Have you ever heard someone say, “I left my last job because we communicated too well”? Of course not!
However, you’ve probably (maybe even recently) heard the phrase “I left my last job because there was poor communication”. Humans are social creatures, and when it comes to working together, good communication can make all the difference.
We all know how important it is to communicate effectively in our personal lives with our family and friends. However, we tend to miss how important it is to communicate effectively in the workplace. Ineffective or poor communication in the workplace affects every aspect of your business.
A study by Salesforce found 86% of employees and executives blame a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
The Holmes Report surveyed 400 corporations and found that communication barriers cost the average organization £21,514, per employee, every year in productivity losses. Count how many employees you have and see what that means for you.
In the professional world, effective communication can mean the difference between success and failure. Here are nine practical and easy-to-implement tips on how to improve communication at work.
Foster a work environment that is conducive to open communication
The first step in improving communication in the workplace is knowing how you can communicate effectively at work.
Your credibility as a leader depends on modeling the behaviour you want to see in others. You cannot ask your employees for transparency when you hide everything from them. Your behavior affects their behavior, so your department’s quality of communication, good or bad, depends entirely on you.
As a leader, you should have an open-door policy where anyone on your team is free to talk to you about work (their challenges, concerns, or compliments). When an employee feels their leader welcomes discussion, they feel psychologically safer, which improves morale and communication overall.
Of course, “open-door policy” does not mean “you can bother me any time, day or night, no matter what I am doing.” That would be mad! An open-door policy means you encourage your team to come to you if they need to talk. However, if they want to talk when you are on the way to a meeting or in the middle of something important, you do not have to stop what you are doing. Just let them know the situation and that you will schedule some time with them later (but follow through with it).
As a leader, you’re stretched in every direction. Tasks can come up that are urgent, even when you’re already handling something else that was also urgent. If you have a scheduled meeting, but an emergency comes up and you cannot attend – let the person you are meeting with know. If you do not let them know, then it just seems like you do not care about their time, which can negatively impact team communication.
As far as tips for effective communication at work, open communication depends on trust. A quick and easy way to build trust is to learn about who people are outside of work. What are their hobbies? What is important to them? What interests do you share? These types of conversations create more open communication because they build a personal connection.
Maintain consistent lines of communication
Things can change by the hour, if not quicker. Your team needs to have systems in place to make sure they are updated on anything important. It could be email, an internal messaging system, or even scheduled meetings. Being left out of important updates that affect them can make employees disengage from their work, which kills your team’s cohesion and prevents you from helping the organization achieve its goals.
Set aside time for one-on-ones
Whether your team is twenty people or 2,000, you need to regularly meet with your employees individually. Scheduling focused time with an employee allows you to get an insight into their work and personality and helps you understand how you can help them succeed.
Create a list of questions that you review in every one-on-one meeting: goals, priorities, challenges, etc., to understand where you can help them. These conversations also ensure both of you are on the same page and agree on realistic expectations of performance.
Usually, we get asked what the “secret formula” is for how often these meetings should be. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. Some organizations have daily one-on-ones, some have them monthly. The important thing is to find the schedule that works best for you and the employee and stick to it (do not constantly cancel or reschedule). Consistency is more important than frequency.
Have regular teamwide meetings
In addition to one-on-ones, keep a recurring meeting with your entire team. With a clear agenda, focused conversation, and realistic goals, you can accomplish a lot in a 30-45-minute meeting. Whether it is in-person or virtual, having the entire team together creates a sense of unity and that leads to improved communication.
One tip for how to improve communication at work is to have these teamwide meetings and then schedule your one-on-ones to occur in the following days or weeks. This gives your employees a chance to have open conversations with you about the meeting topics that they may have been nervous about bringing up in front of other people.
Actively encourage feedback from your team
Often, it helps to get an objective viewpoint when working to improve yourself or your organisation. Accept and embrace the fact that communication is a two-way street. As a leader, you should constantly seek ways to improve your team’s environment, culture, and performance.
A quick and valuable way to improve communication is to ask your team for feedback. It could be something general (like your department overall), or it could be targeted towards something specific (quality of team meetings, frequency of one-on-ones, etc.).
Before you do this, be aware that the first round of feedback probably won’t be entirely positive. If people who never previously had a chance to give feedback now suddenly have that chance, then they may look at it as an opportunity to vent any frustrations. This is a natural part of the process. Your employees are more aware of your department’s struggles and blind spots than you are, so trust their knowledge and insights.
There are different options to gather feedback: anonymous online surveys, paper suggestion boxes, and focus groups are the most common. You want to show your employees that you crave feedback because you want to help them.
Gathering feedback is important, but it’s wasted time unless you…
Always follow up with next steps
It is not enough to just ask for feedback: you must do something about it. Gather the feedback and analyze it. Show it to your boss or ask for an outside party like a business analyst or consultant to help you understand the “story” behind the data.
Make sure to address all the suggestions – look for themes and group them so you can create a big-picture view of what your employees are thinking.
“Address” here doesn’t mean “fix whatever they want me to fix.” It only means you must show your employees there was value in them giving you feedback.
Adapt your approach to different communication styles
Now that you have received the feedback, you must communicate your plan to everyone. Remember that everyone has a different communication style, so take the time to work with each team member’s preferences. Some employees like to discuss things in private, some just want to know what to do and move on, and some may need a longer conversation because they want to challenge you on everything.
No matter how people like to communicate – everyone prefers clear communication. If you are giving constructive feedback, focus on the behavior, not the person. Your feedback needs to be clear, so they know what they need to change.
In other words, there’s a huge difference between “you tend to interrupt other people in meetings, which decreases the level of communication” and “people think you’re rude.”
Explain the reasoning behind your decision-making
As a leader, you may need to make some tough decisions in your department. You may need to put a process in place that you know your employees will not like, but it must be that way because of how it fits into the big picture.
You must always explain the “why” behind your decisions. Employees do not have to agree with it, but they do have to understand it in order to care enough to implement it. If you can, show your employees how these changes will positively impact them, whether it will make their work easier, help them earn more money, or make teamwork more streamlined.
We saved this one for last because it’s one of the most important points.
A team is a group of individuals, and each of those individuals has different personalities, goals, ambitions, and preferences. The beauty in a team is how these differences can come together to achieve a common goal.
You see it portrayed in movies and books all of the time: a ragtag or motley crew comes together to execute a dangerous mission or even save the world. It’s a bumpy ride at times, but the diversity of the team turns out to be its strongest advantage.
To build camaraderie in a diverse group, don’t let your monthly team meetings be the only time your department gets together. Schedule get-togethers after work and give everyone a chance to know each other on a personal level. It does not need to get intense and turn into a therapy session. Creating an environment where people know who they are working with, both on a personal and professional level, leads to improved communication.
In conclusion, the true measurement of a leader’s effectiveness is not in evaluating their performance – it is in evaluating the performance of the people they lead. As a leader, the only way you will be able to succeed is by getting things done through other people. Effective communication both prevents issues and resolves them.
Want to know more about team building for your business? Get the complete guide here.