5 Ways to Avoid Communication Blunders in the Workplace
- In your organization, do people constantly miss deadlines and struggle with stressful requirements?
- Do your work teams function as smoothly as they should?
- Do you have an evolving and changing mix of employees?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then your organization may need to make a fresh commitment to developing communication skills.
Improved communication helps people meet tight deadlines and fulfill the necessary requirements with less stress. When things need to get done correctly and on time, effective communication is key to making it happen. Once managers and employees learn how to be more clear and direct around the task components of “what, how, who and by when” the organization’s ability to get tough tasks accomplished increases.
Improved communication ensures that work teams function as smoothly as possible. Shared goals may tie team members together, but solid communication is what enables them to work effectively with one another. When organizations develop peoples’ skills in the areas of speaking and listening with the intent to achieve true understanding, team members become more honest and open with each other. The right things will get done and with less conflict.
Improved communication enables organizations to fully utilize an evolving and changing mix of employees. Today’s multi-generational and diverse workforce is a terrific source of new ideas and strategies. But, because each of us brings some baggage stemming from how we learned to communicate when we were growing up, it’s helpful to train people on the art of respecting differences and focusing on commonalities.
Recognizing the importance of effective workplace communication compels us to take the steps necessary to be more clear and proactive–whether we are the speaker/sender or the listener/receiver. This article covers 5 communication skills that can improve individual and organizational effectiveness.
Skill 1: Work to prevent miscommunication. A lack of clarity or incomplete information opens the door for misinterpretation and faulty assumptions. The cost of miscommunication includes wasted time, conflict, and projects not getting done right or on time. To avoid miscommunication…
a) When you are the speaker/sender:
- Present ALL the information you can that might be relevant
- Make it as clear as possible
Avoid saying things like “take care of it” or “tighten up your findings” that do not establish specifically what you expect to have done.
b) When you are the listener/receiver:
- Clarify when you’re not sure about something you hear
- Check your assumptions
Active listening ensures that the message isn’t missed in whole or in part. Without active listening, vital information the sender assumes has been communicated will, in fact, not be received. Time will be wasted and results will suffer. Tips for active listening include:
- Keep your focus by taking notes or asking questions.
- Feed back what you’ve heard; for example, “Here’s what I think I heard you say…”
- Remember, effective listening takes effort (it’s not something we do passively).
Skill 2: Choose the right timing and approach for delivering your message. The wrong approach, method or timing can bury the message and lead to misunderstanding. Choosing the right time and place can make all the difference between failure and success. Take a moment and think: Is “how” and “when” your message is being delivered appropriate for what is being conveyed?
When the topic is important, put in the time and effort required to communicate successfully. Use your judgment to determine what is appropriate to be handled in a quick email versus what needs to be communicated face-to-face or by phone. Think about the following examples and how you might need to take a different approach for each: Delegating an assignment. Getting information about a complex project for which you are accepting responsibility. Working through a misunderstanding. Introducing yourself to a new member of the staff. Giving an employee or peer constructive feedback. Pointing out a moderately-important error in a company process or product. Confirming a meeting time.
Skill 3: Don’t be afraid to communicate assertively. This may be uncomfortable at first, but a lack of assertiveness will lead to misunderstanding and unwanted results. Forcing others to guess or make assumptions about what you want is highly inefficient and can lead to conflict – not progress. Be respectfully direct about what you need and want. For example: “I realize this project is very important to you, but you haven’t allotted enough time for me to realistically complete the task. I can’t have it to you tomorrow, but I will have it to you by Thursday at 4:00pm.” (This phrasing uses a direct tone of voice, expresses concerns, and proposes a solution.)
Skill 4: Avoid multi-tasking and minimize distractions. In today’s fast-paced organizations, it’s tempting to multi-task. But, in the long run, this is not an effective way to get things done. Studies have shown that when we try and do two things at once, we don’t do either of them as well as we would have had we done them separately. Plus, in certain situations, it’s just plain rude. For example, have you ever read an email while on a conference call, only to find that while you’ve been reading you completely missed one of the other callers’ key points. As much as possible in your busy life, try to:
- Focus on the task at hand.
- Minimize distractions (some of which you are causing yourself).
- Change your environment when necessary…if you can’t control what’s going on around you.
Skill 5: Be aware of how your communication style affects others. This is an important key to making sure your message is heard. If you aren’t self-aware about your tone, volume, word choice, and body language, your message will not receive the attention it deserves and you won’t get the results you need.
- Pay attention to others’ reaction to you, particularly the impact your style has on them. For example, loud can be construed as angry; acting distracted can be seen as apathy; humor or sarcasm can be construed as not taking things seriously.
- Check your non-verbal behaviors (eye rolling, sighing, checking your watch). In communication, 60-70% of all meaning is derived from nonverbal behavior.
Do style and attitude apply to other methods of communication, like email? You bet they do! Body language and vocal tone may not come into play with our written communications, but things like typing in ALL CAPS, including emoticons and using slang or inappropriate humor do.
These insights for improving communication apply to both sides of any conversation, and are important whether you are a supervisor or an employee. For more on this topic, we recommend the CRM Learning video Communication Counts: Speaking and Listening for Results.