They way in which we communicate with our co-workers 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 essential to building strong, quality working relationships and creating a happy, productive and inclusive environment for everyone.

Ditch your unconscious biases

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 or giving preference to colleagues with similar cultural backgrounds to your own are some of the many examples of how unconscious bias can affect our communication with others.

Allowing unconscious bias to influence how we communicate with others can have a negative impact on employee morale, our ability to collaborate effectively in teams and job satisfaction – of others and yourself. Once you are aware of your own biases, it becomes easier to mitigate against them, leading to equal and respectful treatment for everyone and helping to build a more diverse workforce, which brings a multitude of benefits to companies and their employees.

Value different opinions

Teams solve problems more quickly 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. To get the most from a diverse team, it’s important that every person’s view is heard and considered, 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. As you are part of a team working towards common goals and objectives, any difference in opinions will stem from a place of positivity and you should show this understanding as you work with them to reach a consensus – even it it’s ‘agreeing to disagree’.

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 – it’s a way of showing that you value others’ perspectives. Not being prepared to hear the opinions of others makes people feel undervalued and affects their morale, especially if this behaviour is repeated. There’s also plenty to gain from listening to the other side. 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 with your communications isn’t just disrespectful to some, it can also serve to erode trust in confidence in your organisation and in you, especially if the information you share turns out to be inaccurate.

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.

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. Some people might appreciate self-confidence, energy, or ability to make light of tricky situations, while others might find this 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, it’s crucial to consider your audience and how you want them to think, feel and act as a result of your conversation. Be prepared to read visual cues, engage your emotional intelligence and ensure you communicate in a way that is helpful, and that will get the best out of people, whatever the circumstances.

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.