WORKPLACE / SEP. 04, 2014
version 11, draft 11

6 Secrets to Unlocking Effective Communication in the Workplace

effective communication in workplace
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When complaining to a friend about poor communication in the workplace, you would never say, "It’s just so hard because I’m a poor communicator."

I probably wouldn’t say that either.

While poor communication may not be your fault alone, it’s up to you to make communication more effective--even when it’s your employees or coworkers that make communication difficult.

How can you take communication in the workplace into your own hands? According to Business Communication for Success by Scott McLean of the University of Arizona, there are six ways to do this as outlined below.

1. Define Your Terms

When communicating with coworkers, using slang and jargon they don’t understand slams the door on effective communication. If after sharing your message you’re left with nothing but blank stares, chances are no one understood what you said.

Don’t think you have to dumb down your speech to the point where you come off condescending. Just make sure to choose your words carefully for your audience. If you decide to use a word that might cause some confusion, let your employees or coworkers know what you mean by defining your terms.

If you need to, use parallelisms from daily life or give examples to illustrate your ideas. These practices will help team members understand your meaning even if they’re not familiar with the words you’re using or the topic you’re talking about.

2. Choose Precise Words

Vague language makes it easy for coworkers to misinterpret what you’re saying. Paint a clear picture for them by using precise language and avoiding ambiguous statements.

For example, you could say, "The project is coming along good." But what exactly does that mean? Each team member could easily interpret the word "good" in multiple ways.

Instead, be precise with your meaning. Say something like, "In the three weeks since implementing this project, our team has completed three of the six objectives initially outlined in our project document. We are on track to complete this project by the due date, which is in three weeks from today."

3. Consider Your Audience

Effective communication comes in understanding your audience and knowing how they will interpret your words, tone of voice, and body language.

If you’re talking to a group of interns, for example, using advanced industry jargon might go completely over their heads, leaving them wide eyed and completely lost.

On the other hand, if you’re communicating with a team of executives, dumbing down your language can make them feel belittled.

As Scott McLean puts it, "It’s not just the words, but also how people hear them that counts."

Using communication skills appropriate for your audience will help you create a relationship with them. This relationship, in turn, boosts your communication effectiveness.

4. Take Control of Your Tone

Psychology Today says that your tone of voice is 38 percent communication. Whether you’re speaking directly to coworkers or writing up a document, the tone you use will dictate how they interpret what you’re saying.

Do you come off as friendly, sarcastic, rude, or pleasant?

First, it’s important to get a handle on how you currently sound to your audience. Really listen to how you sound, not just what you’re saying. Perhaps ask someone you can confide in to give his or her opinion. When writing documents, read your piece out loud to get a better understanding of your tone.

If you’re not delivering the tone you intend, practice ways to tweak it. Instead of going into a meeting and winging it, practice not only what you’re going to say but how you’re going to say it beforehand. Rewrite documents before sending them out to make sure you’re getting your tone right.

And then pay attention to the feedback you’re getting from coworkers--including the nonverbal feedback.

5. Check for Understanding

One critical piece of communication is feedback. This is the piece of communication that involves the messages others are sending you about the messages you’re sending them.

Blank stares, eye rolling, applause, and upright, attentive posture are all examples of feedback.

Another way to gather feedback is by verbally communicating it. Saying something like, "Does anyone have any questions?" or "Do you understand the project scope?" can help you receive feedback and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

But don’t take their word for it. If you ask your coworkers if they understand what you’re saying and you’re met with a few head nods and some nervous looks, chances are they aren’t clear on the message. Use this feedback to your advantage so that you can revise your message in a way they understand.

6. Be Result Oriented

Being result oriented means that you can’t only focus on the message you’re sending and hope it will impact your coworkers. You also have to consider the outcome of that message.

If your current attempts to communicate with your coworkers or employees are failing, consider more creative ways to communicate your message so that you reach your desired result.

Let’s say you send out an email to your team members detailing a new project. Everyone gets to work, but their work doesn’t meet your standards. You try again, only this time you call an in-person meeting. You maybe use stories, graphic examples, and client feedback to discuss exactly what the outcomes should be. The basic message is perhaps the same, but this time your team delivers high-quality work.

The result is crucial, even when the core of your message hasn’t changed.

Effective communication can be tough, especially when no one else is taking initiative to make things better in the workplace. But you can start right now with these six tips.

Found these tips useful? Tweet them to give your coworkers a chance to explore these ideas.

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