Communication is one of the most basic human skills. We’ve been doing it since the days of cave drawings and incoherent grunting, so you’d think that sharing a clear message would be second nature by now.
But the thing is, most of us are pretty bad at it – especially when it comes to communication in the workplace.
Our communication shortcomings can have some pretty dire consequences. 86% of professionals cite ineffective communication and collaboration as the cause of workplace failures, and poor communication costs companies anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each year.
Alright, so you get it. Effective communication is a pillar of a successful team and a thriving workplace. So how do you make it happen? Let’s dig into the basics of communication in the workplace, what it is, why it matters, and how you can improve it. Because cave drawings and grunting aren’t going to get you far in today’s modern office.
What’s effective communication, anyway?
Effective communication is the ability to get your message across in a way that not only makes sense to you but to whomever you’re communicating with. Remember, communication is a two-way street, and that means you need awareness of the communication styles and personalities of other people in order to communicate well.
Of course, communication exists in many different forms: written, verbal, nonverbal, and virtual.
This is communication that happens using (you guessed it) the written word.
From emails and instant messages to reports and meeting summaries, a tremendous amount of workplace communication happens through writing. To communicate well through the written word is invaluable, and is why a reported 73% of employers actively look for candidates with strong written communication skills.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when communicating through writing is to not “bury the lede.” People don’t want to wade through tons of text and unnecessary details to get to the point. Include your most important information right at the top, something that the military refers to as “bottom line up front” (BLUF).
Verbal communication is represented by the words that are actually coming out of your mouth – whether it’s during a phone chat or an in-person conversation.
Strong verbal communicators are able to organize their thoughts in a concise, clear way. However, it’s also worth noting that active listening is the other important piece of this type of communication. You need to attentively process information that’s shared with you, and not just wait for your chance to chime in.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Conversational gaps or pauses make most of us anxious (that’s because we live in a noisier world than our ancestors, so silence feels abnormal). But, those brief breaks present an opportunity to collect your thoughts and structure your point before you open your mouth. So, take a beat and think before you speak.
You’ve heard all of the clichés about how what you don’t say says more than what you do say. That’s referring to nonverbal communication, which are your unspoken cues (like body language).
Everything from your posture to your inflection to your facial expressions play an important role in how your message is received. This is expecially important in the workplace where we spend a lot of time sitting around a physical (or virutal) conference table.
Make eye contact. True eye contact feels like a rarity today, especially when we’re all so glued to our devices. Adults make eye contact 30% to 60% of the time in an average conversation. However, creating a sense of emotional connection requires eye contact 60% to 70% of the time. We’re all falling short here, so shut your laptop and look people in the eye.
Technology has brought about a new type of communication: virtual communication. Some people use this to refer to any type of communication that happens via digital means, but it’s most often used to represent video chat and conferencing.
When you can’t be face-to-face with a team member, virtual communication is the next-best thing. But, it’s certainly not without its challenges (ahem, technical glitches, anybody?).
All too often, people who are joining conversations or meetings virtually are looked at as afterthoughts. If you frequently have remote team members joining your in-person meetings, remember to put yourself in their shoes by occasionally joining your own meeting virtually (even if you’re in the office). That will give you a chance to experience the conversation from their perspective and identify potential frustrations that need to be addressed.
5 clear benefits of effective communication:
Effective communication at work leads to several worthwhile advantages:
- Improved projects: One third of the time, ineffective communication was the main contributor to project failure. In contrast, when people communicate well, they’re aligned on project expectations, informed of changes, and produce better results.
- Increased team trust: Less than half of employees trust their company, boss, or colleagues. It’s scary, but true. Communication builds a culture of honesty and transparency, which will boost your team’s bonds and lead to better collaboration.
- Greater employee satisfaction: When your team is getting along and cranking out high-quality work, it goes without saying that they’re going to feel happier in their jobs. Plus, adequate communication ensures that employees feel informed and empowered, which is directly tied to increased engagement.
- Resolved conflicts: Communication isn’t just important when things are rosy. Your team is going to navigate inevitably rocky situations, whether it’s a disagreement about project scope or hurt feelings. Unfortunately, many of us avoid conflict altogether (25% of employees said conflict avoidance has led to sickness or absence from work). The more you can emphasize the importance of open communication on your team, the more likely people are to talk issues out – rather than let them fester and silently sabotage.
- Better performance: Of course, all of the above communication benefits will lead to improved output from your team. Plus, a culture of strong communication offers more regular opportunities for feedback (which is something that 65% of employees actually want), which can help your whole team do better work.
All of these perks not only benefit you and your direct team members, but also the other teams you work with and even your downstream customers or clients. When you’re communicating and working like a well-oiled machine, it pays off for everybody.
How to improve communication at work: 3 no-nonsense tips
You want to reap the benefits of top-notch communication. But before you get there, you need to figure out how to up-level your skills – both individually and as a team.
There are tons of strategies for becoming an awesome communicator, but let’s cover a few here.
1. Make it a team-wide effort
Improving your own approach to communication is admirable, but you’ll really start to notice a difference when your whole team is committed to the process.
You can’t change something that you don’t acknowledge. So, as meta as it seems, the best first step is to communicate about why you want to make this a priority for everyone. Make sure to touch on things like:
- Are there certain problems (such as project bottlenecks or missed deadlines) that you’re hoping to address with these efforts?
- Are there measures you’d like to implement right away to change the way you communicate with each other?
- How will you measure success? What will you monitor to see if these communication changes actually make a difference?
Having this candid conversation gets your whole team on the same page, and will serve as motivation for everyone to be more mindful about how they’re getting their points across to one another.
2. Try something new
Becoming a better communicator might involve more than small tweaks to the way you currently do things. Look at it as an experiment to find what works best for you and your team members. You need to be ready for some trial and error.
Maybe that means introducing an entirely new collaboration platform to streamline status updates and project-related conversations. Or, perhaps it involves instituting a regularly-scheduled meeting to solve a communication roadblock you repeatedly face.
Don’t just look for quick wins here. You and your team should try some totally different methods and mediums. Maybe they’ll work, or maybe they won’t. But one thing is for sure: you’ll learn a lot along the way.
3. Be mindful of your bad habits
Are you a chronic interrupter? Do you have the tendency to zone out instead of listening?
We all have some bad communication habits that we’ll need to shake. If you’re already aware of what yours are, ask your team to help hold you accountable by pointing out when you fall back into that behavior.
If you aren’t sure what conversational tendencies might be driving your colleagues crazy, go ahead and ask them (yep, here’s the importance of feedback again). We all have blind spots about our own approaches, and having an open discussion about what changes you could all make to your current communication styles will be enlightening – and help you all improve.
Effective communication matters – and you can make it happen
You know by now that solid communication carries a lot of weight at work. It’s important, but it’s not always easy.
Improving how you get your message across won’t happen instantly. It’ll require consistent effort and changes, and you’ll likely never be done finding ways that you can be better.
The best thing you can do? Commit yourself to that process for the long haul. After all, humans didn’t go from cave drawings to instant messages overnight. True improvement takes time.
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