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Playwright Charlie Kaufman once said, "Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating." Judging by the atmosphere in many business meetings and workplaces in general, it appears that many people disagree. There's truth in Kaufman's statement, however. People can avoid many misunderstandings and disagreements at work when greater awareness of communication is present, along with the desire to connect with people in an authentic and intentional manner.
One of the most important components of communication is listening. After all, it's impossible to give an intelligent response if you didn't understand what the person was saying in the first place. Pay attention to the person's body language as well as their words, and resist the urge to interrupt or plan what you are going to say next while they are speaking. Once your coworker has finished her statement, you will be able to formulate an appropriate response and will have a better understanding of the idea she is attempting to communicate.
People who use passive communication techniques at work are likely to be misunderstood, and aggressive communicators tend to put people on the defensive. Strike the right balance by learning how to communicate assertively. To do so, you'll need to care about people's feelings, but have an understanding that you aren't responsible for them if they disagree with your message. For example, instead of ignoring a colleague's bad behavior or telling him "You and your stupid racist jokes are so idiotic," you might say "I feel uncomfortable when you make jokes about ethnic groups, and I'd like you to stop." You may not be popular, but your message will be heard, and you won't be stepping out of bounds to provide it.
Not all communication is verbal. If you're giving a presentation, use handouts that are clearly numbered so that you can reference them during your talking points. If you're discussing a website with a colleague that you think would help him with a project, immediately follow-up with an e-mail with a link to that website so he can see how it works for himself. Don't use the wrong kind of visuals, though. Be aware of your body language, making sure not to inadvertently roll your eyes when you've heard a coworker state an idea you think is ridiculous, for example.
Consider Cultural Differences
If you work in a company that employs a high number of foreign-born employees, barriers to communication are going to crop up. Excessive use of jargon and idiomatic expressions can make it difficult for non-native speakers of English to understand what you are saying. Be aware of other cultural factors as well, such as physical proximity while speaking, eye contact, touching and other nonverbal communication factors that are often not considered when speaking to people of a similar cultural background.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.
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