How to Improve Communication in the Workplace

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In Brief...

Use the following feedback and communication tools to improve your interactions with colleagues in the workplace.

Instructions

Patience

Good communicators will take time to understand other people's perspectives and hear people when they are speaking. A good communicator knows communication done right the first time saves a lot of time in the long run, even if it takes more time initially.

People with little patience will:

  1. Be more concerned with their own words and ideas than the other person's.
  2. Stifle two-way communication.

Listening

The value of listening cannot be underestimated. When we listen, we put ourselves into the receiver's position, rather than the sender's. We allow the speaker to state what is on his or her mind, and we take responsibility for giving feedback.

Active listening is the process of listening and responding with paraphrases and questions that ensure that the message from the speaker is being received.

Some active listening traits include:

  1. Observing body language.
  2. Observing feelings.
  3. Listening for intent.
  4. Paraphrasing.
  5. Presenting an attitude of cooperation and collaboration.

Avoiding Assumptions

Assumptions are very dangerous. An assumption is something taken for granted and has the end effect of one person trying to read the mind of another person.

A sender should be cautious about assuming the receiver understood the message as intended. The receiver should seek clarification if there is any doubt about what was received.

Phrasing and Rephrasing

A communicator who confuses sentence structure when speaking confuses the listener. Every language has its own structure, and people are conditioned to follow that structure when they are listening.

Good communicators will:

  1. Begin with an introduction.
  2. Include background information as necessary.
  3. Progress through the body of the message, either chronologically or procedurally.
  4. End their statement with a conclusion or request.

For example, a good communicator might construct his or her communication with a coworker as follows:

  1. Jerry, I'd like to talk to you about the Baker project. (Introduction)
  2. We are having issues with the outcomes, so we looked into the specs and found some incongruities. (Background information)
  3. We would like to meet with your team to work out the kinks and put a plan in place to close the gaps to prevent future issues. (Body)
  4. Can you give me a day and time when we can set a meeting to address this issue? (Request)

If we are not sure the other person received our statement correctly, we should ask the person to paraphrase it.

We have all heard parents ask their children, "What did I just say?" When we hear this, we know the parent is checking to make certain the child really heard what was said.

In the same way we can ask other people to paraphrase what we say. We can ask, "I hope what I said made sense. Do you mind rephrasing what I just said so that I know that I communicated correctly?" (Notice the use of I statements and the explanation for wanting the reiteration.)

If the person did not understand the concept we intended to communicate, do not repeat the sentence verbatim. Instead, say the same thing using different words.

There might be something in the way we structured our original sentence or in the way it was received that is not working. By rephrasing the sentence, we offer the same information but in a way that can be understood.

Visual Aids

A picture is worth a thousand words. We have heard this said many times before, and it is very true. Some people are verbal learners and can form a visual image in their mind from spoken or written words. Others are visual learners who do better with a visual model.

Visual aids may include:

  1. Diagrams.
  2. Charts.
  3. Outlines.
  4. Models.
  5. Pictures.
  6. Examples.

When communicating important information, you may, if appropriate and possible, want to include a visual aid to communicate your point more effectively. If, for example, your boss is sharing how much higher sales numbers are this quarter, he or she may want to include a simple chart showing the dramatic difference. A simple graph can easily communicate the information more quickly than writing it out in sentences. Similarly, when you look at a picture, chart, diagram, or other visual aid, it may take you several sentences to describe the information in the visual aid and/or convey the same message.

Author: Sheri Schmeckpeper

Sheri Schmeckpeper holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Financial Management and Computer Information Systems as well as a Master's degree in Adult Education and Distance Learning. She is a Microsoft Certified Professional and Trainer. Sheri has implemented distance learning programs at three top institutions of higher education, has been a guest speaker on radio, and has presented at local and national training workshops. Her diverse background includes technology, education, interpersonal relations, finance, and management. Sheri has developed and facilitated courses in the areas of instructional technology and online learning, faculty development, communications, finance, and professional development and achievement. She is currently co-founder of the Institute for Instructional Excellence and directs the Center for Excellent Living where she is also a life coach.

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