How to Mitigate Negative Communication in the Workplace

The act of trying to communicate has been taken for granted with the advent of technology. 

With the ability to state whatever you want with a click or press of a button, it is more likely than ever to say the wrong thing to someone, either due to a sudden lack of self-control or because they thought that doing so wouldn’t cause a big deal afterward.

This lack of a ‘filter’ online is also steadily seeping into real life, affecting not only the personal but also the professional aspect of an individual.

A harmless joke can be mistaken for sarcasm or even a personal attack, a sudden frown or scoff while someone is talking can lead to a full-blown confrontation, and an unintentional raising of one’s voice can be misinterpreted as you trying to harass a customer when in reality you just wanted to clarify something.

As a result, it is very important to know what constitutes positive and negative communication in the workplace and how to prevent the latter from occurring.

So let’s take a number of them so that we can see how we can improve employee-to-employee interactions and prevent hostility from happening in the workplace.

1. Regarding a person’s title

Titles are seen as tacky by many, and for some understandable reasons.

Needing to call someone ‘Director’, ‘Doctor’, ‘Engineer’, ‘Specialist’, or even ‘Mr.’, ‘Ms.’, or ‘Mrs.’ all the time seems like a chore and does nothing but boost their ego or show off their achievement in life.

One should keep in mind, however, that these people worked hard to earn those titles through years of hard work, studies, and sacrifices.

By purposefully calling them by their first, last, or nicknames at work without their title, in their mind, you are either purposefully disrespecting them or that you are not recognizing their role and achievements even if this wasn’t your intention.

As a result, unless they specifically allow you to call them by their first name or nickname, it would be best if you address them with their title.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, there are professionals that get highly confrontational if someone doesn’t use their title when addressing them. While being upset is understandable, making a scene or humiliating the other individual for not including the title is unacceptable.

More often than not, they just don’t know that you prefer to be addressed as such or weren’t aware of the office culture when addressing people.

Take this as an opportunity to inform them how you want to be addressed as well as asking them how they want to be addressed in return.

2. How you present yourself

While presenting a report, there is nothing more annoying in the world other than seeing one or a number of your coworkers slumped/hunched over, placing their hand on their cheek while resting their elbows on the table, checking their phone, or even picking their nose while you go over the team’s new marketing strategy.

Even if most of us can pay attention while not actively looking at the presenter, you need to take into consideration the amount of time and effort that they’ve put into preparing the report.

The mere act of sitting straight and looking at them in the eye as they present their report can actually improve their mood and make them feel more appreciated because they can see that someone is listening to what they have to say.

In doing so, the presenter will also be more inclined to answer your questions or clarify anything that you didn’t quite understand compared to asking questions when you look like you were bored out of your mind.

More often than not, the presenter will think ‘Oh, of course, you’re asking questions because you weren’t listening in the first place and may reply in an aggressive manner or ignore you outright.

As a result, always keep in mind that your posture, or rather, your body language, can affect your interaction with a coworker greatly.

If you are a presenter, however, you too will have a number of expectations to meet. No matter how flawless your report is, it is very likely that a coworker will ask a question or state that they didn’t quite understand one of your points.

In this instance, it would be in your best interest not to look annoyed or aggressive because there is a good chance that they are asking in earnest and didn’t want to interrupt you. As a matter of fact, you can view this as them wanting to make sure that they get everything right the first time instead of asking you later or after the meeting.

So try not to cross your arms, frown, or roll your eyes when someone has an inquiry.

3. Separation of work and private life

If you’re someone that’s been working at a company for months or even years now, then it is inevitable that you will form a bond or friendship with a number of your coworkers or even your boss.

While this is all fine and dandy because being friendly with your officemates would mean better cooperation and a lighter atmosphere, overstepping your bounds and being too friendly with someone can do more harm than good in the long run.

Just because you have a barbeque and drink beer with manager Bob at his place every Saturday, that doesn’t mean you can talk to him as you please at the office while you’re expected to be productive.

This lack of respect and formality can build up annoyance into your coworkers and superiors because of how casually you’re talking to them. 

Until the end of your shift, they are your coworkers, and you are expected to keep a good level of professionalism with one another.

Why is this important? Well, think of it this way: as long as you maintain your personal and professional life separated, you are also protecting yourself from any insults that a coworker might get away with by saying ‘I was just kidding around’ or ‘Come on, you used to be so friendly, I didn’t think such a joke would offend you so much and you’re the one that’s supposed to be the one that’s always goofing off and telling jokes!’.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with goofing around and making jokes with your boss while on break or off-hours, but you should keep in mind that you are there to do a job and that your time cracking jokes and messing about is eating away at paid company time.

Although this may not be your intention, sometimes your actions can communicate the wrong idea since the time could have been done finishing a report, calling clients, asking for updates from a subcontractor, or even checking your work emails.

4. Don’t hire the wrong people

For hiring managers and business owners alike, this can be the source of most negative communication at the workplace.

More often than not, we get wooed at the sight of an applicant’s credentials or work history as they’re bringing more to the table than the minimum requirement and they definitely have the skills needed to succeed.

Unfortunately, we frequently forget the personality aspect of hiring someone.

After all, you wouldn’t want to hire a hot-headed customer service representative, a sleazy and untrustworthy marketing executive, or a lazy worker that can compromise the quality of their work or product.

On the off chance that you discover that the person you hired isn’t someone that’s right for the job or the company, it is very likely that you already lost a number of prospective clients, lost a couple of employees that quit because they can’t stand the new hire, or even had your business’s reputation damaged beyond repair.

But how can we prevent this if people can fake their personalities and put on a convincing smile or behavior from various coaching videos well as interview trainers?

This is where personality and behavioral assessments come into play.

Since the early 2010s, personality tests have become an integral part of the hiring process. Large companies and corporations require their applicants to take the Harrison AssessmentOpens in a new tab. or an exam of their own choosing early on and even before the interview stage in order to filter out the incompatible ones.

These tests are not only designed to figure out if the applicant is the right person for the job, but is also a good fit for your company and its values.

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Some of them will even include an executive summary of their strengths, weaknesses, and how to even manage them, what’s the best way to improve their skills, as well as what kind of group or work environment they are most effective in.

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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