An Ounce of Prevention … How to Communicate in the Workplace to Reduce Drama and Dysfunction


In many of my blogs, I focus on conflict management through effective communication.

However, separate from this – and as important if not more so – is the ability to communicate in a way that reduces the need for conflict resolution in the workplace.

Poor, inconsistent or disrespectful communication is one of the most common complaints voiced by teams struggling with low morale, high turnover and significant absenteeism. This is in addition to the many interpersonal and professional conflicts that are triggered by disrespectful communication practices.

For this reason, it is important to remind ourselves – every now and then – about what it means to communicate effectively.

It’s important to note that our challenges with communication may be based on a lack of self-awareness rather than malice or intent; that is, we may not know how we are showing up for others or the impact we are having on them. Our missteps might also be habitual or reactive, stemming from stressful historical or current personal or professional circumstances.

Regardless of one’s unique and underlying reasons for communicating ineffectively, it remains ineffective and interferes in our relationships with others. Further, where that ineffective communication is also disrespectful, it may well constitute a violation of respectful workplace policies and human rights legislation.

Effective Communication by Leadership

Some aspects of effective communication are specific to those in leadership roles.  These include the following:

  1. Transparency regarding your decisions, changes and plans whenever you can – and a transparent explanation whenever you cannot;
  2. Communication of changes, updates and future opportunities to all of your team at the same time, not to your “favorite few” earlier than others;
  3. Communicating with your team, before you make critical decisions and changes that impact them, to hear and consider their views and concerns before deciding next steps;
  4. Ensuring you do not communicate about one staff member to others (it is gossip and destructive even when it is true, and it is also defamatory when it is not); and
  5. Ensuring you do not communicate one staff member’s personal, professional, familial or medical struggles (maintaining privacy is critical to respectful communication).

Effective Communication by All

Most aspects of effective communication hold true for everyone on your team, regardless of their position.

Many of these apply beyond the workplace to our relationships with family, neighbors and others in our respective communities.

To be an effective communicator, it’s important to know the following:

  1. Communication includes any way in which you choose to share information with or about others – we need to be vigilant about what we write and what we say; and we need to be as conscious about how we communicate about others in their absence as we do when communicating with them directly.
  2. Communication includes 1:1 meetings, team discussions, virtual meetings, texts, emails, social media posts, social media comments and other forms of communication. If the information is transmitted outside your head into someone else’s sphere of detection (through you or someone else), it’s communication.
  3. Where and when we communicate and what equipment we use in order to do so is irrelevant and certainly won’t be a defence to insensitive, disrespectful or divisive communication (that is, the “I was on my own laptop when I posted that offensive comment at 2:00 in the morning” won’t be a defence to an established complaint of disrespectful communication).
  4. Verbal communication includes the specific words we use and the way in which we deliver them. Delivery includes tone of voice, non-verbal body positioning, finger pointing, hand gestures and facial expressions.
  5. Effective communication includes privacy considerations and the absence of an unnecessary audience – in person or in writing.
  6. Effective communication is as much about the ability to effectively listen as it is to speak. This does not mean we have to agree with the other person – it means that we let them share their perspective and concerns without interrupting, checking out or multitasking.  It means we actually listen to them – instead of planning our rebuttal or defence.
  7. Effective communication means pausing before responding – because not everything we feel or think needs to be immediately shared, if at all.
  8. Effective communication means acknowledging someone else’s experience without having to agree with it while being genuinely prepared to apologize when we really should.

At the end of the day, each of us should ask – before we speak, respond or press send – “Is what I am about to ask or say – and the way I am about to do so – going to make the situation calmer and clearer or will it only add to the confusion, chaos and stress?” If it’s the latter – don’t do it! Head back to the drawing/speaking board – and try again.

We are humans – not software programs – so we are not programmed to communicate through code. However, as humans we have consciousness – which compels us to take responsibility for our words and actions and ensure that our contribution to the endless flow of information helps build relationships – not walls – with those around us.

I am excited to announce that on Thursday, June 10 (back by popular demand!), I will be hosting a 45-minute complimentary webinar at 10:00 am PT. This webinar will delve deeper into effective communication skills discussed in this blog. To sign up, contact us through our website.

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