Effective communication in the workplace is key to establishing strong relationships and getting important projects done. Communication doesn’t only feel good, it also shows results.
According to a Watson Wyatt study, companies that communicate the most effectively are 50% more likely to report low turnover levels compared with the industry average.
Of course, everyone struggles with communication from time to time, which can lead to misunderstandings and frustrations.
To help solve for these issues, we’ve come up with 20 easy tips you can start using today to improve the communication skills and overall relationships between you and your teammates.
How to Improve Workplace Communication
1. Establish a foundation first.
The more an employee trusts you, the more likely they are to come forward and communicate when a problem is occurring. A great way to lay that foundation is to establish a rapport with your employee first.
For example, when I started at Justworks, my boss took me out for a lunch with my new teammates. We didn’t talk business, but instead learned about each other’s lives and got to know each other’s quirks and preferences. Even though it was a small gesture, it worked as a great icebreaker and helped open the lines of communication to everyone on the team.
2. Prove through your words and actions that you’re trustworthy.
According to the American Psychological Association, nearly one quarter of employees don’t trust their employer. It sounds simplistic, but it’s true: proving trustworthy to your employees will result in effective business communication time and again.
We’ve written blog posts about how to improve trust before, but the core of this issue is straightforward: Show a genuine interest in the person, empathize with their roadblocks or dilemmas, and follow through on the ways you say you will help. Your employee will be much more likely to communicate a challenge when they know they can trust you to stay level headed and work together to find a solution.
3. Set up weekly or monthly 1:1s.
Sometimes, all it takes to open up lines of communication is setting a time to do so. Your employee might worry that she’s burdening you during the day if you’re busy and she wants to share recent challenges, concerns, or even triumphs. By setting up a recurring meeting to touch base, you’ll learn more about the inner workings of what’s going on the office and have a better idea on how to iron out the kinks.
At Justworks, for example, I have a weekly 1:1 with my direct manager to discuss how work is going overall and to tackle big-picture ideas. I also have a monthly 1:1 with the director of the department, and we check in by grabbing coffee together or going for a walk. It’s the ideal way to air concerns or share wins without the pressure of asking a superior outright for a meeting.
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4. Explain why you’re asking your employee to do something.
This one might sound silly to you. Doesn’t Alfred know why creating that slide deck to present to the sales team is important? Without sounding condescending, there is a definite way to share the importance of a task you assigned and frame it in a positive and informative way.
For example, along with this assignment you could tell your employee, “These slides are a great way to communicate with the sales team how marketing is supporting their efforts. Do you have any questions on the approach or how you want to present it?”
By doing so, you’re offering vital information and the opportunity to ask questions they may have hesitated to communicate otherwise. Perhaps more importantly, you’re also showing the employee how their work ties directly to business goals.
5. Really listen.
People often think of communication as getting your own message across, but effective communication really is a two-way street. If you’re not actively listening to what the other person is saying, it’s difficult to end up on the same page.
Ask questions for clarification, and give the conversation your full attention. Avoid multitasking, or thinking of your response before the other person is done talking. Active listening can be challenging, but it’s worthwhile.
6. Avoid making quick assumptions.
One of the biggest inhibitors to quality communication in the workplace is missed signals and quickly formed assumptions. If your employee is lagging in an area in which you expected them to excel, don’t immediately assume that they’re a slacker who doesn’t care.
Instead, provide a non-confrontational setting to dig into where the problems lie. When you ask your employee how things are going, you may find out that they are moving and have had a hard time focusing at work, or that they’re not used to juggling six projects at once and need to de-prioritize something. When your ears are open, so are the lines of communication.
7. Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
There’s more than one way to do this. It might be through observation throughout the months, finding out what your team members are strong at and need a little help with. For example, my boss and I have figured out that she’s great at getting work done in ordered and segmented blocks, whereas I get my best work done in concentrated bursts.
There’s also the personality type route — Enneagram, Myers Briggs, and Strengths Finder are just a few. All of a sudden, it might make sense that you’re motivated by competition and focus, whereas your other teammate does best with input and ideation. By understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s easier to have effective communication in the workplace.
8. Feel out the other person’s preferred communication style.
Maybe some of your team members are rarely on Slack, whereas others respond to emails instantly. How do your employees and teammates communicate on projects best? Do they prefer email, in-person chats, or Slack? You can learn this by asking them directly and also through observation.
9. Stay consistent with expectations and follow up.
It’s easy to drop regular check-ins when work gets busy, but it’s one of the best ways to maintain effective workplace communication. Does your employee know when you’re going to follow up about a project, and what elements you expect to see in their work?
One of the most frustrating experiences as an employee is finishing a project and finding out your manager wanted something completely different. Prevent that by being clear and open to questions from the beginning.
10. Set the tone for meetings.
What is the purpose of your meeting? Who will be running it? What is the agenda? At Justworks, we often send out a meeting agenda via email before the meeting starts, so that everyone attending knows what to expect.
11. Offer constructive feedback in a thoughtful way.
We’ve all been there before — aggressive and tone-deaf feedback from a manager that permanently wipes out trust and lines of communication. Justworks has offered all employees seminars on how to offer constructive feedback.
A starter tip? Focus on the behavior you’re discussing, not the person’s character. And always, always give the other person an opportunity to share their thoughts and contribute to building a positive process moving forward.
12. Offer compliments in a thoughtful way.
If you tell an employee they did a great job, the compliment isn’t as helpful as you think. They may be left thinking, “But what was great about it? How can I replicate it if I don’t know?” Be specific instead — “You did a great job explaining how leads convert into customers in that presentation. The visuals really helped the audience understand the process.”
13. Keep workflows transparent.
Say your team is working on a big project together. Does the team know the project’s deadline, who is responsible for what parts of the project, and when they’re expected to hand those parts off to other teammates? Organize a clear walkthrough by using Excel Spreadsheets or Trello, so all your team members are on the same page and not frustrated by miscommunications.
14. Make people’s role in a group or project clear from the start.
Communication in the workplace can break down fast when people don’t understand their roles. This goes hand in hand with keeping workflows transparent. Establish the key stakeholders in the project, who has final approval, and what channels the project needs to go through for completion.
15. Decide which conversations are best for which venues.
Beyond the normal level of social appropriateness — (no, you shouldn’t ask about someone’s family emergency in front of the whole team) — discuss with your team which modes of communication work best for which situations.
For example, my team at Justworks has committed to never to make big decisions on Slack, since it’s hard to get the overall feeling for a situation, and sometimes people aren’t present for the discussion until a decision has been made. On the other hand, Slack is a great way to chat about who wants to work together at a coffee shop.
16. Use modern tools to enhance — not truncate — your communication.
Chat and email are great, to a point. However, if going back and forth on the computer is getting too complicated, don’t be afraid to take the conversation off Slack and bring it face-to-face instead. It will probably simplify the task at hand and prevent miscommunications — like perceived sarcasm or reluctance.
17. Seek out feedback regularly and take it in stride.
Actively seeking out constructive feedback is one of the best ways to improve communication in the workplace. For example, after every 1:1 I have with my boss, we ask each other if there is any additional feedback to give.
Some of it is positive — “I enjoyed seeing your work ethic this week when confronted with several different blockers,” — and some of it is more constructive — "I noticed you expressed frustration during our brainstorming meeting this week." However, those moments of feedback are always an opportunity to get to the heart of a challenge or victory.
18. Make processes clear and streamline annoying roadblocks.
If you’re working on a massive project with multiple stakeholders, chances are at some point or another there will be a lapse in communication. Take that lapse as an opportunity to improve upon the process the next time around. When you communicate these changes, you can also get helpful feedback on what is working for people and what isn’t for the future.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.