“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.”
Paul J. Meyer
Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important life skills and helps us in all aspects of both our professional and personal lives. It allows us to share ideas, information, facts, opinions and feelings, and interact with others constructively through meaningful conversations.
Just look at job adverts across any discipline – one requirement in particular tends to come up again and again: “excellent communication skills”. A LinkedIn survey found that communication topped the list of the most sought-after soft skills among employers.
In today’s fast paced world, we are faced with navigating a multitude of communication channels and mediums, making it more challenging than ever to interpret others and adapt our style effectively.
Workplace communication and why it matters
In the workplace, all transactions and interactions are based on communication. Good communication skills are essential to allow others and yourself to understand information more accurately and quickly. As well, strong workplace communication boosts employee morale, engagement, productivity and satisfaction.
Communication is also key for better team collaboration and cooperation. It aids the development of positive relationships across the business and contributes to workplace wellbeing, helping drive better results for individuals, teams and whole organisations. As a manager or leader, an effective communicator is able to motivate their team to get more done with better outcomes.
In contrast, poor communication skills lead to frequent misunderstandings and frustration. In the workplace, this can result in friction, confusion and an environment in which people are not motivated to be productive or inspired to collaborate. This lack of motivation can subsequently affect how staff relate to clients and other stakeholders.
Key skills for effective communication
So, it’s clear why good communication skills are important, but what do they look like in practice?
In short, the most effective communicators are able to clearly inform others and actively listen to them at the same time. They can accept input – both verbal and non-verbal – whilst also expressing their thoughts and opinions in an inclusive way.
While many communication skills happen naturally in some people, others may need to be learned and practiced. The good news is that effective communication is a skill that can be mastered and developed, even when it doesn’t come naturally.
Here are our top tips for effective communication:
1. Be an active listener
Listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication. Whilst we all use our listening skills every day, unless we are actively listening, we are unlikely to take in everything we hear. According to the late American author and businessman Stephen R. Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. The phrase ‘active listening’ was first used by Rogers and Farson in the 1950s. They describe it as follows:
“It is called ‘active’ because the listener has a very definite responsibility. He does not passively absorb the words which are spoken to him. He actively tries to grasp the facts and the feelings in what he hears, and he tries, by his listening, to help the speaker work out his own problems.”
How often do you slow down and truly take the time to actively listen? Seek to understand instead of being understood. You may have to get a point across or deliver information to the other person, but before you do, can you take some additional time to really listen to the other person and hear what that person is saying and communicating with his or her words and nonverbal actions?
To help you to actively listen, you should focus fully on the speaker, avoid interrupting, show interest, avoid appearing judgmental and provide feedback or ask questions.
2. Listen to nonverbal communication
Much of our communication is nonverbal, and there are many studies out there to prove this; you may listen to the words that are being spoken, but are you listening and aware of the nonverbal cues that are being given?
Researchers found that tone of voice, eye contact, facial and body gestures provide critical information: the crossing of the arms, looking away, avoiding eye contact or positioning the body and feet away from the other person are telling signs of not being engaged, open or receptive.
Consider what your body language tells the people you’re speaking to and observe what theirs says to you.
3. Understand and know your audience
It is important to understand and get to know who you are communicating with; each audience is different. Think carefully about the best way to adjust your words and body language to appeal to them.
Facts and figures might be your thing, but if you’re addressing a room full of creatives, for example, you might want to use less jargon and use visual aids instead. Engage with your audience, ask questions and tune into what could be of value to the people in it.
Good communication isn’t about imposing yourself on others but understanding the perspective of who you’re speaking to and adapting your style to make sure you get your message across.
4. Ask questions
Check for understanding by inviting feedback or asking questions to ensure that everyone’s on the same page.
How many times do you shy away from asking questions? Perhaps you fear asking the wrong questions, looking stupid or think too much about how the other person will interpret you. These are all normal thoughts and feelings that come up, but when questions aren’t asked, there is no way to get to the core of the situation, and many people will ascribe their own meaning to a situation, remaining stuck in the unknown. Next time, ask the question and see the results.
5. Be clear and concise
Concision is the ability to express your ideas in as few words as possible. Listeners appreciate this, as it shows your preparation and respect for their time. In addition, concision signals confidence: the confidence to do less, to say something once and trust that it lands.
We live in a world where we are flooded with information. Be mindful of not making people work too hard to understand what you are saying or asking of them. Think about how to communicate what you want to say in a simple and straightforward way. Don’t use ten words when one would work.
Good communication also rests on using the right words. What is it exactly you want to communicate, and what are the points you want to make? You might want to think about this in advance, preparing and structuring your ideas to keep on point. Find clear, simple phrasing to encapsulate your message.
6. Be self-aware
It’s okay if you’re still developing your communication skills, are nervous, or having a bad day. It takes time — and practice — to become a skilled communicator. With awareness, focus and continued effort, every one of us can learn to communicate better, have meaningful interactions and enhance our professional and personal relationships.
Every year communication tops the list of skills in demand by employers – there’s a reason why. Communication is what makes our professional and personal relationships go smoothly. It’s how we get things done, show we care and catalyse change. That’s motivation enough to keep learning, growing and developing these important skills.
If you’d like to build on the communication or presentation skills of your people, we offer a range of practical and interactive training giving participants the skills and confidence to be effective communicators and develop an understanding of different communication styles. All of our courses can be tailored to suit individual audience needs and can be delivered face to face, online or self-directed.
To learn more, get in touch with our friendly team at email@example.com