Avoid Communication Breakdowns With These 4 Tips

4 Communication Skills All Employees Need

public-speakingThe idea of public speaking fills even the most experienced of professionals with dread. There’s something about the idea of addressing a group, no matter how small, which is fundamentally frightening. Upon further reflection, it’s not so hard to see why. When you address a group or even just a colleague, you’re laying your expertise on the line and exposing it to criticism from superiors and peers alike. So how do you keep the communication channels open and productive without losing your cool? Follow these tips to avoid communication breakdown.


The key to effective communication isn’t simply articulating what you mean when you mean it. True communication is an exchange, not just of information, but of emotion and intent. Instead of anticipating what you think a person means, wait for him or her to finish. Think a moment before composing a response.

If you don’t understand the exchange, then don’t be afraid to say so. A useful way to phrase this might be “So what I think you’re saying is,” or “What I am hearing is,” before summarizing your extent of understanding and asking follow-up questions. This makes the speaker feel valued, and it saves you the frustration of a misunderstanding later.

Pay Attention to Body Language

Sometimes, it’s up to you to play detective and figure out the non-verbal cues your colleague is sending out. For example, if a fellow employee says he or she understands a concept you just explained, but has pursed lips or isn’t making direct eye contact, he or she may just be too afraid to ask you to elaborate. When you’re the one speaking, there are simple things you can do to exude an air of confidence and friendliness:

  • Keep your shoulders back, make direct eye contact, and smile. Even if you’re nervous, you’ll seem competent and in control.
  • Avoid defensive poses, like arm-crossing. This effectively puts a barrier between yourself and the person you’re speaking with.

Consider Your Tone

talkingSocial media and the internet have helped us make great strides in many areas, including communication – at least, in theory. When engaging in internet dialogue, pay attention to grammar and make sure nothing you say can be misconstrued. Humor is often misread as passive-aggression online, so if you’re trying to diffuse a stressful situation with a joke, it might be best to do it in person.

In personal exchanges, it’s also important to remain crisp and professional, even if you’re just speaking with a colleague. Don’t be too casual, and save the swearing for when you’re off the clock. On the other hand, asking colleagues about something personal, like their children, can be a courteous way to open a professional dialogue.

Recognize Stress

If an exchange with a colleague, boss, or group isn’t going as well as you anticipated, pause and gather your thoughts before you go on the defensive (or offensive). Take a couple of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth as you compose yourself. See if there’s a compromise available in light of a conflict, or simply agree to disagree. If you feel anger bubbling to the surface, excuse yourself and take a walk. Don’t engage in the heat of the moment and do untold damage.

Following these tips takes practice, and it’s a constant exercise in self-improvement. However, if you’re willing to work at it, you may find addressing groups at the office doesn’t fill you with the same anxiety it used to.


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