The Importance of Effective Communication
For many, navigating remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic has come with the need to revisit and readjust our workplace communication styles. Since so much work will be done virtually for the foreseeable future, it’s especially important to assess how to best communicate with our virtual colleagues. As both a freelancer and as one-fifth of a newly launched creative agency, I’ve witnessed and experienced the favorable (and not so favorable) impacts of effective communication.
Considered by employers to be one of the most important skills one should acquire for the workplace, good communicators are able to listen to and understand others’ opinions and ideas while effectively relaying their own — whether in written or verbal communication.
Benefits of effective workplace communication
1. It promotes a positive work environment.
Having a positive work environment at the foundation of any company culture is imperative to navigating challenges and pain points productively as a team. Fostering effective communication skills can be a tool for team building, which is especially important for remote teams, as well as lay emphasis on being supported by your colleagues.
2. It improves productivity.
Effective communication ensures clarity, makes space for colleagues to speak freely and for all voices to be heard, and creates a meaningful way to connect with your team. Effective communication ensures that colleagues are on the same page during planning phases, during project handoffs, and when communicating with outside stakeholders, yielding improved productivity across all teams.
3. It strengthens workplace innovation.
Open communication requires give and take, listening and responding. That’s why asynchronous communication is so helpful. One colleague can share an idea, easily send it to another colleague to watch and discover where their ideas fit in, and so on until it has become the fleshed-out piece of innovation that continues to grow and feed the project. Once your team members feel empowered to communicate openly, a stream of innovative ideas, solutions, and concepts are sure to follow.
5 skills for better communication
1. Practice empathy.
The upheaval surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of tapping into empathy with our fellow colleagues, but approaching relationships with empathy is an evergreen skill that applies beyond this time. In its simplest form, empathy involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand how they are feeling. However, you can practice different types of empathy, including cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and compassionate empathy. Each of these is likely appropriate in different workplace (and life!) situations, and discerning when to use each type is a skill you can hone to improve your communication process with colleagues, family, and friends.
Ultimately, regardless of whether you’re working with someone one-on-one or as a team, it’s important to know how to navigate others’ emotional capacity and respond accordingly to be the most effective communicator you can be.
2. Be an active listener.
Being an active listener is a sign of respect for the person you’re communicating with. Active listening means paying attention and avoiding distractions so you can focus on what’s being said, including not looking at your phone or laptop, as well as thoughtfully responding with relevant questions or comments.
Active listening means not only paying attention to the essence of what’s being communicated through words, but also what’s emitted through non-verbal communication. Taking note of body language, tone, facial expressions, gestures, eye movement, and other non-verbal cues — both your own and the other person’s — is key. Good communication entails pausing to take in what’s been shared instead of being quick to relay a prepared response. It’s okay to ask co-workers for a minute to think through a thoughtful reply! The other party will appreciate a thoughtful response more than a quick one.
Further reading: Why Knowing How to Be Quiet Improves Your Communication — Loom
3. Give encouragement freely and often.
Offering words of encouragement helps increase employee morale in your work environment, helping colleagues feel valued, appreciated, and respected. Encouragement is not simply praise, as it includes things like asking how you can help, recognizing small wins, and even discussing options to help a colleague get “unstuck” from a problem. Providing encouragement boosts confidence and builds trust, increasing the chances that your colleagues will produce their best work.
4. Provide and accept critical feedback with grace.
The ability to provide and accept substantive, critical feedback is indicative of effective two-way communication. Such feedback, although not always easy, leads to problem-solving and growth for both parties when done well. When giving critical feedback, always ensure that, among other things:
The feedback is credible in the eyes of the receiver.
The feedback is given with good intentions.
The timing and circumstances are appropriate.
The feedback message is clear and helpful.
When receiving critical feedback, it’s important to take time to ask questions, remaining open to ways you can improve. Take credit for your mistakes, and use them as a jumping off point for growth and and see them as fuel to prepare for future work projects and conversations. You can even jot down notes from feedback you receive from other colleagues and analyze how and why the feedback was helpful to you, furthering the effectiveness of your own communication in the future.
5. Acknowledge differences in communication styles.
We all know how good and important diversity in the workplace is. Diverse teams are shown to financially outperform their counterparts among myriad other benefits, but that doesn’t mean those teams don’t still have to work on building their communication tools.
According to research from the Harvard Business Review, cross-cultural teams are challenged in a few distinct areas regarding clear communication within groups.
When brainstorming, for example, employee engagement and participation can vary depending on the country or work culture colleagues may hail from. Those from more individualistic countries like the U.S. may be more inclined to share their opinions without hesitation, whereas those from hierarchical countries may only speak up after their seniors have voiced their opinions.
The same study notes that colleagues may experience varying degrees of comfort regarding disagreements. Colleagues who come from a work culture that places significant value on preserving group dynamics tend to be averse to confrontation, which may result in a lack of communication. There are others who come from cultures who see confrontation and disagreement as a sign of team building and securing trust.
This goes to show that to create truly effective teams, it’s helpful to be aware of how you and your colleagues may differ in cultural communication styles. Seek to understand how your colleagues’ cultures inform their communication styles, and make it your goal to communicate in ways that are helpful and clear accordingly.
For me and my remote teammates, tapping into the importance of good communication has helped us learn to be empathetic to the push and pull of how we each approach our daily work. Utilizing empathy, cultural understanding, encouragement, active listening, and substantive two-way feedback helps us execute our respective projects and create supportive relationships.
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Written by Antoinette Isama
Antoinette Isama is a journalist and editor documenting the cultural impact of the global African diaspora. Keep up with her on Twitter.