Have you ever spent precious time trying to decode a long email chain of forwarded and CC’d information, only to find that you’ve lost a necessary attachment somewhere along the way? Have you ever attended a long, exhausting meeting only to leave the room realizing you have no idea what to do next?
It doesn’t feel like it should be as difficult as it is to communicate, but it’s one of the top challenges many businesses struggle with. Whether it’s missed deadlines, poorly-planned projects, published typos, unclear expectations, or any other common issues, we shouldn’t have to tell you why effective communication in the workplace matters.
Poor communication can be incredibly costly to your team and company. Your team will work harder and create a lower-quality finished product if you do not communicate clearly with them.
If these examples sound all too familiar, it’s time to take a critical look at your team communication.
Why should you prioritize effective communication in the workplace?
Why spend extra time and effort over-communicating with our team? Why invest money in communication tools when we could simply hold a meeting?
Good communication systems may not be as flashy as a new product release or clever marketing campaign, but it’s just as essential to every company’s success.
When we share a clear, common goal with our team, everyone aims for the same finish line. Effective communication can increase productivity and reduce costly mistakes.
Clear, open communication in the workplace can also boost employee engagement and retention. Working as part of a well-oiled machine makes individuals feel like part of something larger than themselves. When we succeed as a team, it’s a fulfilling experience that bonds the team together, boosts morale, and builds trust.
Workplace communication strategies
It will take time and deliberate effort to adjust the systems you already have in place. Your team has certain communication habits, which won’t change overnight!
But if you want to build effective communication in the workplace, you have to start somewhere. To get started, let’s discuss some essential strategies.
Be clear and specific.
Always aim for clarity in every aspect of your communication. This means providing upfront information and documentation so that your team has everything they need to understand your message and take action.
Does the recipient have the resources and context they need? Did you provide a clear action point forward? Does every task have an assignee? Ask yourself if the message is clear before sending it.
Clarity does take extra time on your part to prepare. You may have to reread your message several times or prepare a video script ahead of time. However, it’s worth the effort since it will save time and confusion down the road.
Effective communication in the workplace examples include:
- Spell check your message before sending it. The Grammarly Chrome app is a free tool that can automatically look over your text for clarity.
- Use text styling options, such as bullet points, links, highlighting, or bolding.
- Avoid long, run-on sentences or large blocks of text.
- Supplement your message with screenshots, links, and other relevant resources.
Practice active listening.
Effective communication in the workplace involves both speaking and listening. When your co-workers present during a meeting or share their ideas, you need to be attentive and listen to what they are saying.
When someone is speaking, make sure they know they are heard. Ask open-ended questions and paraphrase what the speaker has said. Make eye contact, ensure that your posture is opening and inviting, and occasionally nod when they offer valuable information. Don’t interrupt when they are speaking.
These positive cues let the speaker know that you are attentive and will encourage them to continue. If the speaker feels like they are speaking to a ghost room, they may lose confidence and stray from their focus.
Asking questions or offering comments also helps ensure that you have understood them correctly. It’s much better to correct any misunderstandings early in the conversation than weeks or months after the project has begun. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request clarification!
Create a system.
Having a foundation for consistent communication is crucial to keeping everyone on the same page.
Effective communication in the workplace can be a challenge. It can be hard to stay organized and ensure clear communication with emails, phone calls, chat messages, sticky notes, and chats in the hallway.
Take some time to consider your team’s communication tools and how they are used. You may use email, instant messaging, a task manager, screen capture and video communication software, and other tools. Then, set some standards for how your team will use each communication method.
For example, an email is an effective form of written communication for basic information, quick questions, short conversations, and announcements. However, email chains make it difficult to hold an extended conversation between a group of people. It may be better to have a group strategy discussion during an in-person meeting or in an instant messaging app.
Introduce more visual communication.
We shouldn’t have to explain why written communication is important in the workplace! It’s a staple of coordinating in a team, whether an email, an instant message, or ideas written on the whiteboard. It’s a point of reference that recipients can refer back to during a project for clarification or reminders.
That said, written communication isn’t always the best tool. For complex topics, visual communication may be a more robust alternative.
Some examples where visual communication may be more effective in the workplace include:
- Verbally explaining a complex topic through a short video and screen share
- Sharing a gif that shows the steps to reproduce a bug or error
- Creating annotated screenshots to show step-by-step instructions
This is our area of expertise. Visual communication is what we do best! Zight (formerly CloudApp) makes it easy to capture your screen to create screenshots, gifs, and videos. You can annotate your content with text, emojis, arrows, or anything else you might need to get your message across clearly. Once you’re ready to share, the Zight (formerly CloudApp) will automatically create a sharable link for you to send to coworkers, partners, or clients.
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Don’t assume anything.
No one is a mind reader. You and your co-workers may default to subtle hints, subtext, and non-verbal communication during conversations, but that’s not an effective way to communicate in the workplace.
Speak clearly about your expectations. If you have a specific vision for a project, share all of your thoughts and ideas. Ask others on the team for their thoughts, too. From there, the group can combine their visions and ideas for the project for a result that everyone sees clearly.
Overcommunication may be annoying at times, both sending and receiving, but it’s a far better alternative than leaving crucial information up to interpretation. Consider it extra planning and clarification up front to avoid confusion and wasted time down the road.
When you operate under assumptions, you risk miscommunicating with your team. You end up making poor choices, having wrong expectations, and being controlled by your ego. You and your team may work in opposite directions toward a mismatched result that doesn’t work.
When presenting an idea or sharing your knowledge, pay attention to your listeners. Are they engaged? Are they asking questions? Consider frequent pausing to prompt listeners to ask questions.
When you’re listening, ask for clarification when you’re unsure. There is no such thing as a stupid question, and if you’re confused, some of your other co-workers in the room may be confused too.
Clear, transparent conversation can be difficult in a toxic work environment. Your team should feel comfortable asking questions without worrying that they will sound stupid or incompetent.
Be brief and stay on-topic.
Although it seems like simple advice, one basic strategy to foster effective communication in the workplace is to keep your attention focused and to the point.
When conversations get off topic, it distracts the group from the issue. It’s especially relevant during long meetings. Too many tangents tack on extra meeting time and waste precious mental stamina. Don’t be afraid to redirect the conversation.
Keep your email short and to the point for effective email communication in the workplace. Long, rambling paragraphs can be tricky for recipients to read and understand. Rely on formatting styles like bullet points or bold text when necessary since this will make information easier to digest.
If the topic is complicated, consider holding an in-person meeting or explaining the issue with a screen recording video. Tools like Zight (formerly CloudApp) let you record your screen and voice so you can describe an issue while demonstrating it on your screen. It only takes a few clicks to start capturing your screen. Once you’re done, you can create an instant sharing link to send to your recipient.
Avoid blaming, finger-pointing, and complaining.
After a catastrophic failure or mistake in the workplace, keeping a cool head amidst high emotions and panic can be challenging. However, one of the most effective communication strategies in the workplace is to avoid blaming and finger-pointing.
When you accuse a co-worker, especially in a public setting, the conversation immediately becomes defensive. Instead of progressing the conversation forward to work toward a solution, everyone will focus on the past.
Studies have shown that we’re more likely to find someone else to blame even when they are not responsible rather than looking at our own actions. This is called the “just-world hypothesis.” We fall back on what psychologists call cognitive biases, which are ways of thinking that keep us from accepting uncomfortable facts.
The fact that there might be another explanation—one that doesn’t involve fault—doesn’t even cross your mind. It’s easy to become blind to the possibility of other reasons when everyone is on the defensive.
Once a mistake has happened, it is in the past. While your team should analyze what went wrong so you can avoid the error in the future, it is not productive to yell and accuse team members. Keep a level, unbiased perspective of the situation.
Develop solutions with your co-workers that will enable everyone to win. Remember that we are only human, and everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Consider establishing checks and balances that catch errors before they can get worse.
Live in the present.
Avoid bringing past mistakes or unresolved issues into the conversation. Much like blaming and finger-pointing, bringing up sensitive past matters will only lead to defensiveness and reluctance to move forward.
Focus on action and solutions. We can’t change the past, so what can be done in the present? How can we better plan and prepare for the future?
Sometimes, bringing up the past may be necessary to resolve or avoid an issue in the present. If this is the case, speak calmly and professionally about the matter. Focus on the mistake itself without blaming who may have been responsible. Stick to the facts rather than subjective interpretations of the situation.
Be open-minded and constructive with feedback.
Feedback should be a two-way street. To encourage honesty and transparency in the workplace, encourage everyone to give and receive feedback. Iterating based on feedback is a crucial part of effective communication in the workplace since you will continually improve and streamline your processes.
Managers, just like their employees, are only human. They can learn and improve their communication just as much as anyone else. Instead of just doing performance reviews for employees, encourage team members to provide feedback about management as well.
Be aware of your nonverbal behavior.
Non-verbal signals have a significant impact on how we interpret verbal communication. Most of us are unaware of our non-verbal movements and expressions since it’s primarily an impulsive type of communication.
However, being aware of our non-verbal behavior is a powerful way to make communication more effective in the workplace. Since non-verbal communication is often left up to interpretation by our teammates, they may get the wrong message.
Non-verbal communication examples can include:
- Facial expressions
- Body language
- Tone of voice
For example, if you are the type of person who struggles to sit still during a long meeting, you may fidget or bounce your leg. Even though you are listening attentively, others in the meeting may interpret your non-verbal behavior as boredom or distraction. Counter this by asking questions, making eye contact, and engaging in the conversation. You could also communicate to your team ahead of time that despite your fidgeting, you are listening.
Are you crossing your arms as you speak? Are you unintentionally speaking in a harsh tone of voice? Team members may think you’re angry or upset about something, even if you’re not. Try to relax and soften your body language if you catch yourself making these non-verbal expressions.
Overcommunication and providing necessary context are effective communication strategies in the workplace. Especially when working with unfamiliar individuals who do not recognize your expressions and non-verbal habits, focus on clear, verbal communication to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Be kind but firm.
Maintaining a positive, professional relationship with your team is necessary for effective workplace communication.
There will always be times when we disagree with our co-workers. However, we should strive to disagree politely and raise our points professionally at all times. Show others the same respect that you would like to receive.
When disagreements arise, stay focused on the issue. Don’t attack your co-worker’s personality or competence. Listen to the discussion points they bring up and don’t let your ego be the reason you ignore a good idea.
Be respectful and express yourself clearly, but don’t allow anyone to walk all over you. Stand up for yourself and don’t back down when you need to stand your ground. Everyone should have an opportunity to be heard and share their thoughts with the team.
When conflict arises, choose your words carefully and approach the issue in an impartial, professional way. Listen to every side of the story with an open mind. Be fair and make sure everyone feels heard.
Take responsibility for your actions and emotions, too. One tip for controlling your emotions is to take a step away from the situation to let yourself cool down. Open an email draft or Word document to type out how you feel. Even if you never send the draft, expressing your feelings by freewriting can help you get the high emotion out of your head to view the situation more rationally.
Be wary of favoritism in the workplace. Do not let personal relationships affect how you treat your team. Keep up with sensitivity training and be aware of any biases you may have. To ensure you’re not subconsciously favoring some employees over others, collect anonymous feedback from your team. Listen to the feedback with an open mind and always strive to improve yourself.
Over time, unfair treatment can lead to animosity and bitterness in the workplace. Cultivating a fair, healthy team culture is vital for team productivity, motivation, and success.
Build a culture of trust and acceptance.
If you want to establish effective workplace communication, it starts and ends with trust. Foster an open, transparent culture within your team.
Communication can fail when people are too afraid of how others will receive them. When people are nervous or scared, they are less likely to speak up. Toxic, judgmental, and unsafe work cultures will prevent you from establishing effective communication in the workplace.
This can apply to practically every type of communication in the workplace. Individuals may hesitate to ask questions for fear of being seen as stupid or incompetent. They may hesitate to speak up about potential issues for fear of hurting their coworkers’ feelings. They may lack the confidence to share their thoughts, even if they are insightful, clever ideas that can bring value to the company.
You can solve many of these communication blocks by setting clear expectations with your team and leading by example. Building trust and camaraderie among your team will help them understand that you are all part of a team with a common goal. And as a synchronized team, you can accomplish anything!
Thoughts for giving feedback
In addition to financial motivation, performance-related feedback can boost employees’ self-confidence in their abilities and motivate them to improve their performance at work.
Giving feedback is also sometimes described as giving criticism. The term “criticism” may sound harsh, and depending on how you deliver it, it may resemble blaming or finger-pointing. Stay professional, do not insult or attack an employee’s personality, and relate everything to the workplace impact.
Feedback should always be constructive. Using terms such as “comments,” “explanations,” or “suggestions” can ease the pressure and remove any accusatory elements that may demotivate or frighten employees. Rather than pointing out mistakes, consider them “areas for improvement.”
When giving feedback, be specific. A manager can motivate an employee by providing concrete reasons for their strengths and development needs. By pointing out clear-cut areas for improvement, the employee will have a more straightforward path forward.
Another tip to effectively communicate feedback in the workplace is to layer positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback is just as valuable as pointing out areas for improvement. When employees know what they are doing well, they can lean into their strengths and feel confident that they are doing well.
Tips for receiving feedback
We are always learning and growing, and every individual can bring unique strengths to a team. An outside perspective can be valuable to see our blind spots and discover what we might have missed.
When you receive feedback, keep an open mind and remind yourself that the feedback is not a personal attack. In a healthy work culture, everyone on the team should have a shared goal of improving and succeeding together.
Receiving feedback can be an emotional experience, especially when not everything is positive. Take some time to sleep on the suggestions you received. Although it is difficult, try to take an unbiased look at your performance and decide if there is truth to the feedback. From there, plan how you can improve for the future.
Reflect on the positive feedback, too! Remind yourself that while you may still have areas in your professional life where you can improve, you also possess many strengths that contribute to the team.
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