11 Ways to Improve Communication at Work

FT Contributor
Two businesswomen communicating at work.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Managing a workplace can be challenging, especially when it comes to keeping proper channels of communication open. Different people prefer to connect in different ways, and it’s essential that leaders take the time to beef up their communication tool chest in order to be ready for any scenario.

Communication Issues in the Workplace

Each employee has their own communicative strengths and weaknesses. Someone with ADHD may need to communicate face-to-face. An introvert might need to be gently encouraged to engage and contribute. Communication with an employee with an ENTP personality may require a bit more discussion and debate than is typical.

Along with personality types, there are several other factors that can serve to disrupt or alter communication in an office.

  • Employees with different cultural backgrounds can find it difficult to relate to one another.
  • An employee with a big ego may cause numerous disruptions.
  • A lack of active listening from both leaders and employees can lead to a breakdown in communication.
  • Failure to show basic respect and dignity for fellow coworkers can be detrimental to a workplace discussion.

If you find you’re dealing with a lack of quality communication in your workspace, here are some suggestions to consider:

1. Communication-Friendly Space

The environment you work in is critical to good communication. An office laid out with an eye towards facilitating socialization and conversation will invite coworkers to interact more often. An open-area office plan — sometimes called a bullpen — is excellent for this approach. Classic cubicles, on the other hand, are not.        

2. Maintain Constant Communication

Occasional communication is an open invitation for a team to drift apart. It’s important to proactively seek out communication with your employees on a regular basis. This is easier (though still not automatic) in an office.

However, the rise in popularity of the remote worker has made the need for constant communication more essential than ever. Whether you’re milling around the bullpen or Skyping in with a remote employee, make sure to always be keeping those lanes of communication open.

3. Ask Employees for Feedback

Feedback is one of the most important forms of insight that a leader has at their disposal. While it certainly takes time to separate the valuable feedback from the griping and complaining, it remains good counsel to take time to solicit feedback from your employees in the first place. You can do this by asking them directly in a face-to-face meeting or online via email, social media, or another form of direct messaging.

4. Face-to-Face Communication

The word “phubbing” was coined to describe people who snub someone by looking at their phone. Sometimes all that’s needed to create a connection is to put the phone down, turn off the computer screen, or power down the tablet and then look someone straight in the eyes. Never underestimate the power of a face-to-face meeting when it comes to facilitating communication.

Understand that Face-to-Face Communication Isn’t for Everyone

While it’s important to disconnect from technology and interact directly with others, at times a direct face-to-face conversation isn’t best. A highly sensitive person, for instance, may be too intimidated by a face-to-face with their boss. When this is the case, consider:

  • Sending an email.
  • Calling the person without a visual component to the conversation.
  • Communicating via a direct message on social media.

However you go about it, make sure to tailor the communication to be highly personalized and inviting.

5. Perfect Body Language

A picture is worth a thousand words — and so is your body language. Understanding body language can help you communicate better in the workplace. Here are a few common body language signals to watch out for.

  • Crossed arms and legs indicate disapproval and resistance.
  • Body language that mirrors your own body language is a positive sign of receptiveness.
  • Good posture encourages respect and engagement.
  • Genuine smiles tend to crinkle the skin around the eyes.

Each of these can be looked for in others as well as utilized by a leader in their own communication with their employees.

6. Active Listening

It’s one thing to nod your head in apparent approval. It’s another thing entirely to actually hear someone when they speak. Active listening is the art of genuinely tuning out your own thoughts and striving to hear what someone else has to say.

It requires putting your own responses on hold and putting yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Active listening is an excellent way to encourage trust and compassion, both of which can be instrumental in improving communication in an office.

7. Personalize Communication

It may be tempting to send out a memo or a mass email to your staff, but if you truly want them to hear what you have to say, consider personalizing the message. You can do this by using several of the different communication styles already discussed, each of which can help to connect with different personalities in an intimate and trusting manner.  

Different Communication Styles

  • Face-to-face communication invites self-confident employees to engage with you.
  • Active listening indicates respect and can bridge gaps of insecurity or nervousness.
  • Body language enables you to encourage or comfort an employee even during an awkward or painful conversation.

Whatever style you choose, and how you go about personalizing it, should depend on the nature of what you wish to communicate.

8. Implement an “Open Door” Policy

Maintaining an open door policy is an excellent way to ensure that a two-way conversation is maintained with your employees. It encourages accessibility, feedback and a perpetually open flow of communication. An open door policy helps to develop trust and improves positive association within a group that is trying to function as a team.

9. Company Newsletters

Company newsletters are great tools when it comes to keeping everyone on the same page. While you may be intimately involved in the larger plans of your organization, your employees probably are not. A newsletter allows leaders to keep their employees up-to-date and informed. Company newsletters often include elements like:

  • A letter from the CEO.
  • Customer testimonials.
  • Employee spotlights.
  • Company or industry-wide news.
  • Educational articles and opportunities for employees.

Whatever you choose to include, make sure that your newsletter is fun, consistent, and accessible. Also, ask for feedback to improve it over time.

10. Allow Employees to Recharge

While personal time is wonderful, it doesn’t always allow your employees to truly recharge. A good way to keep communication up and running is to make sure that your employees are able to find a good work-life balance. Consider providing them opportunities to recharge such as:

  • Offering flexible work hours so that they can work at the best time for their own schedules.
  • Encouraging employees to take breaks regularly to avoid straining or hurting themselves.
  • Promoting real lunch breaks — studies have shown that real lunch breaks lead to higher employee engagement.
  • Allowing your employees to take power naps — twenty minutes is typically all that’s needed to make a significant difference.

11. Strengthen Manager-Employee Connections

Make sure that the relationships between your company’s managers and employees are strong. Find a good team-building exercise or two, spend time together talking about non-work-related topics, or take an employee out to lunch.

In addition to building on positive experiences, it’s also important that companies maintain communication by providing strong company guidelines aimed at preserving the manager-employee dynamic. A good example of this would be giving employees clear recourse in the event of an abuse of power from their superior, such as sexual harassment. That said, if manager-employee connections are healthy and communication is professional, abuses of power are less likely to be an issue.

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