10 Straightforward Ways to Improve Communication at Work

Ross Brooks
10 Straightforward Ways to Improve Communication at Work

Good communication is one of the best ways to make sure everyone in your team understands what is expected of them. Not only does it keep everyone working towards the company’s overall goals, it helps to build trust and create a more enjoyable place to work.

When communication isn’t working, it can cause confusion, frustration and a lack of trust between different levels of the organisation. At its worst, poor communication can result in increased turnover, absenteeism and lower levels of customer satisfaction.

How to improve communication at work?

The good news is there are countless ways you can improve communication in the workplace, none of which require a lot of money or time to implement. Some involve working on how you communicate and putting more formal processes in place, while others focus on creating an environment that allows people to communicate more openly.

Make time for regular 1-to-1s

Even if you have an “open-door” policy available to your team, some people will always find it easier to speak their mind in a more private setting. Whether you decide on a weekly or monthly 1-to-1, make sure it’s set up as a recurring event in your calendar.

It’s OK to miss the occasional meeting, but let the other person know first. If you consistently reschedule or cancel your 1-to-1 it sends the message that you don’t value your employees time or opinions, which can erode trust and lead to a breakdown of communication.

You don’t need to have a strict agenda for your 1-to-1s but it’s good to focus on current priorities, set short-term goals and find out if your team has enough time and resources to accomplish their goals. It’s also important to create space for people to voice any concerns they might be having and share new project ideas that could be valuable for the wider team.

Schedule weekly team meetings

1-to-1s are important to understand individual concerns, but it’s equally important to make sure the whole team is aligned. Weekly team meetings are the perfect for people to share their goals for the week, highlight blockers and find out what other people in the team are working on. The result is greater transparency and more opportunity for collaboration.

Team meetings are also the perfect place for managers to announce new projects, progress on team goals and anything else that might be relevant. Make time at the end of the meeting for an open Q&A where people can ask questions and voice concerns to the whole team.

At Peakon we start the week off with a team meeting where everyone shares the one goal they want to accomplish, along with any other projects they’re currently working on. Then at the end of the week, we all get together to share our successes and failures, followed by an open session where we can have a discussion and share our learnings with the team.

Follow up with notes and a clear set of expectations

This doesn’t need to happen after every meeting, but it’s especially useful for 1-to-1s and meetings focused on a specific project. Instead of agreeing deadlines and responsibilities verbally, it’s much more effective for someone to take notes and share them afterwards.

The aim isn’t to call out anyone that falls short of their objective or misses a deadline, it’s to make sure that everyone understand what’s expected of them. This ensures everyone in the team has a clear focus and can prioritise accordingly. It’s also a great way to figure out when specific tasks need to be broken down further or deadlines need to be adjusted.

To keep things fair, rotate the person who is taking notes and communicating them afterwards. Keep things brief as well. Who’s doing what, and by when. Do other people need to be involved, or are there any dependencies which could affect the completion date?

Create a safe space for your team to communicate

In order for team meetings to be effective, first you need to create a sense of “psychological safety” amongst your team. It’s defined as « being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career ». It was also identified as one of the core components of an effective team in a two-year study done by Google.

Essentially, you need to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their ideas, voicing criticism and asking “stupid” questions. When this happens employees are more willing to say what they really mean instead of just playing along.

One of the best ways to create psychological safety is leading by example. Question people when something is unclear. Admit when you made a mistake or don’t have the answer to someone’s question. As a manager you also need to control the flow of a conversation. If someone is being overly aggressive or constantly interrupting, you need to create space for others to talk.

Explain why you’re asking someone to do something

Giving someone a task without any explanation as to why it’s important or how it fits into the bigger picture is a surefire way to frustrate people within your team. In order for our work to be more meaningful, we need to feel that we’re contributing to something bigger than ourselves.

Maybe you’ve asked someone to manually update a few hundred CRM records. It’s not the most glamorous task, but what if you explain that it’s part of a larger initiative to enrich new leads so that sales can hit their quarterly target? Suddenly you’ve turned a somewhat meaningless task into something that has real value for the business.

You won’t always be able to make tasks more meaningful. Sometimes it’s better to admit that something just needs to be done. Honesty will show your employees that you can empathise with their situation and help to build trust for when you need them to pull together and work on more unglamorous tasks than usual.

Keep feedback constructive

People need feedback to understand if they are meeting expectations or not. Done wrong, it can come across as a personal attack, but when feedback is constructive it can help employees understand what they’re doing well and what needs to be done in order to improve.

Here are a few tips for giving constructive feedback:

  • Base your feedback on observations and facts, not judgments. Use specific examples where possible and use verbs instead of adjectives to describe a specific scenario. E.g. “I noticed you interrupted James before he finished talking so that you could pitch your own idea,” instead of, “You can be quite rude in meetings and I notice you always interrupt people before they’ve finished talking.”
  • Give people in your team a chance to respond to feedback. The aim isn’t for people to defend themselves or justify their behaviour, it’s to get their perspective on a particular situation. Turn feedback into a discussion whenever possible so that you can work together to come up with a solution – instead of just prescribing advice.
  • Imagine how you would feel if you were to receive the same feedback. Hurt? Angry? Defensive? Then you probably need to work on your delivery. Feedback is an opportunity for growth, just make sure that you would happy on the receiving end.

Remember that communication is a two-way activity

As a manager it’s not your job to simply hand out orders. Communication needs to be two-way, which means asking for feedback on your ideas from your team, giving other people a chance to speak in meetings and making the effort to listen in return.

You might have a specific goal or objective that you want your team to achieve, but having a discussion with individuals about exactly how to achieve those goals will give them a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility. All of which contribute to better engagement.

Get to know people on a personal level

Communication isn’t only about making sure the right people in the organisation have the right information, it’s about being able to connect with people. You can’t praise the virtues of communication in a meeting and then immediately lock yourself in a corner office afterwards.

Lead by example. Get to know your team. It can be as simple as asking about their weekend, remembering their partner’s name or finding a few common interests that you can talk about when the conversation isn’t focused purely on a work-related issue.

Get out of the office every now and again. Being able to spend time with your colleagues outside of a work environment can help to build real friendships, which can result in more honest communication and a much more supportive and enjoyable work environment.

Don’t rely on Slack and other messaging tools

Unless all of your employees work remotely, it’s good to keep in mind that face-to-face communication can be more effective than chatting over Slack or even jumping on a video call. You can pick up on body language and other subtle cues you might otherwise miss.

Face-to-face meetings are a great to practice the art of the long silence. Ask people for an honest opinion and give them plenty of time to respond. Watch how they respond physically. Are they defensive? Excited? Uninterested? Instead of just going through the motions, pay attention to how people respond and dig deeper if you think there’s something under the surface.

Offer a way for people to provide anonymous feedback

Even in a perfect world, there are still things that people will only feel comfortable expressing anonymously.

By offering your team a way to submit feedback anonymously, it gives you the opportunity as a manager to uncover hidden issues that are affecting your team. For smaller organisations, you can use a tool like SurveyMonkey to collect employee feedback on a regular basis.

Good Communication Requires Consistent Effort

Most of us know how to communicate with our friends, family and significant others, but why is it so hard to do the same at work?

Often it boils down to creating an environment where people are comfortable enough to express what they’re really thinking, challenge ideas and ask questions that might come across as stupid. Managers need to set an example for their team by demonstrating what it means to be a good communicator. That means practicing good listening skills, giving team members an opportunity to speak, setting clear expectations and providing regular feedback.

What are you doing right now to improve communication at work?

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