Written by Rachel Miller
Communicating in the office is like playing the children’s game of telephone. You say one thing, yet by the time the message reaches all the people involved, everything can change, from the actual words to the tone and intention behind them. Effective communication plays one of the biggest roles in a functional work environment, but the ability to interact well with one's peers is one of the hardest skills to master. Develop stronger relationships with your coworkers using these seven tips to improve your professional communication skills.
1. Use Face-to-Face Interactions When Possible
If you are not talking in person with coworkers, the distance often results in misunderstandings that lead to confusion or anger. Emails lacking emotion and contextual clues widen the communication gap. If the email recipient misinterprets instructions or details about a project, you could be held partially accountable for ensuing problems.
Another issue with email communication is a lack of empathy and appreciation for your coworkers. It is easy to send a terse and irritated email in a moment of frustration. Talking in person forces you to take your coworker’s feelings into account before responding.
By communicating face-to-face, you get additional contextual clues from body language. Respect comes more naturally when you understand someone’s intentions. While face-to-face interactions are not always possible, try to avoid emails when delivering complex messages, opting for video chats or phone calls instead.
2. Be More Self-Aware
Pay attention to how your words and actions affect others. Every person has a different style of communication, and not understanding how others interpret your style can cause communication breakdowns. How you say something versus how people hear it are often two different sentiments. Take the time to explain your position and feelings fully to put everyone on the same page and prevent confrontations in the workplace.
Self-awareness is a proactive shortcut to clearer communication. You cannot change the way people perceive you, but taking the time to recognize negative reactions to your style of interaction will help you communicate clearly with even the most difficult coworkers.
3. Be Transparent
If you make mistakes, own up to them. This means allowing other people to own up to mistakes, too, and then moving on. Transparency permits everyone to see what went wrong and what can be done to avoid future mistakes. Dwelling on others’ errors builds anger, and refusing to admit your mistakes prevents professional growth. Let mistakes be an opportunity to learn and move forward together. Transparency fosters stronger relationships with your coworkers, making communication easier.
Another way to implement transparency in the workplace is to explain the thought process behind your opinions. Once your team understands your reasoning, they can respond with any objections and provide different perspectives. Opening up the conversation to other opinions helps you learn more about your team and improve communication on future projects.
4. Admit that You May Not Always Know Best
Demonstrating leadership in the workplace sets you up for promotion, but if you are leading in the wrong direction, your success will not last. When given a chance to lead, willingly listen to your teammates and consider every opinion before acting. Admitting that you may not know best is a sign of a great leader and tells your coworkers that you consider communication to be a two-way street.
Communication problems arise when group members believe they know better than everyone else. Allowing everyone to contribute shows respect and prevents the “my way or the highway” attitude that causes friction in the workplace.
5. Appreciate Individuality
When working as a group, every employee brings unique skills to the team. Teamwork lets people build on each other’s strengths while learning more about potential weaknesses and areas for improvement. Appreciate people’s strengths and recognize that these skills make them a valuable member of the team. When you respect your coworkers, you display an attitude of acceptance and improve overall communication. Take the opportunity to learn from your coworkers and develop stronger professional communication abilities along with other valuable skills.
6. Encourage Collaboration
Collaborating on projects highlights the importance of communication in an office environment. If your team suffers from a communication breakdown, the project will fail. Let teammates know that they can come to you for help at any time. Open communication builds a stronger team that feels comfortable relying on each other in stressful situations. Working together keeps employees from feeling overwhelmed and alone, which can lead to resentment and further issues with communication.
7. Eliminate Imagined Hierarchies
Identify unfair power structures that are created by the social environment of an office. Strong personalities often get more attention and respect, but if the attention is misplaced, coworkers can wind up feeling left out and hurt. Make an effort to treat everyone equally. You may enjoy talking to certain employees more than others, but when it comes down to the work, avoid partiality. Participating in social hierarchies that leave coworkers out fosters animosity and causes communication issues in the workplace.
Perfect your professional communication skills by practicing face-to-face communication, sharing your ideas with the team, and being open about your mistakes and shortcomings. Interpersonal communication skills take some time and practice to master, but they will help your workplace run smoothly and create more solid professional bonds within your team.
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