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What Did You Say to Me? | Increasing Workplace Communication

Workplace communication isn’t easy.

Communication. Everything, from personal to business relationships hinges on it. Communicate too little, too much, or incorrectly and everything you’ve worked for can fall apart. When people communicate properly, in a way that makes all parties feel heard, even conflict and criticism can be constructive and lead to positive results.

Humans are social creatures by nature. We work together, play together, and live together. Introverted or extroverted, we need to communicate on a daily basis with those around us. Verbal and non verbal, quietly or loudly, we communicate at work with our co-workers, employees, and leaders. We communicate at home with our families and friends. We’ve been communicating our whole lives. And we’re going to keep on communicating.

So why is it often so difficult?

In business, a lack of workplace communication is sometimes inexplicable yet most always detrimental. People are hired for jobs that they are knowledgeable about, that they have the skills to perform. But if they can't interact with those around them in a productive manner - then not much benefit is really achieved. Whenever we speak to someone, we run the risk of not being able to get our point across without sending our message through numerous filters, like personal biases, difficult mediums, and external distractions. When everything is combined:

“What we have here is failure to communicate” -Cool Hand Luke, 1967

The failure to communicate, so to speak, is one of the number one reasons for poor organizational culture, inefficiency, lost productivity, decreased engagement and reduced customer satisfaction. A lack of communication can lead to decreased innovation and negatively impact the bottom line.

So what can we do to increase positive communication?

Providing Feedback: Feedback is critical, both positive and negative. The balance between constructive and harmful criticism is a precarious one - and a once size fits all approach will not succeed. Say the wrong thing, and it can lower engagement, reduce trust and impact performance. But don’t forget the positive feedback as well. Whether it's creating a reward for outstanding work or just a simple “well done”, people need positive reinforcement just as much as critique. Not all people are the same. There’s no one key for universal success when it comes to constructive criticism - it comes down to having an understanding of what motivates individuals and knowing how they respond best to feedback.

Understanding Differences: Diversity factors such as cultural and generational differences can make a difference. Believe me, working with a 20-something is a different kind of challenge than working with a baby-boomer. Understanding how an individual’s cultural and diversity related views and feelings impact the way they see and hear things, in the world around them, impacts communication. Adapting style may be necessary for success. Be respectful of the different ways people communicate and respond in kind within reason. It all comes back to getting to know the people you’re communicating with and being able to flex your communication style and approach for a given audience.

Really Listening: To put it simply - listening is critical. Whether you are the office intern and need to understand exactly what your boss wants in their coffee or the executive listening to employees comments, it’s critical to listen and seek to understand. Some even suggest that with every office conversation, listen like there’s going to be a pop quiz at the end, and this skill can make or break your grade. Once you really listen, don’t neglect to also take action and follow up as appropriate.

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said."

- Peter Drucker

These few suggestions seem easy, but when put into practice, often it’s easier said than done. Just remember, good communication leads to increased performance, employee engagement and retention, and a high performing culture. And all of those lead to increased profits and long term sustainability. So developing good communication skills and a good communication strategy is definitely worth it in the long run!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions - an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing people --> performance --> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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Profile Photo Scott Kearby

As I often heard when I was in Iraq ... even though we write plan after plan, and issue the Commander's Intent, WARNOs (Warning Orders), OPORDs (Operations Orders), and FRAGOs (Fragementary Orders) ... communication is the still the hardest thing to get right!