Communication skills are often listed in the top 4 job skills predicting both employer and employee satisfaction (or disatisfaction). Its importance cannot be underestimated. In the workplace people of different backgrounds and personalities interact on a daily basis; the ability to effectively communicate becomes critical to the success of the department and the company.
Additional to diversity of background and personality is the fact that everyone in the workplace has his or her own style of communication and the ability to hear and understand what the other person is saying, as well as get our own point across, is what effective communication is all about.
Equally important is that we recognise communication comprises of both verbal and non-verbal ‘conversations’ (think body language or electronic communication).
The advantages of effective workplace communication include:
Increased employee productivity. Research has shown that effective lateral and work group communication leads to an improvement in overall company performance. It has also been discovered that employees who were graded as highest in production had received the most effective communication from their superiors.
Increased employee job satisfaction. When managers listen to employees and respond, employees feel seen and heard (not just a number); this leads to an increase in employee job satisfaction.
A positive effect on absenteeism and turnover rates. Studies have shown that even after retrenchments, companies that have excellent communication are able to retain the surviving employees.
Improved workplace culture. One of the many positive benefits gained from well established organisational communication is an understanding of the company culture, the company’s goals and its vision. In addition, it leads to improved relationships between colleagues as well as between managers and staff.
Improved time management. Good communication leads to an improvement of one’s own time management well as the ability to keep staff focused on deadlines.
On the flip side, the business impact of poor communication, include:
- Increased employee turnover;
- Increased absenteeism;
- Poor customer service;
- Ineffective change management;
- Failed project delivery;
- Higher litigation costs; as well as
- Lower shareholder return.
Barriers to effective business communication include:
Not Listening. Whether because of a lack of involvement with the topic, distractions or differences in opinion, one of the most common barriers to communication is poor listening skills.
Making assumptions. Often assumptions are made to speed up a process or task. This is never a good idea.
Body language. Non-verbal signals (especially negative ones) have the potental to block effective communication and damage relationships in the workplace.
Ineffective questions. Make sure you use open ended questions to get the answers you seek.
Information overload. How many times have you seen the same email covering the same information but from a different sender? When employees have too much information to process they will simply start ignoring some of them (chances are these will be the ones containing critical information).
Conflicting messages. For example, when our body language contradicts what we are saying. This creates confusion for the receiver of the message which may lead to the message being ignored.
Physical barriers. Anything that physically distracts you forms part of this barrier, e.g. ringing telephones, office maintenance etc.
Perception. We all look at the world differently. Keep an open mind and remember there are other valid view points and opinions.
Cultural. Dealing with different cultures can sometimes be difficult to navigate. Many times it’s down to a difference in approach stemming from different beliefs and customs.
Language. Even when all parties share the same first language, words can be misunderstood and misconstrued. When we speak different languages, this barrier is heightened.
Workplace stress. Stress can lead to missed deadlines, decreased productivity and weakened communication.
So how do you go about improving workplace communication?
- Consider the situation before taking any action;
- Gather and confirm information before making a decision;
- Focus on problems, not personalities;
- Try not to respond to criticism;
- Stay focused on the current topic;
- Listen carefully to what others say;
- Try to see the other point of view;
- Take ownership;
- Look for compromise;
- Manage individuals, not groups;
- Meet subordinates face-to-face; and
- Assign tasks directly and clearly.
The American Psychological Association, Centre for Organizational Excellence, recommends the following communication strategies to help make your workplace programmes successful:
- Providing regular, ongoing opportunities for employees to provide feedback to management. Communication vehicles may include employee surveys, suggestion boxes, individual or small group meeting with managers, and an organisational culture that supports open, two-way communication.
- Making the goals and actions of the organisation and senior leadership clear to workers by communicating key activities, issues and developments to employees and developing policies that facilitate transparency and openness.
- Assessing the needs of employees and involving them in the development and implementation of effective workplace practices.
- Using multiple channels (for example, print and electronic communications, orientation and trainings, staff meetings and public addresses) to communicate the importance of a psychologically healthy workplace to employees.
- Leading by example, by encouraging key organisational leaders to regularly participate in healthy workplace activities in ways that are visible to employees.
- Communicating information about the outcomes and success of specific healthy workplace practices to all members of the organisation.
Communication in the workplace will always be a work in progress. Remove the barriers that block the process and you will improve employee motivation.
If you have any questions or if we can help in any way, please get in touch.