It can be difficult to communicate clearly with team members in the office when you’re having a particularly rough morning, or if you work in an environment where you don’t feel supported. Here are five things getting in the way of your open dialogue and how to fix them.
Seek psychological safety
Stress from an old job can follow you, and if you don’t clear those old patterns, you’ll bring fear to every interaction.
Nat Dudley had to fight baggage from a toxic workplace that followed her once she was in a job she loved. In a recent Medium post, Dudley talked about her post-traumatic stress disorder from the experience, saying that “not everyone will be affected to that level,” but urges readers who think they might have it to seek medical help.
“Fast-forward a year, and there’ve been many more things that have surprised me about the lingering impacts of toxic workplaces. Like emerging from an abusive relationship, I discovered that I’d internalized many lessons on interacting and communicating that don’t apply in a healthy environment. Most of these were driven by fear: fear of being yelled at, fear of argument culture, fear of punishment if you’ve misunderstood or didn’t perfectly follow instructions, fear of social ostracism, fear of judgment for not knowing all the answers,” Dudley wrote.
Earlier in the post, she mentions that her toxic workplace was lacking in “psychological safety,” and linked to a Google article about ways to build “successful” team at Google, which also explains the concept— being comfortable enough to take risks in the company of your coworkers.
The company found that “individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.”
How do you get psychological safety? Mainly, see meetings not as a gladiatorial fight to the death, but as a way to communicate better with coworkers and create alliances. Read the room and make sure that you’re speaking at the right times and with the right tone and ideas. If possible, use the buddy system and have at least one person who is supportive of you there.
You can easily fight your feeling of dread
It’s natural to be nervous before a major presentation — and it’s even worse if you struggle with anxiety — but there are concrete steps you can take to improve the situation.
- It’s key to go clear your mind and go fresh into every meeting, without the baggage of expecting to be treated badly or what happened yesterday or last month.
- To clear your mind, you can meditate or write a list of your fears and then, next to them, write why they’re unlikely to come true or what specific actions you can take to fight them.
- As Mr. Rogers used to say, look for the helpers: somewhere around the table there is an ally. Back each other up.
Work on your confidence
Confidence isn’t a magic spell or a secret that only some people have. Anyone can have it.
Erica Gellerman writes about improving yourself “in small steps” as a way to gain confidence in the office in a 2016 Forbes article.
“For example, if you’re trying to become a more confident public speaker, don’t feel the need to jump in and deliver a town hall speech. Instead, look for small ways to make progress that don’t completely overwhelm you. You could start by first making a concerted effort to speak up in team meetings. You could then begin running group meetings and start presenting in front of larger and larger audiences,” Gellerman writes.
Above all, work on your posture, which goes a long way to telegraphing confidence. Hold your back straight and your shoulders squared, and look people in the eye when you’re speaking.
Ask for honest feedback from people you trust afterwards
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, knows successful people when she sees them by using one criterion: they take feedback well, without taking critiques as a personal attack on themselves. Sandberg, an aficionado of “radical candor,” is not afraid to bluntly tell employees when they are making themselves sound stupid if they’re not getting the hint.
Every manager’s nightmare — and the reason many talented people don’t get promoted — is that they get defensive or resistant to even neutral feedback. That caps their potential growth, limits how well they can perform because they’re resistant to improvement, and forces people to walk on eggshells around them to avoid confrontations.
While not every manager or peer is good at feedback, it’s important to find ones who are, and ask them how you did in meetings. Then — and this is important — take the advice.
Project your voice and sound steady
Communicating your ideas will be difficult if you don’t speak up. Often, people kill their chances of being impressive in meetings by muttering or speaking tentatively. There’s no need to be overbearing or give speeches, but your voice should reflect a calm, steady, strong commitment to your ideas.
One of his tips was on voice projection: “You should be capable of talking with enough intensity so that anyone who’s 15-20 feet away can clearly understand you. Practice talking at this intensity so that people can clearly understand you and follow what you’re saying, thereby drawing favorable attention to yourself.”
There are ways to start communicating more clearly at work, even if you’re not in the best state of mind.