Key Workplace Communication Skills: It Ain’t What You Say, It’s The Way That You Say It

Workplace communication often suffers when everyone talks but no one listens. Learn the skills that matter

by Rod Dunne on July 24, 2011

in Creative, Human Side

Communication is important to you and your business. Without effective use of business communication no one would have any idea what anyone was talking about.

Workplace communication skills are especially important, as anyone who has ever sent an email whose tone was misinterpreted will know (me included). And if you can’t even do a good business plan presentation then you may not even get investors interested in your company.

For starters, communication is about far more than the written or spoken word. You’re probably aware, but it’s worth spelling out, that communication covers each the following:

  • Body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Timing
  • Eye contact
  • Listening skills
  • Reading skills

When it comes to the workplace, it is more important than ever to get communication right. Sadly, such skills required of highly effective managers are often lacking. A little misunderstanding here, along with something not quite understood there, and it is as though a game of Chinese Whispers has come to life.

Get to grips with the rules of workplace communication skills

Different rules apply to different forms of communication. The way a sentence is spoken can convey far more meaning that the words themselves. Changing the inflection can turn the same words, such as “are you really,” from a question to a sarcastic remark.

In speech, the speaker can control the inflection, in the written word the reader interprets the inflection in their own way, which is where many misunderstandings arise.

One of the biggest challenges faced by employees is being given unclear instructions. “Print the documents by reception,” seems quite simple at first glance. But does it mean print the documents found at reception, or does it mean print the documents reception has produced. If you find that your teams have unclear goals then you should assess what type of performance improvement plan is in place, and how can be improved.

Asynchronous communication methods (e.g. e-mail and synchronous mediums (e.g. phone calls, face-to-face communications, instant messaging) have different turnaround times in their speed of response. You need to understand what communication techniques are important and also applicable for the type of discussion/message you wish to transmit.

Where interpersonal communication skills can start to break down

Getting this wrong probably would not cause too many problems, but “copy the MD’s actions,” might. Copying action points is one thing, imitating the MD’s actions is something else entirely, and something likely to shorten the time an employee spends in employment significantly.

Complacency is the enemy of good workplace communication skills. As people get used to working with each other they can slip into bad habits, which only get highlighted when someone new joins the team.

Interpersonal communication skills are a good example of where this can happen. A team, which works closely together, can become very familiar with each other, to the point they develop nicknames for each other. The problem is one person’s term of endearment can be another person’s insult.

Dispersed team members can be another issue. This is especially the case when running a company from your home. Work around this by establishing a comms strategy template for your ‘work from home’ team members to cover communication expectations, reporting, project management, etc.

The solution? Communication skills training is definitely a solid starting point

Training employees in effective communication skills prevent the majority of workplace misunderstandings from taking place. Communication skills training should be an ongoing process, not a onetime thing.

Management should however be looking at doing in turn research. Any research based on good quality employee engagement survey questions which allows for positive and negative feedback (preferably anonymously) provides a safety valve for employees to vent their complaints and highlight good quality ideas. It does however require management to that goal of their egos in order to accept some of the changes that will have to be made.

The importance of communication skills in the workplace should never be underestimated in your firm. It is the responsibility of every person to communicate clearly and consistently. Good workplace communication skills are the bedrock of any successful company.

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Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and sole writer Rod DunneI am the owner and sole writer on This is my personal blog detailing troubleshooting tips for small businesses. Posts are based upon 2 decades in consultancy & innovation management within startups/maturing companies.

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