How to improve your communication skills
Communication skills are critical to success in any job. Even if you work remotely or on projects independent from the rest of your department, you will, eventually, have to engage with other people.
At this point, you’ll be reminded about the value of excellent communication skills, and the role they play in building networks, resolving conflict and managing both challenging and stressful workplace situations.
The benefits of good communication skills
Like emotional intelligence, effective communication skills help you express yourself and understand others. They enable you to convey complex ideas, engage audiences, drive action and ask for help or support when stress amasses. Having good communication skills also means explaining tasks, projects and meeting content succinctly, so that people understand exactly what it is they need to do, and work is delivered consistently to deadline.
The development of effective communication skills relies, in part, on being confident, and believing there is value in what you have to say. So developing confidence is a key part of enhancing this soft skill.
Communication skills are diverse
Traditionally, communication falls into three categories. There’s verbal, non-verbal and written communication, and being a great communicator requires a nuanced approach to each of these. It’s important to be able to alter your communication style for different situations, people and mediums. Here are some more specific contexts to be aware of, and how to tailor your communication to them:
Mostly, this will mean speaking with colleagues, liaising with stakeholders and collecting information via email. There can be a tendency to treat email as a more casual, less-public channel of communication, but this shouldn’t be the case. When writing emails, imagine that they would be read by your entire department. Keep the subject matter professional, always proof read and spell check your emails, and review your send list to avoid a dreaded “reply-all” where only a “reply” was required.
Beyond emails, as organisations become increasingly digitised, you may find that operations, sales and project management occur online too, so consider how you have to transfer your verbal communication skills and identity into the online world.
- On the phone
Professionalism should underscore all phone conversations, and being clearly spoken and concise will ensure that your phone communication is always successful and understood by the people or party on the other end of the call. Remember that on the phone, as with email, you don’t have the benefit of body language or facial expressions, and what began as a well-intentioned joke could end lost in translation, or worse, be offensive. If you’re on a conference call with multiple listeners, always introduce yourself before you speak, allow pauses for others to finish, and thank people for their time and contributions at the end of the call.
- With senior staff or organisational leaders
How you engage with an executive in a meeting or present to new clients should differ from how you chat to your colleague over lunch. Be polite, respectful and always prepared when engaging with staff or clients more senior than you. Know who you’re speaking with, their role and responsibilities and remember that every encounter makes an impression.
How to improve your communication skills
Whether you see your communication skills as your strength or weakness, there’s always room to improve and refine them so you feel confident and capable engaging with colleagues, stakeholders and senior leaders. Here are some tips to developing truly effective communication skills:
- Don’t be afraid to speak up
You don’t have to be the loudest or the most brash, but contribute to meetings, project work or reviews by offering your opinion and asking questions. These sessions are designed to be collaborative and invite the thoughts and ideas of the team, so put your hand up and tell them how you believe the organisation could increase client retention or improve office administration.
- Ask for help
Who in your organisation always engages employees when they speak? Is there someone’s written communication you’re particularly fond of? Whether inside your organisation or external to it, connect with these people and ask for their tips on improving your communication skills. Note down the strategies and resources they used, and weave them into your own efforts.
- Undertake training
There are many course and formal training programs available to people who wanting to develop good communication skills. They are specialised and focused, available as workshops, seminars or online courses, and can be found as long or short terms of study.
- Don’t get hung up on mistakes
If you send out an email with a typo, stumble through a phone call or can’t stop the blush filling your cheeks in a presentation, don’t beat yourself up. Improving your communication skills takes practice and mistakes are an important part of learning and self-improvement.
Great communication skills aren’t developed overnight, so be patient with yourself as you practice and undertake efforts to strengthen them. Take small steps, and reward yourself for even small improvements or wins. Document your learning process too, so you can reflect on what you’ve learned and provide guidance to others looking to develop effective communication skills in the future.