Communication courses kind of get a bad rap: it seems like everyone associates communication with just public speaking and PowerPoint.
But more communication happens between friends and over desks than from a stage.
In fact, in a 2013 survey of employers, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found communication-related abilities ranked highest among important workplace skills.
The highest ranked skill: ability to work in a group.
The fourth highest: ability to verbally communicate inside and outside the office.
It wouldn’t be too crazy to say that the career success of recent graduates relies heavily on their ability to communicate well.
It makes a lot of sense, too. An employee who doesn’t work well with others or can’t communicate ideas effectively can slow down their team or department.
So, here are 7 tips on improving communication in the workplace.
Listening shows respect to whoever is speaking.
Communication happens in two directions, and regardless of how well you speak, without attention to listening, you miss out on half of all communication. A couple of listening advantages you might miss out on? Listening helps you gain information and shows whoever is speaking that you respect them and their ideas.
In her article, Hannah Morgan of US News Money puts it this way, “The most adept communicators are experts at listening and reading between the lines… Ask open ended follow-up questions. It shows your respect for the person speaking and for the information they are sharing.”
Part of being a great communicator in the workplace is acknowledging your part in a conversation. This is often referred to as closing the loop. By letting your coworkers know that you got their email or you saw the memo, that loop is closed, and they’re able to move on to new projects and other discussions.
Entrepreneur and author Kevin Daum writes in his Inc.com article that “if I send you an email or text giving you requested information, I have no way of knowing that you received it and it was acceptable unless you tell me.”
Daum suggests that closing the loop can be as simple as “Thank you” or “Message received”—just something small to acknowledge that you got the message.
Closing the loop is as easy as a quick response in an email.
3. Ask two questions
Communication is rarely perfect and often lacking, especially when you’re on the hunt for specific information. If that’s the case, make it a priority to ask two searching, on-topic questions to elicit the information you need.
Daum explains that asking two questions “will make you think harder about what is being said and will ensure both parties were fully engaged.”
4. Hit the headline first
When talking, keep it simple, and keep it direct. In the workplace, you really only need to share what needs to be shared, not everything you have to share.
In her summary of Karen Friedman’s Shut Up and Say Something, Forbes writer Susan Adams writes, “Too many of us are just plain long-winded, [Friedman] says. ‘People don’t need to know everything we know,’ she explains. ‘Think about what the single most important point is that you need to make, the central idea. If your computer died or the fire alarm went off, what would be the one thing they needed to hear?’”
5. Say it face to face
There are a lot of ways to communicate in the office: email, IM, phone, text, or face-to-face. What’s the preferred way, though?
In their Problems and Perspectives in Management article, Kyle David Pillay and Muhammad Hoque polled 28 staff members (management and employees) to observe communication in the workplace. They found that, though management and employees preferred different types of communication, both parties favored face-to-face communication over any other type.
Face to face is the best form of communication
6. Hold or attend a brief communication skills workshop
If communication in your office is really bad, a small workshop might be just the right fix. In a 2015 study on the effects of a brief communication skills workshop on workplace communication, H. Somemura et al. split 128 employees into two groups: one that attended a communication skills training and one that didn’t.
“Communication behavior in workers such as ‘thinking together to solve problems’ was significantly improved with the [communication skills training].”
(For more on giving students the skills they need: 10 Top-Paying Skills Your Students Need in 2017)
7. Keep a few useful phrases tucked away
If you’re ever not quite sure what to say to communicate a little bit better, keep a few aces up your sleeve. Having go-to phrases that improve communication is a small but effective step toward near perfect workplace communication.
In his recent article “5 Phrases Excellent communicators Always Use At Work,” Robert Locke shares 5 phrases used by successful workplace communicators. My favorite: “What do you mean when you say…?“ Asking for clarity is one of the best ways to improve workplace communication. It requires a little humility (no one likes not knowing everything), but the little extra information you gain from asking for clarity sure beats the time you might otherwise spend figuring it out on your own.
Communication is the foundation of functional teams, departments, and workplaces. With a little extra effort today, you can develop your communication skills for tomorrow.
For more awesome content on communication and public speaking, subscribe to our quarterly newsletter The Yardstick & Apple.