During law school I learned the importance of both written and verbal communication. Later, while serving as an attorney in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, I further honed my communications skills understanding that one’s communication needed to reflect the party or individual being addressed. From knowing when and whom to salute to remembering the proper form of address, early on it was challenging to remain within the strictly-defined lines of military protocol; however, in hindsight, it was an incredibly helpful way to develop clear and cogent communications skills.
In today’s workplace, everyone needs to be better at communication. People typically tend to misjudge their communication style and effectiveness. In my experience, being an effective communicator is essential to relationship building, effectiveness and efficiency in the workforce. A recent University of Phoenix College of Social Sciences Psychology in the Workplace survey revealed that only 27 percent of employees felt their internal communication was “very effective.” Of those surveyed, poor internal communication was second only to management issues making an organization “less effective than it could be.”1
Regardless of one’s position in an organization, every employee must strive to improve their communication skills. While being an effective communicator doesn’t always come naturally, it is a skill that can be learned and developed. Here are three things you can do.
Think before you hit send
According to the recent University of Phoenix Psychology in the Workplace survey, three-quarters of U.S. companies provide their employees with an email account; employees typically use email as their primary form of communication with internal and external stakeholders. Many workers eschew face-to face interaction relying on emails, text messages and instant messenger (IM). The survey showed that four in 10 employees would rather communicate face-to-face, and three in 10 would rather communicate using an instant messenger. Many organizations are moving towards platforms like Slack, to help promote interactive and fluid conversations in a more efficient and timely manner.
Employees should cultivate face-to-face interaction with their colleagues and make an effort to get up from their desks and asking a question or delivering an update in person. Verbal interaction, whether in-person, real time face-to-face video chat or even via instant messenger will decrease email clutter, while increasing efficiency, and allow for the development of rapport with co-workers.
Let’s do lunch
In the same University of Phoenix survey, 28 percent of respondents reported having zero onboarding process.2 However, companies and individuals can greatly benefit from getting new employees up-to-speed as quickly as possible. Best practices in onboarding new employees means maximizing and increasing employee engagement. Additionally, onboarding increases an employee’s self-efficacy, role clarity, social integration and culture of knowledge. It also has the potential to decrease employee turnover.
Learn to listen
Lastly, one of the biggest issues organizations struggle with is poor internal communication: 36 percent of respondents of the University of Phoenix Psychology Workplace survey reported poor internal communication as the second greatest factor contributing to a less effective organization, second only to management issues. Good communication skills involve active listening. As Stephen Covey observes in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”3 In order to have healthy communication, it's important to listen and communicate. As Covey recommends: "seek first to understand, then to be understood." Active listening shows true engagement from both the leader and employee, allowing whomever is speaking to feel as though they are truly being understood and heard.
Author: Constance St. Germain, Executive Dean, Colleges of Humanities & Social Sciences, Social Sciences and Security & Criminal Justice (co-interim), University of Phoenix
1 This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of University of Phoenix between June 23-July 14, 2016 among 1,004 U.S. adults aged 18 and older, full-time or part time employed. Oversamples in Las Vegas (201), Houston (201), Phoenix (200), Dallas-Ft. Worth (201), Sacramento (200), San Antonio (201), and Colorado Springs (175). Figures for age, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
2 John Kammeyer-Mueller, Connie Wanberg, Alex Rubenstein and Zhaoli Song, “Support, Undermining, and Newcomer Socialization: Fitting in During the First 90 Days,” Academy of Management Journal 56 (2012).
3 Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Free Press, 1989).