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Whether it’s collaborating with colleagues, expressing ideas to managers, or addressing conflicts with team members, healthy communication in the workplace plays a pivotal role in organizational success. Beyond just conveying information, workplace communication is integral to employee engagement and company goals.
Effective communication in the workplace is clear, efficient, and productive exchanges of information, ideas, and feedback that gets you what you need without creating unnecessary conflict. Productive conversations connect you to others rather than alienating or pushing them away. Effective workplace communication involves doing what works rather than “being right” or “winning.” When communication is effective, both parties feel satisfied.
“Ineffective communication is often easier to recognize because you start to see the breakdown in several ways,” said Keren Wasserman, an organizational development program manager on Lyra Health’s Workforce Transformation team. “When there’s poor communication at work, people don’t feel safe to speak up, they’re uninformed about important changes, or they don’t understand their roles and responsibilities.”
From face-to-face conversations to text messages, emails, and body language, communication comes in many forms. We naturally use a blend of these communication forms to convey our thoughts, emotions, and ideas in our daily interactions at work and at home. Here are some common types of communication in the workplace:
Formal communication – Formal workplace communication follows a predefined structure and includes official memos, company policies, performance reviews, and reports. It’s typically written by and flows from leadership to directors, managers, and individual contributors.
Informal communication – Informal communication at work is more casual and spontaneous. It takes place through conversations at the water cooler, in break rooms, or during social gatherings. Informal communication can build relationships and is an unstructured way to share ideas.
Written communication – Written communication in the workplace may include emails, reports, proposals, letters, and other correspondence. It provides a clear record of information that can be referenced later.
Verbal communication – Verbal communication in the workplace involves speaking and listening. It includes face-to-face conversations, meetings, phone calls, and video conferences. Verbal communication is good for immediate feedback, clarification, and problem-solving, especially when the topic of discussion is more complex or nuanced.
Nonverbal communication – Nonverbal communication in the workplace involves body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. It conveys emotions, attitudes, and intentions. Paying attention to nonverbal cues can help you interpret people’s meaning.
One-on-one communication – One-on-one communication in the workplace allows for focused discussion between two people, and is often used for feedback sessions, mentoring, or coaching.
Group communication – Group communication takes place within teams, departments, or larger groups. It includes meetings, presentations, brainstorming sessions, and project discussions. Group employee communication can help teams collaborate, share ideas, and make decisions.
Cross-functional communication – Cross-functional organizational communication involves communication between individuals or teams from different departments or areas of expertise. It facilitates coordination, problem-solving, and knowledge sharing.
Digital communication – Digital workplace communication includes emails, instant messaging, project management tools, video conferencing, and collaborative platforms. Digital communication at work enables the efficient and timely exchange of information, especially for remote teams.
Upward and downward communication – Upward communication in the workplace refers to communication from employees to management, such as suggestions, feedback, or performance reviews. Downward communication is the flow of information from management to employees, such as instructions, goals, or company updates.
Effective communication in the workplace often involves a combination of these communication approaches, depending on the type of message, audience, and desired outcome.
When team members communicate clearly and openly, they can share ideas, coordinate efforts, and work together toward common goals. Improving workplace communication builds strong relationships among team members and enhances productivity.
Miscommunication or a lack of communication in the workplace often leads to misunderstandings and conflicts. Effective employee communication, on the other hand, helps resolve conflicts by promoting open dialogue, active listening, and understanding different perspectives.
Communicating at work ensures smooth and efficient operations. Clear communication of instructions, expectations, and deadlines helps employees understand their roles and responsibilities, reducing confusion and minimizing mistakes. It also facilitates effective delegation, feedback, and problem-solving.
When employees feel well-informed, they’re more engaged and satisfied with their work. Improving communication in the workplace keeps employees motivated, deepens their sense of belonging, and encourages them to contribute their ideas and opinions.
Organizations that emphasize the importance of communication in the workplace create an environment that’s conducive to innovation and creativity. When people feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions, they’re more likely to contribute solutions and suggestions. Strong employee communication facilitates diverse viewpoints, leading to fresh perspectives and new ideas.
Communication skills in the workplace are essential for providing excellent customer service. When employees can clearly communicate with customers, understand their needs, and provide timely and accurate information, it enhances customer satisfaction. Workplace communication skills build trust and positive relationships with customers.
Communication also plays a vital role in shaping an organization’s culture and reinforcing its values. By communicating at work, leaders can articulate the company’s mission, vision, and values so employees can align with them. This helps create a shared understanding and purpose within the organization.
In a rapidly evolving business landscape, improving workplace communication is crucial for managing change and fostering adaptability. Clear and transparent communication about organizational changes, new initiatives, or shifts in strategy helps employees understand the reasons behind the changes and adapt more quickly.
Communication barriers in the workplace can impact productivity, efficiency, and employee morale. What follows are some common communication issues in the workplace:
When messages aren’t communicated clearly, it can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Vague instructions, ambiguous emails, or unclear expectations can result in errors or wasted time.
Feeling stress or burnout can cause people to act in a way that’s out of character. “Ineffective communication can look like you’re not managing your emotions well,” said Wasserman. “You get caught up in stress and interpersonal dynamics at work rather than focusing on the work challenge itself.” For example, instead of considering another’s perspective, you get defensive and use language that attacks instead of trying to understand them. Defensive language might sound like, “This doesn’t make sense” or “This idea will never work.”
Communication in the workplace is a two-way process—listening is crucial. When you fail to actively listen to colleagues, it can lead to misinterpretation, overlooking important details, or missing out on valuable input.
Misunderstandings can occur when people speak different languages or have different cultural norms. This can impact workplace communication styles and interpretations. “For example, in some cultures, it’s difficult for people to say ‘no,’ especially in a hierarchical context,” said Wasserman. “It’s important to phrase questions in an open-ended way, so you’re not prompting just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses.”
Feedback is essential for improving workplace communication and career growth. Without feedback, employees may continue making the same mistakes or miss performance-enhancing opportunities.
In today’s fast-paced work environment, employees are often bombarded with excessive information, making it difficult to prioritize and process workplace communications. This can mean they overlook or forget important messages.
Avoiding difficult conversations or conflicts can create a toxic work environment. When team members shy away from addressing issues or concerns directly, problems can escalate and productivity may suffer. “Companies that do change management well anticipate employee communication needs and set up solutions in advance,” said Wasserman. “They’re announcing changes in town halls. They’re teaching managers what they can and can’t share. Information is available early and often, so that people feel a sense of clarity and transparency.”
In larger organizations, different departments or teams may operate in isolation, causing communication silos. This lack of collaboration and information sharing across teams can hinder efficiency and coordination.
Communication in the workplace is not just words. Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice play a significant role. Misinterpretation of nonverbal communication in the workplace can result in misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions.
While digital workplace communication tools are convenient, relying solely on them can create barriers. Lack of face-to-face interaction can diminish personal connections and make it tough to convey emotions or complex ideas.
There’s always room to improve communication. It’s a constant effort with limitless opportunities for growth and refinement. No matter how skilled we get at communicating, we can still gain insights, learn new approaches, and strengthen connections. Here some key tips for how to improve communication skills in the workplace:
Create a culture of inclusion and psychological safety where employees feel respected, valued, and comfortable expressing ideas. “Consider how you’re structuring your team meetings to regularly provide updates,” said Wasserman. “How are you designing organizational communication streams so that people are getting regular updates on changes? How is that being cascaded down from the top? Is it a town hall, regular or email monthly updates? What are you doing to keep people up to speed?” Being thoughtful about how to share changes proactively allows you to lean into this open and inclusive culture.
While it’s crucial for leadership to effectively communicate to different levels, it’s also important for team members to know how to effectively communicate upwards. “Managers are often juggling a lot of different pieces and task switching, so individual contributors also need to be effective communicators,” said Wasserman. “If you are an individual contributor, start conversations with context about what you’re working on, then get into the problem, question, or takeaway you’re hoping to gain.” Starting with the context helps decrease poor communication in the workplace.
To prevent communication issues in the workplace, give your full attention to the person speaking without interrupting. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand the message accurately. Show empathy and validate the speaker’s perspective by repeating back to them what you heard, and making sure you’re on the same page.
Improving workplace communication means expressing messages, instructions, and expectations in a straightforward way. Avoid ambiguity and use simple language to convey complex ideas. Consider the needs and backgrounds of the recipients when delivering information. “How are you embedding information into your weekly or monthly meeting in a way that people feel like they ‘got the memo?’” said Wasserman. “Do you have regular processes when assigning tasks to give people important details about what the finished product should look like, who they should be in touch with, and what resources are available?”
Another way to improve communication at work is to establish a culture where employees are encouraged to provide constructive feedback to peers, managers, and the organization as a whole. Feedback should be specific, timely, and focused on behaviors and outcomes. The Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model is a helpful framework for providing and receiving feedback. “It’s bidirectional,” said Wasserman. “So it can be used to solicit feedback from others as well as to provide feedback.” The SBI model encourages you to honestly and clearly describe the situation, the behaviors tied to the situation, and the impact of those behaviors. Then, ask for the other person’s perspectives, input, and suggestions while using active listening before you reflect and take action.
Use a mix of workplace communication channels to cater to different preferences and needs. In addition to email, consider face-to-face meetings, video conferences, instant messaging platforms, and collaboration tools to facilitate effective communication at work. Different people respond better to different communication channels. Offering a variety of pathways to communicate allows you to leverage multiple peoples’ strengths at work.
Pay attention to your body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice to ensure your nonverbal cues align with your intended message. Encourage employees to do the same and consider conducting training or workshops on nonverbal communication in the workplace.
Emotions and different personality dynamics can distract from the work at hand. “If you’re talking about the direction of a project, effective communication would be focusing on the problem that you’re looking to solve and really considering the other person’s perspective,” said Wasserman. “How can I understand where they’re coming from, and how can we tackle this work challenge together?”
A critical component of being able to communicate effectively is tuning into other’s emotions so your message resonates with them. This means entering situations with empathy. The ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider the situation from their perspective will help you more successfully communicate your message.
Improving workplace communication involves fostering an environment that promotes collaboration and teamwork. Encourage employees to work together on projects, share information, and seek input from different team members. Establish opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration and knowledge sharing. “We often work in silos that can create bubbles around the projects we’re working on,” said Wasserman. “Frequent updates provide visibility and move people along with you, so that when you request help or need somebody’s input or review, they’re already up to speed on the project and they’re not caught off guard or confused by the request.”
Offer training programs or workshops on effective workplace communication skills. These can cover topics such as active listening, conflict resolution, delivering feedback, and conducting productive meetings. Invest in ongoing professional development to enhance communication skills at work at all levels. “Training for building emotional intelligence, change management skills, and cultivating psychological safety are especially important for managers,” said Wasserman. “Teaching people how to communicate effectively at work to their bosses is important for individual contributors.”
Managers and leaders should set the tone for improving communication in the workplace by modeling healthy behaviors and good communication practices. Be transparent, approachable, and responsive so you can encourage open dialogue.
Regularly assess the effectiveness of your workplace communication strategies. Solicit feedback from employees, conduct surveys, or hold focus groups to identify areas for improvement, then act on the feedback and continuously refine your communication processes. “If you’re experiencing low performance on your team, it’s likely a result of ineffective communication,” said Wasserman. “You may consider professional interventions like Lyra’s Organizational Health Evaluation, which can pinpoint what’s causing the ineffective communication and help you solve for it.”
When employees feel that their voices are heard and their opinions are valued, they’re more likely to be invested in their work. Since engaged employees sistani an organization’s overall success, communication in the workplace is the foundation of a healthy and successful work environment.