4 ways to break down common communication barriers on the jobsite

Your safety and efficiency on a jobsite depends on clear communication
Common communication issues include language barriers, poor digital literacy and lack of procedures. (Photo: Auremar, Dreamstime)

Construction sites present unique challenges that can make effective communication challenging for even the most adept speakers. Everything from noise to insufficient training can get in the way of a construction team’s coordination.

[Related: Grow your business with trust, communication: GROW 2019]

Common communication issues on construction jobsites include language barriers, poor digital literacy and lack of procedures. If a business wants its workers to succeed and complete tasks safely, they need to address these problems as quickly as possible.

Why is effective communication important in the construction industry?

Communication is arguably more crucial in construction than in most other professions. Even slight miscommunication could lead to significant project delays and serious safety hazards.

In 2018, the construction industry in the United States saw 1,038 worker fatalities and even more illnesses and injuries. To reduce these numbers in future years, professionals need to dedicate themselves to maintaining safe jobsites—and communication is a significant part of safety. 

Communication also plays a role in helping businesses in the construction industry stay on schedule. Since workers must complete tasks in the proper order, failure to address delays can lead to workers and contractors unable to do their jobs when they arrive.

Whether tackling residential projects or large-scale commercial buildings, effective communication can bring improved safety, higher quality results and increased profits.

Construction professionals who are interested in communicating with their crew more effectively have several options for breaking down barriers. Let’s look at a few examples below.

  • Create a chain of command. A chain of command tells everyone at a jobsite who they should contact in certain situations. Often, the project superintendent will serve as the primary point of contact for project updates. However, businesses may want designated contacts for specific scenarios, concerns or questions.

    Ideally, every worker on a jobsite should have a clear understanding of who to contact for help and how to contact them. To communicate this information clearly, teams might decide to create a flowchart or post a directory of contact information where everyone can read it.

    Creating a communication chain of command is particularly important when preparing for severe weather. In an emergency, workers should immediately know who to call. It’s also important to outline who is responsible for calling employees and contractors in the event of calling off work. This procedure keeps everyone in the loop and prevents people from showing up to potentially hazardous sites alone.

  • Encourage crew-level cohesion. Studies have shown that cohesive construction crews communicate safety information better than those that struggle to work together. Therefore, workers at all levels can promote superior communication by encouraging the team to get along.

    Construction workers can encourage crew-level cohesion by:

    • Working to solve problems together
    • Using respectful language
    • Sharing responsibility for achievements and failures
    • Discussing concerns and responsibilities openly
    • Encouraging crew members to ask questions
  • Use clear language. Using clear language ensures everyone at the jobsite understands what to do and the proper way to do it. Clear communication goes beyond getting straight to the point, although that’s an excellent place to start.

    Construction professionals should always consider who they’re talking to when deciding the best way to convey information. For example, a supervisor may choose to avoid industry jargon when communicating with new hires. Plus, they may provide safety resources in multiple languages when working with employees who speak English as a second language.

    Keep in mind that any form of verbal communication may become unclear in a noisy environment. Hand signals offer a good alternative. For safety, everyone at a jobsite should use the same set of signals.

  • Remain open to feedback. People sometimes struggle to tell whether they’re communicating clearly and effectively, and that’s okay. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask coworkers for feedback. Peers may have suggestions that allow the entire team to improve its communication strategy. 

    It’s also an excellent idea to ask people to repeat critical information after a meeting or discussion. Construction sites are full of distractions, and this technique ensures everyone works on the same page.

Although jobsite communication comes with challenges, making intentional changes to strategy can break down barriers and boost overall productivity.

Holly Welles

Holly Welles is a writer with a focus on construction and real estate. She writes for Construction Executive, Trimble and other industry publications. Find more of her work on her own blog, The Estate Update, or reach out on Twitter.

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