How you communicate with co-workers and clients is essential to succeeding in your career.
Whether you like it or not, it can even be more important than your actual ability to do the job – especially for client-facing professionals like accountants.
So do you have the gift of the gab, or does your communication leave you cringing? Do a quick assessment with our 10 quick ways to improve your workplace communication skills.
1. Talk (don’t just email)
Conversation is often neglected in favour of email or chat systems.
But getting email instructions from someone sitting beside you can feel quite rude.
Emails can also be misunderstood– sometimes with disastrous results. Most communication is nonverbal after all, and we lose all those conversational cues when everything is done over text.
“Email is a great tool,” says Georgina Perry, a senior HR consultant, “but communicating in person offers greater meaning and understanding than the written word alone.”
So why not follow up that email with a quick face-to-face chat or a call?
2. Become an active listener
Most people think good communication is about getting your message across. But listening to others is a big part of effective communication.
Conversations are usually two-person minimum after all.
One useful trick to make sure you’re listening, is to repeat what the other person says. For example, you might respond: “OK James, I understand you feel this client’s audit is taking too much of your time. I will look at ways to spread the workload.”
It’ll help you remember what was said, and convey your engagement in the conversation.
3. Ask questions
If you’re unsure about something, or need a little more detail, ask.
If you don’t, you could end up wasting time because you didn’t fully understand the task at hand.
If you’re a manager, it’s also vital to regularly ask your team how they’re getting on and whether they need any extra support. This is one way of rising beyond the role of employee and looking out for those within your team.
Either way, don’t forget to listen to the answers!
4. Keep criticism constructive
Few people respond well to a tirade of abuse.
So if you need to talk to a colleague about a mistake they’ve made, try coming at it from a different angle. Find out if they’re struggling with anything, and ask if there’s any ways you can help instead.
Telling off a colleague in front of the rest of the team is also a big no-no.
“I once had a boss who ridiculed subordinates in an attempt to make himself look better, but he just ended up looking incompetent himself,” said architect Robin Fenton.
If your emotions are running high, take time to calm down before talking with your colleague. This way, there’s a chance you may reach a mutually beneficial solution.
5. Praise your colleagues’ wins
It’s too easy to fall into the habit of only commenting on colleagues’ work when there’s something wrong. It’s how most of us talk to ourselves inwardly.
But positive feedback is a vital part of good workplace relationships, regardless of your role.
We all like to be told we’ve done a good job. So don’t forget to praise colleagues, team members and even your boss if they’ve done something well.
6. Accept your shortcomings
Most people find themselves on the receiving end of criticism at some point during their working lives.
If and when that time comes, try to avoid becoming defensive or making excuses. These knee-jerk reactions need to be set aside, so you can rationally process the feedback.
Instead, ask the other person to give you some examples of where you have been falling short. Get specifics so you can make positive changes.
There’s also the possibility that your colleague may have misunderstood and you weren’t in the wrong at all. If that’s the case, explain your actions calmly to clear up any confusion.
7. Stay calm during conflicts
Workplace conflicts can and will arise. People have bad days, or certain people just don’t get along. When frictions crop up, the most important thing is to stay calm and avoid personal attacks.
If you need to take five minutes to do this, then so be it.
From a managerial point of view, responding to conflicts promptly, confidentially, and with an open mind is the best way to find a satisfactory resolution.
“Treat anything you learn confidentially,” Perry advises from a HR perspective. Especially if something sensitive comes out in the heat of an argument, it’s important to reassure your colleague that you will keep it to yourself.
8. Respect cultural differences
Some of your clients or co-workers are likely to come from different cultures.
So refrain from discussing controversial topics such as politics or religion – you could end up offending someone unintentionally, or even being reported for discriminatory behaviour.
“Respect those around you, and avoid the use of slang or inappropriate language,” Perry added.
Even if this behaviour is rampant in your office, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable in reality. Be mindful of your words.
9. Meet face-to-face regularly
Holding regular team and client meetings is a great way to foster effective communication.
And don’t be afraid to mix it up: formal meetings are perfect for planning big projects; informal coffee or lunch meetings are better for team building.
“Having lots of team meetings to explain decisions and listen to each other’s suggestions meant we always knew we were all on the same page,” adds Caroline Turner, talking of her time at a major investment bank.
10. Keep it professional
Some details of your private life may be too personal for sharing in the office. You may think it’s ok, but others may find it inappropriate.
So be friendly, but remember to maintain that professional line.
If you become too close to co-workers, you may find it harder if one of you is promoted to a management position, for example.
Becoming too friendly with clients can also cause problems, for instance if they become unable to pay their bills.
Your communication skills can have a huge impact on how you are judged by the people you encounter at work.
Make the right impression by taking a professional, yet human approach.
For more on workplace communications:
- The importance of an open and fair workplace
- How to get your boss to pay for your training
- How to get along with your work colleagues
Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.