Improve Communication in the Workplace

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The leader sets the climate for communication in the workplace ... good, bad or indifferent!

Does your team have open, free-flowing communication? Or, is it pinched off and harming your team's performance? If you answered yes to the first question - then you can probably save some time and move on to another article.

If you answered yes to the second question, then below are 4 tips you can use to improve communication in your workplace.


1. Build An Environment of Trust

People won't engage freely until they believe they can trust you and you have their best interests at heart.

Trust is built from how well you know your people. For example, do you know, for each person in your team:

  • what concerns them
  • what excites them
  • their career goals
  • how you can help them overcome their challenges
  • how you can help them build on their strengths

Do your people believe that you have got their back and you'll be there with them in good times and bad?

Do you people feel that if they come to you with 'bad' news or conflicting viewpoints that they won't be punished?

Read more about trust in the workplace.

2. At Which End of the Camaraderie Stick Do You Sit?

Are you remote, sticking strictly to business, sitting in your office handing out work, kudos and brick bats?

Or, are you more the accessible type of leader: sitting in an open plan office, working with your people, and knowing intimately their frustrations and concerns?

There are challenges and strengths at each end of the spectrum.


If you are more on the remote end, it is likely that people don't feel they know you. When people feel they don't know you they are wary and keep their distance (obviously this leads up back to the trust point above).

Distant Leaders ... get distant relationships

If you are a leader who tends not to get to know people personally and like to keep your distance, you will likely pay the penalty of having poor communication in the workplace.

There's a high probability that the people reporting to you know 'stuff' that you should be aware of, but that they don't bother to share because they can't see a gain in it for them and/or they don't care about your success.

Would you help out neighbors you barely know?

It's no different in business. If your team members don't know you, aren't connected to you ...  they aren't going to go out of their way to help you

Think about it, if you have neighbors down the street that you barely acknowledge as you drive past their home, will they be there to support you in time of need?

Unlike the neighbor next door that you regularly have barbecues with and your kids are friendly - if you have a time of need they will, in all likelihood, be right there for you. The workplace is no different!

Open Door Leaders control their turf

Do you have an 'open door policy'? Anyone can come to you when they want? The challenge with the open door is that you have an artificial barrier that people may not break.

Imagine This

Your neighbor says to you when you first move into the street, "Look pop in whenever you want, we have an open house policy." Then they wander off. You see them occasionally to wave at or say the odd hello and natter about the weather - but it never goes further than that.

Are you likely to take them up on their 'open house' offer?

It is highly unlikely - because


a)  you don't know them
b) you don't have any common ground
c)  you don't want to feel like you are imposing

In the office similar sentiments hold true.

The boss's office is his or her territory. And if people don't know you well they are unlikely to 'invade' your space and or feel comfortable bringing up and or confiding about 'issues'. They don't know you and don't know how you'll respond. 

Open Plan Leaders ... can become too available

Certainly, if you are more along the open office end of the spectrum that is a good thing ... but be careful about being too familiar. You don't need to share ALL your deepest darkest secrets with your team members. 

It is important that they know you and feel a connection to you: they see you as more than a 'boss' and that you see them as more than an 'employee'.

BUT you also do need to make sure that you have a quiet place that you can go to - to think and plan. That you have boundaries around what you share and that it is clear that you are the leader - even though you may often share your leadership with them.

Walk & Talk To Discuss Sticky Subjects

I encourage many of the leaders I coach to instigate the practice of 'walk and talk'. For example, say you have a 'sticky' subject that you want to raise with somebody.

Rather than sitting in your office, where the energy doesn't have anywhere to go, think about inviting the person to go with a walk with you. The very act of walking shifts energy. Helps you to think more clearly AND takes you into an environment where the 'power' position is somewhat neutralized. 

In addition, if you are having a 'tricky' conversation in YOUR office, the 'hidden' power is definitely with you - because this is your claimed territory - and walking and talking is a good way of busting this barrier.

3. Have You Built an Environment of Safety?

Communication in the workplace is rock-solid when people feel secure and confident.

Who likes being judged and found wanting? No-one. Be a leader who applauds people's strengths, accepts their weaknesses and finds ways to work around them.

How do you respond when people make mistakes? Are you accusatory and cross? Or, are you more inclined to help the person learn from their mistake and move forward? Read more about what to do when people make mistakes.

Potential Minefield when a mistake has been made: Don't start a conversation with, "Why did you do that?" You'll immediately put the other person on the defensive.

You'll keep communication open and flowing if you say something like, "Help me to understand your thinking about ....". Can you see how by just softening the question a little you'll be more likely to keep the person engaged and less apprehensive?

4. Have You Built an Environment of Clarity?

Breakdowns in communication in the workplace occur when you are vague and/or assume people get the message the first time. Your people need you to clearly paint the picture of what is required and/or what is happening. 

A mistake I've seen many leaders make is to assume that people 'get' the message the first time around. Depending upon the situation, sometimes you'll need to reinforce the message in a variety of ways - verbally, written, video. And, sometimes you'll need to say it in a slightly different way. 

Think about the climate you are creating. Is what you are doing and the type of leader you are being helping or hindering the open flow of communication in your workplace?

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