You’ve probably heard of the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. Mr. Fulghum wrote about the value of the basic skills taught in Kindergarten. Communication Skills- Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing are skills that we learn and practice in Kindergarten. As a former Kindergarten teacher myself, I can tell you that these skills do not come naturally and we practiced them daily. Improving your communication skills can make a big impact on what kind of impression you make with people in your work environment. I don’t consider myself an expert communicator as I am still practicing those skills I learned in Kindergarten. I intend to share effective communication that I have recognized through the years as best communication practices in a work environment.
No dead fish
When you shake someone’s hand, whether you are a male or female or whether you are shaking a male or female’s hand…everyone deserves a firm handshake. A firm handshake makes a powerful first impression. It says, “I’m confident, I’m qualified, I’m professional, I respect you.” I guarantee that if you hand someone a dead fish hand when you meet them, they will silently cringe and judge you.
My grandmother used to tell me that the best way to get a date was to make eye contact with a cute boy. She wasn’t exactly wrong. Eye contact is key in conveying self-confidence and appearing friendly. People who are not good at making eye contact, appear shy and self-conscious. If you are not great at making eye contact, practice it with strangers. Hold your gaze for just a second longer than you would normally make contact. Careful- too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing and if you stare too long- it just gets creepy. If you get a date, tell ‘em Grandma Mary sent you.
Greet your neighbor
When I taught Kindergarten, the morning routine was to look your neighbor in the eye and say “Good Morning.” We even practiced greeting people in the hallway with a smile and a hello. If you’re someone who can walk right past someone in the hallway at work without making eye contact and smiling, my guess is that your co-workers’ perception of you is that you’re not very friendly or approachable. This may not be your intention, but it is sending the wrong message. Practice a “good morning” or a smile when you pass your colleagues in the hall. You might be surprised at the results.
Get to the point
It’s not only Kinders who have a hard time getting to the point, adults do too. The best advice I can give you about communication in the workplace is to be direct when speaking and writing. Say what you can or cannot do. Say what you will or will not do. Say what you need and when you need it. Being vague is a waste of breath and energy and most times while you are beating around the bush, the other person is incorrectly interpreting what you are saying. This isn’t meant to advise you to be aggressive, just succinct and specific. Stop rambling.
Write with care
In this time of texting and emailing, writing has become more casual. As a representative of your company or association, you want to present yourself as professionally as possible when writing. Emailing from our phones makes it even harder to get it right. Make the extra effort to find mistakes that spellcheck will miss. Know the difference between there and their, to and too, your and you’re and use them correctly. Bottom line: Use correct grammar and spelling and always re-read your emails before you hit send.
Watch your tone
It is extremely difficult to convey a positive tone with an email so you must do it with words. Greetings always start an email positively, so be sure to include one. Add a little fluff- but not too much, just enough to soften the tone. “Schedule a meeting for Friday at 2 pm.” could be softened with a few words- “Please schedule a meeting for Friday at 2 pm. Thank you.” Just like we learned in Kindergarten, “Please” and “Thank you” can go a long way.
Friendly humor can break the ice and put people at ease while communicating with you. Using humor that’s relevant to the issue at hand, or using it to illustrate a point is a great tool for meetings. Humor can help diffuse tense situations and build connections between colleagues. Just a few cautions:
- If you are going to direct your jokes at someone- make sure it’s yourself.
- Careful with your use of sarcasm, not everyone can detect cheekiness- they might just think you’re being a jerk.
Loud and Clear
Some people are soft spoken and this makes it difficult for the listener to hear what is being said. If people continuously say, “Huh?” in your presence- chances are others are not hearing what you say. If you’re a quiet talker, make a conscious effort to speak more loudly and use eye contact so people can read your lips if they need to.
Others like myself, have a tendency to speak too quickly. This makes it difficult for others to understand you. Fast talkers don’t always enunciate all of their words either and can appear less professional. To be a good communicator, you need to speak clearly, so practice turning it up and slowing it down.
Be a good listener
Listening is a skill that can make you a better leader and a better co-worker. Common sense tells us that it’s impossible to listen when you’re speaking, but it’s also impossible to listen when you are planning what you’re going to say in response. We all do this and it takes practice to change the way you listen. Try this during your next conversation: Listen to the person speaking and think about what they are saying. When it’s time for you to speak, paraphrase what you just heard. “So if I’m hearing you correctly, you will need more time to complete the project. Is that correct?” This will help you fully understand what the other person is saying, it will let the other person know that you are actively listening and it will give you time to think about your response. Try it, you’ll like it.
If you remember your days in school, the teacher would say, “Any questions?” as a cue to raise your hand if you did not fully understand. Some of us were shy and reluctant to ask questions in class. Now that you are an adult in the workplace, I highly recommend that if you aren’t exactly sure what the speaker means, don’t be shy. Ask questions immediately and be sure they are specific to the conversation. Say things like, “Tell me more about that,” or “I’m not clear about what you just said.” Relevant questions will let the speaker know that you care about what they are saying, and want to be sure you understand the content.
In the words of Mr. Rogers, “…the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”