Healthy and productive communication in the workplace can be difficult to nail down, especially when you’re working in a fast-paced environment. But the difference between getting it wrong and getting it right are like night and day.
In the former scenario, miscommunication runs amok; few people feel heard and just as many feel misunderstood. Good ideas never get the consideration they deserve, leading to rising frustrations and drops in moral. If no one takes responsibility to fix communication then, at best, your organization loses money. At worst, you lose your people.
Or you can take it the other direction. In this scenario, your people don’t simply feel heard—they feel understood, valued, and they aren’t afraid to give their opinion, even if it contrasts your own. In fact, it’s encouraged, because in a work environment where communication is thriving, your team will believe they are safe, acknowledged, and competent.
Not sure how to improve communication skills in your workplace? Don’t fret! Communication can be as complicated as it is useful, but by starting with these three habits, you can play an active part in shaping a healthier company culture.
Stop Talking and Start Listening
It’s easy to assume that communication is all about talking, but below the surface, there’s much more going on. When developing effective communication skills, an often-overlooked skill is the art of active listening.
What does this entail?
For starters, if someone is speaking to you, stop what you’re doing. Turn away from your computer screen. Put down your phone. Whatever you need to do. Be face-to-face to them your undivided attention, make eye contact, and make sure you’re facing them. While they’re conveying their idea or story or question, don’t be thinking about your response. That’s something that gets a lot of people. Instead, bring your attention to what they’re saying. If you’re confused about something, ask a question. For extra credit, paraphrase what they said back to them to see if you listened well.
Although it sounds simple, this exercise can be difficult. It’s going to take some practice before you get it down to a habit. Luckily, you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice at your workplace. Personally, I practice every day when I get to work by asking my coworkers how they’re doing. At first, they’re responses were curt and to the point. But when they realized that I actually cared about what they had to say, they began to open up. And you know what? Everyone feels better for it. It takes more time, but it creates rapport and reinforces relationships. When you get down to it, that’s what business is about.
Use Your Body
Most people understand that the way you carry yourself leaves a lasting impression on people, and yet, everywhere I go, I still see individuals making simple communication errors that could be fixed with a few tweaks to their body language. I already mentioned some of the basics above: make eye contact. Be face-to-face and avoid your screens when you’re speaking with someone. While these are some easy and straightforward ways to improve communication, if you’re looking to become a communication expert, you’ll have to learn to use your body.
Body language isn’t just about avoiding the crossing of your arms and keeping your back straight. It’s also learning to consciously balance your stance, rigidity, and posture until it becomes habitual. It’s expressing non-verbal cues during conversation that allows the speaker to know that you’re actively listening. Things like:
- Gentle nodding.
- Raising your eyebrows.
- Leaning forward.
When you fail to give conversational feedback with your body language, people may take it as a sign that you don’t care about what they have to say, or worse, that you’re supercilious or condescending. Don’t give the wrong impression—look and behave like someone who cares.
Tone It Up
Out of all other areas of communication, tonality and articulation are the ones I’ve struggled with most. In high school I once had to repeat myself so many times that the person just told me to drop it.
Pretty bad, right?
I could have just berated my previous self’s general communicatory awkwardness, but instead, I learned from him and rounded myself out in that area. You can too by following a few simple principles that include but are not limited to increasing your volume, slowing the pace of your speech, and moderating your tone of voice.
The benefits of speaking louder are pretty straight forward. If you raise the volume, more people will hear you, and they’ll be more likely to understand what you’re saying. Doing so also increases the likelihood of you coming off as confident. Here’s another thing: don’t end your statements with question marks. What do I mean by that? It’s when your pitch rises with a sharp upward curve, a tendency that typically occurs when the speaker is uncertain about what they’re saying.
Why does this happen? It happens because, while the speaker is articulating their thought, they feel the need to ask questions to fill in gaps of missing information, or when searching for approval of an idea or choice. Is it wrong to do this? Not at all. But it does convey a sense of uncertainty, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Another technique you can use to improve tonality is to slow down your speech and enunciate your words. No one enjoys getting bombarded with thought after thought after thought—instead, give your listeners and yourself breaks. Take time to breathe. Doing so turns your ideas into bite sized Hors d’Oeuvres that end up tasting much better now that they aren’t being forced down their throats.
And if you really want to step up your communication so that people listen more attentively to what you’re saying, spice things up. Don’t speak in a dreary monotonous voice—be playful. Give it some color. A lot of people speak with sentences like these that go on and on and on, not really going anywhere, or even if they are, they lose the interest of your listeners like an hour-long broadcast of C-Span.
In contrast, you could shake things up. Keep people on their toes—let them hang onto the end of your every word by varying your tone, pace, and articulation. Do this, and you’ll find that people not only enjoy listening to you speak, but you’ll also begin to enjoy the sound of your own voice. And rightly so.
Bring It Home
It isn’t enough to know these principles conceptually. If you want to improve communication in the workplace, you’re going to have to practice. Luckily for you, you’ll have opportunities to do so every day when you come in. Of course, if you want to practice on your own first, you can always record yourself speaking with the recorder on your phone. If you’ve never done this before, allow me to give you a heads up: you won’t like how you sound–at least, not at first. But the more you put in the work, the better you’ll become, and soon enough, you’ll be on your way to being an effective communicator.