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Communication Among Coworkers

by Julie Peters

As our lives become more hectic, we need to become more efficient in our activities. Too many professionals are wasting countless hours re-communicating and redoing tasks that were poorly communicated.

Most of us practice communicating clearly and concisely with our superiors and employees. However, few of us are in the habit of showing the same consideration to our coworkers. The following tips can be applied to all types of communication. However, the focus is on improving communication skills in situations with coworkers with whom there is no direct reporting relationship.

As much as employers might want to eliminate it, conversations at the proverbial water cooler are not going to cease. Even voice mail and e-mail have been known for expressing information not directly relating to our jobs. In business today we need to use these opportunities to our advantage.
No matter who the other party is, they have what we need — INFORMATION. Their information provides us with insight into other situations occurring in our companies. What might be considered useless chatter to some professionals, could be valuable information for the rest of us.

If you are aware of a person’s positive or negative feelings about something, you can rely on that information to either enhance future conversations or reposition yourself during awkward situations. Therefore, your congratulations to a golf-loving coworker, "Carla, I heard you ‘shot a hole in one’ in Thursday’s meeting." will be even more appreciated. Likewise, "Joe, remember when you had to leave that meeting early for your daughter’s softball game, but she had forgotten to tell you it was canceled? I felt the same way when I found out you weren’t able to attend this morning’s meeting" will help build a bridge with an associate during the bad times. Make it a goal to learn at least one thing, in each conversation, about what that person does or feels about something.

The art of persuasion becomes particularly important when you are dealing with a coworker. Suddenly your power as a boss doesn’t figure into getting someone to do their job. Instead, your efforts at encouraging coworkers to do their share may be considered presumptuous. Particularly if your teammate does not have the same expectations of the amount of time and the quality of the work that is to be done. During these times, your only viable strategy is to persuade the coworker into agreement.

To do this, you first have to respect the coworker enough to view the situation from their perspective. What is it that is motivating their performance? What other activities require their time? Do you have the same understanding of what needs to be done? Of when it needs to be done? Of how it should be done? Of how important this activity is to the company as a whole?

Some questions that are even more important: What is that person’s perspective regarding your role in this project? What is their special knowledge they’ll apply to this project? Have you communicated to them that you understand the value they bring to this project?

Once you’ve thought through these questions, you’ll want to act appropriately depending on that coworker’s perspective. Your goal is to clearly identify your expectations and needs, while asking for verification of their expectations and needs regarding this task. Then, you can reach agreement on how any discrepancies that may be identified will be resolved.

You can do this by implementing the standard sales techniques of: Relationship Building, Querying for Needs, Matching Activities to Perceived Needs, Confirming the Value of these activities and finally "Closing the Sale". In this case, closing may consist of efficiently accomplishing the tasks at hand.

Since you’ll theoretically be working with these same coworkers on various projects at the same time, you might be at different stages of this process at once. Also, to build a cooperative working relationship, its imperative that you continuously go through these steps to make sure you’re on track and that yesterday’s misunderstandings don’t interfere with today’s projects.

Naturally, this will require some planning. You are probably used to planning individual projects and large projects. But, too often, communications between coworkers are not planned at all. Problems you’ve encountered with coworkers could be attributed to poorly planned attempts that have fallen victim to poor communication.

Before each task-oriented conversation with your coworkers, plan what needs to be communicated by you, what needs to be communicated to you and how you’ll accomplish this. Notifying the other party that you’re attempting to take their viewpoint will usually put that person at ease and will encourage their cooperation. They’ll be more willing to share their goals and concerns regarding that project.

Lastly, its important to highlight each employee’s responsibility to effectively communicate. Regardless of your position within a company, its your responsibility to your employer to communicate what needs to be communicated. Its just as frustrating when a clerk doesn’t take a clear phone message, as it is when a vice president doesn’t notify her division that a policy has changed. Therefore, we need to demand each employee to ask the right questions and make sure the right information is used.

Your performance will be measured on the overall quality of your activities. Therefore, encourage your coworkers to advise you of information you’ll need to know, or of improvements you and your staff can make. Likewise, you need to take responsibility for conveying beneficial information to other people within your company.

Just as the adage, "Its not my job" has been a prime indication of an uncooperative employee, expressing that "Nobody told me that" is becoming the trademark of an employee you can’t afford to have on your team. Set the example in your organization by rewarding others that show the consideration of asking, telling, and whenever its appropriate, insisting on the correct information.


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