The idea that “people work for people, not for a company” is even more relevant in today’s work environment than when it was conceived. Modern employees are more independent and demand more flexibility from their work environment. Teams are more geographically dispersed and more employees telecommute than in any other previous generation.
While new communication technologies have facilitated these trends, they do not replace good “old fashioned” people skills. In some cases, they make communication less productive. Your effectiveness at communicating online and in person with your co-workers will still be the difference between smooth sailing or rough seas at the office.
Here are several tips for how to improve your personal communication skills:
Use Digital Communication Wisely
The ease of sending email messages, texts and instant messages can make it tempting to toss out information in frequent, random bursts. It is easy for you to type up a quick note. However, every recipient of that note has to read, process and then file or act upon it. Workplace studies show that employees spend as much as 30% to 50% of their work day simply using email. Instead, help your team get the most value out of digital communication by follow these simple rules:
- Send messages only to those who need the information.
- Create a clear, descriptive subject line.
- Include ALL relevant information needed for the recipient to act. If you are missing information (such as the room location for a meeting) wait until you have it before sending to avoid another message.
- Include ONLY relevant information.
- Proofread every message for clarity and factual accuracy.
Sharpen Your Person-To-Person Communication
Written and digital communications are good for documentation and (when used correctly) distribution of information. It is not the right venue, however, for many communication needs such as employee engagement and conflict resolution. When complex ideas need to be discussed, email is a far less efficient choice than conversation. Good interpersonal communication skills ensure that you will have face-to-face opportunities to connect with your peers and make a good impression. Here’s how:
- Set ground-rules and expectations early for best results. Instead of saying, “Hello, can we talk?” say “Hello, could we sit down together for half an hour to talk through the Vendor xyz decision?”.
- Give your full attention to any conversation. Put down your devices and make eye contact.
- Pay attention to your non-verbal communication. A testy voice or crossed arms will convey frustration and close-mindedness, even if your words are neutral.
- Employ active listening. Avoid interjecting your own thoughts too quickly.
- Stay on topic. Keep conversations focused and productive. Save chit-chat for social times.
- Ask questions to ensure everyone is on the same page.
After a verbal conversation, it is a good idea to follow up with a written summary. This will provide documentation that will be easier to find later, and gives another opportunity for misunderstandings to be spotted and corrected.
In a culture saturated with social media and digital communication, it has become very comfortable to share private information even with people we don’t know very well. In the case of the workplace, it is better to stay on the side of formality. While it is rewarding to connect with peers at some level, it is prudent to avoid bringing personal drama to the workplace. Doing so will distract co-workers and could negatively impact your work reputation.
Whether you’re a manager, a team lead, whether you telecommute or work at the office, refining your communication skills will not only improve the bottom line for your business, it will make work a more satisfying, pleasant experience.