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Costly Conversations: How Lack of Communication is Costing Organizations Thousands in Revenue

A coworker is bullied. A direct report doesn’t complete any assignments. A supervisor selfishly takes credit on a project.

These common challenges move from workplace annoyances to revenue and morale-sapping occurrences the moment they pass unvoiced and unchecked.

New research from Crucial Learning, a learning company with courses in communication, performance, and leadership, shows that conversation failures in the workplace are both rampant and costly. And while workplace cultures are more supportive of speaking up and employees have become more aware of serious concerns, we continue to choose silence.

Such are the results of Crucial Learning’s December 2021 study of 1,100 people—a follow-up to the same study done in 2016. Forty-three percent of respondents estimate they waste two weeks or more ruminating about an unresolved problem at work. And an astounding one in three employees estimate their inability to speak up in a crucial moment has cost their organization at least $25,000.

In addition to astronomical price tags on conversation failures, people are resorting to silence in alarming moments. In 2022, participants said the costliest conversation they avoid is when someone shows disrespect for another in the workplace—a conversation that didn’t even rank among the costliest conversations in 2016. While this shift may indicate more awareness of workplace inequality, it also shows awareness doesn’t lead to action. Even when people observe harmful disrespect, they fail to speak up.

According to the study, 29 percent more participants said their workplace cultures were more supportive of people speaking up now than they were in 2016. And yet instead of speaking up, we resort to a host of harmful, resource-sapping behaviors including:

  • Complaining to others (77 percent)
  • Doing extra or unnecessary work (63 percent)
  • Ruminating about the problem (57 percent)
  • Getting angry (49 percent)

As a result, 43 percent of respondents say their silence has cost the organization more than $10,000, while 30 percent tabbed the amount at more than $25,000 and a troubling 19 percent admitted their reluctance cost at least $50,000!

The top five Crucial Conversations people avoid include:

  • When someone is not pulling his or her weight (68 percent)
  • When someone performs below expectations (66 percent)
  • When someone shows disrespect towards another in the workplace (57 percent – also identified as the number one most costly conversation)
  • When someone doesn’t follow proper processes or protocol (53 percent)
  • When there is confusion on who owns a decision (53 percent)

Beyond the draw-dropping dollar figures, the secondary costs are also alarming. Respondents report that these conversation failures had damaging effects to employee morale, relationships, corporate culture and project timelines and budgets. 

Joseph Grenny, coauthor of the new third edition of the national bestseller Crucial Conversations, says the pandemic and its revolutionary effects have amplified the importance of effective communication. Less than half (45 percent) of respondents say they or others are moderately skilled at holding these work-related Crucial Conversations and an abysmal 9 percent say they are very or extremely skilled at holding them.

As employee anxieties have grown and led to the Great Resignation and extreme burnout, organizations must invest in their employees’ interpersonal skills to build strong relationships and secure bottom line results.

“One of the costliest barriers to organizational performance is unresolved Crucial Conversations,” Grenny said. “If you can’t communicate with your leaders and colleagues, you can’t develop the relationships that are necessary to combat the hard times we’re seeing today. The ability to engage in dialogue is key to successfully leading through and beyond the pandemic.”

Grenny advises organizations interested in curbing the costs of failed conversations to train their employees how to voice their concerns quickly and effectively, including these four tips:

  • Reverse your thinking. Most of us decide whether or not to speak up by considering the risks of doing so. Those who are best at Crucial Conversations don’t think first about the risks of speaking up, they think first about the risks of not speaking up.
  • Change your emotions. The reason our Crucial Conversations go poorly is because we are irritated, angry, or disgusted. Others react to these emotions more than our words. So, before opening your mouth, open your mind. Try to see others as reasonable, rational, and decent human beings—a practice that softens strong emotions and ensures you come across more agreeably.
  • Make others feel safe. The unskilled conversationalists believe certain topics are destined to make others defensive. Skilled realize people don’t become defensive until they feel unsafe. Start a high-stakes conversation by assuring the other person of your positive intentions and your respect for them. When others feel respected and trust your motives, they feel safe, let their guard down and begin to listen – even if the topic is unpleasant.
  • Invite dialogue. After you create an environment of safety, express your concerns, and then invite dialogue. Encourage the other person to disagree with you. Those who are best at Crucial Conversations don’t just come to make their point; they come to learn.

About Crucial Learning
Formerly VitalSmarts, Crucial Learning improves the world by helping people improve themselves. We offer courses in communication, performance, and leadership, focusing on behaviors that have a disproportionate impact on outcomes, called crucial skills. Our award-winning courses and accompanying bestselling books include Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue, Crucial Conversations for Accountability, Influencer, The Power of Habit, and Getting Things Done.

CONTACT: Jordan Christiansen +1-801-995-5458,