Let’s Talk: How to Communicate Better in the Workplace

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WorkIt can be really frustrating when there is a lack of communication in the workplace. Besides frustrating, when you have difficulty communicating with your co-workers, your job and also the entire company’s productivity can be at risk.

Figure out what’s going on and why there seems to be an issue. “Before you can improve workplace communication, you need to know what is and isn’t working, and you can accomplish this through an online, anonymous Communication Practices Assessment survey,” says Zachary A. Schaefer, assistant professor of Applied Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the president of the communication consulting firm ‘Spark The Discussion.’ Such a survey can help you figure out what areas need improvement.

Once you discover what is wrong, then plan out how you will attack these problems. And more important, commit to your plan. “Commit to implement,” says Schaefer. “You must have ‘buy-in’ from relevant decision-makers in a communication change program. If leadership does not support the change effort, it will fail and your organization will only see modest improvement.”

A few experts give advice on how to improve communication in the office.

How do you handle a co-worker who’s a terrible communicator?

Ever have a co-worker that you never seem to be on the same page with? This lack of communication can be damaging to office relations. “Read, relate, reiterate. Just because someone has a hard time communicating, doesn’t mean they’re a bad co-worker or employee; there’s likely a reason they’re not so good at communicating,” explains Lori Kaye, CEO at Lion LinQ. “If someone at work constantly gives incomplete directions, never asks for help, is often late with projects, and leaves you feeling confused–we have the solution.”

There are steps to take in this case. “First, try to read their body language or if they’ve sent you a written communication. Read between the lines. If you can tell that someone feels uncomfortable or is just leaving you confused then you’ve got to let them know. So here’s where you relate. Always find something in their communication that you can relate to.”

What are some common mistakes we make when communicating at the office?

Sometimes it’s not just the other person who is at fault. Maybe you aren’t communicating effectively and are not using great techniques to get your co-worker communicating better.

There are a variety of things you can be doing wrong. “Assuming. After discussing tasks with our co-workers, it’s easy to assume they understood what they need to do or that they understand a training session you both may have attended. It’s easy to assume someone is performing a task instead of following-up, asking questions, giving reminders, etc.,” says Kaye.

Adds Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, “Most communication breakdowns are really an expectation violation. The biggest mistake I see co-workers make is imagining that their co-workers’ sloppy communication has a malevolent intent, when in fact, their co-worker is just busy, lazy, or lacking skills.”

“Being overly positive. Sometimes we’re a bit too lackadaisical about being on top of our tasks and projects when we could really use some help. Instead of always telling your team that you’ve got it handled, be honest when you need help. No one knows how to help you better than you, so remember to ask for help or guidance when you need it,” says Kaye.

Don’t forget to say “thank you,” and to show your appreciation when a co-worker has helped you. “We often forget to say please and thank you, maybe because we’re adults, or maybe because we’re busy. Whatever the case, you should go out of your way to thank and acknowledge your co-workers whenever possible. With this simple action, you raise morale, increase confidence and speed productivity,” says Kaye.

What are some ways to improve communication in the workplace?

You can take action to get communication flowing better in your workplace, say experts. “Create and encourage a safe environment and process for workers to feedback to management,” suggests Tim Richardson, managing director, leadership communication consultancy Black Isle Group in the UK. “Discourage all forms of bad mouthing–it always gets out and is highly disruptive. Also set policies on face to face, telephone and email–when and why to use each medium to be most effective.”

Your approach is very vital to communicating better. “Apologize. When you enter into a conversation with someone at work and you need to tell them something important, give directions, or give a correction. It’s important that you choose a powerful way to capture someone’s listening,” explains Kaye. “Even if you have nothing for which to be sorry, try apologizing before giving someone bad news or a list of directions. It allows your co-worker to drop their guard and actually listen. Plus, it’s possible that they misunderstood your directions. By taking responsibility, you allow someone else to fully listen and, even, feel confident.”

Don’t overcomplicate things. Speak plain and simple. “Keep it super simple. It’s important to remember that everyone’s busy, possibly stressed, and likely trying to meet deadlines – just like you. So when you approach a co-worker, practice being really precise and concise in your conversations,” Kaye points out.