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Communicating clearly is getting harder. Here’s what you can do about it.

Communicating clearly is getting harder. Here’s what you can do about it.

Everyone thinks their communications skills are on point. It’s just that everyone else has issues explaining themselves, right? The ability to communicate clearly is not only increasingly important at work, it’s also becoming increasingly difficult. Let’s look at a couple of trends that are making it harder to get the point across, and explore what you can do about it.

Skype my Slack by Zoom Meeting, Please
Every day brings a handful of new communication apps, widgets, and plug-ins to make communicating in the workplace faster and easier. Some actually do just that, but each method of communication has its own etiquette and appropriate use. (Here’s a quick primer on four instances where you should never use email) Should you meet in person, or would a call suffice – or should it be a video conference call? Unspoken rules of use are common causes of misunderstandings and abbreviated messages – not to mention the hidden meanings of some emojis! – on new platforms are easily misinterpreted.

It’s a good idea to sit down with your team to talk candidly about what communication tools are in use now and when they are appropriately used. For instance, my previous team and I agreed that we would never assign tasks by Slack – only by email. Why? Because we found we were wasting time searching for the assignment, unable to recall on which channel it was received. So from that point on, Slack was for chatter and information inquiries only. This rule may not work for your workplace, but chances are you can cut down on crossed channels and needless searching by discussing the rules of engagement for clear communications in your office.

Nice to Meet You. Now Let’s Work.
Communication is made increasingly difficult by today’s accelerated business cycle, and the mobility of today’s workforce. Team building exercises and long lunches are where individuals get acquainted, build trust, and learn to communicate with each other effectively. They’re also the first activities on the chopping block in the name of the new pace of innovation. Quality team time is a long term investment in effective communication – especially with record low unemployment and job hopping on the rise. Can a team of total strangers create the next killer app? Maybe, but they’re far more likely to hunker down and innovate if they feel they are clearly understood by their colleagues.

Less Melting Pot, and More of a Stew
Increased workplace diversity is the source of greater productivity, elevated respect, and improved company morale. It’s also producing new communications challenges at a dizzying pace. Assuming the vast majority of common diversity issues in the workplace are addressed appropriately, our growing digital interconnectedness brings cultures together like never before. Coworkers may not share the same native language. Age differences at work can trigger ‘cliques’ that aren’t necessarily productive. Lifestyles that are finally moving into the mainstream here in the U.S. do not enjoy the same degree of acceptance around the world. These challenges can be overcome through training and providing shared experiences where teams can strengthen the intangibles of communication, trust, and respect.

Professionals who are committed to success know the value of communication, and take the time needed to know the ground rules and expectations around how to communicate effectively at work. Having a mentor is a very helpful method of addressing communication matters, because it empowers you to’‘step out’ of the context of your workplace to examine what’s working on your team and what’s not. Your mentor can also offer insight on their perceived pitfalls of communication in the digital age – and how to overcome them. Reverse mentoring is also a great resource and sounding board to fine-tune your communication skills, as you seek out those who are likely to be more savvy with new platforms and apps.

Regardless of platform, workplace, or generation, clear communication can no longer be taken for granted. New channels are like new languages (remember life before LOL?) and peril awaits those who stumble into them without understanding the rules of the road. Fortunately, solutions abound: be sure to make them a priority!

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Mark Brodbeck, MSW
mark.brodbeck@ementorconnect.com

Director of Marketing at eMentorConnect. Passionate about people intent on elevating others, and other examples of enlightened self-interest. Frank Sinatra said it best: 'It's one world, pal. We're all neighbors.'