Communication is at the core of any business. Be it a one man owned grocery store or a large multinational software development firm. Failure to communicate your thoughts & ideas is a recipe for disaster. Now, there is nothing novel in this fact. Everyone knows & agrees to it. But few individuals at workplace pay attention to these obvious basics. This article asks you to take a step back. It makes you consider what types of communication you have at your disposal. When to use each one & a few quick tips.
Each of us communicate at work, whether we know it or not. Why not do it the right way then?
What Does Communication Mean For The Workplace?
At work, context plays an important role in affecting different facets of communication. For example, one wouldn’t share salary revision information via text messages. Or a peer won’t write down an email to informally enquire about your family. Relationship between stakeholders (parties to the communication) also has a say. And the list goes on.
In that sense, communication is a complicated process.
Regardless of the different facets of it, communication is about conveying a message. It would be more than reasonable to educate & train your team on this front.
Let us start with the fundamentals – types of communication.
#1 Verbal Communication
Some of the workplace events that come to mind for verbal communication:
- Water cooler conversation with your friend/s at work
- One-on-one meeting with your manager
- Product demo to a customer
Effective verbal communication is often an exercise in clarity. The quicker (and clearer) you convey your message, the better. And that is one of the most difficult things. When it comes to speaking – many get emotional, speak unprepared, lack thought structure. Some just shy away.
Follow these ‘ground rules’ for effective verbal communication:
- Avoid use of extraneous filler words (‘yeah’, ‘so’, ‘um’, ‘you know’, ‘basically’)
- Stress and emphasize action words (‘need’, ‘now’, ‘do’)
- Speak clearly and with confidence: people always respond well to confident speech
- Watch your word choice: appropriateness is always important
- Take care of your tone and try to match it with the message you are conveying
Improving Verbal Communication
Companies/managers can boost verbal communication in the workplace with the following:
- Inspire local communication and interactions. So called ‘cubicle farms’ are miserable for employee productivity, morale, and well-being. Try to facilitate local interaction as much as possible. Yes, water cooler talk is not a bad thing. Encourage employees to communicate with each other! Consider rearranging desks to stimulate a more open environment. Likewise, remind the team to take short breaks whenever needed. It pays off.
- Help them figure out who to speak with. Having established teams, team leaders, and established procedures is vital. By pinpointing accountabilities, increase chances of targeted communication between the team members. This will help in streamlining communication channels.
- Encourage feedback. Keep that office door open! Encourage employees, regardless of position, to offer their opinion on relevant decisions. It’s not easy, but fostering a culture of openness and feedback is incredibly useful.
#2 Nonverbal Communication
- Body language when giving feedback
- Reaction when an idea you are opposed to is being adopted
- Behavior in times of tight deadlines & tense projects
Contrary to common belief, the vast majority of communication is nonverbal. The spoken word gets most of the glory, but nonverbal cues are even more important.
People partake in nonverbal communication in the following ways:
- Body language: posture, body position, and stance
- Physical behavior: hand movements, distance
- Eye contact
Spoken words are dime a dozen, but easy to manipulate. Honesty and sincerity are best expressed nonverbally. Think of nonverbal communication as the necessary companion to verbal communication. The more your nonverbal indicators sync up with your verbal message, the better understood you’ll be.
Improving Nonverbal Communication
Consider the following:
- Physical appearance, office decor, and physical space. Understand the image you present to your employees. A closed door and formal business suit intimidates some employees. Take the time to craft a personal image that fosters a sense of openness and approachability.
- Smile and a handshake. First impressions may not be permanent, but they are close enough. A friendly, welcoming attitude goes a long way towards improving nonverbal communication.
- Eye contact, tone and body language. The more you show sincerity in the workplace, the better. Your employees respond well to the trustworthiness and sincerity conveyed in eye contact.
#3 Written Communication
Written communication is everywhere in any business.
- Internal memos
Written communication is not without its own unique nuances and rules. For example, you’ll want to ensure that you use:
- Correct grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.
- Fewer words whenever possible.
- Convey your point clearly (and quickly!).
Of course, written communication comes with its own dangers. Interpreting sarcasm or subtle jokes in a written memo or email is not easy. Additionally, written communication may be the most difficult way to convey meaning. Unlike verbal/nonverbal communication, you don’t have the luxury of body language, eye contact, and tone to relay your message.
Improving Written Communication
Written communication can be steadily improved with a little practice and deliberation. Consider the following:
- Clear and concise. An extra-wordy memo or lengthy internal letter typically results in a collective groan. Keep your written communications short, concise, and to the point.
- (Please) check your spelling. Mistakes in spelling or grammar show a lack of care, attention, or ability.
- For non-critical written messages, decide on a tone. Imagine a note in the break room asking people to clean up after themselves. An overly-formal note may come off as needling when a funny picture or joke would suffice.
#4 Visual Communication
Visual communication is all about presenting information in a stimulating way. Common examples include:
- Presentations & brochures
- Organization charts
- Training videos
- Charts, graphs, and comparison slides
As a general rule, visual communication acts as a supplement to verbal, nonverbal, and written forms of communication. The right visual at the right time can work wonders when it comes to conveying your message. If you’re in a meeting about sales figures (as an example), a visual aid may be ideal.
Communicating with visuals comes with its own unique advantages. Visuals are stimulating and provide a supplementary way for people to absorb information. After all, a graph with pretty colors beats plain text every time.
This effect goes beyond mere interest. Research shows that ‘mixed modality’ learning (presenting information through different mediums) is effective. People comprehend information better when shown information in different ways.
Improving Visual Communication
Improving visual communication is mostly a matter of when and where. Knowing the right time and place for visual communication is half the battle. Consider the following:
- Visual Aids. No meeting is complete without a PowerPoint, but take the time to spice it up. Reading off a bullet list of business statistics is not particularly enlightening. That same information, portrayed on a graph, will have far more impact.
- Front and center. Is there one defining statistic or piece of information that your employees need to keep in mind? Consider a central display (digital or otherwise) that keeps track of important information. If applicable, set a ‘daily goal’ that pairs with your employee incentive program.
- Clarity of content. Avoid any sort of potentially sensitive or offensive visual content when designing visual aids. Always err on the side of caution (it saves HR a lot of paperwork if the worst happens).
#5 Listening Communication
Listening is a critical component of workplace communication. Listening — ‘active listening’ — involves engaging with the speaker and working to understand them. True listening is a proactive experience, not a passive one.
Like other forms of communication, listening has a few rules. Consider the following:
- Don’t interrupt. Wait for the right time to speak.
- Focus is everything. The person speaking is just as important as you.
- Think of clarifying questions. They help keep your mind engaged on the speaker.
- Rephrase everything into your own language. No two people think or speak in the same way. Take a moment to rephrase the speaker’s main points into your own language. Your employees will notice.
- Eye contact! Maintaining the right amount is necessary as overly staring can become intimidating..
Improving Listening Communication
Improving listening in the workplace takes both a cultural and behavioral shift. Consider the following:
- Eliminate distractions. Nothing is worse than speaking to a person who is only partially invested in the conversation. When an employee comes to you, eliminate distractions as much as possible. Give them your undivided attention and your employees will notice.
- Show concern and offer assistance. Ask clarifying questions when appropriate (‘How much…’, ‘What do you mean by…’) and show concern for the issue discussed. It’s important to validate your employee’s opinions whenever possible. Use affirmative language that shows you care.
The Role of Emotional Well-being In Workplace Communication
As much as you may want the adage of “leave it at the door” to ring true, the reality is far different. Emotions — both positive and negative — play a major role in workplace communication. For better or worse, people are emotional creatures. It’s best to work with, not against, human nature.
Consider some of the following:
- Mistakes occur not through intentional acts, but rather through error. Recognize misunderstandings when they arise and work to correct them.
- Don’t take it personally: It’s all too easy to take criticism of one’s work personally.
- Trust your employees and coworkers. Have faith in their personal and professional credentials.
- Empathy is everything. Imagine yourself in your employees’ shoes. What changes?.
Improving Emotional Well-being
To improve emotional well-being in the workplace, consider the following:
- Role models. You, your team leaders, and anyone in a position of authority should embody the values you want to inspire.
- Embrace emotions. Encourage employees to speak their minds about what they feel. Ask feedback-oriented questions (‘What do you feel about…’). Urge employees to speak their minds.
- Stress management. Employees can begin to break down under prolonged periods of stress. Do your best to promote healthy work habits. The more you’re aware of your employees’ emotional and stress levels, the more productive they’ll be.
Bottom Line: Communicate Efficiently. Quality Over Quantity.
More efficiently you communicate with your team, better the results. Whether it’s a formal discussion or a casual chat, workplace communication is vital. Make connecting with your employees a priority and reap the rewards!