Top tips to maintain respectful communication in the workplace

By Robert Half on 14 July 2021

They way in which we communicate with our coworkers says a lot about who we are. Our chosen communication style can have an impact on how we make others feel at work which usually affects how we are perceived and treated in return. Unsurprisingly, respectful communication in the workplace is critical to building an overall workplace culture that supports strong, quality working relationships and a happy, productive, and inclusive environment for everyone.

With the potential to improve your workplace culture, your own working experience and the experiences of others, here are some top tips to make sure you’re always a respectful communicator in the workplace.

Ditch your unconscious biases

Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining respectful communication in the workplace is unconscious bias. Essentially, unconscious biases are the social stereotypes some people hold about certain groups of individuals which cause them to treat members of those groups differently without even knowing.

Showing a lack of interest in the ideas of younger colleagues because of their age, preferencing colleagues with similar cultural backgrounds to your own, or failing to treat men and women in the workplace equally, are some of the many examples of where unconscious bias can affect our communication style with others.

Allowing unconscious bias to influence how we communicate with others will have a negative impact on employee morale, our ability to collaborate effectively in teams, and job satisfaction. Respectful communication in the workplace and treating everyone equally, irrespective of people’s cultural or social background, is therefore one of the most important factors for successfully building diverse workforces which bring a multitude of benefits to companies, as well as professionals and their careers.

Value different opinions

It’s well-known that teams solve problems faster and are more productive when they are enriched with a variety of skills and perspectives, which are usually influenced by the differences in people’s background and experiences. It’s therefore important to understand that every person’s view has its place in the working environment, even if it’s different to your own. When communicating with someone who has a different opinion, make sure you acknowledge that their opinion matters and that you’re willing to consider their view. It’s also crucial to show that you understand their intentions are positive, or possibly even the same as your own, as you work effectively towards reaching a common consensus or goal – even if it’s “agreeing to disagree”.

Think about how you present yourself to others

Everyone responds differently to alternative communication styles, so be mindful of how you come across to individuals. For example, while some people might appreciate a person’s self-confidence, energy, or ability to make light of tricky situations, others might see this as intimidating or even offensive in certain situations. Similarly, a lack of passion or non-emotive communication style during challenging times could come across as insensitive or careless to some, while others might interpret this as calming and value your laidback vibe.

When dealing with people in the workplace through the ups and downs and everything in between, be prepared to read their visual cues, engage your emotional intelligence, and ensure you communicate in a way that is not only helpful, but gets the best out of people in the circumstances.

Always listen

Communication is always a two-way street, which means you should never make your own views clear without giving others a chance to respond. Not being prepared to hear the opinions of others makes people feel undervalued and affects their morale, especially if this behaviour is repeated. But there’s also plenty to gain from listening to the other side – after all, we can’t know everything and we’re certainly not always right. Hearing what someone else has to say in response to your communication will often open your mind to alternative ways of thinking or even new ideas for doing this better.

Speak truth and avoid hearsay

Communicating on matters – whether verbally or via email – when you’re not sure of the facts can cause unnecessary worry, offence, or harm to others. Before communicating, always spend time fact checking what you’re about to say, gain the relevant permission, and avoid any temptation to embellish the truth or spread gossip. Being careless around your communications isn’t just disrespectful to some, it can also serve to erode the trust and confidence everyone has in your communications moving forward.

For example, speculating on redundancies in response to a restructure is one way to cause disruption or unnecessarily change the way staff feel about their abilities or employer. Similarly, sharing assumptions around why someone may be seeking a change of working hours or job shows a lack of respect for people’s individual circumstances or challenges that you might not understand or have experience with.

Respectful communication in the workplace is the bedrock of an inclusive, motivated, and productive workforce. But everyone must play their part because it only takes one disrespectful communicator to spread negative energy. Demonstrating respectful communication by following a few best practice guidelines could be an easy and effective way to make a big difference in your team.

More From the Blog...