From minor quibbles over holiday allowance to serious concerns surrounding employee satisfaction, there are very few workplace problems that can’t be solved with some good old communication. But, when the chips are down and you have to have a difficult conversation, it’s vital to have a few strategies up your sleeve to ensure that you get the most out of it.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s important to understand what distinguishes good communication from bad communication. This might seem like an obvious distinction (talking to your team = good, screaming in their faces = bad) but it’s actually a little more subtle than that.
First of all, much of what we say doesn’t actually come out of our mouths. According to psychological researcher Albert Mehrabian, just 7% of meaning is derived from the actual words that we’re saying. The remaining 55% comes from our body language, and 38% is our tone of voice.
Those percentages technically only apply to face-to-face communication. Mehrabian came up with this theory back in 1967, well before email or instant messaging was invented. Strategies for online communication tend to be a little different – we’ll touch on that later on.
In dictionary terms, effective communication is a “communication between two or more persons wherein the intended message is successfully delivered, received and understood.” Put simply, that means that the speaker and the listener both get the same message from the conversation – there’s no crossed wires or misunderstandings.
This also means that the person speaking feels heard and understood. If the listener says “yes, absolutely, totally get your point, will take that into account” and then does nothing of the sort, that’s not effective communication.
In a business sense, effective communication takes on an additional meaning, whereby shared information contributes to an organisation’s commercial success. It’s vital for all employees to be on the same page in order to contribute to a collective goal, and effective communication is necessary in achieving that.
Quite simply, good communication can make or break a business.
If, as a manager, you’re unable to effectively communicate with your team, you’ve effectively reduced your leadership capacities to almost nil.
Communication is vital in an authoritative sense, for giving instructions, commanding projects, or pitching to clients. It’s equally important, though, in a collaborative sense, in terms of listening to your team and working with them to address any concerns that they might have.
Without further ado, here are all the communication strategies you’ll ever need. We’ve divided them into overall strategies, with specific ones for face-to-face and online.
Yes, that’s right, the most important communication strategies don't actually involve talking. Sounds a bit counterintuitive, but really, there’s no way that you can have a productive conversation with someone if you haven’t actually listened to his or her concerns and taken them on board.
Going in all guns blazing, without paying any attention to what the other person has to say, will make you seem bullish and inattentive. Make sure that you set aside plenty of time for the person to speak about their concerns – and don’t cut them off halfway through.
Similar to listening, effective communication relies upon the creation of a receptive space. Employees won't want to air their concerns if they feel that they’ll just be brushed under the carpet and not addressed.
Try to create a relaxed and approachable environment for your conversation, because if you seem hurried or tense, that’s not going to make the other person feel at ease.
There’s two aspects to this. First of all, your training for new employees should be communicative of their job role and details about the company. This includes the history, your clients and any internal policies on things such as holidays and working hours. If you find that a lot of your new hires are coming to you every half an hour asking the same questions, that’s a sign that your training isn’t up to scratch.
Secondly, though, effective communication methods should also be part of the training that you give to your employees. Like anything else in business, it’s a skill to be learned, and methods of communication will differ from company to company. It’s your responsibility to instil best practice into your team.
Your tone, in terms of the language that you use, clarity, and your manner of speaking, are all vital aspects of good communication.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to stick by:
DO use clear and simple vocabulary to ensure that you get your point across. If your language is ambiguous or too complex, you risk being misunderstood and may have to explain yourself multiple times.
DON’T be too jokey – you’re in a professional environment and your tone should match that.
DON’T use slang, swear words or language that could be offensive. You risk alienating your listener – plus it’s not very professional.
DON’T sound like a broken record. Your message should be clear and authoritative enough the first time round that you shouldn’t have to keep repeating yourself.
DO introduce humour in an appropriate way. Keeping conversation light and relaxed creates a friendly environment and will make your team more receptive to your message. Clearly, there’s a time and a place for this technique - it’s not one to use in a disciplinary meeting, for example.
DON’T mumble. Not only does it make it difficult for team members to understand you, it also belies a lack of confidence in what you’re saying.
After every exchange, always make sure to thank the other person or people for their time. It’s a simple courtesy, plus it demonstrates that you’re grateful for their presence when they could have been getting on with another task.
Make time for listeners to give feedback too, not only on how they thought the conversation went, but on the way that you delivered information.
Take criticism on board and use it to structure your missives better in the future.
This open style of meeting is a great way to communicate with your employees, and for them to communicate with you too – it’s a two-way street!
For you, it’s a chance to get across your passion for a project, and create a really inclusive environment that allows your team to share in your enthusiasm and dedication. For them, it’s a chance to participate in an open discussion and raise points collectively.
Certain concerns aren’t appropriate for discussion in a group setting. In these scenarios, one-on-one meetings are the best solution. If there’s a personal concern to be addressed, or an issue with performance, try taking that individual to the side for a private chat.
Like we mentioned before, body language accounts for about 55% of meaning when communicating face-to-face. It can really make a difference in ensuring that your conversation is effective.
Sitting up straight, smiling, giving a strong handshake – all of these are positive signals that you’re receptive to having an earnest conversation. Slouching in your chair, putting your feet on the desk or closing your eyes – not such good signs. Avoid at all costs.
Introducing a visual element can help to illustrate concepts better, particularly when discussing a creative project. It can also be helpful to circulate presentations to team members after meetings, so they can refer back to facts or statistics when actioning plans.
Communication via email has accrued a bit of a bad rep in recent years, as its been plagued by the same criticism that gets levelled at a lot of technological platforms: that it’s easy to misconstrue something when it’s written down, because you don’t have all of the body language and tone of voice markers that you get in face-to-face communication.
On top of that, there’s an assumption that the minute you get an email, the sender is sitting at their desk, tapping their feet and waiting for a response (even if it’s midnight). 99% of the time, that’s not the case, and most emails that necessitate an urgent response will be marked “High Priority” anyway.
Email is actually an extremely efficient way to communicate with team members on a professional level, in a way that doesn’t distract them from other work that they might be doing. To avoid any kind of unnecessary perceived time pressure, make sure that you put a goal for response/action in your initial email.
Apps such as Slack can be invaluable in communicating quickly and easily with team members. There are some things that don't necessarily require sending an email. IM solves that problem by seeming like a more casual platform. It’s also a great way to include remote team members in company culture, so they feel part of the team even when they’re not there.
Sometimes, you need to think a little outside the box to make your communication as effective as can be. Here are a few off-the-wall strategies - sure, you might get some weird looks and a few concerned emails from your team, but it will certainly get them talking.
If you’re often finding yourself communicating the same things to your staff, save your time and energy with some visual aids.
Got someone in your ear every 5 minutes asking for the printer codes? Print them out and stick them on the printer. Bombarded with emails asking for holiday? Implement a communal holiday calendar so team members can check to see if their leave will overlap before filing a request. Staff constantly making fun of your awful taste in shirts? Stick a sign on your desk saying “I like my shirts, okay, just leave me alone.” Or, you know, go shopping. Your call.
Who doesn’t love a game of Charades at Christmas? It’s always fun to watch Grandma try and act out “Thor: Ragnarok”. We’re not suggesting that you literally play Charades in the office (well, not every day anyway), but introducing a physical aspect to your communication can encourage your team to think outside of the box and can help instructions to stick in their minds.
It’s also an effective training tool, particularly for practising interactions with customers and acting out potential outcomes. Again, just make sure that your staff aren’t *actually* playing Charades with customers.
There are tonnes of different ways to communicate effectively with your team, and it’s down to you to find the best one. Be aware that it might take a bit of trial and error, and be willing to try different tactics. At the end of the day, effective communication has to work for you and your team, and no-one else.
It’s worth spending some time getting it right. Perfecting your communication strategies will make your workplace a happier and more harmonious place.
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