When you’re satisfied with your workplace communications, you’re 177% more likely to be holistically well. On the flip side, strained communication can cause stress. Forty-seven percent of employees say they experience anxiety when their employers don’t communicate effectively. If you’re one of those people, you’re nearly three times more likely to experience burnout.
Ineffective communication can detract from your job performance and lower your morale, while effective communication can help raise your confidence and reduce work-related anxiety. The first step to improving workplace communications is to focus on your own personal communication habits.
These four crucial workplace communication skills have the power to make you a more competent worker—and a more supportive team member.
1. Master the art of email
Email remains one of the most popular ways to collaborate and share information at work, so it’s critical to become a good email writer. Sending thoughtful, clear messages doesn’t just help facilitate work, it also makes you more approachable. Here are some tips for better email communication:
Edit your messages for clarity
Try to get your point across in an informative but concise way. Eliminate unnecessary information and use simple, work-appropriate language.
Pay attention to details
Spell-check your messages, address your recipients by their correct names, and don’t forget to attach important documents or links.
Work on greeting people warmly and expressing gratitude for their help or efforts.
Assume the best intentions
It’s easy to misinterpret a colleague’s or customer’s tone over email, so be careful not to jump to conclusions. Approach every email with the goal of understanding, not blaming. You may need to ask questions for clarification or suggest a quick phone call to get on the same page.
Respond in a timely manner
Do your best to respond to time-sensitive messages as soon as you can, even if it’s just to acknowledge you’ve received someone’s email. Make sure you don’t hit “reply all” if you don’t need to, though, since doing so can clog up someone’s inbox unnecessarily.
This applies to Slack, too
A lot of companies are eschewing the traditional inbox for more versatile internal communication platforms, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. If your job uses these, here are some etiquette tips to follow:
Consolidate your messages
Every message you send creates a new notification to the recipient, so try not to treat your updates like rapid-fire texts. Instead, consolidate information.
Make messages easy to scan
Use bullet points, emojis, and paragraph breaks to make longer messages more readable.
Use appropriate discussion threads
Threads help organize conversations and topics, so make sure to keep your messages in the corresponding threads.
Set expectations for your availability
Set away messages, outline your working hours, or let people know when you’re online and available to chat.
2. Learn how to listen well
Improving your listening skills at work gives you the ability to absorb information more easily, respond thoughtfully, and collaborate with less confusion. Being a good listener also shows your team members and manager that you’re engaged and reliable. Here are some practices to become a better listener:
Practice active listening
Pay close attention to what people are saying when they talk. Work on making good eye contact and waiting for people to finish speaking before you respond.
Stay engaged during video meetings
Show people you’re present by looking at your screen, offering nods and smiles, and waiting for breaks in the conversation to contribute. You may want to take notes as someone talks; if you do, make sure to mute your microphone so your typing doesn’t distract the person speaking.
Ask thoughtful questions
Asking questions is an essential part of listening. Questions help clarify your responsibilities and can also provoke thought and lead to collaborative brainstorming.
Let your coworkers and manager know you hear them by responding with words of affirmation or validation. You can say things like, “I see where you’re coming from,” “That’s a good idea,” and “I appreciate your sharing that.”
3. Work on collaborating remotely
With remote work and distributed teams becoming increasingly common, it’s more critical than ever to learn how to collaborate with colleagues and clients from afar. Better collaboration leads to more productivity and happier teams. Here are some collaboration best practices:
Make yourself available
Make sure your managers and teammates know how and when to reach you. You could make your calendar public or outline which days and times are best for meetings and brainstorming sessions.
Ask questions upfront
Being on the same page with your remote team is key to success. Instead of operating on assumptions, ask clarification questions upfront and build in time for catch-up calls and progress updates.
Use your company’s tools
Take advantage of project management software and communication platforms to update shared documents, check off tasks, and send notes to your team members.
Follow through on your work
When you’re collaborating remotely, it’s important that your team be able to depend on you. Do your best to be prompt for virtual meetings, respond to questions in a timely manner, and submit your work on schedule.
4. Pay attention to context clues
The tone you take and information you share at work depends on whom you’re speaking to and what type of situation you’re in. Follow these tips to make sure you’re communicating effectively:
Match your company’s communication style
If your company is formal and reserved, you may want to avoid sending emails loaded with emojis or personal questions. On the other hand, if your company takes an informal, friendly approach to communication, you can use more casual language and personal anecdotes.
You can’t talk to everyone about everything in the workplace. It’s not smart to gossip about your coworkers with other coworkers, for example, but it’s completely acceptable to approach your manager or HR director to discuss your mental health.
How managers and supervisors can lead by example
Company leaders set the tone for workplace communication. Taking these three steps can go a long way toward creating a culture of positive, open communication:
Communicate with empathy
Infusing your communication with empathy helps employees feel supported and cared for:
- Work on understanding employees’ points of view. Ask them what they need to thrive at work.
- Respond to questions and concerns with compassion and kindness.
- Express support for employees who are struggling. It can be as simple as saying “Thanks for sharing that with me,” “I appreciate your work,” or “How can I help?”
Including everyone in your communications comes down to the language you use, the tone you adopt, and the subjects you discuss. Aim to
- Check in with your employees regularly, and pay particular attention to people who are part of marginalized groups;
- Use language that doesn’t exclude or hurt others;
- Recognize your biases when considering promotions, rewarding employees, or calling on people in a meeting; and
- Foster a sense of belonging by uniting everyone in a common goal.
Support employee mental health
One of the best ways to be an effective and compassionate communicator is to show employees you support their mental well-being. You can
- Create space to have conversations about mental health issues;
- Encourage employees to take advantage of mental health resources, such as wellness platforms or paid mental health days;
- Observe your employees’ behavior and try to notice signs of burnout or depression; and
- Listen and act when employees are having a tough time.
If you’re interested in learning more about how communication affects employee well-being, download our guide to improving workplace communication.