Think about what you did at work today: Replied to a gazillion emails? Asked your boss a question? Had a meeting with a cross-functional project team? Shared an update on that project’s progress with company leadership? Side-slacked your work bestie? Ran into the CEO in the elevator and had a 23-second chat? All of it relies on communication skills.
Learning how to effectively communicate in different workplace situations (especially the less casual ones) takes time and effort. By first identifying how a lack of communication can hold you back at work, you’ll quickly understand why you should care — and get on that ASAP.
Below we’ll go over why exactly good communication is important in the workplace, how a lack of communication could throw a wrench in your day (and career), and what you can do to improve your skills.
Communication is key — especially in the workplace, where employees need to be on the same page in order to work toward the same big-picture goals. Effective communication is a significant component of success, not only for a business as a whole, but also for individuals within the workplace.
You’ll need strong communication skills no matter what industry you work in or what job title you have — whether you’re in social media management, consulting, architecture, public safety, or otherwise. “Communication is everything,” Terry Rubin, co-founder and co-owner of The Professional Communicators, a consulting firm that focuses on workplace communication and public speaking coaching, tells The Muse. “People judge your competence, ideas, strengths, weaknesses, and your potential based on how you communicate.” Which means that if you want to do well in your current job and advance in your career, you’ll need to hone your communication skills.
Poor communication can lead to a whole host of issues at work and could ultimately impact your professional reputation. Here’s how.
Misunderstandings happen all the time — especially when communication isn’t clear. When you aren’t able to properly get your point across, coworkers or management may make their own assumptions, which can ultimately come back to haunt you when projects begin to progress.
For example, let’s say you’re leading a project at work with two of your coworkers assisting you. To save time, you’ve decided to not spend any face time with them and instead used long email chains as your primary source of communication. As your deadline looms, it turns out that your coworkers didn’t complete specific tasks as you expected them to because they didn’t understand what you meant and you didn’t give them a chance to ask questions or clarify. Now you’re behind and stressed and can feel a rift growing between you and your coworkers. On top of that, you might have to push back the scheduled presentation and explain to your manager and senior leadership why you blew the deadline. And that’s no fun.
A lack of communication skills can lead to missed advancement opportunities at work. If you don’t clearly communicate your interest in an opening for a promotion, for example, decision-makers won’t know you’d like to be considered. Or if you don't effectively express your willingness to take on more responsibilities, your interest in honing particular skills or your desire to tackle a certain type of stretch assignment, your manager won’t be able to help you make it happen. Plus, if your poor communication has resulted in missed deadlines or subpar results (as in the scenario above), you’re not making a very persuasive case for yourself to advance.
You know those sitcom episodes where two people are having a conversation but each one thinks they’re talking about something else? Hijinks ensue and everything goes off the rails until someone says the magic words and they realize they weren’t taking three consecutive seconds to just communicate, for goodness’ sake. The shenanigans cause tempers to flare and a relationship or two to suffer. Well, you don’t want your job to be like that.
According to The Muse, communication is a set of skills that includes active listening, clarity, emotional intelligence, awareness of body language, and more. You didn’t follow directions for submitting an assignment again? Your boss is going to be pissed. You totally misread the room and, not realizing how upset your teammate was, made a brusk remark that came off as dismissive (and it’s not the first time)? They’ll probably be angry with you and understandably so. You asked your teammates or direct reports to spend a whole lot of time working on a project but didn’t convey assigned tasks with clarity — like in the example above — and now you’re asking them to redo everything? They’re super annoyed.
In short, if you regularly fail to understand what your boss and coworkers tell you and ask of you — and vice versa — it’ll inevitably lead to frustration and conflict.
If your colleagues feel like you’re always unclear or even hiding things because of your poor communication, it might erode their trust in you. For example, if you as a manager know of an opening for a promotion but don't communicate it to your team, your team might not trust that you have their best interest and career development in mind — and they might go above your head to pursue opportunities for promotion in the future.
H3: 5. You may not get the support or tools you need.
People can’t read your mind. So the best chance you have to get what you need and want in your job and in your career is to ask for it. For example, if you’re struggling on a project but don't tell your manager or can’t convey what the issue is,, you may be missing out on valuable guidance and resources that could help you. This can leave you feeling stuck on a project with no way to push forward and can have long-term consequences for your performance and professional development.
If you’ve faced one or a few of the above consequences of poor communication, don’t fret. Below are three tips you can use to boost your skills:
When you’re giving a presentation, speaking at a meeting, or even having a one-on-one chat, it’s important to consider your audience and adapt your communication accordingly. For example, if you’re leading a meeting that upper-level management will be attending, you’d likely make this presentation more formal than a weekly check-in with your immediate team. You might also need to provide some context your direct coworkers would already have, but will probably want to avoid getting in the weeds about workflows.
When you lack the ability to be concise and clear, writes career coach and consultant Lea McLeod, “You jeopardize your credibility, message, and reputation.” Think about what you need to get across before proceeding to communicate it. Do you know what your message is? Are you directly stating it? Are you dragging on points that don’t necessarily need more detail? Have you given enough context on the subject? Write down the major points you need to touch on, make sure enough context is given for easy understanding, and leave out the rest. If you’re not sure whether you’ve been crystal clear, ask!