How to improve communication skills
After reading this guide, you will understand how to improve your communication skills, and help others do the same.
Communication is a skill, and like all skills, you can get better at it through practice. You will be able to effectively employ these techniques in your workplace, which will improve interpersonal relationships, allow for better problem solving, and ultimately lead to better business outcomes.
- Why is good communication so important at work?
- The importance of listening
- Improving non-verbal communication
- Improving verbal communication
- Improving written communication
- Improving visual communication
- Recommended resources: books and online courses
Why is good communication so important at work?
It might be tempting to think that, as long as you do your job well, being a good communicator isn’t very important. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Every aspect of your job depends on communication, and how well you can communicate directly correlates with how well you can do your job.
This has become even more relevant with the increase in remote work - bad communication skills have been highlighted by the increased use of messaging rather than face-to-face workplace communication.
If you’re in a client-facing role, your communication with them will make or break the relationship.
Think of the various aspects of that work that requires good communication:
- pitching your company to the client,
- building a trusting personal relationship with them,
- understanding what they want and clearly communicating that to the relevant teams,
- receiving feedback,
- communicating about updates or delays,
- and many more.
If you are unable to do this, then the client will lose trust and could seek another company that is better at communication.
If you’re in a management role or would like to be in the future, communication is key.
According to LinkedIn research, communication skills are the number one most desired soft skill that employers want.
Leading is all about being able to deliver your message well, explain concepts, give feedback, mentor your team, and solve problems. How well you can communicate will be crucial to all of those actions.
Even in roles where you are mostly dealing with your own team, your communication skills will help you achieve success in your role. Good communication will result in being able to explain problems, build solutions, form positive relationships with your department, and effectively collaborate on workflow.
1. The importance of listening
We cannot touch on the importance of communication without highlighting that a massive aspect of it is what you do when you’re not talking. Being a good listener is the most crucial part of communication.
We’re not just talking about hearing the words that a person is saying; rather you should be tuned in to their non-verbal communication also. Is the person avoiding eye contact? Is their posture open or closed? Are they fidgeting with their hands? All of these actions convey a lot of information.
How to be a good listener:
- When you are listening, give your full attention to the speaker.
- Set your phone face down.
- Turn away from your computer screen.
- Look at their non-verbal signals, and listen to their words.
- Use clarification questions to follow up on key points and then sum up your understanding to them, so they can clear up any miscommunication immediately.
By following the advice above, you demonstrate your engagement in the conversation, confirming to the person that you have heard, and understood, them completely.
2. Improving non-verbal communication
To begin improving your non-verbal communication, first, you must begin by paying attention to it.
As you go through your day, observe how you use the various types of non-verbal communication that we mentioned in our article about types of communication.
- Do you make consistent eye contact?
- How do you position yourself when speaking to people?
- Does it change based on who you are talking to?
- How do people react to you?
- Are there certain people who make you feel heard?
- What do they do that makes you feel like that?
- Is there someone who is unpleasant to communicate with?
- What actions do they do that make you not enjoy talking to them?
Think about the positives and negatives that you observe.
If there is someone who you find to be a particularly good - or bad - person to talk to, pinpoint why they make you feel that way. Pay attention to the non-verbal signals that they are giving off.
You can mimic the positives, and be aware of the negatives.
How to be better at non-verbal communication:
- Don’t fidget! This is rule number one. Be still, and calm. This communicates that you are in control, confident and a force to be reckoned with.
- Use eye contact intelligently. Focus in on people when you want to drive home a point. Look people in the eye both when you are listening to them and when you are speaking.
- Be confident in your use of space. Don’t minimize yourself, instead relax into your space. It’s important that you do this intelligently! Don’t prevent other people from sitting comfortably.
- Strive to be non-reactive during stressful situations. Keep your emotions level and respond calmly.
Simply being more aware of non-verbal communication, and the power that it has will help you be better at using it proactively and positively. If you observe that you tend to avoid eye contact during stressful negotiations, then you can make sure to put an emphasis on making consistent eye contact when speaking in the next meeting.
3. Improving verbal communication
To improve your verbal communication, you’ll need to get better at both what you say and how you say it.
It doesn’t matter how clear your message is if you are patronizing or rude when you say it.
As we recommend for non-verbal communication, begin by observing yourself and others in conversation.
- How do people react to you?
- Are there times when they react more negatively than others, and can you pinpoint why?
- Are there colleagues who you particularly enjoy conversing with?
- Observe how communication happens in your work environment, and pay attention to which aspects are positive and negative.
Next, begin to think about the content of your verbal communications.
We all know someone who takes ages to get to the point of the story, and how frustrating that can be, or someone who never gets to the point at all.
Before you speak, know what you want to communicate.
- Begin with your stated purpose (‘I think we need to increase ad spending 10%’)
- Move on to your reasoning (‘The upcoming holiday season is a prime time to target our customers more effectively’)
- Review possible outcomes (‘We could increase sales between 20 and 30%’).
While this advice is best suited for more formal presentations, this is effective in informal settings as well.
Knowing what you want to say and having the facts to back it up will make you seem more professional, knowledgeable and decisive.
Use pitch to help captivate your audience
- A lower pitch tends to communicate gravitas and experience. Take longer, deeper breaths and speak from your diaphragm to lower your voice.
- Strategically use silence to capture, and keep attention. Pause and hook the viewer’s attention before dropping your pitch, your big reveal or your thesis sentence.
- Use a range of cadence, speed and style. You don’t want to speak in a monotone, you’ll bore your audience and they won’t be engaged in the content of your communication.
4. Improving written communication
In written communication, the first step to improve is to make sure that your spelling and grammar are perfect.
There are plenty of online tools that can help you with this. You simply paste your writing into the app and then you get valuable feedback on spelling, grammar, and even the content.
Now, this is not a perfect solution, AI is smart but can make mistakes, but it works very well for a quick check, especially if you are not the world’s strongest writer.
Read more about the written type of communication.
Take the time to re-read everything that you write
- Is your tone appropriate to the setting?
- Are there any mistakes, items not linked properly, or missing points?
- Have you covered the subject in enough depth?
- We often overestimate how much other people know about our specialist subjects, it might be necessary to write in more detail. At the same time, don’t write a novel!
Formatting is key
- Format everything, from a Slack message to a full presentation, to make sure that you are creating a readable text.
- Use bullet points and paragraphs to break up your message.
- Highlight your points in bold if you have a lot of text.
- Underline anything that you think is crucial.
More tips for improving your written communication:
- State your assumptions. This will help avoid miscommunications. Start by saying ‘I assume you have heard about the new policy change, effective June 1. Because of this, we will be adjusting x, y and z.’
- Read often. From messages to novels, read often and when you do, think about what you like (or dislike) about what you’re reading. Emulate what you like, and work to avoid what you dislike.
- Use framing to get your point across. Think about it from the recipient’s point of view, and what’s in it for them, and then frame the message to highlight that.
- Read your writing out loud to check for mistakes. Use this time to review grammar, tone, fact-check and to make sure that you have covered everything you wanted to in the communication.
- When possible, use clear examples and avoid using too much jargon.
5. Improving visual communication
An important aspect of using visual communication is to only use it when necessary.
A presentation stuffed full of visual aids that do not add to the content is messy, unprofessional and will distract from the overall message.
You want to be judicious about what you include, and why you are including it. Make sure that you are using the proper chart to show the data in the clearest way, or are including only the sketches that will add to the audience’s understanding of the ideas for a new logo.
Not all of us are graphic designers, but there are tools available to help us create professional-looking visuals.
Make use of those! You don’t want your presentation to look like it was created in 1995.
Default to clean, professional templates, rather than looking for something ‘interesting.’ Your message should be the star, not the font, color, or background image.
Tips for improving visual communication:
- Less is more! Pare back your design and resist the urge to stuff every fact, figure, font and color into a presentation.
- Utilize typography. If in doubt, ask for the brand guidelines for your company and follow those. They will help you create cohesive presentations in line with your company’s preferred look.
- Pay attention to balance and harmony. You can achieve this by using similar, rather than disparate, elements in your communication. The same style of clip art, the same font family, or the same pastel shades.
- Begin with the end in mind. Know what you want to communicate and start there.
- Surrounded by Idiots: The Four Types of Human Behavior and How to Effectively Communicate with Each in Business (and in Life), Thomas Erikson
- How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships, Leil Lowndes
- Influencer: The new science of leading change, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler
- How to win friends and influence people, Dale Carnegie
- Skill with people, Les Gibli
- How to speak, how to listen, Mortimer J. Adler