Let's Make A Practical Guide To Workplace Communication

We’ve all heard people say “communication is key,” but how frequently do we actually implement proper communication in the workplace?

Sure, we all attend meetings and make occasional chit-chat by the coffee machine… but how much of what we communicate actually gets heard by the people we speak to?

While we all communicate, many of us don’t do it effectively. I say effectively because technically speaking, a business would be obsolete without the art of communication, but it is the quality of communication used within the workplace that distinguishes a good business from a great one.

More than that, it is the role of management to preach it into practice. Knowing how to communicate with your staff is essential in running a successful business. Below are some things to help you get started…

Why It's Important

To begin with, let’s understand why communication is so crucial to every single business - big or small. No matter what industry you work in, whether you run a restaurant, clinic, or even a moving company, effective communication can be the difference between happy clients and bad reviews, and in some cases, it can even be the difference between a client’s safety and placing them in danger.

Let’s take a moving company for example, where you may find managers, packers, and even home organizers. A manager can estimate a quote but fail to communicate the extent of the items to their packers - what could have been a 4-hour job has just turned into a full day's work - leaving both employees and customers unhappy and disgruntled.

In the case of a restaurant, if a receptionist was to take a special booking request for allergies and fail to communicate this to the waiting and kitchen staff, chaos would soon set in. As for somewhere like a clinic, poor communication skills can easily become a stack of lawsuits.

While workplace communication isn't necessarily life-threatening, it can be detrimental to your company's operations and can greatly affect not only reputation but also employee turnover rate.

As a manager, it's critical that you communicate with your staff regularly, keeping them informed about what's going on. Positive and frequent communication instills confidence in your team, and sets a great example for others. Maintaining such communication levels will significantly reduce potential misunderstandings while improving overall productivity. Basically, it cultivates a culture within the workplace and inspires a sense of unity within your team.

What Does Communicating Effectively Look Like?

It needs to be focused:

When communicating, it’s very easy to go off on unnecessary tangents. A manager may begin a conversation instructing an employee to do one thing but ends up giving them a multitude of tasks with no real starting point. Inevitably, these tasks get drowned out as the conversation continues, leaving the employee confused and overwhelmed.

In situations like these, nobody leaves satisfied. Employee satisfaction decreases and the manager doesn’t get the output he desires.

Lacking focus is one of the main culprits when it comes to ineffective communication within the workplace.

It needs to be coherent:

Coherence is one of the most undervalued aspects of communication in the workplace. Without it, messages can get muddled and lost. It needs to pervade through every single aspect of the company. Imagine giving a presentation to a potential client and the slides are all mixed up… that is what incoherence looks like. The information is all there but in an order that doesn’t make sense.

One of the things that can help with coherence is preparation. Knowing how you want to convey a message before you relay it can be the difference between success and failure. Being mindful of the roles and responsibilities of your colleagues can help you convey your message to each individual employee in a thoughtful and logical manner and one of the benefits of this is that you will establish a consistent flow between your topic of conversation and your means of expressing it.

Your team will thank you for this in the long run as they will always understand what you are trying to say and it will greatly reduce misunderstandings in the workplace.

It needs to be polite:

There’s a reason people say to be polite when meeting new people. Politeness does not stop at the first impression, it needs to be extended throughout an entire relationship - be it personal or professional.

Communicating with politeness at the core is essential to maintaining a happy work environment.

It can be the difference between ensuring your colleagues are open and cooperative and shutting them off completely - nobody wants to listen to somebody they are angry with. We tend to gravitate towards certain friends, family, and coworkers that are more polite because they know how to approach us in a way that we appreciate and this goes a long way when modeled by management. A positive workplace is a polite one.

It needs to be clear:

Repeat after me… clarity is key. When it comes to communication, if you only remember one thing, remember this… without clarity, nothing else matters.

It is essentially the coming together of every point we have spoken about so far. Because clarity is so expansive, there isn’t a single thing in an organization that is doesn’t benefit.

Picture this, your boss comes into your office and tells you to organize a business retreat for members of the office, you’ve booked a venue, invite all the employees within the office and send out RSVPs. Shortly after, your boss asks you to meet him in his office, he’s sat there with steam coming out of his ears. “You invited the WHOLE office?” This lack of specificity is all too common when management assumes the message is clear. A ‘read my mind’ mentality does no company any favors.

Simple workplace things like providing feedback, delegating tasks, or handing out instructions, are most effective when you are clearly understood.

Just like with the example above, It's best when you can provide specific information to support your request (such as numbers, deadlines, and any other additional information). This will get rid of any potential mistakes and misunderstandings that can often happen.

Ultimately, it comes down to clarity to determine whether or not employees and colleagues understand what is being asked of them and why.

It needs to be consistent:

In order to maintain effective communication, it is important that you remain consistent in whatever method you apply. Remaining consistent within the workplace ensures colleagues and employees know what to expect without a rollercoaster-like experience.

It Starts With Management

Everyone in the workplace must sharpen their communication skills but it all starts with a leader...

What not to do:

There are several things that could obstruct effective communication from happening and it could be as simple as not listening to what the other person is trying to tell us. Listening is similar to communicating in the sense that it can very easily be done ineffectively. You may have heard the phrase “you are listening, but are you hearing?” If an employee is communicating with you, make sure you are hearing what they are trying to say.

Some other things that can sabotage effective communication are: passing judgment, gossiping or operating in a distrusting environment that lacks transparency. A key area we also often neglect is the importance of body language - nothing says “I’m not looking forward to working on this” quite like crossed arms!

In order to maintain a healthy relationship with your team, perhaps try a body language workshop to get everyone on the same page.

It’s important to notice if and where some of these habits may be present within your organisation and try to remedy them.

Use your tools:

Efficient communication begins with a leader, and that is usually the role of management. This can only happen when managers are accurate and prompt with their messages while also being mindful of the tools used to deliver the message. The two combined can greatly affect the way it is received and processed.

Many companies have a system in place to ensure a team is adequately prepared to complete a goal or task, and most often than not, they use tools to help them along.

Just like during a fire drill, communication is critical. Still, certain tools are necessary to make sure everyone is kept notified and alert.

A tool in this case can be a multitude of things. It can be the fire alarm, maps of the closest exits, signs, and walkie-talkies, or microphones.

Effectively communicating involves ensuring everybody is aware of how to act, when to act (which in this situation is always!), and where to go. The two work hand in hand to guide the team safely outside calmly and quickly.

You can assume communication is effective when your staff understand and are able to proceed when/where and however necessary. Essentially, it should feel seamless.

Management is where the magic happens, you have the ability to influence the culture of your organization. It's essentially up to you to get people communicating effectively. There are a few ways you can do this, let's take a look:

Determine what communication medium works best for your team

When it comes to communication tools, we are spoilt for choice. From emails to zoom calls, there are endless amounts of software and apps available for use and it seems like by the week, a new one is released. The main thing is that you guide your team in using it efficiently and appropriately. (Don't just use a tool for the sake of using it - ask yourself what the intention is.)

Make sure to set clear boundaries around how, when, and where to use these mediums.

Tackle communication issues

Due to the sheer number of tools out there, you as a manager will inevitably come across employees who prefer one tool over another. For example, some might prefer zoom meetings while others prefer to receive an email. And then you may get the few that prefer an in-person conversation over anything that involves technology.

When these conflicts happen, it's important to remember that each method has its benefits and it is up to you to exercise your judgment and guide your team forward.

Weave a Web:

When working in a busy organization, it can be easy for us to stick within our team and department - working with an "every man for himself" mentality (or in this case, every team for themself). However, much like an intricate web, a successful business requires the weaving together of different departments and for them to communicate effectively within one another. It’s crucial to be able to communicate with other managers, teams, and company directors while advocating for your team.

When Implementing This, Remember To:

Be approachable:

As a manager, your employees should feel like they can come to you with suggestions, issues and generally be able to establish a two-way communication channel with you where they feel safe and supported. The fact that your employees can open up to you is a sign that there is trust and unity in your team.

Build a culture:

If an employee suggests something that can benefit your organization in some way, give credit where it’s due and show them that their voice matters. This can give them a sense of purpose and belonging while also signaling to other employees that they are in a place that values what they have to say and have a fair chance of expressing it.

The occasional team-building exercise such as public speaking workshops and other training can be helpful to those that find it difficult to express themselves. Allowing your employees to have an open communication channel with you not only benefits their professional development but also builds you up as an effective leader (there’s no I in team!).

Onboarding newcomers:

With your new communication techniques in place, you want to make sure any new hires find it easy to integrate into your workplace culture. You can do this by making them feel connected by pairing them up with seasoned team members and providing them with pieces of training and other materials to catch them up to speed. Making sure they are supported and valued throughout their probation period is one of the main things that determine whether or not they will be a permanent part of the team.

Ready To Make Some Changes?

If you are ready to upgrade your workplace’s communication strategies then there is no time like the present. Make sure to identify any areas of improvement (and to include the team!) and then develop a plan of action.

Essentially if you want to avoid potential calamities, you must establish a culture of effective communication within your organization. Effective communication begins with leadership and that is where a manager can lead the way.

The bottom line is, knowing how to communicate with your staff is essential in running a successful business.

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