Five ways to improve workplace communication

Communication in the workplace is a crucial aspect of running a business. Developing effective communications is also one of the biggest challenges businesses and organizations face. 

Nancy Priest, learning strategist and owner of Glass of Learning, says communicating within a family business can be especially difficult. Relatives form new relationships as workplace peers and are at risk of slipping back into communicating in their family roles.

Why it matters: Effective communication in the workplace improves employee engagement and productivity. It is essential for the success and growth of every business.

“We get very little education in how to be a great communicator, so many of the communication styles we’ve learned were learned in our families,” she says.

To improve workplace communication in family and non-family businesses, Priest recommends five tactics.

1. Choose your method.
“I always recommend developing a team charter to outline the structure of how things are run,” she says. This should include the methods of communication to be used within the team and when, such as weekly emails and monthly in-person meetings, as well as basic rules of engagement.

Deciding on a method for communicating about day-to-day operations is also important. Since most people have a smartphone with them, Priest sees more teams using text messaging or WhatsApp chats to stay in touch.

In a farming operation, the structure could be an in-person or virtual meeting on Monday mornings to plan the week, followed by daily check-ins by text to make sure everyone is on track.

2. Listen.
Priest teaches her clients to remove blame, shame and any preconceived ideas they may have about their coworkers when listening.

When leaders listen quietly and without interruption, it shows employees they are valued and understood.

3. Encourage feedback.
Open and honest communication includes two-way dialogue. Allowing the team to share feedback and ask questions is key to employees feeling they are being heard and not just talked at.

“Every employee in every business wants to feel like they have a place and that they can contribute and make a difference,” Priest says.

Leaders should take note of who’s talking and who’s not. Quieter team members may need to be encouraged through questions such as “What are your thoughts on that?” or “How would you like to be involved?”

4. Practice overcommunicating.
More often than not, Priest finds that employees want more communication in the workplace.

“They don’t want long meetings but they want frequent touch bases so they feel like they’re part of a community and working group,” she says.

While leaders may think they have already communicated a point, some employees need to hear it multiple times to increase message retention or to recognize that a decision has been made and the subject is closed.
In agriculture, check-ins are also important for the safety of those working in isolation and doing hazardous tasks. Framing frequent communication as a safety measure rather than micro-management allows employees to think about it from a different perspective.

5. Consider different styles.
Everyone has a unique personality that affects how they communicate. Learning about communication styles can help people understand why they are different and why they have challenges in communicating with each other.
Understanding the strengths and interests of each team member can also help leaders assign tasks and allocate resources in a more efficient way.

Priest recommends using tools such as the DiSC assessment, which measures personalities against four reference points of dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness, to get a deeper understanding of each team member and ultimately improve communication and productivity.