Communication in the workplace is sometimes complicated. No matter how many employees you interact with on a daily basis, you'll almost always find an assortment of unique personalities and backgrounds.
What's the right thing to say? What's the right thing to do?
Each work environment is different, but no matter what your role, with these helpful tips and some common sense manners, you'll be able to handle any situation with clarity and confidence.
Here are 18 things you should always say and do when you're at work.
1. Greet Your Co-Workers
The average person spends roughly half their day at work. That means there are ample opportunities to meet and greet your co-workers throughout any given business day. Here are a few quick tips to help you handle the hellos and navigate the greetings of your daily grind.
- Handshakes. If you're meeting someone for the first time, a firm handshake is the safe way to go. Be sure to make eye contact and offer a smile, as both are displays of proper manners. Plus, they make you appear confident and friendly.
- Introductions. When introducing a co-worker to a client or newcomer, use their name and mention their title at your company. Also, feel free to talk about what they do—if you know enough about their role to do so.
- Hellos. The average office worker spends over six hours each day in front of their computer or laptop. That doesn't leave a lot of time for chatting it up with your co-workers, but there are plenty of times when you come into contact with them. Offer a friendly hello and/or smile to start the day. If you pass the same people throughout the day, there's no need to keep saying hello. A nod or smile will suffice. Similarly, refrain from asking how they are if they seem to be in a hurry—or if you don't have time for an answer.
2. Determine a Preferred Method of Communicating
In an office environment, it's a given that email will be a big part of your organization's communications process. On average, an office employee receives at least 200 messages a day and spends over two hours reading and replying to emails. That's a big chunk out of anyone's work day.
There are situations, however, when it might be more productive to make a phone call or schedule a face-to-face discussion. Get to know your co-workers and what their preferences are. Some employees might not mind an occasional office "pop-in," while others would consider it a distraction to their train of thought.
3. Watch Your Tone
When you send an email, watch your tone. For instance, avoid using ALL CAPS. You might come across as angry, according to everyday email etiquette. And don't use a lukewarm or somber inflection when you're trying to generate a sense of excitement. The wrong tone can create confusion with your intended message, leaving your co-workers to wonder what your intentions really are.
When you're talking with a fellow employee in person, consider your facial expressions, posture, and gestures. Communication is 93% non-verbal. You want your body language to be in sync with your message.
4. Use Proper Language
Whether you're typing or writing a message to a co-worker, or speaking to them directly, be mindful of your words. Modern-day communication is more informal than in years gone by, but it doesn't mean it's always appropriate for the workplace. Don't use slang in a professional setting, and never use derogatory, crude, or offensive language.
5. Try Digital Communication Apps
According to a Career Builder survey, more than a quarter of employees feels that email negatively affects productivity. For some, it can occupy a substantial amount of their time each day. A digital communications app like Slack can provide an effective alternative for a business if used correctly.
You can start any number of channels arranged by project, topic, team, or whatever works best for your business. Also, Slack's chat feature creates an informal environment where you can have open discussions.
6. Understand Business Meeting Etiquette
When you get together with co-workers (one-on-one or in a larger group) to discuss business matters, keep a few things in mind to make the process more pleasant for everyone involved.
- Show Interest. Make eye contact and really listen to what others have to say. In fact, do more listening than talking if you're not leading the meeting. If you need to add to the conversation, don't interrupt. Wait for the speaker to finish, then voice your opinion.
- Be on Time. Make sure you allow enough time to get to the meeting as scheduled—or better yet, early. If you arrive late, it's like telling the other participants their time is not as valuable as yours.
7. Mind Your Business
If you're in close proximity to some of your co-workers, respect their privacy. It may be difficult, but don't listen in on their phone conversations if you can help it. Sometimes noise-canceling headphones can help you concentrate on your own work. Also, don't look at their computer screen to see what they're working on—unless, of course, they've invited you to do so.
8. Say Please and Thank You
It may seem like an obvious statement, but always remember to say please and thank you. This fundamental courtesy is at the forefront of business etiquette, no matter who you're dealing with—from the custodian to the CEO.
A simple thank you also goes a long way with your customers. By letting them know how much their business means to you, especially with a handwritten message of thanks, you're standing out from your competitors. As a result, you're increasing your chances of keeping them as a customer.
9. Listen to Your Co-Workers
Try to do less talking and more listening. When you take the time to listen, you're showing respect for your co-worker's thoughts and opinions and you're building a stronger relationship with them. They'll feel like they're heard and understood. Furthermore, you might actually learn something.
You can improve your listening skills with active listening. By making a conscious effort to hear the message communicated, and not just the words spoken, you'll be better able to:
- Pay attention.
- Show you're listening.
- Provide quality feedback.
- Defer judgement.
- Respond appropriately.
Part 2: Communication for Team Leaders
In addition to all the aforementioned actions, team leaders and supervisors need to pay particular attention to their communication with fellow employees and customers.
Whether you're talking one-on-one, directing a meeting, or leading a presentation, you must communicate clearly and effectively to engage your listeners and make an impact. They key is to not only inform them, but also to make them feel appreciated. After all, 93% of employees who feel valued by their employer are, in turn, motivated to do their very best work.
10. Show Empathy
According to Businessolver's 2017 study on workplace empathy, just under half of U.S. employees consider organizations to be empathetic. Furthermore, 85% of them believe empathy is not taken seriously by U.S. businesses.
Dr. Adam Waytz, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said:
“Empathy is essential to leading and managing others, but to reap its full benefits, leaders must understand what it is, how it functions, and how to effectively bring it to the workplace."
The study by the HR tech leader revealed that empathy has a direct impact on employee productivity, loyalty, and engagement. So make a commitment to understanding your employees' feelings to build a better workplace.
Here are a few tips on empathy to help you:
- Listen attentively.
- Try to see things from the other person's viewpoint.
- Acknowledge that you see their perspective, even if you don't agree with it.
- What's your attitude toward this matter? Keep an open mind to finding a solution, rather than getting your own way or proving you're right.
- Ask the other person what they would do. Have them explain their position.
11. Clearly Define Goals and Expectations
Team leaders should give clear, attainable goals to their employees. Provide an outline with precisely what's required on a project and make sure everyone (the department and the entire organization) is aware of the project's objectives.
Consider implementing S.M.A.R.T. goals into your plan. Be sure they're:
- Specific. What do you want to accomplish and why is it important to the organization? Who's involved? What resources do you need? What are the limits?
- Measurable. You need to track your progress to stay motivated, so set benchmarks along the way.
- Attainable. Your goal needs to be realistic in order to be successful. You want to "reach for the stars," so to speak, but make sure it's achievable. Do you have the time? Do you have the money?
- Relevant. Is your goal relevant to the organization's mission? Does it align with its other goals?
- Timely. Set a target date for completion. You need to have a deadline, and maybe even some benchmarks to check in and track progress.
12. Keep Team Members in the Loop
Businesses with connected employees can improve their productivity by up to 25%. A company with highly engaged employees can improve its yearly operating income by as much as 19%. So it pays (literally) to keep your team members in the loop.
Also, don’t assume your co-workers will understand what you're talking about. Spell it out for them without sounding condescending.
13. Give Everyone a Voice
Employee satisfaction depends a great deal on whether you give them a voice or not. Employees who feel their voice is heard are almost 5x more likely to perform their best work. They're more productive when they feel they belong, when they're heard, and when they're able to be themselves at work.
Give your employees an opportunity to share their ideas and make productive suggestions. Communication in the workplace should give everyone the opportunity to speak.
14. Offer Positive, Constructive Feedback
Yes, your employees are getting paid for their work, but you should still take the time to recognize their efforts and offer feedback and praise in a constructive manner.
According to analysis by Gallup, a third of U.S. workers say they've received praised for their work, but it's not uncommon for employees to feel like their best work goes unnoticed. Those who don't feel recognized are twice as likely to leave for another position.
A handwritten note can be a great way to express gratitude for a job well done. Whether you're sending thank you notes to customers or employees, Simply Written can help carry the load. After all, when you're faced with writing hundreds or thousands of notes, it can be overwhelming. Simply Written's patented digital handwriting technology takes into account the natural variations of real handwriting, so it looks like real handwriting. Request a free sample today.
15. Be Transparent About the Company
If your employees know about your company's progress or any changes that may be taking place, they'll feel considerably more devoted to the outcome. Be open and honest about what's happening. Office culture (being what it is) dictates they'll find out what's going on sooner or later, so save your organization from misinformation and let them hear it from you.
16. Be Approachable
Every member of the organization should feel comfortable talking to anyone from the CEO down. As a team leader or supervisor, you want your employees to feel comfortable talking to you. That way you can always keep the channels of communication open. But you don't need to be everyone's best buddy. That creates weak leadership. Strike a balance between the two.
To become a more approachable leader:
- Smile and be empathetic.
- Don't fly off the handle when someone delivers bad news.
- Say thank you when your employees provide information.
- Don't be sarcastic. Be straightforward.
- Strive for consistency with your actions. Don't be moody.
17. Make Communication a Conversation
Talk with your employees, not at them. The communication within your organization should be a two-way conversation.
Ritz-Carlton Global Officer Bob Kharazmi said:
“When people come to me with issues, I try to really truly understand by using good listening skills. I don’t jump in and ask questions too early. Once they're finished talking, if I’m not totally clear, then I will ask questions. After I completely understand the issue, I ask them what they think the best solution is—and only after listening to their solution will I provide my advice.”
18. Invest in Team-Building Activities
Team building gets a bad rap as a less-than-productive activity in the workplace, but in reality, it's one of the most important investments you can make for your employees. It not only encourages healthy communication, it also builds trust, increases collaboration, and leads to 2.5x more revenue for the business.
There are an endless list of possibilities when it comes to team-building activities. You want to evoke enthusiasm, not embarrassment, so work to create activities that everyone will enjoy and benefit from.
Keep the fundamentals of team building at the forefront of your activities. It's an ongoing process that helps a group evolve over time. Work to build trust and support while respecting the other member's individual differences.
Here's what some successful brands do for their team-building activities.
- Buffer. This fully remote, social media management company spends over $100K per year to get their entire team together. Every five months, employees get to attach a face to a name and strengthen team bonds.
- Zapier. The task automation guru opened a Slack channel as a kind of remote water cooler for their employees to talk about whatever—whenever. They also run regular retreats that spark impromptu conversations.
- Google. The search giant found their employees didn't want to separate their home life from their work life. So they developed software that allowed staffers to talk about how they're feeling about work and life in general. More than 3,000 Googlers participated and there was a double-digit increase in the team's psychological safety, structure, and clarity.
Mastering Communication in the Workplace
Employees who feel engaged with their work and connected to their colleagues are up to 25% more productive. Effective communication in the workplace can be tricky, but when you combine the aforementioned tips along with some common sense manners, you'll be able to handle any social situation.