This article has been provided by our partners at RWA Consultancy.

To err is human, as the saying goes. We have all made the odd spelling mistake in an email that we only notice after it has been sent. But what about larger mistakes? Or communications that aren’t clear to the recipient?

There are many reasons as to why communications may fail to deliver the intended message. Most often, the case is that the message sent may not be received in the way the sender intended, resulting in confusion, misunderstandings or unintentionally causing offence.

Common barriers in communication include:

  • Language barriers – overuse of jargon or regional colloquialisms that are unfamiliar to the recipient
  • Technological problems – typically applies when sending written, audio, or visual communication over the internet
  • Physical impairment – including hearing problems or speech difficulties when engaging in spoken communication
  • Relationship issues between the sender and recipient – particularly if correspondence in the past has been poorly received

Barriers can appear at any stage of communication, making it crucial to ensure that measures are in place to mitigate the risks of communication failure. Improving communication skills, having a clear objective, and allocating time to proofread or think of what to say are just some of the ways to improve communication.

Ways to improve communication

When communicating with someone, it is important that the intended purpose of the message remains clear and concise. Getting someone else e.g., a colleague or friend to proofread for you can help to identify and correct any mistakes as well as mitigate any technical jargon.

It is important that communication methods are also adapted to ensure accessibility for all audiences. This would require changing the way you speak or the words you use, speaking slower or louder if the recipient has hearing problems, using pictures or graphs to show greater context, or even choosing to sit down instead of standing when speaking to accommodate those with mobility issues.

Written correspondences should also be adapted. This may involve making sure that emails and marketing information is clear, jargon-free, and not misleading. It should also be made in multiple formats or suitable for accessibility-friendly software (audio-descriptive, text-to-speech, etc.) so that all users can have equal access to the content. It is important to consider the needs of vulnerable customers in any communications – offering multiple channels of communication, for example, and checking that the customer fully understands what is being communicated to them.

Regulatory requirements

Communications to customers are vitally important and this is made clear under the FCA’s upcoming Consumer Duty. The Consumer Duty is set to introduce four outcomes, one of which is consumer understanding. As part of this requirement, firms must ensure that customers are given the information they need, at the right time, and presented in a way they can understand. Firms will be required to:

  • support their customers’ understanding by ensuring that their communications meet the information needs of retail customers, are likely to be understood by the average customer intended to receive the communication, and equip them to make decisions that are effective, timely and properly informed
  • ensure they communicate information in a way which is clear, fair and not misleading
  • tailor communications taking into account the characteristics of the retail customers intended to receive the communication – including any characteristics of vulnerability, the complexity of products, the communication channel used, and the role of the firm
  • ensure information provided to retail customers is accurate, relevant, and provided on a timely basis
  • tailor communications to meet the information needs of individual customers and check the customer understands the information, where appropriate, when a firm is interacting directly with a customer on a one-to-one basis, and
  • test, monitor and adapt communications to support understanding and good outcomes for retail customers

We will look more closely at these requirements in future articles.

Encouraging Training and Development

There are plenty of skills that can be developed to aid effective communication. Listening is one of the most important skills we can develop, and how well you listen to others can have a massive impact on communication. The easiest way to improve listening skills is to practice ‘active listening’. This involves taking a conscious effort to not just passively hear words, but to understand the meaning behind what a person is saying to you.

Having empathy is another skill that helps towards improving communication. Empathy is the ability to recognise and share the emotions of others and allows us to recognise and accept differences and view things from another person’s perspective. Empathy can be used to resolve conflict as well as to show support to someone who may be struggling.

Staff training might cover areas such as, listening to and identifying the needs of customers and adapting responses to be flexible instead of sticking rigidly to scripts. Patience is also key to communication, especially with those who are considered vulnerable and need more time to communicate effectively. Learning sign language may also be recommended especially if the business works with clients on a regular basis who are hard of hearing. 

The Aviva Development Zone platform is a great way to improve communication skills, with an array of courses available in the Content Catalogue. To find out more, why not visit the website at and sign up for a 14-day free trial. Or, if you are already registered on the Development Zone, why not try one of our communication skills modules and test your knowledge today?