It’s no secret that interpersonal communication skills play a critical role in building successful relationships between our clients, the media and the public. We invest the time to research and customize our communications to match them to our audiences. But when was the last time you took this step with your colleagues?
How we communicate with each other is influenced by many factors – from how we’re each hard wired to generational differences. The partners at Stratacomm recently created and presented “user’s guides” – summaries of their professional motivators and goals, personality traits, communication tendencies, frustrations and expectations, and hobbies. This introspective exercise provides the entire team with recommendations on how to approach communications with our agency’s leaders. It has proven to be so helpful that it inspired associate and mid-level staff to produce guides of their own.
While I’ve learned we have a lot of dog lovers and a few Duke Basketball fanatics in our office, what’s prevalent across the board is a growing generational difference that’s influencing how we communicate and work with each other.
Our office alone represents three generations – spanning from Baby Boomers to Generation X to Millennials. A common theme is the divergent preferences for face-to-face meetings, phone calls or digital correspondence, and perceptions of what’s appropriate, and when.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, here are five tips to help bridge the communication gap and build mutual respect:
- Take the time to learn what makes your colleagues tick. Become more aware of the differences in your workplace and talk about them. This can be achieved by using a personality assessment like Myers-Briggs, using Stratacomm’s “user’s guides” approach, or simply by getting coffee and having a conversation. Learning about each other can help build a baseline that will come in handy the next time you’re on the same project team and pulling long hours.
- Try different forms of communication. It can become frustrating when a colleague insists only scheduling face-to-face meetings when it might seem more efficient for you to communicate via email or instant messaging. Mix it up. Becoming comfortable with different tools or experimenting with newer platforms that integrate multiple forms of communication like Slack or Yammer can help create a better balance – and you might learn you like something new, too.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. The best way to communicate with your colleagues is to individualize your approach just like you tailor a client’s communications plan based on their individual needs. Don’t assume your way is best or make assumptions based on stereotypes. If you’re not sure, just ask.
- Be a proactive learner and teacher. Each of us has some unique skill or knowledge that our colleagues can learn from. Take initiative by reaching out and offering to help, or connect one-on-one with someone by showing an interest in learning a new tool you might not be up to speed on.
- Don’t take it personally. Even with the best intentions, miscommunication happens. Don’t jump to conclusions or let it frustrate you – keep your cool, and ask to talk about it rather than avoiding the issue.
With the generational differences only getting wider as people delay retirement and work longer in life, it’s important to invest the time in improving interpersonal communication in the workplace. By doing so, you’ll be happier in your working relationships, and have a stronger and more productive team.
Jennifer Heilman is an account director in Stratacomm’s Washington, D.C. office.