Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

What I Learned about Communicating in the Workplace

Little did I know at the start of my internship that I would be completing tasks that would require the input of employees in numerous departments and, implicitly, my reaching out to them. I was in charge of creating an excel document that would calculate the total costs to the company for a given transaction. The costs that I had to take into account were not all so straightforward, thus I had to get the information from the respective departments that could estimate each cost. Here are the things I learned in this lesson on communication:

No matter how friendly of an environment the workplace may be, everyone is worried about their own work and not yours. People are consumed by their own tasks and deadlines. When you ask them for a piece of information, it may take a few days until you receive it and that’s because you are not a priority to them unless the orders came from upper management. Is this hostile? I would say not. Think about it, how annoyed would you be of the coworker nearby asking you twice a day for a set of numbers that, to you, have no value? I am not saying that my coworkers were rude; they were simply prioritizing their to-do list and my requests were not at the top.

Aside from a lag in the flow of information coming from fellow coworkers, I noticed a dimension of dependency of the information necessary. What I mean by this is that some information has no value by itself; it either needs a supplement, or it needs to be verified by someone, or it needs to be processed through a certain system. Many times, the raw information comes from one source, or department, and the additional screening or supplement is fed by a different one. This means there are multiple employees needed to get the information needed. And considering that everybody is prioritizing their own work, it becomes difficult to coordinate everyone to play their part in delivering the information –one person might be ready to give you what you need, but the other might not have any time for you and you must wait a whole lot more to get what you need.

Lastly, and most importantly, I learned to not take personally my coworkers putting me off. Especially as an intern, I first thought that I was being dismissed and forced to wait because I was the new guy in the office as well as the youngest one. But over the weeks I started to observe that I am not the only victim of the bottlenecks of communication. The most important thing to remember when dealing with others in the workplace is that nobody, for the most part, is out to make your job harder on purpose; people are simply consumed by their own job and everything that it implies for them. You must be confident in your abilities and not be influenced by the notion that others don’t want to work with them –it’s not true.