Communication skills are an important part of your career as an IT professional. Learning how to have effective communication in the workplace in this article.
Effective Communication in the Workplace
Improving your communication skills has several benefits. It gives you the confidence to speak to many different types of people – managers, co-workers, technical and non-technical people, human resources, sales and vendors.
It allows you to find out information easier and more effectively than you did before. It could also improve your outlook on your working life!
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1. Become A Good Listener
You’ve probably heard it many times before, but a big part of communication is listening. Improving your listening skills is a great tip on how to improve your communication skills.
It may be tempting to interrupt speakers or to chime in when you think you understand, but if you allow a speaker to finish speaking and then respond, it lets you absorb more of what they are saying and shows them more respect.
- Allowing the other person to finish what they have to say
- Thinking about what they are saying and what message they are trying to convey
- Considering their point when responding
2. Talk Slowly
Speaking slowly will give the impression that you’re calm and confident in what you’re saying.
I have a tendency to talk fast in some situations, usually because I’m busy or distracted.
However, on other occasions I talk slower, and I notice that when other people talk slower it gives a good impression. It also allows you to put more thought into what you’re saying, which leads on to the next point.
3. Use The Right Words
Picking the right words for the situation will help you communicate better.
There are so many people (you may know a few) that use the same words over and over in all kinds of situations, just because that’s the word they think they mean, or because it’s the common word to use.
Or if it’s business jargon. People love using that.
Determining the correct word to use while communicating with someone will help to get your message across more effectively.
4. Maintain Eye Contact
Many people don’t use eye contact when communicating. Looking people in the eye conveys confidence and also shows them that you’re concentrating on them, either when you’re listening or speaking.
Of course, don’t stare at them the whole time – look away occasionally if you need to, but have at least a 50/50 split of eye contact and non-eye-contact (is that even a word? You know what I mean!) .
5. Provide Clear Information
The key to good communication in the workplace is to explain yourself clearly. Being able to provide clear information is important. When you communicate with others, whether this is using written or verbal methods, you need to be able to get your message across in a clear and concise way. To do this:
- Don’t use overly complex words
- Think about what you’re saying before you say it
- Try to imagine what the receiver or listener is thinking when they hear your message
If you provide clear information when communicating with others, it helps to get your message across and reduce any confusion or “mixed messages” between you and your listener.
6. Be Honest
Honesty is important in the workplace. It’s important for communication in the workplace. If you’re honest with the people you’re communicating with, it will ensure the right outcomes are achieved. Being dishonest will only cause more problems in the future and you may even get found out.
It’s important to provide correct and full information when dealing with others, so they’re aware of the message you’re giving to them. If they hear something that isn’t quite true, they will make decisions and do things based on this information which, will most likely make things worse.
7. Use Verbal And Non-Verbal Methods
To effectively communicate in a workplace, you should be able to use both verbal and non-verbal methods for communication. Verbal methods involve speaking, such as face-to-face discussions, meetings and phone calls. Non-verbal methods include all other types, such as emails, text messages and documentation.
Practice using each method of communication whenever you can. It will come with experience, but you’ll realise which situations suit different types of communication.
Phone calls have more urgency, but emails are sometimes easier to explain topics and can be backed up by images and tables. It depends on the situation, of course, but if you’re proficient in many types then using them won’t be an issue!
8. Ask The Right Questions
If you’re concerned about your team member’s workload, asking them “Can you finish your task on time?” could give you a different response to a question such as “With your current workload and the state of the task, do you see any issues that would stop you from finishing your task on time?”. The second question is more direct, and even though it’s a bit longer, it’s forced the listener to consider the concerns you have.
A helpful article over at Bridging the Gap has some good questions which are focused on the business analyst role, which is a role that involves a lot of question-asking.
9. Have The Hard Conversations When You Need To
There are many conversations that people need to have but just don’t. They put them into the “too hard basket”, for a variety of reasons including too much work, not enough time, not worth the effort, or afraid of the result.
Raising any issues and discussing them in a mature manner is a great way to develop different kinds of communication skills.
10. Use Body Language
Body language is, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of communicating, especially when communicating in a workplace.
It’s underrated, it’s performed unconsciously by everyone, and once you realise what to recognise then you can use it to your advantage.
I read a book recently that covered body language secrets. It explained that everyone subconsciously performed different movements and acts with their body in different situations. I learnt what different signals were and what to look out for in different situations. It also showed me how to be aware of my own body language.
Keep an eye out for other people’s body language to see if they are getting bored, feeling defensive, feeling attentive or showing scepticism.
I’ll go into detail on this in a future post, but if you’re able to be aware of both your body language, and the body language of others, it will help out your communication skills a lot.
11. Attend Training
Finally, a good way of improving your communication skills is to attend a training session. Check if your employer offers them, or has any suggestions on training courses to attend. They may even reimburse the costs!
These training courses may go into more detail on communication methods, best practices, and things to look out for. Depending on the course, it should help out a few areas of your communication and you should learn a few things from the process.
12. Make Small Improvements
It can be quite hard to learn how to improve your communication skills in a short period of time.
When learning how to improve your communication skills, I would suggest identifying and improving one or two areas at a time.
This will allow you to focus on an area in more detail and should show greater improvement. Once you think you have improved an area of your communication, then you can move on to a different area.
For example, you might decide to improve your listening skills. Practice listening to others and letting them get their message across. Once you think you have improved this, you could move onto another area you think you’re weaker in. Before you know it, you’ll be a more capable and effective communicator!
13. Use Phone Calls For Explaining Things or Getting Quick Responses
Phone calls are a great communication method. You dial a number, the other person picks up their phone and you talk. They are, in my opinion, an underrated form of communication in the office.
The drawback of phone calls is, well, you have to know how to speak to other people. This may seem quite easy, but if you’ve worked in IT for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed some people are better at communicating than others.
Some people – maybe even yourself – may not be as comfortable or as confident speaking on the phone to other people. That’s OK – it comes with practice and confidence in what you do.
Phone calls should be used if you need to understand or explain something to someone that may take a bit of time. If something can’t be explained easily over email, then a phone call is best. If you have a question that needs to be described well, then phone calls are usually better.
Phone calls are also great for getting quick responses.
You can pick up your phone (whether it’s a desk phone, a mobile phone, or even a headset linked through your PC and network), dial the person you’re looking for, and have a response within a minute. This is much faster than other communication methods.
14. Use Email For More Permanent Communications or Notification
Email is another popular communication method in the IT workplace. Us IT people love email. We’re technical by nature and generally find that email is better suited to explaining our points or getting things done.
However, it’s prone to be overused. I constantly get emails throughout my day, and I’m sure you do as well, from people about topics and think, “This would be better suited to a phone call”. I admit, I’m probably guilty of it as well. Emails tend to be a bit of a clutter if they are overused or not used efficiently.
Emails are commonly used to discuss or explain or work something out between a group of people. It’s easy to do this by using the To and CC fields – put your names in, add the information or problems or discussion, hit Send, and wait for the responses.
However, this is where the clutter comes in. Emails get sent back and forth, sometimes without any real outcome, and can be hard to follow, and also distract people from their work. They are usually slow (at getting responses).
If you need to get responses or information from several people, other communication methods are more suitable, such as phone calls or a face-to-face meeting (if that’s possible).
There are some upsides to email communication, though. It’s good for explaining complicated topics that need supporting information, such as diagrams. It’s good for communication status reports or minutes to a group of people. It’s great for one way communication. It’s also good for confirming a previous phone call (something I was told on my very first day in IT!).
15. Use SMS Messages When You’re Out and About
SMS, or Short Message Service, is available on pretty much every mobile phone made in the last ten years.
It’s handy because it allows you to send off a quick text message to someone on your phone, wherever you are. It’s not a common communication method in the IT world, but it depends on your job as to when it’s used and how it’s used.
SMS is good for when you’re out and about. It’s good for telling people where to meet, where you are, or if you’re running late. It’s also good to send small bits of information to other people where they may be unable to receive an email or a phone call – perhaps critical information they’re waiting for.
SMS is not the best communication method for asking complicated questions or communicating with multiple people. It certainly isn’t the best way for telling your boss you’re having a sick day! But that’s a topic for another article…
16. Use Instant Messaging For Quick or Informal Communication
Many workplaces now have their own implementations of an instant messaging service for use by their employees.
Many times it’s Microsoft Lync, or Office Communicator. It’s similar to the MSN Messenger program, or ICQ, or any of those programs that were big before Facebook.
It allows you to send a message via your computer to another employee in the company. A chat window will appear on their screen, and they can respond – essentially having a conversation with you on the computer.
Depending on the program used, this has different features. Office Communicator, for example, lets you send files and chat with multiple people.
This communication method does have its drawbacks though. It can be intrusive – people can start sending you messages and you have chat windows popping up all over the place, distracting you from your work. It can be tedious – typing a conversation is usually a lot more work than speaking to someone.
There are a few benefits of instant messaging, though. One of them is, well, that it’s instant. You can send a message to someone, and they receive it instantly (if they’re at their desk). You can also get a response very quickly – similar to a phone call.
It’s also good for sending information that just can’t be done over the phone or speaking, as it’s quicker than email.
If you’re doing software testing and need to send some codes to a coworker, for example, it’s probably faster than email to open a chat window, copy and paste the codes into the window, and press Enter.
17. Use Video Calls for Group Meetings
There is an increase in companies using video technology these days. Perhaps it is the lower cost of technology, or the ability to work with people in other locations, but it does seem to be more popular.
Having a video call is similar to a voice call, but it allows you to see each other on a screen.
This communication method may seem intrusive or unnecessary, but it does have its benefits.
It’s great for engagement – you can present things to other people and help them focus on what you’re saying. You can read their body language and expressions and adjust accordingly. You can also tell if they’re actually listening!
Video calls, however, shouldn’t be overused. It can be quite personal to have a video call with someone you don’t know that well, or about something that doesn’t need a video interaction.
18. Communicate In Person As Often As You Can
Speaking in person is a great communication method. It involves two or more people being in the same location having a conversation.
It’s great because you get the attention of the person or people you’re speaking with, you can judge body language, you can write and draw things together to help the discussion, and almost always ends in an outcome for the people involved – as in, you don’t need to wait for a response as you do with email.
Communicating in person has one major drawback – you do need to be located together. This may not be possible in the IT industry today, with so many people working in different buildings, different cities and even different countries.
If it can’t be done in person, then another method must be used, but if you’re able to get to speak to someone in person, it’s recommended that you do.
Another benefit of speaking in person is it lets you find out the real information or get a real judgement about something.
It’s quite easy for people to say things on the phone or email, to play hard-ball or to avoid your requests, but if you’re able to ask them in person you may find they are more helpful. It often helps. I try not to say anything over email or the phone that I’m not willing to back up in person (just in case), but some people don’t do this.
19. Know Your Topic When Presenting
One of the most important basic presentation skills for giving presentations is to know your topic. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes when you actually know what you’re talking about. I experienced this first hand during my uni days.
For a semester at uni, I was a teacher for a design class. I did well as a student in the class, so they asked me to teach a class of about 20 students. Most weeks I reviewed the material to make sure I knew it, and I did fine (as well as a 20 year old IT student can go, anyway!). One week, however, I didn’t review the notes. I didn’t know what the topic was, and I got up in front of the class and tried to wing my way through.
The audience could tell. I could tell. I wasn’t comfortable. It all came out in my delivery of the presentation, which was horrible. From then on, I always made sure I knew about what I was presenting.
If you need to make a presentation on something, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do some research, familiarise yourself with the topic, ask some others for advice, anything you need to do. It will also make you feel more comfortable.
20. When Presenting, Find Out Your Time Frame
Someone has asked you to give a presentation on something. Perhaps it’s your first week and you need to present on what your background is, or what you’ve learnt in the first week. Or, maybe you need to talk about a project you’re working on, or how you can solve a particular problem. In any case, someone has asked you to present.
It’s a good idea to know what your time frame is to present in. By this, I mean, how long does your presentation need to be?
If you need to present for two minutes, it’s going to take a different kind of preparation than if you were to present for ten minutes, or longer.
Ask how long the presentation needs to be. This will give you an indication of a few things:
- How long you need to talk for
- How much detail you can go in to
- How much material you need to prepare
- How important the presentation is (longer presentations tend to be more important, but not always)
21. Speak Clearly When Presenting
When you actually deliver the presentation, make sure you speak clearly.
If this is your first presentation (other than speaking to students during university or college), then it can be quite daunting.
Don’t let it get to you. You might feel like you need to rush through the presentation, and find yourself speaking softer or even mumbling some of your words.
Take your time. You know the material, and the audience wants you to do well and succeed with your presentation.
Speak in a clear tone – not too soft, but not too loud. This will depend on the size of the room, but try to make sure the people at the back of the room can hear you, not just those at the front. Speaking clearly is one of those basic presentation skills that is easy to forget when you’re in the moment.
22. Don’t Speak Too Much
This is something I always did when I first started in the IT industry. I tried to get my presentation done as quickly as I could, and thought I could do it better if I added in more information and spoke about the topic more.
I thought that by explaining everything that I was doing and everything that was going on, it would make more sense to the audience.
This wasn’t the case.
I later learnt that speaking too much is just as bad as not speaking enough. It’s hard to find a balance between the two.
Try not to speak too much during your presentation. It’s almost not on the list of basic presentation skills, only because it’s something that takes a while to learn and realise, but I think it’s a good tip anyway.
It seems kind of unnatural – not speaking much during a presentation. By this, I mean that we shouldn’t be trying to explain every single detail and every little thought that occurs. Try to explain your topic as well as you need to, without going into too much unnecessary detail. The level of detail will depend on your topic and audience, but this is something to keep in mind.
23. Prepare Your Material When Presenting
If you are required to prepare some material to go along with your presentation, such as a PowerPoint file, then make sure you do this ahead of time. It makes it so much easier to present your topic if you have a slideshow running.
PowerPoint presentation files are referred to as different things in different companies. I’ve heard them referred to as slides, decks, or even packs before.
There’s a lot to know about preparing a good slideshow presentation, which I’ll go into in a future post, but some of the basic presentation skills to remember about a slideshow are:
- Don’t put too much text on the screen. It’s a visual aid, not something that needs to be read
- Don’t be too fancy with your presentation. Animations and timings are probably not needed.
- Don’t put too much information on each slide. It can be hard to see from a distance.
24. Know Your Audience
One of the basic presentation skills I was taught was that we should know our audience. The kind of people we are presenting to will have a say in the kind of presentation we deliver.
If it’s a technical team of developers or testers, then they may want to know details about how things work or system integration. If you’re presenting to a manager, they might want to know about timeframes or things that were learnt. If you’re presenting to your own team, it may be a mix of topics that your team can relate to.
Knowing your audience is a good way to improve your presentation. It will determine the words you use, the length of your presentation, what information you include and how much detail you go into. If you can, try to find out who will be there and what their background is.
25. Review Your Presentation Beforehand When Presenting
This might be a common thing to do, but reviewing your presentation before you do it is one of the basic presentation skills that we should know.
If you’re presenting a slideshow, then review that. Make sure there are no spelling and grammar mistakes. Run it in Preview mode to see that it works correctly and in full screen.
If you don’t have a slideshow, go over your subject material to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Be prepared for any questions that come up. Even if you don’t know the question, you can defer it and mention you can answer it later.
Reviewing your presentation will make sure it’s fresh in your mind, and that you’re more familiar with it, which will have a positive impact on the actual presentation that you do.
26. Look At The Audience When Presenting
Another one of the basic presentation skills that new IT professionals should know is to look at the audience. I mean, actually look at them. Look at their faces as you’re presenting. Rotate around the room, looking at each person for a small amount of time (not just the same person the whole time). This will do a few things.
It will make the person you’re looking at feel more engaged and focused on the presentation, which is what you want. It will also make you look more natural, as you’re not looking down or looking in the same spot for the whole time.
This can be hard to get used to, and it comes with practice, but making eye contact (or at least looking at someone’s face) will help improve your presentations.
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