Just because you respond courteously to your emails and texts and say please and thank-you to your coworkers doesn’t mean you are communicating at work as effectively as you could.
Ask yourself when the last time was that you made an effort to engage someone from another department in conversation. When was the last time you explained something to a coworker and then asked with genuine concern: “Was that really clear to you? Do you understand or is there a part of that I should go over again?”
Modern workplace etiquette on communication often stops and finishes with responding to messages delivered electronically. But if you stop with that, you will miss an opportunity to really connect on an authentic level with others and in turn, to learn more about your company.
Response is part of the communication challenge. Listening actively in face-to-face conversations where you can view and interpret body language is the rest of the process.
Because most people you approach at work today are sitting behind their computer screen, the biggest barrier to communication is half-listening. A coworker pops their head into your cubicle or office and asks if you can talk to them for a minute.
You respond sure, but you keep right on typing a response to somebody else’s email or you read a text message simultaneously. There are lots of benefits to being able to multitask, but communicating effectively is not one of them.
When you half listen, the person seeking your attention knows that you only half-care. That gets the process off to a bad start even before words are exchanged. If you are so rushed on a deadline that you really can’t talk, ask if the matter is urgent or if you can finish a project on deadline and stop by their desk in 1/2 hour.
If it is urgent, you should listen. If what you are doing can be delayed briefly, you can set the stage for brevity by saying pleasantly: “I’m swamped just now but what you have to say is always important to me. So you have my full attention.” Then stop what you are doing and closely observe the person speaking.
Respond when they have spoken. You do not have to engage in a long exchange. If the matter is complicated, you can say: “I appreciate that this is a little more complex than we can discuss in under five minutes. Let’s schedule a short meeting to discuss it at 2 p.m. Meanwhile, can you outline the three most important parts you think need to be handled immediately and send me an email before then? Then I will be up to speed when we both sit down to work this out.”
You have been polite, but your invitation will also help your colleague solidify the key issues prior to your discussion. When situations are complex, it can be very difficult for many people to chart a logical approach. This way, they have spent some time getting more familiar with their priorities before you sit down to talk and the meeting will be more effective.
For good communication in workplaces, you also need to know about the differences that often define the way different personality types communicate. Some people use more words than others; others have lengthy silences between what they say and what you say as they think over the ramifications of each statement. Some people speak slowly as they strive to find the right works and method of expressing themselves; others are rapid-fire communicators who seem impatient if you cannot fire right back. Be conscious of and responsive to these speaking styles.
The factor that causes the most communication barriers in the workplace is people responding to emails without received the “rest of the story.” A directive is issued by management, or a request is made that seems unreasonable to the employee, and anger prompts a rushed response that is usually aggressive and confrontational. If a simple explanation had been sought at the beginning, the misunderstanding could be avoided.
Never respond to an email in anger. If you are angry, breathe deeply, get your center of balanced attention back, and seek out the sender to see if you have misunderstood or if there are factors about the situation you don’t know. Chances are the communication clash can be avoided with this one basic strategy.