How to Improve Your Communication in the Workplace

5 Tips for More Effective Communication

Earlier in my career, I thought I should be a manager and leader. And I worked hard enough to get promoted twice to a management position.

communication-in-the-workplace

But I struggled with aspects of the job. Letting people go was one of the most difficult things for me to deal with.

Having taken the Clifton Strengths Finder, I now know that harmony, connectedness, and empathy are my top strengths. While I’m good at building a consensus and hearing all sides of a matter, I struggle with being direct and assertive in high conflict situations.

Over time, I’ve worked on those weaknesses, and I’m much more effective on coaching and confronting people, particularly in work and counseling situations.

But I had to develop self-awareness and go to work on my weaknesses while acknowledging and maximizing my strengths.

Every person can improve their communication in the workplace by following certain strategies.

Perhaps you, as an Aspergers/autism person, struggle with communication in general.

Or at least communication with NTs (neurotypicals).

Here’s what one Aspergers person shared about their experience in the workplace:

NTs (neurotypicals) go through life reacting to stimuli naturally.

We don’t. We have to use logic to understand our stimuli and calculate a response.

For the neurotypical, “social skills” are like muscle memory. Not a skill so much as a reflex.

We have to learn them. More than that, we have to decide to learn them, study them, and experiment with them. We use them like tools. It requires effort and discipline.

(source: Some thoughts on ‘social skills’ and office politics)

Use These Strategies to Improve Your Communication in the Workplace

Mindset: Cut Yourself Some Slack

Realize that communication with co-workers is different from trying to make close friends.

Ms. Ashley Stanford, author of Business for Aspies, says,

Perhaps the most important lesson to remember is that your ability to succeed as a friend in the younger years does not necessarily determine your success as an adult in your career.

Knowing this can free you up from putting too high of expectations on yourself, particularly if you’ve struggled with friendships in junior high or high school.

Develop Self Awareness With the Johari Window

Check this Johari Window explanation:

Johari-Window-communication-skills-in-the-workplace

 

The upper left-hand quadrant (also known as the open area) represents things you know about yourself, and things others know about you. This can include behavior, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and your work history.

The upper right-hand quadrant represents both strengths and weaknesses that you aren’t consciously aware of, but is clear to others. Particularly with weaknesses, it can involve issues that are hard to face directly, yet can be seen by others.

This quadrant is the most difficult to hear about, but probably the most important if you want to communicate more effectively in the workplace.

The hidden area (lower left quadrant) represents things that you know about yourself, but others don’t know.

Finally, the last quadrant (lower right quadrant) represents things unknown to you and unknown to others.

Use the Johari Window to Improve Your Communication Skills

Start off with your positive qualities.

Create your own Johari Window here –> http://kevan.org/johari.

This resource provides mainly positive attributes to choose from.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the positive attributes, ask a trusted friend or colleague to fill in weaknesses, or areas you need to work on.

These are the blind spots that may be holding you back.

As you receive feedback on both your positive and negative qualities, you’ll know better how you come across to others.

Asking for Feedback

If we’re going to improve our interpersonal communication, we have to increase others’ awareness of ourselves and our awareness of ourselves. We are trying to reduce the blind area by soliciting feedback.

Jennifer Winter, in her article about 4 steps for asking for and getting truly honest feedback, recommends playing the long game, which means merely that we need to give people time to get to know us before we start asking for feedback.

We need to give people at least a year to get to know us so that they can accurately reflect upon their experience of us.

Also, they need to feel that they can trust us, just as we need to be able to feel we can trust them. So how do you build trust? By listening.

Action Step – Listen to Only You Forever’s podcast episode, called Listen to Understand. You can also read the article for very specific ways to improve your listening skills. The podcast episode focuses on marriage, but the listening skills are just as effective to improve workplace communication.

Improve Your Social Skills

In my career, I’ve realized that I need to work on skills like public speaking and leadership. Those skills don’t come easily to me.

But I’ve taken courses, read blogs, and put myself in situations that required me to work on those skills.

I’ll never be a CEO or upper management executive.

But I’ve learned enough to be good enough.

Kind of like playing the piano.

Here’s what you can do:

Less is More.

The key here is that you still have to have some eye contact, but not too much.

1. Count – Look at the person’s face and count to three. Then glance away while they are talking or you are talking.
2. When the person looks away, look at their face. When they look at you, wait one second, then look away also.
3. Mimic their facial expressions. When they raise their eyebrows, raise yours slightly too. When they smile, smile too. It’s a way to keep in sync with the person you are talking to. Often called mirroring. Think of it as paraphrasing versus copying. Don’t try to imitate exactly, but rather mimic their expressions is a more mild way.
4. This will feel unnatural, but works. Plaster a gentle smile on your face. A muted gentle smile, not a big Cheshire cat smile.

Here’s a quote from Ms. Stanford’s book –

“One woman with autism said, ‘I practiced this by pulling the corners of my mouth up and I held them there. Once I felt the facial muscle I could flex it any time I wanted.'”

Additional resource/article – How to Maintain Eye Contact, via Wiki How.

Consider Asking For Accommodations

Barbara Bissonnette, in her article called 10 Tips for Getting and Keeping a Good Job, over on Wrong Planet, suggests that there are ways to ask for accommodations if you’re continuing to struggle with communication.

Go to the Free Guides section on her web site and ask for her free resource called Workplace Disclosure: Strategies for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and NLD.

Familiarize yourself with the AskJan site for reasonable accommodations.

Got More Questions? Find Help Online

  1. Join a LinkedIn Group. The benefit here is that you can pick the brain of many professionals, who are very knowledgeable.
  2. If you don’t feel comfortable asking a question on LinkedIn, and you want to remain anonymous, create a pen-name on Wrong Planet. Join Wrong Planet (wrongplanet.net), then go to Forums–>Coping in Life–>Work and Finding a Job, and ask your question/s there.
  3. Join the Thrive with Aspergers closed Facebook group. Members are respectful and supportive.

Resources:

A timeless classic – How to Win Friends and Influence People – one Wrong Planet forum participant recommended this book as helping him improve his communication skills.

Penelope Trunk, in her article, Dealing with social awkwardness at work: Insights from the autism community, recommends limiting the number of meetings you attend, and keeping communication to email or 1:1 meetings.

Tim Ferris’ book, The Four-Hour Work Week gives a lot of tips for curtailing the amount of meetings you have to attend. You may find other tricks and tips there to help you navigate your workplace successfully and with better communication.

A related article from this blogImproving Communication Skills – Who Can Help?

Here’s a helpful list of questions when you can’t think of anything else to say – http://www.conversationstarters.com/.

Your Communication Skills Plan of Action:

  1. Shift your expectations. You don’t have to be good friends with co-workers. You just have to know how to communicate and get along.
  2. Use the Johari Window to improve your self-awareness.
  3. Practice your communication skills. Listen to Only You Forever’s podcast episode, called Listen to Understand. Go to Dan Wendler’s site, called Improve Your Social Skills, and start going through it bit by bit.
  4. Sign up for Barbara Bissonnette’s free resources, one of which talks about how to seek accommodations in the workplace.
  5. When specific workplace communication questions come up, ask for help online. Join Wrong Planet anonymously if you want to maintain your privacy, and ask questions in the work forum.

I worked really hard on this article! I hope you find it helpful, and if you do, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or on any other of your social networks. I’d love to hear your questions and comments below.

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I'm Steve Borgman. I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

Are you tired of feeling alone, like you're the only one in this world? Please join the Thrive with Aspergers Community to connect with others just like you!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Rod

    One of the lessons I’ve learnt in life is that everybody is generally gifted in one sense or another or may display a number of gifts. However not everybody who wants to be the big cheese has the skills or personally and we see many these days, being promoted to incompetency.
    There is a difference between someone who has the skills of a commander to one who has the skills of a leader and there is also a difference between a leader (trained) to a natural leader. E.g George Armstrong Custer, who studied at West point and had the worst grades of any Soldier who had ever attended there.
    However as an officer so clearly put it, His men would follow him to hell. Alot of these men were at West point the same time as Custer and did much better than he did. I relate to Custer because I have had a problem in my own history of the work force of natural leadership, when I haven’t always wanted to be in this position. A few years ago I resigned from a job at a mall and became a security guard which I warned them of if they promoted me again. I had similar issues in the Fire service when I was the rank of Fire fighter and the Senior fire fighters wouldn’t give me orders which made me unpopular with the officer in charge. I attribute my leadership skills to weaknesses not strengths. I don’t like things unpredictable and don’t like my routine interrupted.As a result I learn about everything I can whether it is my job or not and become the jack of all trades. I am very approachable and always willing to help my fellow employees out. So if people feel safe to approach you and feel confident that you know what you are doing who are they going to approach? You or the boss? This has been a real problem in certain jobs because in certain jobs I’ve had in the past, I just wanted to be one of the team and not the boss.Not all Aspergers people need to be trained to work on communication skills to do well in the work place. There are many who have reached success by their own merit. I think it’s important to highlight this , because a lot of discussions around this is very generalised toward all Aspergers people.

  • Rod, can you clarify what you mean about needing to highlight this?

  • Rod

    Hello Steve, How are you doing 🙂
    Yes not a problem,
    With regard to communication skills and success in the workplace , there seems to be one hard set of rules which if you don’t fall into them, then you are lacking in some way or another and that it will impact on your success in the workplace and improving with these rules will make you more successful.
    Different people from an employment perspective have different preferences and idea’s on what they would consider success.
    I have throughout my life been criticised over issues relating to my social skills. An example is eye contact. You have to do this or do that other wise people will think that you are retarded, an idiot or I won’t get anywhere. Family unfortunately are the worst offenders of this. I live in a family who would be deemed a low or middle class in the middle of a very rich , status focused extended family who can’t get over the reality that I’m not super driven to line my pockets with lots of money. In fact I have disowned most of them now and won’t have anything to do with them.
    I worlds greatest job right now and I’m extremely happy with it. I have self educated and by that I mean taught myself how to read and write. I have fulfilled working in all my dream jobs, Fire service, electricity , The trust , My job now and the in between things such as that job I resigned from but I didn’t want the promotion they were trying to force on me, But people don’t look at what I’ve achieved on a personal level. Thats not being successful because you don’t have a school qualification and your not rich, you didn’t do well at school because you didn’t listen and so forth. The problem is I refuse to believe that. I find that subjects which address Aspergers people in a general way hard to deal with given the diversity of people on the spectrum. But improving communication skills to get anywhere is the same voice I have kept on hearing over the years. I have got where I have through work ethic’s and not because of communication skills. People always have advice, but no one looks at personal achievements and the clever way a person adapts him or herself when they don’t have these skills. This is the reason why I feel the need to empathise.
    However don’t you feel criticised Steve, I know what you do is for the right reasons.
    I just wanted to bring these perspectives out because I feel I’m not the only Aspie in this situation.
    kind regards

  • Hi, Rod. I always appreciate your perspectives you bring to my articles. Thanks so much for clarifying. One of the things I so appreciate about the spectrum is specifically the unique point of view that people on the spectrum have. You’re right that work ethic, many times, can outdo “communication skills”.