Everyone has had that experience where someone, sometimes a work colleague, just seems to have that communication spark. The skills that make the room pay attention, laugh at their jokes, get what they're saying, and maybe even earn a slap on the back from the boss.
And while being a snappy workplace communicator might seem like something that not everyone can do, the truth is that it comes down to a few key skills and processes.
And, naturally, you'd like everyone on your team to be excellent communicators. That means they can clearly share their ideas, get everyone on the same page, and work much more effectively. But what does that entail?
What are the skill sets that make one an excellent communicator? How can you build these skills both in spoken and written communication? And how exactly will they come into play in the workplace?
Why is workplace communication important?
Being able to effectively communicate in the work environment is a skill that can greatly improve your chances of getting things done, engaging with your team, getting what you want, and even achieving all important business objectives.
Here's an interesting exercise: Whenever there are weekly team meetings, ask someone to create a report or fire off an email about the key messages and takeaways. Then take a look and see how much of the message that was spoken needed to be written down.
Sometimes when it comes to a team meeting, people will talk, add in unnecessary detail, miss out key information or even fail to get their point across. Even a good workplace communicator can fumble their lines here...
The question is, how well do people understand what you’re saying? Is your messaging clear enough, or do they have to fill in the gaps?
These are the basics of effective communication. When done properly, workplace communication can:
- Boost productivity by streamlining processes, reducing misunderstandings and halving errors
- Promote collaboration because team members understand each other
- Increase employee engagement through transparent and clear dialogue
- Reduce conflict and disagreements
- Increase employee satisfaction and retention
Good communication facilitates understanding and collaboration, and can help to resolve conflict quickly. All of this ensures your team can maintain a positive and productive work environment.
Next, let’s look at the top workplace communication skills you’ll need to become an effective communicator.
Communication skills for effective collaborations
Communication is much more than speaking or writing; it’s very nuanced, and you’ll often have to consider everything from how your words will be read or interpreted to which of the different communication channels to use.
In this section, we’ll go over nine critical skills you’ll need for effective communication in the workplace.
1. Active listening
Effective communication often begins with active listening. It shows your commitment to understanding what’s being said, because that’s just as important as making sure they hear what you say. More about active listening in the next section.
It’s also very important to be able to express your ideas clearly and concisely. You don’t want to speak or write in a way that can be misinterpreted. You also don’t want to talk for so long that you lose the attention of your listeners. Keeping things short and easy to understand is the very essence of effective communication in the workplace.
3. Open and honest communication
Collaborative environments thrive on transparency and trust, and being able to speak plainly goes a long way. Sharing challenges, concerns, and expectations will help you build a culture of openness in your team, and that improves just how much you can get done.
4. Effective questioning
Asking effective questions is one of the communication skills you'll need to be truly effective because it allows you to cut through the clutter and help get the answers you’re looking for. Thoughtful questions can also encourage critical thinking, stimulate discussion, and bring different perspectives to light.
Empathy is a fundamental communication skill, and having it can help you create successful team collaboration. Everybody wants to be understood, and helping team members be seen can foster a positive and supportive team environment. Nonverbal communication, like body language, can be particularly crucial when you're trying to communicate empathy; it can't just be about the words.
Being able to adapt your communication styles can be especially useful as you interact with different team members. Switching communication methods can help you communicate effectively, whether you’re doing so via emails, strategically placed digital signage, or face-to-face.
7. Constructive feedback
Even if you have the best intentions, teammates can feel attacked when you provide feedback the wrong way. That’s why mastering helpful feedback is so important. It can promote continuous improvement without feelings of hurt, insecurity or anger.
8. Conflict resolution
If you’re working with other people, you’re going to have conflict; it’s written in the 10 commandments of workplace collaboration. So, effective communicators must have superb conflict-resolution skills. This often includes addressing conflicts in a timely and respectful manner and listening actively so everyone feels heard. Poor communication can make a disagreement so much worse, but good communication involves finding a mutually agreeable solution that leads to fewer workplace conflicts.
9. Negotiation skills
Negotiation skills help you reach compromises that work for everyone, at least on some level. This may require balancing assertiveness with cooperation and being willing to explore different perspectives in search of the best option. Being able to do this despite the communication channels in use will make you truly effective.
How to improve workplace communication skills
While it might seem that improving our own communication style might seem out of reach, there are some great methods you can practice to become a better workplace communicator.
Practice active listening
How many times have you heard how important active listening is for communication? We’ve all heard it, and over time, it tends to lose its oomph. So let’s simplify what that means for your day-to-day in the workplace
When you’re actively listening, you’re concentrating on what the person is saying, deliberately trying to understand what they’ve said, and confirming that you understand afterward. That may involve rephrasing their point in your own words and allowing them to confirm that you got it right, or correct you.
The steps involved in actively listening are pretty simple:
- Concentrate on what’s being said
- Understand the point
- Repeat the points when they are done speaking
- Ask questions for clarification
- You could go one step further and pay attention to body language to truly understand what they mean
Create a culture of feedback
While active listening involves you directly, this next point is something you’ll need the whole team to buy in on: a culture of workplace transparency or open communication.
It's important to encourage everyone to provide respectful and constructive feedback regularly. This doesn't mean complaining about a team member, or negativity in any other sense.
Rather, it could be a presentation that didn’t quite hit home or a conversation where the speaker was too vague and you feel a point needs clarifying or building on.
Good communication involves feedback because it makes sure that everyone knows when they are communicating skilfully and when they’ve missed their mark. Effective workplace communication allows everyone to refine their approach and communicate better next time.
Pay attention to written communication
So much communication these days happens over email, Slack and other internal communication tools. While this can help streamline communication, it’s very easy for things to get lost in translation – important points can be read as trivial, and tone can be misinterpreted.
Here are some ways to improve your written workplace communication:
- Be clear and try to express ideas in a straightforward manner
- Use proper formatting, including bullet points, headers, and numbered lists
- Pay close attention to tone when writing so the words aren’t misinterpreted
- Triple-check everything you write for others to read
- Choose the right channels for the right messages
- Consider adding visuals to help communicate your points more clearly
- Summarize long emails into key points at the end
Use technology wisely
We’ve talked a lot about how technology can improve communication. Emails eliminate long and boring meetings; Slack helps you quickly communicate with the whole team. The problem is that too many platforms can make communicating effectively so much harder.
Your team could be using too many communication tools, overwhelming everyone in the process. There could be easier mediums of communication that you’re ignoring; we've also seen situations where new team members are unfamiliar with a certain platform, and it makes it impossible for them to keep up. When using technology, you’ll want to ensure that everyone is trained on the tools in use and that they serve a clear purpose.
Schedule regular meetings and check-ins
We all joke about long meetings and Zoom calls that could simply have been emails or Slack messages. For example, did you know that there are 11 million meetings held every day in the United States, and upwards of 80% of employees spend a third of their work week in a meeting? (Notta) Are all of these meetings necessary? We don’t know.
But sometimes, it’s important to have regular face-to-face meetings that allow employees to communicate openly, share project updates and address concerns.
As a rule of thumb, you should hold a meeting when:
- The topic is too complex for email
- You need decision-making input
- You need to brainstorm and generate ideas
- Conflict resolution is necessary
- You need to train employees
Some of the most effective communication skills are used in face-to-face settings, so meetings are always going to be necessary from time to time.
Master communication channels
For truly effective team communication, it’s important to be fluent in all channels of communication, whether it’s face-to-face, over Zoom, or through Google Doc comments.
Because each communication platform has different applications, you’ll need to be flexible, and it begins with deciding which platform is best for a particular message. It’s also important to visualize how the message will be received and interpreted. Does it need the serious air of a dedicated email? Or can you just send it as a direct message on Slack?
A huge part of mastering these channels is, of course, being able to use them all. You’ll want to stay up to date on all the latest features of the tools you use, and maybe even be willing to explore new technologies if you believe it will improve your workplace’s communication.
Be able to communicate the big vision
"All Hands" meetings are a great example of communicating the big vision. This is an all-company meeting where founders present on company topics like the state of the product, figures, or where the organization is headed.
We have these types of meetings at ScreenCloud, and our approach is to not blast employees with a load of company figures and targets. That would be pretty boring after a while.
Instead, our founders take the time to tell stories that help to illustrate key messages. We’ve learned how “passing the ball” in sports helps us as a team to take and give responsibility, why building an automaton is similar to building a product, what it looks like to row in the same direction, physically, on an actual rowing team and many more anecdotes that let us buy into the bigger picture.
Particularly when you’re trying to communicate effectively with a global workforce, stories help with communication.
When you think about it, Apple never sold us a computer; they sold us a way of life. Nike didn’t go in on the features of its new trainers, it told us the person we might become if we wear them. This is the difference between great communication and telling someone what to do.
Bring people along with you
It’s become a bit of a cliche, but what Maya Angelou said still rings true: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
The best workplace communicators are the ones who take us along with them. I'll share a personal experience here because being able to "bring people along" is very much personal from employee to employee.
Recently, I was privy to a training video with a big consultancy company trying to help a team of retail branch managers to get on board with a new sales strategy.
The guy presenting asks the audience, “who thinks they can do 5% sales this year”. A few hands go up. “No come on,” he says, “who really thinks they can do 5%, let’s see your hands in the air”. More hands go up. He says, getting really passionate now, “let me see all of your hands in the air, let me see them”.
Once everyone puts their hands up, he cries “look at that, you all believe you can do 5% sales this year, let’s do it”!
How motivated and inspired do you think those audience members really felt?
My guess is, not many. We can all be coerced and backed into making a decision or standing behind an idea, but if our heart and soul aren’t it, the journey’s going to be long and painful.
The Latin root word of emotion and motivation is “movere”. It’s no secret that “to move” is the basis of both emotion and motivation. Great communicators are able to help people to feel the experience, and that's how you bring them along with you.
Use congruent communication i.e. meaning what you say
Have you ever had that experience where someone is telling you a story, but you just don’t feel like they’re telling the truth? You might see this more in children, where they say their homework is done, but they can’t make eye contact, or they’re shifting around awkwardly. Children just have less experience than us when it comes to lying, but as an adult and a professional, what we say can still be affected by our subconscious and the signals that slip through.
For example, if your board has asked you to give a presentation that you don’t really believe in, or you have to paint over some bad figures that might well lead to redundancies, your staff are going to sense something’s up.
If your signals aren’t congruent with your message, you’ll be heard but not believed. That's why effective communication requires you to be transparent and direct with everything you say or write.
Use digital tools to improve communication skills
Tools like digital signage can redefine the way you communicate within your organization. Need to bring employees up to speed with a new policy? You could set up a training session and block out half of everyone's workday.
Or, you could use digital signage to deliver the information in bite-sized pieces.
The same goes for company-wide policy changes, announcements, or even employee recognition. Having messages on strategically positioned screens throughout the workplace can increase employee engagement and facilitate clarity and transparency; all critical for effective communication.
Book a demo to see how ScreenCloud’s digital signage management can help improve your company’s internal communications.