How to Optimize Workplace Conversations for Better Business Success

Effective communication in workplace environments isn’t always easy, as the traditional annual performance review illustrates. If you only meet once a year, both manager and employee are often guarded and defensive — hardly the best mental state for real, meaningful communication. Under such circumstances, misunderstandings and conflicts are possible, and many an employee has left an annual review confused or angry as a result. And, as our recent research shows, companies have a lot to lose when this circumstance occurs; 85% of American professionals would at least consider leaving a job after an unfair job review.

Fortunately, annual and semi-annual performance reviews are increasingly used in combination with other types of workplace conversations. Chief amongst these is the 1:1 meeting, where managers and supervisors meet with employees on a monthly or even weekly basis. This is an important habit for companies to encourage, so that the annual performance review is set in a much more meaningful context for employees.

Types of Workplace Conversations

Other than performance reviews and 1:1 meetings, what types of workplace conversations yield positive results? Group meetings help inform everyone on a team at once. Ad-hoc, quick conversations in the hallway or at the water cooler may not provide enough time to explore complex topics, but can be ideal for touching base on project status, showing recognition and appreciation, or even discussing topics outside of the umbrella of work. Getting out of the office and meeting for lunch can put both parties more at ease, and helps build interpersonal bonds while discussing work.

Don’t neglect non-verbal types of workplace communication, either. Younger workers especially are comfortable communicating through text and video chats, while real-time feedback and goal management platforms help employees and managers stay up-to-date on ongoing projects. Email is best used for more formal conversations, such as setting up face-to-face performance reviews or recapping action plans discussed in your last 1:1 meeting.

Such meetings build relationships between managers and workers, increase trust, and when used in combination with the advice given below, increase productivity, retention rates, and business success. Here’s how to optimize communication in the workplace, whether you’re an employee looking for increased feedback or a manager hoping to get more out of your next set of direct report mid-year performance reviews.


Think about your last conversation. When the other person was talking, were you really listening, or mentally preparing your response? The latter is a common and usually harmless habit during conversations outside of work. To get the most of communication in the workplace, however, you need to give your undivided attention when listening. Really strive to understand the other person’s input, without judgments or assumptions.

This is especially important when you work in a diverse workforce. In situations where people come from very different racial, cultural, or social backgrounds, active listening is one of the most effective ways to have inclusive conversations

Be Objective 

While this advice applies equally to employee and manager, it’s especially important for managers to remain objective during performance reviews. Assessing employees on standard factors, aptitude, and metrics allows you to keep reviews consistent. Be sure employees understand the metrics used, as communication in the workplace is greatly improved by transparency.

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Guide to One-on-Ones 

Link Company Objectives to Employee Goals

According to Gallup, a lack of career opportunities is a leading cause of employee turnover. Helping employees meet career and professional development goals increases employee engagement and retention, to the benefit of the business and employee alike.

1:1 meetings are a great environment to discuss and pursue employee goals, with one caveat —  Both employee and manager must ensure individual career goals are in alignment with company objectives. Additionally, Reflektive believes that personal goals and professional goals do not need to be separated. 

Avoid Surprises

Clear communication before conversations helps prevent one side from being put on the spot by surprising information. Managers should notify employees ahead of topics to be addressed during performance reviews and meetings. Similarly, if employees have concerns or questions, letting managers know ahead of time allows managers the opportunity to gather facts and prepare responses. Both sides can approach the meeting confident they understand what needs discussing, which saves time and reduces stress.

Ideally, conversations that happen in the workplace throughout the year should create context for the annual or semi-annual performance reviews, which is a meeting that should not uncover any surprising information (but instead recap what has already been discussed). 

Create the Right Atmosphere

When employees are called into a manager’s office, it’s natural for them to feel nervous. The office is the manager’s space: the seat of his or her power. While there are certainly times when a manager may need a setting that reflects that power, a 1:1 meeting is rarely such a time. Meeting in a mutual space, such as a staff lounge or conference room, helps put both sides of the conversation on equal footing.

Be Open to Other Types of Workplace Conversations

Remember that not every workplace conversation needs to be held as a formal meeting. Often a quick word at the water cooler or a chat in the coffee room is sufficient for small issues or status updates, so you can reserve 1:1 meetings for career planning, professional coaching, or to resolve any larger concerns. 

Lean On Your HR Team

Your HR team is a goldmine of information for advice on how to have effective conversations. If you’re concerned about effective communication in the workplace, ask them for advice on processing feedback, dealing with difficult issues, and engaging in meaningful, productive conversations.

Need more suggestions on how to drive business success through productive communication in the workplace? Check out Reflektive’s 11 Characteristics of Highly Effective Career Conversations.

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