How to Communicate Effectively at Work
Executive Coach and Entrepreneur in Residence Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin offers her playbook on an essential—and often underrated—skill.
Effective workplace communication is a skill we all need to master. And yet, among my executive clients, it is a skill that frequently needs refinement. Here’s my playbook for how to communicate effectively at work to grow your career.
1. Plan out your important conversations in advance
Asking for a raise? Throwing your name into the hat for a promotion? Walking into your annual review? High-stakes conversations at work demand preparation and skill. I recommend to my clients that for each important conversation they’re anticipating at work, they draft up a paragraph—in positive, present tense language—for how they want the conversation to flow. Notably, this is not a script, but rather a visioning exercise designed to tap into how each party to the conversation will feel during and after they meet. This exercise often helps to set the stage for a positive outcome. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also anticipate your response to any pushback. If you are concerned about having a proposal or a request for a raise met with concern, consider how you’ll respond ahead of time. Going into high-stakes conversations well-prepared will assure a positive outcome.
2. Use “I” language when delivering feedback
I’m a big proponent of the strategies of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) propounded by Marshall Rosenberg. In NVC, when delivering feedback to anyone on their performance or behavior, we start from the place of stating our observations and feelings. For instance, if your intern is responding too casually to client emails, NVC would recommend that feedback be given as follows: “When I read emails from you to our client using text message lingo and emojis, I feel concerned, because I really value formality in our communications with important clients. Would you be willing to refine your communication style? And let me know how I can help." Communicating with “I” language allows the other person to be more receptive to feedback and to not become defensive. And note: this is incredibly more effective than using “you” language, such as “you’re way too informal in emails and you need to change that,” which would instantly make your intern feel defensive and attacked.
3. When getting or giving project assignments, reiterate the assignment more than once
Delegating and receiving delegated work are among the most important workplace communications for maintaining performance in the day-to-day. And yet, among my coaching clients, these conversations are where misunderstandings most frequently occur, resulting in failed expectations, missed deadlines and ineffective performance. If you’re the one delegating work, make sure you are crystal clear on the terms of the assignment, the deadline and the work product required, and ask your team member to repeat back to you their understanding of the assignment at the end of your communication with them so that you can fill in any gaps. If you’re on the receiving end, ask any questions upfront and be candid with any concerns you may have about completing the project on time or effectively. Clear and open communication at the start of any project guarantees its success down the road.
4. Be polite, professional and gracious at all times
Practicing what I call “PPG” in the workplace is truly the linchpin to great communication. Just about any workplace communication is improved by communicating with respect, politesse and gratitude. If you can grow your workplace communication to include, as a part of your personal brand, a reputation for being cool under pressure, generous with praise and respectful to others, your workplace communication will become one of your greatest assets as you rise to the top of the corporate ladder. Good luck!
For more from Elizabeth, read her recent posts on our site—and visit her online at emclaughlin.com and 40percentandrising.com.