10 Effective Communication Skills and How to Improve Them
The majority of jobs require employees to have good communication skills, so that they can express themselves in a positive and clear manner, both when speaking to people and in writing.
Communication is one of the main ingredients for corporate success, but the problem is that the phrase ‘good communication skills’ is a term so overused that it is difficult to pinpoint what it actually means.
When considering the definition of communication skills, it's important to remember that communication occurs in many different ways and contexts. From writing and speaking to body language, we use various skills to convey and obtain information.
However, demonstrating strong communication skills is about being able to convey information to others in a simple and unambiguous way.
It involves the distribution of messages clearly and concisely, in a way that connects with the audience.
Good communication is about understanding instructions, acquiring new skills, making requests, asking questions and relaying information with ease.
Good communication skills are perhaps the most basic skills that you can possess as an employee, yet they remain one of the most sought-after by employers.
Good communication involves understanding requests, asking questions and relaying key information.
Communication skills are essential no matter what job you work in or your level of seniority. When there is a breakdown in communications, often efficiency, morale and objectives can all suffer.
In today’s competitive jobs market, communication skills in the business world are highly sought after, with recruiters looking for candidates who can communicate information, negotiate and confidently deal with customers.
Listening carefully, speaking clearly and putting others at ease are very valuable attributes to possess.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions so as to communicate effectively, avoid stress, overcome challenges and empathise with others.
It’s a skill which is learned over time rather than obtained.
There are four main strands to emotional intelligence:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
Each of these strands is important in its own way and allows you to communicate confidently with a variety of people.
Good communication is much more than saying the right thing; it is about communicating messages clearly and concisely.
Before you start a conversation, type an email or begin a discussion, have in mind what the purpose of the communication is and what information you hope to obtain as a result.
Lack of clarity and cohesion can result in poor decisions and confusion.
In any type of communication, make sure that you set the right tone. A friendly tone will encourage others to communicate with you.
Always try to personalise messages, particularly when working with partners or fellow colleagues.
Wishing the recipient a good weekend, for example, is a great way to personalise your message.
In all interactions, confidence (but not over-confidence) is crucial.
Demonstrating confidence will give customers faith in your abilities to deliver what they need, and that you will follow through with what you have promised.
Conveying confidence can be something as simple as maintaining eye contact during a conversation or using a firm but friendly tone when speaking with people over the phone.
Be careful not to come across as aggressive, since this will have the opposite effect of what you are hoping to achieve.
Within a busy work environment, everyone will have their own ideas about how things should be done. Even if you have disagreements with your colleagues or partners, their point of view should be considered and respected.
Empathy is also beneficial when speaking with customers in certain types of customer-facing role.
The goal here is to understand where the other person is coming from – and respecting their views, even if they are very different from your own.
Empathy leads into the next communication skill, respect.
If you respect the ideas and opinions of others, they will be more likely to communicate with you.
Active listening or simply using the name of the person you are speaking to can both be effective.
Make sure that when you type emails, you don’t write in a way that is insincere.
Good communication is all about listening effectively.
Take the time to listen to what the other person is saying and practice active listening.
Pay attention to what the other person is saying, ask questions and clarify points, and rephrase what they have said so that you know you have understood correctly.
Try to enter into communications without having an agenda.
Strong communications require an open mind and a commitment to understanding other people’s points of view.
If you disagree with the people you are speaking to, try to reach a middle ground that benefits all parties.
Approaching a discussion with an open mind is more likely to result in a successful outcome.
The tone of your voice can set the whole mood of the conversation. If you start the discussion in an aggressive or unhelpful manner, the recipient will be more inclined to respond in a similar way.
The tone of your voice will include the level of emotion that you use, the volume you use and the level of communication you choose.
The same sentence can have a very different meaning depending on which words are emphasised and the tone of your voice.
In a customer complaint scenario, for example, your tone of voice should be as calm as possible, since an unfriendly tone of voice will only serve to worsen the situation.
Good questions can help conversations flow and improve the outcome.
During a conversation, always aim to ask open-ended questions. These are questions with prompts which encourage the recipient to speak about certain points and they require more detailed responses.
If you need further information still, you can use probing questions which request even more information from the recipient, such as "Tell me the process of…”
During the conversation, include a mixture of questions including clarification, ‘what if’ scenarios and open-ended questions to make sure that you achieve what you set out to do at the beginning of the call or conversation.
It is likely that you will need to show evidence of your own communication skills during a competency-based interview.
Questions you may be asked include:
- "Give an example of how you dealt with a difficult or sensitive situation that required extensive communication."
- "Give me an example of how you dealt with a difficult customer at work."
- "Tell me about a time when you had to explain an issue or process to a colleague (or colleagues) at work."
- "Tell me about a time when you taught someone else something."
- "How do you explain things to other people?"
Almost every occupation requires strong communication skills in one way or another.
The job that you are applying for will determine which communication skills you will need and the extent to which these will be used.
Here are some example careers and what communication skills are most sought after for each:
Teaching. A teacher will need a range of communication skills, including clarity, active listening and empathy, to name a few. They will need to use their listening skills to understand the difficulties that students are having, along with excellent writing skills to be able to prepare reports and plans for their lessons.
Financial Services. While written communication skills are essential when drafting documents or reports, finance folk also need to be good at listening, so as to co-operate with partners, stakeholders and employees. A financial accountant will require the ability to ask good questions when they are preparing accounts or conducting company audits, so they can build a full picture of the business in question.
Marketing. Within a marketing role, good communication is essential. Not only will marketers have to communicate with business owners to find out about their clients, they will also need to ask questions, enter into negotiations with confidence and secure new business, all of which require a unique combination of good communication skills.
Human Resources. Human resource staff will need to ask the right questions, communicate with clarity and draft documents such as contracts and policies. They will often have to act with discretion and take people into their confidence.
You can then add these communication skills to your CV/resume within a skills section. Make sure you show evidence of how you have used these skills.
Don't simply state you have good communication skills and leave it at that. Specify them and provide an example of how you used them in a beneficial way within a work setting.
Keep the skills relevant to the job description. For instance, for a customer-facing role you could mention how you dealt with customer complaints in a respectful and empathetic way, helping to resolve the problem in a satisfactory manner for the customer while creating a good impression of the business as one that cares about its customers.
Alternatively, for a sales position or business development role you could mention your strong negotiating skills and how you used them to secure an important deal or a large sale.
While it's important to keep your CV fairly brief, you may want to expand on one or two relevant skills examples in a cover letter. If you are invited to an interview, you will have the opportunity to expand on your communication skills further.
Employers are always looking for opportunities to evaluate the way in which you have used your communication skills in previous roles or in your academic studies.
During interview, discuss your communication skills in terms of a project you completed at work or university, and how you used these skills to work with others and deliver the project on time.
Try to make your answers as benefits-focused as possible.
To achieve this, you would give an example of how you communicated effectively and then go on to say what benefit this had, such as turning a negative customer experience into a positive one, for example.
There are lots of examples to draw on but make sure that these are prominently displayed in your CV and you explain them effectively during your interview.