Communication. You’ve heard it everywhere, everyone who’s alive has basically said it, and yes, I’m probably beating a dead horse, but I think the reason I want to talk about it still is because there are still millions of people who don’t really ‘get it’.
Communication is not just about what you say. It’s a combination of when you say it, how you say it, who you say it to, and the exact words you decide to use. Not only that, good communication also has to be genuine, authentic, and meaningful. When you put all that together, it’s no wonder that lots of people still have a hard time with it.
Instead of a Top 10 or 20 list of ways to communicate, let’s break it down and explain some of the whys. Knowing the underlying causes usually helps put things into a different perspective.
Words matter. Choose the right ones
People don’t usually give this much thought, but the language is very particular. The exact words you use will change the way your idea “feels” and can communicate a different message. Here’s an example to show what I mean.
Ex 1) I don’t know, I can ask
Ex 2) I don’t know, I will ask
Which sentence “feels” like the employee wants to find out the information? If you were a manager, which answer gives you more confidence? Would you rather have someone who will do something, or someone who can do something? It’s very subtle and you may not notice it having a negative effect, but I can assure you that it most definitely does.
Here’s a recent excerpt from an interview with a Cognitive Scientist, Lera Boroditsky: “Words have power. If I tell you this hamburger is 80 percent lean as opposed to 20 percent fat, then in some sense I am communicating the same thing. But what people get from those two communications is very different: People perceive the 80 percent lean hamburger as much healthier than the 20 percent fat option. By choosing how you frame and talk about something, you are cuing others to think about it in a specific way. We can drastically change someone’s perspective by how we choose to talk about and frame something.”
Choose the words you use with thought and really consider if they are the right ones.
Know your audience
The company where I work now is the most diverse company I have ever worked for. Out of the 16 people working in my office, there are 12 different countries being represented, only 7 whose primary language is English, and only 15 speak more than 1 language. This has a huge effect on the way I communicate with my colleagues, and how I understand them.
Lera Boroditsky also gave a recent TED talk about how language shapes the way we think and gave the example of miscommunication between English and Spanish Speakers. In English, we say “I broke my arm”. In Spanish, this would literally mean I physically tried to break my own arm. In Spanish, they would say “my arm broke”.
These small differences make me aware that I need to communicate differently with different people. To minimize miscommunication, I often ask for clarification.
Make your message understandable by the receiver
Tying in with the previous point, communication is successful when the receiver understands your message, so there are 2 things to consider when communicating something. 1) Is my message clear? 2) Does the receiver have the background to understand the message?
For example, I recently started working with the marketing department and I quickly learned that they used language that I was not familiar with. “Copy” means the text on any marketing/communication material, “pantone” is a system of colour matching, and “EPOC” means every point of contact. Sometimes, the person communicating to me knew I did not have a marketing background and would explain what they meant, and other times, the person assumed I know the vocabulary and did not explain anything.
Needless to say, when I did not understand the message, things were a bit rocky. Of course I eventually asked or Googled the answer, but had the message been made clear from the start, everyone ends up saving time, and working together easier, and better as a team. So don’t assume another person knows what you know and make sure they understand what you are trying to communicate.
It’s better to over communicate than to under communicate
When working with a team of people, which I assume many of us are, it’s always good to over communicate. It might not seem obvious, but simple actions involve a lot of work, and if things are not being communicated, the whole process is impacted.
Let’s take the simple example of ordering T-Shirts for a team of people who will be at an event. First, you need to know when the event is, then you need to know who is attending the event and what their sizes are. You then need to find out how long your supplier needs to produce the shirts, and then communicate to your designer to create the design by a certain date. If any of the players don’t know the details or the deadlines, it causes a lot of anguish and may result in not getting the product on time. There are a ton more communications that go into this simple action, like making sure your manager knows the deadlines and budgets, the supplies communicates back and forth to confirm designs and prices, updates on time estimates etc. Since everyone is working on multiple projects, if communication isn’t happening, you could feel very stressed!
If you feel like you’re asking too many questions and sending out too many reminders, you’re likely doing just the right amount of communication. Just remember that your communications should be relevant, so again, it’s not wasting anyone’s time.
Use the appropriate communication style for work
We have to understand that communication at work is different from communication elsewhere. There are obviously exceptions depending where you work, but for most of us, work life, is different from personal life, so the communication style needs to be different as well.
At home and with your friends, you might be the funny, cheeky guy or you might be the cool, mysterious guy. If you use these communication styles at work, your response to the question “when will you be done the project” might be “wouldn’t you like to know”? Your friends might laugh at this response, but your co-worker who is waiting on your part of the project will not be very impressed. It’s fine to have a personality at work, and being yourself is great, but when it comes to communication, it should be clear and accurate. Tell your colleague what they actually need to know and then make a joke about it afterwards if you must.
You may think this is obvious, and can’t imagine people actually behaving this way, but it happens. And if this is you, maybe rethink how you come across at work.
Communication is such a rich topic, and there is so much more to know and think about. I hope this article at the very least makes you reflect on your communication style at work.