Workplace Communication: 5 Best Practices that Lead to Dramatic Improvements
Saying that effective workplace communication is important is like saying water is wet, fire is hot, or that people with small children will repeatedly, and painfully, step on Lego many, many times. These are all blatantly self-evident (especially the Lego one).
However, just because everyone knows that effective workplace communication is important, does NOT mean that it’s happening everywhere. Consider these statistics:
- 28% of employees cite ineffective communication as the number one reason why they cannot deliver work on time.
- 86% of employees and executives believe that ineffective communication is the core reason for workplace failures.
- Ineffective communication costs large enterprises an average of $62.4 million per year in reduced productivity, re-work, lost sales, lack of innovation, and missed opportunities.
Communicating vs. Conversing
Workplace communication is not just an endless stream of digital and in-person “exchanges.” That is conversing — not communication. What’s the difference? Conversing is noise. But communication is about ushering tasks forward towards completion in a quality and efficient manner while enhancing employee engagement. Indeed, research has found that well-connected teams are 20–25% more productive, and organizations that communicate effectively are 4.5x more likely to retain their most talented people.
How to Boost Workplace Communication
Here are five best practices to dramatically improve workplace communication:
Effective Workplace Communication Best Practice #1: Implement an All-in-One VoIP Cloud Phone System
It is impossible to make workplace communication highly effective — or even basically functional for that matter — if individuals and teams are using different phone systems. And this is especially important now as a growing number of employees are working remotely (either full-time or hybrid).
An all-in-one VoIP cloud phone system brings everyone together — regardless of where they are located — so they can connect, collaborate, and stay organized and focused. In addition to making and receiving phone calls and text messages from any device, they can also leverage unified communications (UC) to participate in video conferences, and integrate with other cloud-based systems (e.g. ERM, ERP, etc.) in real-time to increase customer experience and overall workflow efficiency.
Effective Workplace Communication Best Practice #2: Have Intelligent Meetings — or Don’t Have them At All
Just like the difference between workplace communicating and workplace conversing is vast, there is an enormous gap between intelligent meetings and unintelligent ones. Intelligent meetings check these boxes:
- They are necessary.
- They have an agenda (and stick to it!).
- They are scheduled in advance (of course this is not always possible for urgent/emergency issues).
- They are not (when possible) scheduled for first thing Monday morning or last thing Friday afternoon.
- They end when they’re supposed to.
- They are followed up with an email or other communication that highlights key action items and who owns them (e.g. “Sue will contact our ISP and inquire about the costs of increasing bandwidth”).
Effective Workplace Communication Best Practice #3: Understand the Rules and Limits of Different Communication Channels
Having a difficult conversation about a sensitive matter is best handled in-person, or if that is not possible then through a one-on-one video call or phone call. On the other end of the spectrum, there is no need to have a formal conference call to send the team a quick and ordinary administrative update — because that’s what email and text messages are for.
The point of these examples is to highlight that different communication channels need to be used appropriately. Where necessary, managers need to provide training and coaching so that everyone is being as efficient as possible (folks who send novels in emails when a short bullet point would do, we’re looking at you!).
Effective Workplace Communication Best Practice #4: Practice Active Listening
Active listening is at the core of effective workplace communication. Indeed.com defines this as:
The ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully. Unlike passive listening, which is the act of hearing a speaker without retaining their message, this highly valued interpersonal communication skill ensures you’re able to engage and later recall specific details without needing information repeated.
Tips to increase one’s active listening ability include:
- When possible, face the speaker and establish eye contact (but of course in a friendly and open way vs. a stern and intimidating way!)
- Be attentive, yet remain relaxed. This is just as important in face-to-face communication as it is over the phone, or even when emailing and texting. For example, crafting an email when one is very tense and stressed-out is invariably going to influence both the content and tone — and in ways do not enhance communication, but degrade it.
- Keep an open mind, and avoid jumping ahead. Stay in the moment.
- Unless it is appropriate (and sometimes it may even be invited), resist the temptation to interrupt. Of course, use good judgment and common sense with this. For example, if a speaker is communicating something complex and or detailed and one feels lost or confused, politely asking them to reiterate or elaborate on something is fine — and usually appreciated. Nobody likes talking for several minutes only to find out that their audience hasn’t understood 90% of what they said!
- In addition to intellectually comprehending what the speaker is saying, try and feel the message as well. As the curator of Forbes WomensMedia, Nancy F. Clark wisely pointed out: “Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.”
- Pay attention to what isn’t said — not necessarily because the speaker is consciously withholding information, but because a great deal of communication happens through non-verbal cues. Naturally, communicating through email and text is a different story, since some people communicate very differently through these channels than they do in person (we are always surprised when someone who we have emailed/texted for a while, and who seems a bit terse and cold, turns out to be extremely engaging and friendly in person!). Yet with this being said, active listeners are also active readers and will reflect on the totality of an email/text — including the context — before forming an opinion or responding.
Effective Workplace Communication Best Practice #5: Ensure that Everyone is Respectful at All Times
The last piece of the effective workplace communication puzzle is often the most important. Or to put this differently: in most cases, it does not matter if workplace communication checks all four of the boxes discussed above. If it is not seen as respectful, then it will no longer be perceived as communication at all — rather, it will be perceived as an attack.
It is ultimately up to leaders to set communication standards and enforce them as necessary. For example, colleagues who routinely communicate in a disrespectful manner should initially be spoken to in an informal and private manner by their immediate supervisor or manager. If that does not remedy the situation, then it is necessary to make things official and start the process of progressive discipline.
It is extremely important for leaders not to overlook disrespectful communicators, because they may happen to be top performers. A Harvard Business School study found that toxic employees are liabilities rather than assets because their behavior makes frustrated co-workers less productive, and they also drive out other workers — which forces companies to spend more money recruiting and training replacement hires.
The Bottom Line
Effective workplace communication is the master key that unlocks higher productivity, better performance, more employee engagement, improved customer experience, more dynamic innovation, and greater organizational success — both in the short term and the long run.
Carolina Digital Phone’s all-in-one cloud phone system is a cornerstone of effective workplace communication — and MUCH more affordable, flexible, scalable and feature-rich than a conventional landline phone system. Book your free live guided demo, which we can deliver in-person or over the web. Call us today at (336) 544–4000.