Poor communication in the workplace can lead to a culture of bitching, back stabbing and blame which in turn can also affect our stress levels, especially when we don’t understand something or feel that we have been misled. Good communication, on the other hand, can have a very positive effect on morale and motivate individuals to want to come into work and do a great job. The above highlights why improving communication skills belongs in a workplace wellness programme and why, as a manager, the ability to communicate effectively is an essential. We will summarise a raft of communication skills here, but there are also several other topics on specific aspects of communication. If you identify a need to hone your abilities in any particular area, we recommend that you take the time to look at the relevant topic. These include Body Language Communicating Change Difficult People Emotional Intelligence Influencing Internal Communications Listening Skills (often neglected, but key to good communication) Mediation Nonviolent Communication Questioning Skills Rapport Telephone Skills Voice Skills Positive communication Positive communication is really important in the workplace in order to create a happy working environment. We all have responsibility for the way that we come into work – try to be the work radiator, not the drain. Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing. It is very easy to blame everyone else and everything else for anything that you may feel. It is also easy for other people get on your nerves and wind you up, but only if you let them. However, if you take responsibility, and set a positive example, it will be step in the right direction towards working wonders with communication at work. How to communicate Be a radiator and communicate positively. Be self-aware and emotionally intelligent. Understand your communication style. Appreciate that other people have different strengths and weaknesses. Be supportive to those around you. Use humour appropriately in the workplace. Respect and celebrate diversity. Actively listen and focus. Two ears, one mouth – use them in that quantity. Be an assertive communicator. Choose win-win outcomes. If in doubt, check your understanding. Encourage feedback about your communication. Use positive non-verbal communication. Smile – it is the universal currency in communication. Modern communication The development of communication has provided us, in the last few decades, with a whole new range of media, including email, instant messaging, the internet and mobile phones. All of these items undeniably can enhance our communication. It is amazing how many people who sit five feet or so from each other will actually email each other rather than speak. The danger we have is that, with more and more consumer-driven technological toys being created, we are starting to shut out people in work environments throughout the world. If we really want, we now have the ability to go through an entire work day without uttering a word to a single colleague. How to manage modern technology If you can telephone someone, avoid email. When you are on the phone, do not read your emails at the same time! Think about the way that you word e-mails to avoid misinterpretation. Use Instant Messaging only when absolutely necessary. Use work internet access for work-related purposes only. Encourage others to do the same. If you have to leave your desk, always take your phone with you. If your mobile rings while you’re working at your desk, speak softly. Turn your phone off if you are in a meeting. Remember that face-to-face communication at work is best. Intrapersonal communication Many people believe that the art of communication is all about how we communicate with others. This is a great fallacy, because the way in which you communicate with yourself is the first step to positive and effective communication. Our reality is our perception and our perception is our reality. In his book Change your life, change your thinking, Brian Tracy highlights that some of the most successful communicators are those who are very aware of their thoughts and self-talk and take control of the way in which they communicate with themselves. So this really is the first area that needs addressing if you want to communicate more successfully at work and with those around you. Positive self speak Take a good listen to your personal vocabulary – how do you speak to yourself? Vocabulary is something we very rarely pay conscious attention to, yet it can give away a host of information about us to the perceptive listener. When you describe an emotional state or use words to express an emotion directly, you reinforce that emotion. If, for example, you say, ‘Damn!’ when you make a mistake, you reinforce the anger you feel about the mistake. If, instead, you say ‘Oops!’ you’re conveying to your subconscious mind that the mistake was minor, something not worth getting too excited about. Affirmations Affirmations are a great way to improve your energy levels, but you need to be very clear as to what you are trying to encourage yourself to do: for example, ‘I go for a walk every day in the park when I get back from work and it is very enjoyable.’ This leaves the mind in no doubt about what you are trying to achieve and what is required. In addition, ensure that All of your affirmations are not only in the present tense, but are also in the positive You make affirmations on a regular and consistent basis, as the effects are usually cumulative. Using positive self-talk can not only help to improve your energy directly, but it can also help you to achieve other ways of improving your energy levels, such as exercising and improving your diet. Yesterday I had a thought. That thought became an emotion, That emotion turned into words, The words fuelled action, The actions became a habit. My habits are my character My character defines my destiny. Today, therefore, I’ll think about my thoughts a little more. Interpersonal communication Interpersonal communication is essentially how we communicate with others. This can encompass verbal, written and nonverbal forms of communication. The term is usually applied to spoken communication that takes place between two or more individuals on a personal, face-to-face level. Understanding communication Professor Albert Mehrabian pioneered the understanding of communications in the 1960s. Aside from his many and various other fascinating works, Mehrabian established this classic statistic for the effectiveness of face-to-face communication when communicating feelings and attitudes. His findings concluded the following: 7 per cent of meaning is in the words that are spoken 38 per cent of meaning is your tone of voice 55 per cent per cent of meaning is non-verbal communication. Mehrabian’s model has become one of the most widely-referenced statistics in communications. However, the figures from this work have since been misinterpreted or badly applied on a regular basis. The context within which these figures are valid is very narrow, and yet people often wrongly generalise the figures to apply to all communications. Despite this, the theory is particularly useful in explaining the importance of meaning, as distinct from words. Transferring Mehrabian’s findings to emails and telephone conversations, for example, it becomes clear that greater care needs to be taken in the use of language and expression, because the visual channel does not exist to reinforce the meaning within the words. Video-conferencing communications are not as reliable as genuine face-to-face communications because of the intermittent transfer of images, with their non-verbal signals. Video conferencing offers massive benefits, but be aware of its vulnerabilities, while using it wherever it’s appropriate. Room for improvement? There are several topics that might help you to improve your interpersonal communication skills, including Rapport, Listening Skills and Questioning Skills, but first you need to know where there is room for improvement: Testing your listening Exercise: How good a questioner are you? Assertive communication Assertive communication is an excellent interpersonal skill to develop. It is the ability to express your thoughts and opinions while respecting the thoughts and opinions of the other person. Assertive communication is appropriately direct, open and honest, and clarifies your needs to the other person. Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned. People who have mastered the skill of assertiveness are able to greatly reduce the level of interpersonal conflict in their lives and significantly reduce a major source of stress, for themselves and others. Click here for a summary of differences between assertive, aggressive and passive communicators. If, on looking at the summary, you feel you need to become more assertive, take a look at the topic on Assertiveness.