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Effective communication skills are essential for almost all aspects of life. Whether you’re building social relationships, intimate relationships, or relationships in the workplace, you can’t do so without good communication skills. People with good communication skills have better interpersonal relationships on all levels and many jobs will require that you have strong communication skills in order to succeed. But how can you improve your communication skills? And what types of communication are there that you should focus on when developing these skills? Here’s everything you need to know about developing methods of communication:
The Importance of Strong Communication
Strong communication is essential for succeeding in the workplace. When communication is effective, it leaves all parties involved satisfied and feeling accomplished. Everyone clearly understands their role, their place in the workplace, and what is expected of them. By delivering messages clearly, there is no room for misunderstanding or alteration of messages, this decreases the potential for conflict and ensures that everyone can work together more effectively.
Employees who regularly communicate with each other are more effective than those who don’t. In fact, according to one study, 71% of those employees who said they were productive when questioned also felt well-connected to their colleagues, showing a clear link between communication and productivity.
Types of Communication
There are four main types of communication. These are verbal, nonverbal, written and visual communication. Each of these communication types is important and the way in which you use communication will help to set you up for career success. Here is an outline of each communication type, and how you can use them effectively in the workplace:
- Verbal. Verbal communication is the most obvious communication type: it is the way in which you share information with others using speech. Verbal communication is one of the most important forms of communication in the workplace if your role involves influencing others in presentations, attending in-person meetings or video conferences, or communicating with clients or customers on the telephone. In almost all roles you will need verbal communication skills to communicate effectively with your colleagues. Verbal communication is one of the fastest and most effective ways to share your thoughts and ideas with others.
- Non-Verbal. Non-verbal communication is just as integral as verbal communication but in a less intrusive way. Non-verbal communication is more subtle and often more open to interpretation. This is the way in which you communicate information (using your thoughts and feelings) without speech: it includes smiling, body language, making eye contact, and using hand gestures. Whilst you may say that you are comfortable with a project or role verbally, for example, your body language may tell a different story. Closed body language (such as hunching your shoulders or folding your arms) is an obvious non-verbal sign of dissatisfaction, whilst smiling, opening your arms, and making eye contact will indicate that you are open to receiving information and feel positive about the messages that are being shared.
- Written. As the same suggests, written communication is communicating with others by writing messages down. In the workplace, written communication takes several common forms including emails, letter writing, creating reports, or written project management tools. You may choose to study online to further your career, and written communication is vital for progressing in this way. Writing is the most formal of the communication skills and is absolutely vital in some roles where you need to create a permanent record of the information exchanged for future reference. Medical professionals and legal professionals are two examples of work environments where good written communication is vital.
- Visual. Finally, visual communication is similar to written communication, in that it creates a permanent and tangible record of communication, but it uses imagery to share this rather than text. Graphs, charts, and even drawings or photographs are all great examples of visual communication. Many people are visual learners, which means that they process ideas more easily by looking at imagery than they do by reading text. Visual communication tools are often used to complement other forms of communication. They can be used to add context to written communication and depict the meaning of information in a different way.
Key Areas of Communication
There are considered to be four main areas of communication skills that people wish to both use and improve in the workplace. These are:
- Non-verbal communication
- Emotional awareness and management
It is important to remember that communication is a two-way process, and therefore listening in the workplace is just as important as speaking in the workplace; you need to get your point across, but you also need to listen to, and understand, the ideas and perspectives of your peers. If you are a line manager, for example, you may feel that you need to share your opinions with your team but listening to their opinions will be just as important for wider business success. By listening to others and treating them with empathy, you are also developing a level of emotional awareness that is essential for effective communication in the workplace. Having an awareness of our own and other people’s emotions, and an ability to manage those emotions is an essential form of communication. This is often known as emotional intelligence, and you will note that those most successful in the workplace often have a high level of emotional intelligence and are able to use this to their advantage.
Verbal vs Non-verbal Communication
Communication works best when both verbal and non-verbal communication skills are developed in conjunction. If you think about any effective communication you have experienced, you may realise that much of this communication is non-verbal. In fact, some studies suggest that as much as 80% of communication is non-verbal and that the messages you share with your posture and body language are just as important as those you share verbally.
The most obvious example of non-verbal communication is body language, but other elements that are included in the umbrella heading of non-verbal communication include the tone and pitch of your voice as you speak, your facial expressions and how much eye contact you make whilst you’re talking and even physiological changes such as sweating. Sometimes the non-verbal communication cues that people give are at odds with what they are saying verbally. So if you really want to understand someone better, particularly in a business negotiation or business meeting, you should pay close attention to what they are saying non-verbally as well. And if you want to play your cards close to your chest, ensure that your body language is consistent with the words that you are saying.
Listening and Questioning Skills
We have already outlined why listening is so important to effective communication. But another area of communication that is essential, and that many people often struggle with, is questioning. Often people assume that questioning is a sign of misunderstanding, or that they will look uneducated on the topic at hand if they ask questions. Many people also feel vulnerable when asking questions, particularly in a group setting or within a formal work environment. But actually, the opposite of this is true: questioning is a vital skill and will help you to ensure that you have understood the message that is being shared with you correctly. Seeking clarification only emphasises your understanding. What’s more, asking questions is also a good way of gaining more information on a topic or demonstrating your own knowledge of the same topic. And if you’re hoping to keep a conversation going then there’s no better way to do so than by asking questions: they are also a great conversation starter. The benefits of asking questions when undertaking conversations in a business setting are near endless.
Another benefit of listening and asking questions is that those with good questioning skills are often also seen as very good listeners. This is because they tend to spend far more time drawing information out from others, ensuring that their opinions are fully informed before they give them. As a result, people tend to listen more to communicators who have listened carefully and asked questions before broadcasting their own opinions on a subject.
Tips to Improve your Communication
There are many different ways that you can work to improve your communication skills. These include:
- Listening to others. Listening is often considered to be the most important element of communication and Epictetus famously stated that “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” People want to know that when they are talking to you, you are hearing what they have to say. For this reason, you should ensure that you focus on people when they talk to you: make eye contact and ask questions if something is unclear or you need clarification. You may also find that it is much easier to only have one conversation at a time: it is very difficult to fully engage in two conversations in conjunction. So when you’re speaking to someone on the phone, for example, give them your undivided attention. Don’t try to send emails or type other messages at the same time: the quality of your conversation will suffer.
- Change your approach to suit your audience. If you’re talking to a friend then informal language and slang terms are likely to be appropriate, but this is not the tone or language you should use when talking to your employer. Similarly, when sending a written message (email, text message or letter) the language you use should be more formal than you might use conversationally.
- Think carefully before using acronyms. If they’re common acronyms in your industry and the person you’re communicating with is a peer that will understand them then they may be appropriate, but you should not assume that everyone will know what acronyms that are clear to you mean. So as a general rule they should be avoided if you want to be an effective communicator. Keep the people you are communicating with in mind and think about whether using acronyms will help you to get your message across.
- Check your spelling and grammar. Nothing looks sloppier than sending an email with an obvious typo or spelling mistake: this can negatively impact the clarity of your communication. For this reason, you should always double (and even triple) check your emails before you send them. Are there any obvious errors? Are your words clear, and are they communicating the right message?
- Language involves more than your spoken words. When you’re having a face-to-face conversation or video conference you should think about what your body language is saying. Are you open and receptive to new ideas? Then don’t cross your arms. And maintain eye contact with the individuals that are talking to you so that they know that they have your full attention.
- Make notes. If you’re having an important conversation, then don’t be afraid to take notes: this will show the person you’re talking to that you care about what they have to say. If you do try to commit important information to memory, send a follow-up email to clarify the main elements of the conversation. This is a great way to ensure you’re both on the same page.
- Don’t shy away from verbal communication. It often feels easier to send an email (especially if you’re nervous or introverted) but picking up the phone is often the better option. Verbal communication can’t be misconstrued in the same way as a written conversation and is a much faster and easier way to communicate complicated concepts or lengthy ideas.
- Speak to everyone as equals. You should always treat everyone you communicate with respect, ensuring that you don’t talk down to anyone and that you treat everyone equally.
- If in doubt, smile! A positive attitude and happy disposition can take you a long way. When you smile, people will tend to smile back, reacting to your positivity with their own. You’ll be amazed at the impact this can have on your communication with others.
- Finally, think before you speak. Don’t be afraid to pause to give yourself time to formulate your thoughts rather than just saying the first thing to pop into your head. Take time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it, so that your communication is always both clear and appropriate.
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