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8 Activities to Improve Communication Skills in The Workplace
Virtually everyone with a job needs communication skills, and people rarely enjoy working in complete isolation. Even work-from-home employees, freelancers, and the self-employed need communication skills to work with clients, bosses, and team members. Communication makes the business world go 'round.
As such, it's of critical importance that you, your team members, and your employees all understand the importance of communication. Moreover, it helps improve the communication with your team across the board.
The Benefits of Improved Communication
Communication facilitates productivity in the workplace, but it has many more tangible benefits as well.
Here's just a few examples:
- It helps reduce conflict. When two members of a team, or a boss and their subordinates, disagree, it's much better to discuss the issue calmly and rationally. The alternative is raised voices, heightened emotions, petty bickering, sniping, or disrespect. This reduces turnover, minimizes disruptions, and ensures that your team is happy to come to work each day.
- It fuels innovation. Communication allows for the exchange of ideas and, more importantly, the collaborative building upon those ideas. If communication breaks down or specific team members feel unable to express their thoughts, they won't contribute to that innovation.
- It builds trust. Team members who feel as if they are part of a team will have more confidence and loyalty in one another, their bosses, and their company than those with broken communications. A close team is an effective team, and trust is an essential part of any relationship.
- It shares skills. If one team member doesn't know how to do something, they can ask and receive wisdom from their peers or boss. In a workplace without communication, they would be left on their own, either facing down fear and anxiety or the repercussions of not performing their job.
A workplace with ineffective communications will fail to achieve goals, be unable to work effectively, and fall apart at the slightest provocation.
Many companies skirt the line of communications. They leave it up to "company culture," or they hope to hire employees with good communications skills and put no further thought or effort into it. The truth is, good communication skills are not inherent; they can be trained. One of the best things you can do for your workplace is to proactively implement training activities to help learn and improve communications skills.
We've compiled eight excellent communication-building activities you can implement. These are just some of the activities available to you, but they are some of the best and most generically useful.
Before You Begin
Before you can determine what communications training activities to use, it helps to know what the communications styles are and who falls into what category in your work. For example, are your employees more or less assertive? Are they expressive or restrained?
Our best recommendation is to lay the groundwork by asking each member of your team or your employee roster to take an assessment. The "What's My Communication Style?" assessment is an excellent resource that you can use to learn where you start with each individual you want to train. It can function as a self-assessment or a proctored assessment, with additional materials to prepare the individual who will later lead the training activities. If you haven't already, it's well worth checking out before you dive into communications-building activities directly.
Once you've laid the groundwork by learning the communication style of everyone joining in your activities, you can proceed. Here are the eight best activities we've tried and tested over the years.
1. Remote Drawing
One of the more common communication games, this activity requires an even number of people. Half of the team is designated "speaker" and half "artist." The speaker is given a geometric shape or drawing of some kind (like a simple house, for example) and must instruct the artist on drawing it. The artist must draw according to their instructions. Success is judged based on the accuracy of the drawings. Typically, the roles are then switched, so everyone gets their chance in both roles. The activity takes 5-10 minutes per round.
Afterward, partners can discuss how they communicated. Keep an eye out for questions such as "what was constructive about your instructions" or "how can you decrease the chances of misinterpretation in what you describe?"
This activity can be repeated numerous times to mix-and-match partners, broaden communications, and iterate on suggestions and improve skills. However, it's worthwhile to ensure that there are no duplicates in the deck of possible drawings, so no one can guess and draw based on their past experiences.
2. Label Party
This extracurricular activity is best performed as a team-building exercise outside of everyday work, such as an office party setting. To maximize attendance, you can hold it during a workday and shift. However, it's best to ensure no one falls behind on their work during the activity. If the activity is held outside of regular work hours, pay employees for it anyway; otherwise, it cuts into work/life balance in a negative way and makes employees less willing to participate in good faith.
The activity itself is simple; each individual is assigned a role when they arrive, typically worn as a headband or hat. The individual does not know their position, but everyone else can see it.
From here, the game begins. Everyone is instructed to treat coworkers according to their assigned role during the gathering, not who they are. At the end of the activity, each person should attempt to guess their position based on their treatment.
Some variations on this game include different sorts of labels. For example, labeling traits rather than roles, such as "arrogant," "self-serving," or "leader." Another variation is to assign directives, such as "ignore me," "argue with me," or "treat me as the boss."
This activity is meant to showcase how people may be treated differently through communication variations and offer ways to get around that treatment. It also helps some people experience being treated in a way they normally wouldn't.
3. Shipwreck Survival
Another popular game for team building is commonly known as Island Survival. The concept is simple: teams of 5-10 people are assigned. They are to place themselves in the shoes of a group of people shipwrecked on a deserted island. Items wash ashore; twenty in total. However, the group is only allowed to keep five of the items and must discuss and debate which five they keep.
Items might include:
- A gun
- A bottle of water
- A radio
- A hand saw
- A cell phone
- A pocket mirror
- A tent
- A dog
- A compass
The team must decide what items to keep while discussing their reasoning. In the end, points are awarded for the best rationale, the best selection of items, or through another system.
Some variations of this game can be used instead. For example, one standard version assigns each item a certain number of points, where 10 points equal a day of survival on the island. The team with the most prolonged survival wins.
As a communication training game, the key is not to survive necessarily but to explain and discuss rationalization, and teams should also be judged on this.
4. Collaborative Counting
In this exercise, team members sit in a circle, facing away from one another or with eyes closed. The goal is simple: count to ten, one number at a time. The trick is, there are no guidelines, directives, or discussion allowed.
There are only two rules:
- No individual may say more than one number in a row. If Dave says "One," he cannot then say "Two."
- If two people speak up simultaneously or talk over one another, the count resets, and the team must start from One again.
This exercise is a combined test of several traits, including leadership, self-organization, and careful listening. Often, the most successful teams find an internal way to organize, such as counting in order around the circle. There are many possible solutions teams can create through mindfulness and collaboration.
5. Truth and Falsehoods
This is a popular icebreaker game but can also be helpful as a communications tool. Each person in a group of five or more comes up with two or three facts about themselves and one plausible-but-fake fact. They then go around the room and introduce their truths and lies. It is then up to the group to guess which are the lies.
The communication benefits here are not related to the truths or the lies, nor are they centered around the discussion or successful detection of a lie. Instead, the game allows a team to get to know each other better, find common history or interest points, and grow closer as a group. As such, this activity is best performed by a team working together. It works better with close coworkers rather than a random cross-section of employees from disparate groups throughout an organization.
6. 20 Questions
In this familiar game, one person is tasked with choosing an everyday office object that everyone in the group likely encounters regularly. The rest of the team must come up with closed questions (questions that you can answer with yes/no instead of a more robust answer) and ask them to determine what the object is.
There are variations to this game. Teams are graded based on how many or how few questions it takes to identify the object. In another, a time limit is given, and the team must guess as many objects as possible, perhaps provided by different people in the group.
This activity aims to encourage a team to think of questions that are relevant, logical, and good at narrowing down the possible pool of items. "Is the object a pencil?" is a poor question because it has a meager chance of succeeding, and failure provides very little information. "Is the object used for writing" may be more relevant to rule out large categories and so forth.
7. Improv Presentation
In this game, team members choose or are assigned a random topic for a short presentation. Presentation topics should be intentionally absurd, such as "How to be an owl" or "Why I will never be a time traveler." The goal is to improvise a makeshift presentation around the topic.
One variation on the game builds a library of stock photos and allows another team member to choose images for the presenter to use and work into their presentation. A software version of this game called Talking Points builds upon this framework as well.
8. Guided Maze
For this communications activity, two people are paired off. One is the navigator, while the other must navigate a maze or minefield. The one who navigates the minefield is blindfolded and must avoid crossing lines, stepping on objects, or otherwise encountering a barrier on the field, which should be a large open area like a parking lot. The navigator must give instructions to their partner to get them through the maze.
This game is much like the remote drawing game, but with movement instead of drawing. It tests the same sort of communications, except it uses a different language, such as unique and navigation language. Just make sure to do this activity in a safe place, so no one can accidentally trip or run into something while blindfolded.
Building Upon the Foundation
Communication skills do not stay the same forever, and they can atrophy over time as an individual fails to exercise the m properly. Likewise, they can be trained and grow, helping anyone become a more effective communicator.
Another excellent idea is to take the What's My Communication Style assessment before training to establish a baseline. Then, spend some time performing different training scenarios and instructing employees on what they've done right and where they can improve. Once this advice has been internalized, re-take the assessment to see how your skills may have changed.
Which of these activities interested you the most? Have you tried any of these already in your organization? Do you have any questions for us? Please let us know in the comments section! We'd love to hear from you.
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