Effective communication in the workplace is key if you want to establish strong relationships and get important projects done. Of course, everyone struggles with communicating effectively from time to time. But improving workplace communication can lead to stronger teams — and stronger results.
Looking at the landscape of workplace communication today, a 2021 Gallup study found that only 17% of employees strongly agree that "there is open communication throughout all levels of the organization."
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To help address the communication issues that these employee perceptions stem from, we’ve outlined easy ways you can start improving the communication skills between you and your team.
How to Improve Workplace Communication
1. Establish a rapport with employees
The more an employee trusts their employer, the more likely they are to come forward and communicate when they’re experiencing a problem. One great way to lay that foundation for open communication is to establish a rapport with your employee right away.
For example, managers can take new hires out for lunch with their new teammates. Instead of talking about the business, they can prompt everyone to share things about their lives and personal interests. Even though it may be a small gesture, it can function as a great icebreaker by helping to open up the lines of communication between everyone on the team.
2. Build trust with employees
According to The Workforce Institute at UKG, nearly two thirds (64%) of employees say trust has a direct impact on their sense of belonging at work. It almost sounds too simple, but it’s true — proving trustworthy to your employees can result in more effective business communication time and time again.
There’s plenty to say on the topic of how to improve trust, but the core of the matter is straightforward. Show a genuine interest in your employees, empathize with their roadblocks or challenges, and follow through on identifying and taking action on the ways you can help. Your employees will be much more likely to communicate issues when they know they can trust you to stay level-headed and work with them to find a solution.
3. Meet regularly with your employees
Sometimes, all it takes to open up the lines of communication with your employees is setting up time for them to speak their mind. If there isn’t already time scheduled, your employees may worry they’re burdening you — this may mean a missed opportunity to hear their most recent challenges, concerns, or even triumphs. By setting up a recurring meeting to touch base with your employees, you’ll learn more about what’s going on with your team, which makes it easier for you to iron out any kinks that arise.
For example, having a weekly one-on-one between a manager and their direct report gives the employee a chance to review how work is going overall and discuss big-picture ideas. Adding a monthly one-on-one with the director of the department to grab coffee together or go for a walk can create a more relaxed space to air concerns or share wins without the pressure of asking a superior for a meeting outright.
4. Provide enough context around assignments
While it may be clear to a manager why a certain task must be completed, the reasons may not be as apparent to your employees. It’s important to provide enough context when giving out assignments. As you set expectations with employees, it can be helpful to note details like deadlines, examples of similar assignments, and any teams that might be impacted by the final output.
Intentionally giving your employees the opportunity to ask questions is also important. They may hesitate to ask for clarity on something, so opening up the floor enables them to do so. This can also help you build that trust with your employees.
5. Really listen to employees
Many people might think the primary goal of communication is getting their own message across, but effective communication is really a two-way street. If you’re only focused on your message and not actively listening to what the other person is saying, it’s difficult to end up on the same page.
To be a more active listener, ask questions for clarification and give the conversation your full attention. Avoid multitasking and thinking about your response before the other person is done talking. Active listening can be challenging at times, but it’s worthwhile.
6. Avoid making assumptions
Did you know that some of the biggest barriers to quality communication in the workplace are missed signals and quickly formed assumptions? If you have concerns about your employee’s performance or behavior, avoid making assumptions about the cause.
Instead, provide a non-confrontational setting to dig into where the problem is stemming from. When you give your employee an opportunity to share, you may learn they’re moving and have had a hard time focusing at work, or that they’re not used to juggling six projects at once and need to de-prioritize something. When your ears are open, so are the lines of communication.
7. Learn employee strengths & weaknesses
Sometimes, it can be hard to admit that there’s more than one way to do things. But it’s worth learning what your team members are strong at and where they need a little help. Not only will this help you improve the way you communicate with them, but it will also help your team work better together.
When assessing strengths and weaknesses, there’s also the route of personality tests. After taking the tests, the results might help you and your employees understand each other better which, in turn, makes for more effective communication in the workplace.
8. Learn employee communication styles
Do you know your team’s preferred ways to communicate? Maybe some of your employees rarely use Slack, whereas others respond to emails instantly. Learning how your employees communicate , and what tools they prefer to use will only support improved communication.
9. Consistently set expectations & follow up
It can be easy to drop regular check-ins when work gets busy, but maintaining those and using them to follow up and set expectations is key to effective workplace communication. Make sure your employee knows you’re going to follow up about tasks on a regular basis, and what you expect to see in their work. Doing this can help your employees better meet your expectations, and it also goes a long way in helping them feel supported.
10. Set the tone for meetings
When it comes to meetings, it’s crucial to set the right tone for everyone involved to help ensure you’re getting the most out of the time scheduled. Set an agenda so everyone’s on the same page — what’s the purpose of your meeting? Confirm the necessary stakeholders who should be part of the discussion — who will be invited? Setting the right tone and expectations ahead of time helps everyone involved be better prepared to tackle the agenda during the meeting.
11. Give constructive feedback thoughtfully
We’ve all been there before, right? Getting aggressive, tone-deaf feedback from a manager can ruin the trust and cause the lines of communication to close. That’s why it’s so important to carefully consider the way in which you relay important feedback.
If you’re not sure where to start, focus on the behavior you’re discussing, not the person’s character. Once you’ve shared your feedback, always give the other person an opportunity to share their thoughts and contribute to building a positive feedback process moving forward.
12. Give compliments thoughtfully
Giving compliments may seem straightforward, but to communicate them thoughtfully is important. If you simply tell an employee they did a great job, that’s not as helpful as speaking to a specific skill, or task that was done. Your employee may be left thinking, “What was great about it? How can I replicate it if I don’t know?”
By being specific, you can zero in on exactly what made the employee so successful. “You did a great job explaining how leads convert into customers in that presentation. The visuals really helped the audience understand the process.”
13. Keep workflows transparent
Say your team is working on a big project together. Do they know the project’s deadline, who is responsible for what parts of the project, and when they’re expected to hand those parts off to other teams? Communicate these details clearly by organizing a clear walkthrough of the workflow by using a program like Asana, Google Sheets, or Trello. This can help ensure all your team members are on the same page and not frustrated by any miscommunications.
14. Make project roles clear from the start
Communication in the workplace can break down very quickly when people don’t understand their roles and responsibilities. This goes hand in hand with keeping workflows transparent. At the very start of each project, it’s helpful to establish the key stakeholders, who has final approval, and what channels the project needs to go through for completion.
15. Choose the right channels
The communication channel you use matters. Most people probably know to avoid asking about someone’s family emergency in front of the whole team. But how does one go about choosing the right space to discuss team decisions or announce role changes? Sometimes discussing with your team which modes of communication work best for them can help you determine which situations require what channels.
For example, teams may want to avoid making big decisions over Slack, since it can be hard to get an overall feeling for a situation, and people may not be present for the discussion until a decision has been made. On the other hand, Slack can be a great way to chat about who wants to work together at a coffee shop.
16. Enhance communication with the right tools
Video conferencing, messaging platforms, and email are all great tools, to a point. However, if they’re ineffective, continually using the same tools can lead to communication issues. Don’t be afraid to take conversations off Slack or Zoom and have them in person instead, if possible. Shifting communication methods can simplify the task at hand and prevent miscommunications.
17. Seek out & accept feedback regularly
Actively seeking out constructive feedback is one of the best ways to improve communication in the workplace. Looking for an easy way to do this? After every one-on-one you have, ask each other if there is any additional feedback to give.
Some may be positive, while other pieces may be more constructive. However, receiving that feedback is an opportunity for growth — and stretching those communication muscles.
18. Simplify & streamline processes
If you’re working on a massive project with multiple stakeholders, chances are there’ll be a lapse in communication at some point or another. Take that lapse as an opportunity to improve upon the process the next time around. When you communicate the changes to the process, you can also solicit feedback on what is working for people and what isn’t so you can continue improving as you go.
When you focus on making communication more effective in the workplace, your efforts help build a foundation for success, both for your company and overall employee happiness. Keep your team’s communication successful with these ideas as you work to build your own strategies.