As I write this, I most definitely am not on holiday. I will be tomorrow, but today I am busy wrapping up the one thousand and one tiny details that make up a working week. So, in other words, I will spend most of today communicating.
It’s only 11AM, and so far I’ve spoken with 16 people in conversation, via text, phone call, email, Skype, and Google Hangouts. It’s deeply satisfying, in work as in life, when you share a meeting of the minds with others. I love it when everyone comes away from the conversation with something of value.
So here are my top tips for effective workplace communication. I’ll be using all of them today. And tomorrow I’ll be reading in a hammock, enjoying a holiday and the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
It’s all about the outcome
We’re all making something at work – a report, a story, a list, a blood test, an engine, a strategy, a cake. Everything you do, every decision you make, should be to that end.
So when you’re thinking about how to communicate, it’s important to think about the outcome. Visualise the steps needed to get there. How will people best understand what’s needed from them? Here’s where you choose what to say, and in what medium.
When sh*t hits the fan, focussing on the outcome is how you get through it. Made a mistake? Fix it. Client called out your mistake? Admit it, apologise and fix it. If you can’t fix it by yourself, seek assistance from your colleagues.
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Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t get defensive if you do – it won’t help you reach your outcome. Just visualise the steps needed, then get in there and do it.
Make it obvious
What’s the point of your communication? Decide what outcome you’re looking for before you send that email and make the point obvious.
If you’re communicating with a group, make sure you name those responsible for actions within the email. If an email comes to you without names against actions, reply asking specific questions about who will do what. Your team members will thank you for making it obvious.
No one ever got offended by a tightly written email with numbered lists and subheads.
Writing in this way will help you distill your thoughts into clear sentences and actionable objectives.
Time is of the essence
They say if it takes less than two minutes, you should do it straight away, and they’re right (whoever ‘they’ are).
If someone has taken the time to write, call or message you, you’ll set their mind at ease by replying as soon as you can.
Even if your message is simply ‘I’m on it,’ a quick reply reflect your respect of your client or team member’s request.
Using chat apps, like Google Hangouts or Slack, is a great way to throw a quick question or answer at someone. It’s best used for non-urgent requests.
Old school gets results
Conversations are perfect for asking open-ended questions, like ‘What did you think of the report?’ or ‘How are you going with that workload?’.
These aren’t questions you want to ask in writing; the best answers will come from a real, flesh and blood conversation, where you can eyeball someone’s body language and give them a chance to be heard.
Early in my career I had a boss who made me call three problem clients every Friday, while he sat on my desk and gave me directions. Although it was awful at the time, it taught me to overcome my fear of curly questions from clients by admitting to them I didn’t know the answer, but that I’d find out. In situations like this, clients or customers will always appreciate your honesty.
If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist
Email is still the foundation of all good workplace communication. After a phone call, follow up with an email summarising the conversation and the action points discussed. The same goes if you have a request via chat.
Spell out each deliverable, using names, bullet points, bold text, or whatever else suits. If something goes wrong, it will be these emails you’ll use to uncover what happened. If something goes right, you’ll use your detailed emails to investigate and recreate those conditions of success.
Be a person
This sounds like a joke, but seriously, it’s okay to be a person when dealing with clients – they’re people too. Adding some personality to your communications at work can be a game changer.
It’s these small social currencies that remind us we’re human. So build relationships and make communication a happy process. A little bit of fun never goes astray.
Share with us the communication advice you live by in the comments section below.