What is Communication?

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” – James Humes

Communication is the act of transferring information through a message from a sender to a receiver. When transferring information, the sender ‘encodes’ the message through an appropriate communication channel, and the recipient ‘decodes’ the message to understand its meaning. Ultimately, the desired goal of any communication process is shared understanding between the sender and recipient. 

Communicating even a single, clear message can be affected by a huge range of things, and misunderstandings can easily happen. This complexity is why good communication skills are considered so desirable by employers. Accurate, effective, and unambiguous communication is not always easy.

Being a good communicator means having the ability to articulate thoughts and ideas clearly in verbal, non-verbal, and written forms. This includes having public speaking or digital presentation skills, recognizing body language, and being able to express ideas to others. Effective communication defines organizational goals and helps coworkers and team members collaborate.

Categories of Communication

Verbal Communication

Among the many different ways in which we can communicate with each other, verbal communication is the most essential skill for our daily interactions. The words and intonation that we use can either help or hinder us when conveying our thoughts, ideas, emotions, and opinions to others. When our verbal communication skills are weak, the listener may not understand our message, leading to potential issues in the workplace. Before starting a conversation, consider the following tips to improve your verbal communication and reduce potential misunderstandings:

  • Be prepared with the information you intend to share
  • Carefully choose your words to match the context and recipient’s background knowledge
  • Speak clearly and at an appropriate pace
  • Check-in with the listener to ensure your message is received
Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is another important aspect of communication that closely ties into and enhances verbal communication. It is estimated that 70-80% of all communication is actually non-verbal! Some examples include body language, tone, facial expressions, and physical proximity. Non-verbal communication helps provide subtle feedback during interactions, convey information about emotions, and define the relationship between the speaker and recipient. While non-verbal communication is not as straightforward as verbal communication, there are a few nearly universal examples of how you can improve as a non-verbal communicator in the workplace:

  • Maintain regular eye-contact to help others feel heard
  • Use a positive tone of voice
  • Smile, nod your head, and display other engaged facial expressions while listening to others
  • Use positive hand gestures like waving or a thumbs-up to express friendliness
  • Express professionalism when meeting someone through a firm handshake
Written Communication

Good writing skills are important in the workplace for a variety of scenarios such as texts, emails, blogs, reports, etc. A well-written and error-free resume/CV and cover letter can also help your job applications stand out and look professional, giving you a competitive advantage. There are several essential components to effective written communication to keep in mind that will allow the reader to form a positive impression:

  • Correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • Remember your audience, and cater your language appropriately to this audience
  • Use appropriate formal or informal language depending on the medium of communication
  • For example, text or instant messages can be informal. Emails and reports should be more formal.
  • Use gender-neutral language to stay inclusive
  • Stay away from unnecessary jargon, cliches, regional colloquialisms, & buzzwords

Barriers to Communication

Despite our best efforts and preparation, attempts at communication can often fail due to certain barriers. These barriers can occur at any stage in the process of communication and may be hidden beneath the surface. The most common barriers can be categorized as follows: Language, Psychological, Physiological, Physical, Systematic, Attitudinal, & Cultural. How can we avoid or overcome these barriers? 

  • Through active listening, asking for clarification or checking for understanding, and reflecting on the conversation after it has finished.
  • Through educating ourselves on the barriers to communication
  • By learning more about our audience, and adjusting communication 

Although we couldn’t possibly cover every communication barrier here, feel free to check out our online course on Intercultural Fluency to improve your cultural understanding and intercultural communication skills.

Why Does Communication Matter?

Communication matters because people and relationships matter. Improving our communication skills can help us build stronger professional and personal relationships that are formed on a foundation of mutual understanding. Without this strong foundation, relationships can break down and have dire consequences in the workplace and at home. 

According to Weise, et al., communication is one of the most important skills that employers value in their employees, and will only become more important in the future as automation and AI disrupt the workforce:

“Advancements in machine learning and deep learning have sparked alarmist predictions of massive job obsolescence, ranging anywhere from 8 percent[1] to 47 percent[3] of the jobs in the U.S. workforce. McKinsey estimates that about half of the work currently associated with $15 trillion in wages globally will become automated.[3] Workers are going to have to prepare not only for a much longer work life, but for a more turbulent one, too. In a new learn-earn-learn cycle, workers will need to return to learning throughout their work lives. They’ll need to be flexible and agile, able to shift and grow over the course of their longer work lives. It’s also increasingly clear that the skills that cannot be easily automated—such as systems thinking, creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and communication—will be the ones needed to succeed in the future. The World Economic Forum anticipates that “[m]any formerly purely technical occupations are expected to show a new demand for creative and interpersonal skills.”[4] (Weise, et al., pg. 6).

Effective communication in the workplace is vital for positive work culture and employee productivity. In a professional environment where open communication is discouraged or not encouraged enough, it can negatively affect the profitability and success of the business. According to a study by Adu-Oppong & Agyin-Birikorang (2014), effective communication in the workplace creates job satisfaction, reduces conflicts, increases productivity, fosters a friendly work environment, produces meaningful relationships, and properly utilizes important resources (p.209).

Developing our interpersonal and non-violent communication skills can also contribute to personal growth, self-compassion, empathy, and self-awareness. Through a commitment to honesty, empathy, and self-connection while communicating, we can learn more about ourselves and others.

Communication at Netflix: A Case Study

We can learn a lot about effective communication in the workplace from various successful companies and organizations. Take Netflix, for example. Communication is one of nine values that are strongly encouraged within the company as part of their organizational culture. They emphasize four specific principles of communication that are desired in their employees:

  1. You listen well, instead of reacting fast, so you can better understand.
  2. You are concise and articulate in speech and writing.
  3. You treat people with respect, independent of their status or disagreement with you.
  4. You maintain calm poise in stressful situations.

In addition to these principles, giving and receiving feedback is essential to the company, as it builds trust and ensures exceptional performance. During this continuous feedback process, qualities such as honesty, transparency, and selflessness are highly welcomed.

The skills that cannot be easily automated—such as systems thinking, creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and communication—will be the ones needed to succeed in the future.

How to Communicate Effectively

Communication is considered effective when the message is successfully delivered and understood by the listener. To achieve this, the speaker can balance their speaking speed, tone, enunciation, volume, and content to match the specific scenario. It is important to keep in mind the seven ‘C’s of Communication’:

  1.  Clarity: Is your message clear and easy to understand?
  2. Concise: Keep your message brief and free from unnecessary filler words.
  3. Concrete: Have you supplied enough detail so your audience can understand?
  4. Correct: Are you using the correct language for the situation, and is it free from grammatical or spelling errors?
  5. Coherent: Your message should be logical and consistent.
  6. Complete: Does your message contain all the relevant information needed?
  7. Courteous: Keep a friendly and open tone, and avoid passive aggression or hidden insults.

Additionally, it helps to keep in mind potential barriers to effective communication – such as semantic or cultural barriers, organizational barriers, psychological barriers, and personal lack of communication skills.

For specific strategies on how to communicate effectively in the workplace, check out our Workplace Basics Skills course.

Sources & Additional Resources

  1. The Art of Communicating Effectively 
  2. Communication Skills 
  3. Robot-Ready: Human+ Skills For the Future of Work
  4. Business Communication Skills for Managers (Free 16-week online course)
  5. TEDx Talks: The Power of Nonverbal Communication
  6. Communication in the Workplace: Guidelines for Improving Effectiveness
  7. Nonviolent Communication Skills for Personal Development and Growth
  8. The 7 C’s of Communication