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Healthy communication in the workplace

Where two or more people are involved, communication is essential. Both in the workplace and outside of it, we rely on being able to use communication to convey our thoughts, desires, wishes, and needs through various means of communication.

Communication can be:

  • Verbal (e.g. chat, meetings, calls)
  • Non-verbal (e.g. body language, voice, eye contact and other behaviours)
  • Written (e.g. emails, notes, messenger, formal documents and reports)
  • Visual (e.g. pictures, graphs and tables)

Communication can therefore be between individuals in the real world, cyberspace, as well as possibly between individuals who have never and will never see each other.

Communication is learned

We humans are not born with the knowledge and skills to communicate with each other. All of our communication skills are learned behaviors. Therefore, the ability of each individual when it comes to communication is different, and the pattern of communication between individuals varies depending on the situation and the group that meets each time.

We all know that we exhibit different communication behaviors when it comes to different groups of people; the way we express ourselves at work is different than when we are with family or friends. And how we express ourselves within a group of friends varies depending on which group of friends it is, e.g. is this among people who generally got along in primary school, or is this among people who met through a common interest in adulthood.

Many workplaces have realized this, and managers are offered courses and guidance when it comes to communication and behavior. Good communication methods are taught, such as that communication should always be clear, that communication is to solve and not create problems, but what is often forgotten is that communication is always between two or more people.

Different communication skills

Because of how diverse we are, with different backgrounds and communication skills, there are always some difficulties when it comes to communication. It is only normal, precisely because of our differences as individuals. Accepting this variability and working with it is a cornerstone of healthy relationships.

The courses and guidance offered to managers to work better with their staff often focus on how to use different communication channels to influence people's performance. But it is often forgotten to teach managers how to read employees and thus learn how to communicate with each person in order to support each individual in the most efficient way.

A workplace that does not take into account differences between individuals, their approach and skills when it comes to communication, will always leave a negative and often times a repulsive experience for certain people. This negative experience continues to color the attitude of individuals towards the workplace in general, as staff perceive the situation in such a way that they are not listened to, that their opinions, experience and knowledge are of no importance to the workplace.

If managers exhibit the behavior of not trying to learn about the different communication skills of their staff, or simply not trying to organize their own communication to reach as many people as possible, it will continue to create a negative workplace culture. Employees will perceive that only one way of communication is accepted and those who do not have the skills to adopt those communication skills will perceive the workplace as hostile and find it difficult to adapt to the situation and other colleagues. Therefore, if there are communication difficulties in the workplace, it is important that both managers and staff receive training and are strengthened when it comes to communication skills.

Not all employers have the capacity to educate all staff, regardless of job title, about healthy communication, and therefore prefer to only send managers to such training. Then it is very important not to forget that the way we forward our messages is not enough, we also need to learn to receive messages.

Active listening

Active listening is when the listener listens sincerely, showing interest in the speaker's discourse. Active listening involves truly listening to the content of the speaker's discourse in order to fully understand the entire content of the communication and the intention behind it. Active listening is therefore the way that individuals can use between themselves, when the communication skills and abilities of the other party are unknown. When it comes to active listening, you need to keep in mind:

  • The discussion is about the person speaking and the issues/views of that person, not the person listening.
  • The listener needs to listen to understand, not just pick up on one word to reply to and focus the topic around it.
  • It is good for the listener to mirror the speaker (paraphrase) in order to both encourage the speaker to continue, as well as to show that the listener is understanding the content of the communication based on the intention of the speaker.
  • The listener should recognize the feelings of the speaker regardless of their own feelings and opinions.
  • The listener should not come up with quick solutions to what is perceived to be the problem, before the speaker finishes their discourse.
  • It is important for the listener to empathize with the speaker, regardless of their own feelings and opinions.

Active listening should help the listener to bring the speaker's communication to the level the listener needs for understanding. Active listening is so that the person who listens can fully understand the message that the person speaking is communicating about, understand the content and the intention behind the communication, and can thus adjust their own behavior according to new information and the needs of the person speaking.

In conclusion

Healthy and positive workplace communication is the key to a healthy and positive workplace culture. Since communication is learned, and not a skill that people are born with, it is important to realize that there will always be a big difference between two different people when it comes to their communication skills and abilities.

It would be good if all employers could have courses and mentoring in communication for all their staff, and that is something that both training managers and/or human resources managers of workplaces could take to heart. But it is understandable that not all employers can afford to provide the funds to take all staff to courses and individual guidance when it comes to communication, and therefore it is understandable that the focus is on strengthening the communication skills of managers.

It is important not to forget that communication is always between two or more individuals. Good communication is not just a manager's ability to get their message across, managers always need knowledge and skills when it comes to receiving messages from employees who have different communication skills and abilities from their own.

Healthy and positive communication in the workplace benefits everyone involved. Employees thus perceive that they have a voice and therefore matter within the workplace, which results in more engaged employees who feel they belong to the workplace. Good communication also encourages employees to feel that they are part of a team, both their own department or the employer as a whole, which continues to strengthen a positive workplace culture.

Happy employees generally result in better and increased productivity at work, turnover is less where employees feel heard and their voices respected, as well as are fewer conflicts and disagreements. All this has a positive effect on the business, with higher productivity and lower costs related to personnel.

Having healthy and positive communication as a cornerstone of the workplace culture is therefore the key to not just a healthy and positive workplace culture, but healthy and positive operations.

Healthy and positive communication in the workplace is therefore in the interest of all of us.

Demand nothing less.

Article first appeared in Smartland 23.05.2023 [link].