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Workplace communication: It’s more than just talking

Everybody knows the importance of effective communication in the workplace. Achieving it, though, can be tricky. Some people speak without listening. Others find themselves too distracted to understand what someone else is trying to say. Written communication often gets bogged down in jargon and misinterpreted. And those are just some of the problems that can inhibit genuine communication. 

But by passing along a few tips, human resources can help supervisors become better communicators and, in the process, improve the flow of information, enhance teamwork, ensure accountability, and make sure everyone understands a consistent message.

Solid communication also leads to fewer mistakes, improved productivity, a safer workplace, and better customer satisfaction, according to Karen Kernan, an author, trainer, and communications consultant who recently conducted the Business & Legal Resources webinar “Effective Workplace Communication Training: What Your Supervisors and Employees Need to Know.”

Kernan says effective workplace communication should be interactive, informative, positive, and productive. “It flows both ways. You speak, but you also listen,” she says. “It is informative. It tells you and others what you need to know.”

Effective communicators also need to stay positive because communicating is more than just conveying a message. “It focuses on the exchange of ideas and information to improve relationships and improve interactions on the job,” Kernan says. “And finally, effective workplace communication is productive. It allows you to interact successfully with your employees, your colleagues, and with other management.”

Unfortunately, the workplace can present obstacles to communication, such as when the message gets passed from person to person and gets distorted along the way or when workers receive so many messages that they can’t absorb them all at once. Lack of clarity can be another blow to effective communication since the message people hear may not be what the communicator intended.

Overcoming obstacles
Kernan says HR professionals can help supervisors and managers by passing along the following tips on how to focus a message.

  • Think about it. Before speaking or writing, think about what message needs to get through.
  • Organize. Putting thoughts into a logical sequence will enhance communication.
  • Consider expectations. Communicators should think about the expected results. For example, if someone is expected to take action, the communicator should make sure to say so.
  • Keep it simple. “One message at a time simply and directly stated is much more likely to be heard and understood.”
  • Be precise. “To get your message across, be as precise as possible. Use concrete language and examples to help explain what you mean so you leave no room for interpretation.”
  • Be concise. “Say only what needs to be said to get your point across.”
  • Demonstrate. When appropriate, use a diagram, chart, or graph to emphasize points.
  • Repeat the message. “Messages often need to be repeated on several occasions before they actually get through.”

Criticizing and delivering bad news
Most people dread criticizing workers or delivering bad news, but those tasks come with the job. “When you must provide this kind of feedback, you can still do so in a positive, objective way,” Kernan said. Here are her suggestions for providing needed criticism.

  • Do it in private. Never embarrass while criticizing.
  • Begin with a positive statement. “Find something about the employee’s performance that you can praise.”
  • Criticize the work, not the worker.
  • Explain what needs to change and how. Identify the problem and explain how the performance can be improved.
  • Be clear.
  • End on a positive note.

Communicating bad news can be a challenge, but with the right approach, the message is likely to be accepted even if it’s not welcomed, Kernan says. She offers these tips.

  • Be straightforward. Don’t hedge or try to hide the unpleasant truth.
  • Act promptly. “Delay will only make the task more difficult.”
  • Take a personal approach. Communicators should deliver bad news face to face so they can hear the other person’s concern and deal with questions.
  • Give a reason. “The more information you have, the more easily they will be able to accept the situation.”
  • Put the news in perspective. “In truth, bad news isn’t usually all bad. In most cases, there’s an upside as well.”

Overcoming resistance
Kernan offers the following ideas to overcoming resistance to the message being communicated.

  • Anticipate resistance. The most effective communicators anticipate resistance as they are organizing their thoughts and putting together their message.
  • Respect different views. Even in the face of strong disagreement, showing respect for someone else’s point of view opens the doors for a meaningful dialogue.
  • Incorporate opposing arguments. That lets the audience know they’ve been heard and it diminishes the negative impact of their resistance.
  • Criticize ideas, not people.
  • Restate your position.