How to Improve Verbal Communication in a Group

by Sara Vazquez Shaw

During your academic career you will have a number of opportunities to work in groups, whether it be informal work groups occasionally during a lecture or more structured and regular groups in labs. Some instructors assigned projects to be completed by a group, with that work comprising a significant portion of the grade in a class.

Handling the verbal communications within a group thus becomes very important. Effective groups in the workplace have been found to share some similarities that can easily be translated to a classroom, lab or school project setting. Patterns of communication can be identified and used to greatly improve the verbal communication in a group according to research done by MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory. Apply these finding to your group and reap the benefits.

Face To Face Communications Prevail

The energy of successful communication is highest when the members of the group are speaking directly to and among each other. Text, emails and other remote forms of communication are vastly inferior. If face to face communications cannot always be the rule, phone and videoconference can occasionally stand in.

Nonverbal communication, critical to fully informing other members of the group, can only be accurately viewed and assessed face to face. This is also an important reason to keep as much of your group communication face to face as possible. Any confusion or controversy can be managed immediately in this model.

Fully Engaged Team

All members of a successful team listen and offer verbal contributions at about the same rate, no one member dominating. Nurture an egalitarian balance and communications will improve.

If there are team leaders they do not direct communications nor require that all communications be vetted by them. Instead they encourage all team members to communicate directly with each other.

Side Conversations

Often "shushed" according to conventional wisdom, the MIT research found that side conversations carried on within the team were beneficial to overall communication. It was also established that communications between members of the group and those outside could be quite beneficial. The key to both side and outside conversations was complete transparency of these conversations as they were quickly shared with the group.

The Power of Random And Spontaneous

When group members regularly run into each other and interact there are plenty of opportunities for brainstorming, a creative way for problem solving and team-building that mirrors the MIT results. The MIT work showed that the most effective predictor of a group's success were the number and quality of times team members met outside of formal meetings.