How to have healthy communication in the workplace

It’s 9:03am on a beautiful Friday morning in Sydney. It’s a fresh 22°C. The sun is shining and you’ve just started making a three-quarter skinny flat white for one of your loyal customers. You’ve got a smile on your face and your customer is pumped to see you. After a few minutes chatting, they leave for work with their coffee in hand. 

From the outside everything seems perfect. But little did that customer know you’d been standing with direct sunlight in your face since 7am. The glare from your shining polished coffee machine is starting to give you a headache, and although you’ve mentioned it to your manager, nothing gets done about it. This has been happening for the last month since summer started because your boss wants to let in as much sunlight as possible. Apparently, “customers love it”. The situation has become so bad you dread coming to work and standing in the sun for six hours until it passes at around 2pm. What would you do?

While your own situation may be different to this one, it’s likely at some point in your career you’ll face an uncomfortable situation that bothers you, physically or mentally. It could be a variety of things that affect your working experience or productivity, such as: 

• standing on hard surfaces for hours and hours without a rubber/cushioning mat 

• not having the right tools to clean your coffee machine, putting yourself at risk of burning your hands with hot water 

• poor machine positioning, causing you to lean or move awkwardly that could result in long-term back pain 

• poor grinder or tamping technique that could result in long-term wrist damage 

• being asked to do tasks you have no experience or training with, such as prepping food items, and using tools, and coffee equipment 

• being spoken to poorly by customers. 

The list can go on, but the key is recognising that change is needed, and for that, you’ll need to have a direct conversation with your manager or boss. Having that conservation, however, can often seem the toughest part. But don’t stress. Communication is key. 

Author Paul J Meyer describes communication as “the human connection – the key to personal and career success”. I’ve always been fascinated by people who can communicate in a way that’s respectful yet persuasive. 

According to author Patricia M Buhler of Up, Down & Sideways, there are three main dynamics in communication to master in order to move successfully in our careers. First is communicating down to those who report to you or younger people such as your own children and family. Then there’s communicating to the side – your equals, colleagues at the same level as you or those of similar ages, siblings, or your partner. Then there’s the big one: communicating up. This relates to your manager, boss, or your parents. For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on communicating up.

When approaching your boss or manager about an issue important to you, the key is to not play the blame game. Rather, take responsibility for yourself have an open conversation, and work with your boss towards a better situation. Here are some useful tactics when communicating up:

Come prepared. Do your homework and write down the key points you want to make so you don’t go off script when the nerves kick in. 

Understand. Acknowledge that your employee may have a rule or protocol in place for a reason. Let them know that you understand their position, and then explain how it impacts you.  

Be mindful, not emotional. Keep your emotions out of it. Don’t play the blame game. A short-term win at the expense of your manager or boss is only going to come back to bite you later on. Emotionally charged conversation won’t help your cause. Keep your conversation to the facts and be objective. 

Be clear and confident. When you finally get your meeting, make the conversation count and bring your passion and enthusiasm to the meeting. When someone sees that you genuinely care and want what’s best for everyone involved, you’ll have more chance of getting a result you want. 

Have a solution. Offer an alternative idea or outcome that could be beneficial operationally or financially to the business. When someone believes you are supporting their vision, they are more likely to support your needs. 

Taking care of yourself is a key factor in your career health and wellbeing. Too many good people have been burnt out by the industry and a lot of the time it could have been avoided with an honest, respectful, and open conversation.

 Sometimes we do need to move on, but more often than not, things can be worked out with simple dialogue. Most of the time, it will only strengthen your partnership. 

Aside from its potential to produce an outcome that benefits both parties, it can be rewarding on a personal level. You might feel a sense of contribution, wellbeing, company loyalty, value, and respect from your employer or manager.

It’s been said that successful and effective communication is a two-way street, and for the best results, it really is. 

This article appears in the June 2018 edition of BeansScene. Written by Kyle Rutten, National Training Manager of Suntory Coffee Australia.