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Communication, communication, communication. We all know it’s important, but communication skills can be challenging to develop and implement at work. The rise of remote and hybrid work hasn’t made it any easier, either.
Yet, effective communication at work can be transformative for individuals, teams, and businesses. We’re here to show you why communication is important in the workplace and how to start building your and your team’s communication skills today.
Why is effective communication important in the workplace?
Communication in the workplace is important because it boosts employee morale, engagement, productivity, and satisfaction. Communication is also key for better team collaboration and cooperation. Ultimately, effective workplace communication helps drive better results for individuals, teams, and organizations.
To take it a step further, specifically as a manager, building good communication skills has profound short- and long-term benefits for your organization. An effective communicator is able to motivate their team to get more done with better results and fewer misunderstandings. And who doesn’t want fewer misunderstandings?
All of these things can contribute to the company’s success — and to your own personal success as a leader.
7 common types of communication in the workplace
Not all work communication is made equal. We’ve all had the experience of sitting through a boring, lengthy meeting with the thought, “This should have been an email.”
Different communication channels are ideal for different types of communication. Depending on the type of information being conveyed, those different channels can enhance — or detract — from how it is received. An effective communicator will develop different skills and tools to match the type of communication needed.
1. Leadership communication
Leaders often deliver one-way communications to their teams. The goal may be to inform or update, such as a memo about a new company policy or a change in direction. Leaders also often communicate to persuade, encourage, and inspire commitment. They often communicate through stories more than data.
2. Upward communication
Managers (and team members) often have to communicate with their own managers and with other leaders who are not in their direct chain of command. These may take the form of memos/emails, reports, or a slot in a standing meeting. Regardless of the format, these types of communications should be considered more formal.
Since they’re brief by nature, updates often fall short of being a type of strong communication. Use a visual tracker or dashboard to carry the load, and save your verbal or written commentary for drawing the audience’s attention to what is most important — typically, what requires action or further involvement from them. This might include surprises, obstacles, and potential risks, as well as wins.
These formal communication events tend to receive the lion’s share of attention, for good reason. Presentations are communication tools that are typically aimed at a larger audience with higher stakes. They have objectives like informing, influencing, and persuading. In addition, many people fear public speaking, and thanks to TED and other series, we have a high expectation for entertainment as well as insight.
Meetings, whether large or small, are a critical part of a workplace’s internal communication strategy. They’re also one of the least understood and most overused types of communication. Effective meetings build synergy between teams and quickly communicate information that would have a high potential to be misunderstood in another format (like email). The best meetings are highly collaborative and leave participants feeling energized, not drained.
6. Customer communications
Communicating with customers can run the entire gamut discussed above, from one-offs to face-to-face, virtual, spoken, or written, formal to ad hoc. In general, all of the considerations of communication among employees go double for customers. Be deliberate and plan your messages to provide what your customer needs, in the way they prefer, and create a positive impression for the company and the product.
7. Informal interactions
Informal communications include the emails and chats you engage in all day: making requests, asking for information, responding to requests, and giving or receiving support and guidance. In addition to moving the work of the organization forward, these informal communications have secondary objectives of forming social connections, building culture, establishing trust, and finding common ground.
When employees are directly involved in work products and initiatives, it helps to foster a sense of ownership in the company’s future. It also makes them want to work to improve things like the company’s profitability, customer satisfaction, and brand.
Let’s take a look at some ways that building your communication skills cascades down through your organization — and directly impacts its bottom line.
8 reasons to work on your communication skills
1. Better engagement
Better communication results in greater employee engagement, which is a key metric for employee productivity and potential retention. It reinforces that your people are key contributors and people who the company values for their unique skills and experience. In other words, their contribution — and input — truly make a difference.
2. Increased morale
Team members with low job satisfaction take more time off of work, are less productive when in-office, and often negatively impact the productivity of other employees when they are present. However, when an employee has an understanding of the work that they have to do and how it connects to the overall success of the team, they bring more energy and pride to their work.
3. Improved productivity
Better communication techniques help employees to better comprehend their roles, which in turn helps employees perform their assigned duties better. Resources and time can be saved through these techniques, therefore getting more work done and reducing stress.
4. Reduced churn
From customer support representatives to senior technical staff, experience equals value to customers and to the company. And no organization wants to waste the huge costs of recruiting and training good employees by having them leave quickly. As a key factor in employee satisfaction and engagement, communication adds value to the organization by reducing the turnover of skilled and seasoned staff members.
5. Greater loyalty
Longer-term, keeping employees for many years can add strength to the company and impact the bottom line. Many jobs require years of experience before an employee has sufficient expertise to drive innovation, solve critical problems, and lead others. How an employee feels toward the company — based on how they feel they are treated and valued as individuals — impacts how loyal they will be.
6. Better collaboration
Most companies today use technologies that don’t require team members to be in the same room, the same building, or even the same country. This shift presents new communication challenges, which means managers can facilitate collaboration by helping groups communicate effectively when using the latest technologies.
7. Fewer workplace conflicts
Many conflicts originate with miscommunication. Poor communication can create negative relationships or even toxic or hostile work environments. Building clear communication can improve company culture and prevent misunderstandings between managers and employees. This includes honing and refining communication styles that focus on listening to others, having empathy, and considering individual differences.
8. Greater motivation
Psychologists have found that unless people understand the “why” of a concept, they will be less likely to understand or remember it. The same goes for many aspects of people’s work lives. As a manager, one key communication skill is hearing the “why” and following up with a “because.” This approach will help you motivate employees.
8 ways to develop communication skills at work
Now that you understand the importance of good communication at work, you need to know how to develop those skills. Remember: effective communication is about active listening — while it may seem counter-intuitive, a “listener-first” approach will often help you structure the delivery of your message.
Here are 8 more tips for developing your communication skills.
1. Think it through
There are many communications frameworks, but if you want to improve your communication skills, start by getting in the habit of thinking through these 5 questions for any communication you create:
- Why are you communicating?
- Who is the receiver, audience, or participant?
- What is your goal or objective?
- What do you want the recipient to do as a result of the communication?
- What format will best accomplish your goal?
If you struggle to answer these five questions, you should spend some additional time thinking about how and why you’re communicating. Then, test your understanding with co-workers or your manager.
2. Give it time
Plan what you want to say and review your communication to make sure it’s actually doing the job you need it to. For written communications, especially, this means: revise, revise, revise. Remember, great communication might seem effortless, but it rarely is.
3. Make it easy
Workplace communication almost always has a larger goal. People are busy. Don’t make them work too hard to understand what you are saying and what you need them to do. State your objective and main point from the beginning of a presentation or written communication so that your audience knows where you’re going. Then fill in the details.
While you don’t want to condescend or “dumb it down,” in everyday work communications, be mindful of not making the other party work too hard to understand. Find a clear, simple phrasing to encapsulate your point. Repeat it at the beginning, middle, and end, and consider using a simple visual or metaphor to make your point clear and memorable.
5. Experiment and diversify
Work on developing different tactics for different communication needs. Focus on experimenting with one aspect of your communication at a time. For example, spend a week paying extra attention to how you structure informal communications. Then spend a week trying different structures for formal meetings or updates.
6. Practice and reflect
Be deliberate about reflecting on what goes well and what doesn’t in your day-to-day communications. Maybe an email to your manager didn’t go well. Can you see how it might have been misinterpreted? What would you do differently next time? Similarly, if a conversation with a co-worker didn’t yield the expected results, try to identify whether you clearly communicated what you needed.
7. Consider the full package
Consider recording yourself through a few interactions to gain insight into what your full package is communicating in your daily interactions with your team. Do you make eye contact? Is your facial expression relaxed and confident, or tense? How’s your body language? Do you leave time for questions and clarification?
8. Seek feedback
Ask a few trusted co-workers and your manager to rate your communication skills. Start by asking them to rate (i.e., on a scale of 1-10) your written and spoken communication separately. Then ask these 3 questions:
- What one thing should I start doing to communicate better with you?
- What one thing should I stop doing in my communications with you?
- What one area or skill should I work on to improve how I communicate in this organization?
How to improve communication when working remotely
Communicating well is even more important for leaders and managers during remote work. Doing it well can help build trust and connection with your team and avoid some of the frustrations that come from miscommunication.
Here are a few areas to consider to improve remote communication:
1. Clarify expectations
State expectations upfront and repeat them at the end of a communication. Even better, ask the other person to restate their understanding of your expectations.
2. Engage in 2-way flow
Being remote can make it easier for employees to check out and disengage. Be deliberate and creative about giving others a role in communication. Ask questions, use polling and ranking tools, and solicit responses in the form of emojis, gifs, or one-word descriptors.
3. Remember the power of in-person
A lot can be misinterpreted in the flat space of text without additional cues like tone of voice and facial expression. Don’t default to communicating solely through text or chat. A well-crafted team Zoom call or in-person meeting can establish a better connection and shared understanding, giving others a chance to surface areas of misalignment.
4. Focus on quality
People may feel protective of their time when working remotely, so make sure that live events are well-thought-out. Send agendas, meeting objectives, or background reading ahead of time to help people prepare to have productive conversations.
5. Create an informal space
Assuming good intentions and a sharing culture are both foundational for effective day-to-day communication at work. That said, they’re hard to build and maintain without opportunities for casual interaction like happy hours or non-work Slack channels.
6. Show you care
You don’t have to spend a lot of time checking in with people and asking about their personal lives. But, now more than ever, it’s worth reminding yourself that the recipients of your communications are real people who have their own challenges, distractions, hopes, and fears. Before getting on a video call or firing off an email, try picturing that person on the other end.
Start communicating better today
Every year communication tops the list of skills in demand by employers. There's a reason. Communication is what makes our professional and personal relationships go smoothly. It's how we show care, catalyze change, and get things done.
That's reason enough to improve — and keep improving — these important skills. Luckily, we can all learn to communicate better.
BetterUp Staff Writer