Communicating in an appropriate way at work is a no-brainer, but what does it mean to be appropriate?
What one person thinks is appropriate can be vastly different from the next person. And what we find acceptable is informed by our culture, backgrounds, and lived experiences.
So how do we ensure that we communicate in a way that doesn’t alienate our audience while still allowing connection?
The short answer to this is boundaries. It’s by ensuring we maintain proper boundaries that we keep our professional relationships professional.
At Cadence, we’ve developed a framework called The Spectrum of Communication that helps conceptualize how to do this. We generally communicate somewhere between casual, conversational, and formal. This is the Spectrum of Communication. When we are at work, our goal is to keep things conversational.
Keeping it Conversational.
When we’re conversational, we have boundaries governing personal talk, emotional disclosure, working style, and overall behaviour. These boundaries are informed by our understanding of our context in a way that still promotes connection.
In the conversational zone, we are respectful of others with the goal of making sure everyone feels comfortable and safe. We use humour appropriately and stay away from risky subjects. Work-friendly humour includes dad jokes, cheesy puns, and family friendly content.
Conversational communication focuses on building rapport. The language used is open and clear while remaining inviting to dialogue. It’s characterized by the use of greetings, open ended questions, preferred name usage, respectful language, and interest in the other person. Conversational conversations lean positive and steer clear of gossip. Think being friendly but not overfamiliar.
When a workplace is dominated by conversational communication, people can share ideas and feedback freely and collaboration flourishes. It allows people with different skills, opinions, backgrounds, and beliefs to work together towards common goals.
The Dangers of Being too Casual.
When communication is too casual, there aren’t enough boundaries. Obvious examples of this include intense emotional displays like yelling, using explicit language, and discussing topics not suitable for the workplace. It also can include oversharing, which can be fun, and others might encourage. This might feel good in the moment, but this style will ultimately undermine your ability to be effective at work.
Being casual with your colleague can feel like you’re deepening a relationship, but it’s important to tread carefully. A good rule is to always keep it conversational when at work. Being casual with a work friend outside of work on your own time is more acceptable than at the workplace.
We do caution you, however, to be mindful about professional relationships that become outside of work friendships. While work is a natural place to meet friends, there is risk in fully losing sight of the professional aspect of the relationship. While developing a friendship with a colleague, set intentional boundaries that allow you to preserve the health of your working relationship.
You don’t have to leave your personality at home, in fact it’s important that you are able to be yourself. If you are someone who enjoys jokes, that’s great, but it’s important to remain mindful that you are in the workplace context. Even if you’re saying the risky joke to someone that you’re sure will enjoy it, you don’t know who might overhear. Better to save it for another time.
Formality can Hinder Connection.
The other end of spectrum to being too casual is being too formal. Formality can stifle creativity and limit the flow of ideas. When a work environment is overly formal, there are too many boundaries in place based on hierarchy, position, and scope of work.
Formality is often confused with respect, but you can still be respectful while using a conversational tone. When formal communication is the dominant style in an organization, it inhibits even necessary change because people believe that change is exclusively top down. This can lead to major issues for a business both financially and culturally.
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Conversational communication allows us to form connections with our colleagues in ways that promote a healthy culture that is welcoming to all. It has enough barriers to keep us out of hot water, but not too many that mean we become too formal to fully connect with.
If you struggle to connect meaningfully and appropriately at work, we’re here to help. At Cadence we offer coaching, 360 reports, and courses that are all designed to help you show up as your best self.