Have you ever tried using telepathy to send someone instructions?
Not very efficient, is it?
A lack of communication can lead an organization to its downfall, or at least it can “negatively influence job satisfaction and empowerment” (Laurin, 2006).
Good communication in the workplace is therefore necessary so that everyone knows what they have to do, why they do it and how to do it better, if needed.
The Robert dictionary defines communication as “making something known (to someone); sharing”. Communication in the workplace aims to convey information that is useful for achieving organizational objectives.
Communication in the workplace is all the means that a company uses to transmit information to its employees. It goes from what is said verbally to the written procedure list, including all the emails and text messages that are exchanged on a daily basis.
This information can take three paths: downward, upward and lateral.
The 3 paths of workplace communication
1. Downward path (top to bottom)
The downward path is the one that usually first comes to mind. The data comes from management or a manager, and is transmitted to subordinates.
The message being communicated can be used to provide direction, highlight the mission, vision and values, signal a change of course, etc. This path usually serves as a guide for the company’s employees.
2. Ascending path (from bottom to top)
The upward path works the opposite way, from the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid to its top. Employees can convey ideas, feelings, adjustments, opinions, and other elements that allow management to then make more informed decisions.
This trajectory is particularly important for mobilizing staff, as they will feel listened to and heard.
3. Lateral path (horizontal)
The lateral path is peer-to-peer based: it is useful for sharing information, collaborating and maintaining a good work atmosphere, among others.
Horizontal communication in the workplace allows for work to not be done in silos, and for teams to share knowledge. It is essential that communication is done horizontally so that mistakes are not repeated and there is good cohesion within the organization.
Benefits of good communication in the workplace
In addition to the points mentioned above, harmonious communication within an organization has several other benefits:
- Improved change management, as the steps are well understood, irritants are reported early and employees help each other through the change;
- Meetings are effective and engaging, as everyone can participate and retain the information being transmitted;
- External training pays off because new knowledge is being taught internally;
Obstacles to communication in the workplace
So what exactly is proper workplace communication?
Here are some aspects to consider for optimal communication:
- Good communication takes into account our cognitive biases, such as the shortcuts that our thinking could use rightly or wrongly.
For example, if your manager blames you at your first meeting, you will probably have a bad opinion of him. On the other hand, if you are aware that you may be biased by your first impression, you could give him a second chance and wait before deciding on your feelings towards him.
- Thought theory can also undermine good communication. It is the idea that others may think differently from you, that their thought process may be different from yours, because they may have different information and values, among others.
So you may wonder why a colleague comes to the opposite conclusion than yours, which you find obvious, for example. It is important to pay attention to this and make sure you understand the other’s position.
- A lot of resources, time and energy are wasted because employees do not share what they do with colleagues. However, all they would have to do is talk about their mistakes and successes to their teammates or other teams, so that they wouldn’t have to redo all the unnecessary steps.
Their testimonies could be documented in many ways, such as via an internal knowledge management system, for example.
- A lack of communication often reported in employee satisfaction surveys has to do with feedback. Giving feedback does not only happen once a year, during the employee evaluation: it happens every day, as events happen, and it is a type of communication that is all-encompassing.
Everyone can give feedback to anyone they interact with, it does not only happen from top to bottom.
- Lastly, an important aspect of good communication that is often missing is active listening. It consists of really listening to one another, and not just listening in order to prepare one’s answer.
The goal is to determine what is being said, how it is being said, and what is implicit. Once this is established, one can formulate a worthy answer.
3 Steps to overcome a lack of communication in the workplace
It is easy to correct a lack of communication in the workplace. We suggest the following 3 steps:
1. Make sure everyone feels psychologically safe
Psychological safety is the feeling that you can say what you think without fearing consequences.
Obviously, there are good and less good ways of saying things, but overall, anyone in the organization should be able to speak up without fear of a backlash. They should also be able to openly be who they are, without reprisal.
When applied to workplace communication, this means that communication should be done in all three directions, fluidly and without self-censorship. It is always good to create an atmosphere of respect, authenticity and friendliness.
2. Do a skill gap analysis
We have already looked at some elements of good communication. There are others, of course, but these are the basis from which you can perform a skill gap analysis. You will need to establish the skills you wish to achieve, assess the current skill level, and compare the two.
Don’t forget to involve all employees in the process, so that they have all necessary data and can accurately answer the questions being asked.
3. Train your teams in areas that require improvement
Once you have an overall reading of the situation, you can train your employees (and your manager team!) on good communication skills in the workplace. Simply identify the skills that were lacking in your skill gap analysis and teach your staff how to acquire them.
A Learning management system (LMS) such as Workleap LMS can help at this stage, either through training on best practices, internal procedures, good workplace communication or knowledge base.
Communication is not just a formal activity!
We have talked about the more formal strategies that help improve communication, but before you apply them, more informal tools could also be used to improve overall communication in the workplace.
A virtual break room, for example, can replace the traditional office coffee machine; informal exchanges could take place during the last 5 minutes of meetings, etc.
The company could also raise awareness of the importance of not interrupting each other while talking, giving credit to the right people for their ideas, and many other tools that are easy to implement.
Communicating is an art, and it can be learnt.
While every employee brings their own skill level to the company, the company itself may or may not have good practices. It is therefore a collective learning process that is always improving.
After all, communicating is learning, isn’t it?