Communication is an under-supported aspect of our workplace interpersonal dynamics, often dismissed as a nebulous “soft skill.”
Many job descriptions, for example, state a preference for “excellent communication skills,” which can carry an abundance of meanings, or call for proficiency in written and verbal communication. This doesn’t do much to acknowledge the nuanced nature of communication itself.
Limiting the definition or role of workplace communication doesn’t make it any easier to navigate. Asking a teammate a question, explaining metrics, or delivering feedback are all communicated differently, yet they’re all tasks a single employee would handle within a typical workday.
It’s time we recognize workplace communication as a mutable, contextual characteristic and constant practice in an effort to become better performing employees, managers, and teams. Doing so will allow us to develop more respectful and meaningful bonds with our colleagues, removing interpersonal barriers that prevent us from delivering our best work. And the good news: it only takes three steps to achieve more effective workplace communication.
Step one: Consider how we communicate
Humans are inherently social creatures; we start communicating from the very moment we’re born. Taking a moment to explore the fundamental ways that we communicate is a first step to better understand your own — and others’ — unique communication style to adapt to any workplace scenario.
According to Principles of Management there are three major types of communication:
Verbal communication, which includes voice notes, phone calls, in-person conversations, video meetings, and video messages.
Written communication, such as handwritten notes, emails, text messages, and social media messages.
Nonverbal communication, like body language, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and posture. Listening is a form of nonverbal communication, as it involves cues such as but not limited to maintaining eye contact or nodding with whomever you’re conversing, to demonstrate that you comprehend their words.
While you may have a preferred type of communication, the medium isn’t the only factor to take into consideration. Examples within these categories also include forms of asynchronous vs synchronous communication, which account for the timing and the context of the exchange.
Asynchronous communication involves a lag between the sender and recipient, while synchronous communication occurs in “real time.”
Here are some examples of asynchronous and synchronous forms of communication:
Asynchronous communication: letters, emails, Slack messages, text messages, social media messages, voicemails, voice notes, and video messages.
Visual methods of asynchronous verbal communication also capture non-verbal cues, eye-contact, facial expressions and hand gestures.
Synchronous communication: phone calls, video meetings, in-person/face-to-face conversations.
Visual methods of synchronous verbal communication also capture non-verbal cues, like the ones noted above.
Many of these examples can span different categories — the level of formality or forethought around them changes depending on if they’re asynchronous or synchronous.
All this to say: communication operates on a spectrum. You aren’t only proficient at written communication or verbal communication, as many resume writing guides and job descriptions would lead you to believe. It’s more realistic to say that you have particular preferences and approaches to different types of communication, depending on the timing and context.
So, how can you best get a sense of your own communication style?
Step two: Determine how you communicate
Your communication style is unique to you. No one else has the same writing style, vocal intonation, or even emoji preferences you do.
The best way to understand your communication style is to bring awareness to how you generally approach communicating with others. Consider how you’d approach these following scenarios:
It’s your first day at a new job and you already have a ton of questions. How do you go about asking them?
You notice an error and need to bring it up to a colleague right away. How do you address it?
You’re in a weekly team meeting and have a question. When do you ask it?
Someone asks for your opinion about a new product feature in front of a large group. How do you react?
You receive multiple Slack messages from colleagues at once. How much effort does it take for you to toggle between them?
This exercise can help you begin to exposit your own communication style. Think about your preferred ways of communicating, the communication tools you rely on, and your communication pet peeves. Writing (or recording) a user manual for yourself with this information can give your colleagues a better sense of what it’s like to work and communicate with you.
Personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC, and Enneagram, can also give you a general insight into your working style, including your communication style. (If you’re curious to gauge your strengths, values, and ideals, you can take all three assessments and more with Crystal.)
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a popular choice for those seeking insight into their communication styles, as it assesses extroversion and introversion. While extroversion and introversion are meant to capture how you predominantly derive and direct your energy, they have also emerged as helpful indicators of one’s communication preferences.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on a general overview of how extroverts and introverts communicate:
Extroverts derive energy from being around other people and tend to thrive working in groups and thinking out loud.
Introverts derive energy from solitude and tend to come off more reserved in group settings and tend to digest information alone before presenting ideas or offering feedback.
Every person has qualities of both extroversion and introversion; for most of us, one quality is predominant. Understanding whether you’re more extroverted or introverted can help shape the way that you describe your communication style to others, especially if you decide to create a user manual.
Communication is a two-way street. Your workplace communication style is a single piece in a larger puzzle — now let’s talk about how to make all of the pieces fit together.
Step three: Create communication synergy
Communication connects us all, yet every individual has their own particular way of communicating with others. This makes developing systems and processes around effective workplace communication that apply to everyone especially challenging. How can you feel empowered to embrace your individual communication style and also work efficiently with your team members who have different communication styles to reach your common goals?
Once we’re able to turn the mirror on ourselves to see what we’re bringing to the interactions we have at work, we’re ready to start to build empathy for the way others communicate. This allows for open communication, instead of communication being contained within silos.
Below are a few measures you can take to communicate more effectively and thoughtfully at work, prevent miscommunication, and create a happier, more productive work environment:
Share your communication preferences with your teammates as soon as possible. Sharing your user manual with your co-workers (even as soon as you introduce yourself to them) removes the guesswork on their part in establishing a fruitful working relationship with you. If you are managing a team, encourage your reports to create user manuals during their onboarding process.
Ask your teammates about their communication preferences early on. Don’t assume your preferred communication method is your colleagues’ too. Ask them how they’d like to be communicated with, and provide options that fall within your scope of preferred communication methods and communication channels to meet them halfway (e.g., asking if they’d rather receive details about a report over email or through a video message).
Honor your team members’ communication preferences. This one’s easy (and can do wonders for team building, employee engagement, improving company culture): if someone says that they don’t like to be put on the spot, for example, then don’t put them on the spot. If your boss hates Slack and loves email, be sure you’re managing up via email.
Incorporate tools that support flexibility in your day-to-day work. A great way to ensure that you and your team aren’t operating in communication silos is to use tools that fall on various points of the communication spectrum. Having a balance of apps or programs that span asynchronous and synchronous forms of communication will keep all of your bases covered and increase productivity, especially at a time when more of us are working remotely than ever before.
A video message is an ideal go-between between written and verbal communication, as it asynchronously delivers a message with all of the verbal and non-verbal elements of synchronous communication. This adds a level of vulnerability and sincerity that can catalyze the bonds you have with your teammates, which makes communicating with them easier.
Adopt a growth mindset around communication. Improving your communication skills might require you to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Small shifts — like pausing before responding to make sure you're not misreading something; asking for clarification when something changes; and proactively asking for feedback can help you level up your communication in a big way.
Opt for transparency. Work will always have its bottlenecks, conflicts, and question mark moments. Doing your part to facilitate clear, effective communication can be challenging at times, but remaining transparent can greatly reduce the negative impact that can occur in these instances.
Further reading: Why Knowing How to Be Quiet Improves Your Communication — Loom
Keeping the conversation going
The days when communication was treated as a monolithic skill are behind us. This shouldn’t make approaches to workplace communication more difficult, but rather, encourage us to continuously work toward becoming more flexible, accommodating, open-minded — and, overall, better — communicators. Because when we do, we can boost company morale, expedite workflows, and reach business goals faster. And who wouldn’t want work to feel like, well, less work?
Want to incorporate video messaging into your team’s communication toolbox?