I’m having communication issues at work. What’s going on?

Q. There are lots of times when I don’t get what my manager and co-workers are saying, or when they misunderstand me. The more I think about it, this has been happening for a while. What’s going on?

A. Lots of people have trouble communicating with co-workers or bosses from time to time. That’s usually caused by nervousness or feeling uncomfortable in a specific situation. But when it happens often and for a long period of time, like in your case, there may be other causes.

If you struggle with focus or get distracted easily, it can cause communication problems. So can difficulty with social skills, like if you have trouble reading social cues.

But often, deeper language challenges are to blame. 

There are different ways people struggle with language. Some have trouble with  — expressing their thoughts using words, sentences, and gestures. Others have trouble with  — understanding what other people say or write. Many people struggle with both.

These difficulties can lead to problems at work, including misunderstandings, errors, and conflicts. They can affect social interactions and make it hard to build relationships with colleagues, clients, and superiors. They can keep people from contributing to team discussions or cause them to not understand instructions.

People can have a history of language challenges without knowing it. But they’re still often aware of how these challenges are impacting them. That can lead to anxiety and stress, which can make communicating even harder. 

If you’ve been struggling with communication for a while, it can help to know the cause. A can do an evaluation and help you develop targeted strategies to improve your language skills. 

You can also work on building skills on your own:

  • Practice active listening and try breaking down complex ideas into simpler concepts.

  • Talk with your co-workers — even if it doesn’t always go well.

  • Join meetings and group discussions, which are opportunities to practice and improve language skills.


Do you think you might have a language disorder? Explore these checklists of signs:

If you have a hard time focusing and often get distracted, you can also explore signs of ADHD. ADHD in adulthood is common, and there are lots of ways to cope with it, with or without medication.

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