Career Advice

Communication at the Workplace: A Gentle Guide for Everyone

communication at the workplace

In every industry imaginable good communication skills go a long way. After all, our ability to effectively relay information to others goes a long way when it comes to getting the day-to-day work done and accomplishing more long-term career goals.

However, good communication in the workplace goes beyond following professional etiquette rules and replying to emails on time. It’s a more intricate process, further complexed by the fact that you need to collaborate with people at the lower, same, and upper-level. 

Why is Communication Important in the Workplace

Modern workplaces now house at least three generations — Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials — as well as an endless array of personalities. Each of your colleagues has a different communication style, preferences, and overall level of people skills. Your direct supervisor and other managers you cross paths with may also have different leadership styles

What this means is that you oftentimes need to adapt your communication to the needs of others. Without such adaptability, you’ll have a hard time communicating your needs, enlisting the help of others, and getting your work done effectively. 

The importance of effective communication in the workplace is further magnified by the transition to distributed and/or remote work. Communicating your agenda to someone sitting miles from you is more challenging and requires at least baseline asynchronous communication skills. Such a state of affairs means that having good communication skills in the workplace is non-optional. 

From a managerial perspective, establishing proper workplace communication practices should also be a top priority. 

After all, you cannot align your teams with the wider corporate goals unless you keep them in the loop on the latest developments and shifts in operational priorities. Employees are more engaged and motivated when leadership regularly shares important updates. Finally, connected employees are more productive. Per McKinsey, productivity levels improve by 25% in teams that are well-connected and aligned with one another. 

Finally, good communication in the workplace is a currency. A recent survey suggests that communication issues in the workplace cost businesses with 100 employees over $420,000 annually in lost productivity hours, incomplete work, and lost business opportunities. For larger enterprises, the figure rises proportionally to $62.4 million.

Last, but not least, strong soft skills make you more employable. Per LinkedIn research, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence top the list of in-demand soft skills among recruiters. What’s more, many hiring managers also rank the candidate’s soft skills more important than hard skills as the latter can be taught easily. So be sure to give both a prominent placement on your resume

So if you are gearing up for a promotion or feel ready to pursue a new role at another company, be ready to show that you are a good communicator. 

Takeaway: A good understanding and appreciation of the differences in communication styles and preferences are essential for professionals at all levels. Learning to interact with different personality types will greatly improve your quality of life in the workplace. Plus, position you better for career advancement

​​How to Improve Communication Skills in the Workplace with Colleagues 

Effective communicators are not born, they are bred. You can improve your communication style and forge great relationships with colleagues by getting more intentional about how you communicate. Here are several tips for that.   

Take Care Of The Little Character Things First 

It is often said that it is the little things in life that matter. So start paying more attention to how you come off to others when it comes to:

  • Your tone of voice
  • Approachability
  • Ability to listen
  • Ability to give instructions
  • Response to criticism 
  • Overall demeanor 

When others find you too intimidating, opinionated, or grumpy, high chances are that you’d be excluded from many work-related and team-bonding conversations. 

The easiest way to change the attitude towards you is to start doing some small things that could make everyone happier. For example, show someone that their ideas and input to a meeting was greatly appreciated by following up with a quick email thanking them for their contribution. Highlight one particular idea or suggestion and compliment them for it. Spend more time listening to what others are saying and proposing, before giving your opinion or criticizing. 

kind feedback and appreciation

All it takes is a little bit of effort to notice what others around you are doing, which in truth you should be aware of anyway, then complimenting them on their efforts. People will notice too, and in turn, they may start to reciprocate by flattering and praising your efforts. 

Learn To Give Better Instructions 

Great teamwork is all about effective collaboration. And you can’t effectively collaborate with others when you are unable to communicate what you want to be done and how. And it goes the other way too: you can’t do your best work when your colleague cannot explain what’s on their mind and you are too shy or intimidated to ask for explanations.

But fret not, you are not an outlier here. Up to 28% of workers name poor communication as the reason they are unable to deliver work on time. 

Yet, you shouldn’t leave this issue unresolved. Instead, work a bit more on your instructional skills. 

Here’s a simple way to give and receive better instructions from others

  1. State the main job to be completed 
  2. Explain why it is important 
  3. Name the ideal outcome (goal) 
  4. Break down the main task into step-by-step instructions 
  5. Provide a time frame for each
  6. Link to any supporting documents
  7. List people to contact for assistance 
  8. Follow-up in a day to ask if the person has any further questions 

Find Out About Your Colleagues Passions

Good communication at the workplace stems not just from the day-to-day work-related talk, but also from friendly banter. When you understand you colleagues personality, passions, and interests, you have an easier time connecting with them. And such emotional ties make communication easier. 

Thus, make your break times meaningful by grabbing a coffee and giving one of your co-workers a chance to get enthusiastic about their interests with you. Remember to listen. You may not have enough time on your break for an in-depth conversation so let your colleague speak and elaborate on things they enjoy the most. You never know – you may even learn something valuable from your exchange.

coffee break with coworkers

Tomorrow is another day, so you can go and find another colleague to chat to during your break. You may find two different people have a shared interest at work and never knew! You could introduce them to each other and then you will have made two enthusiasts very happy. A great way to spread the love!

Do Your Co-Workers A Favor

Do you know what will really make you more likable at work? Doing your co-workers little favors, especially when you notice they are stressed, super-busy, or are stuck trying to work out a problem. Doing small good deeds for your workmates can really help them out, but what it will also do is to make them appreciate your time and effort spent helping them. The next time you find yourself in need, your work colleagues will be more than happy to help you out.

Say, you can see that Jackie is busy with an important phone call, but she also needs to get 30 copies of an agenda made for a meeting in ten minutes. Offer to do the copying for her so she can finish her call and still get to the meeting on time with the agendas. You notice that Tom is having difficulties formatting a spreadsheet. Offer to help if this is something you can do quickly and easily or send him some useful links via email to YouTube videos on the subject to help resolve the issue.

Become a master of the little favor. It is a great way to make yourself more likable at work and a fantastic way of getting others to help you out of a tight spot too.

How to Effectively Communicate with Your Boss 

Your relationship with your boss can be a bit more complicated. Maybe you work for someone who is a few years older or whose tastes and lifestyle you don’t share. This can sometimes be frustrating or even feel intimidating. But this is exactly why you should be making an extra effort to bridge any significant gaps between the two of you. Here are several actionable tips to improve communication with your boss. 

Understand Their Goals

Knowing your managers’ goals and targets can be very useful. Why? Because you can then apply the most efforts to crucial areas. By knowing exactly what they want you to deliver and how they measure your performance, you can adapt your work style accordingly. 

Good managers are usually forthcoming about their agenda and key priorities. But we are not living in a perfect world. So sometimes important things slip through the cracks.

So don’t be afraid to approach your boss directly and ask them about the current goals and KPIs. Many will appreciate such proactivity! 

Establish A Delivery Method

It can be really difficult to know what to deliver and how to provide information if you only have sketchy or vague guidelines to follow. By setting up a meeting to clarify and confirm a defined delivery method your will be saving yourself a lot of uncertainty as well as dithering about compiling results in many different ways. 

Ask your boss if they want to know your conclusion upfront before the breakdown of details, or left at the end as a summary? Do they prefer a hard copy of your information presented on paper in a binder, or would they prefer an electronic copy? Do they want spreadsheets or slides to back everything up? Do they want the work submitted well in advance of the deadline, or shortly before? 

Setting up a well-defined delivery system can save you from the unexpected, and will also clarify how long you have to spend on a project before you need to submit it.

Repeat Instructions Back 

Many communication issues at work arise due to banal misunderstandings and misinterpretation of requests. And they get further entangled when neither party takes the time to clarify what they actually meant. 

A good practice to stave off this trend is to always communicate back the original instructions you’ve received from your superior. Doing so fulfills two goals:

  • Helps you better process and understand the job at hand 
  • Provides the other party with an opportunity to correct and clarify any issues 

This tactic, in fact, is so effective that many ER teams use it to build a better rapport between members. 

Work On A Proposal Rather Than A Request

A shift in your mindset can often be a solution to opening up a new line of effective communication. 

When your boss is out of the office for extended periods of time, you might find yourself hanging around and waiting for them to “rule” on an answer or approve important actions. Rather than leaving the question hanging in the air, why not switch your approach around and go to your boss with a proposal to act on instead of a request? 

Thus, you can empower yourself and your colleagues to do the work in a productive way rather than waiting for your boss to give you permission to proceed with things that will need to be done anyway. 

communicate with your boss

Let’s say that you are a design engineer and you and your team have been given the task to come up with a design for a new eco-warrior pump to irrigate farmland using water from a nearby river. Rather than sitting down at a table with your boss to describe what could be a hard-to-understand concept on paper, instead, you and your team build a model prototype of the design you have come up with.

Instead of getting frustrated with your boss for their lack of communication or their inability to respond to your requests in a timely manner, go on the offensive and go to them with a clear proposal so you can get things done on time and on schedule.

To Conclude: Reducing Friction Between You and Others

Great communication in the workplace is a joint action by many. Whether you are an entry-level employee or made your way close to the top, you should never neglect the importance of building good relationships with others.

Sure, some clashes are inevitable. But minimizing misunderstanding and tension should be your key priority. Start with listening and acknowledging the needs of others. Be more open to accepting some tips and perhaps constructive criticism in regards to how you give instructions to others or the quality of your email responses. And most importantly — act on the feedback others provide to you! Remember: the better communicator you are —  the more amazing job prospects open in front of you!


  • Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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