20 Tips for Enhancing Workplace Communication

Being a better communicator at work can help you be more successful in your current role as well as establishing your suitability for promotion and professional advancement.

Here are twenty tips to help ratchet up your communications at work. 

  1. Do a Self-Assessment: Assess your own communication knowledge and understanding.

    Increase your Deposits! Photo:Flickr/Rupert Ganzer
  2. Ask for feedback: Ask for feedback about your own communication, and communication in the workplace. Ask questions like:

    • When we talk, are you generally clear about what I am saying?
    • Do you think I effectively communicate what I mean?
    • Do you have any suggestions for how we could communicate better?
  3. Know when to get involved: Encourage an environment where the person with the message to send does it directly with the receiver. Resist the temptation to involve yourself in conflicts that do not directly involve you or your responsibilities. Even if someone has clearly been wronged, allow him or her to resolve the situation.
  4. Seek first to understand: One of Stephen Covey’s recommendations in The 7 habits of highly effective people is, “”Seek to understand before you seek to be understood”. Make a conscious effort to truly listen without preparing your own response in your head while the other person is still talking (more on this point in the Value of Active Listening). Don't tune speakers out or get caught in the trap of planning ahead to what you want to say next. You may miss an important detail.
  5. Be courteous and respectful: Simple courtesy and respect goes a long way when it comes to workplace communications. Politeness is nothing more than a social lubricant created to help people with different backgrounds and diverse opinions communication more effectively.
  6. Restate before proceeding: Before explaining your own position, try to paraphrase and condense what the other person is saying into one or two sentences. Start with, “So what I am hearing you say is…” Have the other person affirm that you correctly received the message or offer adjustments as needed. You may find that you are both on the same wavelength but are having problems communicating your ideas clearly.
  7. Ask for clarification: If you hear something that confuses you, ask about it. Maybe you missed a detail or maybe you remembered something others forgot. It's important that everyone understand exactly what's going on. Chances are that if you're confused, others are too.
  8. Use “I’ rather than “You”: Start your sentence with “I” so the other person will not become defensive.

    • Instead of saying, “You disrespected me when you didn’t ask for my input on that decision
    • Say, “I felt a lack respect when l heard a decision was made and I was not included in the decision-making process.
  9. Be specific and avoid absolutes like “never” and “always”: “I am never included in marketing decisions around here” is not as effective as “I wish I had been invited to the marketing meeting this morning.”
  10. Depersonalize conflicts: Instead of a “me versus you” mentality, try to maintain an “us versus the problem” scenario. This is not only a more professional approach, but it will improve productivity and is in the best interests of everyone.
  11. Avoid “Why” questions: When asking a question in general conversation, avoid starting it with “why” because it can be taken as a personal criticism or challenge (an exception to this would be the 5 Whys technique in problem solving). Instead, say “I really what to understand this so…
  12. Avoid making assumptions: Instead, be committed to getting the facts. 
  13. Notice and match language: Using similar words can help create harmony in the exchange and makes the person you are communicating with feel like you’re on the same page. You can choose to match nonverbal gestures as well. If the person sits down while speaking with you, you too can choose to sit to foster a connection. Be aware that body language can also communicate a lot. Watch for what you and the person you are speaking to might be projecting and whether it contradicts what’s being said.
  14. Allow for a cooling-off period: If you try to communicate when angry, you will likely be ineffective. Take a deep breath, walk away if you can, and come back a few moments later when you are calmer. Some people feel it’s important to deal with things in the moment; it’s often wiser to reflect, gather your thoughts and plan what you want to say and how you’ll convey your message.
  15. Choose an appropriate time and place: If an extended discussion is necessary, agree first on a time and place to talk. Confronting a colleague who is with a client or working on a deadline is unfair and unprofessional. Pick a time when you are both free to concentrate on the problem and its resolution.
  16. Respond. Don’t react. Be patient: You may have the best idea, but not everyone may understand it the first time. Accept that sometimes the same question may be asked more than once or that a colleague may forget a deadline unless reminded.
  17. Don't express an opinion as a fact: You may hate orange text on green, but that’s an opinion: unless you can cite a legitimate reason for your concern. (For example, you may choose to share that this color combination may be harder to read).
  18. Explain your reasons: If you have a strong opinion, explain why you feel this way. This will allow others to evaluate your comments more effectively.
  19. Compliment another's idea: Rather than jumping into critical mode when someone shares an idea, even if you don’t think it would work, look for a valid element that could be usable in another form and focus on that.
  20. Don't interrupt: Let the person completely communicate his/her idea before offering any feedback. If the idea is simply a non-starter, be sure to critique the idea, not the person.

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