By Jody Mullen
Over the years, I’ve held a number of different jobs, both full-time and part-time/freelance. As someone who specializes in more than one field, the nature of the work itself has been highly variable. But there’s one thing that has remained consistent throughout my career: if I like the people I’m working with (and for), I’ll be happy in that job for years to come. For me, professional relationships built on mutual trust and respect make it a joy to come to work — at least most of the time. And the key to establishing and building those kinds of positive relationships is effective communication.
Chances are good that you won’t absolutely love every person you encounter in your professional life, from supervisors to colleagues and direct reports. If you can keep the lines of communication open, however, you can avoid tension and conflict and build a positive and productive workplace. Today, we’ll learn more about effective communication at work, why it’s so important, and how you can improve it in your professional environment.
What is Effective Communication?
To begin, let’s establish what effective communication is: the clear exchange of ideas and information. Whether you’re pitching an idea to your team in a meeting, sending a quick reminder email, or writing a thank-you note to a client, you’re communicating. You’re also communicating when you’re listening to an employee share their concerns or giving your attention to someone who’s speaking on a group Zoom call. What makes communication effective is when both the person delivering the information and the person receiving it feel engaged and satisfied with the exchange.
Effective communication involves behaviors like active listening, which means giving the person who is speaking your full and undivided attention. Active listening involves body language that lets the other person know that you’re with them, like making eye contact, leaning forward in your seat, and nodding your head. It means avoiding behaviors that detract from the speaker’s message, like interrupting, fidgeting, or looking bored. And, when it’s your turn to speak, it means asking questions that relate to what you’ve just heard. Active listening helps you to receive the speaker’s message more clearly, and it shows the speaker that you’re sincerely engaged in the discussion.
As you can see, listening can be as important as speaking (and sometimes even more so). Even when it’s not your turn to say something, it helps to think of every workplace conversation as a two-way street. Active listening is one way to keep the lines of communication fully open.
Take a look at the following video to learn a little bit more about how to be an active listener:
The Importance of Communication in the Workplace
Okay, so why is communication so important? Just think of the worst screwup you’ve ever witnessed (or — gulp — been involved in), and you’ll understand what I mean. Chances are good you can think of a situation where fuzzy communication led to a headache. Could you or your colleagues have prevented the problem by communicating more effectively? If you replay the scenario in your head, you’ll probably reach a point where you wish you had spoken up — or where you wish you’d had more information.
Successful communication in the professional environment leads to happier and more productive employees. When expectations are clear, members of your team are better equipped to meet their goals and ask for guidance or help when they need it. Communicating openly can help to avoid conflict — and to make conflict resolution much simpler when employees don’t see eye-to-eye. And, in many fields, strong communication is a key component of everyday workplace safety. No matter what field you’re in, improving communication in your workplace can only lead to bigger and better results for everyone involved.
How to Improve Workplace Communication
If you’re in a position of influence in your company, you have the opportunity to improve communication and strengthen employee engagement — and you can begin right away. Let’s check out some ways to bolster communication in your professional environment.
Hold Regular Meetings
Many of us joke that the COVID-19 pandemic showed us, once and for all, that most of our meetings could have been emails instead. While I agree that some meetings are colossal time-wasters, there’s something to be said for a weekly team check-in. Assembling all of your team members provides them with the opportunity to chat, exchange ideas, and express concerns. And now that we’re in the era of Zoom and Google Meet, it’s easier for everyone to touch base, even if they’re working remotely.
Try Team-Building Exercises
You don’t need to make your weekly team meetings all business — in fact, you probably shouldn’t! Check out these fun and engaging team-building activities for meetings, like solving puzzles and brain-teasers together or starting a compliment circle. Exercises like these can help your employees to develop a better understanding of one another, and exchanging compliments goes a long way in building trust and morale. If you’re the one initiating the compliment circle, be prepared in advance with a thoughtful and positive comment about each of the participants.
Schedule Some Fun Time
Want to know how to build a strong relationship with just about anyone? Do something fun together! Most professionals are intimately familiar with the post-work happy hour, but there’s so much more you can do to build rapport with your team members. If it’s in your office budget, taking your employees to a monthly team lunch or dinner will give them the opportunity to socialize in a relaxed atmosphere. Your team might also enjoy a group activity like sailing, karaoke, or an escape room. If it gets everyone laughing, chatting, and having a good time, it’s a great choice.
Work isn’t always fun — after all, that’s why we call it work. But making your workplace environment a place where everyone feels safe, respected, and heard goes a long way in making employees happy and productive. Keeping the lines of communication open is an excellent way to make your office or other workplace the best it can be.
What are your favorite ways to promote effective workplace communication? Let me know in the comments section below!
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