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Effective Communication In The Workplace

Having effective communication in the workplace is the cornerstone of establishing trust within
teams and making productivity improvement gains in their performance. In this article, I’ll
explain the importance of communications and how to improve it in the workplace.

The importance of communication in the workplace

Effective business communication techniques are important for the simple fact that they establish
trust amongst employees and team members. By staying informed, individuals are more trusting
of their colleagues and more sure that any dependent work is being done. Rapid communications
can also means that issues and risks/opportunities are being quickly raised and can be acted
upon by the appropriate people.

However there can be a number of barriers to establishing these levels of trust:

• Incorrect project assumptions not established.

• Team members located in different offices/buildings/locations/countries.
• Issues with intercultural communication the workplace.

Improving communication in the workplace

• Set a shared vision: All teams need to have a clearly defined goal, objective or vision
defined by their managers. The goal should be communicated to all team members and
referred back to over the duration of projects to ensure the team are all working towards
the same objective. These objectives may relate back to the company’s own innovation
strategy or specific products lines so are crucial to the overall success of the company’s
• Align team expectations to goals: Discussions need to be had with team members as a
group or individually to align expectations with regard to what needs to be done on the
project, how it will be done, by whom and by when. These discussions help reduce the
chances of wrong assumptions being established, especially early on. Discussions should
be performed as part of your project change management procedure to make sure
everyone has a clear understanding of what tasks and activities are expected of them
when changes to plans occur.
• Communicate clearly, regularly and equally: These are fundamental communication
skills in the workplace no matter what communication channel is used. All messages need
to be clear in order to ensure there is no ambiguity or lack of understanding. Regular
communications (by phone, e-mail, reports, etc.) ensures that constant progress updates
are be maintained and that issues/risks are rapidly being raised. Effective communication
in the workplace is made more difficult with remote teams as global team members will
gain more information. For remote team members to feel that they are a strong part of
the team, they should be communicated with as equally as local team members.
• Use synchronous/asynchronous mediums appropriately: Synchronous
communication methods (e.g. telephone core stations, video conferences/audio
conferences, real-time chat) provide rapid feedback and two-way discussions that are
ideal for reducing ambiguity, debating subjects and establishing assumptions and goals.
Asynchronous communications (e.g. e-mail, voice-mail or collaborative team rooms) are
ideal for informative messages such as updates, reports, etc. but not ideal when time is
pressing since you may not receive a response straightaway.

Tools for improving communication in the workplace

The most successful tools to use are those which allow face-to-face communication skills in the
workplace to be actually seen (e.g. video-conferencing/video-messaging). These ensure that any
non-verbal cues and facial expressions can be read along with audio/text.
• Skype: Provides voice and video calls as well as text messages and instant messaging
• Instant messengers: There are several applications to pick from (Google Chat, MSN
Messenger, etc.) which allow you to have a synchronous conversation with team
colleagues, just so long as they are online at the same time.
• MS Live Meeting: Commercial tool for having group meetings in several locations.
• Lotus same time: Facilitates a collaborative workspace environment for users across
multiple teams. Can prove to be very useful for 24/7 support teams in multiple time
zones. F

Intercultural communication in the workplace

There are basic cultural differences which can cause for communication issues across
multicultural teams whether they are all located in the one spot or working from different from
old locations. The importance of communication in the workplace becomes even more critical in
these circumstances as you need to carefully consider how culture should affect communications
and team processes.

Here are some tips for getting to grips with multicultural teams:

1. Discuss with team members, or subgroups of teams, possible cultural differences. These
can relate back to basic cultural differences (such as those defined by Hofstede).
2. Establish how these cultural differences may affect interactions amongst the team and
performance. Factor these into any team processes that may be affected (e.g. around
time zones, holidays, availability of technology, decision-making process, work hours,
3. Discuss how these differences may potentially affect team norms, the exchange of
information, decision-making and communications.

In summary, effective communication in the workplace really boils down to setting

clear goals for teams and making sure management are keeping all team members
informed on a regular basis through clear messages. Communication channels within
the team will naturally form as individuals collaborate so you should try to nurture this
through regular meetings and conference calls to establish team identity, trust and
open communications.

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Workplace Communication Dynamics
The main types of workplace communication are: Formal/Informal Communication, and Small
Group Communication.

Formal interaction in the workplace takes place in a framework of authority and rules, some of
them unspoken. Informal interaction is influenced by the culture of the organization .

Looking how people communicate in the workplace using this lens is useful because it makes it
easier to appreciate the causes of certain behaviors at work. We can more easily distinguish what
behaviors are caused the be organizational structure and what behaviors are caused by
individuals interacting as a group.

Formal Communication
Formal communication is the information that flows upward,
downward, and horizontally, among peers within an organizational

It also includes the diagonal interaction (aka matrix communication)

that takes place within project teams, boards, committes, and task

Informal or Grapevine Communication

Informal or grapevine communication flows in any direction, it doesn’t follow the organization

Informal communication can take place between all levels and all
areas of the organization.

Informal relationships create a bond between people that help team

become more cohesive and help people enjoy more the time they
spend at the office.

In addition to useful information, the grapevine is used to carry rumors and gossip. Rumors in
the Workplace are a fact of life, most people at work engage in some form of rumor spreading.
Still, the rumor mill needs to be managed to reduce the harm that rumors and gossip may cause.

Small Group Communication

Small group communication includes: staff meetings, planning sessions, working sessions, project
team meetings and committee meetings, board meetings and any other small group that meets
and communicates.

In small groups, a facilitator leads the discussion and the group participates as needed. The
dynamics of small groups are different than those of large groups or one-on-one interactions.

In a group, the individual is affected by the attitude of the leader and the attitude of other
members of the group. The need to look good (or avoid looking bad) is stronger. People may also
bring their own agendas to influence the group beyond the pre-established group goals.
Individuals may also tend to agree with the group to avoid confrontations, a dynamic known as
Small groups can meet face to face or remotely aided by technology. The dynamics are almost
the same, the difference is that they play out via text or video on a screen; or voice on a
telephone. The absence of presence does influence the way small groups communicate, but to a
small degree.

Formal Communication in Organizations

Formal Communication is the easiest way to communicate in the workplace, because it's all
predefined by the by the organizational structure.

The organizational chart lays out the reporting structure, lines of authority and channels of

The typical organizational structure looks like a pyramid, at the top you find the big boss, the
position that hold the greatest authority, power and responsibility over the rest of the

Within the framework of the organizational structure, the formal channels of communication
include downward, upward, horizontal and matrix communication (marked with yellow lines on
the chart).

Downward communication is the communication that flows down

the chain of command: orders, directives, coaching, counseling,
disciplinary actions, and general information.

Upward communication is the communication that flows up the

chain of command: reports, concerns, questions, statuses, and
general communication.

Matrix communication aka Diagonal Communication doesn’t follow the organizational chain
of command: it super-imposes it. Matrix communication is considered formal communication
because it has been pre-approved and agreed upon by people in positions of authority.

Matrix communication includes project communication, task force communication and committee

Project Communication is based on a pre-established and agreed upon project team membership,
which can include members from multiple departments and multiple levels.

Formal Communication - Rules of Engagement

Formal communication in organizations has rules, some of them spelled out and some of them

The explicit rules include:

• Go through channels

• Adhere to orders and direction coming from above

• Escalate problems as needed going through your chain of command

The unspoken rules include:

• Avoid badmouthing your boss; it will get back to him/her sometime, somehow. If you must
complain about your boss, then do it with someone outside the organization. Unless of course,
it’s a formal complaint, then use the proper organizational channels for that.

• You can bypass the formal lines of communication, if you do it with skill.

• In social settings, when you interact with others outside the communication structure, use good
judgment on what you discuss and who you talk about. Many people feel that having an access to
their boss’s boss in a social setting gives an opportunity to discuss workplace issues. Indeed, it
does, but your boss is likely to take issue with it.

• Avoid badmouthing your subordinates with your boss. Your boss is likely to think (and tell you)
that it’s a problem for you to solve. You may appear as someone trying to shirk responsibility.

What’s beyond formal channels of communication?

Treading outside the formal channels of communication has its risks and rewards. It takes skill to
do it successfully, you just have to be careful not to step on your peer’s toes, or your boss’s toes,
or anyone’s toes for that matter.

An example of the potential risks and rewards: You volunteer to solve a problem for someone in
another area in your department. If all goes well, you score brownie points with your boss; heck,
it may even land you a promotion or a raise.

However, if all goes wrong, you may alienate the people in the department that are working on
that specific problem. They may not welcome you butting in, even if it solves their problem.

Before you decide to break the established lines of communication, you may want to read about
the potential consequences of breaking workplace rules.


The easiest and safest route is to stick to the formal channels of communication, when asking for
direction, when reporting problems, and when exchanging information.

If you find your current reporting structure too confining, make yourself available to join task
forces or projects, where your work will be more visible to others besides your boss and co-

When you're in a position to take a risk aimed at advancing your career, cultivate other lines of
communication, just do it skillfully.

Grapevine Communication

Grapevine communication is the informal communication network within an organization.

The grapevine is used to spread information bypassing the formal communication structure. Just
like the grapevine plant: it spreads in random ways and it goes where it can.

The grapevine is formed by individuals and groups in an organization. The people in the groups
have something in common that links them together.
A person can belong to one or more groups. As an example, a manager can belong to a group of
women that go to lunch together every Friday. She can also belong to a group of managers in her
department that talk about work in informal ways. She could have a third group of people
scattered throughout the organization with which she shares other common interests outside of

The manager in this example is likely to pass information across her three main, informal
networks. In some ways, she is verifying the accuracy of the rumors she hears. When more than
one of her networks is in agreement about a given rumor, she is bound to believe it’s true.

Disadvantages of Grapevine Communication

There are some intrinsic dangers in bypassing the organizational channels to get to the facts of
the matter. The main danger is that much of the information that gets spread through the
grapevine is not verified. Some of the information is likely false and difficult, if not impossible,
to verify.

We discount information when the source is a known gossiper. But not completely... Even when
the source is someone known to spread rumors, we believe that where there's smoke... Since we
don’t know what part is fire and what is smoke, we accept the whole rumor. To justify our
participation in spreading the rumor, we tell ourselves that part of it must be true.

The main reason why we give credence to a rumor is that it seems to match what we think
about the situation or person that the rumor is about. We also tend to believe the person sharing
the rumor with us.

Another main disadvantage of grapevine communication is that it's often used to spread more
than rumors; it's used to spread gossip.

The terms rumors and gossip are used sometimes interchangeably, but rumors are not quite
the same as gossip. Both are pieces of information that can't be verified, but rumors tend to
affect organizations or groups of people, while gossip refers to more personal matters.

When gossip is being spread through the grapevine, people's reputations, careers, and lives can
get destroyed very rapidly.

For a related article How Rumors Hurt People, click here.

Despite its disadvantages, the grapevine can serve a purpose.

Advantages of Grapevine Communication

Grapevine communication creates a social bond where none existed. People like to talk to one
another; whether they talk about work or family, or anything. Teams become more cohesive
when members talk to one another outside of the project or assignment they may be working on.
Informal communication lends itself to bonding.

The grapevine fills in a gap that is left when official information is missing, especially in chaotic
or changing times. Even in organizations where management is very proactive about
communicating change and keeping employees informed, the grapevine helps to fill in the blanks.

The grapevine in many ways helps keep people honest; it can dissuade people from engaging
on behavior that they don’t want others to know about. This is a two edge sword. On one hand,
people will think twice about taking what they know is a wrong course of action. On the other
hand, they may also think twice about taking a necessary risk and doing the right thing, fearful
that appearances that may give rise to rumors.

Bottom Line

Grapevine communication is part of the workplace, it can't be eliminated. Recognizing its pros
and cons can help you use it to your advantage.

For additional articles about communication in the workplace, go to Communication Articles.

Small Group Communication in the Workplace

In small group communication, the group can be extremely productive and close knit. Long
lasting work relationships get formed and extraordinary feats are accomplished. That's when
small groups communicate effectively. When they don't, not only may they have friction, but they
may also produce bad results.

In small group communication, people may take on roles and postures that affect the outcome of
the communication. Some of these roles are helpful and some are not.

As a facilitator or participant in a small group discussion, you can observe these dynamics and
redirect them as needed.

Small group communication takes place among members of a department, committee, task force,
work group, board, project team or any other small groups brought together by a common

Small group communication is affected by how individuals approach the meeting: Potential group
dynamics include: Grandstanding, groupthink, conflict, uneven participation, venting, ganging up,
wisdom of crowds.


During problem solving or status reporting meetings, someone may take

the opportunity to posture and voice strong self-serving opinions.
The whole purpose of voicing such opinions is to look good in front of others (and themselves) in
the meeting.

If this is a repeating pattern, all that grandstanding may be getting on people’s nerves, or other
people may feel like it is ok to grandstand and start doing it too. It’s best to call the grandstander
on it, before it gets out of hand.

Group Think or Groupthink

A 1985 study by Stasser and Titus found that people in groups

express mostly the opinions already known by the group, not their
own unique view.People in groups may tend to agree with the
group just to avoid rocking the boat or slowing the group down.

Other people may be averse to confrontation altogether, so they

will agree with what the group decides, independently of any
deadlines or the ability of the group to handle conflict.

Techniques for avoiding groupthink include:

• Sharing the “Abelene Paradox” and asking the group if it’s Going to Abelene
• Reminding the group that a bad decision is worse than a delay. Going down the wrong path will
just take longer to correct later.
• Including in the agenda a time slot to discuss drawbacks of current direction or decision.
• Laying down rules to handle (1) difference of opinions and (2) consensus building. Set an
explicit time for debate and an explicit time for consensus and alignment.

Group Conflict

Some members are too attached to their points of view, and

intent on convincing others of their truth. In a group, people
have a stronger pressure to look good and to play a specific
role, so they may not be listening as well.

When these circumstances are present, conflict in the group is

likely to occur.

A good way to prevent a good discussion from degenerating

into conflict is to lay down the rules of the meeting in advance, telling people that whenever a
member starts getting obnoxious about being right, other people in the meeting will call him/her
on it.

Talkative v. Quiet Ones

Some members don’t participate, while others dominate the conversation. Most of the time, the
people in higher positions of authority talk more.

If you are the quiet person with something to say, by all means, speak up. Get over the fear of
criticism and think only about the welfare of the group and the value of the ideas you need to

If you are the person talking too much, try to give others some room to participate. You may be
thinking, If I don’t talk, nobody will That’s likely true, but if you continue talking, you ensure,
nobody else will. Even if the group has to go through growing pains, where the talkers stop
talking and no one else picks up the air time. Give the group an opportunity to make the

If you are the group facilitator, discuss with the group that you are shifting the way people
participate, that you expect to see the talkers talk a bit less, and the quiet ones to share their
views more.

Venting Anger or Frustration

At times, people need to vent their frustrations and the small group seems the perfect setting for
it. The appeal lies in that liked minded individuals with a common purpose can hear your

Sometimes it’s good for the group to vent, especially when

nobody has had an opportunity to discuss what’s bothering them
about a given situation at work. However, venting can become
unhealthy when it becomes repetitive: it becomes a waste of time
and it robs power away from people, leading into feelings of

A good strategy is to manage venting in small group

communication: let the venting go on until people start repeating and sinking into self-pity.

Ganging Up

In small group communication, sometimes people gang up on an individual or a minority.

The interaction may not start as a verbal attack, just as a

different opinion or a complaint. Let’s review an example:

Several representatives from the HR department have come to

meet with your staff to go over some delays in trying to fill
some vacancies. One of your staff starts describing the
problems to the HR reps. So far, so good.

Next someone else in your department mentions how the HR

staff doesn’t really know the job market that well and are providing very poor service to your
department. This may be ok too, your staff may be venting out of frustration. But it’s starting to
get ugly.

Next, another one of your employees describes how the last time the HR staff helped you go
through a recruitment process, they almost lost the paperwork and everything had to be redone.

At this point, people are starting to get side-tracked of the issue at hand: the delays with the
current recruitment. People are starting to bring up old history to make a case for incompetence
of the HR staff. They have lost focus.

While issues of competence could be present, this is not the proper setting to fix them. The
people being accused of incompetence are not the ones that are going to resolve it on the spot.
Now the meeting is headed the wrong way, it’s no longer a problem solving but an attack on an
internal service department.

As soon as you perceive that ganging up is starting for occur, nip it. Redirect the discussion to
the current problems and take note of related complaints. In the example above, the issue of
continued delays in hiring seems larger and needs to be addressed with the head of the HR

Summing Up Small Group Communication

Small groups have an advantage over individuals or large groups: a lot of productive work can be
accomplished by small groups.

Small groups develop strong cohesion, creating bonds that span time and organizational

Small group communication can be very rewarding and productive. The communication just
needs to be managed to avoid the pitfalls and reach the rewards.
Poor Communication

Poor Communication Leads to Inadequate Workplaces

As in any relationship, communication is key to a strong business relationship. This can be the
relationship between business and customer, or, equally as important, the internal relationships
among different employees within the company. Communication can be improved in virtually
every workplace, no matter the industry or size. After all, it is the only way for information to
effectively spread throughout the business so that everybody can be informed to the degree that
they required to properly achieve their goals.

There are many opportunities for poor communication in a workplace, and awareness of these
hindrances is the first step toward discovering and solving them within your own business.

Strangely enough, it seems that it is always the employers who are the last to find out that there
does indeed exist poor communication within their own companies. This, ironically, is a direct
result of the poor communication! It only makes sense that when information isn’t properly
flowing down within a business, it isn’t flowing up very well either.

Among the most trying elements of poor communication in today’s workplace is a lack of
information for the proper accomplishment of the tasks necessary within the business. Even in
today’s information overload society, employees often lack the information they need to do their
jobs. They may have the data that they require from external supplies, however, it is the
information that their supervisors and co-workers have, but have not properly shared, that
remains unsaid. Frequently, this poor communication is a result of the fact that the people with
the information are still processing it themselves, and haven’t distanced themselves enough from
the problem to discover that there are other people around them who will also be requiring that

Furthermore, the way in which people communicate can actually be the cause of poor
communication in the workplace. Even if the person with the information believes that s/he has
shared this information with all of the right people, this may not exactly be true. After all, some
people are better at communicating than others, and when someone who struggles to express
themselves is the source of the necessary information, this causes a problem.

Ideally, people should communicate clearly, at a comfortable rate, with a practical vocabulary,
and in an engaging tone. They need to get to the point before the listener can lose interest or
miss the point altogether. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Often, people speak too
quickly or slowly for us to properly absorb what is being said. They may be too loud or too quiet,
use words that we don’t understand, or use words that are so juvenile that they don’t express the
proper degrees and details required for the statement. They may speak in a shrill or sing-song
tone that is distracting, causing us to lose the information before it enters our minds.

Poor communication is an important issue to overcome in the workplace, though it may not
always be easy. When resolving the situation in your workplace, remember to give it time, and
motivate the employees properly.
Top 7 Keys to Successful Workplace Communication
Improving your communication skills will enable you to establish better working relationships.
Poor workplace communication skills will have negative effects on your business relationships and
may result in decreased productivity. These 7 keys will help you unlock the door to successful
communication not only at work, but also in all your relationships.

1. Personal contact is important. People relate to one another better when they can meet in
person and read each other’s body language, so they can feel the energy the connection
creates. If personal contact is not possible, the next best way to connect is by talking on
the telephone.

2. Develop a network. No one achieves success alone. Make an effort to become friends with
people in different departments within your company, meet new people in your
community, and look for experiences or interests you have in common.

3. Always be courteous in your communications with others. Courtesy lets people know that
you care. The words “Thank You” show that you appreciate a person’s efforts. Try saying,
“would you please...” instead of just, “Please...” You will sound less dogmatic.

4. Be consistent and clear in your workplace communications. Consistency builds trust.

Asking, “Did I explain this clearly?” will assure that people understood what you said.

5. Compromise decreases the tension associated with conflict. Ask, “What is best for the
company?” so that co-workers will not take the conflict personally.

6. You cannot hold a person’s interest if you have nothing interesting to say. Here are some
of ways you can learn to be an interesting communicator. Read your hometown paper
daily. Read industry literature so you can know what is going on in your industry.
Rehearse telling a few short personal stories about your interesting experiences.

7. Listen to what others are saying and show interest in the conversation. Listening
demonstrates respect and admiration. Make your conversation like a game of tennis and
keep the ball going back and forth.