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Workplace communication: are you getting it wrong?

Posted in Employers on Aug 09, 2018 by Keeley Edge

Isn’t it frustrating when colleagues or employees don’t do something you’ve asked them to, don’t implement changes you’ve discussed or don’t carry out tasks the way you wanted?

This might be because they haven’t listened, they don’t have the skills, or they just don’t care about doing a good job. Alternatively, the problem could be something else. You. Maybe you just aren’t communicating effectively.

The importance of effective workplace communications should never be underestimated. Things we say or do can often get misinterpreted and misunderstood, leaving people frustrated, disengaged or confused.

The good news is that there are some simple steps everyone can take to improve communication.

Be approachable

If a colleague hasn’t understood something you’ve said or has a follow-up question, they need to feel comfortable approaching you. Otherwise, they may try and do something without fully understanding it which can lead to mistakes.

Equally, if they are having communication problems with other team members, they should feel able to come to you to discuss it. If they can’t, then frustrations build and workplace conflicts can occur.

Make sure you are approachable. Colleagues should not feel anxious about approaching you with questions, issues or ideas.


A common mistake people make is to think that good communication is about making themselves heard. In fact, listening is a vital aspect of effective communication and is often the more difficult skill to master.

Listening doesn’t mean waiting until the other person has finished speaking before you jump in with your thoughts. It means focusing on what they are saying without interrupting, really giving what they say consideration and not just thinking about the thing you want to talk about next.

Imagine if, at the end of every conversation, you had to take a test based on what you had just heard. You would be much more likely to listen carefully. Each time somebody is speaking to you, imagine there will be a test at the end. Make a mental note of the important points, then check with them that you have understood correctly.

Respond to what people say rather than just moving on to the next thing you want to discuss.

Understand personality types and learning styles

Different people have different personality types and different learning styles and you need to be aware of this. Many companies carry out psychometric testing, so they can better understand their employees’ needs.

Some people might find written instructions very beneficial, whilst others respond better if they are shown how to do something and then given the opportunity to do it themselves. Some people can come up with ideas and solutions very quickly, whereas others prefer to go away and process information, before making a decision.

A good team should be made up of a variety of personality types as each brings different traits. However, if you don’t respect each other’s differences, it can lead to ineffective communication.

Take time to find out the best way to communicate with each individual colleague. If somebody is struggling to understand a concept, try explaining it in a different way.

Keep it simple

Don’t try and overcomplicate messages. Use simple language rather than corporate jargon. Focus on the most important points of the thing you are trying to communicate. Don’t water down important messages with irrelevant information. Say what you mean and ensure it has been understood correctly.

Watch your words and your tone

You may say something as a joke but the person you say it to might not have read your tone correctly. Workplace banter and sarcasm can often get misconstrued or taken out of context. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a laugh and a joke; just be aware of the words you use, your tone of voice and your audience.

Proofread written communications

Written communications can be easily misread. A missing comma or stray typo can completely change the meaning of a message. Read through emails before hitting the send button to make sure your message is clear.

Have better conversations

We waste so much time having unproductive meetings and conversations. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for small talk but when you have an agenda or important message, you need to make sure things stay on track.

Have more productive conversations in the workplace. Set an outcome. This will help you have more valuable conversations. The outcome may be to learn one new thing about your colleague, provide feedback on something, get their opinion or give them an instruction.

You can use the align, act, adjust approach in more formal or important conversations and meetings. The first step should be to align the agenda; raise and resolve all the relevant points or problems. Next, decide actions to be taken by each party and clarify these have been understood. Finally, be prepared to adjust. You may find you have entered a conversation without all the facts or the person you are speaking to may propose a solution you haven’t considered.

Give feedback

Feedback helps employees and colleagues understand if they have interpreted something correctly and helps you evaluate whether you have communicated something effectively.

Praise colleagues when they are taking the right actions and meeting or exceeding expectations. If you need to give negative feedback, do it in a constructive way and give your colleague actionable advice so they can improve.

Actions speak louder than words

Your body language and actions are important. If a colleague is trying to speak to you and you are looking at your mobile or rummaging through files on your desk, they will feel like you don’t value what they have to say. Give your colleagues or employees your full attention when they are speaking to you.

Make eye contact and smile. Be interested in what colleagues are saying to you and be engaging when you are talking to them.

If you are explaining how to do something, demonstrate what you mean or show colleagues an example so that they can see what is expected.

Beware of distorted messages

You may be familiar with the children’s game where the first person whispers a message into someone’s ear, who will then whisper the message into the next person’s ear, who whispers it into the next and so on. The final person in the circle has to deliver the message, which has almost always become distorted along the way.

This can happen in the workplace when communication breaks down. If you have not communicated information effectively to a workforce, then conversations can get taken out of context, rumours or gossip can start to spread and messages can become distorted. You need to be aware of where this could happen, how to manage it when it does and how to prevent it.

Take responsibility

If somebody has not understood you correctly or has misinterpreted what you said, then it is important that you take some of the responsibility. Were you clear about what you wanted? Did you check that they understood what you had said? Did you listen to any concerns or ideas they offered?

There is a well-known saying: “There are always three sides to a story, yours, theirs and the truth”. This is true in communication too. There are three sides; your meaning, their interpretation and the words that were said. 

Train your team

Developing your team’s communication skills is an excellent investment. There are some brilliant companies who will deliver workshops or courses on presentation skills, written communications, effective conversations, managing change, learning styles, train the trainer, telephony skills and various other communication-based topics.

At Key Appointments, we believe that effective workplace communication is essential. If you’d like connecting with a training provider who can help you improve workplace communications, then we’d be happy to put you in touch with some of our trusted contacts. Speak to our friendly team to find out more about improving your workplace communications.

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