Communication at work is one of the most valuable tools that a freelancer can have. Being able to communicate effectively can help manage tough client situations, negotiate higher pay, build stronger relationships with your colleagues, and help you develop in your business.
There are many different ways in which people communicate, and we wanted to share with you some of our top tips in how to communicate more effectively at work.
Five tips in how to communicate more effectively at work
Don’t just hear – listen.
Active listening is an underrated skill in the workplace but an important example of a fundamental business tool that we can all improve on to become more effective communicators.
Because freelancers generally don’t sit in the same office as their client, it’s critical that when we do have that face-to-face time (or phone, video, etc.), we make the effort to take in all the information we’re getting rather than fixating on what we want to say.
Here are few active listening phrases that can help you ensure you understand the project on your plate, as well as give your client confidence that you’re the best person for the job.
- “It sounds like…” Here, you demonstrate that you’ve analyzed the job and expectations, and clarify that you understood everything correctly.
- “I’ve noticed that…” If you point out something unexpected or interesting about the project, using this phrase will prevent you from walking away with a lack of clarity or lingering questions. You’re getting them answered on the spot.
- “Let me make sure I’m hearing you correctly.” Communication in the workplace is never a one-way street. The value comes from building an open avenue where both sides can listen and ask questions. Here, you assure your client that you’ve been following, and confirm that you’re both on the same page.
Pro tip: Resist the urge to concentrate on what you’re saying next. You’ll have better input if you take the time to genuinely understand someone’s meaning and draw conclusions from the bigger picture. This is how you’ll form trust and build and maintain stronger relationships with your clients.
Develop communication rules.
This starts with setting availability, response time windows, and understanding when business hours overlap. If I’m working out of Europe, but my client is based in San Francisco, it should be understood from the beginning that we aren’t operating in the same hours, and from there establishing an acceptable delay in responding to emails (12 hours, 24 hours, etc.).
But communicating effectively in the workplace comes down to more than just availability. Through which channels do you want to communicate? Is a text or WhatsApp better than email for a short, quick message? And what about for receiving feedback or having a tough conversation?
Rules established from the beginning will ensure that both parties are on the same page and help build trust through the project and the projects that follow.
Pro tip: Though it can take more time, communicate in writing as much as possible. Misunderstandings are easy over the phone, but when you have expectations written out, there’s much less room for error.
Make meetings meaningful.
“This meeting could have been an email” has been a popular meme throughout the pandemic. Check out this ribbon sold on Amazon. Don’t waste your time or your client’s time with unnecessary meetings. Lack of communication is an obvious problem, but bad or unneeded communication is not the solution.
Meetings are meaningful when real-time back-and-forth conversation is needed to reach a particular outcome. Here are some questions you can ask to decide if a meeting is necessary:
- Am I looking for an open discussion?
- Do I need verbal input to make progress?
- Do I have a specific meeting agenda?
- Do I need to collaborate with my client to move forward?
Pro tip: Write out your goals for every meeting, even if they seem mundane. If you can’t think of clear goals, it’s indicative that the meeting might not be all that meaningful.
Ask for feedback.
Feedback is a coin with two sides: giving and receiving. As freelancers, it’s important that we continually take the feedback we receive to improve where needed and continue what we’re doing well. Our clients likewise have an obligation to provide workplace feedback effectively, so both sides can continue forward.
Here are three guidelines in giving effective feedback:
- Be specific.
- Be realistic.
- Focus on the behavior, not the person.
And here are three guidelines in how to receive feedback effectively:
- Listen actively.
- Be aware of how you respond.
- Reflect and follow up.
Pro tip: Meetings are a good avenue for a feedback session because they allow for open communication. However, it’s also valuable to accompany the meeting with written feedback, so we can visually see our areas of success and our areas for improvement.
Work is hard. It’s stressful. And it isn’t always fun. But being human and having a sense of humor goes a long way in effective communication. A lot people think that humor has no place in the workplace, but Stanford GSB Professor Jennifer Aaker says otherwise: “Showing your sense of humor can make your peers and your friends attribute more perceptions of confidence and status to us while also cultivating a sense of trust.”
Pro tip: The quality of your work will always be what garners you new projects and new clients. But don’t underestimate the power of relationships. Building strong rapport and human connections with the people you work with just might be what gets you your next job. People will always recommend those that they genuinely enjoy working with.
When it comes to communicating effectively as a freelancer, following these tips can give you an edge when you negotiate pay and seek new projects, and it’ll help you build trust with your clients. But like with anything, the more you practice, the better you get, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get that killer job when you first start out.