How to Effectively Communicate at Work (Even If You Hate Your Coworker's Opinion)
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The 2016 Presidential election (and current political climate) is an almost inescapable topic these days - it's likely flooding your Facebook feed and infiltrating your Sunday brunch date (keep those mimosas flowing, please!). Whether you're a fan of politics or not, there is a necessary missing element amongst all the chaos that we could all benefit from: having the ability to be able to communicate with others clearly and constructively, especially those with whom we might disagree with.
Progress is not possible unless we value others and their viewpoints respectfully.
The workplace holds a strong parallel by means of another type of politics; office politics, that is. If you're lucky, your job has introduced you to people that you have later labeled friends instead of just coworkers. However, there is more than likely to be one person (if not a handful) that you just can't seem to see eye-to-eye with (and even some you simply cannot stand). This becomes a dilemma when you have to work together on projects or collaborate otherwise.
Open, honest communication is a necessary means to bring all team members together and ensure the direction you're headed is intentional and beneficial to your business. Speaking up - a.k.a. eloquently stating or debating your opinions in a professional arena - can be a challenge.
Maybe you're comfortable voicing your opinion, and know that no matter your viewpoint, your take will be heard and respected. For many, it can be difficult to elicit open communication from their team for a number of reasons, ranging from simple shyness to the fear of retaliation/losing their jobs.
As a manager, how do you speak up while simultaneously toeing a respectful, professional line? Even more tricky: how do you inspire your team to return the favor and willingly give their feedback?
Here are some guidelines to help prevent any tongue-tied flubs and keep you on the professional fast-track.
Depending on the structure of your company or team, you may meet frequently - or not at all. The key is to find a happy medium and be respectful of everyone's time. Review current projects and timelines, and determine how often it would make sense for your team to meet; it is important and beneficial to schedule this face-to-face time. If possible, send an itemized agenda, and always leave plenty of time for open discussion. If you're dealing with an exceptionally large group, consider having smaller breakout meetings to address individual team needs.
"Team building" may elicit immediate eye rolls from some, but there is something to be said for getting to know your coworkers better. Others are unlikely to share their thoughts with those they do not know very well or deem untrustworthy. Need some suggestions to get you going? Check out this list of 32 different fun exercises. (https://wheniwork.com/blog/team-building-games/)
Use clear and concise language to communicate.
Establish some ground rules for communicating, and be sure to ask for your team's feedback on the process. Always speak calmly, clearly, and with respect to all team members. Assure them that it is a safe space to speak on any issues, but also communicate that you're available and accessible to speak privately outside of the meeting as well.
What do you want to know from your team? What do they need to know from you? If you have a specific problem or dilemma, figure out what you need to know and ask the questions/develop the process needed to obtain the feedback/resources to solve it.
Ask your coworkers what's working - and what's not.
Asking your team what really matters to them - and showing that you are invested in their success - is an important element of building trust in a professional relationship. Take an interest in your employees and acknowledge a job well done when deserved.
Stop and listen - really listen.
Be intentional in your conversations; listen with the hope to learn something new in the process. Question your assumptions and challenge others to do the same. Remain open to the idea that you may be incorrect or misinformed in a previously held thought or opinion, and ask questions to understand someone's else's viewpoint more clearly.
Ask for help, and keep the team involved.
If a process is not working, ask your team members for suggestions on how to improve. Assign positions to different people and encourage their involvement. Not only will you establish better practices, but you will also provide the opportunity for the team to work together cohesively and know that their input matters.
Rewarding feedback can simply range from "thank you" to an opportunity to collaborate on a new project with a different team. If possible, consider having other rewards as part of a larger team-building effort, whether monetary or a free day of PTO, etc. However, the simple act of acknowledging someone for their time and feedback is often reward enough.
Pulling it all together
Effective leaders encourage and practice intentional communication, where the key is to remain balanced and objective. Differing opinions can present challenges, but they are excellent opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Being proactive instead of reactive in your communication style can mean a world of difference in how workplace scenarios may play out.
You may be a rockstar at your job, but getting along with others is a pretty important requirement, too.
And, after you successfully put these tips into practice, check out this TEDTalk from Robb Willer on how to have better political conversations which translate equally as well at work.
What are your tips for opening up communication at work?