Being able to communicate effectively is essential for professionals at every level, no matter which industry you are in. Communicating successfully involves sharing ideas, feelings and observations in a way that is clear, while also taking the time to listen and respond to others.
So, what skills do you need to be a strong communicator? Let’s break down communication skills into the following areas:
- Listening and comprehension skills – how well we understand others
- Verbal skills – how well we can be understood in speech
- Writing skills – how effectively we can convey our ideas through writing
- Interpersonal skills – how effectively we can ‘read the room’ and adapt our communication style to our audience
These are the areas you need to improve on in order to become a better communicator. Based on these main areas, here are the top 6 essential communication skills to master for your career, plus advice on how to develop them:
- 1. Active listening
You may already know that listening is key to good communication, but it’s easy to misinterpret what someone is saying if you aren’t taking the time to ask clarifying questions. Active listening involves paying close attention to what someone is saying and ensuring you’re clear on what they mean by using phrases like “so, just to clarify…” or “do you mean xyz…?”
Not all listening is equal. Selective listening, for example, is a listening technique that filters out irrelevant information and focuses only on the “core” of what is being said. While this technique is occasionally suitable, it has the potential to cause miscommunication during a workplace conversation.
With active listening, your goal is to hear what the other person is trying to communicate, rather than assuming and then waiting for your turn to give your input. If active listening doesn’t come naturally to you, it can be a difficult skill to develop, but once you adopt it, others around you will quickly notice the difference it makes to your communication style.
To develop active listening skills, you can start with just your group of close friends — ask them open-ended questions about their weekend, their interests or how they’re feeling at work. Through active listening, you can better understand what another person is trying to say, and you can respond in a way that is most appropriate.
- 2. Responsiveness
Are you quick to get back to people when they reach out to you or do you wait too long to reply to an email?
At work, responsiveness is about providing a timely response to a query, email or phone call. Since much of our communication is through virtual means, it’s much easier to put off replying, without facing immediate consequences. However, failing to respond to a customer or colleague can give the recipient the wrong idea. Being responsive is especially important if you are a manager or leader because trust is built when people know that their leaders are listening, responding and processing their ideas. Everyone wants to be respected, appreciated and heard, so taking the time to respond, even if just to say, “let me get back to you when I have more information”, can go a long way to improving your communication with others.
Avoid leaving emails or phone calls unanswered for longer than 48 hours and develop a process that allows you to carefully respond to each query.
- 3. Understanding different communication styles
Having an awareness of how others communicate can greatly improve your ability to communicate with them. In behavioural communication, there are four distinct styles of communication: aggressive, assertive, passive and passive-aggressive.
An aggressive communicator is:
- Domineering, threatening, hostile
- Demanding, abrasive
An assertive communicator is:
- Socially and emotionally expressive
- A good listener
- Competent and in control
A passive communicator is:
- A victim
A passive-aggressive communicator is:
- Manipulative or two-faced
- In conflict with what they say and what they mean (says one thing while doing another)
An assertive communication style is the one that demands the most respect in the workplace because it is based on honesty and level-headedness. However, having a good understanding of all these four communication styles is important and can help you learn how to react when confronted with a difficult person.
- 4. Empathy
Empathy is the ability to recognise emotions in others and be able to sympathise and understand how they are feeling. To be empathetic, you must be able to think beyond yourself and your own concerns.
Empathy is important in the workplace because it allows people to relate to one another and feel understood, appreciated and supported—all of which factor into their happiness at work. It’s well documented that happy workers are more productive than unhappy workers.
Being empathetic isn’t just about identifying when someone’s feeling sad—being able to understand when someone is in a positive mood allows you to open up about your own ideas which can help you progress in your career.
Developing a sense of empathy relies on looking at the world through the eyes of others and attempting to see others’ point of view. It is certainly one of the most important communication skills to learn in the workplace.
- 5. Body language and non-verbal cues
Body language makes up a large part of how we communicate with others, and most of us are likely to be better at gauging someone based on their body language as opposed to their spoken words.
Here are some key aspects of communication through body language:
- Eye contact
- Hand and arm gestures
- Crossed or open limbs
- Body position and angle
Appropriate eye contact, an upright posture and open gestures indicate confidence and openness which make someone more approachable; while no eye contact, arms folded and a hunched posture indicate someone who is nervous, lacking confidence or does not want to be approached. Our nonverbal communication tends to say more than our verbal, which is why it’s important to understand not just others but how we may come across.
- 6. Writing skills
Most jobs involve an element of written communication, whether that’s writing emails or lengthy documents that will be read by others. Having strong writing skills means being able to write your ideas clearly and concisely using a variety of tools, from email and chat to collaborative platforms like Slack, Jira and Trello. Writing well makes the exchange of ideas much more fluid and allows you the time to craft the right response.
Developing effective writing skills isn’t always easy and depends largely on your role and what communication medium you are mostly working with. Focused, constructive feedback can really help you develop the skills you need to improve your writing.
Take control of your future and build your career today
Communication skills are essential for achieving the highest level of success in any industry. Using communication skills effectively will allow you to develop and maintain positive relationships with your employer and your team.
To upgrade your communication skills, check out our Professional Effectiveness Library.
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