How To Develop Positive & Respectful Communication At Work

In today’s work environment, effective communication is a must. After all, most of us spend more time with our coworkers than we do with our families!

A workplace that lacks respectful and direct communication between coworkers, teams or departments, can lead to conflict and decreased productivity.

Employees will look for ways to avoid certain individuals and do workarounds to get the job done, rather than engaging with a coworker where there may be tension. All of this is a waste of time, energy and financial resources.

It’s true that the art of communication is not an easy skill to learn. But here are five tips that will help get you started on the road to positive and respectful communication. And yes, these also work at home!

1. Use “I” messages.

“I” messages describe your feelings about the issue. They tell the listener what you are thinking — without attacking the other person.

Make sure, particularly in difficult exchanges, to avoid terms that cause breakdowns in the communication process. This includes any communication that could be perceived as an attack, which will only cause confusion and lead to more conflict.

One big example of negative communication would be using “you” messages. These can create defensiveness in the listener.

So, for example, if a coworker or employee often runs late, and this is leading to internal tension, here’s what the two types of messages look like.

Avoid the “you” message: “You are being inconsiderate when you’re late. It’s rude, and it messes up all of our schedules.”

Embrace the “I” message: “When you are scheduled to be in at 8 a.m. but don’t arrive until 9 a.m., I feel frustrated because we cannot begin our daily meeting on time. I would prefer that you arrive here at the agreed-upon time.”

2. State clearly what you want or need and offer solutions.

The listener needs to know not only what you are feeling, but also what you think may have a solution to the problem or issue.

For some individuals, this may mean you need to write out bullet points of what you’d like to say beforehand or ask for time to think through your response or solution.

It’s also helpful to be open to the other people’s solutions. They may have insights or information you do not have.

An example: You are tasked with providing a weekly internal newsletter. However, you’ve noticed that you often receive last-minute items from one department. This causes the delivery of the newsletter to be later than desired by your management team.

Clearly stating what you want would mean communicating the specific deadline with the individual or team that is providing the last-minute items. It would also include offering a solution, such as a phone call a few days ahead of time to either gather the items or remind them to provide the items to you on time.

3. Understand communication styles.

Everyone is different, which means there are many styles of communication.

Some people want to get to the bottom line. Others appreciate bringing people together to reach consensus. Some want to listen and not say anything, while others need more details than may be necessary or available.

An awareness of our own communication style is important. Additionally, learning how others communicate – and understanding that these styles are not better or worse than your style — is equally as important.

Personality assessments within a team environment, such as the DiSC assessment or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, can be helpful in better understand each other and removing the friction from communication.

4. Listen instead of responding right away.

Many times when we communicate we tend to want to respond quickly to what the other person is saying, rather than really listening and hearing to what is being said.

By taking time to truly listen, you can cultivate an appreciation for others’ perspectives or opinions. Additionally, you build up relationship capital by making them feel heard and understood.

Remember, listening well to someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. You can agree to disagree.

Listening simply means opening the door to create a mutual understanding in order to move forward.

This skill can be fostered by asking clarifying, probing and confirming questions.

  • Clarifying questions: Do you mean that…? When you say x, is this what you mean? When did it happen? Why is that so?
  • Probing questions: Can you tell me more about …. ? What led to that conclusion/action/result? Why was this important?
  • Confirming questions: So what you’re saying is…? So your conclusion is…? Am I right when I say I am hearing …? Can you say that again? (I want to make sure I got it)

The Power of Respectful Communication

Respect is a willingness to show consideration and appreciation. The importance and benefits of respect are often overlooked within the workplace.

An organization that fosters respect and cooperation will reap the benefits from employees who have a positive attitude toward work, a greater sense of teamwork and cooperation, higher productivity, and the ability to communicate in a respectful manner.

Sounds like a great place to work, doesn’t it?

About the Author

Dave Wauls is a trainer, leadership & development coach with Samaritan Business Consulting. He has decades of experience as a teacher, trainer and motivator for both senior executives and frontline employees. Dave has also conducted numerous onsite learning and performance seminars, all with consistent results and high ratings from both attendees and supervisors. Additionally, Dave has created public seminars on a variety of topics including interview training, basic and advanced supervisory skills, assertiveness and time management. To contact Dave directly, click here dwauls@scclanc.org.

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