Communicating in Today’s Workplace
Communicating in Today’s Workplace
Communicating in Today’s Workplace
“the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw
Communication is essential to every organization for it to function effectively. And as Shaw observes, effective communication can be challenging, particularly in today’s workplace. Communication is required to increase efficiency, satisfy customers, improve quality, and create innovative products and services. Communication links everyone together and facilitates organizational success.
Effective communication is so important for organizational success that not only managers but employees as well must be effective communicators. One task of a manager is to help employees improve their communication skills. When all members of a team, department, or organization are able to communicate effectively with each other and with people outside their group, they are all more likely to perform well.
Merriam-Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior” (Merriam-Webster, 2011). Communication then in the workplace involves the exchange of information between individuals or groups to reach a common understanding. A critical aspect of this exchange is that the information or ideas that are shared must be understood (BOMI, 2011).
All too often, good communication is incorrectly defined by the communicator as agreement rather than clarity of understanding. It is helpful to note that communication can occur, and that all parties understand the same information, without there being agreement between them (BOMI, 2011).
To communicate effectively, it helps to have a basic understanding of the communication process. The process consists of two phases, transmission and feedback. In the transmission phase, information is sent from one individual or group, the sender, to another individual or group, the receiver. The process begins when the sender translates the information that he wants sent, the message, into symbols or language. In the feedback phase, the receiver acknowledges receipt of the message, which acknowledgment can contain confirmation that the original message was received and understood, or a restatement of the original message to make sure that it was correctly interpreted, or a request for more information (BOMI, 2011).
As communication takes place, it is impacted by perception, which is the process through which people select, organize, and interpret sensory input to give meaning and order to the world around them. Perception is inherently subjective and is influenced by people’s personalities, values, attitudes, moods, experience, and knowledge. When senders and receivers communicate with each other, they do so based on their own subjective perceptions. Perception plays a key role in communication, affecting both transmission and feedback (BOMI, 2011).
Communication using words may be written or spoken, which is verbal communication, or it may be nonverbal, which includes all messages that are encoded without using written or spoken language. Nonverbal communication shares information through facial expressions, body language, and even through style of dress. Physical elements such as buildings, office furniture, and space also convey messages. Office arrangements can convey messages of status, power, and prestige (BOMI, 2011).
One should pay close attention to nonverbal behaviors when communicating. It is important to coordinate verbal messages with nonverbal behavior and to be sensitive to what employees, managers, and peers are saying nonverbally. It is all too easy to underestimate the powerful impact that nonverbal communication has on the perceptions of others; nonverbal messages can undermine or contradict verbal or written messages. A message derives its meaning only in a context, and cues or signals are easy to misinterpret (BOMI, 2011).
There are some communications which should only be done face-to-face, as opposed to by telephone or in writing. Face-to-face communication provides immediate feedback and is the richest medium for communicating because of the many information channels it provides by way of voice, eye contact, posture, and body language. On the other hand, telephone or spoken communications that are electronically transmitted provide only the cue of voice inflection, minus the visual cues available from face-to-face interaction. The telephone is the appropriate medium for quick exchanges of information and for monitoring progress, but not for personal matters like discipline. Written communication conveys only the cues written on paper, and is slow to provide feedback (BOMI, 2011).
Exciting advances in information technology have dramatically increased the speed of communication. One can now communicate more easily with the rest of the organization, and access information more quickly to make decisions. One should be familiar with the latest advances in technology to remain competitive, but no technology should be implemented without carefully considering how it might improve communication and performance in a particular group, team, department, or organization (BOMI, 2011).
The benefits of effective communication in the workplace happen for both individuals and the organization. In most cases, the individual experiences less tangible, soft benefits, such as
A happier, less-frustrating workplace experience
Freedom to focus on other more productive activities
An increase in satisfaction from workplace activities and workplace relationships
Increased productivity leading to an increase in pay, promotion, and prestige
For the organization, the benefits are often more tangible and measurable:
Successful task completion
Greater customer loyalty and retention, leading to increased revenues
Freedom to focus on other business functions
Conversely, ineffective workplace communication has a number of negative consequences for both the individual and the organization, including frustration, and higher employee turnover (“Effective Communication,” 2011).
Organizations and their stakeholders must often work together to ensure effective communication in the workplace. The organization’s role in effective communication includes the following functions:
Developing, testing and implementing effective communication channels such as processes for complaints, criticisms, and grievances; open door policies between managers and subordinates; standardized templates to ensure effective communication between the business and external stakeholders
Making sure that passive checks and balances are in place to ensure stakeholders are communicating in an adequate manner
Conducting employee surveys or studies to evaluate the effectiveness of workplace communication within the organization
The individual employee’s role in effective communication includes the following:
Buying-in to the organizational communication philosophy and culture
Demonstrating active listening when interacting with colleagues and external associates
Respecting the opinion and point-of-view of others (“Effective Communication,” 2011)
As with any other relationship, communication is important to the success of business relationships. A business relationship can be one between business and customer, or the internal relationships among different employees within the company. Communication can almost always be improved, no matter the company or its size (“Poor Communication,” 2011).
Many circumstances contribute to poor workplace communication, and awareness of these issues is the first step toward discovering and resolving them. In what seems to be coincidence, employers are frequently the last to find out that there is indeed poor communication within their companies, which ironically is a direct result of poor communication. It just makes sense that when information is not properly flowing down within a business, it would also not be flowing up well either (“Poor Communication,” 2011).
Ineffective communication skills in an organization can dramatically impact the company’s bottom line. According to research by Watson Wyatt, Gallup Consulting and Towers Perrin, these costs can include:
Increased employee turnover
Dissatisfied customers resulting from poor customer service
Higher product defect rates
Lack of focus on business objectives
Stifled innovation (Craemer, 2010)
One of the most aggravating elements of poor communication in today’s workplace is a lack of information for employees to properly accomplish necessary tasks within a business. Notwithstanding the fact that ours is an information overload society, employees frequently lack the information they require to do their jobs. Frequently it is information that supervisors and co-workers have, but which has not been properly shared, that remains unshared (“Poor Communication,” 2011).
There are many techniques that business coaches recommend to create effective workplace communication. One means is to set up ongoing formal communication programs.
One such program to put in place is setting up regular, one-to-one coaching, mentoring, or feedback meetings. All employees should receive some form of regular, one-to-one communication with their manager, whether it occurs through a formal meeting or an informal chat in the break room. Employees should be given time to prepare, both out of courtesy and also to encourage a two-way discussion (In-Tuition, 2011).
There should also be regular department or team meetings. Discuss progress since the last meeting, what lies ahead, and also use the opportunity to give positive feedback and improve morale. Another type of meeting is the team briefing, which is used to pass information from the top of the business down to all employees. Team meetings also allow employees to send feedback to the top management (In-Tuition, 2011).
Focus groups are yet another vehicle for workplace communication. Invite interested employees to attend a focus group on a business issue, e.g. workplace energy conservation. This type of meeting allows a manager or supervisor to get useful information from employees who may not otherwise be involved (In-Tuition, 2011).
If the department budget allows, take the management group offsite for a day and an evening. Provide training, a business update and an opportunity to build relationships in a social setting. This type of gathering is ideal for breaking down barriers between departments and building better communication in the workplace (In-Tuition, 2011).
A company can establish Open House days, a novel way for employees to see what goes on in other parts of the business, as well as giving them the chance to invite family and friends. Another possibility is creating a newsletter and inviting contributions from employees about non-work issues, encouraging employees to get to know each other on a personal level. Another means of passing on business news is to send a voicemail to employees, a useful verbal communication method which can be used on both desk phones and wireless devices (In-Tuition, 2011).
Technology can help promote successful communication. Text messaging can be useful particularly if employees are not desk bound or if the company operates a number of shifts. Consider setting up a company website, an intranet, which keeps employees up-to-date. There may also be a use for technologies like Twitter and Facebook. Whichever communication channels one uses, they should be audited on a regular basis to maintain effective workplace communication (In-Tuition, 2011).
Technology can assist in improving communication in the workplace. The tools which are the most successful are those that offer face-to-face communication allowing individuals to actually be seen (that is, video-conferencing and video-messaging). These tools make certain that non-verbal cues and facial expressions can be read along with the audio or text. Examples of these tools include:
Skype — Offers video and voice calls as well as text and instant messaging.
Instant messengers — There are several to choose from, such as Google chat, MSN Messenger etc. which allow you to have a synchronous conversation with team colleagues, as long as they are online at the same time.
MS Live Meeting — Commercial tool for holding group meetings in several locations.
Lotus Sametime — Facilitates a collaborative workspace environment for users across multiple teams; useful for 24/7 support teams in multiple time zones.
Cultural differences can also cause communication issues across multicultural teams whether they are located in one location or from several locations. Successful workplace communication becomes even more critical in these circumstances and you need to consider carefully how culture could affect communications and team processes. Discuss possible cultural differences with team members, or subgroups of teams and establish how these differences may affect performance and interactions among the team. Also discuss how these difference may potentially affect team norms, the exchange of information, decision-making and communications. Factor these differences into any team processes that may be affected, such as time zones, holidays, availability of technology, decision-making process, work-hours etc. (Product-ivity, 2011).
Any discussion of workplace communication should include a review of barriers to effective communication. Sometimes barriers are very literal. Walls, doors and dividers do their jobs, which is to divide. And, while people do need physical barriers to allow for quiet time, private conversations and to bring structure to a workspace, barriers can be a subtle hindrance to communication. Consequently, organizations that are interested in exceptional communication should consider how they configure employees’ space (Feigenbaum, 2011).
Another type of barrier to successful communication can involve language. The American workplace has become very diverse, with immigrants now making up a significant part of society. In many cases the working environment includes people whose first language is not English. Also, American businesses also work closely with offices, satellite locations and vendors in other countries (Feigenbaum, 2011).
Cultural barriers that go beyond language also exist. People who speak English perfectly may have different attitudes and approaches that come from their places of origin or the way they were raised. Or, someone born and raised in America may nonetheless have cultural differences from others because of his or her ethnicity. How people think, react, and see the world can vary widely because of culture (Feigenbaum, 2011).
Emotional barriers can also impede effective communication. Some people are just shy, while others are conflict avoidant. Because of people’s childhoods, self-confidence, self-esteem issues and just their natural dispositions, they may not be strong communicators. Occasionally the barrier may be that people are good listeners and can express an idea, but they don’t care to. In these cases, managers must use a softer touch and create a safe environment to help employees to get past emotional barriers and become more active communicators (Feigenbaum, 2011).
Personalities sometime present barriers to effective workplace communication. People come with all kinds of angles, quirks, attitudes, agendas and world views. Their differences contribute to how they all bring something different to the table, but those differences can also be a barrier to getting on the same page. There are an infinite number of personality differences, but some particularly problematic personality traits can include being easily distracted, having trouble expressing ideas in clear concise sentences, being a poor listener, avoiding eye contact, playing power games, and intentional distancing. Many cases of stalled communication happen between people who have no particular communication deficiencies, but whose personalities and outlooks put them at odds with others (Feigenbaum, 2011).
No discussion of workplace communication would be complete without discussing the need for good listening skills. Listening skills allow one to make sense of and understand what another person is saying. Good listening skills make employees more productive by allowing one to better understand assignments and what is expected, and by building rapport with co-workers, bosses, and clients. Good listening skills also help one to show support, work better in a team-based environment, and resolve problems with customers, co-workers and bosses. Being good at listening helps one to answer questions and find underlying meanings in what others say (McKay, 2011).
The ability to listen well is a skill that one can cultivate. To that end, doing these things will demonstrate to the speaker that one is paying attention: maintaining eye contact, not interrupting, sitting still and nodding one’s head as appropriate. Also, nodding the head and leaning toward the speaker shows interest. A good listener knows that being attentive to what the speaker doesn’t say is as important as being attentive to what he does say, so look for non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and posture to get the full gist of what the speaker is saying. Beware of things that may get in the way of listening, such as bias or prejudice, language differences or accents, noise, worry, fear or anger, and inattention (McKay, 2011).
Effective workplace communication also requires adjusting to different communication styles. There are many labels for communication styles, but all of them are based on the same two elements, according to organizational development consultant, David Jensen. He says that the two elements used to determine an individual’s communication style are the person’s level of openness and the person’s level of directness (Lorenz, 2005).
Jensen says that open individuals express their emotions freely, they like to chat before getting down to business and like to get to know others in the department. If one is interviewing with an open communicator, ask that person how long he or she has been with the company, what was his or her first job and so forth. Reserved individuals, on the other hand, do not share personal information about themselves. If you are an open communicator, you need to recognize that these individuals do not want to share details about their personal lives or how they feel about things. Asking a reserved individual personal questions will only result in making that person feel uncomfortable (Lorenz, 2005).
If you are interviewing with an indirect person, Jensen says you can make slight changes in the way you speak to make the other person more comfortable. One of the best things you can do is to match the speed of your speech to the other person’s speech. Indirect communicators speak slowly and deliberately. So, if you enter the office speaking loudly, talking fast or being overly aggressive, you will turn an indirect communicator off. Another trait of indirect communicators is that these individuals value facts and figures; make sure you have numbers to back up your claims (Lorenz, 2005).
Individuals who are direct speak more loudly, more quickly and are more animated than indirect communicators. They tend to be risk takers, assertive, and are often referred to as Type A personalities. If you see that your interviewer is a direct communicator, make sure to get to your main points right away. Be confident in your answers, give solid examples of your accomplishments, and be lively when you are speaking. These individuals relate to high-energy people who seem to be full of life (Lorenz, 2005).
The most important thing for all communicators is the ability to adapt. Jensen points out that the “Golden Rule” that most of us know is really different when it comes to communicating: instead of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, the golden rule of communicating is to communicate with others the way they wish you to (Lorenz, 2005).
BOMI International. (2011). Effective communication in the workplace. FMLink. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://www.fmlink.com/article.cgi?type=How%20To&title=Effective%20Communication%20in%20the%20Workplace&pub=BOMI%20International&id=31179&mode=source
Craemer, M. (2010). 5 tips for workplace communication. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://blog.seattlepi.com/workplacewrangler/2010/06/09/5-tips-for-workplace-communication/
Effective Communication in the Workplace. (2011). Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://www.effective-communication-skills.net/effective-communication-in-the-workplace/
Feigenbaum, E. (2011). About barriers to effective communication within the workplace. The Houston Chronicle Small Business. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/barriers-effective-communication-within-workplace-3185.html
In-Tuition. (2011). Need to create effective workplace communication? In-Tuition. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://www.practical-management-skills.com/effective-workplace-communication.html
Lorenz, K. (2005). Communication styles on the job. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://fpd.gsfc.nasa.gov/diversity/Communication_Styles.pdf
McKay, D.R. (2011). Now pay attention. About.com. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://careerplanning.about.com/cs/miscskills/a/listening_skill.htm
Merriam-Webster Incorporated. (2011). Communication. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/communication?show=0&t=1312402895
Poor communication leads to inadequate workplaces. (2011). Anonymous Employee. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://www.anonymousemployee.com/csssite/sidelinks/poor_communication.php
Product-ivity. (2011). Effective communication in the workplace. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from: http://product-ivity.com/communication-in-the-workplace/
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