Styles of communication have altered enormously over the last century with dramatic changes in technology, as we’ve run the gamut from handwritten letters and telegrams through to faxes, emails and now to internal messaging, LinkedIn, Facebook, and snapchat. This communication revolution has impacted tremendously on the style in which we communicate, with each new technology seemingly ushering in a less formal mode of communication, and one with less face-to-face human connection.
Many construction professionals are so busy that they’ve taken to every quick messaging technology possible- yet often a lot of detail, common courtesy, and even professionalism is lost along the way.
Modern communication is overwhelmingly instant, informal, and online, and this has created some tensions in the workplace for predominantly two reasons.
Excessive informality: Because they’ve spent so much time in the highly informal online world, younger employees sometimes communicate at work in an overly-casual fashion- one that often sends the wrong message to the very senior figures that they hope to impress!
Common pitfalls are using abbreviations like ‘lol’ or emoticons in workplace communications, poor grammar and spelling, and a lack of formalities such as correct titles.
Lack of face-to-face bonding: Most of us now send an email or internal message rather than picking up the phone or scheduling a meeting, and while this style of instant communication may seem like a good time-saver, in fact it risks breaking down the natural bonds that occur when we communicate face-to-face.
Miscommunication and misunderstandings are rife in email and text communication, as it’s impossible to replicate the body language cues and eye contact of meeting in person, or the voice cues you hear over the phone.
Because your communication skills are key to creating a strong personal brand at work and marking you out for success, it’s vital to hone your communication style so that it not only delivers information effectively, but in a way that others find palatable.
Tips for great office communication
Match your communication style to the person you’re dealing with. Being formal is always the first choice with people that you don’t know- and particularly senior figures. If leading with ‘Dear Sir/Rob/Mr Green’ feels too strange and old-fashioned, lead with a generic, ‘Good morning’ or similar.
Learn to mimic other people’s communication habits. If you see that someone sends you emails with smiley faces and abbreviations, then you know that it’s safe to have a casual communication style with that person, and that they welcome signs of warmth in written communications.
Take note of how the person signs off their written communications. Do they use Yours Sincerely? If so, this is a sign this person still communicates formally, so respond in kind, and sign off with the same, or similar, such as Kind Regards. Best wishes and Warm wishes are slightly less formal, while Cheers is the least formal. ‘Thanks’ is another good way of signing off if all of those options feel uncomfortably formal.
Have face-to-face meetings where possible. If a colleague is in the same office space or nearby on the worksite, then walk over to them to discuss things in person. Far too often, workplace conflict begins when one person has a short or brusque email style which gives offence, or someone doesn’t communicate a task very well via text message…and failure results.
In person, you have a much better chance of reading body, voice, and facial cues, as well as creating a natural conversation where you discuss aspects of the project and brainstorm. If you need to have a paper trail of the conversation or want to make sure you were understood, then it’s advisable to send a follow-up email just to clarify what was discussed. This may seem like a time-waster, but it often saves time in the end, while also creating bonds in the workplace.
If you can’t meet face to face, pick up the phone. While you’ll still miss out on body language, you can hear a lot in the tone of voice and have a good two-way conversation. You don’t need to discuss everything over the phone—emails are great for quick and basic questions—but if you need a more detailed discussion, do it over the phone (if face to face isn’t possible).
Review before sending. Always spellcheck emails, and remove any abbreviations that aren’t extremely obvious- no-one should have to be googling ‘what does FYEO mean’ in response to your emails! (And For Your Eyes Only is one message that you don’t want to be lost in translation.) Use clear language, and space out your message so that it’s easily readable: white space between sentences/paragraphs and bullet points are really helpful in longer emails in particular.
Communication is not just about getting your message across: it’s about doing it in a way that makes the other party see you as a professional. It doesn’t matter what stage of your construction career you’re at- whether you are an engineering intern, a BDM or a CEO, your communication style is the key to your longstanding success.