Verbal communication plays a vital role in effective workplace management. However, it takes skill and knowledge to engage in successful verbal communication. Because people use and understand words in different ways, the meaning you intend can sometimes fail to reach your audience. Potential consequences of this include delays or failures in work projects, as well as stress and low morale among employees.
In order for businesses to thrive and for employees to grow, strong verbal communication abilities are essential in the workplace. In this article, we’ll discuss both the importance of verbal communication and the areas of business where it’s needed most. We’ll also look into common challenges you could be facing and how to overcome them quickly and effectively.
What is verbal communication?
According to Oxford Dictionary of Media and Communication verbal communication is “human interaction through the use of words or messages in linguistic form.” By this definition, any time you use language to communicate rather than sounds, gestures, or body language, you’re engaging in verbal communication.
In the workplace, there are various types of verbal communication depending on who you’re interacting with and the method of synchronous communication you choose. The two main categories are informal and formal communication.
Examples of verbal communication:
Informal verbal communication
- Conversing with another employee at your desk
- Talking about a work matter with a colleague on your lunch break
- Discussing light, everyday topics
Formal verbal communication
- Talking to managers, stakeholders, clients, or third-party individuals
- Presenting during a scheduled meeting
In the workplace, the difference between formal and informal communication isn’t just about who you’re talking to. Setting, purpose, and preparation are also important factors.
If you’re in a scheduled meeting, that’s more formal than an impromptu meeting. And likewise, if your purpose is to announce important information that will affect multiple people at the company, that’s more formal than a relaxed discussion with a coworker about potential ways to move forward with a project.
You might assume that the most crucial information is always communicated through traditionally formal methods such as professionally written emails, but in reality, it’s not that simple. In busy work environments, you need to be ready to give out or receive essential information in any form, making verbal communication skills just as important as written communication skills.
To be a successful communicator, you need to be able to get your point across accurately and respectfully, whether you’re giving a formal presentation or casually speaking with co-workers on a Chanty channel.
The causes and impact of poor verbal communication
The term “poor communication” can refer both to an unsatisfactory amount of communication and communication of an unsatisfactory quality. We’ll focus on quality rather than quantity.
There are many potential causes of poor verbal communication, some more difficult to spot and resolve than others. Here are some common causes:
Different communication styles: This refers to the individual ways different people choose their words and deliver them. In some cases, people even have different ideas about what certain words and phrases mean, which can lead to significant misunderstandings. Tone, body language, and listening skills can also come into play here.
Unclear context: When it comes to receiving and processing new information, it can often be difficult if you’re not sure what to do with it. If someone misjudges how much you already know about a topic, they can end up skipping the context and explanations you actually need, making it hard for you to understand what’s going on.
Time pressure: Sometimes you or your colleagues won’t have time to sit down and give a full explanation of something, making it difficult for you to understand each other.
Lack of effective downward communication: If a project lacks a strong leader, it can result in poor downward communication in the form of conflicting ideas and information or vague instructions. As these get passed down through managers and their teams, the clarity of information can decrease even further.
Negative relationships with colleagues: Communicating effectively with individuals that you don’t agree with on a professional or personal level can be a struggle. You might cut corners in your explanations to finish the conversation quicker, and your audience might assume bad intent due to personal bias.
Corporate culture: Delivering bad news, making hard decisions, or implementing unpopular changes are all tasks that many people shy away from in a work setting because they can affect their reputation and their career. This can result in important information being ineffectively communicated due to indirect or vague phrasing.
Use of jargon: While using highly specialized language when you communicate with people on your team is fine, it could cause issues when used with clients or colleagues who lack knowledge of your particular field.
Ineffective communication can have a severe impact on both productivity and employee morale. When asked about the most significant impacts of poor workplace communication, 52% of people said it resulted in additional stress, and 44% said it caused delays or failures in their work, therefore, causing imposter syndrome.
The role of verbal communication in building professional relationships
Successful verbal communication requires more than just accuracy and clarity; you also have to adjust your tone and word choices to suit your audience. No one can read your mind to understand your intent; they can only guess it based on the way you talk and act. If people interpret your communication as condescending, rude, or impatient, even if this isn’t your intention, you may find it difficult to build relationships with your colleagues.
Developing a professional and respectful tone is essential to getting along well with the people you work with. The way you communicate with your colleagues may develop and change over time as you get to know them better, but it’s always best to begin with a formal approach. And keep in mind that there’s no way to make accurate judgments about a person’s communication style based on who they are, how they look, or even the hobbies listed on their company profile.
Paying attention to the needs and preferences of people you talk with frequently is also important. For example, if you continue to speak quickly with employees who speak English as their second or third language, be mindful of your talking speed. If they’ve repeatedly asked you to slow down, they’re likely to feel disrespected and ignored.
Barriers to effective verbal communication
Communication problems can arise in any area or level of a company, for a whole host of different reasons. Individual employees, leadership, technology, and infrastructure can all become barriers to effective verbal communication, and multiple barriers can exist at the same time. Here are some communication barriers you might encounter at work:
Language barriers: In 2022, 25% of US employees worked remotely and it’s becoming increasingly common to see employees from different countries working on the same teams. In the vast majority of cases, everyone will have at least one language in common, but that doesn’t mean everyone is fluent to the same degree.
Cultural barriers: People can approach work in very different ways depending on their culture. For example, phrases commonly used in a business setting in one part of the world might be confusing or considered rude in another, causing nuance to be lost and misunderstandings to occur.
Individual skill: Everyone has to communicate as a part of their job, but only a handful of people receive professional communication training or are naturally highly skilled at it. Grammar mistakes, misused words, and run-on sentences are common among native and non-native speakers alike.
Ineffective leadership: If the leader of a project has poor communication skills, this problem will only compound as managers try to pass on confusing information or incomplete ideas to their teams.
Out-of-date technology: Companies with limited methods of communication won’t be able to work to their full potential. With remote work on the rise, teams need modern collaboration and workflow tools to stay in touch and work together effectively.
Inefficient infrastructure: Organizations can often be large and complex, with projects spanning multiple teams and departments. Without good company infrastructure, different teams won’t know who’s doing what or with whom they should be communicating.
Overcoming challenges in verbal communication
It may seem overly simple, but it’s incredibly important to keep your audience in mind when communicating. What do you know about their communication style? Are you covering any topics that they might lack previous knowledge of? Are you beginning the conversation on the same page?
While there are general best practices to follow when it comes to communication, the best course of action is heavily dependent on the situation at hand and the specific people involved.
However, a great way to overcome or prevent misunderstandings is to begin your conversations by confirming the current state of affairs and assessing the extent of your audience’s knowledge on the topic you’re about to address. This may seem like extra work, but it can save you a lot of time in the long run.
Additionally, to keep discussions friendly and inclusive, it’s best to stay away from charged topics and language. This applies even if you believe no one currently present would be offended. It’s also important to make sure individuals don’t feel like they’re being targeted or ambushed during discussions, so avoid accusatory language.
Quick 6 steps to effective verbal communication in the workplace
Want to improve your verbal communication skills immediately? There are a lot of areas you can start working on right away. Below are some quick tips to help you communicate effectively:
Practice your active listening
Active listening is a crucial part of verbal communication. If you notice that you often cut people off while they’re talking or that your voice is usually heard more during a conversation than the voice of the person you’re speaking with, try to step back and give others the chance to get their point across.
When someone takes the time and effort to try and communicate with you, it’s essential for you to give them your full attention and approach their ideas with an open mind. This will contribute to both improved relationships with your colleagues and more effective teamwork.
Be aware of your body language
Bad body language habits like tapping your foot, crossing your arms, checking your watch, or looking around excessively can impede effective verbal communication. It can make the person on the other side of the conversation feel rushed, disrespected, and ignored.
Work on keeping your body language open and neutral so you don’t inadvertently give off any warning signs that make others feel uncomfortable.
Use your other soft skills
Several hard skills, like report writing and Excel play an important role in workplace communication. However, to deliver the information contained in reports and spreadsheets, especially to a lay audience, you need to use your soft skills.
A few examples of soft skills that will take your verbal communication to the next level are:
- Cultural sensitivity
Your company might provide communication training or agree to send you on a course, or you could join Toastmasters to elevate your verbal communication skills.
Choose the right communication method
There are a significant number of different verbal communication methods in the workplace. Here are just a few:
- Collaboration tools (such as Chanty)
- Video conferencing
- Face-to-face meetings
- One-on-one conversations
- Group discussions
- Pre-recorded videos
The most appropriate method for your situation can sometimes be obvious, but at other times it might not be. When you’re struggling to make a decision, there are a number of factors you can consider to help you narrow down your options.
For example, urgent or complex matters are often better handled face-to-face or over a video call. If you’re training a new hire, however, a pre-recorded video could be a useful complement to in-person conversations because they can view it multiple times.
And finally, a simple question can be sent using a business communication app. This type of software can help you cut down on inefficient meetings and communicate more concisely.
Be clear and concise
When talking to colleagues, customers, or business partners, make sure your main point is clear. If you surround it with too much fluff or irrelevant information, listeners may lose track. This is especially important if the audience isn’t prepared and aware of what the conversation will be about.
Keeping this in mind during face-to-face conversations is also essential, because the longer you talk, the more of your audience’s time you use up. It’s almost a guarantee that they have other things they need to do, so they might become impatient and lose focus.
Be mindful of your tone
Your tone should always be respectful and indicate that you’re open-minded and interested in hearing what the other party has to say. Show your audience that you’re listening to what they’re saying and giving it thought rather than making snap judgments or dismissing their ideas.
Having well-developed verbal communication skills is an asset in almost any job or industry, but mastering communication is no simple task. To be successful, you need to make sure to be clear, concise, and accurate in the information you convey, as well as open-minded, attentive, and respectful toward your audience.