Branchefællesskabet for arbejdsmiljø
Search

Respectful communication

If you are respectful when you communicate with one another at the workplace, it’s a sign that you respect each other and have a culture of collaboration. A respectful tone of communication is contagious, but so is a disrespectful tone. Read more here about respectful communication and what you can do as an employee, a manager or a member of the health and safety group.

VIDEO - INSPIRATION FOR STAFF MEETING - watch this video and talk about how you can make your communication more respectful (in Danish with English subtitles).

Understanding respectful communication

Respectful communication is contagious, but so is poor communication.

How to improve your communication

Read on to see what you can do to improve the way you communicate with each other at the workplace.

For employees

For employees

Here is what you can do

Tips for a more respectful tone of communication

Everyone at the workplace is responsible for acting appropriately and contributing to a respectful tone of communication. You can contribute to a respectful tone of communication by following these rules:

  • Greet each other in the morning and again when you leave. Be aware of the colleagues you meet during the day and greet them with a nod, a smile or a hallo. Don’t forget to thank people when you receive help.
  • Never speak ill about colleagues and managers. Always speak respectfully of colleagues when attending customers, even if they just made a mistake. Do not make negative comments about your colleagues’ appearance, clothes or language, for example.
  • Show an interest in what your colleagues are doing. Recognise their efforts.
  • Keep your professional disagreements separate from any personal disagreements.
Use language constructively

Respectful communication shows that you respect one another:

  • Use proper and clear language to avoid being misunderstood. Reply to a colleague’s questions and use words/phrases that you know they understand. Listen to what the other has to say and don’t interrupt. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what the other is telling you and to show that you are listening.
  • Talk in the first person (‘I’ language), for example “I think…” and “I feel…” In this way, you stay on your own turf, so to speak, and focus on your own needs and experiences, instead of using ‘you’ language, for example saying, “You always…,” which is easily perceived as blaming and criticism.
  • Think about your tone and the pitch of your voice.
  • Admit if you were wrong or have changed your mind.
Use body language constructively
  • Look at the other person and make eye contact.
  • Show that you’re listening and that you understand what is being said, for example by nodding.
  • Don’t fold your arms.
  • Stand when the other person is standing and sit if he or she is sitting.
Give constructive feedback

Constructive feedback focuses on the matter at hand, not the person. For example, if you say, “You never tidy up after your shift,” it can seem accusive and may start a conflict.

You should stay on your own turf, so to speak, that is, you should focus on your own experience of the situation and explain your own needs.   For example, you can say: “Can we agree to tidy up after each shift so that when we arrive for work the shop is tidy and we’ll be ready to serve the customers?”

Think about the time and the place when you give someone negative feedback. Never criticise a person while others – colleagues or customers – are listening.

Talk to each other

It’s important that people who ask for a less harsh tone are respected at the workplace.  On the other hand, it’s important that everyone can voice their opinion and give criticism without being blamed. So, it’s about finding the right balance together.

If you’re not communicating respectfully with each other at the workplace, you should do something about it. Staff and management should talk together about how to improve the way you talk to each other.

Hold a staff meeting

You can address the topic of how you communicate at a staff meeting. You can watch the film about respectful communication before the meeting. At the meeting, you can talk about:

  • How you treat each other
  • How each of you experiences the way you communicate with each other at the workplace
  • The situations when your communication goes wrong.

Also talk about the future. What is important for your wellbeing at the workplace?

  • What characterises respectful communication?
  • Agree on clear ground rules.
Group exercise

Think about the following questions alone, in pairs or in groups:

  • Think about a specific situation in which you felt spoken down to. What made you feel spoken down to? What effect did it have on you?
  • Think about a specific situation in which you felt that someone talked encouragingly to you. Perhaps someone recognised you for your effort, you were encouraged and someone listened to you. What was it that made you feel like the other person was talking encouragingly to you? What effect did it have on you?
  • Do I talk encouragingly to others? What effect does it have on me – and on them?
Nurture relationships

If you know each other well and have a good relationship, it is easier for you to respect each other and treat each other as equals.

  • If you are not used to holding social events at the workplace yet, perhaps now is the time to start.
  • Talk more with the colleagues that you usually don’t talk much with.

Nurturing relationships is also about how you communicate, how you help and support each other and how you collaborate, and it’s about treating each other with respect, trust and without discrimination.

For managers

How to improve workplace communication

What generates a negative atmosphere?

Here’s how to get started:

  • Find out what is being said about the way you communicate at the workplace.
  • Find out what the real problem is.
  • Find out who experiences the problem.
  • What contributes to creating the negative atmosphere?

At a workplace where the tone and style of communication is rooted in corporate culture and in old habits, it can be exceedingly difficult to find the actual cause of the problem.

Statements about the tone of communication from new employees or employees who resign can be an indicator. Ask these people if you lack knowledge about the tone of communication at the workplace.

When you carry out appraisal interviews with employees, ask them what they think about the way you treat each other and communicate at the workplace.

Talk to your employees

If you find out that individual employees are contributing to poor communication at the workplace, you should talk to them about their behaviour.

Avoid being accusive, but firmly explain that you do not accept disrespectful communication at your workplace.

Listen to the employee and try to find out why he or she behaves and communicates in a way that affect others negatively. There may be an unseen reason. Maybe you can do something about the root cause.

Prevent disrespectful communication

Find out about how your employees communicate

You can use the health and safety risk assessment (APV) or an employee satisfaction survey to find out about the tone of communication at your workplace. Or you can bring it up as a topic during employee appraisal interviews. During such an interview, the individual employee can tell you how she or he feels about how people are treating and communicating with each other at the workplace.

This can give you a basis for further dialogue. Among other things, you can take the dialogue further at a staff meeting by addressing how you would like to treat each other and communicate at the workplace.

Staff meeting

See above under “Talk to each other” and “Here is what you can do”. Here you will find advice and proposals for exercises.

As a manager you play a special role during a staff meeting. Talking about the tone of communication at the workplace can be problematic and some employees may become emotionally upset about the things that are said. If you take care to facilitate and manage the meeting and pay attention to ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ employees, you are likely to get a good result from the meeting.

Agree on ground rules

You can agree on some ground rules for your communication. Everyone must participate in laying out the rules. Watch the film about respectful communication together before you start your discussions.

The statements and questions below are meant to provoke and get the discussion going:

  • But isn’t it important to sometimes give let go and express your anger and frustration?
  • Banter and teasing can make everyday life more fun; it’s boring if we always have to act ‘appropriately’!
  • Aren’t they just being a little sensitive?
  • How do you say to your colleague or manager that their behaviour and tone of communication is inappropriate?
  • Is it OK to go to your manager and report a colleague’s mistakes?
  • Is it OK to ask your colleague for advice about how to manage a conflict with another colleague?

Once you’ve found out together how you want to lay out the ground rules, you should write them down and display/publish them on notice boards, the intranet or in a leaflet, etc.

Remember to introduce new employees to your agreed rules.

Examples of ground rules

Here are some examples of ground rules for respectful communication at a shop:

  • We talk WITH each other; not ABOUT each other.
  • We expect everyone to contribute to respectful communication and good relations.
  • We respect each other and treat each other as equals.
  • We do not accept teasing, disrespectful communication or bullying.
  • No one is perfect; it’s OK to make mistakes.
  • If the same colleague is involved whenever the tone of communication is disrespectful, we should confront the colleague about this.
  • If you disagree with your colleague, then go directly to him or her and keep focus on the issue at hand, and on how you feel and your needs, so that you do not seem accusing.
  • If your colleague talks to you about another colleague, ask him or her whether he or she has said these things directly to the person in question.
  • When we witness teasing, disrespectful communication or bullying, we will report this to our health and safety representative or employee representative.

Use your body language and spoken language constructively

As a manager, you are a role model. So think about how you talk to your employees.

Respectful communication shows that you respect each another:

  • Use proper and clear language to avoid being misunderstood. Think about your tone and the pitch of your voice.
  • Reply to the other’s questions and use words/phrases that you know they understand. Listen to what the other has to say and don’t interrupt. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what the other is telling you and to show that you are listening.
  • Talk in the first person (‘I’ language), for example “I think…” and “I feel…” In this way, you stay on your own turf, so to speak, and focus on your own needs and experiences, instead of using ‘you’ language, for example saying, “You always…,” which is easily perceived as blaming and criticism.
  • Admit if you were wrong or have changed your mind.
Your body is also talking

Think about what body language tells us.

Use body language constructively. If you follow this advice, you will have a more positive dialogue.

  • Look at the other person and make eye contact.
  • Show that you’re listening and that you understand what is being said, for example by nodding.
  • Don’t fold your arms.
  • Stand when the other person is standing and sit if he or she is sitting.
Give constructive feedback

Constructive feedback focuses on the matter at hand, not the person.

For example, if you say, “You are always so messy. I’m sick and tired of not being able to move around in the back room because of all the product samples you’ve stacked everywhere“, it will seem accusing and might start a conflict.

You should stay on your own turf, so to speak, that is, you should focus on your own experience of the situation and explain your own needs. You can instead say: “I feel like we ought to stack the product samples along the walls in the back room, because otherwise we might trip over them.”

Timing

Think about the time and the place when you give someone negative feedback. Never criticise a person while others – neither employees nor customers – are listening.

Build good relationships

Good relationships matter. When you show respect and treat each other as equals, you have good relationships.

The following supports the development of good relationships:

  • Constructive feedback
  • Appreciative communication
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Conflict prevention
  • Timely conflict resolution.

Tools and links

Related pages on Det du mærker

For health and safety groups

The work of the health and safety group

The health and safety group does not have a clearly defined responsibility in ensuring respectful communication at the workplace.  But if some employees express concerns about the tone of communication at your workplace, you can choose to address the topic.

The quick method

If you want to address how you communicate with each other at a small workplace, a simple staff meeting may be a good place to start.

The meeting will help you put your experiences and thoughts into words. At the end of the meeting, you can all assess whether there is a need to launch initiatives.

  • Watch the film about respectful communication together.
  • Talk about the film: What is it like at our workplace?
  • What can we do to have a more respectful tone of communication?
Initiatives based on a health and safety risk assessment

You can conduct a health and safety risk assessment (APV) with special focus on the psychosocial working conditions and examine the factors that affect the tone of communication at your shop.

There are several ways to conduct a health and safety risk assessment:

  • The dialogue method by which you identify the problems at a staff meeting and discuss causes and solutions together.
  • The questionnaire method by which you collect employees’ opinions and experiences in writing, and then find causes and solutions either in the health and safety group or at a staff meeting.

Tools and links

Related pages on Det du mærker