Workplace communication is rarely taught, but is an incredibly important part of the modern workplace. Top-down communication is a thing of the past, and employees must consider how they communicate with their co-workers as well as their supervisors. Taking the time to be a thoughtful communicator can have numerous benefits, and will help create a better work environment.

Companies can do much to shape their employees idea of the workplace, but the most important way to do so is by having clearly defined policies.

Written Company Policy

Policies that cover appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication help decrease the chances of misunderstandings and promote a more comfortable and consistent workplace. This can include appropriate language, dress, written communication, and more. Learn these policies and make a conscious effort to follow them.

If your company does not have one of these, there are many examples of these policies online that can be adapted to suit your company’s needs. Additionally, if a company works with an outsourced HR company, they will often provide this to their clients.

Understand the Social Norms

As many know, there are “unwritten” rules when it comes to the individual workplace. There is often times an officer joker, who makes everyone laugh and lightens the mood, or perhaps the whole office has a very serious and professional milieu. Knowing and understanding what is expected within your environment is important to creating a more harmonious and productive workplace. This is key to effective communication, so take note of how senior employees interact with one another, communicate via email, telephone, etc., and how the hierarchy is addressed in meetings, etc.

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Consider Your Own Personality and Mannerisms

This can be the most difficult part of effective communication for some people, as it requires them to critically think about their own traits. Don’t be harsh on yourself, but take a realistic look at how you react to situations, deal with things when you are uncomfortable, how you communicate with coworkers and superiors, and how people often react to you. If you’re having a hard time, you can ask someone close to you like a friend or relative, who may be able to point out mannerisms you never noticed before. Knowing how you communicate your messages will help you understand how people may react to them, therefore allowing you to craft the most appropriate message and avoid miscommunication.

Get to Know Your Co-Workers

How you can do this depends on the workplace environment. Some offices do not appreciate personal small talk and prefer to only focus on business, where others share openly and spend time together outside of work. Whether or not you want to know or share with your co-workers, listening to how they speak about certain topics, as well as their patterns, personality type, and body language, will help you understand the entire context of their messages to you. It will also help you build rapport with them, creating a more friendly atmosphere.

An example of this could be engaging in whatever Monday morning rituals your office participates in. In some offices, employees ask each other about their weekends and share what they did as well. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing, you can simply mingle or ask someone what they did. You will learn about your co-workers and what they like just by listening to them and noticing their reactions to certain things or events.

Utilize your Observations

Now that you’ve observed both yourself and others, use this information when communicating. It’s okay to take a bit longer to think about and craft a great message, and is much better than communicating in a rushed and potentially harmful manner. Consider how what you say and do will impact how others perceive your message as well as you in general. For example, when you ask someone for help, consider their workload and if they’ve mentioned anything about feeling overworked or stressed, as well as your tone, and the wording that you use. Being appropriately considerate of others will go a long way to creating a happy workplace.

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By using these seemingly simple but powerful tips, you can master effective communication, and ultimately the way you feel about your workplace. It’s important not to rush this process, as it can take time to “unlearn” things and be more observant, but often times it becomes second nature after awhile. These skills can also be used in personal and social situations, and can help nurture relationships you have throughout your life.