Essential Communication Skills in the Workplace

September 28, 2017 - Sophie Thompson

Without great communication skills in the workplace, any business will simply grind to a halt. There’s nothing worse than miscommunication between individual staff and entire departments that causes utter chaos, frustration, lack of progress, missed deadlines, and quite possibly staff that decide to leave.

Why are communication skills important?

Communication is basically the grease that makes any business run smoothly.

If you’re in a supportive company where everyone knows what’s going on, what the business is aiming for in terms of long and short-term goals, and more importantly, why, you have the best possible place to work.

Staff feel engaged and enthusiastic, and they feel a part of something. They work without needing to be micro-managed, and they come up with ideas and solutions, because they know they will be heard and that there’s a very good chance what they suggest will be implemented.

The whole atmosphere is different in a business like this. Everyone is working towards the same goals, and people actually want to come to work because they know what they do makes a difference. This is a company that encourages ideas, with managers and directors who listen and reward their staff, giving credit where it’s due, and promoting from within.

That doesn’t mean everything’s perfect and nothing goes wrong. It’s not Utopia, but it does mean that, when it does, it’s dealt with quickly, and without endless rounds of recriminations about who was to blame.

That’s why communication skills are important. Without them, that sort of business simply couldn’t exist. If people didn’t talk to each other and listen, what you’d end up with is a business that simply can’t function, with disengaged staff who you can bet are looking for the door, and a new job where they can feel appreciated.

Benefits for your business and staff

  • Increase in staff retention
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Better decision making
  • Increased productivity
  • More streamlined processes
  • Increased efficiency
  • Better relationships between departments, between staff, and between staff and management
  • A better business reputation, both for high-quality goods and services, and as a place that’s great to work for

Important communication skills

So, if you’re hoping to make sure your business is the kind of place where everyone is engaged and enthusiastic, what are the skills you need to have and encourage to make it happen?

1. Listening

First and foremost, people need to listen to each other. More than that, they need to hear each other, think about what is being said, acknowledge it and understand.

The worst miscommunications happen because people fail to listen properly, and then go off to do what they *think* was said, rather than what was actually said.

Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone can develop, from directors down.

Listening is important for communication skills in the workplace

2. Empathy

After listening, the most important thing anyone can do is understand and empathise with other people. If you can put yourself in other people’s shoes, you can understand how they feel, get more of a sense of how you can help them, understand their frustrations and pain points, and you can communicate with them better.

And that goes for other staff members, management, AND your customers. For more information, read this article on Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy.

3. Patience

Along with empathy, having just a little bit of patience can help you calmly communicate how you’re feeling, even when you’re frustrated and annoyed, which gets your point over better and is far less likely to get someone’s back up or cause an argument.

4. Positive attitude

Taking a positive approach makes life so much easier and an awful lot nicer both for you, and those around you. If you’re always positive, you tend to assume that things can be done and problems solved, rather than that they can’t. You feel better, you look for the good in things, and you find it.

That’s a far better way to work, than being the one who always shoots down every idea and assumes things will always go wrong.

And when things do go wrong, you’ll deal with them a whole lot better with a positive attitude.

5. Being honest and open-minded

Going back to the positivity, being open-minded and open to possibilities will get you much further forward than naysaying every idea before it’s had a chance to work.

Along with that, being honest is a must. Trust is hugely important in any situation, and when people are working in a team, they need to know they can rely on each other to do what they say they will, and be honest about it.

And yes, that includes when you’re the one who made a mess of something. It happens, but it’s not the end of the world. Remember, people can’t help you fix it if they don’t know about it.

6. Giving and receiving feedback

Yes, it doesn’t feel good if you haven’t hit a standard or you’ve done something wrong, but being able to accept genuinely well-meant feedback gracefully helps an awful lot in moving forward after a problem.

Likewise, being able to give great, positive feedback is a skill that can make anyone you work with feel good.

7. Body language

Watch your body language when you’re communicating and when you’re listening. Open, relaxed shoulders, and leaning forward show you’re engaged, really listening and open to ideas, whereas folded arms, and leaning back can make you seem like you’re distant, not involved, and not open to new ways of doing things.

Read our article on 8 Elements of Confident Body Language.

8. Clarity and shortness

There’s no need to write an essay or make a speech to express an idea or get your point across. Time is precious in any business, and your colleagues’ time is just as valuable as yours.

Be brief, to the point, and only include necessary information.

And follow up in writing, so you have a copy of what you’ve said for confirmation, and your audience has a copy they can refer to, to check what was said and what they need to do.

9. Self-improvement

Continuous improvement isn’t just for the business. Life-long learning is good for you, giving you new perspectives and ideas, and widening your experience and your view point.

Communication skills in the workplace meeting

How to improve communication in the workplace

Any improvements in a business have to come from the top down. If management isn’t interested in improving communications across the business, then there’s only so far that staff can go to make it happen.

The CEO and the directors need to be actively involved and encouraging to enable anything to happen, and to be taken seriously.

Good management and leadership

Following on from that, this will only work with good leadership and management. If there is a problem at management level, then this will need to be taken care of first, before anything else can be done.

Managers may need to be retrained, and to understand what needs to be done before they can pass things on to their staff and encourage better communication.

Communication courses

It’s helpful if everyone in the company is on the same page, so taking the same communication course, or bringing in a trainer to cover the subject across the company is the best way forward.

Communication courses, whether online or offline, are brilliant for helping people understand where they are going wrong, giving people new ways to relate to each other, and understanding how they can move forward.

VirtualSpeech public speaking course improves communication skills

The VirtualSpeech public speaking course combines traditional tutorial videos with virtual reality to help improve your communication skills.

Processes and procedures

Written communication is just as important as spoken, and there’s nowhere that there’s more likely to be bottle necks and problems with workflow than in company processes and procedures.

As part of your new communication strategy, it’s a must that all process and procedures should be reviewed, too.

With the news skills that everyone has gained from the communication course, chances are there will be far more ideas flying about and energy and enthusiasm to get your procedures right.

Performance reviews and appraisals

Regular feedback is brilliant for helping staff improve and achieve their personal goals, as long as they’re done right. Constructive, genuinely helpful feedback will always get you further than bad-tempered criticism.

Team building exercises

Team building can really form your staff into cohesive groups that communicate better and genuinely enjoy working together.

In-house team building can be good to get things started, but every now and again, just getting out of the office, whether for staff meetings or team building exercises, can really make a difference.

A change of scenery can spark new ideas that you might not have got while staring at the same four walls.

Not only that, but social evenings where the only point is to have fun and get to know each other a little better can help your staff to bond, and feel like they’re a part of the team.

Offer a platform for anonymous feedback

Sometimes, no matter how encouraging you are, staff feel more comfortable if they can anonymously post an idea, or talk about a problem.

It might be that they’re having a problem with their direct manager, or that they don’t want to get another member of staff in trouble, but they know something is not working that is affecting the business, or simply that some people aren’t comfortable with speaking up in a group.

Whatever the reason, having a channel for anonymous feedback gives you that extra option to capture all of the ideas and suggestions your staff have.

Use brilliant communication channels

There’s so much more available than just email these days. Picking the right app or software to get people communicating, sharing and co-operating on projects can add the final touch to your communications strategy.

Try Slack, Asana, Trello, Google Docs, or any one of a number of other tools to help you and your staff communicate.

Slack is a great tool for improving communication in the workplace

Slack can improve communication in the workplace, particularly with remote workers.

You might need to try a few to find the best one for your company, but you’ll know it when you find it, because of the difference it makes to your productivity.

Dealing with staff

Promoting people with excellent communication skills is a great way to encourage other staff members to follow their lead. And you’ll get a new manager who is onboard with what you’re trying to achieve and already good at communicating both with you, and their team.

Conversely, even with the best will in the world on your part, some people won’t take on what you’re trying to achieve, and refuse to communicate positively, or contribute. If you can’t encourage them to participate by retraining, and talking to them, sometimes it’s better to let them go. You can’t afford to have one team member who constantly drags everyone else down.

So, there you have it. Follow the advice above in a way that suits your company and your staff, and you could be on your way to the kind of company people can’t wait to work for, and clients rave about.