4 Interactions You Encounter at Work and What They Really Mean

This is a guest blog post from Catalyst’s Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication course team. 

Recent research has suggested that people—both women and men—speak about 16,000 words each day. The average knowledge worker spends 28% of the workweek dedicated to emails—writing, reading, or responding to them. Cell phone users send or receive an average of 41.5 text messages per day and make or receive an average of 12 calls per day. In the age range of 18 to 24, that spikes to an average of 109.5 text messages on a normal day. Baby boomer parents and their young adult children often communicate with each other more than once a day.

But for all these conversations, how much listening do we actually do? And how much do our most important conversations impact our lives and the lives of others?

The answer lies in our ability to be an effective communicator. But what makes an effective communicator? Effective communicators ensure their messages—in person, virtual, and in writing—are received as intended and make an impact. They are also inclusive, taking into consideration all participants in their communications.

At work, for example, there are four interactions you might encounter where effective, inclusive communication could improve understanding and help teams be more productive.

Electronic Communication

We’ve all gotten those emails that incite an immediate visceral reaction. Blood pressure spikes, stomach churns, dread creeps in. You brace yourself. Why? Because sometimes you can tell just by looking at the subject line that your day will go in a different direction. Perhaps the message is extremely long—or very terse. Or you may read a sentence lacking context and emotion that leaves you feeling insecure and uncertain. Sometimes it’s overwhelming trying to figure out how to strike the right balance between attending to your other responsibilities and taking the time to respond appropriately. You spend an hour crafting a response—offering a litany of explanations, hedges, and apologies. Afterwards, you’re exhausted and confused. Electronic communication is a cornerstone of many workplaces today, but holds the potential for ambiguous tone, subtext, and style. Using effective communication techniques in electronic communication can clarify meaning and ensure that the message received was the message intended.


During a meeting with important leaders in your organization, you raise your hand to make a point. No one responds and the conversation moves forward, until someone else says the same thing five minutes later and receives universal praise. Or, you make your point and everyone reacts—but it is clear you were misunderstood and no one seeks to clarify what you meant. While frustrations like these are common, group discussions actually present opportunities to display effective and inclusive communication every day.

Team Projects

Communicating with peers about projects can be challenging, particularly given competing priorities and different working styles. Perhaps you have an unconventional idea that may make a difference for a client, but you’re reluctant to share it because it is not “how things have always been done.” Or perhaps, during a long week of planning meetings, a colleague whispers a series of complaints and how she would improve things. Using effective and inclusive communication can help team members find common ground, effectively raise differences of opinion, and offer opportunities for those who usually remain silent to contribute.

Conversations With Your Boss or Direct Reports

How many times have you had conversations with colleagues and said (or heard), “I just want to say…;” “Let me explain myself…;” or “Maybe I wasn’t being clear, but…” Often we spend time explaining a point, defending a position, or clarifying our intentions, rather than truly listening to the perspectives of those around us. In conversations with supervisors or direct reports, this can be quite tricky! Deadlines, back-to-back meetings, different approaches, and power dynamics clutter the space needed to build connection and trust. In these moments, we must attune ourselves to others by pausing, listening, and asking thoughtful questions. This way we can avoid justifying our positions at the cost of reaching mutual understanding, and ensure that these communications have their desired impact. Ultimately, this form of effective and inclusive communication creates opportunities for people to be heard, valued, and included.

According to Catalyst’s Leading With Effective Communication course, in order to be an effective communicator you must consider and honor the perspectives of all participants in an interaction. It also means sharing ideas, having difficult conversations guided by empathy, connecting across difference, listening with humility, and inspiring others. Ultimately, it requires being an “inclusive leader” who intentionally works toward cultivating the type of workplaces we can thrive in.

How do you know if you’re an effective (and inclusive) communicator? Are you ready to use your voice to change the world around you? Take this short quiz and find out.