I’ll never forget the moment when I was heating up my lunch in the office kitchen when an old coworker of mine told me that he felt I wasn’t “creative enough.”
I immediately laughed before realizing he was serious.
Here I was, minding my own business, about to enjoy a bowl of homemade soup, when someone metaphorically slapped me across my face.
What did that even mean, I wasn’t creative enough?
It took us a lot of back and forth before he was able to articulate what he truly meant -- given my role at the time as a Marketing Strategist, he felt I should be able to share out-of-the-box ideas during client brainstorm meetings.
This apparently was something he felt for a while as he witnessed other people share ideas during meetings while I sat silently.
Where we started in the conversation vs. where we ended up were two completely different areas.
Had the conversation been approached or handled differently, I’m sure I would have had a better understanding of where he was coming from -- because as it turns out, he wasn’t wrong.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas to share, but more so that I was insecure in sharing them in a group setting for fear of sounding dumb.
Though this conversation was awful -- and frankly, uncomfortable -- to have, I truly appreciate that moment and the memory I have of it because it made me want to be better at communicating with my colleagues.
Here, I want to break down my top five tips you can start practicing today.
1. Know When to Give Feedback
Now, my example above is a little extreme, but think about it…
Have you ever received feedback about a situation that occurred days or even weeks ago? Or what about being critiqued in a group setting seemingly out of the blue?
I’ve experienced both of those, and let me tell you, the feedback shared with me was not well received -- and it’s not because the feedback shared was wrong or invaluable. It wasn’t well received because it wasn’t the right time to receive it.
Here at IMPACT, we try to practice not sharing feedback with someone unless it’s asked for and requested. This helps ensure the recipient is in a state of mind to truly listen and absorb what you’re communicating with them.
We also always try to give feedback immediately. If I sit in on a coworker’s client call and I identify key areas the person can improve on, it will be more impactful if he or she hears the feedback immediately following the call. The situation is fresh in both of our minds.
2. Ask Questions
In all of my communication training, the biggest thing I’ve learned and now practice is something seemingly so simple -- ask questions.
When someone asks how you’re doing, you most likely reply with a simple answer like “fine” or “good” and rarely go beyond that. But if they were to keep asking you questions, diving deeper, you may end up revealing that you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming meeting or incredibly proud of a successful campaign or project.
All too often we ask very surface-level questions and don’t take the time to dive deeper with the person are speaking with.
Take the time to ask additional and specific questions. Instead of asking, “How are you today?” try, “What is one thing that is going really well for you today?”
This will enable you to have much deeper and open conversations.
It basically boils down to saying what you think while genuinely caring about the person you’re speaking to.
Though it’s rarely ever easy, it’s important to have the difficult conversations with your coworkers. You will create a stronger working relationship by handling these honest moments.
4. Avoid Distractions
There is nothing worse than feeling like you’re speaking to someone who isn’t listening. Anytime this has happened to me, I feel devalued and like I’m a bother to them.
Make sure you are present and pay attention when communicating with coworkers. Close your computer or -- in the least -- turn off notifications so you’re not distracted by incoming emails or Slack messages.
If you can’t be away from your phone, turn it over. These small acts will help ensure that your focus is on the person you’re speaking with.
5. Be Aware of Your Body Language
I work remote and I manage several remote employees, so the coworkers -- and even clients -- I speak to have a very limited view of me, as we have video conference calls every day. You might think, “That’s easy then, you don’t have to worry about body language.”
On the contrary, though.
After watching several videos of recorded calls, I realized I had the terrible habit of resting my head in my hand. Though my intention was to never appear bored, that’s exactly how I often looked.
If you’re communicating over video, make sure your body faces the camera so you can look your coworker in the eye. Or, if you’re in person, try to sit or stand openly and avoid crossing your arms. Think about that for a moment. If you cross your arms, it literally forms an X, representing a closed-off attitude or mindset to the person you’re speaking with.
Interested in even more practices to try out? Check out the infographic below for the 20 tips on how to communicate better at work.