5 Whetstones to Sharpen Your Work-Place Communication

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orking in an age where we communicate through technology more than ever before, it’s surprising to see how much can be lost in translation. Whether it be a shortly worded email, messaged sent in haste or overanalysing punctuation, the lack of physical face-to-face communication we get within the office is now considered one of the leading factors in misunderstanding our colleagues.

Interestingly, three culprits have been highlighted as the speedbumps to our smooth delivery. Based on research presented by The Flex Study; The Importance of Effective Communication, conducted by the American Management Association, the topics of time, change and interpersonal conflict were flagged as the ongoing influencers in why we can misinterpret tone, authority and urgency in the office, all affected by our 24-hour connection to work through smart phones and blurred-lines in what is considered -out-of-office hours. When mixed with the ambiguity of our technological preferences in communicating with others at work, something as simple as a full-stop, capital letters or not officiating a ‘sign-off’ to the conversation can unintentionally convey the wrong tone or attitude in the dialogue. Considering that tone and body language accounts for 88% of the impact of clear communication, it’s no surprise we can get lost when navigating a meeting without the bodies in the room.  Direct yourself back to calmer shores when navigating a conversation refine your skills with these 5 points.

— 1 —
Set Deadlines

Setting a deadline is a simple yet often overlooked trait in the office. When working together in a close-knit environment, more often than not do we make assumptions about the urgency of a deadline, even when it’s unspecified because we are so wrapped up in our work. Whether you set a task yourself, or you are assigned a project, make it your mission to immediately clarify the details of when it is due. Small business expert Ty Kiisel argues how the values of deadlines have been adjusted now that we embrace a flexible way of working and instead, advocates a S.M.A.R.T approach to setting deadlines to adapt with our new working patterns; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Communicate each of these factors with your superior who set the deadline and ensure that everything has been discussed in conjunction with you balancing your current work load. Douglas Adams famously said he loved deadlines because of “the wooshing noise they make as they go by” and it’s only when the communication is direct and curated to the task at hand can we really set our own deadlines to work towards the final send-off and meet it with equal satisfaction.

— 2 —
Make A Clean Delivery

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news but nothing makes it worse than dancing around the point. “Lay it out plainly” says business journalist Susan Adams, “if you’re in a situation where you have to convey that sort of information, your employees and colleagues likely already know something is up. It is far better to be straight with them than not to communicate at all, even if you can’t give them the answers they’d like.” Getting tongue-tied is one thing but we’re all familiar with the frustration of someone stumbling over the delivery of bad news, which adds fuels to the fire of frustration. The key to a clean delivery is going in with at some suggestions of what can be done to remedy the situation as well as the essential attribute of pace. If you have bad news to deliver, do so in person and be clear about what has happened and explain your resurrection plan. In turn, if you are letting your boss know that you have made an error, be apologetic and go in armed with solutions to remedy the situation; be the fixer as well as the messenger.

— 3 —
Sign Off

Kevin Daum argues that in the digital age, he “needs to know that a conversation is finished” in order to get back to work and take on board the feedback he’s been given. “If I send you an email or text giving you requested information, I have no way of knowing that you received it and it was acceptable unless you tell me” he says. “If I don't hear from you, I worry that the email went to spam, or you weren't satisfied. My brain will keep wondering and I will start following up with more texts or emails, which waste your time and fill your inbox.” It’s a laughable but very real situation that we’ve all encountered at some point, unsure of whether what has been discussed has actually been approved.. Remove any possibilities for or misinterpretation with a clear sign-off point; a simple “Thanks” or “Understood” or open a question with a point of clarification, to remove any chances of the other side thinking they were being ignored or any confusion as “not doing this is the electronic equivalent of rudely walking away from a conversation while we are still talking.”

— 4 —
Check In

As one becomes absorbed in their work it’s easy to forget about checking it with others and updating the manager on the progress of their work. Settling down to attack a weighty task is fine but does your manager know about your progress? Although the default response is to email around to update the relevant colleagues, Lilly Herman  of The Muse argues against this. “The more emails you accumulate, the longer it takes you to respond to all of them” she says. “The longer it takes you to respond, the more follow-up emails people decide to send just to make sure that you have received their messages. Before long, you’re stuck in a vicious, perpetual cycle.” Send one email in the morning to those who need to know, telling them your focus points of the day and notify them of any time-frames in which you shouldn’t be disturbed. Follow-up emails aren’t always the answer so exercise with caution for the deadlines that hold more value.

— 5 —
Relay Instructions

Another oldie but goodie. Repetition has a reputation for being condescending in the office but ensuring clarity is hardly a punishable offence. “A former boss of mine once asked me to summarize and repeat whatever she said back to her” says career journalist Katie Douthwaite Wolf. “It sounds strange, but she wanted to make sure I completely understood what she said, whether she was communicating instructions, goals, or company information.” In the flurry of receiving instructions, it’s surprising how easy it is to forget small details when balancing your recently assigned work; late on in the day. Relaying it to your manager ensures that the assignment is clear and any additional information or support needed can be sorted there and then. “With one simple—albeit, repetitive—statement, you’ve just clarified the meaning of your boss’s muddled instructions…and set specifics into your language with a clear deadline” says The Daily Beast’s Gregory Fernstein. Address queries with open-ended questions so you can clarify without misinterpretation and relay the instructions given when there is a misunderstanding, to use as your own point of clarification and as an indicator of how to move forward.

Words by Shannon Blanks

Business & Career

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