Effective Communication in the Workplace

Effective Communication in the Workplace

You will learn about:
  • How to build a good relationship with your co-workers
  • Several tips for good communication
  • Preparing assertive speaches

39 min – Estimated reading time

Effective Communication in the Workplace

Effective Communication in the Workplace

Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills to possess in the workplace. Employees that work within any kind of office or workplace environment are exposed to colleagues, managers, and customers with different personalities and cultures. It is essential for every employee to know how to communicate effectively in order to create a productive work environment and foster healthy work relationships. 

For entry-level professionals, starting a new job might be their first experience working in a diverse environment. Rather than go in blind, it can be helpful for employees to brush up on their communication skills. To improve your own communication skills, read the articles contained in the following pages of this guide.

Why Effective Communication Is Vital in the Workplace

Communication is one of the important life skills since it helps us to form and maintain relationships and accomplish goals. Workplace communication often has its own protocols and challenges, but when all of a company’s employees practice good communication skills, there is a myriad of benefits. 

Reduces Conflict

The two main causes of conflict in the workplace revolve around miscommunication. When employees are adept communicators, conflict and friction are reduced.

  • Misunderstanding or feeling misunderstood – Miscommunication can happen when employees are unclear, make assumptions, and don’t take other people’s communication styles and culture into account. This results in frustration or anger on the part of the person who was misunderstood and confusion or shame by the person who did not understand. Time and effort are wasted, deadlines may be missed and bad feelings ensue as a result.
  • Hurt feelings – Sometimes, poor communication sends an entirely different message; that the employee is being disrespected, taken advantage of, or ignored. Nobody likes to feel this way, and it causes resentment which leads to poor work, low morale, and high turnover.

Increases Employee Engagement

When managers communicate well with employees, they can get a better understanding of what employees want and need in regard to work. This enables them to create incentives that will motivate employees to effectively accomplish the business’ goals. They are also able to better describe tasks that need to be done, priorities, and how the project contributes to the overall goals of the company. Likewise, employees are able to effectively inform managers about their ideas, any problems they need help with and update them with information from the company’s front lines. When communication is smooth among coworkers, less time is wasted and work can feel more rewarding. All of this increases employee engagement in the work process and in work relationships.

Better Client Relationships

Communication skills are a must-have for any customer-facing employee. An employee with excellent communication skills is able to uncover customer needs, present information such as company policies and pricing in a positive way, and make customers feel heard and valued. Internally, the employee can effectively resolve issues with customer service, manufacturing or shipping departments on the customer’s behalf and can pass along customer feedback to product development and marketing teams.

More Productive and Talented Workforce

Mastering communication skills enable managers to understand and utilize the talents and skills of employees, and employees who are using higher level skills accomplish more and feel more fulfilled at work. Good communication fosters creativity, innovation, problem-solving and strategic thinking, all of which benefit the company as a whole and the individual employees involved.

Communication Rules of Thumb

Communicating at work is different from the way you would talk to or write to a friend or family member. At work, you are expected to keep it professional. Use these rules of thumb for all work-related communication:

  • Be more formal than with personal communication. For example, while you might address a friend with a “Yo!” or “Hey!” this would be inappropriate at work. If unsure how to address a manager or client, opt for the more formal “Mr./Ms./Doctor” and the last name. Avoid slang and profanity.
  • Avoid controversy. Work is not the place to weigh in on the politics of the day, religious views, or opinions on other non-work-related topics.
  • Be polite. Always use good manners when communicating at work, with your boss, other managers, your coworkers, and customers. Don’t be demanding, insulting, or inconsiderate of other people’s time and effort. 
  • Be clear. If you want or need someone to take action, say what action you want them to take. If there is a particular timeframe it must be completed by, include that information.
  • Communicate with empathy. People like to work with others who express caring.
  • Maintain privacy. Don’t talk about your personal problems like relationships or health issues unless it has a direct bearing on your work schedule.
  • Treat others with respect. Even if you don’t like your boss, client or coworker, it is important to treat him or her with respect by, for example, not talking over the other person, using nicknames, yelling, or rolling your eyes.
  • Keep it simple. Be clear and do not give extraneous information, especially when asking another person to do something, as this is distracting and causes confusion. Avoid using jargon unless you are 100% certain that the other person is familiar with and comfortable with the terms.

Active Listening and Clarifying

An essential component of communication is listening to and understanding others. This can be accomplished by actively listening and clarifying. In addition to increasing understanding on the part of the listener, doing this also communicates empathy and respect to the speaker. 

Active Listening

Active listening is much more than just hearing what the other person is saying. It is really engaging with the other person and giving that person your entire attention. Practice these steps:

  • Look at the other person during the entire conversation.
  • Act neutral and nonjudgmental.
  • Don’t rush to fill the silence when there is a pause in the conversation.
  • Let the other person know you are listening by nodding your head, smiling, leaning in, saying words like “oh,” “hmm” and “wow” where appropriate and responding thoughtfully to their comments or questions.
  • While the other person is speaking, refrain from thinking about what you are going to say next.

Clarifying

Sometimes other people communicate in such a way that it is not clear what they are saying or what they want. Other times, the communication is clear, but it does not provide enough information. When either of these situations arises, clarifying will improve your understanding. While active listening is used mostly for in-person or phone conversations, clarifying can be used in both verbal and written communication. 

  • Ask questions. If information is missing, feel free to bring it up by asking a question starting with phrases such as, “What about…” “Which time period/customers/orders do you want me to…” “How should we…”, etc.
  • Repeat what was said. By repeating back what was said, the other person can confirm your understanding or provide his or her own clarification.
  • Summarize. This is similar to repeating, but you are putting it in your own words, beginning with phrases like, “As I understand it…” “To be clear…” or “I want to be sure that I understand…”

Non-Verbal Communication in the Workplace

Communication is far more than just the things you say. In fact, there are many ways to communicate without saying a single word and these non-verbal cues actually make up the bulk of our understanding.

Types and Examples of Non-Verbal Cues

At work, sharing time and working together toward common goals naturally creates an environment where relationships are created. Being aware of your non-verbal cues is an important part of maintaining those healthy work relationships and fostering new ones. Be careful interpreting other people’s non-verbal communication, however, especially if they are from a different racial or ethnic background than yours since non-verbal communication norms differ in certain cultures. Non-verbal communication involves different aspects of your physical being, such as:

  • Facial expressions – Your face can convey a range of emotions from delight and curiosity to boredom, anger, and contempt
  • Gestures – Your hand gestures communicate feelings. For example:
    • Tapping watch – impatience, frustration
    • Vigorous hand waving – excitement
    • Quick pointing – aggression
    • Slowly moving hand with palm down – quiet, slow down
  • Body language and posture – Our emotions are unconsciously expressed in our body language and posture. Generally speaking, when your body is taking up more space by standing tall, opening arms, and putting hands on hips, it indicates happiness and confidence, while making your body smaller by crossing arms, bending over a desk and slumping shoulders communicates insecurity, sadness and being closed off to new ideas.
  • Paralinguistics – The meaning of words can change quite a bit depending on how the words are said.
    • The tone of voice – Sarcastic, enthusiastic, wavering
    • The loudness of voice – Louder talking communicates confidence and assertiveness/aggression
    • Pitch – Usually more serious conversations, including bad news, are communicated in a lower-pitched voice
    • Inflection – Inflection can change meaning by emphasizing certain words for increased effect and can also indicate the degree of confidence, depending on whether the inflection goes up at the end of a statement (insecure) or down (confident).
  • Eye gaze – In Western cultures, looking a person in the eye is considered to be respectful, while in other cultures such as Native American or Asian, it is the opposite. Where you are looking can also communicate judgment (looking at a person up and down), impatience (looking at a watch), or boredom (looking at someone or something else while someone is speaking).
  • Touching – Touch as a means to communicate differs among the sexes. Women tend to use touch to express caring and concern (gently touching arm, hugging), while men use it to assert their dominance (slapping on back, high five).
  • Appearance – How you dress and look in general communicates your economic status, respect, and priorities. For example, a person who comes to work in dirty clothes with unkempt hair appears uncaring and disrespectful. A person whose clothes are colorful may be viewed as more outgoing and creative.
  • Artifacts – Artifacts are items or images that represent a person, such as an online avatar, or they can be objects that a person has in the workspace such as photographs or children’s drawings.

Emotions are easily conveyed through all of the ways mentioned above. If you aren’t careful, you may accidentally convey a message that you don’t intend to, or the person you are talking to can misinterpret and react to your emotion, intention, or even personality.

Imagine that you are speaking with a colleague about a new idea you plan to propose at the next meeting. As you speak, you notice that his arms are crossed. He rolls his eyes, yawns, and even scrunches his eyebrows. Without saying a word, he conveys to you his disinterest and lack of respect. How would this make you feel? It is important to be aware of your body language and facial expressions so that you do not offend the person who is speaking.

On the other hand, resist judging a coworker solely based on his or her non-verbal cues. Someone who resists eye contact might just be shy, or a colleague who crosses her arms may just be trying to warm up. Introverted people may come across as closed-off or uninterested, but their body language should not be the only form of communication. It is important to assess both spoken and non-verbal communication to accurately understand where others are coming from.

Office and Personal Space

Another example of non-verbal communication that often flies under the radar is space. In the workplace, there are two kinds of space: office space and personal space.

Office Space

A manager or CEO with a large office may signify a sense of power or authority, which can be interpreted negatively by the employees under his or her power. If you have a large office and spend most of your day behind closed doors, how will your employees react to this? It can signal that you are disinterested in communicating in a face-to-face manner, which is a sign of poor non-verbal communication. A clear sign of a strong company and its work is open communication and the fostering of a setting where ideas and opinions are shared openly across the organization.

While technology has been a benefit in the workplace, it might also come across in a negative way. If a boss primarily communicates with his employees via email from his office in the same building, the employees might read this as him being pompous or lazy. A healthy balance of in-person meetings with email correspondence is crucial in balancing verbal and non-verbal communication. 

Personal Space

Personal space, also called proxemics, involves how close to a person it is appropriate to stand or sit. When you invade another person’s personal space by getting too close or standing over them when they are sitting, it communicates aggression and makes the other person feel uncomfortable. Although the amount varies by culture, use these guidelines:

  • One-on-one conversation or group conversation – Between 18 inches and four feet
  • Speaking to a crowd of people – 10 to 12 feet

Acting on Non-Verbal Cues

A good employee is able to read non-verbal communication and translate it into meaning. Let’s say you are tasked with choosing a new benefits program with a group of colleagues. During your presentation, you notice that your colleagues react differently to different things you suggest. As you speak about the small number of paid sick days, you see their eyes roll and their bodies slouch in their chairs. By reading their bodies, you can tell they are unhappy with this plan because of this detail. You can then adjust the plan as needed or ask questions and use clarifying to get verbal or written feedback. 

Communicating Across Cultures in the Workplace

Diversity is a beautiful thing. Interacting with people different from yourself can give you different perspectives and open your mind to new ideas. In the 21st century workplace, diversity is becoming more and more prevalent. Enabled by technology, career professionals can expect to come into contact with people from a wide variety of countries, backgrounds, and cultures. More businesses are working with clients across the globe, without ever having to meet them in person. With that being said, the common office is also becoming a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and beliefs. It is extremely important now more than ever for employees to understand and appreciate what it means to be part of a diverse environment and how to communicate with people from a variety of backgrounds.

Embrace Cultural Diversity

Employees of varying cultures bring a wide variety of new ideas and different mindsets to the table. A good company recognizes and promotes this diversity, and therefore places high importance on the ability of its employees to communicate effectively. The more comfortable you are with building a working relationship with people of different cultures, the more productive your office and team will be.

Because there are so many different cultures that you may be introduced to, it can sometimes be tricky to know exactly what to say or how to say it. For example, two countries may speak the same language, but its members may use certain phrases that the other does not. It can be a challenge to collaborate with your colleagues, even if you speak the same language. Even within the U.S., there are different regional dialects.

 Some words differ between American English and British English. In America, the storage compartment in the back of a car is called the trunk, while in Britain it is called the boot. Try to familiarize yourself with terms that differ among cultures once you find out that you will have a colleague from that culture.

Do Not Fall Prey to Stereotypes

One of the ways that you can begin to communicate more effectively with a number of different cultures is to understand cultural diversity. This means practicing patience and ridding yourself of any preconceived notions. This is a broad way to begin understanding your colleagues; if you see them as an individual before the larger culture that they are a part of, it can help you communicate on the same level. Nobody likes being stereotyped into the culture he or she belongs to – there are ways to recognize and appreciate the differences of that culture without allowing it to become the predominant characteristic of the person you are communicating with.

Educate Yourself

Another important part of communicating across cultures is to put the effort into learning about them. You cannot expect to create a solid work relationship without meeting somewhere in the middle. Sometimes, a person’s work habits or reactions are driven by the culture he or she belongs to. It is important for you to understand that while these habits may be different from your own, they are not inappropriate – they are just different. This understanding can only come from training or an introduction to the specific culture. Many workplaces offer this kind of training, especially if the company does work in other countries.

If your workplace does not offer this, you can learn on your own. Feel free to respectfully ask (but not interrogate) a colleague from a different culture about their norms. You can also take note of others’ body language and take your cues from them. For example, if you meet someone from Japan and he bows to you, mirror his movement and bow the same amount in return. Being aware of other cultures’ practices will help you communicate more effectively, setting you apart from your colleagues. And hey, it just might be a great idea to suggest cross-cultural training in the next corporate meeting.

Practice Goodwill and Courtesy

It is a challenge for any employee to be learned in every single culture. This cannot be expected of you or anyone. What can be expected, however, is a frame of mind which promotes goodwill and courtesy. Although there are a wide array of cultures that place importance on a variety of behaviors, the primary concepts of goodwill and courtesy are almost always visible and appreciated by everybody. An employee who belongs to a relatively lesser-known culture may already be aware that his or her habits are not familiar to those belonging to the majority culture. If you show him or her respect and a willingness to learn about his or her culture, there’s no reason for any issue to arise.

Get What You Give

While it is essential to learn about the cultures of your colleagues and clients, it is equally important to note that you can respectfully demand the same from them. Mutual acceptance is the key to fostering a healthy work environment. Employees of the same company should all have the same goals in mind, regardless of the culture to which they belong. Any employee that does not follow a mindset of acceptance, open-mindedness, and understanding is harming the overall environment and damaging the company’s reputation and operations.

Keep It Simple

While the person you are communicating with may speak English, it may be the person’s second language. For best communication, keep vocabulary relatively straightforward. This is not the time for flowery prose. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid humor until you have an idea of what the other person finds funny since this varies widely across cultures.

Communicating with Differing Personalities in the Workplace

It’s no secret that we are inherently different from those around us. More often than not, these differences are a great benefit to the workplace. Different personality types often bring different skill sets, which can be of great importance when tackling a tough project or assignment as a team. 

However, differing personalities can also present challenges. It’s not uncommon for employees to be assigned a group task. If you’ve ever been a part of a group project, you know how difficult it can be to communicate with each member, designate duties for each one and hold all team members accountable. Each team or group member has different strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies that can sometimes conflict with your own or someone else’s.

In order to make it work, every employee’s personality type must be taken into account. It isn’t hard to determine the personalities of your colleagues. Even if you do not know them intimately, a few simple observations can tell you a lot of what you need to know. 

The most common personality test is the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. Some companies require job candidates to take this personality test or other similar tests to see how they might fit in the organization. You can take the self-assessment online for free to find out your own personality type. Then use your observational skills and the descriptions below to make an assessment of the personalities of your coworkers and get an idea of the best way to communicate with them. There are four different sliding scales between opposites resulting in a total of 16 personality types, depending on the relative strength of each characteristic. 

Sensing (S)

The sensing-intuition scale refers to how people take in information. People strong in sensing take in facts using their five senses and base their judgments and opinions based on that. They like to have experience in different areas that they deal with on a daily basis so they can add to their knowledge base and benefit from being shown how processes work. They may get stuck in a rut, and not be able to easily come up with a new solution to a problem or a new process that will improve operations. Accounting and finance departments are often home to sensors. On the other side of the spectrum from sensing is Intuition.

Intuition (N)

Those who are intuitive tend to be imaginative and creative. They can envision possibilities and are able to dream up new ways of doing things. They are seat-of-the-pants, go with the gut kind of people. Unlike the sensors, they may need a reality check. You might find people like this in the marketing and sales departments. They are the opposite of the sensors.

Introversion (I)

Introverts generally prefer to work alone and enjoy a quiet environment. It can be a challenge to connect with introverts, but there are effective ways to work with them. Give them space to work. They tend to be the best researchers and strategists, so it’s important to give them the time to do this. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off of him or her – introverts are almost always great listeners and will give you honest feedback. But don’t put them on the spot. Sending an email asking for feedback after the meeting will be more effective.

Extroversion (E)

On the opposite end of the spectrum sits the extrovert. They tend to be louder and more boisterous and rely heavily on the relationships and influences they receive from other people. They shine in large group settings, unafraid and willing to be the center of attention. Give them constant praise. Extroverts do extremely well with compliments and thrive on the approval of others. Allow extroverts the time and place for energy. 

Thinking (T)

The thinking-feeling scale has to do with how people tend to make decisions with the information they have. Thinkers make decisions methodically, logically and dispassionately. They can come off as being cold because they place a lower priority on people’s feelings and a higher priority on accomplishing the company’s goals. They don’t want to hear the story behind things and just want the relevant facts. They are the opposite side from feeling.

Feeling (F)

People who are feelers are empathetic, sensitive, kind, and can be emotional. They are the ones giving out hugs when someone is having a hard day. For them, emotions are the most important aspect of a decision. For example, a manager who is a feeler may decide to keep an unproductive employee because she is a single mother.  

Judging (J)

The judging-perceiving scale looks at how people deal with the world around them. Judgers prefer structure and firm decisions to feel certain and secure. They like a clear organizational chart with reporting hierarchies and rules that are equally and consistently applied. They become uncomfortable when there is no set way of doing things. 

Perceiving (P)

On the other side of judging is perceiving. People who are perceivers are more open and adaptable. They prefer more horizontal company structures and fluid project teams. They bring nimbleness to the organization and hate feeling as if they are boxed in by others. They are the type of employees who can spearhead change.

Finding a balance between different personality types in the workplace is the key to creating a productive environment. When everybody works together to accomplish one goal, the office becomes a fun and safe haven in which everybody can work.

Communicating Across Different Mediums in the Workplace

In the age of smartphones, Skype and Zoom, there are more ways than ever to communicate. Companies based overseas now have the ability to connect and conduct business without their employees ever meeting face-to-face. Large offices with many employees are able to quickly and efficiently communicate with each other via email, company networks, and third-party productivity software like Slack, saving paper and time. In nearly every category, the benefits are extensive.

However, there is one challenge that comes up time and again. All of these different mediums of communication necessitate a variety of communications skills. One of the key things to understand about communicating across different mediums is that each type of communication should be met with a different approach. 

In-Person Meetings

Whether you’re sitting in on the classic roundtable meeting, heading to your company’s out-of-state location, or simply discussing a project with your colleague, in-person meetings demand a certain skill set. Face-to-face communication is the only way to be fully aware of the reaction that someone is having to what you are saying. You can see their facial expressions, watch their body language and interpret non-verbal cues as to whether they are interested in your ideas. In-person meetings are helpful in clearing up any confusion that might have been presented during a phone conversation or an email correspondence. It is also the most appropriate way to have serious conversations like performance reviews.

When you’re talking with a colleague face-to-face, it’s important to be professional yet approachable. Be sure to make eye contact and respond verbally and non-verbally to indicate that you are listening. Use active listening and clarify if you are not clear on something. Be aware of personal space and let your colleague finish talking before you talk. 

Phone Calls

If you’re looking to contact an employee quickly and you need to get immediate answers or feedback, a phone or video call is your best option. When you make or answer a phone call, do your best to speak clearly. Answer the call with a greeting and your name or position. You can also add a question like “How may I help you today?” Also, speak slowly – there may be a delay on the line, so be sure to wait a couple of seconds after the other person finishes speaking before you begin. Always use your normal tone of voice, avoiding any slang words. If you have to place the caller on hold, tell them politely and indicate that you will be with them shortly. 

On a phone call, erring on the side of being a little more formal than when you meet in person is advised since you do not have visual feedback from them as you’re speaking. At the end of the conversation, you can recap any follow up that is needed such as “I’ll get that right over to you,” or “We’ll talk then” followed by good wishes like “Have a great day!” or “Goodbye” before you hang up.

Video Calls

Video calls can help you connect with someone you do not yet know well and are often used for interviews. They can also be helpful for collaboration when people in different locations are working on a project. All of the same recommendations for phone calls apply to video calls, but there are some additional things to be aware of since the other person can see you. Before getting on the call, check to make sure that your microphone is working, your volume is turned up so you can hear the other person and that you are visible on camera. Make sure that your background is neat or use one of the software’s built-in virtual backgrounds. If you use a virtual background, don’t move around too much because it can cause parts of you to disappear on the screen. 

Don’t do anything that you will not want the other person to see, like that you are eating your lunch or talking to someone else during the conversation. If you are working from home, make sure that your office door is locked so you won’t have someone walking by or a dog or child clamoring for attention.

Email or Chat Correspondence

Email is one of the most-used communication devices in the workplace. Emails spread information quickly and efficiently to multiple people and allow you to create a thread of conversations. However, the way in which you write your emails is a make-or-break factor in collaborating with colleagues. The same goes for the team collaboration software with chat capabilities such as Slack or Skype.

Using email for work still demands all of the professionalism of a face-to-face meeting. All emails are not created equally! For example, an email that you send to your friends might use slang and lack proper grammar and spelling. However, an email that you send to your fellow employees, bosses or clients should look extremely different. These emails should have an appropriate subject that indicates the purpose of the email. This makes it easy for the receiver to navigate through his or her inbox with ease.

Use a professional greeting to start an email, such as “Good Morning” or “Dear ___”. Use professional language and avoid anything that could be taken the wrong way. Although you think it might be okay to use a joke to lighten the mood, remember that it might not come across in the manner you intend. Unlike a face-to-face meeting, you cannot gauge the situation, nor can you quickly explain that you were joking. You should always end with an email signature, with your name, title, company, and other contact information such as your direct phone number.

Electronic chatting software is often used for communication between colleagues, and can therefore be a little less formal, depending on your audience. Because these types of chats are often formatted by a thread, the need for formal greetings and closings is often unnecessary and even inane, because the conversation never really ends. However, always keep in mind that you are amongst colleagues, not friends, and behave and communicate accordingly. 

Text

Since most people in the workplace have smartphones, more business communication is being done using text. Text communication should be used sparingly since it is only suitable for short messages that need a quick reply. No greeting is necessary, but if the recipient does not have you as a contact in his or her phone, you may need to preface your message by identifying yourself. If you have never texted this person before, it may be a good idea to let them know why you are doing so now. For example, you might say “Hi, this is Susan from ABC Company. I got your number from your customer record. It looks like you left your credit card here. I will hold it at the front desk for you to pick up.”

While it is common when texting friends and family members to use abbreviations for common phrases like “LOL,” avoid using these for work texts. Don’t use emojis when texting for work either; keep it to the point since texting is the most intrusive form of communication.

Proper Workplace Communication Channels

Every company has an organizational structure that outlines each department and division and which positions report to which managers and executives. For a very small company, it may be simple; all employees report directly to the owner. In huge corporations, there are many different levels before it ends at the top with the CEO. Typically, the day-to-day decisions are made at lower levels by supervisors or managers, with more strategic or overarching decisions made higher up by, division or regional managers and then vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and the C-suite (chief financial officer or CFO, chief marketing officer or CMO, chief executive officer or CEO, etc.).

Usually, the person you will be updated about your work, receiving assignments from, and turning in work to is the person you report to, your boss. When you have questions or feedback about your work, you will be communicating them to your boss. Managers are answerable to their own managers and thus need to know everything that happens in their domain, so they get upset when their employees go around them to communicate with managers at higher levels rather than directly to them. 

Try to resolve any problems by communicating with your boss. If you have a complaint about your boss, it is appropriate to contact the human resources department, which will take your report,  investigate and try to resolve the issue. 

Likewise, companies may have policies about when, how and whom can communicate with customers. Make sure you are aware of your communication responsibilities and limitations when starting a new position. 

Avoiding Communication Pitfalls

Communication at work can be tricky. Here are some communication pitfalls that you should try to avoid: 

  • Complaining, criticizing, or otherwise expressing concern via email or another written medium – Problems are best-resolved face-to-face with the individual involved.
  • Talking too much in sales or customer service conversations – Instead, spend most of your time doing active listening so you can meet customer needs.
  • Immediately saying no – When someone at work makes a request, whether it is a manager, colleague or customer that is difficult or impossible, don’t refuse right away. Think of what you can do that might at least partially satisfy the person’s request.
  • Being cryptic – When asked for information or to provide feedback, try to offer a thoughtful and complete response. Acknowledge good points and offer constructive and polite criticism when appropriate.
  • Assuming everyone in the organization is “in the know” – Information in a company is not even. When explaining something or assigning a task, make sure the other person has all of the information he or she needs or at least how to get it.
  • Gossiping – Gossip and complaints about the company or people in it have a way of coming back to haunt the person who said it or participated in the conversation. Stay above petty gossip so that you can be on good terms with everyone.
  • Ignoring communication – Read your emails and other digital communication from your work colleagues, boss, and customers in a timely manner and respond to let them know you got the message.
  • Being a wallflower – Make sure you are regularly communicating at work as needed. If you are an introvert and don’t like to speak up in meetings, send emails or talk to individuals one-on-one afterward. When you get to work and leave at the end of the day, greet your coworkers and smile to form connections.

Assertive Communication in the Workplace

Communicating assertively at work can be a challenge for some people, especially if they are in a lower position in the organization. New employees often find it difficult to express their ideas, thoughts or opinions for fear of being ostracized by those who have been there longer. Assertive communication necessitates a balance between being respectful of the opinions and rights of others while still getting what you need. 

Assertive Speech

Standing up for yourself and your thoughts in the workplace is extremely important. You can think of assertive communication as the middle ground between passive and aggressive communication styles. When you speak assertively, you:

  • Respond to a disagreement or conflict in a respectful manner.
  • Express yourself with others.
  • Confidently make decisions.
  • Are able to appropriately say “no” to people or things you don’t want.
  • Are able to ask for help when you need it without fear.
  • Take responsibility for your actions or behaviors.

The root of a lot of stress in the workplace comes from being too passive. This is often the case with new employees and those who are more introverted than their colleagues. Rather than speak up about an overwhelming workload, they keep quiet and run themselves into the ground. In this situation, being assertive would mean being open and honest with your boss or superior about your abilities. Taking on too many projects might seem like a great way to impress the higher-ups, but if you do poorly and cannot complete the tasks you’ve accepted, it will only backfire. There’s nothing wrong with turning down a project or assignment that would put you over the edge. Using an “I” statement, in this case, would be a great way to signal your diligence. For example, you can be honest and say “I cannot meet that deadline, but I would like to help you reach your goal.” 

Assertive Tone and Body Language

Assertive communication is not only about what you say, but how you say it. Your tone can have a powerful impact on those around you. Aggressive communication involves a negative tone, one which indicates an employee’s dissatisfaction while taking zero responsibility for his or her actions. Your tone should be even and steady throughout your speech. Do not raise the volume of your voice at any point. Make sure that you are ending statements with a downward inflection rather than an upward inflection like you are asking a question.

Body language is another key factor in successful assertive communication. It’s important to find a balance between a passive appearance and an aggressive one. Stand tall, use eye contact, and avoid crossing your arms or legs.

When you are indicating to another employee in a group setting that he or she needs to finish an assignment by the end of the day, do not ask them – tell them. This is not an aggressive way of communicating, but rather a respectful way of being assertive in your position. Rather than asking, “Will you have this completed by the end of the day?” you can say, “Please have this finished by the end of the day.” You will gain respect from your colleagues by indicating that you are also respecting them.

Balanced Communication

Of course, being assertive does not always guarantee that you will get what you want. As an assertive employee, you understand that there is a balance between your own needs and the needs of your fellow employees. You should not, however, sit back and allow yourself or a fellow employee that is too passive to speak up to be the victim of unacceptable behavior. You win some and you lose some, but you understand your rights. An aggressive employee focuses on winning, while an assertive employee focuses on the best and fairest outcome for everyone involved.

There is a fine line between passive, assertive and aggressive styles of communication. If you can master the art of assertive communication, you will not only become a respected and trusted employee, but you will increase productivity for your entire office. 

Presentations and Public Speaking

Around three-quarters of the public has some anxiety around speaking in front of people. However, your work may require you to give a presentation or speech, whether in front of a handful of people, a packed lecture hall, or somewhere in between. If you can master the art of public speaking and overcome your anxiety, it will help you to excel and get noticed at work.

Prepare

Although some nervousness is normal, the more prepared you are beforehand, the calmer you will be. This involves several steps. First, be sure that you know the material, inside and out. When you become the expert on your subject matter, you can confidently add more detail and examples to your presentation on the fly and answer any questions with ease. 

Next, find out as much as you can about your audience. How familiar are they with the subject matter? What information are they interested in and want to hear more about? A talk about a new product launch will sound very different if you are presenting it to the finance department compared to a group of potential buyers. Tailor your content to your audience’s interests and needs. 

Write an outline of your presentation with main talking points and subheaders to get the structure, check if the information flows logically, and make sure everything you want to talk about is included.

Create Your Visual Aid

With your outline in hand, start working on your visual aid. Most work presentations and speeches are accompanied by text and images in Powerpoint or Keynote presentation software. The Powerpoint gives audience members something other than you to look at and reinforces your points. Do not put everything you say into your Powerpoint presentation! It makes it hard to read, confusing and distracting.

Keep your presentation to no more than 10 slides so that your audience can retain the information you are presenting. Each slide should have no more than five bullet points and a title. Keep bullet points short and to the point. Remember, you are the main thing the audience should be focusing on; the slides should be a background. Use high-quality, relevant images for visual impact. Slides should look clean and uncluttered, with text in easy-to-read fonts that is big enough to be read from the back of the room (30 points and larger). 

At the end of your Powerpoint, include a slide with your name and contact information as well as what you want them to do next.

Practice

Once your presentation is finished, practice it out loud by yourself and time how long it takes you to say everything you want to say. If you have to fill up a certain amount of time or are limited to a certain amount of time, you can make any needed adjustments and then run through it and time it again until it is the right length. 

Do it a few times more by yourself so that you can work out how you want to say things and your presentation becomes smoother. Work to eliminate filler words and phrases like “um” “so” “like” and “you know” so that you sound more confident. Pay attention to your hand gestures so you are not making nervous movements like picking on your nails. Once you feel good about it, practice it a few times with a small audience of friends or family to get their feedback and practice answering questions. 

Show Time

Get to the room where you will be presenting at least half an hour early to set up your laptop, check the projector and test the microphone if you are using one. If you have multimedia files like videos in your presentation, check your Internet connection and make sure they are running correctly. 

At conferences and trade shows, most speakers will be introduced by the person organizing the event before they take the stage. If this is not the case and your audience is not already familiar with you, when you first get up to speak, look out at your audience and introduce yourself and your topic. Decide ahead of time if you will take questions during the presentation at the end of each slide or at the end. Announce this at the beginning like so, “Please hold your questions for the end when we will be having a Q & A session” or “I will take questions as we go through the information, after each slide.”

Under no circumstances should you do your presentation by reading it from your Powerpoint or written notes! There is nothing more boring than attending a presentation where the presenter is reading everything. After all of this practice, you should be familiar enough with what you are going to say that you do not need to refer to notes. If, during the presentation, you forget what you are going to say next, you can glance at the slide to jog your memory.

While you are speaking, gaze out at the people in the room, making eye contact with people in different areas. Don’t be afraid to use hand gestures and to walk back and forth as you talk. When showing complicated data in a chart or table, you can turn your body slightly toward the screen and gesture to it with your hand or a laser pointer. 

To increase audience engagement, many successful presenters use interactive techniques. The simplest of these is simply to ask the audience questions that relate to the material you are discussing and call on those who raise their hands. Respond to comments by saying “Yes!” “Thank you” “Interesting perspective” and other positive reactions. Other interactive techniques include asking audience members to write things down on forms that you have passed out or to role-play. Some speakers even ask attendees to respond to online polls, the results of which show up in their presentations in real-time.

Mastering public speaking and presentations will make you an expert business communicator.

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