Our perception of the world is affected by everything from our childhood experiences to what we studied in college to what we do with our free time. As a result, although we may think we’re speaking the same language as our co-workers, and being pretty clear about what we mean, we don’t always succeed in conveying and receiving messages. The goal is to figure out how to be more effective at both speaking and listening, so that everyone understands each other.
5 Communication Tips to Make Your Day Easier
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t assume you know what someone thinks.
Every person has a unique set of experiences and influences, and sees the world entirely in his or her own way. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know where someone’s coming from, because you think you “get it.” Someone can grow up in the same town as you, attend all the same schools, even like to watch the same things on TV, and have a completely different opinion on any given subject, from politics to the best way to complete a project.
By the same token, don’t assume that someone who’s seemingly different from you believes the opposite of what you do. Businesspeople aren’t necessarily the enemy of all creatives, or vice versa.
- Listen twice as much as you speak.
You know what your mother used to say. Not the one about your face freezing like that – although that’s also good advice. No, we’re referring to the old adage about having two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Listening is hard. You might think you’re paying attention, but chances are, your thoughts wander until it’s your turn to speak again. To combat this, practice active listening techniques that will allow you to connect with the speaker and retain more of what they’re saying.
- Don’t rely on the written word.
According to researchers, body language conveys at least half of what we communicate when talk. Too bad, then, that so much of our intra-office communication takes place via email, messaging, and occasional phone calls.
You can be the best writer in the world, and you won’t be able to overcome the fact that it’s impossible to convey a smile via the written word. Emoticons don’t count. It’s too easy to read a well-meant smiley as a sarcastic dig.
That brings us to the most important problem with email and the like: its interpretation depends on the mood and inclination of the person doing the interpreting. Catch someone on a bad day, and they’re going to think you’re being short with them; read a message when you’re not feeling your best, and you could wind up yelling at your colleague for absolutely no real reason at all.
The best advice is to talk to your colleagues in person when something’s important, or failing that, over video conference or phone call. At least if you can get some vocal inflections in the mix, you’re working on more than just 26 letters and some punctuation.
- Follow up.
You have an hour-long meeting with your boss. At the end of it, you go blissfully on your way, certain that you know what’s expected of you and what you need to deliver at your next meeting. Then, the next meeting rolls around, and you discover that your version of events looks absolutely nothing like hers.
This is where email is actually a boon to communication and not an obstacle. After you meet with anyone in person, send a quick note outlining what was decided during the conversation (or at least, what you think was decided). That way, you’ll find out right away if you’re wrong – well before the next project deadline.
- Angry? Walk away for now.
Tensions run high at work, especially if you and your colleagues are lucky enough to be emotionally invested in what you do every day. It’s easy to fly off the handle, and then later regret what you said or did.
The best way to avoid dealing with regrets later on is to practice removing yourself when you’re angry, annoyed, or frustrated. Promise to get back to the person in question, and then get out of there – preferably, out of the building, if possible.
Take a walk. Grab a cup of coffee. If you can’t escape entirely, go sit in a conference room for a few minutes and take a deep breath. Don’t respond until that adrenaline feeling subsides. You’ll come at the problem with your best, calmest self, and be glad you did.