Two-way communication: importance and how to promote it

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 10 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Communication is one of the most fundamental aspects of the workplace. Through effective communication, you can understand and convey expectations, queries and issues. If you're interested in becoming a more effective part of a team, understanding the importance of two-way communication in the workplace is going to be quite beneficial. In this article, we explain what two-way communication is, it's importance in the workplace and the benefits this brings plus some best practices that you can adopt to promote it.

What is two-way communication?

Two-way communication is where both parties in an interaction are actively participating. In any kind of communication, there's a sender and receiver of information. In one-way communication, one party is the sender and the other is the receiver. Conversely, in two-way communication, both parties are senders and receivers at the same time. This can happen through in-person interactions, using asynchronous means like emails, using video or audio calls or using chat applications. Another term for this is interpersonal communication.

Related: 4 types of communication (with examples)

Importance of two-way communication

The importance of two way communication derives from the fact that its participants typically share more overall information than they would have done through one-way communication. It can also make communication efforts more effective. Below are some of the major benefits of two-way communication that make it so important:

Saves time

One of the primary benefits of two-way communication is that it saves time compared to one-way communication. This is because you're using the same interaction to exchange the thoughts and ideas of twice as many people. For example, you may receive instructions from a supervisor in the workplace. They simply give you a list of things to do and then leave without inviting you to give your thoughts. If they're able to give faultless instructions, this is going to be fine.

Conversely, if you had questions and weren't able to ask them, you may spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to follow the instructions. Eventually, you may decide to go and speak to your supervisor and ask them some questions about the instructions. If the initial interaction between you and your supervisor had been two-way, then you could've asked your questions from the beginning and saved a lot of time.

Increases motivation

In any working environment, you may find that a lot of people have their own thoughts about the work and its related processes. Additionally, people often feel more motivated in the workplace if they believe that their colleagues and supervisors value their opinions. When two-way communication is the typical method of interaction, almost everyone who's speaking with someone else is going to have an opportunity to voice their thoughts. This increases their in-work engagement and can also increase their motivation as a result. This can increase staff retention.

Moreover, many people may feel more personally invested in a task if they've contributed to its formulation. For instance, if you're a team leader you may wish to give your team briefings on upcoming tasks and deadlines. Although you could simply inform them, you may decide to invite members of your team to give their input. They might have suggestions, queries or worries. You may find that some of their suggestions are useful and decide to implement them. In this case, you may often find that your team is much more motivated because they were part of the process.

Related: 6 simple tips for how to work hard and stay motivated

Promotes productivity and efficiency

Since two-way communication allows people to ask questions and give their input, there's going to be a lot more information exchange between people. In terms of tasks and responsibilities, this can greatly reduce the amount of ambiguity about what staff are doing, how they do it and who's responsible. When everyone is surer of their role, they're typically going to be more effective and use their time well. This can increase their productivity and efficiency in the workplace. They might also be more likely to immediately seek assistance at appropriate times if there's a workplace culture of open communication.

Related: How To Take Initiative in the Workplace

Encourages creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation can often be the result of collaboration. When a group of people are all talking about a problem or idea and exchanging information and opinions, it can increase the chances of a creative solution. What one person says can inspire an idea in someone else, and another colleague may be able to further refine this idea. This collaborative process can make a team of colleagues much more effective and innovative, as they're constantly exchanging, receiving and refining each other's ideas. Moreover, people may feel more comfortable speaking openly in an environment that encourages interpersonal communication.

Related: What is idea generation? (6 techniques for generating ideas)

Best practices to promote two-way communication

Below are some best practices for promoting two-way communication in the workplace, including how to overcome one-way communication's barriers:

Ask questions

If you want to promote two-way communication, one of the simplest ways of doing so is to invite the other party to speak by asking questions. If you're speaking to someone about a specific matter, such as giving instructions to your team, they may refrain from giving you their input unless you ask. By asking questions regarding their thoughts and opinions, you can both get the answers to important questions and indicate to the other party that their input is valuable. In this case, they may go further than simply answering questions and may offer other valuable inputs.

This is also useful in group scenarios. In some cases, there may be team members who are naturally more shy or reluctant to interject. You can proactively encourage their contributions by specifically asking them questions and encouraging others to listen to the answers. In larger group settings where it isn't feasible to engage in dynamic exchanges with everyone, at least asking questions can encourage two-way communication to some extent. You can also reverse this by inviting other people in the group to ask you questions.

Related: Why is communication important? (And how to improve it)

Be assertive

In some situations, you may find that some people want to say what they want but discourage others from interjecting. This might be unintentional, such as when a supervisor gives people instructions or feedback. Individuals who do this can therefore inadvertently discourage two-way communication. A solution to this is to be more assertive about voicing your thoughts. You can do this in a polite manner by asking if it's permissible to ask a question or give your opinion. If the other person tends to speak a lot, wait for an appropriate opportunity and ask for permission to interject.

You can also do this on behalf of someone else. You may find that other people in group settings find it challenging to be assertive and voice their opinions. If you notice this, you can interject on their behalf and invite them to contribute. When you do this, it's important to remember to be polite, especially if you're going to interrupt someone else to do so. In some settings, it may be a good idea to have a mediator in the room or someone who manages the flow of the discussion, thereby ensuring that everyone has a chance to contribute.

Related: How to be assertive at work in 7 steps (with tips)

Consider smaller groups

The larger a group of people is, the more difficult it typically is for its various members to engage in two-way communication without causing disruption. For instance, if you're giving a presentation to a large audience, the most you can typically do to promote two-way communication is to take questions or ask them yourself. Similarly, if a large group of people are together and some members start having conversations, it's very difficult for everyone to follow along. For this reason, it can be a good idea to consider smaller groups in many workplace scenarios.

For example, instead of an entire department gathering to receive instructions from the department head, you could break down the process. First, team leaders could have a meeting with the department head where they can ask questions and get instructions directly. Each of these team leaders could then have a separate meeting with their respective teams and relay the information while encouraging two-way communication. For instance, a department may have 50 people in it, split into 10 teams of five. Engaging in two-way communication is going to be much easier in meetings of five or 10 than 50.

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