We’re in an age of snappy, get-to-the-point communication. Especially at the office, where there are deadlines to meet, interlinked projects to manage and a never-ending tsunami of needs, opinions and ideas to engage with.
For every report we write up, there are probably three emails, 10 texts and 20 instant messages… Not to mention the real-life interactions with colleagues and managers to keep to efficient, actionable bites.
But challenging or not, simplifying workplace communication without sacrificing accuracy and undermining co-worker relations is an important part of professional success.
Here are five suggestions on how to go about doing that.
1. Promise only what you can deliver
One of the potential times when communication in the office can head towards exaggeration and unnecessary embellishment is when there is more being promised than can realistically be delivered.
Remember the time when, in hopes of impressing your manager or boss, you found yourself enthusiastically committing to tasks that would have taken months when you only had weeks? Don’t feel bad, we’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another – and showing willingness to take on more and stretch yourself is not necessarily a bad thing.
But it takes maturity and experience to know how much you can realistically handle without falling short, and when you accurately express your capacity for stretching to new tasks, you simultaneously simplify your communication in the process.
2. Personally deliver messages with emotional content
It’s a balancing act. You want to get to the point – especially when you’re about to share bad news – and you don’t want to leave yourself open to a protracted, and equally emotional response. On the other hand, you don’t want to come across as unfeeling, callous or cowardly – or simply blasé when there is good news to celebrate.
When there is communication that is likely to draw an emotional reaction it’s ultimately simpler to offer it yourself, rather than shooting off an email or text message. And if, due to distance, the colleague you need to communicate with is in a different geographical location, then teleconferencing is the next best way to deliver.
Otherwise, apart from undermining your relations with co-workers and associates, you also risk the written responses to go back and forth far longer than necessary, with a high chance of misinterpretation. Keep it simple – deliver the emotional messages in person… it’s part of your maturity, growth and success as a professional, and one of the characteristics of a seasoned communicator.
3. Email works great when only the facts matter
Remember when I said it’s a balancing act? Well, this is the other side to the point above.
To simplify your communication in the office, when you have information to share that is purely fact-based and not likely to draw strong feelings or an emotional response, put in it an email.
Go ahead and prepare a quick, point-based, professionally respectful email and send the communication on its way. There is no need for in-person delivery.
Remember, while most of us hate having to sift through our inboxes and want to spend as little time as possible answering emails… if you set up a communication pattern, where you educate your managers and peers to expect only brief, point-based and factual emails from you, you will create an efficient flow of communication from you to those you are trying to reach.
4. Active listening streamlines communication
It can be hard not to interrupt or jump into a conversation when there are high stakes involved.
You know the kinds of conversation I mean – the ones where you’ve invested a lot of time in producing/learning/setting up something, and someone else is now challenging your involvement or presenting a very different approach or point of view to the way you’ve handled the situation or task. In short, conversations where there is the great potential for a war of wills.
You’ll be tempted to fire back a response before the other person has finished speaking, or to seem to listen while really using the opportunity while the other party speaks to prepare your rebuttal to their views or arguments.
Don’t do that. Listen actively, even if your dialogue partner’s words feels uncomfortable, unfair or simply in error.
The time you take to actively listen, is an investment in getting to the heart of an important situation that you and the other person find themselves in. Most importantly, listening actively allows you to have clarity regarding where you stand in terms of resources or support regarding a work issue or relationship.
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but listening actively, and more than you speak, gets things down to the bare essentials, and if you practise it enough, you will be able to quickly understand what’s truly being communicated by the other party, beyond their words.
5. Knowing your ‘why’ gets you to the point
One of the biggest reasons that communication gets stuck, or turns out into a long, messy event – whether in a written form or verbally, is when speakers aren’t clear about the ultimate message they are trying to deliver. In other words, what is the end goal to initiating the communication in the first place.
This is why, before you fire off an email, storm into someone’s office, or even strike up some more casual chatter in the office kitchen, have an end-goal in mind.
Sometimes this is as simple as to cheer someone up or connect with them, if you happen to have noticed they need some extra support or you know you’ll be working with them quite closely on a project and need to build rapport.
Sometimes it’s to deliver a warning, or to offer a key bit of insight that might encourage a colleague to reconsider an approach or a potential ally or resource that might benefit their work performance.
But having the bottom-line of the communication in mind – in other words – knowing you ‘why’ for pursuing the communication in the first place, keeps things to the point, and maximises your impact in the workplace.
Remember, however desirable it may be to create a casual and creative environment while at work, that doesn’t stop it being a place where you and your colleagues come together to achieve tasks for a mission that is bigger than you.
To do your best and be a masterfully impactful communicator in the office, ensure you know the reason for the communication you engage in – even the most social interactions.
To work with me one-on-one to take your professional and personal performance to new levels, please check out the LIMITLESS track of services at my website, www.leonidasalexandrou.com