Communication is one of the top areas in need of improvement for newly hired recent college graduates, according to surveys of employers. With the advent of email, texting, and social media, communication has evolved to fit the parameters of these new platforms, and this evolution presents challenges for both the employer and the employee.
How one communicates via a technological device and how one communicates face-to-face, in a meeting, through a written report, or through a presentation to a group can require very different thought processes and approaches.
Effective communication also lays the groundwork for cultivating and maintaining mutually rewarding and beneficial working relationships – with customers/clients, co-workers, and supervisors. To assist you in developing awareness of – and improving – your communication skills, following are some guidelines:
Think Before You Speak: For situations in which you are the newcomer, it’s best to act as an observer - not that you shouldn’t ask questions to learn your job, or interact to get to know your co-workers and supervisor, but when offering your opinion, communicate tactfully.
Think Before You Write: An email message or written report that contains typos and grammatical errors is not only an example of poor written communication skills, but also suggests an employee is careless with their work. And, spell-check can “misunderstand” certain items. So, take time to proofread that email before sending. The fast pace of communicating through technology does not give one license to be sloppy with composition.
Who, What, When, Where, Why – and How? You’ve been taught the concept of the Five W’s and one H. Basically, a story isn’t complete until all six questions are answered. This concept is useful for any writing scenario. So, when you’re communicating verbally or in writing, think ahead and make sure that, whatever the purpose of your communication, all six angles are covered. Also, when you need to communicate, consider whether it should be spoken or written – and this depends on the content, purpose, situation, and the preference of your receiver.
Listen Attentively: Many people don’t really listen – they just wait for their turn to speak! If this describes you, then you can benefit from practicing “active listening” skills: Adopt a demeanor that conveys you are interested in the other person, and in the content and emotional aspects of what they are saying. Look at them, nod to show you are listening, and ask questions or paraphrase what you heard (“So you’re saying…”) to make sure you understand. Notice both words and body language. Good communicators are also good listeners.
Technology Etiquette: Turn off your devices when in meetings. When interacting with someone individually, don’t check your devices - this suggests a lack of interest in the other person and what they have to say. Keep personal conversations at work at a minimum. And if you have something to say that is highly sensitive, ask if you can converse in person. Also, when someone provides you with information or assistance via email, reply with a “Thank you” – this lets them know you received the information and that you appreciate their assistance.
Stay Positive and Team-Oriented. A positive, enthusiastic attitude is as important as your ability to perform the job. In a team environment, thoughts and ideas need to be freely shared by all - and respected. If constructive criticism is offered from a supervisor or co-worker, respond with appreciation and express your desire to learn and grow. In discussions in which team members express strong emotions, acknowledge the frustration felt but focus on how to best solve the problem being discussed and the goal to be achieved – not on an individual’s behavior.
Stay Current: Read, read, read – stay current in your field/industry by signing up for emails from your professional association and other sources that cover issues and trends. Also, keep up with what goes on in the U.S. as well as the world, especially on the business and economic front if you work for a company. Although you should refrain from topics that can be considered sensitive, such as politics or religion, at the same time, living in a bubble with no awareness of what is going on outside your immediate sphere can make you appear unprepared.
Know Your Organization’s Policies and Procedures: Almost all organizations, regardless of size, have varying degrees of written policies and procedures. Organizations usually maintain global or organization-wide policies and procedures, as well as some department- or area-specific policies and procedures. As an employee, you are expected to obtain and maintain a general working knowledge of those policies and procedures. Your Human Resources Department, in combination with your specific department, should provide or make available to you in some form these policies and procedures. Often overlooked or underestimated are the unwritten policies and procedures of an organization, sometimes referred to as the organization’s culture or way of doing business and/or getting things done. Although not always immediately obvious, it is important for you to be aware of the existence of any unwritten policies and procedures. And as long as these unwritten policies and procedures are not unlawful or unethical, it is often wise for you to be sensitive and even responsive to them.