Communication. In just about every business, if you poll employees about what causes issues and problems, communication will be near the top of the list of complaints. But what do we mean when we say that a business needs better communication?
Sometimes employees are complaining about poor communication from management. But often, the real problem is communication between employees on some or even all levels. Some organizations may even have poor communication baked into their culture and processes.
We’ve all experienced the frustration of dealing with someone whose communication is imprecise, confusing or even hostile. When that person is a coworker, he or she can be a huge drain on both productivity and morale.
Of course, communication is a two-way street, and we aren’t always completely aware of our own strengths and weaknesses in this area. And no matter how experienced a communicator you are, there’s always room for improvement.
How to Improve Communication at Work
You may know already that your communication skills need improving. Or perhaps you’re confident that your skills are OK, but you’re struggling to work well with someone else because of that person’s communication style. Either way, the tips below will help you to improve your communication skills. Use these tips to shore up your own weaknesses or even to help overcome someone else’s.
Active listening is a massively important strategy for improving communication and understanding in the workplace. Have you ever been talking with someone and felt like that person wasn’t really listening when you were talking? Did it seem more like they were mentally preparing their next reply, regardless of the point you were making?
That’s the opposite of active listening. While it’s tempting to take this approach yourself, remember how you felt when someone used this tactic on you.
Active listening, on the other hand, is true listening: When someone else is talking, listen for the following:
- The what: the actual words they are saying
- The how: what their tone of voice and body language convey
- The what else: what they may be implying but not stating outright
And active listening doesn’t stop there. An active listener will paraphrase back to the speaker the message the listener heard. You might say, “So. if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying x?”
Only once you have truly heard the other person should you begin to craft your reply.
Understand Different Communication Styles
Not everyone communicates in the same way. Some people are direct; others are indirect. Some people are bold, while others are timid. Some like to focus more on feelings, whereas others prefer to focus more on outcomes.
One of the greatest lessons on effective communication in the workplace is this: In any communication situation, it’s your job to ensure that the other person or people understand your message correctly. Work from this paradigm: No matter how clearly you communicate, it’s on you to be understood.
If someone misunderstands you, don’t expect them to change their communication style. Take it on yourself to adapt to whatever they seem to need.
Schedule Weekly Team Meetings
One of the greatest threats to transparency and effective communication, especially between team members, is attrition. Essentially, the less your team talks together, the less your team will talk together. Good communication fosters more good communication, and the inverse is true as well.
It’s important to foster an environment where teams can communicate openly outside of scheduled times. But what many leaders miss is that effective scheduled meetings are one of the keys to fostering that environment. You have to create opportunities for good communication if you want them to begin happening spontaneously. That’s what a weekly team meeting can do.
Have Proper Body Language
During this pandemic, have you struggled with in-person communication while wearing masks? Most of us have. Yes, masks can slightly muffle voices, but the communication struggles go far deeper. Humans watch each other’s faces and bodies during communication for all sorts of nonverbal signals. Covering up half of our faces creates a real hurdle to this.
Since body language and facial expressions make up a significant part of communication, take some time to evaluate your own. Think about a recent interaction that went well or poorly. Remember how you presented your body. Stand in front of a large mirror and replicate that behavior. Do you like what you see? Do your posture and stance communicate what you want?
If not, make some adjustments. Generally, you should stand or sit with good posture, but not overly stiff. Uncross those arms and unfurrow that brow. Brighten your eyes and make some eye contact.
In most business contexts, these body language cues will signal that you’re engaged and ready to contribute.
Know Your Audience
If you’re giving a presentation to others in your business, it’s not enough to think about what you would want to learn from the presentation if you were them. You need to know your audience and consider what they likely want to learn from it. Think about it. You already know this information, but they don’t. Present in a way that will answer their questions without boring them with details they don’t care about.
This looks different for everyone. The sales team probably doesn’t want to get bored to death by endless data analytics, and the analytics team probably doesn’t want to hear a bunch of detailed stories about landing clients. But both need to know the high-level sales numbers and the trends culled from the data.
Bottom line? Whoever you’re talking to, consider their wants and needs more than your own.
Give Positive Feedback
No one likes talking to a critic or a harsh taskmaster. If you find yourself in charge of others, go out of your way to give positive feedback when it is earned. Being in management means you will have to confront bad behavior and provide negative feedback. It’s in the job description. But by tempering this with positive feedback, you can encourage others to communicate openly with you rather than shying away from their boss.
The same goes on the team level. Give positive feedback when someone helps you or communicates well with you. Doing so will help that person learn how you communicate, which will help your relationship in many of the ways described above.
Offer Constructive Feedback Properly
There are both good and bad times and ways to offer constructive feedback. If you’re offering constructive feedback on a coworker’s output, do this in private whenever possible. In other words, criticize before the presentation, not during.
Knowing your role is essential here, too. In some organizations, anyone can deconstruct any idea at any point if they have a better solution. But this is the exception rather than the rule. If it’s your first month on the job, openly criticizing a new initiative from the executive team might not be the best choice.
There’s a time and a place for constructive feedback. Knowing when to hold your peace and when to speak up can be tricky. Here’s a resource that can help.
Understand Each Person’s Role in a Project
Some challenges to effective communication at work boil down to failing to understand who does what in a project. If you have recently been placed on (or in charge of) a new team, take sufficient time to understand what each person on the project team does. Understanding everyone’s areas of responsibility will help you communicate more effectively with each one of them.
Have 1:1 Meetings
Group meetings seemed to be the norm throughout much of the business world, and they can accomplish a lot. But if all you ever have is group meetings, you are almost certainly missing out on feedback from team members who are timid or reserved.
When you meet with these individuals one on one, you could be surprised at the depth of insight they’re willing to share.
If you are a manager or leader in your organization, having an open-door policy is a great place to start. Still, some employees might be afraid to bother you or simply not think to bring something to your attention.
When you schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each employee in your group, it’s incredible what can rise to the surface. Employees will share valuable information with you that may not have made its way to you otherwise.
Get to Know People on a Personal Level
In this age of remote work and Zoom meetings, it can feel like the workplace has become very impersonal. Water cooler chat is, at this point, almost a dated term. But there is real value to a certain amount of “unproductive” employee chatter. That kind of conversation humanizes your coworkers (and humanizes you to them).
Knowing that Maria is working on another degree at night or that Charles’s kid is sick doesn’t directly affect the bottom line. But knowing these sorts of things does increase your compassion and camaraderie with your team members. You’ll also improve in terms of emotional intelligence when you see what’s going on in others’ lives.
Learn to Speak to a Group
Many students dread public speaking more than just about anything else in college. We get it: Standing up in front of a crowd can be pretty intimidating for most of us.
But here’s the thing … in the workplace, speaking to a group is a requirement for many, many roles. Do it poorly, and you make your audience uncomfortable. Do it well, and you may quickly catch the eye of those in leadership.
Many leadership positions require a greater frequency of speaking to groups, often with higher stakes attached. By learning public speaking now, you will prepare yourself for advancement throughout your career.
Communicate Face to Face
Many digital natives prefer to communicate electronically rather than face to face. And while there are many advantages to electronic communication like email or Slack, nothing quite beats face-to-face communication for conveying tone and attitude. (You may disagree with that statement, and that’s fine. But recognize that those older than you in the workplace will likely feel this way.)
Remember what we said about body language and facial expressions earlier. Emojis and GIFs can only go so far in communicating emotion and tone. We realize that, especially right now, in-person face-to-face communication isn’t always possible. But when it is, consider whether a face-to-face conversation will garner better results than an email.
Documenting Conversations and Send Recaps
One of the weaknesses of face-to-face communication is that both parties can leave the conversation with significantly different ideas of what was said. The same thing can happen over video conference, too.
If you’re communicating in a way that doesn’t leave a paper trail, a good rule of thumb is to document important conversations by sending a written recap. If the recipient thought the conversation went an entirely different way, this written recap provides them an opportunity to respond.
This kind of documentation also helps both parties remember what happened months down the road when the conversation is forgotten.
Hold Communication Training Sessions
Leaders in an organization (even at the department level) should consider holding communication training sessions. Some of the above points may seem obvious to you, but they may not be evident at all to some of your employees.
Improving your own communication skills is always a good idea, but you may reach a point with some employees where you cannot compensate for the other person’s weaknesses. If that happens, consider it a sign that it’s time to do some communication training.
Communication is hard, and there’s always more to learn. And while communication is only one of the keys to success at work, it’s a crucial one.
By implementing these tips on how to communicate better, improve understanding with team members, and teach others the importance of effective communication, you’ll stand out from your peers. You’ll also reduce stress levels and improve productivity for yourself and those around you.
Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!