Workplace Communication

Workplace Communication

Communication is the process of sharing ideas, information, and messages with others in a particular time and place. There are many means of communication. It is the lifeblood of an organization and, without it, things do not get done. To be an effective and valuable at the workplace, it is important that the employees must have skills in the different methods of communication.  In the communication process, it must pass from a sender to a receiver. This must occur irrespective of the form of communication.

Workplace communication is the transmitting of information from one employee or group of employees to another employee or other group of employees in the organization. This communication is vital for the ability of the organization to be productive and also for its smooth operation. Communication includes written and verbal communication, as well as nonverbal communication (such as facial expressions, body language, or gestures), visual communication (the use of images or pictures, such as painting, photograph, video or film) and electronic communication (telephone calls, and electronic mail etc.).

For communication to be effective it must be understood by the receiver and be able to be responded to. This means that total communication involves speaking, reading, listening, and reasoning skills. As communications pass from the source to the receiver there is plenty of opportunity for its original meaning to change or alter. Therefore listening, reasoning and feedback is an important part of the process as it is an opportunity for the sender to make sure the receiver has understood the message.

Communication is about sending, receiving, and understanding of the information and its meaning. Receiving and understanding are the most important operations in the communication process, since the response of the receiver defines whether the communication attempt is successful or not. There are two types of communication that are related to workplace communication. They are (i) the effective communication, and (ii) the efficient communication. Effective communication is when the message of the sender has a successful decoding from the receiver and the efficient communication is when the communication is done effectively at a low cost.

When there is a communication gap at the workplace within the organization there is usually a breakdown in the way information is been sent from the sender to the receiver. This is precedent in organizations that have a top down hierarchy. In this type of hierarchy it can be difficult for bottom level employees to obtain needed information within the organization.

Workplace communication is essential for the overall effectiveness of the organization.  It consists of accurate, consistent, and timely information to the employees. Workplace communication is one of the responsibilities of the department’s management. Managers with proper training and coaching techniques can be very effective in the workplace communication. Workplace communication is a two way communication process and is meant to help the decision making process and to influence the employees’ behaviour in ways that benefit not only the organization but also the employees themselves.

Employees with important operational information make their best efforts which help to make the organization more successful in achieving its goals. Further workplace communications never stops. It is a continuous interactive process.

By successfully getting the message across, organizational management convey the thoughts and ideas effectively. When not successful, the thoughts and ideas that the management conveys do not necessarily reflect what was needed to be conveyed, causing a communications breakdown and creating roadblocks that stand in the way of achieving the organizational goals. Getting the message across is paramount to progressing. To do this, management must understand what the message is, what audience it is being sent, and how it will be perceived by the audience. Management must also weigh-in the circumstances surrounding the communications, such as situational and cultural context.

Communication is a skill that can be learned but it needs practice. Communication and feedback is the key to a successful working environment as it helps in the following.

  • It makes the employees well informed and in the process they learn.
  • It creates opportunity for professional and personal development.
  • It boosts employees’ motivation, morale and loyalty.
  • It makes employees understand their role, responsibilities, tasks, deadlines and so on.
  • It improves employees’ productivity and their job satisfaction.
  • It enables employees to contribute to the organizational success.
  • It has a positive effect on the employees’ relationship in the organization and promotes mutual understanding.
  • It has a positive effect on the absenteeism and the turnover rate of the employees.
  • It provides insight to the management about how the organization is performing

From a communications perspective, employees feel appreciated and valued when (i) they are the first to hear important news, (ii) they are regularly consulted, (iii) they are listened to, and (iv) their suggestions are acted upon.

Every organization must strive for setting of the foundation for successful workplace communication. In a workplace where employees are without communication skills, little co?operation occurs between the management and the employees. Hence for effective management and effective supervision, good communication skills are essential.

Effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills are valuable in the workplace. Some organizations spend a lot of money to train their employees on how to communicate effectively. Good communication skills go beyond conversations, but employees must know how to communicate well in written reports and emails. Understanding of the benefits of effective communication helps organizations place a focus on developing a workforce that is able to communicate within the organization as well as with customers, suppliers, contractors and partners.

The effectiveness of the managers and supervisors in the organization is enhanced by their aptitude for communication. When managers and supervisors are better understood and appreciated, they are followed and supported. The following are the four factors which are related to the workplace communication (Fig 1) and which help organizations in the achievement of their goals.

  • Clarity of purpose – Successful organizations and initiatives focus on a few key messages. Managements of the successful organizations are consistent in their messages and ensure that every employee involved understands the goals and how to achieve them.
  • Effective communication methods -The level of trust and openness in various key activities is also critical for success. Employees at all levels can ask for information and receive honest, useful answers.
  • Effective sharing of information – Information sharing is effective when systems and networks enable managers, supervisors, and employees to have the right information at the right time to do their jobs, to share opinions and discuss ideas, and to circulate best practices and learn from each other.
  • Walking the talk – Managers and supervisors must also be good communicators themselves, so that they can convey their ideas convincingly. Their behaviour must be consistent with what they are saying, both formally and informally.

Factors affecting workplace communication

Fig1 Factors related to workplace communication

Some guidelines to help managers and supervisors in bridging the communication gap at the workplace are as follows.

  • To listen actively for the subtext of employees’ words.
  • To persuade rather than command.
  • To target the right words to the audience of the communication.
  • To react to the content and not to the employees’ manner of expressing themselves.
  • To let people know that criticism is welcome.
  • Make the intentions clear before acting.
  • Always assume that employees take responsibility for what they say.

Unclear communication not only results in errors and missed deadlines, but also lies at the root of many other serious workplace issues, such as low employee morale and poor job performance. Managers should invest the necessary time to ensure that the organizational goals and instructions are free of ambiguity and foster an environment that encourages the open exchange of the ideas.

According to Drucker, the five functions of management namely planning, organizing, directing, coordinating, and controlling are all dependent on communication. In fact, in an organization, highly successful managers must have the ability to communicate effectively since it is identified as the most important skill a manager needs for success.

The challenge for managers and supervisors is to find the time and the most effective methods for communicating information in a timely and open way to the employees. When faced with a specific message to convey, managers and supervisors must decide which internal communications tool(s) will be most effective. Generally, the more complex or the more important the message, the more likely that face-to-face communication is warranted. This should almost always be supplemented by a printed or electronic version for clarity and consistency of message. Further employees generally prefer to hear from their direct supervisor, but the very important messages may be more appropriate coming from senior management. Also the cardinal rule on timing is that employees should always know about something that affects them before anybody else knows. Employees feel more valued if they become aware of information before it is public knowledge. The basic building block of good workplace communication is the feeling that every employee is unique and is of value to the organization.

The organizational ‘grapevine’ is usually one of the most common and often the most reliable forms of communication found at workplace. Employees talk and they love to talk. When employees know that their manager is giving valid information, is not withholding information, and is available to listen, there is no need for employees to go elsewhere to get information. Thus, in such situation though the grapevine flourishes, but the facts are also available to the employees. Further, the smooth functioning of a workplace is dependent on cooperation between coworkers and, in order to cooperate well, coworkers need to be able to communicate effectively. Good communication must also exist within and between the team as a whole and the rest of the organization. On another level, when employees clash, then the organizational bottom line suffers, the productivity decreases along with morale, while employee stress levels increase along with sick days.

The barriers which impact the workplace communication are cultural, physical, emotional, and personality barriers. By identifying barriers to effective communication, management can make changes that create a calmer, more welcoming workplace. Also listening is just as important as speaking, when it comes to communication. The manager who is a good listener is more likely to have employees who help identify and solve work-related problems. The reason is not surprising. Employees want managers and supervisors to hear and respect their ideas. Hence management in the organization must teach and hone the art and science of listening to enhance organizational communications.

The skill of listening becomes extremely important in case of upward communication. There are many avenues through which management can send messages downward through the organization, but there are few avenues for movement of information in the upward direction.

The successful organizations communicate well. They also invent flowing communication systems that provide employees an opportunity to express and marshal their ideas, needs, and concerns. After all bad communication practices cause a majority of the workplace problems. Many of these problems arise since either the wrong information is passed along or there is failure to pass along valuable and correct information.

In the workplace, managers, supervisors and the employees have opportunities to develop non-threatening, mutually rewarding relationships. These can be quite conducive to individual and corporate health. They are akin to the meaningful relationships. Managers and supervisors who attain such relationships with employees are said to practice positive human relations and it is done only through proper communication.

There are barriers to effective workplace communications. Removing those barriers improves the organizational ability to motivate the employees. Managers and the supervisors must understand and be able to recognize the barriers that hurt the communication process.  These barriers are described below.

  • Not listening – It is one of the most common barriers to communication at the workplace. Not listening can be due to poor listening skills, no involvement or concern with the topic, no desire to take part in the conversation, may be due to distractions, and working in an area that is loud and noisy etc. Passive listening which means involved in something else at the same time while listening is also a barrier to workplace communication.
  • Making assumptions – Assumptions are made at the workplace while taking decisions mostly to save time. The process of assumption normally ignores the path of communication. When assumptions are made then it is more likely that an important piece of information is missed and hence it may lead to an unplanned outcome. Unplanned outcome is not desirable since it affects the employees’ productivity.
  • Body language – Body language is the non-verbal signals which have the potential to block effective communication in the workplace. Body language like waving the hands, raising the arms during discussion and even shaking the head can send negative messages if the interpretation of the body language by the receiver is not the same as perceived by the sender. The impacts of the body language can affect workplace relationships since it may mean unwillingness to take part in communication.
  • Ineffective questions – Questions are often being asked at the workplace by the managers or supervisors to find out whether the communicated message has been correctly understood by the employees or questions are asked by the employees to the managers or supervisors seeking clarification on the communicated message. Asking the right types of questions is necessary for the effective workplace communication. The questions are not to be vague and neither they are to be open ended questions. Defective questions can lead to either incorrect feedback for the communicated message or can cause miscommunication,
  • Excessive amount of information – Too much information given at a time can affect the workplace communication. Excessive information at a time may mean skipping of certain vital information by the employees or they may miss the important message conveyed when they look towards the communicated message with a cursory glance. In such case the effective communication in the workplace gets blocked.
  • Emotional distractions – Emotions play a big role during the interpretation of a communicated message by the employees. Since outside factors affect emotions they also affect the workplace communication. Workplace communication is effective only when there is peace of mind available both with the communicator and the receiver of the message. Messages are not taken positively when there is anger or when there is a disturbed mind. Further the receiver of the communication must not be in a state of closed mind at the time of receiving the message.
  • Conflicting messages – There are possibilities when two conflicting piece of communications are received from two sources at the workplace. The conflicting messages can cause the communication process to breakdown. Conflicting messages cause confusion at the workplace and it becomes necessary to seek clarifications from the sources where the messages have come. Conflicting messages cause delay in the implementation of the tasks conveyed through the messages. It can also cause some unrest at the workplace if the messages are concerning welfare measures.
  • Physical barriers – Physical barriers are those barriers which block the messages on the way before it reaches the receivers. Physical barriers cause disturbance to the process of workplace communication. Physical barriers can be many. They need to be identified and removed for speedy communication process.
  • Perception – Perceptional barrier is a kind of barrier in the workplace communication. This is because each employee has his own viewpoint and opinion. Based on his perception the employee interprets the received message. May be this interpretation varies with the interpretation of the sender. If this happens then it will cause breakdown in the process of communication at the workplace. To overcome this barrier, it is essential that the workplace communications are to be in simple and straight forward language so that there is no room for different interpretation of the message.
  • Cultural – It is possible that employees of a large organization or of multi locational organization have different cultural background of the employees. In such case, it often becomes difficult to have smooth workplace communication. When the employees are of different cultural background then it becomes necessary that the workplace communication is carefully navigated so that it does not become a hindrance in operations and there is no negative effect of the communication process.
  • Language – Language is often a big barrier in effective workplace communication. It is possible that words may be misunderstood and misconstrued that in turn can cause negative effect on the communication process. It is ideal if the communication takes place in the language which is spoken by the employees at the workplace.
  • Workplace stress – Stress at the workplace determines the employee’s behaviour as well as his attitude. It is quite possible that a stressed employee may not be in a proper frame of mind to receive a message. A stressed employee may also interpret a message in a negative way. Hence to overcome this barrier in the workplace communication, proper management of the workplace stress is necessary.
  • Interpersonal – Interpersonal relations can become a barrier in effective workplace communication. Healthy interpersonal relations of the employees make the workplace communication more effective.

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