Communication in general is hard. It’s even more difficult in the workplace because there are so many issues to navigate: multiple audiences, office politics, time constraints, and employees who feel overwhelmed with meetings and emails.
Bad communication is frustrating and wastes time. While comic, most employees have been involved in a call like this conference call in real life.
Improving communication should be a priority for all employees, especially leadership. Communication is an essential leadership skill. Executives set the standard for the rest of the organization.
Even incremental improvements in the following four areas will lead to better communication:
When the topic of communication comes up, the immediate connotation is speaking or writing. But relaying a message is only half the battle. The failure to listen is one of the biggest communication failures in the workplace.
Distraction-free listening is often more difficult than speaking or writing. How can we do a better job of complete communication?
Asking questions to insure the intended message was received improves understanding and retention. Whether in a follow-up email, passing by someone’s office, or in a meeting, provide a synthesis of what you heard and ask, “Did I get everything?” This is especially helpful after a lengthy conversation or meetings where both strategic and tactical decisions are made. When the discussion jumps from why to do something to how to do something, it’s critical not to miss tasks and deadlines. By summarizing the key points, the communicator can confirm or revise the accuracy of their understanding.
Technology has drastically improved the efficiency of modern communication. Unfortunately, it also provides more than a few distractions: from early versions of minesweeper to ESPN apps, any spare second is easily consumed. While many of us consider ourselves effective multi-taskers, we seldom think about the repercussions. In a study by Stanford University researchers found that multi-tasking hinders the ability to pay attention, control memory, and switch to the next task at hand.
Technology not only distracts the user, but it can distract others around them. Think of that person checking his fantasy football lineup in your Monday morning meeting.
A quick solution to the technology distraction is to simply get rid of it during meetings. Set a rule and lead by example: everyone silences phones at the start of a meeting and puts them away. Or designate one person to take notes and send a summary after the meeting.
Time is essential to communication in two ways:
- When communication takes place (timing)
- How long it takes to get the information across (duration)
Communication in the workplace often lacks discipline in both aspects. In many companies, meetings without a clear purpose are considered the norm. The problem with agenda-less meetings is more than a lack of direction. They often run much longer than necessary.
To keep meetings focused and efficient:
- Set an agenda with time commitments and send it out beforehand.
- Ensure that necessary contributors will be there.
- Set clear outcomes for the meeting and add them to the agenda.
- Assign someone the role of timekeeper to help you stay on track.
Meetings aren’t the only place where time is a factor. Studies show that the average corporate email user receives 100+ emails a day and deletes half of them. Only CC people on emails when their input or approval is truly necessary.
Select the communication forum based on the audience and the message. If it’s short, informative, and can be clearly communicated, an email is efficient. However, if the message involves problem solving, background information, or differences of opinion, a meeting might work better.
In either case, limit the audience to the necessary parties. Label emails as “Informative:” or “Action Requested:” to ensure proper responses. Before meetings, send background information and an agenda.
Preparing and planning meetings, presentations, and even email can be time consuming. While it’s tempting not to prepare, the repercussions of poor communication aren’t worth the time saved on the front end. Take the lead in building good communication skills in your workplace.