How to Improve Communication in the Workplace

Hands writing speech bubbles

I’ve been a consultant, coach, and facilitator for close to 30 years. I’ve helped companies develop marketing plans, research strategies, demand generation funnels, lead management processes, strategic plans, sales compensation models, leadership development programs . . . the list goes on and on. 

At this point in my career, I’m often asked, “As you look back, what’s the biggest challenge that businesses face?” I don’t need to answer that question: My clients, both past and present, do. It’s communication!

Why Effective Employee Communication Is Important

The importance of effective employee communication cannot be overstated. Effective employee communication leads to increases in:

  • Employee morale
  • Engagement
  • Retention
  • Productivity
  • Profitability
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Profitability
  • Growth

Communicating Effectively in the Workplace

What exactly is communication? How should we define it? 

Clearly, there are all sorts of nuances when it comes to communicating. There are entire organizations, university departments, and consultancies that focus on nothing but communication. Trying to narrow it down to a simple definition may be a challenge. But I like simple, and I like a challenge, so here it goes: 

Communication is the act of transferring information from one party to another. 

With that as the foundation, let’s look at some of those specific nuances I referred to earlier, those that have application in the workplace. 

Build Trust and Rapport

In his classic work, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Pat Lencioni of The Table Group espouses the idea that teams just can’t exist without a foundation of trust. He advocates for “vulnerability-based” trust. 

In this kind of trust, I don’t try to convince you to trust me. Instead, I work to let my guard down and share information with you about me, information that perhaps isn’t regularly shared. This sharing of information shows you that I’ve got nothing to hide, and I can therefore be trusted. 

Simple in concept, difficult to do. This example of employee communication has been proven over and over again to bring teams together. 

Hold Regular Team Meetings

Years ago, I working with a company that was suffering from “siloism”—multiple department not really knowing what was going on in the rest of the company. This led to a less than productive work environment. 

In working with company leadership, I asked how often they met as department leaders. “We don’t,” they said, so I suggested that they start. I told them to meet weekly, and start each meeting by asking each department head, “What information do the rest of us need to know?” In asking this question each week, they built their weekly agenda. 

After a few weeks, they noticed improved clarity, efficiency, and even growth—so much so that months later (unbeknownst to me at the time), they stopped meeting weekly because they were so busy. After a few months in the “non-meeting” season, they told me that things were getting chaotic again. I asked for some specifics, and we discussed ways to get back on top of things. Then I said, “How have you been discussing these in your weekly meetings?” 

They said, “Oh, we stopped doing those a while back when things got crazy.” 

I responded, “You think there’s a correlation to the chaos and lack of regular meetings?” 

They started meeting again and were able to get control once again. 

Ensure Transparency and Clear Expectations

When an employee or a team has lack of clarity and direction, it can become unnerving. Conversely, once the team knows where it’s headed, it’s amazing to watch them (if they’re allowed to) develop the tools and vehicles to get to the destination. 

Yet I’m amazed at how many business owners keep key information to themselves. No one gets into an Uber and says, “Drive.” You have to give the driver a destination. It’s the same way with your team. 

I remember a company who did this well. They had a weekly all-staff meeting where they reviewed the weekly numbers. As they did this, they updated, in real time, the company’s P&L. The owner told me later, “They all know that the goal is 4% EBITA. They also know that everything above that 4% will be shared as a year-end bonus. They know where we’re going, and they are committed to getting there.”  

Create Safe Spaces and Maintain Confidentiality

Businesses are made up of human beings. Human beings have needs. And all human beings have the same set of core needs, two of which are to feel safe and secure. 

In a world where mental well-being is at a significant low, communicating effectively to create a safe environment will boost all aspects of employee engagement. As leaders, this begins by asking vs. telling. It includes responding, not reacting. It requires us to invite first, challenge second. It requires having the heart of a leaders versus the mind of a manager. 

Adapt to the Situation

One of my mentors is a former Army ranger. After military life, he got into business and eventually strategy and planning consulting. 

He had a unique take on the planning process. He didn’t call in “planning”; he called it “charting.” When I asked why, he said, “When we were on patrol, we never ‘planned’ our course. We ‘charted’ our course. We’d set out, then after 30 minutes or so, we’d stop, get our bearings and new information, and if we had to, we’d make adjustments to how we were going to arrive at the ultimate destination. The destination didn’t change, but we often had to adapt and change course along the way.”

Effective communication will allow for this approach in business. Nothing is certain. Things change all the time. If we can practice the effective exchange of information to give us deeper insight into what’s ahead, we’ll be able make the changes necessary to ultimately arrive at our destination.  

Give Context

Years ago, I owned a marketing consulting firm in which we had a partnership with a software company. Our process and their software were a perfect match to help clients improve their marketing operations. An element of the partnership was a “commission” arrangement where they paid us 25% annually on every client deal we brought them. The commission was paid as long as the client used the software. A pretty sweet deal for us. 

After a few years of working with this company, they made a change to the commission structure. They gathered us partners on the phone and announced a tiered structure, where there was a lesser percentage in year one of the deal, then declining percentages each after that. 

Quite frankly, it was a kick in the teeth. And I was pissed. 

After this partner meeting, I followed up with the president to see about getting a one-on-one conversation. He agreed, and we set up the call. My first question was, “What the heck?” He took the opportunity to tell me that they had taken a strategic look at their partner organization, and they were losing money. He went on to say their strategy was to “thin the herd” and only retain true partners that could support their customers for the long term. Companies like ours could expect more engagements with higher consulting fees and longer-term clients. 

When I heard all this, I said, “Well, it would have been nice to know all that before you told us about the change in the commission structure. Now it all makes sense.”

Knowing the “what” can be helpful. Communicating the “why” is a game-changer. 

Choosing Methods of Communication Within an Organization

Part of the communication landscape are the tools we use to improve communication. Slack. Gmail. Chat. Zoom. There are hundreds of tools. But don’t get lulled into thinking a tool will improve communication. Communication is first and foremost about process. If I don’t have an effective process, then all I have is chaos. If I add an automation tool, then I’m just automating the chaos. 

Like any other process in an organization (manufacturing, product development, hiring), communication processes and patterns can be defined.  Work with your teams to map out how communication can flow within an organization. Get the process, procedures, rules, and guidelines defined. Once that’s done, it will become evident which tools will be best to support the process. 

Using Talent Assessments to Improve Workplace Communication

Talent, skills, and personality assessments can also be a huge help in fostering improved conversation and employee communication. Tools such as the Enneagram, DiSC, Meyers-Briggs, etc., are examples of this. Why do they help? Because they provide context in terms of the person or people with whom I’m communicating. 

For example, if I know the person I’m speaking to is a perfectionist, then perhaps instead of starting with, “Why did you do that?”, I can adjust my communication by saying something like, “That project you’re working on seems to be going well. Can you walk me through your thinking on it?” Assessment tools help us to become aware of ourselves and our teams and give us the information we need to adjust.

How a Communication Coach Can Help

Like any other skill, having a coach can help. Coaches that excel in communication can serve as an objective third-party observer and facilitator to help teams improve their communication.

Communication Training for Employees

I’m often asked, “What kind of communication training would you recommend?” I don’t have an answer for that. The reason is that most communication training is a point in time. Participants may glean a few concepts or ideas, but there needs to be lasting effect. 

Instead, I find that extended coaching and development helps to build lasting transformation. If you want your team to develop better communication skills, find a coach, consultant, or facilitator who will work with your team to teach on concepts, then create environments where the team can practice. 

Business and Leadership Coaching from Jay Hidalgo

I’m happy to connect with you to see if I can be of help in improving your team communication. If you’d like to talk, feel free to contact me and we can set up a meeting.