My grandfather used to say, “you’ve got two ears and only one mouth; use them with that ratio in mind” ….unfortunately, I wasn’t really listening.
Here we take a look at how, by engaging people in the right ways, you can overcome barriers and achieve effective communication in the workplace.
Barriers to communication in the workplace
The challenges of communicating in the contemporary workplace are many, containing a large number of potential barriers to the achievement of understanding. Workload, technology and media-literacy, jargon, vocabulary, cultural diversity, and time-pressure all serve to create a climate where we communicate in a form of ‘code’, encapsulating our meaning often in a series of short messages that are easily misconstrued.
The famous two Ronnies sketch about a man entering a shop to ask for four candles is a neat illustration of how easily a piece of communication can go wrong, even when face-to-face. Factor in the challenges of email (especially when it’s one of 50 received that day alone), voicemail messages, calls on the mobile where the signal is flaky, meetings where attention can wander, and personal bias where meaning is interpreted to suit the recipient, and it’s something of a minor miracle that understanding is ever achieved.
Achieving effective communication in the workplace
When you are a leader, you are not immune to this litany of problems. But when you need to make objectives clear, when you want to persuade your audience to share your vision, and when the consequences of misunderstanding could be severe, you absolutely have to make sure that understanding has been achieved.
Here are some ways you can help ensure your message is received, and in the way you intended it to be.
Use multiple methods
Most messages need to be communicated in more than one way, or through more than one medium. If you’ve spoken to your team, follow up with an email containing the key points for reference and clarity.
If you’ve sent an email or a memo, follow it up with a conversation. If you’re talking at a meeting, supplement your spoken words with images and activity, so that recipients are encouraged to process the meaning in a number of ways.
Participation aids understanding. If you want buy-in, leave room for the audience to input and shape the communication or decision.
Check understanding by asking open questions, and really listening to the feedback you get. Watch body language to understand the spirit in which the message is being received.
Food for thought
Before you communicate, think about this: What effect do you want it to have? How do you want the audience or recipient to feel? How will you judge whether that is what’s happening, so you can adapt and steer?