Updated: Sep 18, 2020
In today's economy, most professionals spend somewhere around a whopping 70-80% of their time communicating in some way via conversation, email, or in-person, and we spend anywhere between 35-50% of our workweek in meetings. And yet, in a 2019 survey, researchers found that 91% of 1,000 surveyed employees felt their bosses lacked good communication skills.
This lack of quality communication has a real impact both on your company's bottom line and on your team's morale and fulfillment. It's hard to believe that we can collectively spend so much time communicating and still struggle with it so often.
In my experience, we struggle with communication at work because we often think of communication as a shortsighted need to convey our perspective and be fully understood. As a result, we lose sight of the real purpose of our time spent communicating – to interact and engage – and miss the chance to build ongoing connection and mutual validation.
So what can we do?
As leaders, we can start by reframing the way we think about communication. Let's spend less time thinking about our message and more time thinking about building good interactions between ourselves and our teams so that everyone leaves a conversation feeling heard, understood, and included in the outcome. As you approach your next meeting or a one-on-one discussion, consider the following suggestions:
Get clear on the intention.
There are many reasons to communicate at work. Are you brainstorming about a new project idea? Are you building a consensus around a big decision? You may be asking for input, acknowledgment, or support, or perhaps you are giving feedback and coaching to a teammate or colleague. Whatever the purpose, be clear on your intention for the conversation. Then, take it a step further and clarify the intentions of others. Are their goals the same? Are you working in the same or opposite directions? Finally, don't try to do too much. As I'll mention later, trying to cover many topics in any given communication is a surefire way to shut down interaction.
Listen and ask questions to prompt interaction.
Of course, this wouldn't be a post on effective communication if I didn't say listening is key to good communication! It seems obvious, but listening is often the most significant barrier to effective communication. One thing that often stands in the way of active listening is not leaving enough time for discussion. As leaders, we can often come to conversations or meetings with a laundry list of topics to discuss and points to make — making our time in the conversation feel rushed and hurried and leaving little time for actual dialogue and interaction. Can you narrow your plan to one or two topics and allow the conversation to flow from there? Instead of being the first to speak, can you start your conversation off with a question or two?
Account for different communication styles.
Just as each person may have a different intention for any given conversation, each person on your team may have a different way of receiving and processing information. Are you considering how the person or people you are communicating with may be receiving your communication? Are you giving them enough time to process your thoughts and opinions and form reactions? Is there another way to deliver your message that may make more space for those differences? If you're not getting the interaction you want, try to think of multiple approaches and consider the person on the other end.
Ultimately, the success of our businesses and our careers hinge on our ability to communicate with our teammates and colleagues. By focusing on the quality of the interactions we have rather than just our persuasive message, we can create more meaningful connections at work that increase our morale, fulfillment, and productivity.