Workplace communication skills can either help your career, or they can stop it dead in its tracks.
For leaders, effective communication can motivate teams, while poor communication can push good employees out the door.
For independent contributors, communication skills can earn opportunities that get them closer to their goals—or they can impede promotions and limit career growth.
We may know communication is important, but employees at all levels make ongoing mistakes that make their work lives harder.
Here are 7 ways to communicate more effectively at work:
Start with your attitude
Words are only a piece of the communication puzzle.
If your body language is poor, or you avoid eye contact, your coworkers may assume you’re not very interested in speaking to them. The same goes for paying more attention to your laptop or phone than the conversation at hand.
To communicate more effectively at work, your first action item is checking your attitude. Are you fully present during every interaction—or do you allow other priorities to get in the way of connecting with people in real-time?
Approaching every conversation with openness and your undivided attention enhances the quality of workplace communication.
Invite other perspectives
Effective communication is ego-free. If you can make a habit of actively seeking the opinions of others, the law of reciprocity suggests they’ll be more likely to do the same.
For leaders especially, opening the floor to your team—instead of dominating the discussion—can transform the nature of communication within the workplace. And it makes employees feel valued in the process.
Be direct and concise
Vagueness is a common problem in the workplace. Whether it comes straight from the CEO or occurs between co-workers, indirect and unclear communication can lead to misunderstandings and low morale.
It’s especially problematic when the message is “bad” or somehow undesirable. When a manager needs people on their team to take on additional work, for example, dancing around the subject can breed higher-than-normal levels of resistance.
Instead of burying the essence of your message, lead with it. Share the bottom line first, then get into the details and answer questions. This is especially important for written communication at work, where being vague can result in mixed messages and being long-winded can result in people skipping your message entirely.
Show, don’t always tell
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a demo may be worth a million.
The next time you’re considering sending out a list of detailed instructions, consider showing your team how to complete the task by doing it in front of them first.
You can (and probably should) still share the instructions as a reference, but demonstrating it carries the added bonus of ensuring people with different learning styles benefit from a visual presentation.
Visuals like images and video not only enhance and speed comprehension, they can also add levity and humor to workplace communication. Use short video clips and screenshots to explain complex tasks and problems—and the occasional meme to make everyone laugh.
Use context to your advantage
One of the biggest communication blunders is not understanding your audience.
For instance, if you’re an engineer talking to other engineers, you obviously won’t need to explain basic concepts, but if you’re chatting with a customer service rep about a bug, you also don’t need to get knee-deep in jargon and specifics.
To improve your communication at work, use your awareness of your audience to simplify and tailor your message. Identify the most important thing they need to know first and start there.
When in doubt, bounce it back
Misunderstandings at work are usually the byproduct of communication breakdowns.
Sometimes it’s because one party is unclear and sometimes it’s because one person is apprehensive about asking for clarity.
But usually, it’s a bit of both.
To navigate uncertainty, it’s best to bounce the message back. When a boss or colleague says something you’re unsure about, repeat it back to them in your own words to make sure you’re on the same page or root out any misunderstandings on the spot.
For example, “What I heard you say was… is that correct?” or “When you said XYZ, did you mean ABC?”
Make meetings meaningful
Successful communication at work often comes down to choosing the most appropriate channel.
Effective communicators don’t call when they should write—and they don’t hold meetings unless there’s a good reason.
In a survey of over 100 senior managers, 71% cited their meetings as unproductive, while more than half said meetings “miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”
The solution here is two-fold. First, limit meetings to those that are absolutely necessary.
Start by defining what you hope to achieve during the meeting to determine whether the issue or idea merits one. A good meeting objective is well-defined, documented, and shared with attendees.
Second, combine the communication strategies above to transform meetings into productive and energizing sessions where things get done. Try to focus on discussions and decision-making in meetings, although if you must make a presentation, follow these meeting presentation best practices.