Communication at Work: Why It’s Important and How to Improve It

cast of The Office

The Office | NBC

Knowing how to deal with people is an essential part of life. Unfortunately, effective communication is not a guaranteed skill all people develop simply because they’ve entered their adult years. From in-laws to the office jerk, there are some aggravating people in your life who simply aren’t going anywhere, meaning you’d better learn to deal with them sooner rather than later.

Not only will this help things go smoother the next time you’re out to dinner with the in-laws, but it could also help further your career. According to the Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, communication education is vital to career success, as it can help a person progress in his career, enhance the effectiveness of business executives, and help make business and customer interactions more satisfying and productive. But you already knew effective communication in the workplace is important, right? So, now it’s time to address the why.

Well, not surprisingly, one obvious sign of effective communication is often seen through ROI. In the Harvard Business Review, John Baldoni discusses a 2009/2010 communication survey conducted by Watson Wyatt. The research found companies with effective communication had a 47% higher return to shareholders over a five-year period. More specifically, the companies that were deemed effective communicators had three main traits: they have the courage to talk about what employees want to hear, they redefine the employment deal based on changing business conditions, and they have the discipline to plan and measure their progress effectively.

While it’s perfectly logical (and wonderful) to love the work you do, it’s important to keep in mind that money is still the driving factor, no matter whom you work for. Meaning, it stands to reason that companies will aim to increase employee productivity and meet financial goals in a number of ways, including through effective communication.

So how do you ensure you’re fostering good workplace communication? In addition to the obvious, such as being a good (and active) listener, asking thoughtful questions, and knowing your audience, here are a couple suggestions you may want to mull over.

Recognize your own tone

Office Space

If you’re the boss, consider your tone | 20th Century Fox

It’s easy to immediately shift blame to another person at work based on how much you like, or dislike, speaking with them. You’re only human, after all. But don’t forget that when it comes to communication, much like most other things in life, it takes two to tango.

How often do you find yourself in an argument with your significant other in which one person is truly, solely right? Well, just as your other relationships sometimes require you to take a long, hard look in the mirror, so too do your relationships at work.

For instance, are you someone who’s in a position of authority, who feels as though your employees aren’t necessarily responding how you’d like? Well, instead of immediately resorting to intimidation tactics, or becoming frustrated with them right off the bat, consider that it may be time to work on your tone. You may not even realize it, but some people have a natural command of attention (think of political leaders and the like who are in positions of power). Well, as it turns out, a breakdown in communication just may be a result of different styles and patterns. In fact, scientists who have studied this sort of leadership communication at work suggest a kind of charisma that can be traced back to primal roots. So basically, leaders assume powerful roles not because of what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it.

Consider communication preference and keep criticism constructive

Businessman using smartphone and holding paper cup

Man communicating via email on his phone | iStock.com/Ridofranz

In a world where digital dialogue reigns supreme, knowing how your coworkers, employees, and boss like to communicate is absolutely crucial. Today’s technology-driven world has several methods, and everyone has a favorite. Do you take to email to thoughtfully plan out your messaging? Or do you prefer a bit more personal approach with a phone call? Either way, the varying options could open the door to disastrous breakdowns in communication. U.S. News & World Report suggests it’s best to figure out a person’s preferred method of communication first.

People who converse via email and other similar virtual office programs need to be careful about how their messaging comes across. Not to mention, it’s imperative you keep in mind that conveying a certain tone through written word alone is a developed skill, and now’s not the time to work your sarcasm into a conversation of professional manner. You don’t want to risk being lost in translation.

And, on the subject of delivering your message without sounding like a total jerk, ensure you’re using constructive criticism whenever discussing another person’s room for improvement. There’s nothing better than a supportive work environment that encourages everyone to work their hardest and consistently perform their best.

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