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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 September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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