How to improve your workplace communication skills
Would you consider yourself an exceptional communicator? A lot of us do, but very few actually get it right all the time.
In a 2017 case study involving 400 senior managers, company directors, CEOs and CTOs, 92% of respondents cited ‘excellent communication skills’ as being one of the top 3 traits they look for in high level job candidates.
If you’d like to make sure your communication skills are up to standard, take some directing from the following point:
Engage in active listening
Active listening might be considered a strange term, after all, what other kind of listening is there?
Well, quite a lot it turns out. If you’ve ever asked anyone for directions then completely forgotten them as soon as they’ve walked away, then you were ‘hearing’ rather than actively listening.
The first step to actively listening is to really tune in to what the person you’re talking to is communicating – try to take in the tone of their voice, their posture, the words they’re using and the context that the communication is occurring within.
A lot of active listening needs you to get out of your own head – that’s to say, decrease your internal dialogue and just focus on the person or people you’re talking to. When you do, your understanding and recollection of the interaction will be a lot more solid.
Adjust your language
Most language experts will tell you that there’s no such thing as an incorrect way to speak or communicate – just an incorrect setting for a chosen approach.
As an extreme example, imagine an astrophysicist discussing his latest theory about gravity waves to a group of 8 year olds. Now imagine him using the same language as he presents his theory to a room full of his academic peers. The language and approach is legitimate – but probably not suitable for both settings.
The same is true of your workplace, the way you talk to customers might be different to the way you talk with your friend at lunch. It might sound obvious – but being aware of the appropriate level of communication, including the words, tone and body language you use, is important to help you meet the other person’s expectations.
Confirm you’re listening
Have you ever spoken to someone on the phone and found yourself wondering if they’re listening to you – or even still there?
If so, you’re not alone – and it’s usually because the other person wasn’t giving you verbal prompts to let you know they were onboard. Whether you’re face to face or on the phone, these little pieces of communication are extremely helpful in relaying the fact that you’re listening and you understand.
Think about words like ‘uh huh’ and ‘mmm’ – now say them out loud while you nod your head, that’s an almost universal indication of understanding. Others include just nodding, leaning forward in your seat and maintaining eye contact while you listen. These are all extremely helpful when it comes to the other person feeling like they’re being heard.
You might also want to try recapping what a person says, especially when it’s an instruction:
“So, if I understand correctly you’d like me to send all of those documents over – and when that’s done, work on the next proposal?”
Repeating or recapping what’s been said is double-useful – as it lets the person know you’ve listened carefully – but also gives them chance to correct you if you’re not quite right.
Review written communication
While a lot of what we’re talking about here revolves around spoken communication, the workplace also involves a huge amount of electronic communication – so it’s important to get it right.
There’s a commonly cited theory that the actual words we use only make up around 7% of the message we’re trying to communicate – and while this is disputed by some professionals, the point stands to some degree.
It’s important to re-read all your written communication before it’s sent. Consider if your words and structure really reflect the message and the tone of what you’re trying to say.
Don’t use 100 words when 10 would do
While we’re on the subject of emails – it’s worth remembering that the internet has fundamentally changed the way we read, with skim reading of large chunks of text now the norm.
If you can effectively communicate what you’re trying to say in 10 words, stick to 10 words. Your response rate will be far better and you’ll find people actually act on what you’re asking.
When you’re talking or communicating in general, trying to rid yourself of distractions is an excellent way to make sure you’re 100% on the task in hand and not likely to misunderstand or come across wrong.
Mobile phones are an excellent example of a distraction that can adjust our attitude in a conversation:
Some people are more than capable for sending a message and having a conversation at the same time – but our perception tells us that if someone is doing something else while they talk to us, they’re not giving us their sole focus.
Where possible, avoid distractions if you’re communicating – you might be capable of doing two or three things at once – but you’re taking a risk that the other person isn’t going to see it that way.
Consider what the other person is hearing
There’s a vitally important context that extremely difficult to gauge – but makes a huge difference to your communication. It’s all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Now, communicating in the workplace doesn’t require you to be a psychotherapist – you can’t be expected to know the ins and outs of everyone’s mind, but you can have some empathy and a little compassion for the person you’re talking to.
Again, an extreme example helps to illustrate the point:
“You’re a bit behind this week, I need you to try a bit harder on Monday”
Said to a care free individual who’s often late back from lunch, this statement might be appropriate – or even a little too gentle. On the other hand, said to someone who’s just lost a loved one, it would be seen as deeply inappropriate and would likely prove worse than ineffective.
There’s an appropriate communication approach for everyone – and many people will be similar – but it’s worth being cautious, it’s impossible to understand how everything is received – and sometimes there’s no substitute for knowing your fellow workers and what makes them tick.