Communication is key to a supportive and successful work environment that’s free of obstacles for unobstructed growth. Additionally, it fosters strong interpersonal relationships that make collaboration and the achievement of large, visionary goals possible.
Surveys conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) show that recruiters often look for a combination of communication and interpersonal skills when hiring employees. In the words of one GMAC researcher, “Everyone coming out of business school seems to have the technological familiarity we require. But soft skills—like communications and people skills—tend to make the difference.”
While 80% of the top-ranked skills employers want in employees fall within the communications category, this is something professionals still struggle with. For example, a Fierce survey found less than half of organizations actually follow through with effective communication. It goes to show how important working on communication is for your professional growth, leadership skills, and relationships.
In this article, we’ll explore the importance of communication in the workplace, what happens when a lack of communication skills occurs, and how to hone your communication skills to increase your productivity, employee turnover, and customer satisfaction levels.
- Communication skills are vital to running any business, maintaining a cohesive team, and establishing strong relationships.
- Think of effective communication as a two-way street: Listen as much as you speak.
- To become a better communicator, respectfully share your needs and opinions, openly give and receive feedback, and practice active listening.
What Are Communication Skills?
Communication skills are interpersonal skills that allow people to transmit and receive information effectively. They involve exchanges of opinions, news, and feedback. Effective communicators are skilled at sending and receiving information, meaning they’re good conversationalists and nonverbal communicators.
Examples of good communication skills include:
- Listening to others without interrupting.
- Asking clarifying questions.
- Stating opinions with confidence without insulting anyone.
- Being willing to have tough, uncomfortable conversations.
- Making people feel seen and understood.
- Using body language and eye contact to boost engagement.
These abilities are considered “soft skills,” which enable someone to interact effectively with others. Soft skills complement “hard skills,” which refer to a person’s knowledge or intellect about specific work-related subjects. You can think of emotional intelligence as a soft skill and general intelligence (IQ) as a hard skill.
Different Types of Communication Skills
Communication is categorized into three basic types: verbal, nonverbal, and written communication—each of which has its advantages.
Verbal communication includes:
- The words we say
- Our tone of voice
- The speed at which we speak
- Ensuring our audience understands our message
- Using humor and interesting facts to engage with people
Nonverbal communication includes:
- Eye contact
- Facial expressions
- Hand expressions
- Body language
- Smiling to show friendliness
- Nodding your head to show you’re paying attention
Written communication includes:
- The words we write down
- Images or graphics we share
- Emails, text messages, memos, and letters
Benefits of Communication Skills
Research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that solid communication reduces stress, project failures, and low morale. Additionally, it facilitates constructive feedback, which is desired by many employees. A PWC poll revealed that 65% of employees wanted more feedback at work, and that 69% of employees would work harder if they felt their efforts were more recognized.
Well-connected teams who frequently communicate with help from technology tend to see productivity increase by about 20–25%, according to a McKinsey report. Communication also reduces misunderstandings and disengagements, making employees up to 87% less likely to leave their jobs.
Additionally, here are some other advantages of having great communication skills:
- Serves as a collaborative skill to build teams and form bonds.
- Allows us to tell meaningful stories.
- Increases likeability and persuasiveness.
- Produces ideas and practical solutions.
- Improves employee retention and engagement.
- Supports cross-cultural communication and diversity.
- Increases accountability.
- Creates a team culture where trust, integrity, and respect are highly valued.
- Facilitates decision-making.
- Shows the person you’re speaking with that you care and are engaged.
- Expresses passion and conveys confidence.
- Keeps records of what’s been shared.
Signs of Effective Communication Skills
“Your job as a communicator is to make sure your information is received and understood by your audience. Anything that stops or hinders this needs to be removed.”Marcus Alexander Velazquez
Effective communicators think, behave, and speak in a way that displays cohesion and confidence. They maintain appropriate eye contact and engaged body language, deliver information at a comprehensible speed, stay on topic, are attentive listeners, and display warmth and understanding.
Below are more signs that someone has effective communication skills:
- Making sure expectations and schedules are clearly explained and understood.
- Remaining open to feedback and different perspectives.
- Setting boundaries so that no one feels taken advantage of.
- Clarifying misunderstandings instead of making assumptions.
- Discussing disagreements rather than allowing resentment to build.
8 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills
1. Choose the Appropriate Type of Communication
“We are stronger when we listen, and smarter when we share.”Rania Al-Abdullah
Before speaking with someone or a group, determine which form of communication will be most effective, such as verbal or written communication. This decision should depend on the type of information being shared, such as whether it’s formal or informal and how time-sensitive it is.
For example, a quick memo intended for a team of five people could be sent through a messenger platform such as Slack, while a significant process change should be discussed during a one-on-one meeting.
Factors to consider when choosing a communication type:
- Know your audience and how they prefer to communicate.
- Reach out to people directly when something is urgent or complicated. Try calling the person or speaking with them face to face for the best results.
- Use written communication such as texts or emails for less time-sensitive matters or those that could benefit from being written down and kept.
- Opt for in-person meetings or one-on-one calls when information is complicated or personal.
2. Increase Trust and Connection Through Active Listening
“No man ever listened himself out of a job.”Calvin Coolidge
Without listening, trust can’t exist, and without trust, relationships can’t grow. A great conversation involves listening to each other without distractions, asking questions, and possibly making suggestions based on what’s heard. Listening to understand, rather than simply responding, is key here.
Here are a few tips to become an active listener:
- Avoid distractions when listening to someone, including looking at your phone, computer, TV, etc.
- When someone speaks, repeat back what you’re hearing. Best-selling author Stephen Covey describes this as “empathetic listening,” which is “reflecting what a person feels and says in your own words.”
- If you’re unclear on what a person means or need more insight into their perspective, ask for clarification instead of assuming.
3. Use Engaged Body Language
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”Peter F. Drucker
When nonverbal cues are factored in, words can take on an entirely different meaning. These include body positioning, posture, hand motions, eye contact, facial expressions, and tone of voice. With this added information, much of communication extends beyond words. For example, Olga Khazan for The Atlantic states that humans can make and recognize 20 distinctly different facial expressions.
When speaking with others face to face, body language—such as the direction we’re facing or where we’re looking—is one of the main ways we engage in nonverbal communication. This even applies to digital conversations, such as those that take place over Zoom or Google Hangouts.
You can use body language to boost communication in the following ways:
- Use your body such as your hands and eyes to convey your message and show enthusiasm.
- Express yourself with your eyes to show presence and excitement.
- Watch for others’ nonverbal communication. Notice when it changes and adapt to it as you speak.
4. Speak Concisely and With Clarity
“True eloquence consists of saying all that should be said, and that only.”Francois de La Rochefoucauld
To speak with clarity means to be concise rather than including more details or tangents than necessary. This helps people to focus better on your main points, avoiding miscommunications.
You can communicate clearly by:
- Developing a key message people can take away from the discussion.
- Organizing your materials and creating a list of things you need to discuss, including responsibilities.
- Avoiding leaving the conversation until everyone is clear on essential points.
- Pausing to ensure the person listening to you understands what you’re saying.
- Not talking too quickly and rushing through a conversation.
- Concluding with action steps and takeaways.
5. Display Empathy
“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”Theodore Roosevelt
People respond best to leaders who display compassion instead of authority. That’s because we all want to feel understood, seen, and heard, instead of being lectured. Albert Einstein said, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
Psychologist Daniel Goleman tells us that there are three types of empathy to practice: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. Displaying all three types means we can understand how someone else feels, share another person’s emotions, and take action when necessary based on another’s feelings.
To show empathy during conversations:
- Consider how your thoughts, words, and actions affect others’ emotional well-being and life.
- Be aware of and manage your emotions so you don’t come off as uninterested, stressed, or angry (this is a key aspect of emotional intelligence).
- Get curious during times of conflict. Instead of criticizing someone for their beliefs, ask questions that provide more insight into their unique perspective.
- Look for common values that help build a bond.
6. Ask the Right Questions
“Asking questions is one of the best ways to grow as a human being.”Michael Hyatt
One of the easiest ways to improve your communication skills and the quality of your conversations is to ask more engaging questions, especially open-ended ones. Questions give the person you’re speaking with a chance to explain themselves and to bond with you.
Celeste Headless, radio talk show host and professional interviewer, explains in this TED Talk video how asking intriguing questions leads to excellent communication.
Here’s how to do it:
- Keep an open mind and remain humble.
- Assume everyone you speak with has something interesting to share and teach.
- Gain more insight during conversations by asking questions such as: “Can you talk a little more about ______?” “What do you mean exactly when you say _____?” “I’d love to learn more about why you think ______ is a bad idea.”
7. Lead With Integrity and Confidence
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication.”Stephen Covey
Integrity is how people build their character and guide themselves ethically and morally through a core set of values. When you act with integrity, others grow to trust, respect, and admire you. Without this, a leader can never develop followers who will passionately work toward accomplishing their vision. Confidence is also important because it displays maturity, reliability, and self-belief.
To practice assertive communication:
- Clearly state all expectations, directions, and goals so they aren’t ambiguous.
- Drive a point home by deepening your voice and using a serious tone. When inspiring team members, speak with more uplifting, energetic confidence.
- Determine what top three values are most important to you. Use these as guidelines for how you treat others.
- Take ownership when you break one of your own leadership rules.
8. Give and Receive Feedback Respectfully
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”Bill Gates
When feedback is provided correctly, it helps people grow and moves an entire team toward solutions. Constructive feedback points out someone’s blind spots and raises important questions about an issue without offending anyone.
An Officevibe study revealed that 43% of highly engaged workers receive feedback at least once per week, in contrast with only 18% of low-engagement workers.
To give constructive feedback:
- Provide judgment-free feedback to help the person succeed rather than question their competence and abilities.
- Ask the other person how you can best support them.
- Consider the purpose you’re serving in the discussion. Are you there to be a mentor, or does this person need an empathetic ear?
Ways to Demonstrate Strong Communication Skills
“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”Brian Tracy
Whether it’s Abraham Lincoln or Steve Jobs, true leaders use their communication skills to engage, inspire, motivate others, and achieve their mission. Employees also benefit from learning the art of communication because this makes them valuable team members who are adaptive and growth-oriented.
Here are tips for having more meaningful connections and conversations:
- Learn from leaders who are strong communicators (whether through reading, videos, or podcasts), including Simon Sinek, John Maxwell, and Michael Hyatt.
- Think about which soft skills are most important for your job, such as providing feedback or written directions, and work on improving your ability to deliver these.
- Prepare for interviews, presentations, and meetings ahead of time by writing down your key points, questions, and goals.
- Pay close attention to nonverbal cues like your tone of voice, body language, and eye contact. If you have trouble gauging how well you do with these, ask people you trust for honest feedback.
Want to learn more about how to communicate with remote workers in order to keep your team engaged? Find out how here: Managing Remote Workers: How to Build a Strong Remote Team.
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