How to Communicate More Effectively in the Workplace
North is a consultant for political candidates, physicians, and lawyers, and runs a private practice specializing in public speaking, and executive communication skills. Previously, she was the clinical director in the department of speech and language pathology and audiology at Northeastern University.
Anyone who has collaborated with colleagues on a group project knows just how hard it can be to share and receive ideas. To move the project along, it is essential for everyone to communicate. The same holds true even when you’re sending an e-mail to one coworker: Say the wrong thing, and you may damage or even jeopardize a key professional relationship.
In part one of this series, Mastering the Basics of Communication, I shared strategies to improve how you communicate. Here, I examine how to apply these techniques as you interact with colleagues and supervisors in the workplace.
Understanding Communication Styles
When it comes to figuring out how you communicate with others, you may want to indulge in some self-reflection. For example, are you an introvert who needs time to process and reflect, or an extrovert who wants to think out loud and get immediate feedback?
Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) may be useful in evaluating your style and in understanding the styles of those around you. For instance, you will need to apply different approaches with decision makers who are described as “thinkers” or “feelers” in the MBTI.
Thinkers are guided by cause-and-effect reasoning. When communicating with thinkers, you will want to focus on the facts and logic. Feelers, on the other hand, are guided more by personal values. When engaging with feelers, you will want to appeal to those values and stress their impact on others.
Group Problem Solving
Even when you understand your communication style and those of your colleagues, you will occasionally experience conflicts and misunderstandings, particularly among groups. When problems emerge within a group, you may need to turn to the team for help in finding a solution.
Try organizing a group discussion. This requires good communication, of course! Send out an early agenda, express the purpose of the meeting up front, frame the decision making with key questions, and clarify the leadership. During the meeting, follow these four steps:
- Identify the problem. After all, you can’t solve a problem if people don’t think there is one.
- Ventilate feelings. We all need to be heard. Be sure that everyone has a chance to share how they feel about the particular issue at hand.
- Describe the problem. Does everyone understand all the complexities involved?
- Develop solutions. You might want to propose several possible solutions. Discuss all the options and then narrow them down to the best one.
The most desirable result of the group discussion is consensus, where everyone agrees on the solution. But this may not always be feasible. Other situations may necessitate a majority vote, third-party mediation or arbitration, or even a temporary suspension of the discussion.
Another type of conflict that often arises in the workplace is giving—and receiving—criticism. Even though criticism is normal, it is often uncomfortable for all parties involved. Instead of avoiding it, why not learn to better offer and receive criticism?
If you are a leader or manager, you may find yourself in the position to offer criticism to an employee. To make this more comfortable, choose a setting that is private and nonthreatening. Present your viewpoint with specific details, and provide objective data where possible. Finally, work out a plan for change so both parties have realistic expectations.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of criticism, request examples of the behavior and avoid becoming defensive, as this will only heighten negative emotions. Try to paraphrase your response so both of you agree on the issue. Admit when you are wrong or have room to grow, and ask how you can improve.
By keeping the conversation collaborative and focused on a solution, you will maintain emotional control. We all make mistakes—what will set you apart is how effectively you learn from them.