The world's best brands aren't built alone — they're built by groups of creative experts with different backgrounds and perspectives coming together to produce amazing work.
And that's only possible when they're happy, healthy, and socially connected.
From executives to brand managers to creatives and administrators, the strength of relationships between people at work has a huge impact on company performance. It affects morale, productivity, and retention — and the best way for those relationships to flourish is through thoughtful communication.
Thoughtful communication is all about taking the time to consider how your words will affect others. It means speaking and listening with intention and making sure that your message is clear. When you communicate in a thoughtful way, you'll build trust, respect, and cooperation within your team.
How can you start communicating in a more thoughtful way? This edition of our #WorkAdvice series will cover some of our favorite strategies.
1. Take a Moment to Process Things
Stop to think
When emotions are running high, or you're in a high-pressure environment, there’s the temptation to blurt out whatever comes to mind. But that's probably not going to make for a good outcome to your conversation — and it can make you say things you regret.
So before you respond to anything surprising, aggravating, or confusing, take a moment. Let it sit for a minute and consider what's really going on. This is the most important part of thoughtful communication — the thinking. It gives you the opportunity to keep your cool and view the situation from multiple angles.
It's important to remember that we all see the world through our own lens and that what might seem like an obvious truth to you may not be so clear to someone else. This is why it's important to avoid judging others or making assumptions about their intentions before they've had a chance to explain themselves.
Remember — this is something you get better at with practice. It might take a little time to get used to, but being intentional about it can get you pretty far in a short amount of time. You always have the opportunity to press the internal “pause button”, take a breath, and choose your next action.
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor Frankl
Stop to listen
One part of taking a pause involves thinking — the other is listening. Listening is just as important as speaking, if not more so. When you take the time to listen to others, you show that you value their opinion and that you're interested in what they have to say. This builds trust between you and puts you in a better position to collaborate.
Active listening is the key to really making progress in a conversation. Even if you disagree and you're upset, you need to listen properly instead of just waiting your turn to offer a counter-argument. As Kate Murphy, author of You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters explains:
"To listen does not mean, or even imply, that you agree with someone. It simply means you accept the legitimacy of the other person's point of view and that you might have something to learn from it. It also means that you embrace the possibility that there might be multiple truths and understanding them all might lead to a larger truth."
Mutual understanding is what you're aiming for, so it's time to keep your ears open if you want to start connecting.
2. Approach Conflict Constructively
Within any type of shared creativity, there's going to be conflict — it's almost inevitable. The greatest ideas are forged in the fires of shared scrutiny, undergoing heat and pressure until they come out perfectly shaped and ready for the world.
So, if you want to stay happy in a collaborative environment, you have to approach conflict as a natural, positive part of the creative process. Otherwise, personalities clash and things can start to go wrong.
Here are some key tactics for getting the best out of your disagreements.
Pay attention to your body language
It's important to be aware of how you're presenting yourself, so you don't send unconscious signals that you're ready for a fight. Avoid crossing your arms or legs, as this can make you look defensive or unapproachable. Make eye contact, smile, and use positive body language to show that you're open to communication.
If you find it distracting to analyze your own body language in the middle of an interaction, you could always ask a colleague or friend for feedback, and try a few practice runs with them if you want to try doing things differently.
Be civil and use the right words
It's important to use language that's respectful and relevant to your conversation partners. A little emotional intelligence will go far here, and it's up to you to understand the appropriate tone.
But the important thing is to focus on them, not you. People really appreciate when you use their name when speaking to them, look them in the eyes, and approach cultural differences with sensitivity.
Something that seems insignificant to you — like pronouncing their name incorrectly — might cause more upset than you expect, so making the effort will be worth it for the sake of your relationship. Long-term, repeated episodes of workplace incivility can cause depression, burnout, and attrition — so if you want to surround yourself with the very best people, you have to make them feel welcome.
Consider how the other person communicates
It's easy to fall into your “default mode” when faced with a difficult conversation.
If you're a writer, for example, you might have a much easier time expressing yourself via the written word. But you might not consider the reader. If they see a wall of text sprinkled with a few negative words, they might skim-read it and get upset.
A word or phrase you say can be misinterpreted wildly in text form because it's not always easy to convey the tone you're aiming for. So you might feel the satisfaction of writing out your criticism or disagreements, and it could help you get your thoughts in order.
But it might be best to leave that rant in your drafts, and speak in person instead, if you really want to get the message across.
These are pretty simple tips, but their impact can be huge. Now, if creative disagreements pop up, you shouldn't be afraid of getting into conflict with someone – you'll embrace it as a chance to connect with them.
3. Use the Right Systems and Channels
Are you bored of using Zoom yet?
Tech isn't a magic solution for all your communication needs, as shown by the “Zoom fatigue” that most remote or hybrid workers have felt at some point in the last couple of years. But making the right choice of tools for your team can make a big difference in how effectively you communicate.
There are tons of different ways to talk to each other and what works for one team might not work for another. Some teams might prefer catching up via a daily morning stand-up meeting and keep to themselves for the rest of the day.
Others might like to share Slack messages throughout the day. Others might thrive on in-person meetings and get their best work done when they're collaborating and throwing ideas around.
It might take a little experimenting to figure out the right platform for your group, so try out a few different choices and see what sticks. The most important things to note when choosing the best communication platform for you are that it's: a) easy to use, and b) helps people respect each others' time and energy.
Notifications pinging throughout the day and night distract folks from their deep work — the type of creative, cognitively-demanding work that demands uninterrupted time and space. It's the most valuable, productive time people can have, and if you're brought out of it by a distraction, it's really hard to get back into it.
Your systems that support this don't necessarily have to be tech — they can be agreements and policies. The team at Proof introduced quiet hours between 9:35 am and noon, where conversations are limited to conference rooms or outdoors. The result was that people prioritized their deep work during that time and more social or admin-focused work for the afternoon.
You can't rest well if you're thinking about work out-of-hours, either. You actually need four types of rest (physical, mental, social, and spiritual) to be in your best condition, and even just seeing a work email pop up on your phone can put you back in “work mode”. The happiest, healthiest workers are those who are allowed to forget about working when the time's right.
Being thoughtful about how you communicate makes a big difference in the workplace. And the best part about the tips we've explored is that they're not particularly difficult to implement.
With just a little effort, you can start collaborating and building work relationships in a deeper way and enjoy a more harmonious, productive environment — which also encourages overall wellness.
You don't need to approach this as a direct way to become more effective and efficient at work. Being good to others and taking their needs into consideration literally boosts your happiness and well-being. After trying it out for a while, you should start to enjoy thoughtful communication intrinsically — and it'll soon become second nature.