Dealing with communication issues in the workplace

Most workplaces are their own little society with history and social norms. They are places where individuals from a diverse range of knowledge and experience come together for extended times each day. With such a melting pot of personality it is no wonder that communication issues sometimes present themselves.

If this is impacting on your ability to perform, there are a number of things that may assist you. The best thing that you can do though is to try and remove emotion from the situation. Looking at these situations calmly and objectively often shows that there is another factor at play.

There are however a few more specific things that may assist you in managing workplace communication issues.

You are not alone

It is important to remember that if you are having an issue, you are probably not alone. Others may also have the same problem. What is very telling in situations of shared difficulty is your reaction. After working in the same environment for a while, you get an idea of how people will react in a difficult situation.

Almost every workplace has that person who reacts to any situation by complaining or deflecting blame. Every situation is always someone else’s fault. Every bad event was caused by something that was outside of their control. Everything negative situation was something done to them. This is a clear victim mentality.
Don’t be that guy. No one likes that guy!
That sort of negative behavior just makes you look like you are unable to handle the situation. It appears powerless and contributes little to fixing things. It is far better to accept the situation and focus on what you will do next.

You should see your colleagues as team mates, not as rivals. Even in the most competitive workplace you will find it easier to succeed if you are playing nice. These relationships will also continue to pay rewards in the future.
It is much harder to do it alone. This does not change over time and is likely to simply get to the point where it is just impossible.

With that in mind, don’t be afraid to take the other side of opinion… respectfully!
Depending on how you approach this you may come off as being constructive or just difficult. If you are sure that you have perspective that others are missing, there are ways to present that without coming across as arrogant or obnoxious. This is one of the true skills of conversation – presenting an unpopular opinion and still gathering support.
Be careful to be seen as being constructive when presenting the other side of a situation. The goal is to keep people focused on the issue, not on you being difficult. It is also extremely important to remain calm. Avoid letting emotion into the conversation. Passion is good but frustration and anger are not!

It is important to remember that everyone is working toward the same goal. There will be times where people won’t agree with you. It is important to understand that others will have different views based on their personal experience and ideals. The life experiences will have led them to feel a particular way and view life through their personal filters. This difference is great! This is what makes everyone unique.
As long as you are respectful of others and their right to view the world differently, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Dealing with office gossip

Most modern offices are open plan spaces designed to “increase communication and collaboration”. I am sure that it is just a useful bonus that this is a more cost efficient configuration.

One thing that is for sure is that they are each their own little enclosed world. A place where people spend a large part of their week surrounded by the same faces and personalities. They become their own stage with their own series of dramas. There will always be people that have so little else outside of work that they love drama in the workplace.

Accept that people in an office will talk. People will gossip. They will talk about you behind your back. Unfortunately it might be something that you just need to accept.
Not everyone is as enlightened and there is little to be gained by trying to change them. It is normally the smaller minded people that engage in this behavior. It is often an indication that they have nothing better to say. You could even feel a little sorry for them in that they have so little going in life that office gossip is worth so much attention.

One thing that will benefit you the most though is to avoid getting involved. If you show no interest in playing the office gossip game, you are less likely to be involved.

This way, even if people are talking about you, you probably won’t know anyway.

Chose the best time and place

One thing that is particularly important for effective communication in the workplace is choosing the right way to pass your message. There are some things that are ok to send in an email, others should really be delivered in person.

Take care to communicate using the correct approach. If it can wait for a time when groups are together, it is more efficient than telling people individually.   Communicating to a single person in a meeting is just a waste of everyone’s time.

Dealing with bad performance

One thing that is always true is that you should avoid singling people out in open forums. This is relevant for managers and for team members. Take my word for it, no good will come from this! It is an almost guaranteed way to make someone feel targeted and become defensive.

Try instead to communicate to groups in terms of shared responsibility. Use terms such as ‘us’ and ‘we’. Most people will be smart enough to realize that it is them causing issue and correct themselves. If not, take them aside and have a delicate chat to highlight that there is an identified concern in the team.
If they still don’t get it, take them aside again and directly (but delicately) tell them that they are the problem. Some people just have their head in the clouds and need to be clearly told. This is often the case with those that are always looking to blame others for things. They are often unable to consider that they could actually be the cause of the issue.
It does no one any good to allow ill feelings to develop. It is not fair on the workplace unit. It is also unfair on the person causing it to not have a chance to correct themselves.

Often workplaces are a melting pot of personalities and contain their own culture and history. Due to this any number of difficult situations could arise. If you remain aware of this and have a logical, delicate approach, most situations can be overcome.

The situations listed above are just a few of the more common ones. Let me know if there is something effecting your workplace that I have included. I would love to discuss it.

Photo by Wiertz Sébastien

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