Job Success: Common Workplace Communication

Lesson 6: Common Workplace Communication


Common workplace communication

This lesson will help you to recognize strategies for...

  • Positive workplace communication
  • Accepting instruction from the supervisor
  • Explaining a problem to a supervisor
  • Asking for help from supervisor or coworker
  • Receiving and giving constructive criticism

What is positive communication?

Take a moment to think about the different ways we communicate with one another. We communicate using our words, bodies, and facial expressions. Communication plays an especially important role in the workplace.

Positive communication is important in the workplace because:

  • It fosters strong business relationships and customer service, thereby increasing business
  • It creates a professional, mutually respectful atmosphere between employees and superiors
  • It increases confidence and morale


  • Have you ever worked in an environment where there was open, positive workplace communication? What people/policies/factors influenced positive communication? Did such communication have a positive effect on your productivity or attitude? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever worked in an environment where there was poor workplace communication? What people/policies/factors influenced poor communication? Did such communication have a negative effect on your productivity or attitude? Why or why not?

Positive workplace communication

Positive workplace communication goes a long way towards creating a productive and happy team. Read the examples below, and think about which ones show positive workplace communication.

  • Speaking in a pleasant, conversational tone
  • Talking too loudly
  • Dressing inappropriately
  • Maintaining self-control at all times
  • Using profanity
  • Telling inappropriate jokes
  • Demonstrating a calm presence
  • Using sarcasm
  • Demonstrating a respectful and courteous attitude
  • Spreading gossip
  • Smiling when appropriate
  • Ignoring others
  • Demonstrating patience
  • Whining about company policies or coworkers
  • Mumbling complaints
  • Doing your job to the best of your ability
  • Frowning much of the time
  • Doing a poor job
  • Using the "you" attitude, showing an interest in other's needs
  • Criticizing others
  • Sharing responsibilities equally when working in teams
  • Dressing professionally
  • Using slang
  • Respecting confidentiality policies

Workplace communication isn't always easy

While it may be easy to recognize positive workplace communication, it's not always easy to demonstrate it on a day-to-day basis. Workplace communication can be difficult when:

  • Accepting instruction from your supervisor
  • Explaining a problem to your supervisor
  • Asking for help from a coworker
  • Accepting and giving constructive criticism

In the workplace, your conduct should demonstrate maturity and professionalism.

Communicating with your supervisor

A conversation taking place through instant messages

The way in which supervisors communicate with their employees has as much to do with their unique personalities as their managerial styles. For example, you may have a supervisor who is stern and direct, telling you what to do and how to do it—clearly communicating expectations. Or you may have a hands-off supervisor who will give you an idea of what to do with no clear distinction on how to go about doing it.

You may work best with a certain type of supervisor, but learning to communicate effectively with your supervisor is crucial to your workplace success—whatever his or her managerial style.

Accepting instruction from your supervisor

A supervisor's primary function is to direct and instruct employees. When accepting instruction from your supervisor:

  • Keep a positive attitude; remember, it's this person's job to tell you what to do
  • Take notes if necessary
  • Ask probing questions when an explanation is given
  • Ask for resources such as manuals, other people, and websites; your supervisor might know of such resources but neglect to mention them
  • If your questions are met with unclear answers and explanations, don't panic and instead conduct more research; if appropriate, use coworkers as resources

Explaining a problem to your supervisor

It can be difficult to explain a problem to your supervisor without displaying angry, confrontational, whiny, or desperate behavior. Displaying such behavior will only undermine your supervisor's willingness to listen to your problem. When explaining a problem to your supervisor:

  • Ask your supervisor (when alone or via email) if he or she has some time to talk; don't mention specifics, and estimate the amount of time you'll need
  • State the problem calmly and clearly
  • Make a request
  • Get feedback
  • Consider the next step
  • Follow up

Asking for help from a coworker

Let's say you're working on a particular project and your supervisor has mentioned a coworker who may be able to help you. Or perhaps you're having trouble with a project and know of a coworker who has some expertise in that area. When asking a coworker for help:

  • Assume that this person is busy people with his or her own tasks
  • Ask if he or she has time to talk about something you're working on
  • Don't ask for much time—15 minutes maximum
  • Mention what you're working on and any problems or questions you might have
  • Be specific in your request for help; don't ask for too much
  • Don't expect this person to do your job for you
  • If he or she says "no", be courteous and say "thank you" for his or her time
  • If this coworker is helpful, try to return the favor, such as by offering your expertise on a project, giving a small gift such as an office plant, or treating this person to coffee
  • Thank him or her again at a later time when it's not necessarily expected

Accepting constructive feedback

In the workplace, it's likely that you or your work will be criticized. Criticism focuses on how your work fails to meet expectations or standards. While it's natural to bristle when receiving unfair criticism, learn how to accept critical feedback without becoming angry or defensive. After all, if we were constantly praised for everything we do, how would we improve our work?

Ideally, your supervisor and coworkers will criticize your work constructively and not resort to nagging and negativity. Constructive criticism seeks to measure, analyze, and evaluate your work against an acceptable standard.

In order to be a constructive critic, your supervisor should not simply point out that your work fails to meet standards. Instead, your supervisor should illustrate how your work fails to meet standards. Helpful critics offer feedback, advice, insight, and suggestions that can improve your work.

It's important to recognize and accept that constructive critics are trying to help you improve your work, not attacking you personally.

When accepting constructive feedback...

  • Relax before meeting
  • Listen attentively
  • Take notes
  • Answer any questions the critic may have honestly
  • Let the person finish talking before asking questions
  • Offer explanations if necessary
  • Seek ways to improve your work based on the critic's suggestions

At some point, you may be given an opportunity to critique a coworker's work. Be sensitive and careful not to attack this person. Focus on how his or her work could be improved in order to meet acceptable standards.