When you deliver information to a coworker or ask a supervisor a question, do you think about what words to use? Are you sure your point is clear? Are you absolutely certain any information you relay is accurate? How is the quality of what you say or write?
For any business to succeed its employees need to be able to receive and give information quickly and clearly. It can be a question. It can be feedback on work. It can be a group presentation. It can even be a small note left on a desk. Communication is crucial and you should analyze how effectively you use it.
Workplace Communication Types and Tips
Verbal – The most common type of communication—whether at work or anywhere else—is verbal. Speaking can be a quick and often more genuine way to deliver your point to someone. While face-to-face contact typically leaves more impact, phone calls are a good alternative for getting confirmation or elaboration. If the call recipient does not answer, but has an answering system or voicemail-box available, always leave a message. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks a missed call without a voicemail must not be important.
Verbal communication is not always possible. The person or people to which you want to speak may be busy, absent, or may not respond as well to verbal communication as other forms. You or someone else may have hearing or speech disabilities. It is important to gauge how effective speaking to someone can be before doing it.
Written – The second most common form of communication is written. Traditionally workplaces have used faxes, e-mails, and handwritten or typed and printed notes. Texting has emerged as a professional form of communication in some business settings. You should be certain if having and texting coworkers’ phone numbers is appropriate with both any coworker involved and your HR department before using this method. Less formal platforms such as Facebook Messenger may be used in some settings, but, like texting, this may make some people uncomfortable. Work matters are best addressed on work mediums, like workplace e-mail addresses or by printing from a printer at your workplace and placing the message in a designated workplace area.
When writing something to a coworker, write confidently. Avoid passive language such as “might be” or excessive wording such as “it goes without saying.” Always double check your spelling and grammar to avoid confusion with the reader. Most digital formats have a built-in spell checker and grammar checker, but it doesn’t hurt to manually check yourself. And make sure to spell the receivers’ names correctly. Typing the wrong spelling of a name—or worse, the wrong name—can leave the impression you don’t really know or care about the person reading your message.
Remember for handwritten memos or notes the penmanship needs to be as good as the message itself. If your message isn’t legible, nothing will come of it. It would just be a waste of effort and time.
Body Language – While body language often goes hand-in-hand with verbal communication, it is an important enough topic to warrant its own section. Body language can often be neglected when practicing professional interactions. Your posture should show confidence. You should avoid having hands on hips or arms crossed, which both suggest you are upset. If you are talking to one individual, it’s best to avoid standing over them while they sit; this inadvertently suggests dominance and can rub people the wrong way.
When listening to someone else, nodding occasionally can be a good way to confirm to the speaker you are listening. Be conscious of your facial expressions; avoid smirks or smiling during inappropriate situations, such as being disciplined or warned of something.
Plan Your Communication
Before anything is written or said, you should consider how to best execute it and if it even needs to be done at all.
Is it necessary? Think about if you really need to make time to discuss the subject and if it’s appropriate to take away time from whomever you would write or speak. If someone under your supervision has done something incorrectly, consider if it was a fluke. Do they usually do that? If it’s not a major issue and they haven’t done it multiple times, monitor their work for any repeats of the mistake before taking time to address it. And if you must address it, plan an appropriate place and way to discuss it; no one wants their mistakes announced where anyone can hear them.
Is what you have to say relevant? Does it relate to the subject addressed or the job in general? If you are asking a question or giving feedback during an open dialogue, be sure it stays on the current topic. It can be irritating to the supervisor if someone strays from the topic in a group meeting. It can be difficult to get the discussion back on track if coworkers feel safe asking off-topic questions after you asked your own off-topic question. And be sure any question or comment you have is appropriate to ask in a group. Don’t call out coworker issues in a group. Don’t ask anything personal in a group—although it’s best to avoid asking anything personal anyway.
What format works best? If you need multiple coworkers to know something, send an e-mail or create a group chat on an appropriate platform. If you only need a specific coworker to know, call their phone extension, send an e-mail exclusively to them, or speak face-to-face. Are you uncertain when they’ll be available, but you know they will be at their work area later? You can always write or print a note for them in a place they will read it, unless you are concerned other employees will see it.
Who all needs to be in the loop? A comment I made earlier in this article was to avoid airing a coworker’s poor practices to other employees. Be certain if anyone else needs to be present for a discussion or receive a copy of a message. You also may have to plan a time that is convenient for you, anyone else requesting their presence for the discussion, and the coworker(s) receiving feedback.
What will coworkers take away from your message? Be sure your message isn’t covered up by flowery language or excessive statements. During presentations or speeches, be sure your most important points are what coworkers remember. Give them impact by presenting them with emphasis. Use your body language to your advantage by making memorable gestures to reinforce your points.
If you plan to take a vacation or be away from your workplace for a bit, informing your coworkers is a smart idea. Letting them know a few days before allows coworkers to come to you with questions in time and allows supervisors to account for your absence while delegating workloads.
Beat Time Zone Issues
E-mails and office calls have already been addressed, but what other tools can you use if your co-worker is remote and in a different time zone?
Video message and demonstration tools, such as Loom, are good for relaying information to anyone with different availability. If they are available but still remote, video call tools such as Zoom are excellent. These programs typically have a screen-share option so those training a coworker can walk someone through the steps of a process. Another convenience of this option is keeping multiple people in the loop at once via video conference calls.
Keep in mind that misunderstandings can still happen by human nature. The best way to correct these is to approach the misled party with an open dialogue. Ask their line of thinking. Avoid accusatory language. Explain what they did wrong and why. You might even discover a better way to communicate to them and anyone else in the future.
Learn From Coworkers
All these tips can be overwhelming to memorize at once. But everything written above comes from experiences professionals have had in their careers. Most of these tips rely on civil discussion, respect, and consideration. You’ve already picked up most of how you speak or write to people from family and social situations in your life. You can do the same by analyzing how your coworkers communicate. The longer you are exposed to professional communication, the easier it will be to use it.