Have you ever gotten pulled into an email or text chain because one of its recipients was confused? Few things are as frustrating as trying to untangle time-consuming miscommunications. Worse, since the COVID-19 pandemic birthed millions of remote-working newbies, folks used to face-to-face conversations are having a hard time conveying their message. One survey estimated the average office pro spends nearly six hours a day on emails (with half that time focused on personal rather than business communications.) There’s no question ineffective communication trashes productivity.
Being a poor communicator can also hold you back. A study done more than 100 years ago concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well-honed soft skills like communication. Just 15% comes from hard skills that are often developed at university –– like engineering or biochemistry. It’s easy to dismiss a study from 1918, but surveys of hiring managers consistently point to their interest in recruiting employees with well-developed soft skills. Here’s how to improve communication skills at work.
Be An Active Listener
When most of us think about communication, we think about talking. When you start paying more attention to what others are saying, your effectiveness as a communicator goes way up. Active listeners ask questions based on what the speaker says. They paraphrase what they heard and make eye contact throughout the conversation. Of course if the conversation is conducted telephonically or via Zoom, being focused on what is being said rather than waiting for a pause to offer your own two cents is even more vital.
Read Your Own Emails
Plenty of people hit send without even perusing what they have written. That’s a mistake. Take the time to proofread. Ask yourself if you are being as clear as possible. Be brief. Few of us enjoy opening an email and realize a three-page missive awaits. Plus, nothing screams “I have too much time on my hands” like a 2,000-word email on why we all need to do a better job cleaning the break room.
Don’t Fall Into the Generation Gap
People my age tend to like exclamation points and emojis. While once considered unprofessional, over time people of all ages have embraced this method of lightening communication when we aren’t face to face. Think about it. When someone is right across from you and they make a joke, you usually know they are joking. In emails, the same comment can come across as rude.
Older workers often respond to an email or text with an “OK” which to recipients can seem mean, even hostile. I believe workplaces benefit from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. Lots of start-ups fail because they lack this. Still, being an effective communicator means knowing your audience. Learning how to communicate with people who are both younger and older is a great way to be put in a leadership role.
Under promise and over deliver. Be a doer not a talker. Keep your commitments. No matter how you phrase it, the key is keeping your word. Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships, both business and personal. If you want to inspire action, you must first engender trust. One study suggested almost 25% of workers don’t trust their employer. Effective communication and trust go hand in hand. Plus, whether you are a manager or a colleague, being trustworthy increases the chance that you’ll hear about a problem before it becomes a huge issue.
Even Bosses Have to Explain Themselves
Remember growing up when you asked why you had to do something and you heard, “Because I’m the parent.” Chances are you weren’t happy with that explanation. When a manager doesn’t explain why a request is important, the implied reason is, “Because I’m the boss.” Telling employees why something is important doesn’t diminish your power. It shows that you believe in them and know certain tasks may be difficult to accomplish. Encouraging questions and cultivating dialogue is a big part of how to improve communication skills at work.
Like all skills, communication takes practice. It comes more naturally to some than to others. Yet with time anyone can improve. Communication is a soft skill employers crave. That means becoming an effective communicator will not only help you at your current job but make it easier to land the next one.
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