Effective Workplace Communication

Written by Tarnya Mangano – Recruitment Consultant (Legal Support) Brisbane, QLD

Simple, but sometimes we all forget the art of effective communication, especially in our workplaces.  Of course, we all think we have great communication skills, and every job requires them – but what does it really mean?  And what does it mean to have these skills when it comes to your job?

Communication is about more than just exchanging information.  It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information.  Effective communication is also a two-way street.  It’s not only how you convey a message so that it is received and understood by someone in exactly the way you intended, it’s also how you listen to gain the full meaning of what’s being said, to make the other person feel heard and understood.  Communication, whether verbal, written or visual can be expressed in positive (assertive) or negative (aggressive, passive) ways.  People need to take feedback from how others interpret or perceive how they are communicating.  Sometimes we can be perceived as aggressive even though it is not intended.  It is all about how the other person has “heard” your communication.

Communication is the key to all successful projects and a lack of adequate communication can prove to be the downfall of many, which would otherwise be successful.  Effective communication can certainly help you develop your connections with others and improve teamwork, decision making, and problem solving.  It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.  Effective communication in the workplace can also increase work productivity and output which leads to the success of the business.

Good communication skills are some of the simplest, most essential and most useful tools for success you can possess.  In fact, they are probably the number one ability sought by employers. 

Some key skills we all need to be reminded of to improve our communication;

  • Become an engaged listener,
  • Pay attention to nonverbal signals,
  • Keep stress in check,
  • Empathise and encourage,
  • Assert yourself.

Regardless of what field you’re in and despite the apparent hollowness of the term, honing your ‘communication skills’ will pay you back many times over.  If you get it right, you’re guaranteed to have a much smoother path through life and your career.



Networking, as we know, is a skill you can learn but one that people sometimes hate to have to do. There is so much to think about – how much to drink (or not to drink), where are the business cards, who are the important people to meet etc.

However the so called ‘soft skills’ needed for personal and professional development are not soft at all – they are human characteristics that will take you far, and can be applied equally as successfully to networking. Here are some tips to sue these ‘soft skills’


Keep your eye out for someone on their own at networking events

Is there someone not in a group? Ask them to join you. Can you notice someone standing awkwardly to one side? Turn and make room for them to join your group.


Be on time, or even better, early

Being always late is just rude – it delays others, delays decisions and destroys trust. And that is just at work! Vow to be on time, and plan to be early. Being early to networking events means that you are able to join conversations early – and we use the word conversation deliberately – it is a two way thing not about you talking about someone


Connect people because you can

If you know two people who would like each other, or work well together, or who have mutual business interests – introduce them. In person is grat , but email after the vent is just as useful. I can’t tell you how many business relationships have been built on something as simple as this.


Don’t just collect business cards

There is no need to keep a collection of business cards – if you’re given one, connect on LinkedIn and put the details straight into your contacts. use the tag and notes function in LinkedIn, and the notes field in contacts. Send an email following the introduction to et up a meeting or just to say thank you.


Connecting on LinkedIn afterwards

To be completely honest, getting a ‘I’d like to add you to professional network on LinkedIn’ message is boring – although I admit I do make allowances for people who hit the ‘connect’ button o mobile devices and the message goes automatically because I have done it myself. Always go to the person’s LinkedIn profile and connect from there as it allows you to add a personal message, for example – “It was lovely to meet you last night at xx event, and I’d like to add you to my professional network etc’


Remember – networking is not just about what you can get

Networking is also about what value you can provide to others and developing relationships. One of my favourite stories is of a young graduate lawyer offering a lift to someone at the airport in a long taxi queue. They exchanged cards as the man wanted to end him a note. Turns out he was the CEO of a large listed company and they stayed in touch, mostly by email but occasionally saw each other at events. Ten years after the initial taxi ride that large company listed and the young graduate was by that stage a senior associate at a mid tier firm. Guess who won the tender for the IPO over the big nationals? And guess who became a partner on the back of winning that work? That initial act of kindness developed into a lifelong client relationship – but it started 10 years after the initial contact.


Networking really is all about people – remember to use your soft skills not necessarily your selling skills for success.


Meetings! They seem to take up a lot of time and sometimes achieve little. Internal meetings, in particular, while important, can be time consuming and involve a lot of people who don’t need to be there, or who don’t participate and shouldn’t be there.

A colleague sent me this the other day and it made me laugh out loud:

If you are in charge of an internal meeting here are the most common meeting derailers, and how to deal with them:


Some people are always late. Don’t wait for them; start the meeting at the designated time, unless they have advised in advance that they have been caught up in another meeting. In that case, advise the other meeting participants that the meeting will be starting late.

The Tangent takers

You have an agenda (you DO have an agenda, don’t you). Some people like to derail a meeting by going off on a tangent and take you down a path you don’t wish to take. As soon as you see this happening, bring the meeting back to the agenda and tell the group that if time that item will be dealt with at the end. If no time, either take it up in private or at another time.

The strong silent types

This is the person who sits in the meeting and says nothing. Oftentimes this person does actually have something to say, but waits until the meeting is over and says it to everyone else except you. Draw them out by asking for their opinion on the various agenda items. Or give them a heads up before the meeting that you would like their input on a particular item.

The over-talkers

Conversely, the over-talker likes to have something to say about every item on the agenda, even if they know nothing about it. Over-talkers need to be told politely that it is time to move on to the next item, or ask someone else for their views. Over-talkers are often interrupters as well. Be conscious of this, as it is not only rude, it will prevent others from speaking up if they are only going to be interrupted.

Passive aggressive pariahs

There is not enough time to talk about passive aggressive people in this blog post. They’re the ones who will say something like ‘Do you think that’s a good idea?’ with a concerned look on the face. What they are really saying is ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’. They just don’t want to say it; they want to make you feel unsure about your direction. Best way to deal with this – turn it back on them. ‘Yes I do, but you clearly don’t. Tell me about that’.

Telecommunications twits

You know the type – constantly looking at their phones and responding to texts and emails. Or checking Facebook. Ask everyone to place his or her devices face down on the table, or place them in a bucket at the beginning of the meeting. Seriously – do it!

A productive meeting is a good meeting!

Email Salutations – How is your message received?

I know a lawyer who occasionally gets a rush of blood to the head and goes into the office very early in the morning to clear her inbox and generally catch up on outstanding administration. Emails are sent to junior lawyers with words like:

  • “see below – can you check into the question for the client thanks”
  • “ where are you up to with the ABC file”
  • “How far away is that research I asked you to do”
  • “don’t forget it’s billing this week – get your timesheets in today”
  • “fyi”

She thinks she is being incredibly efficient, running through her emails; but what do the junior lawyers think?emails

They probably think she is being rude and obnoxious, particularly if they come in to work and find three or four emails in a row sent at 5am, all like this.

Email is here to stay – it is used more and more as the preferred method of communication in workplaces – oftentimes people will send an email to the person sitting in the next office, rather than get up and walk next door to speak to the person, but that is a topic for another day.

But imagine if the lawyer in this story went to the door of the junior lawyer and said the things in the emails above and walked away? The junior lawyers would think she was even more obnoxious and rude.

So think carefully when sending this sort of abrupt email. She was not intending to be abrupt, but that is certainly the message that was being received. As much as we can defend ourselves and say we didn’t intend to be rude, the fact is that how our message is received, rather than sent is most important.

So to avoid having the wrong message being interpreted the sure fire way to improve your email communication is to always start with a salutation, and don’t rush the email. The salutation will vary depending on the person to whom it is directed. A simple “Hi” might do if it is someone with whom you are familiar. Using someone’s name – with or without a ‘Dear’ in front of it is another way of opening an email. If it is a Monday morning, a longer “hi – hope you had a good weekend’ is not only is good email etiquette but good manners (even if you are not actually that interested).

Even if you are good friends with someone, NEVER send an email starting ‘Hey b***h’ or something similarly hideous.

For emails going out of the office, play it safe and use the salutation “Dear’ in all correspondence – not only is it polite, but because your emails can end up annexed to an affidavit, it is safe.

People will read all sorts of things into the smallest detail of an email – make sure the message they are getting is the right one by framing your email salutation politely and professionally. For a more in depth look at this see the Forbes article.

What do you think? Are we being too old fashioned?

Block out your time

Are you a slave to your calendar? Do you always tell people ‘I’m so busy’ or ‘I’m so stressed’. You have deadlines. Things to do. Emails to deal with. People to see.calendar

How do you manage large reports or drafting, or big jobs.? DO you start and then pause to answer the email notification you received, or the phone call that came in?

Our brains are learning to be distracted more easily, and lose focus. Modern life and the pressures of being available to answer phone calls and emails while doing other things, is not just creating the expectation that we will do these things; it is teaching our brains that we don’t have to concentrate on one thing at a time. If we stop concentrating on a task it can take up to 25 minutes to regain focus when we return to the task (Pearse and Sheehan, One Moment Please). While we think we are very clever multi-tasking, we are, in fact, taking longer to do all of those things.

If you use your calendar for your client appointments, you wouldn’t interrupt your client meeting to tell the client that you have to take a call from another client; or that you need to go to the drink machine to get a diet coke; or that your supervising partner wants you to email a document.

Get smart about your calendar and use it to block out uninterrupted time to complete those big projects.   This means people will see that you are unavailable for meetings. To do this effectively:

  • look at what you need to do in the day, and what is most important
  • block out the time you need to focus on the most important task
  • let people know what you are doing and that you need this time (remember communication solves most problems)
  • Turn your phone onto silent
  • turn off email notifications
  • shut your door if necessary or go somewhere quiet where you can get on with it and not be disturbed
  • if needs be, ask permission to work from home and get up early and, in the words of Nike, “just do it

I guarantee this will work for you if you focus on what you need to get done, and re-train your brain to concentrate.

And if it works for your work life, just imagine what you could achieve with your health and fitness goals.

Career Motivating Quotes – Part 2

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential” – Winston Churchill

Your ability is not set in stone – keep learning, adapting, and trying.


“Don’t let today’s disappointment cast a shadow over tomorrow’s dream” – Unknown22792-dont-let-todays-disappointments-cast-a-shadow-on-tomorrows

Disappointment is part of life – get back on the horse and try again. Work out what the setback means and what you need to do to overcome it.


“If you want to bring an end to long-standing conflict, you have to be prepared to compromise.” – Aung San Suu Kyi

Workplace conflict if normal – but just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you are right. Look at things from the other person’s perspective and compromise to reduce conflict.


We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”― Sheryl Sandberg

Self awareness is an important skill to develop and help your career – learn about your strengths and weaknesses and remember that in the shadow of your strength lies your weakness. =


“Feedback is the breakfast of champions” – Ken Blanchard

You cannot improve and develop your skills without responding to and acting on feedback


“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” – Confucius

 If you make a commitment, follow through.

“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.” – Paul Meyer

Talk to people. Let your views be known in an appropriate way. Ask questions if you don’t understand something.

How flexible is your work place?

I recall a conversation with a young woman recently who wanted the opportunity to work from home one day a week. The only reason was that she travelled for an hour each way to and from work and she wanted to reduce the stress and be more productive with her time. She said that her supervising partner was not very keen on the idea at first but then she convinced him.

When I asked her how she smiled and said ‘I pointed out that most Fridays he left the office at lunch time to drive to the sunshine coast to go windsurfing’. Some might say that is a cheeky response, but she had a good relationship with him, and as she pointed out, she was planning on being available to clients and colleagues on her day at home, rather than in a wet suit on the water.flexibility

It was not that simple of course. While she overcame resistance, she had to make sure that her supervising partner, the other partners, her team members and clients were all going to benefit, or at least not be disadvantaged by the new arrangement, so she agreed to a two month trial period.

After two months her billable hours were better and communication had improved in the team, largely because she took responsibility for making sure everyone was informed of whatever they needed to know, and neither clients nor partners were the slightest bit concerned about her ‘absence’ from the office. In fact her supervising partner is now considering working from home on a Friday, from the sunshine coast, to save time driving!

Does she have a secret? This young woman is a very determined and focussed person and she provided her tips for making it work:

  • never assume the team knows what you are doing
  • over communicate if necessary
  • always prepare for your day away from the office on the day before
  • flexibility is a privilege so it is up to you to show how it can work and work well
  • practice reciprocity – if there are times you are needed to work longer hours or work in the office on your ‘at home’ day, then do it
  • put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues – what would you need to make it work?
  • Express gratitude to those assisting you, and often
  • communicate about problems and be open to many views

This is a good example of flexibility in action and how good communication can overcome even the toughest barriers. Do you have any advice for making flexible work, work?

Working Flexibly? Make it Work

Flexible work is mainstream now – at least it is supposed to be.  We now have a legislated right to parental leave, and a legislated right to request a flexible work arrangement and have it considered.Working Flexibly

Getting a proposal request right and approved is one thing, but making your arrangement work once it is approved takes hard work and lots of communication.

Here are some tips from those who have done it successfully:

  • Make sure you understand what the impact will be on your budget and be clear about your career development expectations while working flexibly.  A conversation now may save misunderstanding later.
  • Have a communication plan to ensure it works for you and everyone in your team – who will be responsible for contacting clients.  Are you prepared to answer urgent emails and phone calls when not in the office?   Your ‘out of office’ message should state who should be contacted in your absence.
  • Are you able to change your days or hours if you are needed – if so make sure your supervisors know what you can and can’t do – for example if you have dependents you may be limited by the days of care that is available.
  • If you do work additional hours or days, then assuming your billable hours targets are being met, ask how will this be remunerated?
  • Talk to people who are working flexibly and successfully – they will be able to help you if you have issues to address.
  • Find someone to take responsibility for your matters when you are not in the office – and use this as an opportunity to develop and mentor that person.  This will be to your mutual advantage.
  • Over communicate  – remind people when you will be away from the office, when you will not be available, when you can be available if you are not normally available, what needs to be done between periods at work.
  • If problems arise – with communication, expectations of workload, disappointments – don’t obsess and worry about it.  Start a conversation, however difficult, at the earliest opportunity before the problem gets bigger.

The key to any successful flexible working arrangement is open communication and support.