A guide to effective workplace communication

In theory, communication should come easy – we spend most of our lives engaged in some form of communication, be it speaking, listening, reading, or writing. However, being able to communicate effectively at work requires a specialized set of skills.

With this workplace communication guide, we will walk you through the best practices for communication to promote strong and successful office environments and offer clear examples.

To start, understanding the basics of professional workplace communication will help you establish strong relationships with your colleagues, sharpen your teamwork skills, and increase your work quality. In the case of supervisors, managers, and employers, knowing how to promote effective workplace communication will boost employee productivity and office morale.

What does effective communication in the workplace look like?

Whether you are talking to your partner or engaging with work colleagues, effective communication combines a set of four skills:

  • Listening, while fully engaged with the speaker
  • Nonverbal communication, like eye contact and nods
  • Managing stress in the moment
  • Respectfully asserting yourself

Professional workplace communication skills are difficult to master. The following tips can help you implement effective communication in your day-to-day operations and make your work a more positive place.

Engaged listening

Excellent listening skills are crucial for promoting effective workplace communication. Engaged listening is the act of focusing solely on what the other person is saying during a conversation – no phone contact, no listening to others conversation, no planning what you will say next.

According to workplace communication expert Elisia Stewart, when you listen to someone, they are more inclined to listen to you, too. Stewart offers the following tips for effective, engaged listening:

  • Listen carefully and attentively when others are talking.
  • If you find yourself talking more than the other person, ask questions to get them engaged.
  • Wait to hear what the other person has to say before responding. You don’t want to miss out on the conversation because you’re thinking of what to say next.
  • Show interest. Nod occasionally, smile, and respond with small comments such as “yes” or “uh huh” when appropriate.
  • Set aside your judgment. Professional workplace communication can take place whether or not you agree with the ideas and values of your conversation partner. Try not to let your personal values distract you from the conversation.

When you practice engaged listening, a rich exchange of ideas occurs during the conversation. Since you’re not distracted by your next project deadline or what you’ll be eating for lunch that day, you (and your conversation partner) will absorb more information from your conversation. This information can improve your professional relationships, contribute to current projects, and even create innovative ideas within the workplace.

Nonverbal communication

It is important to pay attention to nonverbal communication and body language when discussing effective communication in the workplace. Body language is crucial to establishing professional relationships. Paying attention to your gestures, posture, and facial expressions will help you convey positive and open messages with your body language. These positive and open messages are crucial to communicating effectively at work.

Keep the following concepts in mind when assessing your nonverbal communication:

  • Avoid negative body language. Use your body language to portray confidence. Keep your head high, maintain respectful eye contact, and smile!
  • Make sure your body language supports what you’re saying. If you’re excited about a certain project, make sure your body language conveys it.
  • Engage with your listeners using proper gestures, hand movements, and posture. Not only will this help promote effective workplace communication, but it will catch your audience’s attention!
  • Make sure to adjust your body language to fit different workplace environments. Body language that may be appropriate during coffee breaks usually won’t be appropriate in the boardroom.
  • Use open body language. Avoid crossing your arms or legs during a conversation. Instead, uncross your arms and legs, stand or sit on the edge of your seat, and maintain eye contact with your conversation partner. This will help you practice open body language.

Managing stress

Stress and out-of-control emotions can harm how you communicate effectively at work. Stress causes a person to act in ways that they may later regret, such as lashing out unexpectedly or breaking down due to a minor inconvenience.

Stress also implicitly affects your body language and your focus; when you’re stressed, you may find yourself becoming more restless and distracted. This can create undesirable body language cues, such as a shaking leg or avoidance of eye contact, which communicates disinterest to your conversation partner. This also impacts your ability to practice engaged listening.

The following tips can help you manage stress effectively:

  • Recognize your stress and give yourself time to calm down. Take a walk, do some breathing exercises, or take a nap. Yoga is a great strategy for some people, and it can be practiced anywhere. Find strategies that work for you and apply them when necessary.
  • If you’re unable to remove yourself from the situation, use stalling tactics to give yourself time to think. Ask for people to repeat questions or clarify their statements before you respond.
  • Focus on delivering your words clearly. An even tone, eye contact, and relaxed body language will hide your stress from conversation partners. Pretending you’re not stressed may also help you relax.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave a stressful situation if you need to calm down. Taking breaks during a difficult or heated conversation will benefit your colleagues as well. Explain that you need a quick break is a smart way to defuse a situation.

These tips may not work for everyone; it’s important to find management strategies and apply these strategies to tricky situations that may involve difficult communication.

Respectful and direct assertion

Communicating in a direct and assertive way is an effective strategy for workplace communication. This provides clarity to your statements. Sometimes, when people are trying to be nice, they sound passive instead. Your self-confidence and decision-making skills will improve through this honest and open communication strategy.

However, there is a fine line between arrogance and assertiveness. You do not want to come off as hostile, aggressive, or demanding. The goal of professional workplace communication is to understand the other person, not to combat them.

The following tips can help you effectively improve direct and assertive communication strategies:

  • Value yourself and your opinions. Practice self-confidence. Your thoughts are valid and important in your workplace.
  • Know your needs and wants. This will help you communicate clearly.
  • Accept feedback in a positive manner. Feedback is necessary to help you grow. It is not a personal attack. It’s important to incorporate constructive feedback into your future work, so listen.
  • Learn how to say no. It’s easy to say yes to please others but having too much on your plate will lead to stress. Practice saying no and respecting your capacity.
  • Begin practicing assertiveness in low-risk situations so that you can assert yourself in high-pressure environments.

By analyzing and understanding the basics about workplace communication, it can help to come up with a strategy that works best for your work environment. See how employees are communicating with one another and learn what communication skills work best with each. Every person is different, so what might work for one, may not for another. Whether it be talking with your colleagues, listening to them, or reading their body language, understanding these skills and learning to work with them will help to create a more productive work environment.

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