Communication in the workplace directly affects all aspects of a business. It influences how employees work together, the dynamics of teams, how well leadership can communicate, and so much more. Communication can make a hard job easier, but a lack of communication can also make a simple job impossible. Unfortunately, effective communication is often overlooked or ignored.
To help you improve, here is our ultimate guide on how to achieve effective communication in the workplace. We’re going to cover what effective communication looks like, the benefits of effective communication, and what you can do to create and maintain it in your workplace.
What Is Effective Communication in the Workplace?
Most people think of communication as a one-way street. They think communication is in a single email or phone call. Unfortunately, that is a very limiting view of communication and can create problems.
Effective communication is the free flow of ideas and information between two or more parties. It is more than one side lecturing or presenting information to the other—it should be a dialogue. A dialogue helps everyone involved present and gather important information openly to make a final, well-informed decision.
Effective dialogue is not a fight. No one should feel like the ‘winner’ or ‘loser.’ Instead, effective communication is focused on empathy, collaboration, and negotiation.
What Is the Importance of Effective Communication in the Workplace?
Creating dialogues and being able to have effective communication in the workplace can:
- Increase employee engagement
- Reduce conflicts in the workplace
- Improve productivity
- Improve relationships between staff as well as clients
- Boost job satisfaction for employees
- Create a healthy workplace and company culture
- Increase innovation
- Create a safe environment for diversity and inclusion
- Increase interdepartmental cooperation and teamwork
- Build trust
- Increase employee loyalty, even during stressful or difficult situations
- Improve clarity of corporate responsibilities and processes
- Reduce employee turnover
- Improve customer satisfaction
How Can You Create and Maintain Effective Communication in the Workplace?
It takes time and practice to cultivate effective communication in the workplace. Here are a few tips from our Crucial Conversations training to help you implement and maintain effective communication in your workplace. Some of these tips may go against long-established traditions or habits, so be patient as you learn them, and realize that it takes time and practice to be comfortable in these steps, but it is worth it.
Start with Your Heart in the Right Place
Effective communication starts with you as an individual. Overcome the tendencies to run away, hide, or play silly games like relying on hints, sarcasm, caustic humor, or subtle looks when trying to communicate. Even if a topic is awkward or unmotivating, be yourself and be willing to add to the shared pool in a dialogue.
The shared pool is the information, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions everyone brings to a conversation. To have rich and meaningful communications, you must have a deep pool of shared meaning to pull from.
When trying to get your heart in the right place, remember to think about more than yourself. You are not the only person in a dialogue, so it isn’t only about what you want. For the best results, think about what you want for the other person and your relationship with them.
Learn to Look
Learning to look means looking for content and conditions that can get in the way of effective dialogue. When a conversation is safe, you can say anything. Even sensitive topics can be easy to talk about once everyone involved feels safe. To maintain effective communication in the workplace, you have to learn to recognize triggers that can make people feel unsafe.
It’s easy to get caught up in what you’re saying and not notice what’s going on around you, but there are two big symptoms you can look for: silence and violence.
In an unsafe conversation, people choose to withhold information to avoid potential problems. Without everyone feeling comfortable sharing all information, even if it’s uncomfortable or sensitive information, you are missing pieces of the puzzle and can’t effectively communicate.
A person who is silent during a conversation because they don’t want to offend or create a problem is like a person going to the doctor and refusing to tell them about a serious infection or broken bone because it might hurt to get it fixed. For the best communication, everyone has to share everything they have to the shared pool of meaning.
Withholding information and being silent isn’t always vocal silence where no one is talking. It can show up as masking, avoiding, and/or withdrawing. Learn to look for these signs because they are a sign that the conversation is unsafe.
Just like silence is more than only vocal silence, violence is more than punching someone or getting into a yelling match. Violence in conversations is when anyone tries to convince, control, or compel others.
Violence violates safety within a conversation because it forces one perspective onto the pool of meaning. This makes people feel unsafe to share their truth and uninvested in the outcome of the communication. With little or no engagement in the conversation, no meaningful change or improvement can be made.
The three most common forms of violence you can learn to look for are controlling, labeling, and attacking.
Make It Safe
It’s not good enough to only know the symptoms of an unsafe conversation. If you want effective communication in your workplace, you have to guard against those signs of silence and violence and create a safe discussion.
Confront and address any unsafe action when it happens. Don’t delay or act like the problem is not there. That is a form of being silent through avoiding, which will only amplify the feeling of a lack of safety. Instead, when you can see silence or violence, step out of the conversation, make it safe, and then step back in.
Establish early in the conversation how important honesty is. When people feel safe to speak their minds without the fear of being punished, you’ll be able to hold more open and effective conversations.
Don’t play games when in a dialogue. The truth, and nothing but the truth, is powerful. By minimizing or ignoring a problem, sugarcoating the truth, or manipulating the truth in any other way, you create a maze of hidden meanings and half-truths that is impossible to navigate. This will create an unsafe environment for effective conversation.
The best way to make a conversation safe is to find a mutual purpose for everyone involved. Without a mutual purpose, a conversation can feel disjointed and combative because each person is trying to achieve their own agenda. But, once everyone involved is united under one purpose, you can work together to take steps toward your unified goal.
Master Your Emotions
When a conversation becomes heated and layered with emotion, it’s difficult for anything productive to come from it. To fight against this, you need to know where your emotions are coming from and how to control them.
Emotions don’t happen in a void. There is always a trigger that causes you to experience an emotion.
You are in charge of your emotions. You choose which emotion you will use when faced with a trigger. For example, if you get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you have the power to choose which emotion you will turn to. You can be angry, frustrated, annoyed, upset, or you can choose a more neutral or even positive emotion to see it as a time to relax after a long day at work or sing along with the radio.
You are always in control of your emotions, even in the workplace. If someone says something offensive, wrong, impolite, or abrasive, you have the power to choose how to react. Your ability to control your emotions will also help you better create effective communications in the workplace. When you choose to be offended or hurt, the safe dialogue you were having can quickly become an unsafe and combative argument. However, when you choose not to become offended or angry, you can maintain the feeling of safety.
This does not mean you have to accept or support what other people choose to believe or do. You can disagree with someone’s beliefs without being triggered into having a strong emotional reaction.
State Your Path
When stating your path, an effective communication strategy in the workplace is to be both totally frank and completely respectful. Striking a balance between brutal honesty and empathy is difficult because it continually changes depending on your mood, who you are talking to, and the topic of conversation. You should always strive to be both honest and understanding of others.
Being too bold and honest can make the conversation feel unsafe. But, being too empathetic and trying to cushion what you want to say to appease other people can end up masking or avoiding what you need to say, which is a form of silence.
To be an effective communicator, you have to know how to say what is important to you and how to deliver that information without offending others.
Explore Others’ Paths
What if every time your best friend called you, they ranted about how horrible their day was for a half-hour and then hung up the phone? They never asked how you were doing or what you thought about everything they were going through. How would you feel?
Chances are you’d start to feel annoyed and dread getting that phone call. You might not pick up the phone as often and avoid talking to them.
Instead of a selfish friend who only focuses on themselves, you most likely encourage your friends to share what is on their minds and expect the opportunity to be heard as well. Exploring other paths is all about making sure both sides of a discussion are heard and valued.
To ensure effective communications in your workplace, you have to be willing and ready to listen. When you invite other people to share their opinions, be sincere, be curious, stay curious, and be patient.
It takes time to understand new ideas or different sides of an argument. It is easy to pretend to be invested, but for the best conversations, you have to be willing to listen and explore their ideas. Being curious about what they are saying and trying to find out where they are coming from will help you both make a better decision.
While they are sharing their information, you can encourage them to share more or ask them to clarify a thought, but try not to interrupt. Let them finish before you move on or try to add any new information to the pool.
This step requires you to leave your ego behind and try to understand where they are coming from. Strive to find value in their ideas and understand what they are adding to the shared pool.
Move to Action
With everything shared and added to the pool of information, it’s time to make a decision and move to action. This step has ramifications long past the conversation, so it’s essential to get it right.
Consider the following four elements when making an effective decision:
- Does what?
- By when?
- How will you follow up?
These questions will ensure that everyone involved knows who is involved, what each person or team is going to do, a deadline for that action, and how everyone will be held responsible for the decision.
Always plan when and how you’re going to follow up so you can reassess the dialogue and decision. This will give you essential time to find new information or insights and continually improve and revise your decision.
Learn How to Better Manage Crucial Conversations
In the workplace, conversations often have lasting consequences. When a conversation has high stakes, is about a sensitive topic, or can elicit strong emotions, it’s essential to be prepared. Crucial Conversations is the standard for effective communication in life and in the workplace.
Take the Crucial Conversations training to learn how to create effective communication in the workplace.