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Verbal Communication in the Workplace

Jan 15, 2016

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By Jim Edmondson

This is the second part of our three part series on Communication Skills at the workplace. Effective verbal or spoken communication is dependent on a number of factors and cannot be fully isolated from other important interpersonal skills such as non-verbal communication, listening skills and clarification. Clarity of speech, remaining calm and focused, being polite and following some basic rules of etiquette will all aid the process of verbal communication.

First Impressions

In most interpersonal encounters, especially initial meetings or communication in a supervisor / employee relationship, the first few minutes are extremely important as first impressions have a significant impact on the success of further communication. Everyone has expectations and norms as to how initial meetings should proceed and people tend to behave according to these expectations. If these expectations are mismatched, communication will not be effective or run smoothly; there can also be residual damage or misconceptions of future interactions. At a first meeting, formalities and appropriate greetings are usually expected: such formalities could include a handshake, introducing yourself, eye contact may prove to be useful. A friendly disposition and smiling face are much more likely to encourage communication than a blank face, inattention or disinterested reception. 

Reinforcement

The use of encouraging words alongside non-verbal gestures such as head nods, a warm facial expression and maintaining eye contact, are more likely to reinforce openness in others. The use of encouragement and positive reinforcement can signify interest, allay fears and give reassurance, show warmth and openness, and reduce shyness or nervousness in ourselves and others. 

Effective Listening

Active listening is an important skill and yet, as communicators, people tend to spend far more energy considering what they are going to say rather than listening to what the other person is trying to say. Although active listening is a skill in itself, it is also vital for effective verbal communication. The are many factors that are essential for effective and active listening; be prepared to listen, keep an open mind and concentrate on the main direction of the speaker’s message, delay judgment until you have heard everything, be objective, don’t be trying to think of your next question while the other person is giving information, don’t dwell on one or two points at the expense of others, and try not to let prejudices associated with, for example, gender, ethnicity, social class, appearance or dress interfere with what is being said.

Reflecting and Clarifying

Reflecting is the process of feeding-back to another person your understanding of what has been said. Although reflecting is a specialized skill used mainly in counselling, it can also be applied to a wide range of communication contexts and is a useful skill to learn. Reflecting often involves paraphrasing the message communicated to you by the speaker in your own words, capturing the essence of the facts and feelings expressed, and communicating your understanding back to the speaker. It is a useful skill because it allows you the ability to confirm that you have understood the message clearly, avoiding confusion. It shows interest in, and respect for, what the other person has to say and demonstrates that you are considering the other person’s viewpoint. It can also be valuable for the speaker to get feedback as to how the message is received.

Closing Communication

The way a communication is closed or ended will, at least in part, determine the way a conversation is remembered. A range of subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, signals are used to end an interaction. For example, some people may avoid eye contact, stand up, turn their body away, or use behaviours such as looking at a watch or closing notepads or books. All of these non-verbal actions indicate to the other person that the initiator wishes to end the communication. Closing an interaction too abruptly may not allow the other person to complete or otherwise conclude what he or she is saying so you should ensure there is time for winding-up. The closure of an interaction is a good time to make any future arrangements.

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

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