Building Effective Workplace Communication and Relationships

It is no secret that open, transparent and constructive communication is the key to any successful relationship. Whether we are talking about communication in our personal lives or in the workplace, the outcome is almost identical just in a different setting.

The absence of effective communication leads to misalignment, and it is the misalignment component that has the greatest impact and ability to destroy goal achievement, satisfaction, and overall wellbeing.

Think about the last time you and a partner or friend had an argument, misunderstanding or you just felt disconnected. What led to you feeling this way? It is highly likely that in some way the underlying contributor was a lack of effective communication. Here is an example:

‘Jenni is rushing to get to get to work for an early meeting and her friend Kim calls while she’s in the car, suggesting that they catch up this Saturday night for her birthday. It has been ages since they last saw each other so Jenni responds saying it should be OK and that she will speak to Kim later in the week to confirm.

Saturday comes around quickly and whilst Jenni is standing watching her son play school footy her phone starts ringing, it’s Kim! Jenni panics – she’s completely forgotten about their chat during the week about dinner but figures a last-minute dinner at Kim’s house will save cooking, the kids will get a play date, and her partner can drive so you can have a few well-deserved drinks after a busy week.

Kim announces she has booked a table for four at the new restaurant/bar that has just opened in the city for 8pm. Kim and her partner will pick them up at 7:30pm in an Uber. Jenni gets that sinking feeling. There is no way she will be able to get a babysitter this late and not to mention after a busy week, the last thing she feels like doing is having a late dinner and having to dress up.

When Jenni explains to her friend that she has forgotten all about dinner and that she doesn’t have a babysitter, Kim gets annoyed and tells Jenni that she figured because she didn’t hear from her after they spoke, that this meant the plans were confirmed. Kim also reminds her friend that given it is for her birthday that of course she would want to go out! Kim tells Jenni not to worry about dinner and that she should have known this would happen and hangs up quite abruptly!

Jenni feels awful. Why is it whenever the two ladies organise something that they always end up with a misunderstanding? It is not the first time this has happened, and Jenni is pretty sure it won’t be the last!’

What do you think were the key communication issues that led to this outcome? Here’s a list of a few things that contributed to the outcome:

  • Plans were organised ‘on the fly,’ meaning Jenni was not in the best position to set and agree to plans.
  • The friends did not confirm the details or context of the ‘catch up’ and what this would look like.
  • Kim assumed that because Jenni didn’t follow up with her that this meant plans were confirmed.
  • Jenni didn’t follow through on her commitment to confirm the plans with Kim.
  • Kim also assumed that because it was her birthday that her friend would automatically know how they would be celebrating (i.e., dinner with no children and out somewhere fancy).

Try replacing the people in the story with two people in the workplace, either co-workers or as a leader with a direct report. Change the situation around slightly and I’m sure this type of misunderstanding is something almost everyone would have experienced before. Regardless of the situation, the misalignment and lack of clarity will almost always lead to less than desired results and leave both parties frustrated.

The single most important element to achieve the most effective outcome when setting or receiving task, is open, transparent, and effective communication.

So, what does this look like?


1. Listening and Being Present

Firstly, active listening requires your full attention. It means being present in the moment. Not distracted on your phone, attempting to have two conversations at once, or thinking about the meeting you are about to jump into.

Active listening is about switching off from your surroundings and listening to what someone is telling you. Try not to interrupt, do the talking instead of listening, and don’t assume you have determined the problem, solution, or detail before you have truly listened to what you are being told. Demonstrate you are listening with good eye contact and open body language. Show empathy when it is required, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and share your stories, learnings and challenges too.

Ask questions to seek to understand, not just to respond. Ask questions to draw out information that will help contextualise your discussion and try paraphrasing or summarising what you believe the person is telling you or asking you to respond to. This will help you to gain a mutual understanding of what is being discussed and whether you need to provide anything to support the situation or outcome.

If you are unable to give your full attention, then arrange a time to meet when you do have the capacity to be fully present and not distracted. The other person would most likely prefer to wait than not have your full focus.

2. Developing Trust (Two-way trusting relationships)

Developing trust in the workplace is one of the key contributors to effective workplace relationships, harmony, and constructive culture. Trust is not something that happens immediately. Over time each person in the relationship needs to build mutual respect, commitment to the same goals, and open communication.

Congruence is a major contributor to building trust. Knowing that what a person says, is also what they feel, builds a strong element of consistency and reliability. Remove congruence and you have situations where a person will agree to something or demonstrate their support for a team member’s idea only for them to openly discredit or dismiss the idea when speaking to others. In a second any trust you may have built has been wiped out.

Humans love predictability, stability, and consistency. They dislike feeling fooled, misled, or unsupported. Your role as the leader is to provide a safe environment where people can speak up constructively, seek honest feedback from you, ask questions when they don’t understand something or when they need your help, just knowing you will be available.

Follow through on your commitments, provide an open environment where people do not fear speaking up constructively and where they feel safe to be open and honest.

You will find communication will flow much more freely, you’ll hear about problems they are experiencing in completing their tasks before it’s too late, you’ll be able to help direct them towards achieving effective outcomes and better still, they’ll equally have your back too!

3. Share, share, share…

Consistent communication is essential to ensuring the right information reaches the right person, at the right time. If you’re not speaking to your staff on a formal basis regularly (i.e., team meeting, 1:1 meeting, group huddles, scrums, etc.) then it’s unlikely you are providing consistent information and messaging to your team.

Highly effective individual workplace performance is generally founded on the employee being connected to the organisation, the current challenges, successes, and impacts, and how their work feeds in and out of the ‘bigger picture.’ Most people want to come to work and achieve meaningful outcomes and have purpose.

If you’re not already sharing this information with your team then try to include it next time you meet. Find the best way to get regular information from above to your team, sometimes this might be as easy as highlighting a couple of key messages from your meeting with your line manager, the management team meeting, or another avenue. This information may prove vital in helping to boost productivity and the quality of work your team deliver.

Information sharing is integral to any functioning workplace. Withholding information either intentionally or unintendedly, is destructive either way. Be consistent in how you share information with your team whilst it doesn’t have to be done in a formal monthly team meeting setting, you do need to make sure you keep people working remotely or who work part-time, etc. just as connected as the people who are always around.

Most importantly ask your team what they would like to know more about, and how they would like to receive this information. You will find that they’ll do all the thinking for you!

4. Clear Articulation (CPQQRT)

In this month’s Lead Magnet that we provide to our monthly retainer clients, we introduced the C-P-Q-Q-R-T model for delegating or receiving a task. Clear articulation of the task, activity or plan using this framework results in a greater level of understanding and clarity between the task giver and task receiver. Overall leading to more effective results and a lot less confusion and frustration.

Context | Purpose | Quality | Quantity | Resources | Time  


How does this task/activity fit into the big picture?

What is the background to this task; and how did it originate?


How will the deliverable be used?

What will the task achieve?


Is it something that needs to be comprehensive, or is it just a quick activity?


What does the deliverable/task output look like?  (i.e., a report, email, a few dot points.)


What resources/help is available to support the completion of the task?


When does the task/deliverable need to be completed by?

Now let’s take a minute to revisit our story with friends Jenni and Kim and insert the CPQQRT model into the planning and a few of the other helpful hints in this article.

Firstly, Jenni was in no real state to be making plans whilst in a rush to get to work, she would have been better to explain to her friend that she was running late and offered to give her a call that night when she could actively listen and be 100% present in the conversation.

In the story, the context and purpose were reasonably well articulated. It was clear that Kim was asking whether Jenni was free to catch up on Saturday night to celebrate her birthday. Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of the information that was clarified and what ultimately led to the miscommunication between the two friends.

Neither Jenni nor Kim went into the detail (Quality, Quantity, Resources and Time).  Just a little more discussion to clarify the dinner and a few more questions would have removed the assumptions made. Refer to the example below:


 What sort of dinner? (i.e., home, restaurant, low key/fancy)

“I’d like to try out that new bar/restaurant that has just opened up in the city on ABC street.”


Who is invited? (i.e., kids, partners, do I need a babysitter, etc)

“I was thinking if you can get a babysitter that we should go out with the partners for once!”


What type of budget are we working towards (i.e., expensive, cheap, average, etc.)

“I think the prices are a little more expensive. If that’s a problem we can always find somewhere a bit cheaper.”


What time should we make it? (i.e., is earlier or later better?) What time works best?

“I was thinking a later dinner, will that work for you?”

Setting your Plan of Action:

So, what’s next? After reading this article what is one thing you are going to try to do differently when next communicating with your team?

  • Will you make sure you are present and actively listening when making plans or discussing a task with one of your team members?
  • Are you going to start scheduling more regular team catch ups?
  • Will you find key information (non-sensitive) that you can regularly feed down to your team from your meeting with your leader (or peers)?
  • Are you going to ask your team what information they would like to hear more about; what information will help them to complete their job more effectively; or how often do they want to hear from you or meet as a team?
  • How will can you incorporate CPQQRT when you next delegate a task to one of your team, or receive a task from your line manager?
  • How can you develop your team in the CPQQRT tool so that they too can use this when working with you?
  • Do you know what your relationship is like with your team and whether you currently have a culture of being open and transparent? If not, how can you start to gain trust and communicate your desire to change?

No matter what it is you choose to focus on, just pick a few. Don’t be overwhelmed by the endless opportunities you might have ahead of you. Just take one at a time and choose the ones that will have the biggest impact on effective communication and workplace relationships first. As you build your confidence and start to notice change, you can gradually focus on other forms of improvement!

Need support?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at BespokeHR for coaching or support around developing effective communication and two-way trusting relationships with your team. We’d be happy to help!