By Sharine Sample

We’ve all been in conversations at work where the person you’re talking to doesn’t seem to be paying attention to what you’re saying. It’s frustrating when you can tell that the other person just isn’t listening. But in all honesty… at times, we’ve probably been the one not fully paying attention to a conversation, too.

In the workplace, good two-way communication is crucial. For starters, when you don’t pay attention you risk missing valuable information needed to do your job. Perhaps more importantly, being present in conversations with your co-workers shows people that you respect them and what they have to say.

Two-way communication is most effective when both parties understand each other and the purpose of the conversation. How do you accomplish that?

  • Engage in active listening. Don’t just listen to respond. Listen to hear and understand so you can respond appropriately.
  • Give feedback or ask questions. Once others have finished speaking, ask clarifying questions or give feedback. Repeat what they said back to them to make sure you understood correctly. This will show the other person that you not only heard what they said, but that you grasped the meaning behind their words.
  • Make eye contact. Look at the person who is speaking. Don’t be distracted by looking at your phone or laptop. This can feel dismissive or disrespectful to the person speaking.
  • Don’t rush. We all get busy. But take a few minutes to focus on the conversation and what the other person has to say. If you know that you’re in a hurry, let them know upfront and ask to pick up the conversation later.

Once you’ve used the strategies above to create an overall environment for good two-way communication to take place, think about ways that you can make yourself understood. Here are a few tips to remember when communicating with your co-workers:

Be clear in your wording. Use simple, easy-to-understand words and phrases that clearly express what you’re trying to say. Give examples to further explain your meaning.

Remember, everyone thinks differently. We all have different styles of thinking and processing information. We also have different life experiences, viewpoints and opinions. Remember that your opinion or style may be different from those of a teammate – and that’s okay. Remain courteous and try your best to see the other viewpoint before respectfully interjecting your thoughts, opinions or feedback. Always be polite, kind and professional.

See yourself as others do. Before you speak, think about who is listening and how they might perceive you. You have a level of comfort with your immediate team members that you probably don’t have with others in your workplace. Be aware of how your words may travel or be taken out of context. Always strive to have a positive reputation at work. If you’re questioning whether to say something, chances are that you shouldn’t say it.

Remove the emotion. Some workplace conversations can spark emotions. Keep those emotions in check, especially when they are negative. Never raise your voice or use offensive language. You’ll get your point across more effectively by remaining cool, calm and collected. If necessary, walk away from the conversation until you’ve calmed down.

Watch for nonverbal cues.  Body language always speaks louder than words. Reading the room can tell you a lot about whether people are listening and how they’re reacting. Nonverbal cues (e.g., slouching vs. sitting up; making eye contact vs. looking away) can indicate whether your audience has tuned out, is interested in what you have to say, or even feels upset. This can let you know that it’s time for a break, or that you may need to shift the conversation in another direction.

Bottom line: too often in conversations we focus only on what we’re planning to say. However, to be an effective communicator, we should talk less and listen more. Believe it or not, you’ll have more impact on a conversation not by doing all the talking, but by being fully engaged in hearing others. Hopefully, these strategies and tips will help you become a stronger and more attentive communicator.


Sharine Sample is a Regional Workforce Development Manager at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina. Learn more about Goodwill’s employment services.

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