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How to Improve Communication with Your Coworkers and Manager

By |June 26, 2023

How important is communication in the workplace?  

A 2022 Forbes article revealed the results of several studies that illuminated how the lack of communication in the workplace has become catastrophic. 

One study in the article found that 86 percent of employees believed lack of collaboration or ineffective communication were the sources of workplace failures. Another showed that hospitals in the United States waste $12 billion annually, which they attributed to inefficient communication among care providers.  

The problem is well-documented and applies to everyone in the workplace, including our bosses. 

Which begs the question: What’s the solution? How can you improve communication in the workplace? 

Hearing What Isn’t Being Said

Peter Drucker, renowned author and management consultant, famously said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”  

This was true when he shared it decades ago and remains true today.  

It’s also sage advice to remember when communicating in the workplace. By employing a few proven Black Swan Group techniques, you can enhance your workplace communication skills, including with your boss.

But what exactly does it mean to hear what isn’t being said?  

There are three elements to the communication process:

  1. The verbal, meaning the actual words people use.
  2. The voice, which refers to our tone, volume, pitch, and pace.
  3. The non-verbal, meaning our body language.  

To hear what’s not being said, we need to pay close attention to the speaker‘s body language. Police officers use this technique, and it is equally effective when we use it with coworkers and bosses.

Here’s an example: When talking to your boss, you notice them suddenly raise their eyebrows and make an inquisitive expression (what we refer to as an affect shift). 

As a response, you apply a Black Swan Label™: It seems like you have questions about this.

Another example: When your boss is talking to you, you notice them making incessant body movements, such as tapping their fingers, sighing, or wringing their hands. You can Label this too: It seems like this has frustrated you.  

By Labeling your observations, you demonstrate that you are attempting to understand what they are saying and aren’t saying.  

The beauty with Labels is that if you get it wrong, the urge to correct is irresistible. This urge will kick in, and the other side will correct you, giving you even more information.  

Staying Focused on the Conversation

It’s important to stay focused on the conversation. What are the emotions and issues your boss is trying to convey?  

Labeling these emotions and issues not only demonstrates you are listening with Tactical Empathy®, but also allows your boss to open up and share more.

Consider the why behind the conversation. A mantra used at the Black Swan Group is stay curious. Why did your boss ask this question? What are they truly trying to ask?  

Use the Black Swan’s Quick 2+1™, Labels, Mirrors™, and Dynamic Silence™  to find the true why behind the questions or situation. Label what you hear or mirror their last few words, then be quiet and have them respond. 

Every person has the innate desire to be heard and understood. By using the Quick 2+1, you allow them to achieve this.

Does your negotiation strategy fit their personality? Use this guide to  negotiate successfully with anyone »

Listening More and Speaking Less

The final way to improve your communication skills with your coworkers and supervisor is one of the easiest, but arguably takes the most effort. 

Listening is the most powerful tool in your toolbox. It’s also the most underutilized. Even so, it costs nothing but reaps tremendous rewards.

Stephen Covey, the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once observed: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 

Many of us are guilty of listening intermittently. We listen long enough to get the gist of knowing what our boss is saying, then make the common mistake of refocusing on our internal monologue to determine our planned response.  

By doing this, we fail to listen to what our boss is actually saying or, as pointed out, what they are not saying (i.e., their body language). Even those of us who consider ourselves to be good listeners are underperforming by up to 60 percent.

Using the previously mentioned suggestion of staying focused on the conversation—truly listening to what your boss is saying while observing their body language—and not allowing yourself to consider how you will respond will aid you in your desire to stay in the moment. 

Utilizing the Quick 2+1, applying Tactical Empathy, and truly focusing on listening intently will drastically improve communication.  

Consider what Larry King, the late television host, said: “Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Remember, stay in the moment and stay curious. Master these skills and make it rain! 

Want to continue learning? Check out our guide, Three Negotiator Types to discover how to better communicate and negotiate with different personality types.

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