Communication Skills in the Workplace
What is Communication? Communication is the process of sharing information, such as thoughts and messages, with another person or group of people through speech, non-verbal cues, and writing. For communication to be effective, your message must be understood by the intended recipient(s) in the manner that you intended it to be received.
Whether you work in an office building, from home, or in the field, you will need to be able to communicate clearly with managers, employees, coworkers, and customers on a friendly and professional level. In almost every workplace, effective communication is a vital skill which can be used to avoid conflict or errors, maintain an efficient workflow, and simply display proper workplace etiquette. This skill is also usually a significant factor when it comes to employers determining which employees receive promotions.
As the workplace continues to evolve, many forms of written communication (memos, reports, project updates) have become computer-based or communicated through informal conversations. Most commonly, written communication takes place through e-mail. These e-mails, though usually informal, still need to follow these basic etiquette tips in order to be interpreted correctly and professionally:
Keep it short. The longer your initial e-mail, the longer the reply will take. Long e-mails provide more opportunities to miss-communicate your ideas to the recipient. If the topic requires in-depth discussion, it is usually better to talk about it face to face.
Focus on one topic. If you need to address several topics, you are better off sending an additional e-mail for each additional subject. *The title of each e-mail should be concise, and specifically state the subject.
Limit To, CC, and BCC recipients. Do not copy everyone in the office just to “keep them in the loop”. Address only the employees involved in the conversation, and include others only when necessary.
Spell check. It is very important to check for spelling errors before sending an e-mail – especially if the e-mail is being sent from your phone. Responses sent from PDA’s or smart phones do not allow you the excuse for poor spelling and grammar.
Do not forward chain letters. Keep chain letters outside of the workplace; your boss and co-workers are not likely to enjoy these inbox-cloggers. If you receive scam e-mails, report them to your company’s IT department so the sender can be blocked.
Despite the take-over of e-mail, two other forms of written communications have persisted: Reports and Forms. Most companies, both large and small, require their employees to use at least one of these methods of written communication.
For example, in the service industry, forms are often used to record information such as patient data, customer service records, and even basic operating information relating to daily tasks. If these forms are not completed, or are written poorly, important information is likely to be entered incorrectly into computer systems, which can cause customers to not receive service in a timely manner, or patients who may not receive the care that they require.
Clear, concise technical writing will always be an asset. The smaller the company, the more likely you are to receive tasks that involve writing or record keeping. Often, these tasks are assigned to newer employees, which allow them to display their skills and an interest in growing with the company.
Verbal communication is the most popular choice for relaying important information. Exceptional interpersonal skills (interactions between individuals) are highly sought after by many employers. The ability to communicate your thoughts and opinions clearly displays critical thinking, adaptation, and problem solving skills.
The ability to accurately communicate policies, services, and answer customer questions is highly valuable, and often rewarded. It is not uncommon that employers will test their employees on their oral communication skills, especially in a workplace focused on customer service. Other tests may be based on the ability to follow direction, solicit feedback, or how people learn. Successful employees are able to remain “cool under fire”, adapt to stressful situations and a fast pace, and learn new technology quickly. Many of these tests allow employers to observe if their team works well together, and communicates well with one another. A breakdown in oral communication can lead to an overall loss of productivity from the group.
Often included in oral communication skills is the ability to display proper phone etiquette. When speaking to customers, use common courtesy, and use phrases such as “Please” and “Thank You”. A good practice for telephone conversations is to smile; the person on the other end of the line cannot see you, but your positive attitude is reflected in your tone. Remember, the same way that you can tell your friend is having a bad day by the way they speak to you, customers and co-workers can tell if you are disinterested in what they have to say.
Non-verbal messages are communicated not only through body language, but also with the way that we present ourselves. See the list below for some tips on how to make sure you convey your meaning through non-verbal cues:
Personal Space: The distance you stand from another person conveys your comfort level, as well as respect for that person. Be sure to observe and adjust your distance from the person with whom you are speaking, to make sure that you both have a comfortable conversation.
Posture: Slouching and crossed arms indicate a lack of interest in a conversation. The way you stand indicates your attention level. When speaking to others, face the person, stand up straight, and do not cross your arms.
Facial Expressions: Every smile, yawn, and frown conveys a message to the recipient. Receivers rely on expressions, because they are a better indication of the meaning behind the message being spoken.
Eye Contact: Maintain eye contact during a discussion. Changes in eye contact indicate important signals that include clues for when to speak, when a conversation is complete, and attention level. Direct stares indicate openness and trust, where downward glances are indications of modesty.
Physical Contact: Acceptable contact in the workplace is usually limited to a handshake. Personal contact such as touching, hugging, pushing, and even patting on the back, reflect a level of intimacy that is generally unacceptable for the office.
There is a noticeable difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the use of our ears to recognize words being spoken. Listening is paying attention by hearing, attention, thinking, and reasoning, all of which help us interpret the intended message.
Many times when we are involved in a conversation, we become distracted by other sounds, sights, and even people around us, which prevent us from really listening. This is also known as passive listening. In order to communicate well and show your respect for others, you need to learn to become an active listener – someone who is engaged in the message a speaker is sending. Paying attention to full words, expressions, and moods help you to perceive the intended message with ease. One way that you can encourage yourself to use active listening, is to paraphrase what the speaker has said during your conversation. This way both you and the speaker can ensure that the correct message is being relayed.
In most work environments, management encourages a safe and open environment for honest communication. This environment promotes listening to what others have to say about their experiences or difficulties, and sometimes responses, advice, and consolation are not needed. Many times, people just want to be heard, and the quiet attentiveness of a listener often helps to avoid miscommunication, conflict and hurt feelings.
Improving your communication skills is not a quick or easy process, so do not become discouraged if you find yourself forgetting to use active listening, slouching, or losing eye contact during conversations. Excellent communication skills are practiced and developed over time. The good news? You can improve your skills faster by working on them every day. You have the opportunity to practice communication any time, whether at work or at home, with friends or with family. Reflecting on your conversations at the end of every day, and reviewing their effectiveness will help you to continue to learn and grow faster. You will know your skills are working when your conversations with others become more meaningful, and you are able to reflect on the day with the knowledge that every conversation was more effective and portrayed your messages the way you intended.