10 Ways to Be a Better Communicator at Work

10 Ways to Be a Better Communicator at Work image talking10 Ways to Be a Better Communicator at WorkGreat communication is about establishing trust, listening well, and being easy to talk to. Whether you’re chatting with coworkers at a new job or pitching a product to a prospective client, you need good communication skills at work in order to make an impact, enhance your reputation, and increase your performance.

No matter how gifted you are at gabbing, sooner or later you’ll experience an awkward communication moment on the job. Like being alone with a boss in the elevator for a long 12-floor ride, or being called on by surprise in a fast-paced departmental meeting.

No worries. Being a great talker is a skill anyone can learn–even if you’re an introvert. With a few techniques and a little practice, you can avoid common communication missteps that may make you look bad in front of colleagues, coworkers, and customers. Here are 10 pointers.

1. Be alert for openings. In conversations, there are always openings, or unspoken invitations, to go deeper into a topic. If you allow such opportunities to pass, you might miss out on making a new ally or discovering some great new business information. If a colleague says, “Thanks for noticing my weight loss. It’s always a battle to stay in shape since I love to cook,” instead of nodding and saying nothing, try following up with a question or statement about dieting, fitness, or cooking.

2. Don’t engage in lazy talk. Language, like our bodies, is more powerful when it’s toned and nimble. Lazy talk, on the other hand, consists of fillers or clichés. Try to avoid you know and like. If you find yourself about to say the word thing, search for another word that’s more descriptive. Also, stay away from vague expressions such as etc., whatever, and stuff like that. Lazy talk is weak and ineffective.

3. Use your body. Body language is as important as verbal language when it comes to making first impressions, giving your message impact, and winning people’s trust. When greeting a work associate, make eye contact, smile, and shake his or her hand. You’ve just told that person with your body language, “You’re worthwhile and I’m glad to see you.” When listening, maintain eye contact and use facial expressions to show that you’re paying attention and really “getting” the impact of their words.

4. Be humble. At some time or another, we’ve all made declarations that sound as though they should be carved in a tablet. “That’s the best movie you’ll see this year,” or “She’s the smartest client we have, hands down.” To avoid being labeled a know-it-all by others, simply preface such statements with “I think” or “It seems to me” or “I’ve come to believe.”

5. Keep exchanges alive. Avoid conversational dead ends. These are questions or statements that only require a one-word reply, such as “How are you?” and “Hi.” Find a more interesting way to ask the question or make the greeting. Examples of open-ended questions that spark more meaningful exchanges are, “What did you do that was fun this weekend?” or “How are you so perky on a Monday morning?”

6. Just be yourself. Do you throw around fancy words, constantly try to get others to laugh? Do you try to be overly charming? This type of behavior can backfire. A really good conversationalist makes an impact by getting along with others, asking good questions, and listening. Forget about being super eloquent, clever, or pretentious. Keep your exchanges simple and direct. Trying to impress others will only come across as disingenuous and fake.

7. Exit gracefully. It’s not easy to end conversations with someone we’ve just met, not to mention those annoying people who corner us at the water cooler where we can’t easily escape. Don’t make up an excuse, such as a phone call you’re (not) expecting, or say, “Well, uh, I gotta go.” This will only create a feeling of ill will. Instead, make the other person feel good before you say goodbye. “Sarah, it’s been a pleasure (smile, offer your hand), but I have to get back to my office. Hope to catch you later.”

8. Accept compliments. For many of us, it’s difficult to take a compliment well. Two of the most common mistakes people make are contradicting the complimenter who tells you that you look great—”Really? I feel like a mess today”—or discounting their words by bouncing it right back, “You too.” Learn how to just take it in, letting the other person know their generous words are meaningful. Smile, and say something like, “How nice! You made my day.”

9. Talk instead of text. If you’re texting while standing next to someone at a convention or in the break room, you’re sending them the message that they’re invisible. You’re also passing up an opportunity to network and possibly learn something. Save texting and emailing for times when you’re alone or actually in the presence of strangers, such as on the train ride home. Practice the art of small talk by asking a polite question about a topic—a current event, perhaps, or a specific detail about that person’s family or interests. “Have you been golfing yet this year?”

10. Take criticism. Don’t be the employee who ignores feedback, gets defensive, and impedes progress at work. Try to listen to what the other person is saying about your work, not about you, personally. Then respond with a simple statement that shows appreciation, such as “Thank you for pointing that out to me,” or “That’s really helpful—you just did me a big favor.”

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