Communication is an essential skill for professional success, regardless of your industry or seniority level. We’ll break down the benefits of improving your communication at work and explain the steps you can take to become a better communicator and advance your career.
Why workplace communication matters
Communication plays a role in every aspect of work, making it a critical component of a company’s success. Here are a few ways it plays out in a professional setting.
You can’t work with people if you can’t communicate with them. Effective communication allows colleagues to share information, collaboratively generate ideas, and give and receive feedback, all of which are crucial to working as a team.
Promotes a positive culture
Some of the biggest workplace issues, like distrust of leadership and low employee engagement, stem from poor communication. Improving communication on an organizational level promotes transparency and makes workers feel more engaged with their jobs.
Strong communicators can say what they mean and deliver the message in a productive way. This clear messaging reduces confusion and minimizes misinterpretations that can cause team conflict.
Effective communication helps ensure that the work that needs to get done actually gets done. Communicative teams are more productive, which contributes to achieving the organization’s goals.
Without good communication, messages can become distorted. Clear communication is necessary to accurately transfer important workplace information on things like instructions, expectations, and deliverables.
Personal benefits of being a strong communicator
The benefits of strong communication aren’t limited to companies. It’s in your own best interest to improve your communication skills at work, too. Here are some of the biggest ways you’ll benefit.
Improves job performance
Becoming a better communicator will make you better at your job for almost any role. For example, you’ll have an easier time interacting with customers in a customer service job. For a sales role, you can make stronger pitches to prospective clients. In a technical job like engineering or programming, you’ll be better able to interface with colleagues who don’t possess the same level of technical expertise.
Prevents repeat work
Communication breakdowns are not only frustrating; they cause mistakes that lead to repeat work. With strong communication skills, you can fully understand what’s expected of you and convey your expectations to others so that you don’t have to perform the same task twice. You’ll also reduce your workload by completing routine communication tasks like writing emails and drafting memos more quickly.
Strengthens leadership capabilities
Being a capable communicator will make you better at many of the activities required to lead, like commanding attention in a group setting, getting people on board with your ideas, and training new team members.
Supports professional advancement
Your communication skills can help you convey the value you bring to your bosses. As a better communicator, you can make a stronger case for why you deserve a raise or promotion, which will help you advance in your career.
How to improve your communication at work
1. Hone your listening skills
Believe it or not, much of your communication strength doesn’t involve speaking or writing at all. Instead, it revolves around listening. Perfecting your active listening skills will dramatically improve your understanding, which can inform your next actions.
Active listening means being mindfully engaged with what another person is saying rather than using the time to think about your response (or letting your mind wander to something else entirely). When you’re involved in a conversation or are listening to a speaker, focus on their words and try to see the implications of their message. Also, pay attention to what they’re not saying, like body language and things that are implied rather than explicitly stated. All of this information can help you better understand the person’s true message so you can make informed decisions and deliver the most appropriate reply.
2. Tailor your approach
When communicating at work, the audience, situation, and context matter.
Speaking to your boss is different from speaking to a peer. Speaking in front of a group is different from having a one-on-one conversation. Communicating praise is different from delivering bad news, and so on.
Consider these aspects to help you choose the right communication style and tone for your message, recipient, and setting.
3. Select the appropriate medium
Another important component of effective communication is the medium via which a message is delivered. How many times have you been sitting in a meeting thinking, ‘this could have been an email’? Rather than defaulting to a meeting, consider whether another messaging avenue would be more suitable.
In most workplaces, you’ll need to rely on various communication channels. Here are some of the main ones and the different scenarios in which you might use them:
- Email: Exchanging quick nuggets of information, giving instructions, creating documentation, sharing teamwide messages
- Phone: Asking time-sensitive questions, talking through topics that are too complex for email, adding context to other forms of communication
- Face-to-face: Brainstorming creative ideas, discussing sensitive/confidential subjects, capturing nonverbal cues like body language
- Video: Remote meetings, performance reviews, virtual interviews
- Letter: Delivering official company messaging, creating formal documentation for things like resignations and leave requests, submitting suggestions or complaints
- Text: Asking quick/non-complex questions, communicating schedule changes, sharing project updates, gathering and delivering feedback
- Messaging apps: Chatting in real-time, communicating among remote teams, water-cooler chat (i.e., ‘how was your weekend?’)
4. Be mindful of nonverbal communication
You can say as much with your nonverbal communication as you do with your words. Nonverbal communication includes things like eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and body language, all of which can add meaning and impact to your message.
For example, using an open stance and strong posture communicates confidence if you’re speaking to a group. If you’re having a heart-to-heart with a teammate, sitting down and leaning toward them while maintaining eye contact can establish an atmosphere of trust.
In most cases, you’ll want to avoid ‘closed off’ body language like crossing your arms, looking away, and angling your body away from the person you’re speaking with.
5. Ask questions
Don’t merely deliver your message and call it a day. After you’ve finished speaking, ask questions to make sure the other person understands your message, and give them a chance to ask their own questions.
If you’re the recipient of a message, use questions to ensure you have full clarity. For example, ‘if I’m understanding you correctly, you want me to have a first draft ready by Friday and a final version by Tuesday. Is that right?’
6. Get personal
It’s easier to communicate effectively when you know the person you’re talking to. Thus, it pays to get to know your coworkers more personally.
This doesn’t mean you must become best friends with everyone you work with. However, it can benefit you to ascertain whether someone is a straight-shooter or is more emotionally sensitive to candid feedback. Other personal details, like knowing when someone is working on a particularly challenging project or going through a rough patch outside of work, can help you better tailor your communication style so that your message is well-received.
7. Communicate regularly
Finding the perfect middle ground between too much and too little communication is hard. Generally speaking, however, more is better than less. Communicating regularly with your teammates, boss, and reports (if you have them) helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures important details don’t fall through the cracks.
How to improve your digital communication
1. Be concise
The longer your message, the more room there is for confusion and the less likely it is to be read in its entirety. When sending written communications, edit them down to their essentials. This takes practice, but once you get good at editing, you’ll often find entire sentences that are unnecessary and can be cut.
2. Close the loop
One big problem with digital communication is that it can leave loose ends that face-to-face communications do not.
When communicating by email, text or messaging app, make sure the other person got your message–and let them know you received theirs–by closing the loop with a confirmation. A quick few words like ‘understood’ or ‘please confirm you’ve read this’ go a long way toward preventing digital communication mishaps.
3. Summarize key details
Digital communication platforms are great for documenting conversations you’ve had offline, like emailing a summary of the next steps following a planning meeting. Not only does this ensure all parties have clear expectations, it creates a paper trail that may be helpful to refer back to in the future.
4. Know when to take it offline
We’re all for simplifying communication as much as possible, but some conversations necessitate talking live. If you’re racking up dozens of back-and-forth messages trying to figure out the details of a project or if you need to discuss a topic that could be contentious, setting a designated time to meet face-to-face can keep the conversation on track and minimize conflict.
Putting these tips into practice will help you hone your communication skills and become a better leader, negotiator, and team member.