Improving Your Communication At Work

We all have trouble communicating at times. We get tired, we are stressed out, we lose patience and sometimes we just don’t get our co-workers or bosses.

If you’ve ever lost your temper at work, had a misunderstanding or had to deal with a conflict, you know how important it is to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the skills or awareness to know exactly what to do. Or, we’re good communicators who sometimes forget our skills at the door.

Not sure where to start? Here are five tips to help:

1. Realize that virtually no one else thinks the same way you do.

Most misunderstandings happen because people assume that they are communicating clearly. They think that other people think the same way they do. One of the most interesting exercises I use in workshops to illustrate that this is a fallacy is the “Cats and Mats” exercise. I write a simple six-word sentence on the whiteboard (The cat sat on the mat.) and ask people in the workshop to tell me what pictures appear in their heads as they read the sentence. Every time, people are astonished to find out that the cat in their head is a different colour from almost everyone else in the room. That the cat sits on a different mat. That the location of the cat and mat are in different rooms. The only way to really understand what someone else is thinking is to ask. If a message didn’t get through, check in to talk it out and make sure your cats are on the same mat.

2. Realize that everyone behaves logically.

Yes, you read that right. Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, behaves logically, according to their beliefs and values. If you’re experiencing communication challenges, get curious about what’s underneath their behaviour. Ask a few open-ended questions to find out what makes sense for them, such as “Help me understand what’s happening for you in this situation.” You can also use the “notice and name” strategy. Using a neutral tone, you can say “I notice that ______________. Can you tell me more about what’s happening here?” Remember that what seems illogical to you is completely logical to them. Get to the beliefs.

3. Listen and reframe.

In any challenging communication situation, your best strategy is to listen first, reframe or summarize what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve got it and then express your thoughts. You might find your communication challenges melt away as others around you feel truly heard. A great phrase for summarizing is “When you said __________, this is what I heard: _______________. Did I get that right?” When expressing your thoughts, use a preceding phrase like “From my perspective” or “That’s interesting. Here’s how I saw/see it.” Affirm their point of view, then go on to let them know where you’re at. You might not agree with their view, but you must always remember they have the right to their opinion.

4. Accept that you bear responsibility.

In any communication situation, it’s always a two-way street and perception is everything. If someone reacts strongly to what you’re saying, and they let you know that what you said was received badly, it’s on you to make it right, not to tell them why they’re wrong to have perceived it the way they did. Their perception is their perception. You are responsible for yours and for trying to understand where they might be coming from. It’s important to own your impact and ensure you’re communicating in a way that can be received, not shut down.

5. Get curious and look for common ground.

When miscommunications occur, people often get defensive and angry. Instead, try getting curious. Start wondering why the miscommunication occurred and work with the other person to find out where it happened. Ask questions. Check your perspective against theirs. Instead of focusing on what went wrong or what is different between you, look for common ground. You’ll find that most people just want to be understood. Look for ways to understand and you’ll always come out ahead in communication. 

We love real-world examples. Comment below and tell us if this was helpful and how it’s impacted your communication.

Katherine Lazaruk

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