You'd think we'd all be master communicators. All we do all day long is communicate. Talking, chatting, texting, emailing. Yet despite how often we do it, there's always room for improvement.
In the workspace, bad communication undercuts our ability to execute. A survey conducted by HR consultancy Tower Watson, found that companies with employees who communicate well are more productive and experience lowers rates of employee churn. That's only logical. People hate not being heard. If you're going into your office every day feeling like nothing you say matters, you're not going to stay there any longer than you have to.
But we want to be heard from more than just bosses. We yearn to be heard by everyone who matters to us — coworkers, managers, family, friends, and acquaintances. It's a fundamental need that drives many of us and how we communicate. Communication skills are a huge part of being human — it's what allows us to create a connection with others.
Which is why if you can't communicate effectively with your co-workers, it can become a bigger problem than just creating a sour workplace. You may find it very difficult to get your work done successfully. Here are my eight tips for communicating better with your co-workers.
1. Don't bury the lede
Whatever your main point is, start there. If you need something, ask for it clearly. Be direct. Be concise.
2. Be a better listener
Admit it. You clicked on this article because you were looking for tips to get your message across better. That's great! Even important. But effective communication, by definition, is a two-way street. Start out by making sure you're hearing the message others are trying to deliver to you.
Don't try to multi-task while someone's trying to get information into your brain. Stop thinking about how you're going to respond. Just listen, or slow down and really read the entire email, don't skim it.
You can only respond effectively if you understand clearly what they're trying to say. If they're not being clear, ask them.
3. Understand your personal communication style
We all have our own communication preferences regarding the words and media we use. We're also communicating nonverbal information through our tone and body language. Are you an eye-roller? Do you insist on including emojis in every thread? Do you speak in acronyms or corporate jargon? Do you ramble on about your pet peeves or memories of past times before getting to the point?
Take a good look at your own communication style preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. Don't just listen to others. Listen to yourself. We all have pet phrases we get into the habit of using. Do those phrases help or hurt our message? Do they help people listen to us more attentively or tune us out?
Does your language build bridges? Encourage conversations? Inspire ideas? Or do people shut down? Ignore you? Talk over / past / around you? These are all clues as to whether or not your coworkers value you and what you have to say.
When you see that your message isn't getting across, don't automatically assume the recipient is the communication obstacle. It might be you. If it keeps happening, figure out how you can connect better with this person or in the specific setting. And that's the key: create a connection, find a common thread you can both relate to authentically.
4. Respect people's preferred communication methods/tools
We have so many communication options now. Almost too many. Everyone has their preferred medium. Respect that. If someone is notorious for not digging through long email threads, don't expect them to find the question you asked of them if it's buried inside your latest tome.
Do you have a coworker who never answers their phone? Stop calling. She's probably communicating to you through some other tool. Use it.
5. Pick your moments
This one is so important. Sometimes it's not how you're saying it – the problem is when it's being said.
If you're concerned someone isn't pulling their weight or making some mistake, raise it directly with them, not in public at the team meeting. Don't assume the urgent issue you need to resolve right now is someone else's priority. They have their own urgent issues, so don't charge at them or send all-CAPS messages demanding a response right now.
Other bad moments? How about the all-hours emails and calls? An "always open" work environment wears people down.
Last, have some empathy for someone who's stressed out. We all go there. Make some allowances when someone is obviously having a bad day. Even for those who are master communicators – stress can make idiots of us all. So learn when to give someone a break. Give it a rest. Your urgency doesn't make it their urgency. Let the stressful time pass, and then make your request. You may discover it will happen all that much faster, and with less drama.
6. Build relationships, but stay professional
Of course there's room to talk about non-work stuff with coworkers. We want to. We want to get along with and find common ground with the people we work with Everyone wants to feel connected to their coworkers to some degree. Getting personal at the right times helps us see coworkers as individuals, as real people with feelings.
But there's personal and there's personal. Don't cross professional lines. A team chat channel isn't Sunday brunch. No one wants to hear about your love life. TMI. It's easy to cross this line with our business digital tools, since they feel and act like our social digital spaces. We need to remember they're not appropriate for personal communication.
7. Stay constructive
When you do have to deliver a difficult message, stay constructive. The goal in communicating this message is to get a better result. Embarrassing someone or getting aggressive with them isn't going to lead to a better result. No one shows up wanting to do a bad job.
8. Address mistakes
Whenever there's a miscommunication that's in the way of progress, address it quickly. Letting it fester doesn't make future communications any easier.
Always be the first to admit whenever you've made a mistake. Apologize sincerely. Fix the mistake as best you can. By the same token, if someone else makes a mistake, don't rub it in. Be gracious. Learn to forgive. Because holding on to anger only hurts you — not them.
Communicating thoughtfully, regularly, and in all the small ways, builds your credibility so when you have more important or difficult messages to share, your coworkers can hear you.
As you work to improve your own communication skills, keep one guiding principle in mind: treat others with respect and consideration (aka "don't be a jerk"). If you can master that, people will definitely be more open to what you're saying.