Good communication is central to everything that happens in the workplace—yet many misunderstand it.
And there’s a lot to misunderstand. Different formats of communication (meetings vs. conversations vs. presentations, etc.) all present their own quirks and nuances. Different dynamics (employee-to-employee, employee-to-manager, executive-to-employees, etc.) likewise.
Misunderstandings—about the nature of the forum, the dynamic, or the universal rules of human-to-human communication—result in miscommunications. And chronic miscommunication leads to lower employee engagement, morale, productivity, and collaboration.
Masterful communication is the work of a lifetime. But anyone can become a stronger communicator—and starting is easy.
4 easy ways to improve your workplace communication skills
1. Understand (and adapt to) the format. Workplace communication happens in a number of different formats—including (but not limited to):
- Presentations — more elaborate and formal; high stakes
- Meetings — somewhat elaborate and formal; medium to high stakes (ideally)
- Updates — less elaborate and formal; low to medium stakes
- Informal — unplanned/informal; low stakes (but still important)
Each format presents its own structures, guidelines, and limitations. Presentations are best served by extensive preparation, rehearsal, and collaboration—tapping many different people to lend their expertise to a common topic. Updates, on the other hand, often don’t require a formal meeting—they are often best served by an easily viewable dashboard or tracker.
Understanding the formats in which you most frequently communicate and adapting to each leads to best results. The more you prepare for presentations, the more clearly and impactfully you can convey important information. The better honed your dashboards, the more time you can save your employees finding key information.
It’s all about maximizing the value of the limited time you and your employees have. Don’t over-invest in less formal/lower-stakes communications; don’t phone in higher-stakes communication opportunities.
2. Outline communication requirements and goals in advance. Even within a format, each instance of communication has its own details that should shape your approach. A conversation with your manager about a marketing campaign will look very different from a conversation in which you ask for a raise.
Before each, ask yourself basic questions: Who’s my audience? What’s my goal? What action do I want them to take once we sign off? What format makes the most sense for this? Asking and answering these questions lets you reverse-engineer your approach: starting with your goals, and working your way back to your methods.
3. Don’t overlook soft skills. The first two steps are largely about what you say—the content you’re delivering, what you hope its impact will be, the way in which you choose to communicate it. But equally important is how you say it—which can often be measured by how people feel in your presence.
Perfecting the how is a little bit trickier than the what. It takes emotional intelligence—understanding how others feel, and then adapting your tone, body language, and role to elicit more favorable reactions.
4. Seek feedback. This is a particularly important step for managers, the quality of whose communication has a major impact on their teams’ productivity. Feedback is especially useful if you’re working on your soft skills and you want clear input on how you’re doing.
Feedback is obviously key to helping improve poor communication skills. But you don’t have to be a poor communicator to benefit from feedback. Everyone, across the entire spectrum of communication skill, is improved by hearing what people think—and taking it to heart.
Because feedback isn’t always easy to give or receive, create private, nonthreatening settings in which to exchange feedback. Especially for managers, being open and responsive to honest feedback shows a willingness to grow, and strengthens employee loyalty.
Efficient and impactful exchange of information is the lifeblood of any organization. Executives must be sure that employees understand the organization’s overarching mission and vision. Managers must be sure that employees understand their roles in short- and long-term objectives. And employees must be sure that managers and executives see their work, understand their workplace experiences, and know how to support their career objectives.
You’ll never stop improving (and adapting) your communication skills. Every relationship and workplace is different and presents its own challenges. But laying the groundwork of a sound mindset and a willingness to improve is a crucial first step.