How to communicate effectively at work

Communication is a fundamental part of being human, we all do it all the time, consciously and unconsciously. We are constantly transmitting signals, some verbal some unconscious but we’re always letting other people know our moods, our feelings, our thoughts and showing our reactions to the things or events around us.

The people who know how best to use these channels are the ones who get ahead. It doesn’t matter what job you’re doing right now, from the CEO down to the office junior we can all learn how to communicate better and achieve our career goals.

Here are a few key points to remember:

Pay attention

Listening is a hugely undervalued skill. So often, because we are waiting to jump in with a question or a comment of our own, we are not fully engaged with what is being said. Make a habit of asking a couple of questions at the end of the conversation or simply sum up what’s been said to ensure you have understood correctly. This will make you concentrate more intently and will greatly reduce the chance of misunderstandings.

If you are communicating by email read the entire email before responding. It can be very frustrating for others to get a request for information which has already been shared. Slow down, read carefully and ask for clarification where it is needed.

Notice body language

If you are having a conversation, don’t just concentrate on the words. Body language can often tell you just as much, if not more. When someone is telling you everything is OK whilst looking edgy and nervous, the words and body language don’t match. Early warning signs that there may be problems or complications are invaluable in work situations.

Always look people in the eye. It conveys confidence, honesty and respect.

Manage your tone

Most people are aware of their tone in verbal communication and are able to control or modify it in person or on the phone but many struggle in email. Without the additional context of a spoken conversation, something intended to be funny can come across as angry or sarcastic. Make sure your tone is unambiguous and if you are angry, either wait until you have calmed down before responding or arrange to speak to the person involved. Difficult situations and misunderstandings are often tricky to resolve by email.

Have one conversation at a time

This is a golden rule, however you are communicating. Multitasking has its place but not when you are sharing information with someone. Trying to do several things at once will make any conversation take longer. Whether on the phone, in person or on email, without your undivided attention you are likely to miss key details and subtleties which could affect any decision or action you have to take. It is also a matter of respect to stop what you are doing and give an individual the attention they deserve.

Consider other people’s communication preferences

If a colleague or client doesn’t pick up the phone but responds quickly to emails, then don’t hassle them with pointless calls. Similarly if your boss never replies to written communication but is always happy to chat, go and see them in person. Sometimes your method of communication will be dictated by the situation but outside of these times, go with what the person you want to connect with prefers.

Always sign off

When we talk, it is usually clear when the conversation is finished and everyone can happily walk away. When it comes to email, though, things are much less obvious. Always acknowledge emails with a quick response if you are not able to give a full reply immediately so that the sender knows you have received it and understood. A simple “Understood” or “No problem” will suffice to avoid the electronic equivalent of walking off while the other person is talking.

Keep it constructive

When offering feedback, keep it constructive. If you think something could be done differently, present it as a positive suggestion. This obviously applies if you manage people but is good practice for everyone.

Get (a little) personal

While it is important to be aware of boundaries at work and keep a professional persona, it is also good to talk to people about elements of their lives outside the office. Whether it’s about their children or the latest movie they have seen, find ways of connecting on a personal level but always keep an eye on whether the other person wants to reciprocate. People build much stronger levels of trust with people they share personal information with.

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