In person, over the phone, via email: Work in the modern era requires near-constant communication. No matter your job title or industry, the ability to be clearly understood and understand others is essential—and it’s not just what what you say, but how you say it.
Why? Clear communication not only makes work easier, it improves the quality of your output and makes what you do more enjoyable. In fact, a study on collaboration at work found that over 99 percent of employees prefer a workplace where issues are discussed truthfully and effectively, and 86 percent of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. The good news is that, like resilience, communication is a skill that anyone can learn and strengthen.
Communication can be broken into two core elements: talking and listening. There are five “golden rules” for each, as identified by Psychology Today. These simple yet impactful guidelines will help you avoid miscommunications, influence listeners, and have your message heard.
The golden rules of talking:
-Convey messages in a clear & effective manner.
-Use clear and unambiguous language.
-Use non-verbal methods of communication.
-Check your understanding.
The golden rules of listening:
-Be warm and attentive.
-Show that you’re listening.
-Be slow to pass judgement.
-Use silence appropriately.
-Check your understanding.
Will miscommunications still happen? Yes—we’re human, after all. But with some practice, you can handle common communication breakdowns with resilience, allowing you to quickly recover and move on. Here are four issues that can stress your communication at work, and how to cope:
1. The Triggering Email: We’ve all been on the receiving end of an infuriating email (or two). Perhaps you feel confused, or resentful, or angry at what’s being stated or implied. Before you can think straight, you’re firing off a response to push back and defend yourself.
TRY THIS: Don’t hit send—hit pause.
Instead of hitting send, hit pause. If you want to get out some thoughts, go ahead—but then put your response on ice for a few hours and turn your attention elsewhere. Later, go back and reread it. How would you feel if you were on the receiving end? Is your response attempting to create clarity and understanding, or is it muddying the waters and assigning blame? Don’t hit send until you can answer these questions honestly.
2. The “Read my Mind” Trap: We can’t read minds, but we can (and often) construct stories about why someone said or did something, and then we respond to that rather than what was actually said or done. Or, we assume someone else should have known what we were thinking, even if we didn’t explicitly tell them. This the root of a lot of interpersonal conflict.
We call this the Mind Reading Thinking Trap: a habitual thinking pattern that leads you to assume you know what others are thinking, and vice versa—without any communication whatsoever.
TRY THIS: Catch your assumptions in action. The next time you assume you know what’s going on, stop and get curious. How do you know what you’re thinking is true? Have you talked to that person about this specific issue?
Then, go straight to the source. Talk about what happened and why you felt a certain way, and ask for help in understanding and correcting the situation. Make it a collaboration, not an accusation.
3. The Toxic Person: You’re not going to like everyone you work with. There may even be people who are toxic and make work a lot harder than it has to be.
TRY THIS: Minimize the damage. While you may not have the option of removing this person from your team, you can find ways to cope. “You will not change the toxic person,” says Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer. “They have spent a lifetime building their personality. Better to use your energy minimizing their impact on you. Role model positivity when you’re around them. Document where their negativity is detrimental to your work. And to restore balance, for every negative interaction you have with them, seek out a five minute conversation with a positive, supportive colleague.”
4. The Tough Conversation: “No one likes difficult conversations,” says Shatté. “But if you find yourself filled with dread or unable to engage in even healthy confrontation, you may have an Iceberg Belief——a deeply-held idea about the world—such as ‘I must avoid conflict at all costs’ making them even tougher. Remind yourself that the short-term pain is better than the greater long-term pain if you let a problem fester and grow.”
TRY THIS: Engage mindfully and openly. To keep your conversation open and productive, Shatté says to start by asking open-ended questions (ones that require more than a yes or a no) such as, “What’s most frustrating for you at work right now?”
Set the stage for positivity and connection by affirming and reflecting back what the other person says. This will help you understand the values and goals of the other person and get at the heart of the issue while making them feel heard. (“You’re unfairly being asked to juggle too many tasks. Am I understanding you correctly?”). The key is to create the conditions for a productive, open dialogue to occur—because when you do that, you’ve already gotten past the toughest part.
Terri Trespicio is a New York–based lifestyle writer. For nearly a decade, she served as a senior editor and radio host at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, XOJane, Marie Claire, Prevention, MindBodyGreen, and DailyWorth. Find her on Twitter @TerriT