“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Has there ever been a better statement that describes the difficulty we face in communicating?
This quote, which is regularly, (but probably mistakenly) attributed to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, is equal parts tongue-twister and truth.
It’s worth reading again.
Communication is difficult because it has so many different moving pieces and parts.
- There’s the message the communicator intends to send…
- Which turns into the message that is actually ..
- Which is transmitted through written or spoken words, body language, and tone…
- And then received by the hearer who may or may not be paying attention…
- And has their own preconceived ideas and notions about the speaker and subject…
- So they run the message through their filter of life experiences and perspectives…
- And then create a narrative about what message they think the communicator was sending…
- To form an opinion or idea about the message…
- And then act on it (or not) as they see fit.
Is there any wonder that communication in the workplace is so difficult?
That process just describes one conversation. How many more occur daily, weekly, or monthly in your workplace?
When you add in the challenges of working remotely across different time zones, balancing virtual teams, managing communication tools like email and Slack, and navigating face to face conversations between leaders, team managers, and direct reports, it’s no wonder good communication can fall by the wayside.
But like any other skill, your communication effectiveness can be improved and poor communication doesn’t have to limit the effectiveness of your work environment. There are simple steps that you can take to improve communication skills and empower your team to thrive.
13 COMMUNICATION TOOLS FOR STRONGER TEAMS
1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
The first step to enhancing team communication is to know your audience. This will inform how you deliver your message and how they receive it. Are there better times to talk than others? Are there worries or concerns that may impact how they receive your message? Consider who you are speaking to first before you attempt to communicate.
2. WATCH YOUR TONE AND WORD CHOICE.
Next, you need to consider your tone and word choice. This is especially true if you are a leader speaking to a direct report. Your message is filtered through their understanding of your relationship. Ensure that your tone communicates what you intend and that you aren’t sending mixed signals through your language and body language.
3. BECOME A BETTER LISTENER.
Good communicators don’t just recite what they want to say. They pause, listen, and ensure that the dialogue works both ways. Again, if you are a leader, it may be easy to speak with authority, but good team communication is built on both give and take. Speak and listen in equal measure.
4. ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS.
To that end, you should learn to ask open-ended questions. Ask people to describe what they are thinking. Give them opportunities to respond. Remember, the goal of team communication is to collaborate effectively. Open-ended questions build that collaboration and ensure mutual understanding.
5. OVER-COMMUNICATE EXPECTATIONS.
This is a big one. One of the biggest causes of conflict and miscommunication is unmet or unrealistic expectations. You can’t leave people to guess what you mean; you’ve got to be abundantly clear. When you over-communicate your expectations and ask open-ended questions, you create an environment where problems are addressed and anticipated before they become catastrophic.
6. ASK FOR CLARIFICATION AND UNDERSTANDING, SEEK FEEDBACK.
This step builds on asking open-ended questions. When you ask for clarification (if someone else is talking) or feedback (when you are talking) you can ensure that people are on the same page. Asking Does that make sense? Do you know what to do next? Am I being clear in setting expectations? allows people to speak up and gain clarity before moving on.
7. USE THE RIGHT MEDIUM FOR THE SITUATION
There are an abundance of ways to communicate now, but not every method is suited for every situation. Sometimes communication is most effective when done face-to-face. Other times an email will suffice. Sometimes pinging someone on Slack or sending a text is enough. Take the time to consider what you want to communicate and then make sure the medium matches the message.
8. BUILD TRUST THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS.
It’s almost impossible to deeply communicate with those you don’t know. That’s why building relationships with team members is so critical to good team communication. When people know you care about them, they are more likely to listen.
9. KEEP CONFIDENCES.
Good team communication is built upon a foundation of trust. If people don’t feel like they can trust you they won’t be willing to speak openly and honestly. This is a communication killer. If you are trusted enough to be taken into someone’s confidence, be sure not to betray that trust.
10. TELL THE TRUTH WITH CARE.
Good communicators tell the truth. Great communicators tell the truth carefully. Constructive criticism must be constructive. Be careful that you aren’t “speaking truth” in a way that damages the relationship. (A 360 leadership assessment is a good way to discover how people experience you.)
11. BE AWARE OF HOW YOUR FILTER AFFECTS THE MESSAGE.
Communication is tricky because, although you are speaking the same language, you see things from a different perspective. Your experience and viewpoint affects both how you communicate and how you hear what is being communicated to you. Remember that the people you are speaking to have a different perspective. Lean into this and use it to gain clarity.
12. READ BETWEEN THE LINES.
Much of what is communicated is non-verbal. Pay attention to what people aren’t saying, their tone when they speak or write, their body language, and other clues to what they are thinking or feeling.
13. THINK, THEN SPEAK.
Once a word is off your tongue and into the air you can’t take it back. Everyone can think of a time when you spoke out of frustration or anger and said something you later regretted. Be sure to think about every word you are about to communicate. If it sounds bad in your head, it will sound worse in someone else’s ears.
ENHANCE YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS, IMPROVE YOUR TEAM
When you become a better communicator, you improve all facets of your team. They gain clarity. You all gain connection. You improve the culture. You master conflict. And you create an environment where the air is clear, the expectations are understood, and the words do no harm.
That kind of communication is worth striving for. If you could use a hand improving communication on your team or in your organization, drop us a note. We help teams communicate more effectively so they can achieve remarkable results.