- What is Communication And Why is it so Important?
- How is Workplace Communication Slightly Different?
- The Importance of Respect When Communicating
- 9 Communication Barriers & Problems to Avoid in The Workplace
- 5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills
- How do Different Personalities Communicate?
- The Do’s And Don’ts of Video Communication
- 3 Reasons Why Written Communication Can be Perilous
There are certain things which are undeniable.
The sky is blue. The sun is hot. The sea is wet. Another of those undeniable things in life is that communication is vital.
We hear the word so much and we know that we need to do it, but far too often communication issues are the biggest barrier towards effective business success. Even in our personal lives, communication is key; one small misunderstanding can end up causing a huge division between people, and could even signal the end of an important relationship.
From a business point of view however, workplace communication needs to be the very best it can be. Without this, conflicts occur, morale dips, productivity follows suit, and customers begin to get very annoyed indeed. None of this is good for business and is likely to lead towards a very swift downfall.
The good news is that communication is actually quite easy to fix. The first thing you need to do is understand what communication is when it is effective, identity where problems and barriers may be, and then work to plug the gaps. This guide will show you how to do just that and to achieve effective communication in the workplace.
What is Communication And Why is it so Important?
First things first, let’s break it down. The communication definition, according to Oxford Languages is:
“The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium”
This can take the form of verbal communication, i.e. speaking words, or it can be nonverbal communication, such as written communication or body language. The way in which we communication with other people is vital to ensure that information is transmitted correctly and accurately and that misunderstandings and mistakes don't occur.
However in some cases, words can be completely thrown out of the window when body language enters the fore. It’s possible for someone to say one thing and their body language communicates something completely different. For that reason, being aware of nonverbal communication is vitally important.
Let’s look at an example.
If a colleague is sitting at their office desk and they seem to be acting a little out of character, perhaps they’re very quiet, they seem upset in some way, and their general body language just looks very down, you’re picking up on nonverbal cues. You’re noticing that their shoulders are slumped, they’re not making eye contact, they're not smiling, and their arms or legs might be crossed over their body in a defensive stance.
However, you could say to your colleague “are you okay?” And they may nod and say “yes, I’m fine, thank you”.
Which would you believe, the words or the body language?
Their words would have a huge doubt hanging over them because their body language is so deafening and prominent. Being able to communicate effectively is therefore just as much about the words you say as it is how you look for other cues and put them together to create and accurate, and sometimes not so obvious, picture.
Within the workplace, interpersonal skills are vital. This is how we communicate with others, and in this case, colleagues within the contemporary office environment, management, clients, and customers. Check out this video which explains interpersonal skills in a bit more detail.
So, we now know that communication is the transferring of information between people, using a variety of different means. However, you’ll soon come to realise that all of this is at risk of being blown up in the air due to common mistakes with communication and barriers that stand in the way. This is even more the case when in a workplace situation.
How is Workplace Communication Slightly Different?
You might think that communication is all the same, but when you’re in the workplace, things are slightly different in some ways. There are is also a far higher chance of a problem occurring.
Let’s look at why.
Firstly, people are often thrown together in a workplace situation, with different personality types, and even people who may not really like each other that well. You don't usually get to choose who you work with and that might mean that an office has a huge range of different personalities, communication styles, and therefore a higher incidence of misunderstandings and conflicts as a result.
Within a workplace the stakes are also much higher. Receptionists will be sat at their reception desk communicating with visitors and sometimes irate customers too. You will need to discuss business with supplier, clients, and customers over the phone. This means that your communication approach and style needs to change in order to fit the bill of the situation and suit the person you’re speaking too. For those who are communicating in person, there is also a need to watch their own body language to ensure it isn’t contradicting their words, whilst assessing the other person for nonverbal cues at the same time.
A little later on we will talk about written communication. Whilst you’re sat at your office chair you will probably send out emails and letters to internal and external personnel. There is a huge need to be careful with words and tone here, as it’s easy for someone to misread the contents of any type of written communication and take things entirely the wrong way. From the writer’s point of view, this was probably not the intention, but you have to also think of all the different ways a person may read into your words and ensure that they’re foolproof. It’s harder than you think!
Another reason why workplace communication is slightly more challenging is that these days many businesses employ remote workers. That means there may be the need to communicate out of hours, as some remote workers may work in a totally different time zone. This will probably be via email or messaging but there is also the need to discuss things face to face sometimes, which means optimising video calling software. Again, this is also something we’re going to cover in more detail a little later on.
Put simply, you need to watch what you say and how you say it far more carefully when you’re at work compared to when you're at home. A slip of the tongue could easily cause a conflict within the office and then everyone ends up sitting around the modern boardroom tables falling out and causing a huge dip in morale. It can be that simple.
Yes, communication also affects morale. Within a business morale is vital because it has a very clear link with productivity. So, having clear and honest communication at all levels, from management downwards, is vital for employee morale and engagement. Check out this infographic which explains this in a bit more detail.
Source - http://thesocialworkplace.com/2013/09/the-big-picture-between-internal-communications-and-employee-engagement-infographic/
At the end of the day, it’s about feeling valued and ensuring team spirit within the office. Communication plays a huge role in that and has far-reaching ramifications.
The Importance of Respect When Communicating
Whether you’re in the workplace or outside of it, respect is key when communicating effectively and clearly. This means not speaking over anyone else, listening to what they have to say, and not judging their words or meaning.
Within the workplace, especially within a collaborative environment, it’s even more vital than ever before to always show respect to your team. There may be shy members within the team who are worried about speaking out and if they do so, only to be shut down or laughed at, that is going to drastically affect their confidence and stop them from speaking out and sharing their ideas in the future. Collaboration needs to be open to everyone, with the chance for all ideas and suggestions to be discussed without pushing anything to one side or making anyone feel stupid or judged.
It’s a good idea to have collaboration rules in place within the area where this tends to take place. For instance, if you have a breakout area where your team usually collaborate or in the boardroom, you should have laminated collaboration rules on the wall, which set out the spirit of collaboration. It might sounds like a childish idea, but it’s never a bad idea to remind people of what they should and shouldn’t do in a creative environment. It’s very easy for emotions to run high and excitement to take everything over. Having a set of guidelines ensures that everyone is able to speak and have their ideas listened to around the boardroom furniture.
Without this, it’s very easy for misunderstandings to occur. Check out this video which talks about how these misunderstandings happen and how you can put steps into place to avoid them.
9 Communication Barriers & Problems to Avoid in The Workplace
There are some very clear barriers of communication within the office environment that you need to know about and work to avoid. This is for both managers and employees alike.
Let’s look at 9 common communication barriers and problems you might encounter.
- An overbearing employee who wants to be heard - It’s important for everyone to be able to speak in meetings, in the office, and in collaborative settings. Sometimes an office has one or two people who are particularly confident and quite loud, and therefore like to speak over everyone else. It’s likely that within your office you have introverts, extroverts, and even ambiverts, and everyone should have the chance to speak up and share ideas at the breakout furniture and in the office generally. We mentioned collaborative rules earlier and this can be a good way to allow everyone the chance to speak. If that doesn’t work, it may be necessary to gently remind this person that other people want to talk too!
- Lack of respect putting quieter employees off speaking out - As we’ve already mentioned, respect is key in communication and if that isn’t present, it could easily put off your quieter employees from speaking out. Everyone has valid ideas and by allowing this situation to happen, you’re potentially missing out on creative solutions and fantastic suggestions. Team building exercises are a good idea here, forging a greater team spirit and respect for all team members.
- Not understanding how to listen - A little later we’re going to delve into the idea of active listening but it could be that some of your employees don’t understand how to really listen and what to look for other than the verbal words spoken. You could put together an active listening workshop for employees to attend, therefore helping everyone learn key listening skills to add to their communication repetoir.
- Not having the right office set up - This one might sound odd, but if the office is poorly designed and everyone is feeling stressed out and annoyed at how the space is set out, it can be very easy for snappiness and agitation to enter the fore. When this happens misunderstandings are easy to come by and you have a much higher chance of conflict. In that case, speak your employees and ask their opinions on the way the office is designed. Do they want the office storage units to be moved away so there is more space? Do they want different office desks? Are they uncomfortable in any way? Fix any obvious problems and assess whether communication and morale improve.
- Poor management leading to a lack of confidence - Poor management is responsible for a whole world of workplace problems. It is the biggest reason for employees leaving a company and it’s a huge contributor towards low confidence and morale. When this happens, communication isn’t going to be great. Ask your employees for their honest opinions about the management style that is currently in place and be open to any suggestions and changes that need to be made. It’s for the greater good and managers should never stop learning!
- Gossip and cliques within the office - If your office is a hotbed of gossip, it’s the wrong type of communication! In order for an office to work effectively and harmoniously, you can't have people sitting in the office booths or the break space gossiping and talking about one another. As a manager, it can be difficult to eradicate office gossip, but it’s something you need to be on the look out for and take seriously if problems do occur.
- Not understanding body language - As with active listening, some people don’t really understand what to look for when it comes to body language. These are nonverbal cues which can really affect whether or not someone communicates well. Again, you could put together a workshop for employees to attend which informs them of body language and how to read it.
- Generally unclear communication - Sometimes people think they’re saying something very clearly but they're actually confusing in all aspects. Do you think you communicate clearly? Be honest with yourself and ask how you may be able to improve. Do you use far more words than are strictly necessary? Do you use overly complicated language when you really don't need to? Ask yourself whether your communication is clear and if you need to make changes, work to do so.
- Too many differing communication styles in one space - Within any office there are different personalities, but it might be that you have a huge range of different communication style at play too. You might have the office chatterer and you might have someone who is quite passive aggressive without realising it, the list goes on. To overcome this, everyone needs to take a step back and learn to listen to one another. The active listening workshop we mentioned earlier will help with this.
Check out this infographic which talks about other potential communication barriers you may encounter.
Source - https://blog.commlabindia.com/elearning-design/barriers-for-effective-communication-infographic
5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills
Communication isn’t all about speaking, and the ability to listen is just as important. When working to develop your communication skills you should also work towards becoming a better listener.
So, how can you do that? Here are 5 ways.
- Maintain eye contact and pay attention to body language - Firstly you need to know that body language is important and forms part of the communication process. When someone is speaking to you, maintain eye contact and ensure that your body language isn't putting them off. Make sure your stance is relaxed and that you aren't crossing your arms over your body or fidgeting. By doing that, they're more likely to mirror your relaxed position.
- Don't interrupt or guess what they’re going to say - It’s very off-putting when you’re speaking to someone and they keep interrupting or assuming they know what you’re going to stay next. Just let them speak and do your best to listen to the words without judging them. Let them finish before you decide what to say or how you feel about it.
- Be open minded at all times - We all have our thoughts and beliefs and sometimes it’s easy to judge others for not agreeing with ours, but that’s a major no-no in communication and life in general. Be open minded to what the person is telling you and don’t judge them before they’ve finished, or even after they’ve finished! Part of communication is being able to see all sides, and you need to listen fully in order to understand.
- Listen out for other clues - Tone of voice, the language they’re using, whether they’re speaking quietly or loudly, along with their body language and whether they’re confidently speaking or avoiding eye contact, all give you a full picture of what the person is trying to communicate to you. It’s very easy to avoid these things. Listening isn't always about listening to words only, it’s about listening to the full picture.
- Don’t push your solutions upon the person - The worst thing you can do is to tell the other person what to do about what they've just told you. You can give your advice and your thoughts but don’t be pushy and force them into a resolution. That isn’t listening, that’s being bossy and closed minded. Instead, explore potential options with them and discuss them between you, identifying the pros and cons.
Listening as a whole probably isn’t what you thought it was! Listening isn’t just hearing the words, it’s about putting the full picture together and really getting to the crux of the issue. In the workplace and beyond, being able to really listen is a very key skill to have. Unfortunately, it’s one that many people lack.
How do Different Personalities Communicate?
Everyone has their own unique communication style and in many ways personality type also plays a role. For instance, extroverts are quite outspoken and loud. They have no problems speaking out around the boardroom furniture or speaking up in the middle of the meeting. On the other hand, introverts are a little quieter, more thoughtful, and perhaps prefer to listen and observe than speak out.
Both are equal, and within that you have ambiverts, a mixture of the two types. Whilst trying to understand different communication skills in the workplace, it’s important to know your employees and their general personality type. Then, you can speak to them in a way which you know is going to get the best out of them. Good communication skills examples here would be not to speak to an introvert and ask them to put forth their ideas in the middle of a huge meeting with many people. You could do so if you have prepared them and warned them beforehand, but not to do it on the spot. This would close them off and communication would be zero.
In addition, you’re not going to get the best out of an extrovert if you ask them to sit quietly in a corner and work on something which has no collaborative element to it at all.
It’s about knowing your employees and understanding their communication styles in the workplace, so you can pull the best performance out of them in the end. Of course, this also helps them to develop within themselves too.
Check out this infographic which outlines 4 of the main communication styles you’ll come across in any workplace.
Source - https://infographicworld.com/communication-styles-workplace/
The Do’s And Don’ts of Video Communication
Over the last few months in particular, we’ve all had more of a need to use video conferencing and communication software. Whether that is because you’ve been working from home, you’re working remotely, or you simply use it so stay in touch in the middle of the current pandemic, video communication has really taken off. Zoom video communications are the go-to option, but there are other choices too, such as Skype and even Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp video calling capabilities.
It’s easy to assume that video communication is a little easier, but you have a whole other set of potential problems to contend with! Internet glitches, software problems, delays, these can all occur. However, we are very lucky to have the video calling capabilities we have, especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic situation.
Good communication skills are still required when speaking on video calls. Let’s look at the do’s and don’ts of this type of communication.
- Set things up and test it first
- Make sure your microphone is good enough
- Give the other person the time to finish what they’re saying before you speak
- Check your Internet connection beforehand
- Forget to make yourself look presentable!
- Forget to choose a quiet space
- Choose somewhere messy or unkempt
- Video call without warning - some people need to set things up first
- Become distracted and do other things in the background, e.g. checking emails, etc
3 Reasons Why Written Communication Can be Perilous
We’re almost at the end of our guide to effective communication skills in the workplace, but we need to mention written communication before we finish.
Within any business there will be a need for verbal and written communication, such as emails, letters, newsletters, flyers, reports, etc. It’s vital that these are accurate, written properly, contain no spelling or grammar mistakes, and that they reflect the business in a positive light.
Whilst there will always be a need for this type of communication, it’s very important to realise that it can be extremely perilous if you get it wrong. When you’re not speaking to someone face to face, there is a huge amount of space for misunderstanding and if you’re communicating with a customer or client, the potential for issues coming back to you is huge.
To further press home this point and show you how you can overcome some of these worrying potentials, let’s look at three reasons why written communication is quite perilous!
- Written communication reflects back on the business - If you send an email, message, or a letter to a client or customer, you are acting on behalf of the business and the standard of that written communication reflects on the business. If the communication is written poorly, full of mistakes and doesn’t make any sense, the reader is going to assume that the quality of the goods and services produced by that business will be of the same low quality. For that reason, ensure that any written communication you send out is clear of spelling and grammar mistakes, it looks aesthetically pleasing, it is clear and makes sense, and that it is not offensive or misleading in any way. Always proofread!
- Written communication can be understood in several different ways - There is a reason why text messages are the cause of so many arguments; the meaning can be interpreted in several different ways! The voice in your head as you write it may not be how the other person reads it and as such, there is a huge space for misunderstanding. The tone of any written communication needs to be professional and there needs to be nothing in there which could be ambiguous - never attempt to be humorous or sarcastic; it doesn’t translate well.
- Written communication often leaves unanswered questions - When you speak to someone face to face you can ask them questions if you don't understand something. When you send written communication to someone, they cannot ask you straightaway and they will need to get back in touch with you to clarify. That can delay the outcome and can lead to frustration. If you do need to send written communication, make sure that you answer as many potential questions as possible and that you give a direct line to ask questions whenever necessary.
Learning how to improve communication skills in the workplace often takes a little individual soul searching. Everyone can always do better, but that means questioning what areas you need to work on in the first place. Everyone needs to put forth the same amount of effort to improve and then you can expect to see major results in terms of the effectiveness of the office and the business as a whole.
There are no downsides to improving communication. This will benefit you not only at work whilst you’re sitting at your designer office chair, but also at home and within any relationship you have. In terms of making your working life easier, knowing how to communicate effectively and in a variety of different ways will also cut down the chance of office conflict and make your working days far more harmonious as a result!
For a business, effective workplace communication is vital to overall success.