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.
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:
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.
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. 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.
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.
The Situation, Behavior, Impact (SBI) Model 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?
“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).”
“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:
- 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:
- 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
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.
- Know Your Audience Well
- Seek to Understand the Situation and Clarify
- Listen on Multiple Levels
- Review How You Receive Feedback
- Provide Objective and Observable Feedback
- Follow-up, Confirm and Create Accountability
- 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!