-++Have you ever played the game “Telephone”? When a message is passed from one person to another and on down the line, it can get muddled until it is unrecognizable. For a game, this is fun. For a business, not so much.
Business success can, in part, be seen as a chain reaction of connected as well as isolated events, where the best planning and strategy can collide with unforeseen internal and external forces. At any given time, there are an infinite number of moving parts that can require small adjustments or complete pivots from current pathways. The constant need for adaptability can be daunting for a leader, but establishing a culture that includes effective communication in the workplace means that input and support is available from a variety of sources who understand your goals; that is, if we are willing to listen. A major benefit to a culture that includes effective communication is that we can draw input from our employees and teams to help guide, as well as buy into, the reasons for task or project adjustments.
In a Dale Carnegie research study, leaders chose clear, effective communication as one of the top three areas they believed impactful to improving team productivity. In the same study 80% of those on high-performing teams (those having exceeded their goals over the past year) reported receiving open and honest communication from their leader compared to 61% of all others. These numbers reflect the fact that workplace communication skills have room for improvement and growth and can directly affect the success of teams and companies.
What Is Effective Communication?
Effective communication starts with clear thinking. It’s important to understand what it is we need or want to say in addition to identifying desired goals or outcomes before we engage. By preparing our thoughts and taking into account the context of a situation, we can communicate in a clear and concise way and minimize so called “noise.” This includes reaching the audience where they’re at as opposed to where we think they should be, and not saying more than is needed.
Effective communication in the workplace also means verifying that the other person or people understood your message correctly (i.e., as you intended) so they can act on it. And act they will. According to a McKinsey report, workers who were included in effective and detailed communications were five times more likely to report increased productivity.
So, how do we communicate effectively in the workplace?
Eight Tips for Effective Business Communication
1. Use Active Listening
As part of the previously-mentioned Dale Carnegie study, “poor or no communication,” “lack of listening,” and “lack of collaboration” were frequently cited as reasons for dissatisfaction with teams and their leaders. Active listening means focusing on what the other person is saying through a commitment to listen without speaking.
Active listening requires your direct attention. This may include maintaining eye contact, nodding or confirming that you understand, and avoiding interrupting. This also means being patient and allowing the other person to say everything they wish without rushing to fill silences with advice.
2. Choose the Right Timing and Medium (Channel)
There are many ways to communicate in the workplace—virtually, in-person, email, messaging, face-to-face, etc. Then there’s the frequency—hourly, daily, weekly, etc. Every employee and team will have a preferred method and cadence that they consider “effective communication.” Finding the answer and utilizing the right channel is a balancing act which involves identifying these preferences while simultaneously incorporating what will work best for the project or task at hand.
In the 2023 Dale Carnegie study, frequent interaction was found to be a hallmark of high-performing teams as 87% of workers on these teams said they interact with their team members on a daily basis. How these interactions take place is important in order to be effective as 89% of leaders preferred communicating via online platforms (Slack, Zoom, etc.) whereas only 61% of individual contributors felt that way. This may point to the potential for productivity or performance improvement by simply changing the medium of communication. After all, given the timing or frequency (daily) of communication surrounding high-performing teams, we would certainly want that to be a positive experience for all.
3. Ask Questions
Dale Carnegie’s 25th principle says to “Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.” If a team has not achieved a goal, it’s better to ask them about their thinking and process than simply tell them how to do it the next time. Effective business communication involving questions that can help understand perspectives can lead to improved buy-in, participation in the problem-solving process, and opportunity for growth and reflection that can result in positive actions being taken in pursuit of desired outcomes.
Avoid questions with a simple yes/no answer. You’ll discover a lot more about people when you let them talk. If leaders need to give direct instructions, leave time for employees and teams to ask follow-up questions. Try framing it as “What questions do you have?” rather than “Do you have any questions?” as subtle differences can generate valuable discussion.
4. Be Mindful of Differences
Employees work better when they feel psychologically safe. This means they feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks within their team environment. These risks may involve putting forth a new idea or just overcoming the risk of looking silly when speaking up with a question. We have to wonder how many great ideas were never heard due to this!
Remember that all people are different and come from different backgrounds and experiences. We need to exhibit empathy and see things from the other person’s point of view. Our backgrounds influence everything from the way we look at the world to the way we speak and write. Being mindful of differences can lead to improved workplace performance in areas such as innovation and creativity, among others.
5. Set Clear Expectations
Leaders should ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands the goals set out for them. This may start with creating a team vision or simply discussing team goals at the outset of a project. Expectations should include not only the desired end result but also the expectations for communication frequency and method.
When everyone is working together and there is no ambiguity in their tasks, they will be more likely to take accountability for their work and thus will work harder to perform for the team. Clear expectations also reduce the need for oversight and micromanaging.
6. Address Conflict
Don’t hide disagreements in the shadows. Part of effective communication in the workplace is being able to address problems when they arise. When in doubt, reflect on these important Dale Carnegie principles:
#11 — Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say “You’re wrong.”
#18 — Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
#29 — Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
7. Use Technology Wisely
High-performing teams embrace technology that keeps them connected and collaborating smoothly but it is another channel or tool among many, not a one-size-fits-all solution. Using technology is particularly important when building virtual teams that only interact through digital means and used correctly, can be a powerful game changer for our teams and organizations.
Task management systems can keep team members organized while instant messaging platforms can make brainstorming and coworking easier. However, be wise in your choices. Too much technology in the absence of training can overwhelm workers and become another barrier to performance and a contributor to workplace frustration.
8. Learn & Practice
In the end, everyone has the capacity to be a good communicator and it’s up to leaders, management, and executives to ensure training opportunities are available. It takes consistent practice to be good at a skill and opportunities such as courses and webinars can help establish good communication habits in the workplace and set you on a path that is a model to others.
With effective communication in place, leaders can avoid creating a self-isolating island that’s disconnected from the talent around them—meaning you don’t have to do it alone and that in itself can save you many sleepless nights!
Dale Carnegie has many resources that teach companies and workers how to improve communication in the workplace. Contact us for your customized solution today. We look forward to connecting with you!