Strategies for effective communication depend upon understanding who you are speaking to and why. Effective communication strategies in the workplace allow you to communicate clearly so different stakeholders see the merits of your position even if they do not agree.
This is especially vital in technical communication, where effective communication strategies are often the key to preventing an accident or other misunderstanding. In the world of business, a single miscommunication can often have severe consequences.
So, how should team members minimize miscommunication and work toward agreement?
Let’s look at six effective communication strategies you can use within your company:
1. Understand Your Audience Before You Speak
No matter who you are speaking to, it is crucial to think about the knowledge and experiences the other party brings to the interaction. This is a major issue with internal communication, since failing to adapt your message to the audience often leads to confusion.
Consider an example that happens every day:
A business needs a new piece of software. Two people are charged with making the purchase: A marketer who will use the software every day and someone from the IT department who will install it. If the salesperson talks mainly about the features of the software and the technician talks mainly about its technical specifications, they will likely misunderstand each other.
Everyone in a business environment brings their own jargon to communication. The best way to make your message heard is to adapt it to the audience’s frame of reference. If this isn’t possible, establish a shared frame of reference and language instead. This helps everyone work together.
2. Learn Others’ Communication Preferences
There are several different ways to get your message across in a business environment. Phone, email and face-to-face communication are likely the most frequent. In theory, everyone has the ability to use all of these equally well. In reality, though, everyone has their own preferences.
Learning styles, schedules and communication styles all differ. With that in mind, be aware of the individual you plan to communicate with. A manager may have a strong preference for an email or a face-to-face chat. Choosing the right delivery method makes others more receptive to your message.
3. Define and Use an Internal Communication Tool
A great deal of information and nuance is lost in today’s meeting-centered culture. Although a formal presentation can be effective, most communication can and should happen outside of this environment. One of the best ways to manage this is with an internal communication tool.
Software tools that allow different teams to collaborate efficiently make it easier for managers to receive feedback. Stakeholders can alert their colleagues to opportunities or potential problems. The right tool also makes it easier to deliver a clear, succinct message to all intended recipients.
4. Think in Terms of Position and Interest
Communication in business often deals with limited resources. Decisions around using those resources can become heated and emotional. This is particularly true when someone in the discussion feels unheard. To recognize another’s stake in any process, think of these two things:
A “position” in a discussion is what a stakeholder claims to want. For example, two people may be talking about allocating a budget. Each one wants a bigger piece of the budget than the other. They may both present compelling reasons that appear to focus on business outcomes.
Interests are the underlying reasons that drive someone to take a position. For example, a certain manager may feel entitled to a larger share of the budget due to seniority. Another may worry a smaller piece of the budget would lead to a corresponding loss of status.
Interests can be highly emotional. They often derive from personal judgments about the values a person or organization should be guided by. With that in mind, interests are not always clear and people are not necessarily forthcoming about their true interests. Always practice active listening so you can recognize opportunities to learn more about a colleague’s underlying interests.
5. Be Aware of Power Distance
“Power distance” is a concept from anthropology that defines a group’s relationship to hierarchy. Although originally used to think about societies, it can also help make sense of organizations. An organization with a high power distance is hierarchical and uses top-down decision-making.
In effect, position and authority can act as barriers to communication. In hierarchical companies, messages must percolate up the “chain of command” in order to be accepted and understood. On the other hand, clear communication usually remains possible between peers.
Always recognize that your communication takes place in a wider context. While it may be okay to discuss certain matters around the water cooler, other issues will need the benefits of official channels. Think carefully about when to use a quick online message or a formal memo.
6. Document Findings and Disseminate Knowledge
Anything you communicate today is built on all the other things communicated in the past. The people and circumstances involved change over time, but the need to communicate remains a constant. Without a commitment to documentation, a team will have no collective memory and no way of knowing how a certain decision was reached.
Technical communicators and project managers often work together to serve as gatekeepers of institutional knowledge. No matter what your position or place in the team, however, it’s a good idea to document lessons learned from both successes and failures. These records give you the chance to draw on past insights when making your case for future changes.
It’s no surprise that the phrase “written and oral communication” appears on so many job listings: Communication is one of the most essential elements of life as a human being. It can be difficult to communicate effectively about complex topics at work, but it is always worthwhile to do your best. Positive change is only ignited and sustained through effective communication.