Effective communication activities in the business setting require an exchange of information between two or more parties, not just the simple act of bleating out a bottled message to the universe and calling it a success. Canned or bottled messages constitute gaslighting. Productive communication, on the other hand, occurs when data of all types pass between two or more people with an agreement about the precise definitions of the system of symbols, signs or behaviors used.
Types of Communication
Far more than three or four types of classic communication exist. In addition to verbal and nonverbal, formal and informal and written or spoken communication, the following ways to convey meaning and call for action have increased in importance:
- Artifact usage (images and objects)
- Haptics (touch, vibrations or motions)
- Proxemics (body position and spacing)
Understanding Artifact Usage
Artifacts consist of images and objects. Emojis and emoticons, GIFs and avatars, flow charts and diagrams, maps and charts, graphic organizers, photographs and hand-drawn or computer-aided drawings all fit into the artifact category. These artifacts provide visual information intended to replace body language, including gestures and facial expressions.
When emails and text message threads devolve into flame wars, the absence of gestures and facial expressions usually provided the matches. Based on the appearance of existing punctuation marks on a keyboard, emoticons emerged as a common but informal form of communication. For instance, combining a colon with a right-facing parenthesis mark resulted in the smiley face.
Matching a semicolon with that same right-facing parenthesis mark created the "winkie". Using the left-facing one produces the frown. These combinations of punctuation marks allowed colleagues to provide the missing information normally conveyed by body language in emails and text messages that otherwise came across as intentionally rude or offensive.
Emojis and Emoticons
Many people do not know that emojis vary in appearance from device to device, and different people often ascribe meanings to them that the sender did not intend or anticipate. Sending an ear of corn, an eggplant, a tomato and a string bean at the end of an innocuous message about the farm produce that you just harvested should not confuse anyone.
Sending the eggplant image by itself, however, does not strike the correct note when drumming up customers for your heirloom seed catalog, If you insist on using emojis, treat them the same as any other image and provide a caption explaining the intended meaning of each one. The responsibility for ensuring that your message does not confuse your audience lies solely in your court.
Adding Alternative Text
Speaking of captions, make them paint a more accurate picture by describing not only what the readers should see but also what they hear, feel, smell and taste. For example, the alternative text for an image of a teddy bear picnic should include whether or not the bear sits on a bench beside a picnic table or in a beach chair with an umbrella drink in the cupholder. Add how sweet or sour the lemonade or tea tastes and whether or not the ice in the cup has melted.
Describe the sounds and smells: the scent of exhaust fumes from passing traffic on a nearby freeway and birds chirping while bees or dragonflies hover. Breathe in the scent of seaweed drying in the noonday sun or feel the rasping grains of wind-blown sand hitting your face. Not only does alternative text help sighted readers know what image might still be loading, but readers with low or no vision or limited hearing appreciate a multi-sensory description that plays to their strengths.
About Haptic Feedback
Haptic feedback occurs through the use of touch, vibrations or motions. Examples of haptic communication include:
- A cell phone buzzing while in silent mode
- Playing any online fishing games that require you to cast the line with your finger motion
- Sports-related video games in which waving your hands and arms or moving your legs results in being able to kick or punch obstacles
Haptic cues increase task engagement, accuracy and completion speed by as much as 50%. In a world where engagement can fall below 35 percent of any company's total employees at any given moment, haptic feedback can make or break an underperforming division.
Observe the Effects of Proxemics
Proxemics refers to body position and spacing. Where people position themselves in relation to one another reveals how well they know and trust one another and may indicate who holds the most power in the relationship. People who just met tend to stand farther apart than best friends or family members. The person who holds the most power also typically occupies the largest space.
Whet Their Appetites
When you engage in activities to improve communication skills in the workplace, give your intended recipients an irresistible reason to pay attention during training sessions and effective communication activities. In other words, make them an offer they can’t bear to refuse. Hold a contest with a high-value prize that will enhance their ability to communicate with customers and associates alike, such as a laptop, phone or tablet.
Jettison Industry Jargon
Either save industry jargon for annual sales conferences or prepare to explain each of those terms before getting to the meat of your message. Use of jargon alienates customers, suppliers and other stakeholders when their industry knowledge falls short of your own experience and training.
Consequently, never use industry jargon without first providing definitions that your customers and suppliers understand. Rather than making you appear wise, the use of undefined terms inevitably leads to confusion when the other parties to a given transaction interpret industry-specific vocabulary through a different lens than you intended.
Keep It Short
The ability to pay attention develops over time. Given the right incentives, most adults will keep their eyes on the speaker, wait their turn to speak and ask clarifying or probing questions during quarterly or annual meetings. Even new hires straight out of high school have an attention span for at least 15 to 20 minutes of instruction at a time.
Employees who attended college preparatory classes in high school proved their ability and willingness to pay attention for an hour of instruction at a time. Their familiarity with hour-long instructional modules mirrors their performance in post-secondary education settings such as community colleges or universities. Although many college classes last three credit hours, those hours typically occur on alternating days.
College-age employees, therefore, should receive at least 12 to 24 hours of downtime to spend on reflection and integration of any new information added to their pre-existing knowledge base. The reasonable expectation for employees, suppliers and other stakeholders to attend training sessions that last multiple days for up to three hours each will provide plenty of room for multiple topics, lecture time and active breakout sessions.
Nonverbal Communication Activities for Adults Using Memes
Nonverbal communication activities for adults often mirror communication activities for students, with added sophistication. One great activity that will help improve nonverbal communication skills requires employees to create memes that incorporate company logos and popular images.
First, divide the training session attendees into pairs. Next, ask each pair of trainees to combine various images with slogans. Beta test the resulting memes with the employees from other departments, divisions or companies. Have each trainee explain what meaning they think their new memes express.
Finally, assign trainees to use their newly-created memes every day for the next two weeks both at work and at home. Use charts and graphs to record the reactions of both outsiders and teammates alike. Did outsiders recognize the symbols, for example, or did they need extensive input to understand and implement them?
Play Team Sports
Outdoor activities such as baseball, field hockey, kickball or soccer require group members to coordinate their efforts in order to score while they prevent the opposing team from doing the same. Fast or slow runner, good catcher or bad, heavy hitter or bunter, every team member learns to play to her strengths. Play departments and divisions against each other or go head to head with competing local businesses.
Play the Mirror Game
Attach an empty wall portrait frame between two desks using duct tape or other available strong adhesives that will not make the building custodian hate you after completing the exercise. Have two program participants face one another with the empty "mirror" between them. Using slow, smooth gestures, have each trainee copy or "mirror" every gesture that employee A performs. After a few minutes, trade places so that worker B leads and staff member A follows.
Be a Backseat Taskmaster
This activity works as well with adult students as it does with co-workers. Choose one participant to lead the task. Seat the leader behind everyone else so that the group remains in full view. Do not make it possible for the remaining players to turn and face the leader. Provide everyone with giant marshmallows or gumdrops and skewers or chopsticks.
While watching the group from behind, the leader describes how to build a square by providing verbal instructions only with no visual examples and no feedback. Time the task and reward anyone who completes the exercise. Time permitting, allow as many employees as possible to take the leading role. As an added lesson in empathy, ensure that when managers participate, they must do so as followers.
Creating Classroom Activities for Communication Skills
When creating classroom activities for communication skills, shorter activities allow trainees to finish each task before tackling the next one. Finishing each task leads to mastery, which gives employees the confidence to attempt new and difficult things without giving up right away.
Allow trainees to group themselves and perform prepackaged work-related training activities when they finish their duties and meet quotas ahead of schedule. Provide time for slower team members to work on the activities as well, substituting a corresponding assignment when needed.
Sources of Activities to Improve Communication Skills in the Workplace
If you have ever played paintball or laser tag, engaged in role-playing games or taken part in National Guard training exercises, you have plenty of options for activities to improve communication skills in the workplace. Game rooms that encourage groups to play role-playing games abound, as do escape rooms. Such activities help teams improve their collaborative problem-solving skills, especially when you limit interactions to gestures, eye contact and wordless signaling.
Learning to clear a room of potential threats using only gestures and eye contact forces team members to rely on one another and trust each other's judgment. High ropes courses also force workplace teams to hone their nonverbal communication skills.
Allow additional ideas for nonverbal communication activities to originate with employees themselves. Form a brainstorming team that meets on a regular schedule and test their best ideas on the entire workforce. Sweeten the pot by allowing team members to leave work early, for example, or return late from breaks for every idea they eventually implement.