How to Improve Your Communication Skills

Communication skills are critical in the workplace. Whether you’re just starting your career, looking to take the next step to a senior position or leading an entire company, you’ll have to utilise communication skills at each stage.

For employers, a candidate who can demonstrate great communication skills will stand out from the crowd. In this article, we explore what communication skills are, how to improve your communication skills and how you can leverage your communication skills for success.

What are communication skills?

Communication skills is largely an umbrella term for the different ways you interact with colleagues, clients, customers or management. Communication skills take several forms, with the most common in the workplace being: 

Written communication: This is how you interact with people through email, messenger apps or official documentation. Good examples of written communication skills include understanding tone, presenting ideas concisely and clearly, being professional and polite and having good grammar or spelling. This is a critical communication skill, especially as more workplaces rely on messenger apps such as Slack, Skype or Whatsapp. 

Verbal communication: As you might expect, verbal communication skills cover how you interact with people via speech. Good examples of verbal communication skills not only include how you convey ideas, thoughts or feedback to people but also how effectively you can present, hold a conversation in a meeting or deliver information.

Constructive feedback: This form of communication is particularly important as you move into management roles and become more likely to provide feedback. Effective constructive feedback has to take the recipient’s thought process into account, as well as their workload and ability to execute the feedback. Good feedback should highlight an issue but also provide a potential solution or alternative, using evidence or previous experience to reinforce it.

Active listening: One of the hardest communication skills for many people in the workplace is active listening. This differs from the other examples as it’s about receiving and taking on information. A good example of active listening is asking relevant follow-up questions in a way that engages the speaker and shows you’re listening without interrupting or overruling them.

Social communication: This covers both non-verbal communication and contextual communication – both of which are hard to teach but vital in the workplace. Examples of non-verbal communication are body language, facial expressions and your general demeanour. Contextual communication, on the other hand, is the understanding of unspoken rules, interpersonal relationships or factors that affect how you share information. If you’re dealing with sensitive information, for example, you may only share this with relevant parties and do so in the right way.

If you utilise these different forms of communication effectively, you can build more effective professional relationships, be a positive presence in the workplace and ultimately, become a better leader and colleague.

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How to improve communication skills

The best form of communication is clear, as simple as it needs to be and done so in a way that is empathetic to the other person/people. 

There’s no point in delivering a message or conveying an idea if no one understands what you’re talking about.

A great communicator will be able to hold a listener’s interest and get their point across efficiently, in a way that doesn’t make the other parties feel pressured, condescended or offended.

This is particularly true in the workplace, where it’s easy for messages to get scrambled and miscommunication to occur that could negatively impact a team’s output.

With this in mind, here are some ways you can improve your communication skills:

1. Keep it simple

You don’t need to use 100 words if 10 will do. Even the most effective communicator will lose their audience eventually and the longer you take to communicate a thought or idea, the more likely it’ll be lost in translation. If you’re trying to convey an idea or issue a task, keeping it simple will make it easier to retain. Remember the golden rule – you know what you mean but the person you’re telling is hearing it for the first time.

2. Remember who you’re talking to

An important part of communication isn’t how you deliver the message but understanding who’s listening. Depending on who you’re speaking to, you may need to alter how you communicate. Tailor your communication to match their interests, experience or even position. The way you interact with a senior manager, for example, will differ wildly from how you speak to a peer on your team. This is especially true when you’re conveying technical information, for example, where jargon, acronyms or buzzwords will leave someone confused who isn’t involved in the day-to-day.

3. Learn to pick up on non-verbal cues

When you’re communicating face-to-face with people, particularly in a presentation setting, you must learn to pick up on non-verbal cues. If you start to see people fidgeting, not holding eye contact or even using their phone, you may be losing them. At this point, you may ask them for their opinion, feedback or simply pose a question to re-engage them, which allows you to recap earlier points more successfully.

4. Consider how you’re delivering your message

It’s important to consider how you’re communicating and what form to use. If you’re presenting thoughts about a larger issue or project that is incredibly technical, it may be better to do so in a face-to-face setting where you can answer questions or present further context. On the flip side, if you’re communicating something that isn’t necessarily urgent but requires some involvement from the recipient, written communication is usually better as it gives the person time to read it at their leisure, properly take in the information and then respond appropriately.

5. Request feedback

Need to reinforce a point you’ve made or want to make sure the message got through? Ask for feedback. A great way of helping someone retain what you’ve communicated and to ensure effective communication is to ask them to repeat back their version of what you’ve said. If you’ve communicated a task that needs doing, for example, you may say: “Great, so just to make sure we’re on the same page, what is the task we’re looking to achieve here?”

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