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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!

More About Workplace Communication

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

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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