Good communication at work is essential.
So why do so few of us practise it? Too often at work, instructions are misunderstood, contributions are ignored, or questions are left unanswered. And these failures in communication hurt relationships, cause delays and limit productivity.
But communication is a skill you can improve with some work.
Read our guide to learn the communication techniques that will let you get your points across, encourage others to listen and help you get ahead at work.
Why is Effective Communication at Work Important?
Effective communication is essential in any relationship. And whether it’s with clients, colleagues or managers, part of any job is building and maintaining productive relationships.
People will be happier to work with you if you communicate with them clearly and respectfully. You’ll also feel more valued and understood if communication with your superiors is similarly effective. And, of course, clarity is essential when it comes to giving instructions and following them.
Studies have shown effective communication helps businesses in several ways. Knowing how to communicate helps you:
- Develop relationships
- Prevent delays
- Avoid confusion
- Encourage feedback
- Support innovation
- Build confidence
- Ensure clarity
- Boost productivity
- Promote staff retention
And while you can’t control other people, you’re a common factor in every workplace exchange you have. Taking the lead and demonstrating effective communication techniques could lead to others adopting similar approaches. And if you’re a team leader or manager, developing your communication skills is a must.
Types of Communication
There are three forms of communication:
- Verbal – speaking to each other, either face-to-face or via technology
- Written – sharing our thoughts using the written word
- Nonverbal – communicating with body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, etc
Nonverbal communication is often overlooked when we think about everyday workplace interactions. We usually only think about our body language when preparing for a presentation. But the best communicators also think about what they convey nonverbally during face-to-face exchanges.
It’s essential to consider every way you communicate to ensure you’re coming across clearly. You also need to consider your communication style.
There are three commonly recognised communication styles:
- Passive – people who adopt this style of communication generally put other people’s needs ahead of their own, which often leads to misunderstandings or feelings of resentment
- Aggressive – people who use this style are generally inconsiderate and think of themselves first in every exchange, often ignoring or overruling others
- Assertive – a healthy balance between the passive and aggressive styles of communication
Your communication style will generally fit into one of these broad categories, but it’s never perfect. We combine techniques or adopt different approaches depending on who we’re communicating with or what we’re discussing.
To get ahead at work, you should act to make assertive communication your default style at work, however. A strong communication style helps those who lean towards a passive approach feel respected and valued while reigning in more aggressive communicators.
Techniques for Effective Communication
The effectiveness of these communication techniques will vary on your own communication style. Still, they should help you move towards a more assertive approach to communication.
Show Confidence (and Kindness)
A lot of confidence is communicated nonverbally. You should always offer a healthy amount of eye contact when speaking. It should be enough to demonstrate confidence in your words without appearing overly aggressive.
Your body language also speaks volumes. Standing tall with an open posture communicates confidence. Taking up space can also help you feel more assertive, particularly when communicating, so adopt a wide stance and avoid slouching.
But as with eye contact, don’t go too far. You’re not trying to intimidate others; just let them know you believe in what you’re saying and should be listened to. A warm smile helps with this balance. And smiling genuinely and nodding along when others are talking helps stop your confidence from crossing over into arrogance.
Practise to Avoid Fillers
We all naturally use fillers when we talk. These fillers can be:
- Sounds (ahs and ums)
- Words (so, like, actually, etc)
- Phrases (I think, you know, and so, etc)
Some of these will inevitably slip out, particularly when presenting, and that’s fine. But knowing what you want to say and developing a communication plan can help you overcome them.
Of course, you can’t prepare for every exchange that happens organically throughout the workday. You also don’t want to come across as some small talk robot who can only regurgitate the same two or three stock responses, so don’t worry too much about fillers popping up naturally in conversation.
You should always find opportunities to ask questions when talking with someone.
The obvious advantage is clarity. If you misunderstand something, ask the other person to repeat themselves or go into more detail.
Asking questions also shows you’re listening and makes the other person in the conversation feel respected. You can even rephrase what someone’s said as a question to make them feel heard. Doing this also makes sure there are no crossed wires.
And don’t feel embarrassed if you have to question something. If your colleagues or managers make you nervous to ask questions, they’re the bad communicator. You should maybe anonymously share this article with them.
Active listening is crucial for building relationships and avoiding conflict. It also helps information retention.
Studies have suggested that we only remember between 25% to 50% of what we hear. You could miss over half of what your managers say without adopting active listening techniques.
- Consider your nonverbal response – maintain eye contact, nod and smile and keep your body positioned towards the speaker
- Avoid distractions – don’t look at your phone or anything else that suggests you’re not invested in the conversation
- Focus on the now – consider what the other person is saying and don’t focus on formulating your response
- Use the other person’s name – mention people in your questions and comments to make them feel heard; this is especially useful in meetings or group discussions
- Affirm you’ve understood something – similar to rephrasing something as a question, use a speaker’s own words in your comments to show you’ve listened and taken their comments on board
Keep Emotions in Check
Try and keep your emotions out of workplace exchanges. This can be difficult, but professional conversations should focus on common goals, not personal qualities.
You will probably still find yourself frustrated occasionally at work when speaking with others. When this happens, try and excuse yourself from the conversation and take a little time to catch your breath. No one communicates effectively when they’re overly emotional.
Know When to Stop Talking
Sometimes you need to know when to stop talking. Interruptions can derail conversations and can come across as disrespectful.
Be patient and wait for the speaker to finish what they’re saying before you interject or ask a question. And don’t try and complete the other person’s sentence for them. It’s frustrating and undermines the speaker.
Learn How to Say No
One of the most important communication skills is the ability to say no without burning bridges or being overruled.
Disagreements can be healthy at work. Asserting yourself can develop respect between you and your colleagues. It also helps maintain a healthy work-life balance. Saying no also avoids groupthink and can drive innovation and problem-solving.
Use these communication techniques whenever you need to say no at work:
- Be brief – Don’t overexplain or take a long time justifying your difference of opinion
- Don’t rush to say yes – You shouldn’t agree to everything; it’s entirely reasonable to ask for some time to consider a request before responding to it
- Keep it professional – You’re saying no to a request, not a person; keep this in mind when you’re on the other side of a refusal, too
The Golden Rule
Remember the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated. Show people the behaviours you’d like to see from others when talking.
Where to Learn More
The ability to communicate effectively is essential in any workplace. People work harder when clear objectives are clearly communicated and innovation thrives in professional environments promoting healthy discussion.
You can become a better communicator with our online Communication Skills Training. The course covers active listening, body language and speaking techniques to help you overcome common barriers to effective communication. You’ll learn how to encourage healthy communication, avoid conflict and make yourself understood.