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10 rules of effective peer-to-peer communications

Sharlyn Lauby

Much of the work we do every day depends on having a positive working relationship with our colleagues. Yes, having a good rapport with the boss is important, but some of us can go days without speaking to our boss. Ah but co-workers? We talk to them every single day.

Being able to communicate effectively with our peers helps us get our jobs done by answering questions, sharing information and offering feedback. Effective communication can bring fun and positive energy to the workplace.

To make the most of your peer-to-peer (P2P) communications, there are 10 rules you should follow:

1) Understand your communication style

The first rule of communication is to become self-aware and realize how you like to communicate. Are you a direct, "just the facts ma'am" communicator? Are you a storyteller? Are you more systematic and logical? Is your relationship with the other person a critical aspect of the communication?

Knowing your preferred style of communication will be incredibly valuable when dealing with others. And essential when the message you need to deliver isn't a positive one.

2) Reflect on how others react to your communications

Think about the last five conversations you had that didn't go well and ask yourself the reason. Then think about the last five communications you had that went really well and the reason. Identify the common elements or trends.

3) Share the best way for others to communicate with you

Years ago, I had a boss who, every time he took a personality assessment, would share a copy of the results with his team. At first, I thought it was goofy. But then I realized he was trying to tell me how to communicate with him. And that was priceless.

4) Communicate on the other person's channel

Once you know how another person wants to receive communication, it's your responsibility to communicate that way.

If you don't know how someone wants to hear the message, ask them. "I'd like to talk with you about the ABC proposal. Would tomorrow morning be a good time?" or "I need some answers from you regarding the ABC proposal. Would you like me to set up a meeting to discuss it or should I send an email?"

5) Learn how stress impacts communications

When people are under stress, they react differently. I've seen employees totally botch up conversations because they so desperately needed to get their message out, they couldn't wait for the recipient to be ready to receive it. That's what stress will do.

6) Deliver messages at the right moments

Ever worked with an employee who came in early, never said hello, and immediately started working? I felt sorry for the co-worker who would saunter over with their coffee to talk about last night's game. Obviously, they didn't read the signs that the employee was trying to get something done, and it was the wrong time for conversation.

7) Use the proper tools

It's time for all of us to realize there are some messages you can send on Twitter, others that should be sent via email, and then those that need a voice-to-voice conversation. Using the right medium to send a message can make all the difference in the world when it comes to how your message will be received.

8) Recognize others in a way that makes them feel good

Recognizing others isn't just a task for management. You should recognize your co-workers for a job well done and when they help you do your job better.

And, this is where tip #1 is so necessary. The way you want to be recognized isn't always the way others want to be recognized. For recognition to be effective, it has to be given in a way that makes the other person feel important.

9) Be empathetic

This applies to many of the rules above. If you take a moment to put yourself in your co-workers' shoes, it can positively impact your communications with them. Whether they're happy or stressed, you can either share in their enthusiasm or contribute to their frustration.

10) And if, after all of this, the communication gets messed up, don't let it fester — fix it

Yes, there will be times when, no matter how hard you try, the communication will not go as planned. Instead of ignoring the situation and potentially having it get worse, have a conversation with your co-worker. Let them know that having a positive working relationship is important and that you'd like to talk it out.

The working relationships we have with our peers can make or break us. Developing good communication with them benefits everyone and makes coming to work a whole lot easier.

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