Dear Lifehacker, I feel like I’m never on the same page as my coworkers at work, and I have trouble communicating my ideas to everyone else. Is it possible to improve my communication skills at work so people actually listen to me? Sincerely, Quiet Quinn
Figuring out the right ways to communicate with your coworkers is a full time job in itself. Everyone’s different, as is every office, but let’s take a look at how to handle a few of the most common mistakes that might be the root the problem.
Gauge Your Office Environment and Communicate Accordingly
All offices are different. That’s partially because companies try and cultivate a specific environment. This means people tend to dress the same and communicate the same in an office. You’ll learn these types of things over time, but effective conversation is also about the actual mode of communication.
Every office and every worker has their own communication preference. This might be email, face-to-face conversations, phone, instant messenger or anything else. US News suggests that a common error amongst coworkers is not figuring out the right mode of communication with each coworker. So, respect the person you’re trying to contact and get a hold of them the way they converse best.
If you’re not sure exactly how you should be communicating, just ask. As 99U points out, you should find the right communication method and act accordingly:
Each individual has a natural communication style, but to work effectively within a team, you need to determine how much communication needs to happen to make everyone comfortable…. Or it could look like setting up a series of “If, Then” communication triggers.
For example: “If you will be out of the office for a week, then give me a status report a couple of days before you leave.” Or “If you encounter an issue that will lead to a delay, then notify me as soon as possible.” You can also ask for people to not communicate with you about certain things. For example: “Please, don’t CC me on every email between you and the printer.” Or “Please don’t tell me about issues if they’re problems you can fix yourself.”
Some people don’t communicate enough, and others communicate too much. Finding that balance isn’t easy, but if you talk about it at the office you’ll be better at communicating in the long term.
Watch Your Body Language
Body language plays a key role in communication. A major problem you can run into at work is miscommunication through body language.
The real trick for improving your body language at work is to pay attention to it more. We’ve pointed out before that you should minimize “moving away” behaviour like sighing, averting eyes, and negative body language so you don’t communicate something you don’t intend. Instead, focus more on positive body language like long periods of eye contact, uncrossed limbs and genuine smiles.
Body language is a tough one to improve on, but it’s about being aware of the cues. It’s also ok to just fake it until you’re comfortable with it. Open body language can feel awkward when you’re not used to it, but the more you try it the more comfortable you’ll feel in the long run. Once you understand what you’re conveying, it’s easier to make sure you’re conveying the right thing. Body language is only part of the picture, but it’s a bigger part than you might think.
Oftentimes the biggest problem with communication in the workplace is miscommunication. This usually comes when someone isn’t clear about goals, projects, or the work that needs to get done. Forbes suggests you keep conversations simple and direct in most circumstances:
Another strategy [Karen] Friedman draws from newscasting: Hit the headline first. Too many of us are just plain long-winded, she says. “People don’t need to know everything we know,” she explains. “Think about what the single most important point is that you need to make, the central idea. If your computer died or the fire alarm went off, what would be the one thing they needed to hear…”
Do ask open-ended questions. They can buy time, clarify where another person is coming from and prevent misinterpretation. For instance: “I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, so could you give me an example?”
In general, our workplace communication should be quick and simple. Don’t waste time with unnecessary conversation if you’re not friends with someone. Get to the point and move along. When you’re direct about any questions you have, everyone is on the same page and communicating more effectively.
In the end, it’s really about paying attention to any cues you see in the office and trying to fit your communication style to that. It’s not always easy, and it often takes time, but with a little effort you’ll be there in no time.