How – and where – we work has never changed as rapidly as it did in 2020. As we start a new year, the situation continues to evolve but it seems likely that we’ll be navigating working from home – and the dispersed and remote teams that entails – well into 2021.
It’s not all bad news though, as working from home offers flexibility and productivity benefits. What has undeniably been lost, though, is in-person communication and the casual encounters and water-cooler conversations that are the lifeblood of any vibrant organization. That’s not to say we are communicating less, just differently and digitally. That this should be happening at a time when leaders need to have challenging conversations, deliver bad news, or re-set expectations is not lost on me. I’m seeing my clients recognize that effective communication with their teams, colleagues, and customers has never been more important if they want to survive and thrive in challenging conditions.
Why? Because the benefits of effective communication in the workplace include:
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Increased trust within business teams
- Greater clarity around priorities
- Reduced absenteeism
- Increased staff retention
- Increased business success
- Constructive feedback
- Better collaboration and innovation
- A strong sense of shared purpose and values
Barriers to effective communication
However (and I’m sure you’ve experienced this) when exchanging information, making ourselves understood, or simply having a conversation with those we work with, there are barriers to effective communication and times when we just don’t seem able to land our message.
From personal issues spilling out at work, internal politics, a new hire, or workload overwhelm – there are many reasons as to why it’s not always easy to communicate effectively with our colleagues, customers, and those in authority.
Other reasons for poor communication include:
- Lack of confidence
- Being unclear and unprepared
- Cultural or language challenges
- Lack of regular communication
- Not listening properly
- Stereotypes and generalizations
- The medium of the message (email, text message, phone call, and so on)
Co-create your communication
A pre-pandemic survey by Reflektive reported that almost 50% of respondents found the idea of working as a team challenging due to a difference in work and communication styles. Let’s just imagine what that number might be now, in the virtual work environment!
So how do you ensure you and your organization are providing effective communication in an honest and open environment? Here are four ideas I’d like you to consider:
1. My number one tip, based on years of experience in helping corporate leaders build high performing teams, is to co-create a communication plan with your team and then hold each other accountable to it. Set some time aside to figure out – together – how and when you will communicate. This can include everything from agreeing to ‘cameras on’ for video meetings, setting regular catch-up times, factoring in non-work communication, the length of meetings, and what the appropriate follow-up is. On a practical level, decide on the communication tools you will use and how you will set them up (make sure anyone who needs training in a tool gets it as soon as possible).
2. My second tip is just as vital to your communication success: lead by example! If you’re using the tools in a positive way, your team will too; if you adhere to the agreements, your team will too. Be intentional and lead by doing. Commit – and recommit regularly – to the frequency of your communication so that it is clear to the team when your expectations of them are not being met.
3. Don’t be afraid to share personal insights as part of your communication – after all, you are a human, leading other humans! If you struggle to hold eye-contact on Zoom or find ending meetings awkward – say so! GIVE of yourself and ASK your team to give to you, too – to offer ideas, insights, and suggestions. Then listen, think, and respond. This is how trust is built and it doesn’t matter if it is in person or virtually.
4. Consider your audience – and tailor your communication to suit. Whether it’s a client who is struggling to grow their business or a team member who has been unwell, reflecting on what you already know about the people you are communicating with should shape your message.
I make a conscious effort to consider the personalities and communication preferences of my audience. For example, when I know my client is someone decisive who likes data, I keep my communication style succinct and direct. Likewise, when I’m connecting with a ‘feeling’ person I might use stories and experiences to get a point across. Flexing my communication style has enabled me to build strong relationships with leaders over the years.
Back in the office…
Once we start returning to our workplaces the need for effective communication will reorient itself around practical concerns. Research gathered by Perceptyx (‘Communication Shapes Employee Perceptions About The Priority The Organization Places On Their Safety’) at the start of the pandemic highlighted how important effective communication is for leaders who want to build trust and credibility in the context of health and safety, advising that “Everyone’s first pandemic is not the time for the perfect message—it’s the time for multiple authentic messages.”
What is your authentic message – and how will you deliver it?