What is effective communication? Definition, examples, and 13 steps to improve it
Research shows that 86% of employees and managers agree poor communication is the leading cause of workplace failure. So, they’d agree that achieving effective communication is essential in the workplace.
However, even though we spend most of our days communicating, not many of us know how to communicate effectively nor do we possess (or employ) effective communication skills.
Do you disagree? Ask yourself these questions:
- How often does your team experience communication breakdown?
- Does important information tend to get lost somewhere along the communication funnel?
- Do employees rely on the grapevine for major company news and updates?
Communication breakdown, information funneling, and grapevine communication are all signs of ineffective communication.
To help you understand the role effective communication plays in the workplace, we’ll answer the following questions:
- What is effective communication?
- What is the importance of effective communication in the workplace?
- What are the benefits of effective communication?
- What are the principles of effective communication? and
- What are the 13 steps you need to take to make communication more effective?
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Effective communication definition: What is effective communication?
Effective communication is the process of successfully exchanging information, ideas, opinions, or other types of messages between 2 or more people, resulting in mutual understanding.
In order to communicate effectively, participants should be able to understand the message being conveyed as well as the emotion, intention, and purpose behind the message.
We asked Milan Kordestani, author of the book, “I’m Just Saying: A Guide to Maintaining Civil Discourse in an Increasingly Divided World” what the definition of effective communication is.
“Effective communication is defined by individuals intentionally using conversation as a mechanism to find common ground with the person they’re speaking with.
From a certain viewpoint, effective communication can be defined as an art of balance. It involves creating a conversation characterized by:
- Accuracy, and
- Mutual understanding.
A conversation where the message is not only delivered but comprehended in the spirit it is intended. Effective communication can be viewed as the utilization of our rationality to relay and receive messages in the most virtuous way possible. A harmonious intersection of reflection, controlled tone, active listening, clear intention, and trust.”
So, aside from understanding the message, for communication to be effective, all participants also need to feel content with the outcome of the conversation. In other words, apart from reaching an understanding, they also need to reach an agreement about the communication objective.
Kordestani agrees and continues that empathy and respect are essential for effective communication:
“Effective communication requires us to harness our rationality and empathy to find common ground. It’s about nurturing an environment where different viewpoints are not just heard but respected and understood.”
What is effective communication in business?
On a broader scale, effective communication in the workplace means creating an environment of trust and understanding within the team that ensures people can communicate freely.
Leadership Communication & Conflict Resolution Skills Trainer and Executive Coach, Hanne Wulp, agrees and adds that sharing information frequently is key:
“Effective communication at work implies the creation of a strong information flow throughout the organization — employees of all layers contribute to it, and everyone feels safe and is motivated to do so.”
So, if you’re looking for effective ways of communication that you can apply in the workplace, you should start by fostering a culture of transparency where the assertive communication style is encouraged and endorsed and feedback is welcome.
The ability to communicate effectively is actually a multifaceted skill that requires continuous practice and honing — but it brings a lot of benefits.
What are the benefits of effective communication?
Effective communication is essential for any business, no matter its size, because businesses depend on the flow of information to succeed. That’s probably why effective communication is among the top rated and sought after soft skills any employee can have.
If the information flow is clogged in any way, the business will start to deteriorate — that is why we need effective communication.
- Removes confusion,
- Gives purpose,
- Creates accountability, and
- Builds positive company culture.
More specifically, the top 6 benefits of effective communication are:
- Easier and better problem-solving,
- Easier and better decision-making,
- Better business relationships,
- Increased engagement,
- Improved productivity, and
- Better team culture.
Let’s take a look at what that entails.
Benefit #1: Easier and better problem-solving
As the most in-demand soft skill, communication is a must-have on a resume according to 93% of employers. The main reason for that is that great communication skills lead to easier problem-solving.
Problem-solving is only possible if there’s:
- Team collaboration,
- Decisiveness, and
- Coordinated action.
All of these contributing factors rely on effective communication, because it’s the glue that binds everyone in the team together and enables them to work as a cohesive unit.
Effective communication is streamlined communication, which allows for:
- Quick information sharing,
- Mutual comprehension of the problem,
- Collective assessment of the problem’s impact, and
- Decision-making that takes the whole system into consideration.
In other words, when we streamline communication and allow everyone to take part in it, we’ll solve problems more easily and quickly (not to mention with greater efficiency).
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Are you interested in learning more about streamlined communication? Find a more detailed, first-hand insight here:
Benefit #2: Easier and better decision-making
Making a decision in the workplace directly depends on how much information we have.
Decision-making is a process where we’re choosing one option from a selection of alternatives, relying on our comprehensive analysis of them all. So, in order to select one option, we have to be fully aware of all alternatives.
That’s where effective communication comes in. Clarity is the pillar of good communication. As Michelle Giordano, a Community Outreach Advocate, states, clarity is also necessary for informed decision making.
“Successful decision-making is made possible only through good communication. It is only possible to make informed decisions and solve problems more effectively when information is conveyed clearly and thoroughly.”
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Decision-making is difficult enough in person but, when done remotely, it poses a whole different set of problems that teams have to overcome. That’s why we have to approach it in a specific way. To find out more about how you can make decisions in a remote team, read the following article:
Benefit #3: Better business relationships
The need for effective communication doesn’t stop within the company. Generally speaking, there are 2 different types of effective communication in the workplace:
- Internal, and
Although separate, these 2 types of business communication are interlinked — if one is effective so will the other be. Maintaining clear and transparent communication both internally and externally is vital for your success.
The success of your collaboration with third parties depends on effective communication. How you (personally and as a company) communicate with third parties will shape the reputation you have and affect how they see and interact with your business.
Benefit #4: Increased engagement
Low engagement costs companies across the world around $7.8 trillion. This doesn’t come as a surprise, given that studies show that only 21% of workers are actually engaged at work.
Employee engagement leads to better performance and higher productivity levels. But, what does that have to do with effective communication?
Well, a global survey on employee voice has shown that 92% of highly engaged employees also feel heard.
In other words, they feel as if their opinions and contributions matter. In comparison, only 30% of disengaged workers feel heard in the workplace, which implies a strong relationship between effective communication in the workplace and employee engagement.
Benefit #5: Improved productivity
According to the same study, when they feel heard, 74% of employees are more effective at their job. Not to mention, 71% of them feel encouraged or at least confident enough to share ideas, thoughts, potential solutions, and feedback.
Therefore, implementing effective communication can lead to improved productivity.
Some older studies, like the McKinsey report, suggest that when companies employ social technologies to improve their internal communication, they can raise employee productivity by 20–25%.
More recent data shows that 72% of managers and business leaders believe that their teams are more productive due to effective communication.
Benefit #6: Better team culture
Kordestani highlights just how effective communication is for team culture and states:
“By reducing misunderstandings, [effective communication] encourages a more harmonious work environment, thereby increasing job satisfaction. It is essentially a foundational element for a successful and vibrant workplace culture.”
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Fostering and maintaining a positive work environment and a positive team culture isn’t easy but it’s vital for team success. Read more about it here:
How to make communication effective?
Clearly, effective communication is vital for performance, both on individual and on team level.
To achieve all the benefits effective communication brings, you need to not only understand the essentials of effective communication but also improve your communication skills.
Here are the 13 steps you can follow to ensure you do precisely that.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Just like anything else in life, you can learn to be a good communicator. To find out more about individual elements of effective communication you need to work on in order to become a stellar communicator, read the article below:
Step #1: Follow the 7 Cs of communication
The first step towards effective communication is to follow the 7 Cs of communication.
These 7 Cs of communication are the most important characteristics of effective communication. They include:
- Concreteness, and
Substep #1: Be clear in communication
To avoid misunderstandings, you need to be clear when communicating. Clear communication implies the communicator highlights a specific piece of information only.
A clear communicator focuses on pursuing a specific goal and delivering a specific message.
Here’s a quick look at how the same information can be relayed clearly and unclearly:
“Did you finish those reports that I asked for last Tuesday?” ✅
“Yoooo, what’s up? So, check this — Mandy asked me when the reports we talked about last week will be done. I was like “Can you chill girl? They’ll be ready soonish!” Man, she’s so uptight, right?” ❌
In the first example, we can see that the question is formed in a clear and direct way. The recipient is immediately aware of what they are being asked so there are no risks of misinterpretation.
In the second example, we see that the person who sent the message chose a roundabout way of asking for information. The passive-aggressive approach paired with overuse of jargon makes this an example of unclear communication.
Being clear in communication helps:
- Make understanding easier and faster, and
- Enhance the meaning of a message.
To communicate clearly, you’ll need to:
- Lead with your main idea,
- Ensure your idea makes sense,
- Minimize the number of ideas per sentence,
- Be specific and detail-oriented,
- Avoid jargon, slang, and absolute language,
- Speak in short, direct sentences, and
- Ensure the other person understands you (and vice versa).
Substep #2: Be coherent in communication
Coherent communication flows smoothly, which means it’s consistent and logical.
A coherent communicator connects all points discussed and ensures they all are relevant to the main topic. Being coherent in communication helps:
- Give credibility to your ideas, and
- Avoid confusion, dissatisfaction, and exhaustion in the listeners/readers.
To communicate coherently, you’ll need to:
- Organize and present your ideas in a logical order, and
- Connect your ideas through the use of transitional words and phrases (e.g. “as a result”, “so far”, “furthermore”, “in contrast”, “for example”, etc.).
Let’s take a look at an example of coherent communication. Take a look at the picture below. There, we see a conversation between 2 coworkers, where one is asking for help with a specific process and the other gives detailed, logical instructions.
In the example above, we see the consistency in Nina’s communication. She goes of the process in question with her coworker and then says:
“The correct order is: homepage ▶️ date page ▶️ barcode page ▶️ collection page, and then you move on to the next screen.”
But, what would happen if Nina didn’t employ the principles of coherent communication? Then, her initial reply might have looked something like this:
“You need to mark a collection for every product. Go to the date page and go from there. The barcode page pops up when you click where you’re supposed to.”
This example clearly shows that, while Nina is explaining the process, she’s not doing it in a consistent way and there’s very little chance her coworker can follow it.
Substep #3: Be confident when communicating
In communication, confidence helps you convey what you want in an efficient manner. A confident communicator gives extra credibility to their words by stating thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and opinions assertively.
One Indeed survey shows 98% of workers say they perform better when they feel confident.
However, at the same time, a 2023 study done by The University of Law indicates that 97% of adults aged 24 to 35 say that they are scared their coworkers will judge them for their communication style, which is why they often end up overapologizing.
The basis of this strategy lies in the fact that humans tend to treat the constructs with which they engage on a daily basis as facts rather than what they are (social constructs that depend on the context of a situation).
For example, we might have a preconceived notion that there are specific ways how confident people act and are perceived in our society. We also might take it as a fact that confident people are naturally confident in all situations in life (even though that couldn’t possibly be true — it’s just a social construct we have). So, if we don’t act confident all the time in all situations, we’ll see ourselves as “not confident.”
The “As if” strategy urges people to act as if they are already who they want to be — in this case, that would be a confident person.
Being confident in communication helps:
- People appear more assertive,
- Give more credibility to the information presented, and
- The information presented seems more professional.
To appear confident while communicating, you’ll need to:
- Maintain a clear and stable voice volume,
- Maintain eye contact,
- Be honest,
- Listen to others attentively,
- Look for compromises about points discussed,
- Express gratitude when appropriate,
- Offer apologies when you’re wrong, and
- Positively acknowledge the contribution of others.
Substep #4: Be correct when communicating
Correct communication implies there are no errors in communication, which gives credibility to your words. People listening to what you are saying or reading your messages are likely to form a subconscious connection between your usage of grammar and the value of your words.
A correct communicator shows their respect to fellow communicators by ensuring grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary are up to par.
Being correct in communication helps:
- Improve the impact of the message,
- Enhance professionalism,
- Enhance comprehension, and
- Avoid misunderstandings and confusion.
To communicate correctly, you’ll need to:
- Think about what you want to say before you say it,
- Proofread written communication with care, and
- Consult grammar manuals or online grammar checkers.
Let’s take a look at an example of correct and incorrect communication.
“Hi, Joan! Can you please send me all the documentation you have for the Perkins case? Thank you!”
We see the sender used full sentences as well as proper grammar and punctuation. Here’s an example of that same message, but done in an incorrect way:
“Hiyaaa Joan pls sned me all docs for the P case tnx”
Even though this second example conveys the same message as the first one, the lack of punctuation and various typos make this message unprofessional and even incoherent at times.
Substep #5: Be concise when communicating
Concise communication implies the information is communicated in the fewest words possible. A concise communicator sticks to the point and keeps things brief.
Being concise in communication helps:
- Save time and money,
- Underline your main points better, and
- Make the message more comprehensible to listeners/readers.
To communicate concisely, you’ll need to:
- Avoid getting distracted by additional issues,
- Stick to the topic at hand, and
- Give only a reasonable amount of information at a time.
Conciseness is especially important in written communication. When communicating your thoughts in written form, you should:
- Use active voice (rather than passive),
- Avoid overused, vague phrases (e.g. “bad”, “good”, “know”, “very”, etc.), and
- Remove redundant qualifiers (e.g. “quite”, “rather”, “really”, etc.).
For example, if we wanted to be concise while asking for something, we’d say:
“We need to do a 15-second ad that highlights the newest feature. It needs to be done by the 13th.”
An example of unconcise communication, on the other hand, would look something like this:
“It would be great if we could potentially pop out a short ad because we recently released a new feature and we really, really need to showcase that to our audience. It would be quite ideal to have it nicely tied up and done by the middle of the month.”
Substep #6: Be concrete when communicating
Concrete communication implies the information is presented in a specific, definite, but also vivid manner.
A concrete communicator provides a clear picture of what they want to convey.
Being concrete in communication helps:
- Strengthen the confidence in your words,
- Maintain the audience’s interest,
- Avoid misinterpretations, and
- Speed up the course of action.
To communicate concretely, you’ll need to:
- Support your ideas with facts and figures,
- Use clear, unambiguous words and phrases,
- Use precise modifiers,
- Avoid generalizations, and
- Provide detailed steps for actions you want to be undertaken.
Substep #7: Be courteous when communicating
The final C of communication is courtesy. Courteous communication implies the information is delivered with respect. A courteous communicator is open, friendly, and honest.
Respect is vital in the workplace. As reported in one Accountemps survey, as many as 85% of respondents believe being courteous to coworkers has an impact on one’s career prospects.
Aside from helping your career prospects, being courteous in communication also helps:
- Build and maintain a good rapport among teammates,
- People feel heard, acknowledged, and appreciated, and
- Build a more loyal and productive team.
To communicate courteously, you’ll need to:
- Be positive, polite, and sensible,
- Be enthusiastic and reflective,
- Consider the viewpoints of others,
- Focus the message on the audience, and
- Show respect to fellow communicators.
Step #2: Establish trust among teammates
To build effective communication in a team, you’ll need to build trust in that team. But it’s important to note that this is a two-way street or, better said, a form of the chicken-egg conundrum — teams who trust each other communicate more (and better), while better communication leads to more trust.
This intricate connection didn’t escape Giordano, who states that establishing trust is one of the key benefits of effective communication:
“Establishing mutual understanding entails not only communicating the message but also actively listening and providing feedback. [Through effective communication] people can:
- Effectively transmit their ideas,
- Settle disputes,
- Form close bonds with others, and
- Promote a sense of trust and connection.”
Teams who communicate more have a better chance of:
- Solving issues faster,
- Making decisions easier,
- Avoiding conflicts, and
- Exploring their creativity.
According to Paul J. Zak, the author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, and his article The Neuroscience of Trust, people working in high-trust companies report the following benefits:
- 106% more energy at work,
- 76% more engagement,
- 74% less stress,
- 50% higher productivity,
- 40% less burnout and better work-life balance,
- 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and
- 13% fewer sick days.
But, how do we establish trust in teams?
Substep #1: Be transparent
In the previously mentioned study, Zak found that sharing information broadly and maintaining ongoing, transparent communication lowers uncertainty and improves teamwork. It also improves workplace engagement.
Maintaining transparent two-way communication is a tall order but you can do it by:
- Being accountable for your responsibilities,
- Providing and accepting feedback on a regular basis, and
- Asking for task/project expectations upfront.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Providing and asking for feedback are staples of transparent communication. If you’re unsure how to properly ask your manager for feedback, check out the advice in the article below:
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that sometimes feedforward is more important than feedback. To learn the difference between the two and the reasons you should consider switching to feedforward, check out this blog post:
Substep #2: Be respectful
One of the pillars of trust is respectful communication — being treated politely or properly recognized for accomplishments and behaviors.
According to a paper The Effect of Respect: Respectful Communication at Work Drives Resiliency, Engagement, and Job Satisfaction among Early Career Employees, there are 2 key facets of workplace respect:
- Respectful engagement, and
- Autonomous respect.
The former has to do with the relationship a person has with their team members. If they are interpersonally accepted and valued as an individual, they’ll feel like a respected member of the team.
The latter has to do with the freedom a person has to work in a way that fits them. This freedom that stems from leadership’s trust in them, makes workers feel respected.
Overall, respect in the workplace leads to better engagement and cooperation. Employees who feel respected are more likely to be collaborative because they are willing to take into consideration not just their professional development but also the bigger vision of the company’s future. What’s more, they are more likely to include others in those shared visions.
Respect is important for fostering trust that leads to effective workplace communication. You can achieve it by:
- Respecting your teammates’ time,
- Respecting your teammates’ ideas, even when they don’t align with your knowledge, experience, or expectations, and
- Respecting your teammates’ opinions, even when they are different from your own.
Substep #3: Be united
Being united is more than just working with other people. Unity is about collaborating in a team. That includes working as a cohesive unit. The pillars of unitedness are:
- Not shunning members of the team,
- Avoiding negative communication altogether,
- Helping when asked, and
- Always asking for help when you need it.
Substep #4: Value teammates
Valuing your teammates builds a sense of community, which leads to better employee retention and better overall job satisfaction.
To show your coworkers and employees you value them, you can try:
- Learning more about their likes, dislikes, and preferred workflows, and
- Providing praise when and where due.
Substep #5: Actively build team trust
Trust is something that occurs naturally and organically. We can’t force it.
However, we can help it along by practicing appropriate trust-building activities, such as:
- Blind square — a trust-building game where a blindfolded group of people needs to form a rope into a square by collaborating as a team,
- Back-to-back drawing — a trust-building game where two people sit back-to-back and provide each other with instructions on how to draw abstract shapes they’re tasked with,
- Night trail — a trust-building game where a group of blindfolded people holds on to a rope and needs to navigate an obstacle course together, and
- Minefield — a trust-building game where the first teammate is blindfolded, while the second teammate needs to verbally navigate the first teammate across an open space filled with obstacles.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
For more ideas on trust-bonding activities, check out the following 2 articles:
Step #3: Manage communication barriers
Anything that comes in the way of communication — a misunderstanding, a problem, or an obstacle — is a barrier.
Communication barriers come in various forms — we typically recognize:
- Gender, and
- Interpersonal barriers to effective communication.
To manage communication barriers, you’ll need to:
- Identify the communication barriers you are facing — once you do, it will be easier to tackle them.
- Learn about different cultural norms and customs as well as cultural differences in terms of verbal and nonverbal language use — once you do, you’ll decrease the chances of misunderstandings and confusion.
- Identify your assumptions, stereotypes, biases, and prejudices — once you do, you’ll be able to work on overcoming them.
- Pick an appropriate official team language — in case the members of the team have different mother tongues.
Communication barriers manifest in different ways, so there’s no one perfect way to manage all of them. Let’s take a look at how you can overcome each of these barriers.
Substep #1: Manage physical barriers to communication
Physical barriers represent the environmental conditions that disrupt the communication process.
They may manifest as physically separate offices of distributed teams that make it difficult for people to interact when they want to.
One of the best ways to manage physical barriers in communication is to adopt asynchronous communication.
However, that’s not an option for every team, which is why you can also consider utilizing team communication apps that will make it easier for all team members to reach each other at any given time.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Physical barriers don’t have to stand in the way of your remote team feeling connected. Here’s how to help them communicate with more ease:
Substep #2: Manage perceptual barriers to communication
Perceptual barriers represent people’s perceptions that stop them from properly assessing a:
- Topic, or
- Piece of information.
They may manifest as skewed perceptions about someone’s knowledge or experience. To manage perceptual barriers, you should:
- Don’t judge people solely based on their body language — hear out what they are saying first,
- Identify any potential barriers you may have,
- Try to get a clear understanding of the person you’re talking to,
- Try to have a more flexible and creative approach to conversations, and
- Try to step into the other person’s shoes for a moment.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Some perceptual barriers are usually the result of unconscious biases. To find out more about them (and how to overcome them), check out this post:
Substep #3: Manage emotional barriers to communication
Emotional barriers represent the emotions that obstruct effective communication. These are the emotions you feel when talking with your teammates that might hold you back and hinder your ability to have a constructive conversation.
They may manifest as conflicts caused by:
- Anxiety, or
To manage emotional barriers, you should:
- Remove yourself from the situation (if possible),
- Calm yourself,
- Consider why you feel the way that you do, and
- Work on accepting that your point of view might not be the perfect or ideal one.
Substep #4: Manage cultural barriers to communication
Cultural barriers represent culture-based differences between communicators that trigger misinterpretations of other people’s messages.
They may manifest as misunderstandings caused by culture-based norms and customs.
Working on overcoming cultural barriers, such as stereotypes and status-based self-importance, among team members is an excellent way to improve team communication.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Want to know more about conquering cross-cultural barriers in the workplace? Read this article:
Substep #5: Manage language barriers to communication
Language barriers represent words, phrases, pronunciation, and grammar whose use can confuse the people we are communicating with.
More often than not, people think that language can contribute to miscommunication only in cases where people who are conversing don’t speak the same language.
However, even with people who share a native language, there might be barriers to communication in the form of overusing of jargon and slang.
Not to mention, different levels of literacy and linguistic ability as well as something as simple as word choice can also lead to a breakdown in communication.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Check out this guide on the ABCs of business communication:
Substep #6: Manage gender barriers to communication
Gender biases represent stereotypes, prejudices, and biases that influence how we view and communicate with people of different genders.
They may manifest as gender-based misconceptions about someone’s communication habits.
Dealing with gender barriers to communication includes:
- Educating all team members,
- Encouraging diversity in the team, and
- Including the HR team in handling potential issues.
Substep #7: Manage interpersonal barriers to communication
Interpersonal barriers represent interpersonal difficulties that stop people from reaching their full potential in terms of communication skills.
They may manifest as someone’s lack of a desire to participate in conversations or a lack of open-mindedness.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
For a more in-depth view of communication barriers, read the following article:
Step #4: Learn how to manage nonverbal communication
According to the often-quoted, popular piece of statistics, 93% of communication is nonverbal — but, this number has also been heavily disputed by experts and proven to be a misinterpreted version of the findings from the original study by Albert Mehrabian, a famous psychologist.
Still, nonverbal communication is an important element of many communication processes. But it’s a form of communication we often overlook because it’s not dominant.
Nonverbal communication usually accompanies in-person verbal communication. To underline our words, we use:
- Facial expressions,
- Gestures, and
- Body movements.
However, not all body language communication is conscious. Sometimes we use it to communicate messages we do not wish to convey.
What’s more, our facial expressions, gestures, and body movements may also be unintentionally misleading — or simply misinterpreted by others.
That’s why nonverbal communication can often become a barrier to effective communication.
For example, our body language can become a perceptual barrier — our raised eyebrows can get in the way of what we’re trying to communicate with our words. Furthermore, nonverbal communication can often be a cultural barrier as well. The person we are communicating with can interpret our nonverbal language in accordance with their own cultural norms, which do not align with what we are trying to convey.
Proper nonverbal communication is an important step toward effective team communication — and you’ll need to make the effort to properly convey and interpret nonverbal language.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Nonverbal communication isn’t something that only office workers have to worry about. Your body language plays a part in how you’re perceived even if you’re a remote worker. For example, how you conduct yourself during virtual meetings is just as important as how you do it during in-person conversations. To learn more about improving your body language during virtual meetings, read the article below.
Substep #1: Use nonverbal communication to your advantage:
One of the biggest misconceptions about nonverbal language is that it’s universal. For example, most Westerners believe that offering your coworkers a firm handshake is a sign of confidence. However, in many Eastern cultures, a firm handshake can come off as aggressive.
Still, there are some nonverbal cues that are almost universally understood. You can use those to your advantage and become a better effective communicator.
Here are some examples of how you can do that:
- Read the room and act accordingly — don’t smile when the message is serious or frown when engaging in casual chats with colleagues.
- Maintain frequent eye contact with the people you are communicating with.
- Don’t fold your arms — you’ll avoid looking defensive.
- Adjust your voice to a pleasant and comfortable volume.
- Avoid too much gesticulation — you’ll lessen the chances that you’ll convey something you don’t want.
Substep #2: Learn how to “read” the nonverbal messages of your fellow communicators
Our ability to properly decode nonverbal language is one of the pillars of nonverbal communication literacy. Although research suggests that decoding nonverbal messages will often be poor without the context provided in verbal communication, you can still utilize the body language of your fellow communicators to ensure your communication is as effective as possible.
Of course, make sure you listen to what your fellow communicators say first.
Substep #3: Educate yourself about the nonverbal norms of your teammates’ cultures
If you’re a manager, organize cross-cultural training about the matter.
If you’re an employee, make the individual initiative to learn about the nonverbal language use of other cultures represented in your team.
Step #5: Learn how to express yourself in communication
Learning how to express yourself in communication is one of the most important steps toward effective communication.
After all, to be able to properly communicate, you’ll need to be able to express your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and beliefs properly.
Substep #1: Decide what you want to say first
When participating in a conversation at work, it’s important that you don’t give out rash responses. Instead, decide what you want to say first by:
- Taking a pause — this will give you enough time to compose yourself,
- Formulating ideas and opinions in your mind before articulating them,
- Assessing both the context and content of what you’re trying to say, and
- Being mindful of who you’re talking to and about what, as well as the impact of your words.
Substep #2: Do not generalize your points
Instead, enrich them with the right amount of details, facts, and figures; use examples and visuals to illustrate your thoughts and ideas.
Substep #3: Be assertive
Being assertive means saying and doing what you want in a clear and respectful manner, while valuing your thoughts, needs, and feelings, alongside the thoughts, needs, and feelings of fellow communicators. The fundamental features of assertive communication are:
- Recognize your values — don’t just attribute your failures to internal flaws and your successes to luck; be objective about your contributions instead.
- Know your rights — aim to understand your entitlements and benefits in the workplace; then, insist on them.
- Manage your boundaries — aim to understand and respect your boundaries, to better manage stress and expectations.
- Before being assertive, practice being assertive — think about what you want to say in a given situation, and practice how you’ll say it.
- Speak up — during meetings, brainstorming sessions, or anytime when it’s appropriate to speak up and you have something important to say, do so.
- Aim to stay on topic during arguments — start small and make it your goal to get to the point as quickly as you can; use details, facts, examples, and visuals that add, rather than distract from your gist.
- Communicate at the right time — if you have a question at a meeting, ask it right away; if you know your colleagues will be busy at a certain time, ask them when they will be able to talk with you.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
If you’re interested in learning more about different styles of communication in the workplace, check out our guide on the subject:
Step #6: Learn how to actively listen to others
Listening to the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of others with real interest is equally important for effective communication as contributing is.
Sadly, according to Psychology Today, we’re much worse listeners than we think — as many as 96% of people think they are great listeners, when in reality, we tend to retain only 50% of what is said right after it’s said. The percentage further shrinks with time.
In the book he co-wrote with Leonard A. Stevens, Are you Listening?, Ralph G. Nichols, a retired professor at the University of Missouri, says that the ability to give speakers our full attention drops as we age:
“If we define the good listener as one giving full attention to the speaker, first-grade children are the best listeners of all.”
Substep #1: Understand why active listening is important
We spoke to Marilyn Shannon, author of the book Quick Listening: The New Paradigm for Business and Personal Excellence about just how vital active listening is in professional surroundings.
“In the workplace, choosing to listen bridges the gap between how we demonstrate our vulnerabilities and our strengths. This then creates greater opportunities for open, genuine, and honest communication and relationships. Regardless of distance, listening creates successful business networks because it combines three key characteristics:
- Professional strategies and processes,
- The attributes of social networking, and
- The human touch.
These three factors establish sustainable and authentic relationships between associates, potential clients, and customers globally.”
She continues that listening is the only way for businesses to overcome some of their biggest stumbling blocks.
“We have to put together all of the elements of who we are so we can be successful in the business arena. We must combine the human and the business elements to be our best business selves. In business today, it is more than alright to share who you are as a person and still maintain a professional relationship. Being vulnerable can act as a great asset toward developing business relationships. Listening supports the human connection and becomes the bridge between people regardless of ability and regional, racial, religious, or sexual differences.”
So clearly, listening is essential for effective communication and success in business. But, how can we manage to actively listen?
Substep #2: Avoid bad listening habits
As mentioned, even when we’re aware of how important active listening is, we still fail to do it. Nichols cited the 10 worst listening habits of people in America — according to these habits, people fail to listen because they:
- Find the topic discussed uninteresting,
- Find faults in the speaker (e.g. a lacking delivery or appearance),
- Focus on a particular argument made by the speaker and then try to find counterarguments to it,
- Focus more on facts, than the underlying idea,
- Try to outline everything said — so they miss the gist,
- Fake attention while their minds wander off,
- Fall prey to distractions (e.g. distractions they create or tolerate),
- Focus on information that is easy to understand, and avoid the more difficult concepts,
- Let emotional words distract them, and
- Waste the difference between thought speed and the speed at which people speak — i.e., “thought power”.
Substep #3: Employ the 3 A’s of active listening
To avoid becoming the victim of one of the bad listening habits, we can employ the 3 A’s of active listening:
- Attitude — having a positive attitude and being open-minded makes us more receptive to what people have to say.
- Attention — paying full attention to both verbal and nonverbal communication of people we communicate with makes us understand their entire message.
- Adjustment — following what is being said to us without making assumptions and adjusting our response according to that improves the effectiveness of the communication.
Although these 3 A’s of active communication are useful, they are also all-encompassing. So, here are a few more specific tips on how to actively listen to others:
- Be open to new information — enter each dialogue with the intention of learning something new.
- Be patient when listening to other people — don’t interrupt them just because you think you have something important to say.
- Be neutral and nonjudgmental when replying — don’t actively look for problems in other people’s ideas, beliefs, and opinions.
- Provide the right nonverbal feedback while listening — for example, smile, maintain eye contact, and nod.
- Ask the right questions at the right time — both open-ended and close-ended Yes/No questions.
- Encourage the speaker with select phrases and positive feedback — for example, “Tell me more about…”, “And this would work because…”, etc.
- Reflect on what was said and summarize the speaker’s main points — this way, you’ll ensure you understand what is said.
- Ask for clarifications when needed — to increase the amount of information you understand.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
To find out more about active listening, check out this article:
However, also keep in mind that active listening is just one part of active communication. Learn more about it here:
Step #7: Avoid assumptions
As mentioned, not making assumptions is one of the key aspects of active listening and, thus, effective communication. That’s because assumptions can quickly lead communication to the point of breakdown.
Assuming we have greater knowledge or experience or that others agree or disagree with us can lead to misunderstandings and even conflicts.
Substep #1: Assess your current beliefs
Think about the following — are you basing your assumptions on past experiences/knowledge, a personal opinion, or merely a gut feeling?
Basing your assumptions on past experience/knowledge may be rooted in reality, but basing them on a personal opinion or gut feeling fails to provide you with the credibility you need.
Substep #2: Ask the right questions
Ask for extra detail about the opinions and ideas you suspect are faulty — perhaps the answers will give you the full picture you’re currently missing.
Substep #3: View the matter from different perspectives
Ask people for their interpretations of a controversial opinion or idea — perhaps they will be able to provide you with a better overview of the points you find controversial, and even encourage you to change your mind.
Substep #4: Be specific
While arranging meeting points or making decisions, be clear on the where, when, who, and how. This will ensure that there are no misunderstandings between you and other team members. What’s more, it will prevent others from making assumptions.
Step #8: Actively work on resolving conflicts
Conflicts in the workplace are seemingly inevitable.
Back in 2008, a report titled Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive stated that 29% of employees report that conflicts are a regular occurrence for them.
If you’re wondering whether things have gotten better since then — they haven’t. The follow-up 2022 report shows that number has gone up to 36%.
Other interesting insights that the study had to offer were that:
- The #1 cause of conflict at work was poor communication,
- 25% of people consider their managers didn’t or don’t know how to handle conflict properly, and
- The more time someone spends dealing with conflict at work, the less they are satisfied with their job.
Job satisfaction is vital for employee retention and business success. Therefore, avoiding, diminishing, or resolving conflicts seems like the smart thing to do.
To resolve conflicts effectively, you’ll need to:
- Talk with the other person — make sure it is at a convenient time and place.
- Identify and summarize the points you agree and disagree on — this tactic is a great starting point.
- Focus negative feedback on behavior or events — rather than on someone’s personality.
- Listen to what the other person has to say — rather than think about your counterarguments.
- If you disagree on certain points, talk them through — until you reach a compromise.
- Focus on a priority area of conflict first — to ensure most of your time and energy are spent solving them before you move on to matters of lesser priority.
- Manage all questions — ask everything you want to know and make yourself available for questions.
- Maintain a collaborative attitude throughout the discussion — this will stop the conflict from escalating further.
- Plan for the future — arrange additional meetings about the controversial points, if necessary.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
If you’re not sure what phrases to use to diffuse conflict in the workplace, we got you covered:
Step #9: Manage communication channels effectively
In a business environment, a communication channel represents the means through which people communicate with each other.
- Hardware solutions — such as mobile phones or fax machines, and
- Software solutions — such as team communication apps or project management tools.
Software solutions are a crucial element in the work lives of remote and hybrid teams who cannot communicate in real-time and/or in-person due to time and/or distance constraints (e.g. different time zones and/or continents).
In line with that, a vital step toward effective communication is learning how to manage communication channels.
To manage communication channels effectively, you’ll need to:
- Think about your workflow,
- Pick a communication channel, and
- Learn and train your team how to use it.
Substep #1: Think about your workflows
Before you make a decision, you need to consider your workflow. What type of communication channels would suit you the best? To answer that question, consider the following:
- Traditional channels of communication, such as phones, are great for obtaining instant feedback.
- Internal versions of certain public systems, such as internal podcasts, are great for culture building.
- Specialized channels of communication, such as project management tools, are great for communicating project details.
- All-encompassing solutions, such as team collaboration software, are great for instant messaging and topical discussions.
Substep #2: Pick a communication channel
In order to further narrow down your choices, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your messages mostly formal or informal?
- Do most of your information need to be easy to reference?
- Is most of your information confidential or sensitive?
- Is most of your information time-sensitive or urgent?
- Is most of your information general or specific?
- Do you tend to communicate with a group or individuals?
- Are the individuals and groups you communicate with your peers? Or are they at a higher hierarchy level than you?
- Does your communication tend to require a quick response?
- When does communication usually happen? (e.g. one-on-one meetings, team meetings, company meetings, etc.)
- What type of communication do you practice the most? (e.g. written, verbal, visual, etc.)
Substep #3: Learn and train others on how to use the selected communication channels
Picking the communication channel is the first step of implementation. The next one is to actually start using the chosen means of communication. To do that, you have to learn and train others how to use it.
The basics and finer points can be explained through:
- Group training,
- Official documentation, and
- Help pages on the app’s website.
Step #10: Be a responsive communicator
High responsiveness is a crucial component in effective team communication because it helps teammates solve problems and make decisions faster, as well as save time overall.
For example, 75% of emails get opened within the first hour, and 42% of emails get replied to during this time, according to Yesware statistics.
That’s, of course, only if they’re sent between the hours of 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. If you happen to send an email after 7 p.m., which is the worst time to send an email, chances are, you won’t receive a prompt response. You will, however, receive a response within a day — 98% of emails get opened within the first day, and 95% get replies during this time.
Another study shows that 52% of people respond to work-related emails within 12 and 24 hours — but, as many as 60% of people claim they may wait 2 days to reply to an email.
In any case, waiting between 1 hour and 2 days for email replies can harm your productivity. After all, getting a reply to your question within 5 minutes will help you get on track with work much faster than if you need to wait for hours or days.
So, it’s important you employ a suitable communication solution within your team and beyond — such as a business messaging app.
Let’s take a look at how you can become a more responsive communicator.
Substep #1: Keep an eye on communication channels during work hours
If you’re someone who can’t stand the sound of notifications, then at least check your official channels of communication regularly to see if any of your coworkers need anything. Alternatively, customize notifications settings in a way that works for you and only get notified when something is important.
Substep #2: Let your teammates know when you’ll be able to communicate
If you’re working in a remote or hybrid team, make your work hours public (preferably, with an indication of how your work hours compare to Greenwich Mean Time — if your team operates in several different time zones).
Additionally, if you’re doing some deep work, you can also set your status to unavailable or busy, so your coworkers know you’re engaged in something important and shouldn’t be disturbed.
Substep #3: Let the team know in advance when you’ll be unable to communicate
If you know you will be unavailable to talk or answer questions at a particular time, notify your colleagues and managers, with a special emphasis on the time when you will be available again.
Step #11: Perfect your writing skills
Written communication stands out as a dominant form of communication in the workplace, alongside verbal communication — after all, most of us will opt to invite a teammate to chat in person or write them a message.
Therefore, another crucial step on the road to effective team communication includes perfecting your writing skills.
Marvin H. Swift, Associate Professor of Communication at the General Motors Institute, once said that “Clear writing means clear thinking”. According to him and other experts in the field of communication, being methodical about your writing skills can greatly improve the effectiveness of team communication.
Substep #1: Plan what you want to say
Just like with speaking, you need to think before you type something out. To make writing more effective, consider what you want to say and then remember the 7 C’s of communication: be clear, concrete, concise, coherent, confident, correct, and courteous.
Conciseness is of special importance here, since you don’t want to waste time on writing something redundant or unnecessary.
Substep #2: Identify your trouble spots and work on them
If writing isn’t your strong suit, assess it and pinpoint your weak spots. For some that can be grammar, for others it can be vocabulary, punctuation, or even lack of emojis. Figure out what it is, and then consciously work on it.
Substep #3: Be direct
Always start with your main point/argument, and add details later. Bryan Garner, the author of The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, says that an issue and its proposed solutions should always be summarized first, in “no more than 150 words.”
Substep #4: Avoid wordiness
Bryan Garner also points out the problem of wordiness: “The minute readers feel that a piece of writing is verbose they start tuning out.”
So, instead of being verbose, he proposes you:
- Delete prepositions (e.g. write “viewpoint” instead of “point of view” ),
- Replace –ion nouns with action verbs (e.g. write “protect” instead of “provide protection”),
- Use contractions (e.g. write “don’t” instead of “do not”), and
- Use strong verbs instead of “is”/”are”, “was”/”were” (e.g. write “suggest” instead of “is suggested”).
Substep #5: Avoid buzzwords
These words and phrases have been overused to the point of losing any real meaning. Garner proposes the best way to avoid annoying corporate buzzwords is to write a “buzzwords blacklist” and include words and phrases such as “actionable,” “core competency,” and “impactful.”
Here are a few other tips that will help you perfect your writing skills:
- Read before you hit “send” — before sending out an instant message or email, proofread them for grammar, accuracy, and clarity.
- Be mindful of formatting — you’ll get your points across better if you use bullet points than if you write incomprehensible blocks of text.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
Proper written communication is vital for the success of a remote team. Here’s how to master it:
Step #12: Adjust to the communication situation
Adjustment is one of the pillars of active listening. However, it’s also crucial for effective communication in teams in general.
How a process of communication will unfold tends to depend on the communication situation you are in.
To determine that, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the situation formal or informal?
- Are you in a meeting?
- Are you providing feedback?
- Are you accepting feedback?
- Are you giving a presentation?
- Are you listening to a presentation?
- Are you interviewing a potential job candidate?
- Are you caught up in a conflict?
Another important element in a communication situation that dictates how you should behave and respond are the people you are communicating with — you’ll act differently depending on whether you’re communicating with peers, superiors, or clients.
To adjust to the communication situation, you’ll need to:
- Recognize the formality of the situation — whether a situation is formal or informal (which, again, may depend on whether you are speaking with a peer, superior, or client) will determine the formality of your speech or writing.
- Follow the situation’s etiquette — meetings, feedback sessions, and presentations all have their etiquette.
Additionally, understanding the behind-the-scenes of a communication situation by analyzing the specific models of communication is another crucial step in learning how to adjust to different communication situations in the workplace.
Substep #1: Follow the meeting etiquette
Business meetings have a specific etiquette you have to follow. Even if the meeting is informal, it’s best to follow these rules:
- Be punctual,
- Speak loud enough when it’s your time to speak,
- Actively listen to others when it’s their time to speak, and
- Contribute with meaningful information when you can.
🎓 Pumble Pro Tip
You can read more about how to make your meetings fun and worthwhile in the following articles:
Substep #2: Follow the etiquette for providing feedback
Constructive feedback is vital for any team, and yet managers are often reluctant to give it. That’s not surprising, given that only 14.5% of managers feel confident in their feedback-giving skills.
On the other hand, employees love receiving feedback. According to the Harvard Business Review, 72% of employees report that they would perform better if they received feedback — even if that feedback was negative (or corrective).
Giving feedback (and receiving it with grace) is, therefore, vital. But before you do it, make sure to follow these rules:
- Ask for permission to give feedback,
- Base negative feedback on behavior and not the person,
- Explain the impact of negative behavior,
- Discuss one issue at a time, and
- Suggest concrete steps for improvements.
Substep #3: Follow the etiquette for accepting feedback
As mentioned, employees love feedback. But, not all of them know how to accept it. If you’re struggling with that, keep the following in mind:
- Listen attentively.
- Recognize good intentions,
- Ask for additional pointers on how to improve,
- Summarize the feedback, and
- Be gracious to the feedback provider.
Substep #4: Follow the presentation etiquette for the speakers
Presenting your ideas and solutions to your team or employer is often a stressful task. However, presentations are a standard part of practically any worker’s day, which is why it’s vital that you’re prepared for them.
Here are a few tips on presenting:
- Arrive earlier to prepare everything.
- At the end of the presentation, thank the audience for listening.
- Don’t be defensive come question time — instead, answer the questions patiently by using facts, figures, examples, and anything else that supports your claims.
- Be mindful of your nonverbal communication — don’t gesticulate too much, to avoid distracting the audience.
- Use your visual aids with care — no more than 5–6 bullet points per presentation slide. If you can use an example or image to illustrate a point, do so.
Substep #5: Follow the presentation etiquette for the audience
Being a thoughtful and respectful member of an audience is also a vital part of effective communication. Here are a few rules you can follow to achieve that:
- Don’t talk, unless you’re asked to participate,
- Don’t interrupt the speakers — instead, ask questions during question time,
- Turn off your phone, and
- Listen attentively.
Step #13: Follow the 4 steps for nonviolent communication (NVC)
NVC or Nonviolent Communication (sometimes referred to as compassionate communication) can help you consciously use words to express what you want.
The concept, developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., includes the following steps:
- Observing without judgment,
- Expressing feelings,
- Expressing needs, and
- Expressing requests.
In a business setting, these steps help increase the chances you’ll establish mutual understanding with teammates.
They also help teams make the following improvements:
- Boost communication skills overall,
- Improve self-awareness,
- Grow their management skills,
- Strengthen interpersonal relationships,
- Solve conflicts easier and quicker,
- React properly to unexpected developments,
- Take care of personal needs, while having in mind the needs of others, and
- Positively influence the organization as a whole.
Now, let’s see what nonviolent communication looks like in practice.
Substep #1: Observe
Start with the observations step — observe what you hear or see without evaluating or judging. By doing so, you’ll add objective data to your opinions.
Substep #2: Express your feelings
Move on to the feelings step and express your feelings in an appropriate way for a business environment. By doing so, you’ll decrease the chances of having your bottled-up emotions and repressed opinions burst out unexpectedly.
Substep #3: Express your needs
Advance with the needs step and express your true needs directly if you want them fulfilled. By doing so, you avoid sounding overly critical to people (as opposed to expressing needs indirectly, through judgments, evaluation, and unsupported opinions).
Substep #4: Express your requests
End with the requests step but avoid vague, abstract, or ambiguous statements. Instead, use concrete, positive language. By doing so, you’ll seem more action-oriented.
Here’s an example of nonviolent communication conducted on Pumble, a business communication app.
Additional tips for effective communication
In general, following the 13 steps we presented will ensure you maintain effective communication in the workplace. However, if you’re looking to communicate better or are in need of more strategies for effective communication, we have some additional tips for you.
Tip #1: Be patient
Ineffective communication can be frustrating, which is why our first tip is to be patient. Patience is something Kordestani also highlights as important.
“Be patient with yourself and others. Remember, communication is a dynamic process that requires continuous learning and adaptation. Trust the process and the people involved. Seek common ground, be it in personal or professional relationships. This forms the basis for understanding and navigating differences.”
Tip #2: Cultivate self-awareness
If you’re constantly hitting a wall when it comes to team communication, Giordano suggests a bit of retrospection.
“You must first cultivate self-awareness in order to increase successful communication. Knowing one’s communication style, advantages, and disadvantages might help one spot areas that need work.”
So, being aware of your own shortcomings when it comes to communication skills can help you get a better understanding of what you need to work on.
Tip #3: Audit your current methods
Once you become aware of which skills you need to work on individually, we suggest taking a look at your team communication overall. Auditing your current communication methods means ensuring that all team members as well as team leadership has effective communication as a goal.
Tip#4: Practice empathy
Finally, remember that effective communication is about more than simply conveying a message or exchanging information. Instead, it’s about connecting with the people you’re communicating with, creating bonds with them, and fostering a positive work culture.
Kordestani agrees that this is vital and adds that it’s also why you need to practice empathy when communicating.
“Above all, let your communication be guided by virtue, reason, and empathy. Be open to feedback and ready to learn from your mistakes. This continuous process of self-improvement mirrors the stoic pursuit of wisdom, embracing our fallibility, and striving towards betterment, thereby creating an environment of respect and mutual growth.”
Wrapping up: Effective communication makes an effective team
Poor communication can cost you and your company both money and loyalty of great employees. Even though communication is the most sought-after soft skill, not many of us know how to communicate effectively in the workplace.
Luckily, the road to amazing team communication is a clear and easy one if you follow our 13 steps to effective communication:
- Follow the 7 Cs of effective communication — make your communication clear, coherent, confident, correct, concise, concrete, and courteous.
- Make the effort to establish and maintain trust among teammates.
- Aim to recognize and overcome physical, perceptual, emotional, cultural, language, gender, and interpersonal barriers to effective communication.
- Learn how to manage your personal nonverbal communication and the nonverbal communication of fellow communicators.
- Learn how to express your thoughts, ideas, and opinions in communication.
- Learn how to listen to others attentively.
- Avoid assumptions about other people and certain topics.
- Actively work on resolving conflicts.
- Make the effort to select and use the communication channels that fit your team’s workflow.
- Be a responsive communicator.
- Perfect your writing skills.
- Adjust your approach to the communication situation.
- Follow the four steps of nonviolent communication (NVC) — make observations, manage your feelings, act on your needs, and use concrete, positive language when making requests.
As a result, you’ll establish effective communication in your team, which will help you build, maintain, and enjoy better teamwork.
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