Companies pour time and money into ensuring their external communications are managed as efficiently as possible — without putting as much thought into improving workplace communication at an internal level. But the truth is this: just as public relations and marketing are important for the way the external world perceives you, so too is employee communication when it comes to ensuring your team is functional and productive. The way that employees speak with and relate to each other can go a long way in encouraging employee engagement and improving performance.
Evaluating Your Workplace Communication
The first step in improving effective workplace communication is to assess where your communications currently stand.
One way to do this is by jumping into the deep-end: explicitly ask people how effective communications are within the workplace. Anonymous surveys will ensure a safe space where employees know they can express themselves freely. Ask employees about communications at all levels, from how effectively they think they communicate within their teams to what they think of the standard of communication with the managerial team.
If you’re not ready for a full workplace survey, assess the effectiveness of communications on a staff-by-staff basis. If you’re a manager assigning tasks in a meeting, ask an employee to reiterate their assignments and provide a work plan for how they propose completing those tasks. If what the employee says is in alignment with your idea of the meeting, then you’ve effectively communicated your point of view. If not, it’s time to find out what went wrong. This method will also help staff members improve their communications skills, as they’ll be prompted to ask more follow-up questions if they don’t understand the tasks assigned.
In-Person vs. Email
Some of the greatest workplace communication problems can sprout from simple misunderstandings. Email correspondence is a prime example of this. How many times of you fired off an email without fully considering the consequences of what you’ve written? This is happening increasingly often, as more of us rely on our devices to send the messages that we don’t have time to say (or don’t want to say) in-person.
If this sounds familiar, then you’re putting your workplace at risk. Though written in 2011, this Harvard Business Review article is just as relevant today when it comes to advocating for the reasons why employers should communicate face-to-face. As the article points out, emails fail to communicate emotion. While in-person interactions can lead to expressions of compassion, empathy, sarcasm, and concern, emails aren’t quite sophisticated enough to reflect the full slate of human emotion — and no, adding emojis doesn’t count. Emails and other online communication are also much more reactive in nature, meaning we don’t take the same amount of time to craft a thoughtful response as we would if a message was communicated in-person.
So before you send off a quick email response littered with all-caps font or humor that may or may not be perceived as such, think again.
Ask for Everyone’s Input
Some people are willing to share their ideas. Others, not so much.
In group brainstorming sessions, collect input from all members of your team, even those people who don’t immediately jump in to offer their opinion. Even in situations that are inherently more broadcast in nature (i.e. a manager giving a lunchtime speech to a group of employees), do your best to transform these scenarios into a more productive realm for communications by asking a simple “does anyone have any questions?”
Affirm People’s Opinions
This ties into the point above. If someone speaks up in a meeting, it’s because they have an idea they want to be heard. Whether it’s deliberate or not, people’s thoughts sometimes go unheard or are repeated by another staff member later in the meeting. This is, unfortunately, more likely to happen with opinions expressed by female staff members.
This article in The Washington Post talks about how female staffers in the Obama administration banded together to make sure their opinions were heard. They used a tactic deemed “amplification” where one or more woman repeated the idea of a female counterpart, crediting that idea to its original speaker. According to the article, people in the White House caught on, and women started to be called on more often to share their opinion.
This story provides two valuable tidbits of communication wisdom for the workplace. The first is for managers to ensure they’re calling equally on everyone to speak, regardless of gender and experience. The second is that good ideas deserve to be heard the first time and reaffirmed over the course of a meeting. Do this, and your employees will feel valued and heard.
Normalize Effective Communications
Make open communication a core piece of your corporate culture.
Try switching workplace communication from reactive tactics to proactive. Open the doors for effective communication early on, rather than waiting for an employee conflict to arise or have a staff member quit. This may mean changing your review process and instead inviting employees to communicate their concerns with you at any time. Or it could mean having staff members feel comfortable enough to bring up issues with one of their colleagues in advance of a problem developing.
Whatever this looks like for your company, make sure the communication is proactive and constructive in nature.
Reduce Workplace Exclusion
Sometimes workplaces can be like high school — cliques form, and people feel left out. This can happen especially with new staff who haven’t yet had the time to form relationships with colleagues. While employees will always choose where and with whom they wish to have lunch, consider creating a workplace event that is inclusive of all staff members, such as a weekly lunch out of office or happy hour drinks on a Friday afternoon.
Planning extracurricular events that include everyone will help your team get to know one another on a personal and relaxed level, which will enhance communications back in the office.
Encouraging effective communications is an important part of running a successful company, and is a cause to be spearheaded at a leadership level. Take on some of the strategies above and watch as your team becomes more productive and happy.