Robert Kent, former dean of Harvard Business School, said it best: "In business, communication is everything." Often called a soft skill, communication provides an essential link between all core functions in an organization. When staff and administration effectively engage in all forms of written and oral communication, the organization improves its profitability and credibility within the business community.

Standardize communication methods. Each individual within an organization has a preferred communication style: email, voice mail, memos, company intranet or face-to-face conversations. Problems arise when employees rely heavily on one particular method, such as memos, and avoid dealing directly with colleagues. If you are a manager or supervisor, clearly indicate the preferred communication method for specific situations to all employees.

Promote more face-to-face communication. Employees can skillfully communicate factual information electronically using email, intranets, faxes and voice mail. But they must use a more direct approach when dealing with human emotion; for example, promotions, demotions, reprimands, differences of opinion and congratulatory messages.

Practice active listening. Go beyond listening only to the content of an individual's speech. Listen to the whole person by carefully observing facial expressions, gestures and changes in posture. Listen without judgment and refrain from interrupting. At appropriate intervals, restate what you think you have heard and ask the employee for further clarification.

Respect diversity. The workplace is no longer a homogeneous one; employees reflect differences in age, race, ethnicity, physical abilities and sexual orientation. As manager or supervisor, you must be aware of different communication and work styles. For example, some Asian employees may not be comfortable with direct eye contact. In these cases, face-to-face communication can be awkward and stressful.

Increase employee participation during meetings. Designate a different facilitator at each meeting; this will give each employee an opportunity to improve his leadership and communication skills. Start each meeting with a different icebreaker and actively solicit the opinions of the quieter employees.