When looking at a job description for a position at any company, one requirement you're bound to see is “strong communication skills.” Whether it’s a generic template or a very well-written requisition, all teams benefit from having members who can speak articulately, professionally, and with confidence regardless of whether they are in a customer-facing position or not. And while most job seekers can expect this one skill to be valuable across the board, it is one which many don’t have. In a 2016 survey of over 60,000 conducted by Payscale, 46% stated they believe recent college graduates lacked communication skills. Additionally, 44% believe graduates lack writing proficiency and 39% believe the same about public speaking abilities.
New graduates aren’t the only ones struggling with communication skills. A Gallup study suggests that about 75% of the reasons why employees exit their organization are due to factors that managers can directly impact with their management styles, and the work environment itself being a leading factor. It’s likely that poor communication is a common symptom of poor employee-manager relationships. Additionally, a report by The Economist discusses several ramifications from poor communication whether it’s the loss of sales or clients, reduced morale for the team, or added stress for the workforce.
The process of communication is relatively simple. First, you have a sender, who is the one creating the message, you have a channel for how the message is communicated, and then there is the receiver who is the other party the message is intended for. What complicates the process is that the sender and receiver may have different communication styles and the channel of communication may have a problem or be a bad fit for the type of message. These factors can cause the receiver to interpret the message differently than the sender intended, thus creating a breakdown in communication.
Because communication is a skill, there are ways to improve your communication capabilities and to mitigate potential problems in the process. Here are five tips to help you improve communication with your team at work:
1) Be self-aware of your typical communication style: The first step in honing your communication skills, as with any leadership skill, is to be self-aware. How do you typically communicate? Are you heavy on the details or tend to keep things brief? Do you try to communicate with your team frequently and check in regularly or do you only say something once? Are you an in-person communicator who wants to arrange face-to-face meetings, or will you use email and messaging to relay most of what you have to say? Once you’ve taken a step back to look at how you usually get your message across, it gives you room to improve on your skills in the future.
2) Consider all the relevant details of the message: When it comes to communication, it’s always better to over-communicate than under-communicate. Under-communication can lead to the exclusion of pertinent details which can not only make a message more difficult to understand, it can change the entire context of the message. Nevertheless, over-communication of ALL the details can lead to information overload, which can also be confusing. It can also be time-consuming and therefore, may not be the best use of time. Make sure that you include the most relevant information that not only explains what you’re trying to get across but also answers questions you can expect to arise.
3) Consider the urgency and importance of the message: As you know, not all messages are going to be as important or as urgent as others. The difference between urgency and importance is that important information is determined by its value whereas urgency is about how quickly it needs to be conveyed and acted upon. Because of this, always give priority to messages that have more urgency, then focus on importance. These attributes will help you determine when to communicate, the order in which to communicate, the level of care required to communicate, and more.
4) Understand your receiver: This factor can absolutely not be overlooked. When it comes to issues with communication, The Economist States that much of the problems arise from human error and the inability to understand HOW we are communicating as opposed to WHAT needs to be said. The same questions you ask yourself about your own communication style, you should consider trying to figure out with someone else’s. If you don’t know them well, take a moment as ask the questions about their work style and their preferred means of communication. If you do know them, consider what observations you’ve already made about how they communicate and how best to be clear and relevant.
5) Choose an appropriate communication channel: Once you’ve figured out the above steps, it’s time to send your message. The last thing to think about is how you intend to send it. For instance, urgent messages may need to be mass-emailed immediately, but if it’s also important and a sensitive issue, it may require an unplanned town hall to discuss as well as to receive feedback. If it’s a loaded subject and contextually complex, it may require quite a bit of preparation and visual aids alongside it. It may even be a matter of communication style. Some people find emails to be insincere when it comes to certain types of communication whereas other people don’t want to be pulled away from their desk when such information can be shared in a quick message. In the end, choosing the right channel is very subjective to the parties involved in the communication as well as a number of attributes related to the message itself.
Communication is something that is a requirement in the workplace but many people, both entry-level and experienced, seem to struggle with. It’s because as easy as it is to send a message, it’s the act of getting it across as intended that is not as simple. However, like other skills, communication can be improved upon and these five steps can help you get more done by finding a better way to share knowledge, information, and ideas across your organization.