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Effective Communication in the Workplace for Employees: Learned Skills and Styles that Come After We Leave Home

Posted by Dan Feerst on


Effective Communication in the Workplace, Skills, and Styles

Poll any group of employees—from the mail room to the upper levels of management--and you’ll find poor workplace communication as one of the top organizational complaints. For something that we do every day, we just don’t seem to be very good at it. In fact, the attitude that communication should come naturally may be contributing to the problem since workplace communication remains one of the most overlooked and untrained job skills.

There is good reason why workplace communication does not come naturally. None of us grows up in the workplace.

Instead, we grow up in homes, those mostly neurotic places in America where we hone our skills at screaming, yelling, the silent treatment, bullying, whining, backstabbing, and of course love. Lot's of love for most of us thank God, but we learn all the other bad stuff too.

Indeed, we love each other, and so it is safe to act out. But there is the rub. When we act out at work too, people don't love us back. At the end no one ever says you are a total ass, but I love you, here take my car, come to dinner at my house, or give me your laundry--we're a family here at the Widget Company. No indeed, this is not the response to bad behavior and dysfunctional communication.

So communication skills must be learned to so work in the milieu of employment settings, and if you do not have formal education, particularly with regard to effective communication skills in the workplace, then you are going to have a few problems. More than a few.

Although most employees have little control over their companies’ communication processes, all of us contribute to the quality of our workplace communication through our interactions with our coworkers. And whatever we learned a home and is now part of our natural style, it ain't going to fly at work.

Effective Communication in the Workplace: What's Your Style and Is It Helping

Here are a few tips to improve communication in your own corner of the workplace.

It's important to understand that the same message can be interpreted in vastly different ways depending on the tone in which it is delivered. Tone of your voice is incredibly powerful. Always strive to keep communication positive and polite. You can do this even if you are having a crappy day. The skill is self-awareness and using a bit of your emotional intelligence. A negative, accusatory, or aggressive tone tends to put the listener on the defensive, causing the underlying message to be distorted or not heard at all. You lose with a nasty, negative, apathetic, or aggressive tone.

Beyond tonality, effective communication starts with observation with your eyes, not your mouth. You must size up, even it takes a split second, who you are communicating with. Because not everyone communicates in the same manner, knowing and mimicking your coworkers’ individual communication styles can vastly improve your communication with them.

Don't get this article wrong. We are not talking about mocking or being phony. We are talking instead about professional use of self. That's a grounded concept and means experience a need to and desire to communicate better and empathize with your communication partner. Yes, partner. Both of you are involved in a project, a goal, an outcome. That happens to be effective reciprocal understanding. Even if you are in a heated argument, effective communication can help you complete the mutual goal with your communication partner--understanding and clear disagreement.

So, to clarify your professional use of self in a conversation, realize that while a brusque, to-the-point sharp communication style may work with a type-A personalities, it may seem rude and impersonal to someone who likes to make polite small-talk before getting down to business. Knowing and adapting to these styles can make all the difference. If you have a high level of empathy, you will discover that in your past you've adapted to the work culture to which you have been a part by mimicking communication styles you experienced.

Then there is timing. Timing is sometimes the most critical part of delivering your message. If you require someone’s full attention for a length of time, it is often helpful to schedule a time to meet instead of approaching that person when he or she is focused on other things. Sometimes this can be done in an informal manner by requesting that someone see you when time permits.

Many a meeting has been derailed by the one or two participants who seem unable to limit their input to the subject at hand. Before speaking, envision topical bullet points and limit your comments to them. If you find yourself veering off course or notice others looking at their watches as you speak, wrap it up by briefly summarizing your main points.

Nothing is more frustrating than being copied on an e-mail chain about a topic that doesn’t concern you. Abuse of the “copy all” function reduces productivity, creates confusion, and eventually causes employees to disregard important communications because they no longer have the time to filter relevant information from the avalanche of information overflowing from their in-boxes. Before hitting the send button, mentally verify that each person on the copy list needs access to the information contained within.

Never assume that an electronic message has been received. Digital information can be lost in transmission or accidentally deleted by the person receiving it. Make a habit of regularly following up on important communications.

It’s easy to lose perspective when working on large-scale projects that aren’t due for completion until months later. Schedule daily, weekly, or monthly summaries of work in progress in order to keep superiors, co-workers, and subordinates up to date and aware of changes that may affect them.

No one likes to be told no. When asked to perform a task that may take you away from other important work, inform that questioner of the time and money the task will take to accomplish, and the effect it will have on your previously scheduled projects. Armed with this information, the questioner will be able to draw his or her own conclusions about whether to proceed, and is less like to focus on your perceived unwillingness to do the work.

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