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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

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Ami Au-Yeung

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

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

Perceptual Barrier

The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

Attitudinal Barrier

Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

Language Barrier

This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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Emotional Barrier

Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

Cultural Barrier

Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

Gender Barrier

Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

Reference

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