employees, they’ll quit and you’ll be known as a company with a huge turnover rate. If you don’t listen to your customers, they’ll buy from your competitors. If you don’t pay attention to the trends within your industry, you’ll lose customer and could be bought by another company. If you don’t utilize the right copy in your marketing kit or on your website, you won’t reach customers.

You can’t deny that cancer of communication can and will kill your business if you don’t take preventive steps right NOW.

I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open about communication and have made a list of 10 techniques that will help your business avoid cancer of communication. Are there more techniques in addition to the ones listed below? Of course there are, but these techniques will be enough to help you implement a simple, yet, effective plan.

How to Avoid Cancer of Communication


This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised that people don’t LISTEN. For example, I’ve sat in meetings where people talked over each other just to be heard. If one person raised their voice, the next person went up an octave or two. This accomplished nothing except leaving everyone with soar ear drums.

Listening is important when you run a business. You MUST LISTEN to your employees when they have ideas. If you don’t, you could miss out on marketable opportunities.

If you don’t listen to your customers, you could lose their business to your competitors. Your customers are valuable and not just because they buy your products and services. Your customers use your products and services and can tell you what works and what doesn’t.

How can you listen to employees and customers?

  • For both employees and customers… you can use polls and surveys. Ask QUESTIONS and then read the answers.
  • For customers, suppliers, and vendors… hold a teleseminar, web conference, or focus group.
  • For employees… hold a monthly meeting to hear and listen to what they have to say.

Don’t say “I don’t know.”

Admit that you don’t know, but find out the answer and communicate it as concisely and quickly as possible. Here’s an example. I worked with a VP who couldn’t stand the answer, “I don’t know.” What he wanted to hear was, “I’ll find out.” While I may not have known the answer, I found it for him.

Admit that it’s your fault.

All of us screw up, even me.

My first office job was working as a receptionist for a small family owned business. The owner thought I needed to improve my receptionist skills and made me listen to tapes on how to answer the phone, how to take a message, how to transfer calls, and anything else that involved communication. Why? I messed up names and numbers and sometimes would put through calls that the president didn’t want to take. It was my first office job, and I was nervous.

If you mis-communicate something, admit it. It’s not the end of the world. Correct your mistake, learn from it, and move forward.

Don’t bring up the past.

Bringing up the past won’t help you to avoid cancer of communication. In fact, it could bring up hurt feelings, which could result in anger, frustration, and disconnection. Clear the air and begin anew because the past is the past. Learn from previous breakdowns of communication and apply the lessons to the present day and move forward.

communication, how to avoid communication breakdowns, communication breakdown

Keep your emotions in check.

Let’s face it; if you’re emotional, you could say something you’ll regret. That’s why it’s important to step back and remove yourself from the situation when you can. You could also take 10 deep breaths. You’ll communicate better once you’ve calmed down.

Departments must speak to each other.

When an organization has a large hierarchy, the greater the chance communications will be crossed. The people at the top oversee the entire organization; therefore, they can see the big picture. But the people who aren’t at the top usually know the ins and outs of their department and have little knowledge about other departments. This is why it’s important for departments to speak to each other and cooperate with one another.

Use the right words and say what you mean. 

Do you always say what you mean and mean what you say? Probably not.

It’s important to choose your words carefully and think before you speak.

Let’s face it; sometimes what you want to say may sound good in your head, but when you actually speak the words, the person you’re speaking with may look confused or angry.

Before you communicate with someone, take a step back and review what you want to say. You can also do this before you send an email. In fact, when you send an email don’t type it in CAPITAL LETTERS because this gives the receiver the impression that you’re angry.

Streamline information.

Do you get to the point or yammer on and on?

Sometimes, you need to get to the point, make it, and move forward. In fact, I had a controller who appreciated this; he was a busy man. He wanted to know why “X-Department” was over budget, bottom line. It’s not that he didn’t want to listen to me, it’s just that he had the head of corporate asking him why this and that department were over budget and what we were doing about it.

On the flip side, you may need to provide your employees and customers with more details. Just make sure the information is streamlined so it’s easy for them to understand.

Reduce distraction and noise.

As a writer, I like to reduce distraction and noise. If there’s too much noise in the home, I can’t concentrate on my writing. Dogs barking, teenagers pounding up and down the stairs, an office that’s cold, etc., can be disruptive.

You can reduce distraction and noise by making sure your office environment has the proper lighting, comfortable furniture; keep noise levels noise, minimize use of loudspeakers, etc.

Perception and language barriers.

When you communicate with someone, they could interpret your tone of voice differently than you do. For example, if you speak in an assertive and strong tone, the receiver could interpret your tone as condescending. They could perceive your information as bad — it’s their perception.

Communicating with someone whose language may not be the same as yours could pose major communication issues.

It’s important to realize that your language, for example, English, may not be your co-worker’s or customer’s first language. Instead of getting frustrated that you can’t communicate, appreciate that you’re speaking to someone who lived or lives in another country.

Speak slowly and distinctly and concisely. If you still have issues with communication, get someone who’ll be able to help you out. You may want to invest in a foreign language course or ask your company to pay for it (most companies offer educational assistance).

Improve Your Business’s Communication Survival Rate

To avoid cancer of communication, you need to be honest about the way you communicate. You may think that you’re communicating clearly, but the reality may be that you’re not. You may think that your employees, customers, etc. understand you when you communicate with them, but the reality is, they don’t.

“There are nearly 14 million cancer survivors,” American Cancer Society. If you want to avoid or beat cancer of communication, you must be willing to admit you have a communication barrier and or breakdown and take the necessary steps (see above) to heal it.

Communication is easier than you think. Keep your eyes and ears open and listen more than your talk.

Over to you. What are some techniques your business uses to avoid cancer of communication? Share in the comments below.

Photo credits: Stock photo Medical-Prescription-Bob Smith; Stock Exchange.


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