Communicating effectively is arguably one of the most important skills for your success at work—and in the rest of your life. When you can articulate your point, express compassion and present your case brilliantly, you build credibility, trust, relationships and advance your career.
But unfortunately, communication can also be challenging—with too little time, too many divides between people and so many complex ideas to share. But a new study demonstrates what kinds of communication people value—and therefore how you can work best with others and reap the benefits.
Communication Has Big Impacts
Communication skills have a significant bearing on effectiveness and credibility. In fact, when leaders are perceived as communicating more effectively—with more warmth and empowerment—team members are more engaged, effective and even optimistic, according to a study by University of Bologna and Wilmar Schaufeli of Utrecht University.
And in another study by the University of Münster, people judged communication style above professional credentials in evaluating trustworthiness and credibility of content and experts.
Communication is challenging for many, however, and 59% of knowledge workers are concerned about reduced effectiveness of communication, especially as they’re working hybrid—according to a study by Grammarly. Business leaders in the study estimate their team members lose an average of 7.5 hours per week on poor communication, with 72% reporting their team has struggled with communication effectiveness.
In addition, 90% of people said poor communication has negative impacts like increased costs (45%), missed deadlines (39%), decline in brand reputation (34%) or reduced productivity (28%). And a study by Pumble showed that 86% of people believe a lack of effective communication and collaboration skills are the main causes of workplace failure—and that when teams communicate effectively, it can increase productivity as much as 25%.
But it’s possible to communicate more effectively and enjoy more rewards of communication—such as greater credibility and better relationships as well.
#1 – Be Selective
Email can get a bad rap as a timewaster, but most people prefer it. In fact, according to a study by LiveCareer, it’s at the top of the list in terms of how people want to communicate at work. These are people’s favorite forms of work communication:
- Emails, 49%
- Phone calls, 23%
- Instant messaging apps, 21%
And in a world with too many meetings, email can be a welcome alternative. In a study by mmhmm, 57% of people said a meeting could have been avoided by using an email, often or very often.
Be aware of what people prefer generally, and use email with confidence—especially when email can replace a meeting. In addition, use the rule of five with email. If an email will take longer than five minutes to read, include more than five lines or require more than five exchanges to get resolution, it may be better to pick up the phone. On the other hand, if you need to communicate a lot of detail that people will need to refer to later, email may be the perfect mode of communication.
But also consider what individuals prefer. For some, texting for work purposes is an inappropriate violation of boundaries, but for others it’s well-accepted. Or in some cases, you may miss someone with a Teams chat, but catch them easily in email. And for the salesperson who is always in their car, phone calls may work best.
#2 – Go Live
While much of work has gone remote, there is still tremendous value in live communication. According to the LiveCareer study, 83% of respondents agreed that online communication was more likely to cause misunderstandings than in-person communication. Interestingly (or frighteningly), this was especially true in healthcare where 97% believed online communication caused confusion.
And 81% of people found online communication to be more time-consuming than in-person communication. It may take longer to connect, but once you do, you’ll likely find it’s easier to resolve questions or share information in person.
The magic of face-to-face communication is of course the density of information you’re able to work through. You can share nuances of information and emotions associated with an issue and get quickly to resolution when you can include the nonverbal information that comes from live discussions. Even phone calls allow for greater exchange of information density through tones of voice, speed of speech or pauses in the conversation.
And live discussions also build relationships more effectively. When you share a roll of the eyes or a shrug, you’re trusting someone with your emotions or your uncertainty. When you lean forward, make eye contact, offer compassion or laugh together, you demonstrate your attentiveness and presence with someone.
So, show up in the office, ring someone on your video platform or pick up the phone in order to resolve issues.
#3 – Invest Time
If you’re spending time checking emails, you’re in good company. Most people (40%) spent two to three hours a day checking email. This was followed by 33% of people who spent only one or two hours.
The time people spent checking email was partly based on tenure. Those with only one or two years of work experience spent the least time checking email and those with the longest tenure spent the most time. This could be based on the email traffic they received or the positions they were in. If people expand their connections and influence over their careers, they may be in more communication or email loops, requiring their time and attention.
It’s apparently tough to clean out the email box. Despite the 69% of people who spend one to three hours sorting and deleting emails each week, only 38% have ever had the sweet taste of “inbox zero” with no emails in their queue.
Communicating effectively takes time, but it’s also worth the effort. Leaders who are present and accessible tend to be those who are trusted more. And colleagues who are responsive and good at follow through are those people tend to prefer to work with. Habits which make you more accessible and responsive reduce proximity bias and add to your credibility.
So look through emails and respond quickly to those which are easy or on which people are waiting for you in order to continue their own work. Next prioritize the emails which are important, but which will require more of your time or concentration. And cluster them so you can set blocks of time to respond when you have a focused period.
#4 – Be Responsive
The expectations for email response time have escalated, with the majority of people wanting an answer to an email within hours:
- 1–2 hours, 19%
- 3–6 hours, 39%
- 7–12 hours, 32%
- 13–23 hours, 7%
- 24 hours and more, 3%
In addition, people are frequently responding to emails outside working hours—with 84% saying they check work inboxes outside of working hours. When asked how often they check email, 49% said they check email every few hours, 20% check every hour and 24% check once per day.
Your best bet will be to check email at a rate that matches your job requirements and your style. If you’re in a role which requires more immediate follow up, obviously you’ll want to check more often. But you can also consider your own preference for boundaries.
For some people, checking more regularly actually relieves stress—getting things done and off their plates and offering satisfaction. For other people, it may work better to set containers of time during the day when you can attend to emails all at once.
You can also establish boundaries with colleagues. Be transparent about how you like to receive communication, how often you’ll check and what people can expect in terms of your follow up. Being open about your approaches to work can help both you and your co-workers be more effective—knowing what to expect from each other.
Your professional credibility is based on many factors, but follow up, follow through and great communication are at the top of the list in terms of how people will value you, learn to count on you and desire to work with you.
Set healthy boundaries for yourself, but also consider what teammates need from you to be successful. Balancing your needs and others’ needs contributes to your success, but also to your happiness and fulfillment.
Read More: Communicate Better At Work: 4 Tips To Boost Your Credibility