Why do you need to improve your communication at work?

Your work team can make you or break you. A solid, supportive, and progressive team is everything. Improving your communication skills at work can make for smoother sailing. In fact, social support at work can actually as a buffer against burnout.

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The single most important factor in team success or failure is the quality of relationships on the team, according to research by Abby Curnow-Chavez.

Improving your communication at work is more than just being able to prove your point better. Effective communication at work is also about listening.

As a supervisor, are the assistants (PTA, COTA, or anyone you’re in charge of supervising and/or co-signing notes) not doing what you’ve told them to do a hundred times? Or as a co-worker, are you and your colleague constantly clashing? Are you intimidated by your boss and are afraid to speak up? It all boils down to a few key principles to get you started.

If you’re curious about the six main factors that lead to burnout, read our previous blog post on the six key players that contribute to burnout.

Understanding what people need in order to feel appreciated, feel their best, and do their best work is just fundamentally important to the success of a company’s community.

This blog post is one of four posts that is apart of our popular #SeptemberSeries that is now the #WorkWellSeries

Once you signup, you will receive an email with four downloads that include:

  • Energy Hacks: How to get out of a corrosive- aka toxic- and other undesirable energy states that are harming your workplace
  • Communication Hacks: Including the do’s and don’ts of how to keep a work argument for escalating, dealing with a toxic co-worker, and fun ways to build community at work
  • Personal Hacks: Practical and quick mindfulness exercise to better cope with stressors

Don’t be shy- share this series with your team!

Understanding someone’s unique personality matrix can be boiled down to understanding the five personality orientations.

According to Vanessa Van Edwards author of Captivate, knowing someone’s personality offers you a “tremendous boost to your persuasive powers.” You can have high, low, or in the middle of the following traits. Let’s break it down:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

    What is YOUR unique matrix? In what areas do you score high or low in? You can first of all read the book Captivate and take all the cool free quizzes and get resources by getting her awesome toolbox. (#NotSponsored, just love her work!)

    You can also exhibit different intensities of traits in different situations. For example, you can be highly extroverted with your friends but demonstrate low extroversion at work.


    How can understanding someone’s unique personality print help you succeed at work?

    You learn how to communicate to someone in their specific wavelength, speaking their language so they’re all ears. You get them. It’s important to note that there is no “good” or “bad” personality orientation. This is about understanding who your co-workers really are without judgment in order to promote deeper, richer, smoother conversations and smoother workflow.

    Let’s go over each one as defined in Captivate along with professional hacks and suggestions:


    This refers to how one approaches new ideas, level of curiosity and creativity, and the extent to which one values variety and originality.

    Highs in this area love adventure, trying new things, and tend to have a diverse taste in music and books. Lows in this area tend to love routine, habit, and tradition. They know the barista at their fav coffee shop and like to order the same things, wear the same things, etc.

    High: Becomes energized with new projects, ideas, and learning new skills. You want to play up the exciting, new features of that new hospital equipment or work project to get this person jazzed.

    Low: Becomes overwhelmed with new projects and prefer projects that expand on existing skills and strengths. You want to play up reliability of products or procedures to get this person to feel safe and ready to go.


    This refers to one’s approach to getting things done, including intensity of self-discipline, organization, and reliability. Highs care about their appearance and physical space and tend to alphabetize things, have a detailed planners, etc.

    Lows tend to be the ones to ask to borrow a pen, lose their keys, and show up tardy to events without much urgency about the situation.

    High: Enjoys details, plans, to-do lists. The more, the better. You want to play up the details and involvement of a product, project, document, etc. to get this person on board.

    Low: Long-winded, highly detailed emails, proposals, instructions may be intimidating. You want to emphasize the most important bullet points that need to get done and give him/her freedom to complete the task in their most efficient way (of course, after safety is accounted for).

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    This refers to how one approaches people. Does spending time with people give you energy or drain you?

    Highs tend to smile more, show more optimism, enjoy hanging out with big groups of people, and exhibit confident body language. Lows enjoy more intimate conversations and gatherings and don’t like to do much talking.

    High: Loves working with people in groups and may do their best work with people. This person benefits from a role that plans retreats, happy hours, parties, etc. for the team.

    Low: In-person meetings and group assignments to complete work may be draining and make him/her uncomfortable. This person gets their best work done on their own and would benefit from receiving assignments in writing before a meeting or voting for a idea in an email poll.


    This refers to how one approaches cooperation and working with others, as well as one’s degree of empathy and readiness to forgive others.

    Highs tend to want to fix everyone and everything, which sometimes means they neglect caring for themselves. Lows tend to be more fact-driven than emotions-driven and focus on being right regardless of cooperation.

    High: May say yes to everything at work even if they don’t understand or don’t want to do something because they feel pressured.This person may benefit from extra verbal reassurance to voice opinions or allowing this person to process thoughts and write feedback may be helpful.

    Low: Is the first to reject an idea or voice opinions. Encourage this person to hold questions til the end of a presentation in order to hear all the details. (*cough* this is my husband *cough*)


    This refers to one’s approach to worrying and degree of emotional reactivity. Highs tend to become easily stressed out and busy, even when there is nothing to stress out about. Lows have a higher capacity to handle stress and their overall attitude is more relaxed even if they have significant stressors they are dealing with.

    Highs think they are good at preventing crises with their worrying, whereas lows focus on what’s going right instead of what’s going wrong.

    High: Worries and becomes frustrated easily, may be eager to make sure all the fires are put out and that everyone is happy. May be constantly checking in on the team, which can appear to be micromanaging.

    This person may benefit from hearing about safeguards you’ve placed or hearing that you’ve tripled check the patient’s oxygen levels. (They like to hear that you’ve ‘worried’ about this too which actually calms them and builds trust).

    Low: May benefit from a schedule check-in to understand the worrying isn’t personal. This person may benefit from knowing you did your part in the project and not crowding their space with unnecessary anxieties.

    Now that you have this information, think about who you are first and then rate your co-workers.


    Personality Clashes = Poor Communication

    I had the experience of supervising a COTA for a few months and observed his behaviors.

    I concluded through my observations that he was:

    • high in openness (always bringing in new treatment ideas)
    • low in conscientiousness (leaving toys and equipment everywhere, overwhelmed by highly detailed emails)
    • high in extroversion (outgoing with patients and families)
    • high in agreeableness (always agreed to something in person and sometimes backed out after the fact)
    • low neuroticism (the world could be falling apart and everything was fine)

    At first he was under the supervision of my colleague, which through my observations demonstrated:

    • low in openness (her treatments were the best, it was her way or the highway)
    • high in conscientiousness (planner and detail-oriented queen)
    • high in extroversion (super outgoing, charming personality)
    • low in agreeableness (will disagree with you before you’ve finished your sentence)
    • high neuroticism (worried about everything)

    Did you notice the only thing they had in common was high extroversion?


    My colleague told me that no matter how many times she told him something, he didn’t get her instructions right. I knew that no one was at fault here; it was simply a missed opportunity to figure out each other’s matrix.

    She was supporting him the ways she knew best and expected him to respond to her ways. When he was receiving her messages but wasn’t taking action, something was wrong with him.

    When I took over supervision, I realized that this COTA made obvious effort with his patients. The problem was that his behaviors tied back to his personality and wasn’t right or wrong; however, it was just that his behaviors were not seen as favorable or preferred by the previously supervising OT.

    When I met weekly, I decided it would be best to keep the meetings brief and to the point. Feedback I gave him was written in email form; however, I realized soon after that he hardly checked his email, so I shifted to showing him what corrections he needed to make in documentation live in our little meetings or giving him the most important information.

    Since he didn’t worry about much, I made sure to only bring up the things that mattered most if there was a problem.  I asked him how he wanted to be supported instead of assuming how he should be supported based on my personality orientation.

    Whenever I had a new treatment idea with my patient and we shared the therapy gym, I would offer to him (if appropriate) if he’d like to try it with his patient. I made sure he knew that if anything bothered him or he needed to think something over before sharing his honest thoughts that he had the freedom to do so.

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    This little hack offers you opportunities to be a effective communicator, whether you are supervisor, co-worker, employee, or leader (we are all leaders!).

    Communication is more than what you say; it’s how well you listen and identify the needs of your team and presenting information in their language to elicit their best response. Teams are flexible, dynamic systems and we must learn to be flexible to the best of our abilities as well.


    Edwards, V.V. (2017). Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People. New York, New York: Penguin Random House

    Curnow-Chavez, A. (2018, April 10). Four ways to deal with a toxic coworker. Harvard Business Review: The Right Way to Fight at Work.  Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2018/04/4-ways-to-deal-with-a-toxic-coworker


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