Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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Effective communication in the workplace

2 Types of conversation

Conversation is likely to be the most common scenario in which your verbal communication skills are required in the workplace.

Conversations can be formal or informal, work related or sometimes about building relationships with colleagues, such as when you discuss what you did at the weekend, sporting events or television programmes you’ve enjoyed.

As with the types of communication outlined in the previous section, you will find many different classifications and frameworks for conversation in both the business and academic literature.

Here, you’ll concentrate on the work of Ford and Ford (2009), who classify workplace conversation as follows:

Initiative conversations – where you propose something new or different, i.e. initiating something. Effective initiative conversations will tell people what you want to accomplish, when you want to accomplish it and why it matters.

Understanding conversations – the most important aspect in this case is that they are two-way dialogues. The purpose of these conversations is to get a full view of how to make something happen and who will work to accomplish it.

Performance conversations – these are conversations that include specific requests and promises to clarify the actions, results and other requirements that you expect someone to deliver. Performance conversations are specifically designed to get people into actions, and they provide the foundation for building accountability.

Closure conversations – involve reporting on the status of a project, follow-up on a request or promise, or confirm that a job is complete. These conversations build credibility, accountability and good relationships.

Ford and Ford go on to explain that by using these four conversation types appropriately, you will have more success in initiating things, getting people to understand your message, promoting effective action, and completing things.

Most of us will be proficient in using some of these conversation types and not so comfortable with others. By reflecting on those we use most often and learning when it is appropriate to use each type, we can make sure our conversations are more productive for all involved.

Activity 1 Which conversation type?

Timing: Allow 10 minutes for this activity

Look at the following scenarios and choose the most appropriate conversation type from the list.

Martha is going to be involved in a new project. She has lots of ideas about how to do things. She’s excited about the project meeting next week.

Initiative

Understanding

Performance

Closure

George has been working with a client for three years, their contract is coming to an end and he is moving to a new department. He has a final meeting with them tomorrow.

Initiative

Understanding

Performance

Closure

Parminder is implementing a new IT system in her department. There has been a lot of resistance to the idea and she has decided to meet with each section of the team to discuss it in more detail.

Initiative

Understanding

Performance

Closure

Discussion

Martha and the project team need to have an initiative conversation, where they can share their goals and ideas, and work out what they want to accomplish.

George and his client should have a closure conversation in which they celebrate a productive partnership and confirm that the job is complete. This will help to maintain their positive relationship and might lead to more work in the future.

Parminder needs to have several understanding conversations with the team. She needs to make sure they have an opportunity to share their views and that she listens and is clear about what they need to do in order to accomplish an effective system changeover.

By thinking about the purpose of your meeting and the type of conversation you need to have, you can better prepare for the discussion and ensure a more constructive outcome.

For example, Parminder could easily waste a week feeling defensive and arguing with team members about a system they don’t feel confident with. If she recognises that an understanding conversation needs to be a two-way dialogue and that her goal is to increase her colleagues’ understanding of how they can participate effectively in the project, she should have a more productive outcome.

Conversations also take place in meetings – a workplace activity that many people find daunting. You’ll consider how to participate effectively in the next section.

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