Effective Communication in the Workplace

When we think of effective communication in the workplace, we usually think of speaking.  How can I better get my point across? How can I make sure I’m clear and that others understand my directions to them?  How can I be sure I’m heard clearly and confidently, and that my point doesn’t get coopted or lost?

I want to propose that the most effective communication you can do at work involves being the receiver of communication.  How you listen more profoundly impacts your effectiveness than how you speak.

I’m not suggesting being a passive recipient who only listens and never responds or initiates.  Quite the contrary.  I’m simply suggesting that without the listening component, you cannot possibly be effective with the speaking.

Most people speak to feel heard.

Think of this scenario: you rent a car and when you return the car, you report that there was no washer fluid, so you spent a harrowing trip on the highway getting back to the airport with a dangerously dirt-covered windshield.

In Scenario A, the rental car agent shrugs and says “I’ll take $5 off your bill.”

In scenario B, the agent says “wow, that must have felt scary.  I’m so sorry that happened. Are you ok?”

“Yes” you say, “but you’re right, it was scary.”

“Gosh, we’re usually so careful about that since it’s so important.  I’ll make sure that car gets checked before it’s sent out again.  I’m glad you’re ok though.  Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”

“No” you say, “thanks for looking into it”

Now, in the first scenario, you saved a few dollars.  But you’ll likely still leave complaining about the company with a bad taste in your mouth: first from the lack of washer fluid, then from the uncaring response when you mentioned it.  In the second scenario, you actually got heard.  You didn’t even get a discount, but you got recognized and honored for your experience.  Most people would rather leave with that than $5 more in their pockets. (BTW, if you want to offer incredible customer service – do both!)

I give this example to demonstrate the importance of feeling like we’ve been heard and understood.  We don’t even need to be agreed with!  We just want to know that someone truly “got” us.

So Tip #1 for effective workplace communication is LISTEN and ACKNOWLEDGE.  Listen for what people are experiencing and acknowledge that they had that experience.  It will make a world of difference in them being able to hear whatever you say next!

Tip #2 for effectively communicating at work: Speak their language.
If you spoke French and the person you wanted to communicate with spoke Russian, you would not be surprised that they did not understand your French, no matter how many times you repeated yourself or how loudly you spoke it.  Yet at work we are somehow mystified when others don’t understand us.  We think we’re being clear.  And maybe we are being clear… in French!  But again, the person who speaks Russian will never understand that.  One person is going to have to do some language study and learn the other’s language in order to communicate.  If you want to be sure your message is getting across clearly and effectively, then that person is you!  Study how other people speak: that gives you the key to how they need to be spoken to.  For instance, if your boss always gets right to the point with no introduction or lead-in, it’s likely that your long explanation of ‘how we got to this stage’ is lost on them. (see article on speaking styles here).  Contrarily, if your teammate tends to brainstorm a large number of ideas out loud before arriving at the one to take action on, you demanding a direction right at the outset is likely to freeze him up.

While we may feel that these other people in our office are not stepping up their end, and that it’s their style of communication that could use some polishing, we cannot control them, we can only control our side of the street.  So by us studying their language it will make the communication overall much more effective.  (Of course, the other option is to give them some direct feedback about their style. )

Tip #3 for effective workplace communication: Say what’s true.
This seems so obvious, yet when politics and positioning and ego get involved, it’s more challenging than we often admit.  Saying what is true includes:

  • Saying the thing no one else in the room will say: being bold enough to take the risk.
  • Having difficult conversations when that’s what there is to do, even though it may not be the most comfortable.
  • Giving feedback and asking for feedback.
  • Not letting anyone speak on top of you, or steal your ideas as their own.
  • Honoring that voice inside when it says “that’s not right” or “I don’t agree.”

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to lose all tact, politeness, or social graces.  It just means that a lot of productivity gets lost when we don’t say the things that need saying like “this isn’t our best idea – let’s scrap it and start over” or “I know he’s the next in line for the role, but I don’t think he’s the right guy for it in the long run – let’s look outside” or “I’m not used to working in groups, so I may be a little slow in being a good teammate, but I’ll get better as we go.”

These things take courage, but they are certainly effective!

We can all improve our level of effective communication at work.  Listening and acknowledging, speaking their language, and saying what is true will all go a long way toward stepping up your communication game!

Contact us for more information on integrating these concepts for yourself or your team.