Communication is a skill many CEOs and HR professionals have on their fix-it list. Barriers to effective communication abound in the workplace, and each requires a slightly different strategy to resolve—even though that one word, “communication,” comes up annoyingly often in employee satisfaction surveys and Glassdoor reviews.
Whether you’re looking to improve your personal communication with middle management staff, help your company have more meaningful meetings, or encourage effective communication between individual employees in your office, the following seven strategies can help. Let’s start breaking down major communication barriers in the workplace.
7 Ways to Break Down Communication Barriers
It may seem that failures in communication are the fault of the speaker, but this TedEd video on miscommunication encourages us to view communication as far more transactional. Understand that communication is a collaborative process—and it directly impacts the collaboration you’re seeing between individuals, teams, and departments within your company. These strategies, therefore, apply to all parties involved in communicating and receiving a message.
1. Strive for Clarity
Clarity is the first area most employers seek to improve. It takes real dedication to keep your speech clear and—more importantly—concise. Be careful of overusing business jargon, department-specific language, or technical terms that all of your employees might not be familiar with (and get in the habit of defining those you do use). Experiment by reworking the last company-wide email you sent. If your email is on the longer side, try cutting it down by half and only including the most pertinent information. This will help you get a feel for using clearer language. With any luck, your continued efforts to clarify your speech will trickle down through your company culture as a whole.
2. Communicate Often
Many organizations struggle to establish frequent and consistent lines of communication. In my own company, I’ve learned that no matter how much I communicate openly with my staff, they could always use just a little bit more. Frequent department updates, company-wide messages from leadership, and frequently-updated employee recognition systems are key to opening up conversation in the workplace. Most important are one-on-one check-ins, which help each team member feel valued, understood, and supported. Don’t wait for annual employee reviews to have a conversation with your employees!
3. Encourage Active Listening
Listening is a skill that all of us, employers and employees alike, can work on. Inattentiveness and multitasking are all-too-common in the workplace and can only be eliminated by truly active listening. I recently sat in on a meeting where a department head invited attendees to close their laptops, put down their phones, and engage fully with the meeting. We established this habit for every company meeting since, and our conversations have been far more productive, creative, and inspiring. Find ways to help your employees be fully present while they’re communicating with others, and everyone will benefit.
4. Promote Transparency
Dishonesty is the all-time enemy of effective communication and should be avoided at all costs in all areas of your company. That being said, many leadership teams still rely on disseminating information on a “need to know” basis—essentially hiding or obscuring information from other team members. Though not technically dishonest, this practice breeds a serious lack of trust and creates a serious barrier to communication. Aim to be entirely transparent with your team across all leadership levels, and create ways to openly acknowledge employees and provide feedback that keeps everyone in the know. Public scoreboards, custom uniform swag, and recognition events are an easy place to start.
5. Allow for Emotions
Stress often runs high in the workplace, particularly in metrics-based companies like call centers or sales development firms. If stakes are high and your team is overwhelmed, emotions are bound to come into play in many of your internal communications. Anticipate this reality and be prepared to welcome emotion and healthy coping mechanisms into your workplace. Expressing emotion is healthy both for the individual and the organization, and your acceptance can help each employee feel heard and valued at work. Bonus tip: being open to emotions at work will also help your employees and managers gradually become more open to giving and accepting feedback.
6. Insist on Face-to-Face
Why spend five minutes composing (or reading) an email when a simple thirty-second conversation will do? Most companies struggle to find the balance between an overabundance of email and other delayed text communications and not enough in-person connection. This is one communication barrier that’s quick and easy to solve: simply invite your team to cut down on messages by at least 30% this week and rely on face-to-face discussion instead. In-person communication allows each of us to practice active listening and absorb the body language and subtext that accompany the speaker’s main message. It also fosters personal connection and helps build friendships, which is key to improving motivation in the workplace.
7. Understand Diversity
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that cross-cultural barriers to communication exist in most, if not all, American workplaces today. Whether you’re doing business internationally, have a percentage of your team who speaks English as a second language, or welcome employees with different backgrounds or ability levels, your company will benefit from endeavoring to understand and celebrate the diversity that surrounds us all. Train your staff on ESL communication tips, research into helpful disability accommodations, and learn from your employees how to respect and honor their cultures and ethnicities in a productive and meaningful way through your communication.
Breaking down communication barriers in the workplace requires careful attention and a dedication to seeing your team members as people, not just employees. It’s one strategy among many you can use to increase employee satisfaction, reduce turnover, and create a work environment that individuals love to be in. Use these seven strategies to address your company’s most pressing areas for improvement when it comes to communication. And don’t forget to reward your employees for these adjustments through motivating and rewarding incentive plans that work.
At Inproma, we create custom employee rewards and recognition programs that keep everyone on your team excited and motivated to improve the company as a whole. We help you increase your company-wide positive communication by instating an incentive program that opens conversations among employees across all departments and all levels of leadership. Let’s talk.