There are more ways to communicate in the workplace than ever before: in-person conversations, phone calls, video meetings, private messaging, email, even text messages.
While all of these different channels offer benefits to making a workplace more accessible and productive, each also requires a different set of skills.
Here’s a roundup of effective communication techniques in the workplace, for every platform you can imagine.
- 4 roadblocks to effective communication
- 3 in-person communication techniques
- 4 video communication techniques
- 5 phone communication techniques
- 4 written communication techniques
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4 roadblocks to effective communication at work
Even when we do our best to communicate well with our coworkers, things can get lost in translation and cause friction. Here are some common reasons for communication breakdowns at work:
1. Stress and fatigue
Whether it’s your boss’s perceived tone in an email or thinking a coworker side-eyed you in a meeting, it can be easy to take things the wrong way if you’re not having a great day. Try to get enough sleep and take care of yourself, so you’re more prepared for curveballs that come your way.
2. Distracted listening
Waiting to talk ≠ active listening (more on this later). And if you’re scrolling through your phone during meetings, you might miss some important information that you’ll need later on. Leave the phone at your desk during meetings or at least face-down while folks are presenting. Knowing how to control distractions—and your reaction to them—is an important remote work skill.
3. Skimming, not reading
How many times have you read a message from a coworker and thought: “Wow, they definitely didn’t read the email I just sent them”?
We know you get a lot of emails and messages every day, and some are totally fine to skim. But setting aside some time to give your full attention to the important ones might really pay off someday.
4. Unresolved interpersonal issues
It’s hard to give someone the benefit of the doubt if there are underlying resentments standing in your way. Do what you can to resolve conflicts with coworkers before they get blown out of proportion.
Here are some other challenges that tend to crop up in remote work environments:
Workplace communication techniques for every channel
3 in-person communication techniques
Most of these techniques won’t be a surprise, but this wouldn’t be a roundup of good communication techniques without these classics, many of which apply to both in-person and remote conversations.
1. Practice active listening.
Active listening is a real win-win when it comes to communication techniques. You get more of the information you need more quickly, and the other person feels heard and understood, which helps build the relationship between you for even better communication in the future.
Active listening means releasing the instinct to think about what you’ll say next while someone is talking. It means making eye contact and nodding, to show that you understand what someone is saying. Another solid active-listening practice is clarifying for understanding: repeat what the speaker has said back to them in your own words to be sure you’re clear on what they meant. This step can be a crucial piece of the communication puzzle on complex projects.
2. Keep an open mind… and posture.
The way you carry yourself can change the way your message is received and whether or not people feel heard when they talk to you. Face the person or people you’re speaking with. Try to keep your arms uncrossed and at your sides. Lean into the conversation. An open posture shows you are just that: open to learning about the person and their ideas.
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3. Observe the vibe in real time.
Can you sense when a conversation has gone off the rails, or when things are about to get tense? You don’t have to be a mind reader to learn how to pick up on some nonverbal social cues.
Look for breakdowns in communication: lack of eye contact, closed postures, changes in tone of voice and less open facial expressions. When you feel or see that vibe shift, weigh your options on how to react, depending on who’s involved.
If you’re in a one-on-one conversation and the other person shuts down, gently ask if you’ve said something to upset them and offer a genuine apology. If you’re the one who’s gotten spiky, let your coworker know you need a minute; grab a cup of tea, take a walk, whatever helps you collect your thoughts. If it’s two other colleagues having the communication breakdown, you can either try to help mediate if you know them well, or let them have the room to figure it out on their own.
Empathy is free
One communication technique that’s helpful across every channel is empathy. Try your best in each conversation to understand where your teammates are coming from, even when things get confusing or heated. (Check out some empathy exercises that build better teams.)
4 video communication techniques
Many of the in-person communication techniques mentioned before apply seamlessly to face-to-face video meetings. There are also some video-specific techniques that can be helpful on a team with remote members:
1. Get ready for your closeup.
Sitting in the dark, only illuminated by the glow of your computer screen can make you look less like a professional and more like you’re filming a ransom video. Make sure the lighting is good, and consider what’s behind you in the frame. Wear something that matches the level of polish expected by your workplace… at least from the waist up.
2. Make eye contact… with the camera.
One big difference between in-person interactions and video conferencing is that you can see yourself. It’s like having a conversation with someone in person while they are holding up a mirror in your direction. Do your best to look into the camera while talking (and listening), instead of at your own video, for meaningful eye contact.
One trick: If you can, position the video gallery right under the webcam. That way, everyone’s faces are as close to the lens as possible.
3. Know when to cut the camera.
If you need to step away from the screen for some reason, or if some other interruption happens on your end while you aren’t speaking, turning off your camera can cut down on distractions for other team members. Don’t be afraid to go dark and take care of things, and come back calm, cool, and collected.
4. Use high-quality tools to connect.
When sound gets garbled or the video freezes, it can cause confusion and frustration that slows down a meeting. Do some research upfront to find the top remote work tools that will make video conferencing a breeze.
Know when to walk away
For any kind of communication, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on how you’re feeling in the moment. If you start to get irritated with a back-and-forth, it’s okay to step away from the conversation, regroup, and come back with a more positive perspective.
5 phone communication techniques
In a modern workplace, you’re likely to have folks working from home or on the road. Some might be able to hop on a video chat, while others prefer to join meetings over the phone. Here are some tips to make sure you’re heard and understood without that face time:
1. Speak clearly.
Enunciate and articulate, so everyone on the call can understand what you’re saying.
(It also helps to use a conferencing platform that offers HD video and voice… just sayin’.)
2. Send docs ahead of time.
If you’re chatting without the ability to share your screen, make sure everyone in the call is (literally) on the same page. Email any reports or presentations you’ll be referencing ahead of the meeting to anyone who won’t have a hard copy in hand. Oh, and be sure to include page numbers on the documents, so you can be clear about where you are at all times.
Learn more about communication tools for remote teams.
3. Find your opening.
Responding in conversations remotely is like double dutch: you need to find the right time to jump in. This can be tricky without in-person cues like eye contact, leaning forward, or even raising a hand to be noticed. Try not to speak over other people, since that will cause confusion and your voice to be lost in the shuffle. As soon as there’s a lull, jump!
You’ll also earn points as a great communicator if you help others find their opening. If you hear someone who’s trying to be heard but keeps getting trampled by others on the call, speak up. Say “I think ________ is trying to say something,” and help make that space.
4. The mute button is your friend.
When you’re not speaking, cut down on background noise for other speakers by muting your microphone. This is especially handy for parents working from home when kids come crashing into the room unannounced.
5. Say “cheese.”
You read that right! Even when no one can see you, smiling can add a brighter tone to your voice and keep your energy level up to ensure listeners stay engaged.
Choose your words wisely
No matter how you’re communicating, the words you choose can make a big difference. Some words seem more negative than others and can impact how coworkers and even customers interpret what you’re saying. For example: affordable is a more positive word to use than cheap.
4 written communication techniques
These days, if drama goes down at work, it’s usually via email or private messenger. Why? With written communication, it’s easier to misinterpret the tone of a message. So if one or both parties are already on edge about a situation, it can quickly spiral into a passive-aggressive war of “per my last email…” versus “moving forward…” that can stretch on for days.
1. Read (carefully) before responding.
Everyone writes differently. Some people send simple, to-the-point messages in email and chat that are easy to absorb and only contain the most important information. Meanwhile, other people prefer to bury their request inside an epic poem.
Skimming emails is a time-saving skill, but you can also miss valuable information. When you feel your eyes glazing over on paragraph six of ten, take a little break. Get up, grab a cup of coffee, and come back with fresh eyes. You can even jot down some notes or questions as you read, if it’s a really critical message and you need to formulate a response.
As for those private messages, RingCentral makes it easy to stay on top of all your conversations so you never miss anything important:
2. Tone can be tricky.
With people coming from all different backgrounds and exposure to technology, it’s easy to misread someone’s intentions in an email or text chat.
Believe it or not, punctuation plays a huge role in tone today. An ellipsis can read as irritation (“Not sure why this was sent to me… please advise”). One exclamation point seems friendly (“Thanks a lot!”), while three feel passive aggressive (“Thanks a lot!!!”).
Before sending a more sensitive message to a team member: check the punctuation, and make sure there’s a “please” and a “thank you” in there. And when you’re reading other people’s responses to you, give them the benefit of the doubt; they might not use punctuation in the same way you do.
3. Beware “Reply All.”
Do we need to say anything more? Most of us have been on the business end of a Reply All gone wrong, whether it was a private message that went public or an endless thread of “Thanks!” from dozens of CC’ed people. Double check which “Reply” you’re about to use, every time.
4. “Let’s take this outside offline.”
If things ever escalate past the point of no return in a written back-and-forth, there’s only one way to come back from the brink: human-to-human conversation. If you’re both in the same office, pop down to their desk to clear things up. Otherwise, a quick video or phone chat works in the same way. RingCentral Office® is great for this because you can switch easily from text to video in the same app:
Read the room
Humor can be a great way to lighten the mood or bring people together… but it’s also a real tightrope walk in the workplace. If you’re wondering whether or not a joke will land, or if it’s appropriate for the situation, keep that one in your back pocket for another time.
Communication techniques: what are your strengths and weaknesses?
No one is a perfect communicator—that’s not a thing! Chances are that you prefer one form of communication over another, just like everyone else. Maybe you’re more comfortable speaking face-to-face, because you’re lost without tone and body language. Or maybe you prefer writing, since it gives you time to better formulate your response. There is no wrong answer here.
But in a modern workplace that combines in-person and remote work, you’ll probably be more successful if you learn to work all of your communication muscles. We hope that some of the tips we’ve shared will help you become a more well-rounded communicator in work and in life.
Nothing helps optimize communication like the right tools. Navigate seamlessly between video, phone, and messaging on any device with RingCentral Office. Try it free for 15 day and see how RingCentral can improve communication for your team!
Originally published May 21, 2020, updated Jan 30, 2023