Management experts know proper communication in the workplace can lead to massive savings and a host of other benefits.
For example, CRICO Strategies, a Harvard-affiliated insurer, found health care miscommunications lead to over 1,700 deaths and $1.7 billion in malpractice claims.
Teams in high-risk workplaces like construction sites and manufacturing plants know clear and open communication saves lives, prevents injuries, and saves companies vast amounts of money.
Besides the human and legal costs of miscommunication, workers in all fields know the frustrations and dramas that can arise from this mainstay of human interactions.
Most of all, communication in the workplace falls apart when people think they’ve communicated clearly, but haven’t. Known to organizational experts as signal amplification, the common “I thought you understood me” phenomenon can create everything from humorous to fatal misunderstandings.
Examine your team’s communication style, learn how to improve it, and discover the tools you need to facilitate communication in the workplace.
But, remember, it starts with you – take care to solicit honest feedback from your colleagues, understand your tendencies, and create new, effective communication habits!
1) Why is it important to communicate effectively with others?
As organizations expand in numbers and complexity, managers and executives find their time becomes increasingly precious.
However, they must take time to communicate clearly and richly with people across their organizations. Conversely, team members in the trenches must learn to express themselves at all levels of their hierarchies.
Regardless of your position and work style, you and your colleagues can benefit from better communication. Learn the various communication styles your team members use, identify miscommunications, and smooth out conflicts.
In our efficiency-obsessed corporate culture, communication in the workplace provides a host of benefits for professionals who “get it.” Use the strategies in this article to create healthier, more productive workplaces in which people work together to make the most of their unique strengths and skills. You won’t just get more done faster by removing common frustrations from your workplace – you’ll save money on hiring and training by retaining key employees.
2) What is effective communication?
As teams develop and mature, they go through natural phases of conflict and resolution. You can’t avoid workplace drama entirely, though you can see your colleagues through this phase by encouraging them to communicate in ways that matter to the recipient.
Aristotle identified the three core elements of communication well over two millennia ago:
When you speak with people, you must support your conclusions with facts.
Logos, the root of our word logic, involves appealing to people with the strength of your reasoning. No matter how much credibility you have and how well you connect with people, your communications need to make sense to people. When communicating with people, make sure they not only understand what you want them to do – but also the reasoning behind your decisions.
Team members don’t want long, rambling justifications of every managerial decision; they appreciate concise statements about the potential rewards of an action.
For example, you could say, “Read and file these thousands of reports, Jerry.” However, consider how Jerry would feel if you said, “Read and file these thousands of reports, Jerry. Once you organize these briefs, our analysts can respond to client data requests 300% faster than usual.” By offering context to decisions, you can help people see the big picture and feel good about their part in the team’s efforts – increasing their motivation and productivity.
Involving people in problem-solving, analysis, and strategy doesn’t just increase their investment – it allows you to solicit feedback.
By presenting the facts along with your reasoning, you let people provide perspectives and error-check your ideas. For example, Jerry could say, “That’s a good idea, but if you want even faster responses to client requests, I could scan each document into the computer before filing it and add a few tags for easy retrieval. It would take some extra work, but it would save our analysis team even more time and energy.”
If you lean toward the logos communication style, remember not to overdo it. Simply barraging people with information won’t convince them of anything.
You need to connect these facts into a compelling narrative (data/analysis/conclusions). Also, if you feel most comfortable dealing with logical arguments and data, remember many people don’t think this way. Remember to speak in complete sentences and use plenty of examples.
Communication in the workplace can mean presenting the same concepts in a variety of ways: data-driven, credible, and passionate.
People need a reason to trust you; people who follow instructions blindly don’t make good employees in today’s information economy. Exercise good communication in the workplace by demonstrating credibility. Briefly share your credentials and sources so your colleagues know they can rely on you.
Presenting ethos without bragging depends greatly on context.
For example, a new client may want to hear about your education and experience when making a decision to hire your firm. However, your team members probably already know all your best stories. Name dropping and mentioning your credentials too much can make people resentful; however, holding back key contextual information from stakeholders can diminish your reputation when it matters most.
Your skills and experience matter when convincing your colleagues to accept your propositions.
Your status within your organization, technical skills, and integrity also increase the quality of communication in the workplace.
The trick is to make people feel comfortable with your credibility without pulling rank or beating them over the head with your titles.
For example, when disagreeing with a suggested course of action, you could say, “That sounds like a good idea, April, but I ran a similar campaign a few years ago. I had just been promoted to regional manager and wanted to make a bold statement with the very approach you’re advocating. I quickly discovered I was in over my head; in this market, we simply have to play it safe. Here, check out the project file and see what I mean.”
In this case, you mentioned your rank and immediately shared a weakness (a desire to prove yourself with risky ideas). Not only did you validate April’s eagerness (while shooting down her idea), you backed up your conclusions with facts (see the logos section above).
People need to believe, on an emotional level, you mean what you say. By demonstrating your passion about your organization’s mission, you can tell your story directly to the deeper, more primal parts of your listeners’ minds.
Communication in the workplace means real, genuine dedication and excitement about your projects and goals.
Your colleagues can tell when you attempt to manufacture passion and fake engagement. Instead of creating an atmosphere of false positivity, allow yourself and others to express genuine emotion. More than anything, use the technique of reframing negative emotions.
For example, you could say, “Our third-quarter numbers didn’t meet our expectations. You’re probably as frustrated as I am; we put in our best efforts on these recent projects. So, I’m introducing a new, streamlined structure to put your hard work to better use and get better results from your continued dedication to our cause.”
By acknowledging and empathizing with your team’s struggles and frustrations, you gained credibility. When you presented a new solution for getting more “bang for the buck” out of their efforts, you show your commitment to your shared mission.
3) Why is communication important in the workplace?
In business, etiquette and communication can mean the difference between easy productivity and frustrating, costly mistakes.
Make a distinction between social and workplace communication. You need to pick up on key information and stamp out any and all miscommunications. Unlike conversations with friends who just need a listening ear while they vent, business communications require careful attention and crystal clarity.
Colorado State University offers five basic tips for communication in the workplace:
Listening – Many of us love to talk and hate to listen. It’s easy to miss key details when the other person is talking if you spend that time thinking about what you want to say next. Instead, practice active listening techniques in all conversations with your colleagues.
Body Language – Imagine how people would react to your vote of confidence in a project if you hunched over and spoke softly about it. Will people trust your passion and dedication to your company’s mission if you offer limp handshakes and your eyes dart around nervously? Stand tall, use lots of eye contact, and engage with people in a strong, loud voice. No matter how convincing and confident your words and ideas, you must project an attitude to match.
Communication Styles – Learn your team members’ preferred communication platforms, frequencies, and durations. Does Ron prefer short, written messages? Will April reply quickly on social media but slowly via email? Does Ben prefer lengthy, comprehensive meetings to short conversations at the water cooler? By making the effort to understand each person’s unique communication style, you can attract much more attention to the details of your messages.
Clarification – People hear what they want to hear. No matter how well we interpret tone of voice, body language, and emoticons, the other person in a conversation can come away with a completely different conclusion. Ask people clarifying questions to ensure you understand each other. A simple, “So, you want to go ahead with the fourth-quarter numbers, despite the uncertainties in our current project template?” could make the difference between smooth sailing and a hurricane of costly miscommunications.
Brevity – Though it helps to engage in a little small talk before launching into an intense discussion of project details, remember to keep it short. People have their own agendas and only a small amount of attention for your messages. Make your communication in the workplace concise and to-the-point for maximum attention and retention.
4) How can you facilitate effective communication in the workplace?
More than four out of five employees believe their organizations need to focus on employee engagement.
To increase team member buy-in, try gamifying daily activities and incentivizing bite-sized chunks of large projects. Simple social engagement and validation can motivate people to step up, pay attention to each other, and work together to increase productivity.
Communication in the office doesn’t exist when people avoid each other, don’t give attention to others’ ideas, and stumble through the day like office zombies. Give your workplace a boost with hands-on, engaging workplace activities and games to break up the isolation and monotony of cubicle life.
You can use team-building games and activities to help employees see the blind spots in their communication styles and stamp out common miscommunications.
For example, introverted, quiet people and talkative extroverts need to understand each other’s personalities as useful – not annoying. Outgoing people often enjoy immediate feedback on their ideas and think out loud. Conversely, introverts often process their ideas internally before presenting them in a coherent, polished form.
In meetings, ask extroverts to take a minute or two to formulate their ideas into a concise and direct package. Encourage introverts to speak up and feel free to present half-formed, creative ideas for the group to consider and develop.
Improve your team’s understanding of communication styles by asking each of them to write down (to keep talkative people focused) and share (to empower introverts) their preferred communication styles.
Ask people to consider the times of day, platforms, and durations that suit them the best.
For example, Leslie may enjoy large information dumps while Andy needs to assimilate one fact at a time. Donna may feel uncomfortable speaking up but have a lot to say when she finally does. When everyone knows each other’s most- and least-favorite types of communication in the office, your team can run smoothly and avoid most miscommunications.
5) Communicating effectively with global colleagues
Today’s workplaces, both in-person and virtual, involve stakeholders from a huge variety of cultures. Work with your team to understand the similarities and differences between diverse individuals and optimize communication in the workplace.
People from certain cultures find it difficult to accept praise in front of others, which many people in the U.S. appreciate (and even crave).
Conversely, these folks could be crushed by a simple request to revise or correct their work – especially in front of their peers. When working with people from other cultures, offer feedback and praise in private. Offer only the mildest of compliments in public and watch their body language carefully for signs of tension or discomfort.
Remember to delegate – some people find it easier to accept information from supervisors, foremen, and team leaders than from management.
When bringing new team members into the fold, offer them comprehensive and ongoing training. Don’t assume people know how to fit into your workplace culture; help them understand not just their roles and duties, but the ways in which you expect them to communicate and work with their colleagues.
In short, use compassion when addressing people who have come to this country to work; they’re learning to fit into a wide variety of professional, social, and everyday contexts.
Train employees from your home nation to understand the culture shock new employees can face. Transplants who have left their support systems behind can benefit greatly from flexibility, local knowledge, and a helping hand.
When communicating with these people, remember to speak clearly and remain patient with questions that seem obvious to you. Avoid idioms, cultural references, and figures-of-speech and talk clearly to people who don’t speak English as a first language. You’ll find these small courtesies can pay off greatly in employee buy-in, morale, and productivity.
Take special care of new workers and their partners by assigning mentors to guide them through the integration process.
Pair up people from the same cultures, if possible, and help new arrivals realize they aren’t alone. Mentors can act as cultural translators to help people acclimate to both a new work climate and a new social environment.
Remember, you can avoid costly (as high as $1 million) repatriations for high-value employees by supporting their spouses. Almost half of all failed expatriations involve dissatisfaction and limited integration by the partners of new workers.
People from most cultures across the globe don’t feel comfortable with the “open door” policies used in many Western countries, such as the United States. Instead of waiting for team members to speak up, realize they come from a different place with different rules.
Instead of assuming everything is fine unless a person brings up an issue, ask them for feedback. In some cases, your employees may be so shy that asking them to choose a representative to speak for the group may work best.
Communication in the workplace means patience, understanding, and clarity. When you understand where people are coming from, both literally and culturally, you can know when they need help – and when you to draw appropriate boundaries. It is a workplace, after all – it’s the job of managers and project leads to balance team morale, productivity, and productivity targets.
6) Online communication with coworkers
Today’s mobile workplaces make remote workplace communication more than a luxury; it’s a logistical necessity. According to Gallup, 73% of people text every day; 70% send or receive emails. Over half of all survey respondents communicated on social media every day.
Many employers see cell phones and texting in the office as major time wasters.
However, texting and social media communication can provide faster, more-efficient alternatives to mass corporate emails.
Though you shouldn’t pressure your colleagues to stay in touch with the office during weekends and holidays, mobile devices have created a new workplace landscape. Communication in the workplace has expanded to include virtually everywhere we go and everything we do.
Regardless of the communication methods your team members use, you need to keep communication in the workplace clear and concise.
Do you really need to keep Jerry abreast of each tiny change in your long-term strategy?
Surely, he’d prefer short, direct messages from his supervisor regarding his immediate tasks.
Likewise, does Chris in upper-management really want to know the minutiae of your team’s daily targets? Carefully target all online communications—especially group messages—to include only those who must have this information. You can always hedge your bets by letting others know they’re welcome but only include them in your group messages by request.
Make a clear distinction between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Some meetings, conference calls, and group chats need to take place in real time (synchronous) with all stakeholders invested and engaged.
However (especially when working with global teams), asynchronous communication often suffices. Coordinating with colleagues across many time zones involves text and voice messaging much more often than real-time conversations.
Yes, you can get your team together once in a while, but will Tom be staying up late? Will Donna just be getting to work after a local holiday the night before? Will Ron have to return to work after taking care of his family to attend?
In short, use asynchronous communication in the workplace whenever possible when working with dispersed teams. Make sure everyone knows when your (rare) mandatory group meetings will take place, well in advance.
7) Workplace communication with Slack
Slack is, in fact, an acronym: Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge. You can use it to communicate one-on-one, with groups, or across massive organizations. It features text messaging, voice, and video calls. I prefer text communication because it provides a simple record of all instructions and expectations.
However, when communication in the workplace grinds to a halt, phone and face-to-face conversations matter. Especially when dealing with language and cultural barriers, speaking directly with your colleagues can eliminate the wasted time and effort of long and confusing email threads.
You can use productivity platforms like Slack to create firewalls between light and serious conversations. For example, you can easily remind April to post personal videos on social media and keep Slack only for appropriate communication in the workplace. Slack also allows you to mute conversations you find unnecessary, which Ron could use to put a dimmer switch on Leslie and Chris’ excessive workplace messages.
Teams at companies like Buffer use Slack communication tools to provide access to ongoing conversations across many time zones and devices.
Sure, they prefer to use in-person, synchronous communication for big decisions, employee feedback, and executive conversations. However, Slack makes it simple for teams to organize the daily details of work life.
If you’re unfamiliar with the short text communication styles millennial workers often use on Slack (and text), take care not to come across too formal.
You will likely find your younger team members only use formal language when they want to create distance between themselves and a person/issue. Though you may still prefer to format your emails as business letters, use short phrases in text communication. On Slack, don’t use periods unless you want to signal a hard end to a conversation. When agreeing with someone, the dismissive “k” can come across needlessly rude; instead, use a thumbs-up emoji for quick affirmative statements.
8) Use Toggl with Slack
You can use Toggl’s time-tracking software with Slack by adding a Toggl button into your Slack window. This simple trick allows you to manage the amount of time you and your colleagues spend on communication in the workplace.
You’ll know how everyone is spending their time and keep all your time-tracking data in one place. With Toggl/Slack integration, you can set up projects and assign them to team members. Even better, you can easily crunch the numbers with Toggl’s powerful and easy-to-use report-creation software.
9) Use Toggl with 85+ productivity platforms
Toggl’s free and premium time-tracking tools seamlessly integrate with all your favorite online productivity tools. Whether you’re gamifying your life with Habitica or keeping track of your busy life with Remember the Milk, you can have Toggl’s simple and powerful tools at the ready. Toggl plays well with Google Inbox, Google Keep, and GQueues – as well as Eventum, Drupal, and GitHub.
Facilitate effective communication in the workplace and keep in touch with stakeholders across the globe. Today’s office teams work anywhere in the world at all hours of the day and night. Make time-tracking, hour-logging, and payroll calculations simple and painless with Toggl’s hassle-free, easy-to-install software.
Don’t get caught up in the oceans of data available to today’s team leaders and managers. Use modern, cross-platform tools to leverage the remarkable flexibility and interconnectedness of the online workplace.
The future belongs to the smartest, most tech-savvy companies and executives – make sure you stay ahead of the competition!