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Published on June 17, 2019

7 Ways to Ensure Effective Communication at Work

7 Ways to Ensure Effective Communication at Work

Sometimes spotting barriers to communication at work can be fairly easy. When miscommunication is left unaddressed, you may see it in the form of workplace conflict or decreased productivity. There’s a tendency for miscommunication to happen when there is little transparency. And sometimes this may be unintentional.

“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” — John W. Gardner

Many people think they are effective communicators because they went to school or have a certain amount of work experience, but in reality they still struggle to influence others with their message. The result of ineffective communication is missed opportunity, lost time and wasted resources – all because they didn’t have high impact conversations.[1]

You may notice a number of factors influencing clear, effective, and transparent communication at work: personal characteristics, physical distance, the message itself, context, jargon used and culture. Below are 7 ways to ensure effective communication at work so that you can create an efficient, productive and inclusive work environment.

1. Know Your Audience Well

Understanding your audience is essential to effective communication at work. This applies to verbal and written communications, presentations, daily emails, company wide announcements or providing status updates on projects.

Whether or not your message will be effectively communicated or well received stems from understanding what your audience cares about.

  • Who are you targeting with your communication?
  • What is the intent of your message?
  • What do they need to know?
  • What do you need them to do?
  • What’s the best way to communicate the message to your audience?
  • How will your audience perceive or interpret the message?
  • How will your audience feel, think, and react when they receive your message?

In order to answer these questions, you’ll need to plan ahead, research, and observe the behaviors of your audience. For example, your approach to communication with your team or peers will likely be different from how you communicate to your leader because these groups have different interests.

2. Seek to Understand the Situation and Clarify

Take time to be thoughtful and intentional. Before communicating at work, it’s essential to pause, understand the situation, clarify, and have empathy. Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively at work:

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Be curious. Ask open ended questions starting with ‘what’ and ‘how’ to gather information. People will tend to be more descriptive with their responses. You can then ask open ended probing questions to gain more context. The more you understand, the more likely you’ll be able to tailor a suitable message that resonates with your audience.

Learn like a kid. Normally, kids have no prior knowledge about what they are about to learn. There’s a sense of humility to their learning approach. Take the same approach when you’re putting yourself in your audiences’ shoes as you seek to understand their situation. Be open, ready, and willing to see your audiences’ perspective.

Check your assumptions. Your breadth of experience may cloud your perceptions and judgements. Challenge the preconceived notions about your audience. Determine who you need to speak with or what research you need to conduct to check if your assumptions are true. Ensure that you create space for understanding before jumping to action.

Be inclusive. People want to belong, feel included and valued in the workplace. Be thoughtful to ensure that everyone’s ideas are captured. For example, if you are in a meeting asking for input, ensure that there is adequate time for everyone to share their response. If you run out of time, state in the meeting that you will connect with them later.

3. Listen on Multiple Levels

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” — Stephen R. Covey

You’re likely familiar with these basic active listening tips. However, when we’re feeling overwhelmed meeting deadlines, prioritizing, or creating, it’s easy to be on autopilot and miss key messages that can help you effectively communicate at work. Below are reminders to keep practicing:

Paraphrase. Confirm your understanding of the message by repeating it or reframing it in your own words. If there are discrepancies among the parties, this is the time to clarify.

Probe. Ask questions if you feel there is information missing that you may need.

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Clarify. If you don’t completely understand something, ask.

Remember. Try to recall points that are important to your audience. This information can be used in the future and shows your audience that you cared and were actively listening.

Being an effective communicator at work means that you need to be attuned to your active listening skills. Remember to:

  • Have empathy.
  • Understand others’ perceptions, not just your own.
  • Gauge your emotions and reactions, and those of others’.
  • Know your values and beliefs, and those of others’.
  • Observe non-verbal communication signs like body language.

4. Review How You Receive Feedback

How you receive feedback impacts how you react, and influences how effectively you communicate back to other parties. Being open to feedback and criticism is easier said than done.[2] We’re human. When you’re distracted with life events or if you’re feeling pressured at work, you may get defensive at the slightest of comments that come your way.

Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone provide approaches to improve your ability to absorb feedback, take what’s useful and know how to get rid of what’s unhelpful for you to learn and move forward.[3]

Some of these strategies include the following:

  • Know, understand and manage your triggers and responses to feedback.
  • Separate the message from ‘who’ it came from.
  • Listen for the advice rather than the judgement.
  • Breakdown the feedback into digestible pieces.
  • When you seek feedback proactively, be specific and ask for one thing.
  • Take small steps to test out what was suggested to you.

You have the ability to learn from the feedback and grow from it. Breaking down the feedback into bite-sized pieces can help you better process the message and be less reactive in your response.

5. Provide Objective and Observable Feedback

This is one of the most difficult things to do because you may not want to offend others, you may want to avoid conflict, you’re not entirely sure how to, you aren’t emotionally ready, or are clouded by your assumptions.

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The Situation, Behavior, Impact (SBI) Model[4] can help you provide clear and specific feedback:

  • Situation. Provide the context. Ask yourself what happened, where, and when.
  • Behavior. Describe the behavior. This is the most difficult part because you need to check your assumptions. For example, saying “you were rude” (subjective) versus “you interrupted me” (observable behaviour) changes the tone of the feedback. Being “rude” can have multiple interpretations while you can see when someone has interrupted you.
  • Impact. Use “I” statements to describe the results of the behaviour.
  • Move Forward. Keep the conversation going to seek understanding by asking them to reflect. What was their perspective? What was going on for them? What did they realize? How can they grow from here?

Example 1:[5]

“During yesterday morning’s team meeting, when you gave your presentation (Situation), you were uncertain about two of the slides and your sales calculations were incorrect (Behaviour). I felt embarrassed because the entire board was there. I’m worried that this has affected the reputation of our team (Impact).”

Example 2:[6]

“At the client meeting on Monday afternoon, you ensured that the meeting started on time and that everyone had handouts in advance (Situation). All of your research was correct, and each of the client’s questions were answered (Behaviour). I’m proud that you did such an excellent job and put the organization in a good light. I feel confident that we’ll get the account, thanks to your hard work (Impact).”

Knowing how to provide clear, specific, and observable feedback is an essential skill to being an effective communicator at work.

6. Follow-up, Confirm and Create Accountability

Effective communication at work is not a one time event. You’ll need to continuously monitor progress and provide ongoing support. Don’t forget to acknowledge the progress of your peers, teams or leaders!

Use the following questions to help you evaluate the effectiveness of ongoing communication at work:

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  • What opportunities do you see?
  • How can you adjust?
  • What decisions need to be made?
  • What support can you provide?
  • What do you need to do to ensure that the accurate message was received?

7. Use the 7C’s of Communication

For any medium of communication at work, keep the 7C’s of communication in mind to fine tune your message:[7]

  • Clear. What’s the purpose? Is the message easy to understand?
  • Concise. What can you delete? Is it to the point?
  • Concrete. What are the facts?
  • Correct. Is the message free of errors? Is it suitable for your audience?
  • Coherent. Is there a logical flow? Is the message consistent?
  • Complete. Is relevant information provided and is there a call to action?
  • Courteous. What’s the tone of your message?

Learn more about the 7Cs here: Effective Communication: How Not to Be Misunderstood

Summing Up

Ways to ensure effective communication at work takes practice and time.

Keep these 7 strategies top of mind to enhance your communications at work so that your messages are clear and transparent.

  1. Know Your Audience Well
  2. Seek to Understand the Situation and Clarify
  3. Listen on Multiple Levels
  4. Review How You Receive Feedback
  5. Provide Objective and Observable Feedback
  6. Follow-up, Confirm and Create Accountability
  7. Use the 7 C’s of Communication

Continue to grow and fine-tune your skills!

What is one thing you can work on this month to enhance your communication at work?

Be specific and challenge yourself by setting a SMART goal for workplace communication — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound!

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Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ami Au-Yeung

Workplace Strategist | Career Coach | Workshop Facilitator | Writer | Speaker | Past Business Professor

7 Steps to Achieve Career Success on Your Own Terms How to Recon Like a “Spy” to Manage Conflicts in the Workplace How to Learn at Work in the Most Effective Way Top 10 Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Managers Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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