Communication can be a tricky process. Particularly at work, where sometimes you have to work with people that you don’t know well, with no established relationship to fall back on, no way to be able to say: “That’s just the way she talks”.

To make things harder, we often work to tight deadlines, with very limited time either to listen or make your point.

Here are some things that you can do, using effective communication skills at work, to make communication easier in this kind of situation.

  1. When you something is unclear, you find yourself disagreeing or thinking: “this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about” or “how can she expect me to do this, in such a short time?”, first of all, simply stop for a couple of seconds to recognise  – and tell yourself – what’s happening: this can be illuminating. “Ahhh… I’m feeling impatient” or “I’m scared, this is something I wasn’t prepared for”. It can help us to get in touch with what’s going on inside.
  2. Most of us think that we need to answer to other peoples’ requests immediately: this can make for automatic, habitual responses, but no law obliges us to answer within 5 seconds! How to change? Here’s an idea: try to simply look at the other person, saying: “Ah…”. Take a deep breath, count to the proverbial ten, then think of how to answer. When a situation is too hard to cope with, some people say: “I’ll be with you in a minute” and find something to do for a few seconds (finish a job they were doing, go and deliver a paper, look for a document, go to the toilet). The benefit of this sort of break is to find a way to respond that is not our old, habitual one.
  3. Also, listening and reflecting back what the other person said will help the both of you make sure the message came across. This doesn’t mean parroting the other person’s words, but reflecting back your own understanding of the message, as you heard it, without blaming yourself or the other person.
  4. Finally, a good idea is to try and develop a personal relationship with your colleagues at every opportunity you have. Try greeting them cheerfully when you walk down a corridor, a thoughtful gesture (like holding the door open when you see somebody with their arms full), a laugh shared over a cup of coffee or simply a caring word when someone looks upset. We’re all human beings and the opportunities to connection enrich us and others, too.

Now let’s imagine a possible situation.

Tony, Annette’s colleague, walks into her cubicle and sets down a bunch of paper, saying:“This is a mess. You need to fix this analysis by Tuesday night”.

Annette remains speechless for an instant.

Her first reaction is, “What did I do wrong?” and she is about to say: “I don’t have the time”. Then she remembers to take a couple seconds for herself.

She recognises that she’s feeling overwhelmed and puzzled. She also realises that she needs more clarity about what Tony is asking her to do. This brief pause helps her realize that she’s blaming herself (“I always mess up these jobs”). She realises that she needs to take responsibility for the way she sees the situation.

Without her habitual tendency to blame herself, she can also see Tony’s needs. So, she decides to respond asking,“Do you disagree with something? Are you asking me to check it for accuracy with the numbers?” (Note that Annette doesn’t defend herself, but simply tries to understand Tony’s request. She doesn’t tell Tony she’s got a lot of other things to do, or that his tone of voice was unpleasant).

Her answer gives Tony a chance to clarify what he wanted. “Yes, I can’t figure out where the numbers in the graph on page 5 came from”, he answers. “Thank you for being so precise. I’ll check the figures and get back to you by this evening”, responds Annette.

By stopping to understand how she feels, Annette can answer to Tony in a way that allows her to get a precise response and understand what he requests of her.

Next time you have a difficult situation, you may want to try this and see how it works.

The Author

Shera Lyn Parpia became interested in interpersonal communication when she was at University, volunteering to an association that supported fellow students who felt lonely or depressed. Since then, as a student, mother, professional, and concerned citizen, she has continued to read, study, use and share ideas about how we can tell others what is in our hearts without blaming or judging ourselves or others.

She organizes learning groups, virtually and in person in Rome, Italy where she lives.

You can contact her at [email protected]