Communication Skills and How To Improve Them
We hear all the time about how important communication skills are, both in the business world and in our private lives. Communication helps us to find a common language when we collaborate with people, it makes us a better team player, and good communication can help us to move up the career ladder much faster.
But this term has become so overused today that sometimes we forget what it actually means.
In this article we will discuss what communication skills are, why they are crucial for career growth and how to improve them.
What Are Communication Skills and Why Are They So Important?
‘Communication’ is the ability to give and receive information in a constructive fashion. Although it might seem simple, and sound like it should be instinctive, not everybody is good at it.
Because effective communication is not only about exchanging information. It’s also about the ability to express your message, to tailor your language for a particular audience, to grasp the intention behind what is being said, to overcome diversities and to build trust with people.
It’s far more than ‘just saying something to someone’.
Employers value such skills because they help teams to avoid conflicts, it helps people to make better decisions and to work faster.
And if you want to advance your career, communication skills are essential regardless of your industry, position or job level. Whether you are a software developer or a sales manager, you have to learn how to present your ideas to other people, so that they are understood in the way that they should be.
To become a good communicator you need to develop different skills. Let's talk about each of these skills in more detail.
Top 5 Communication Skills
Obviously, different skills are needed in different situations, but here are the Top 5 universal skills that are necessary if you want to achieve effective communication.
- Active Listening
You can't be a good communicator without practicing active listening.
Often when another person is talking we hear what they’re saying, but we do not listen to what is being said. Instead of focusing on what the other person is actually saying, we are preparing our answer in our mind.
Stop doing this and start practising active listening right now. Listen carefully to what those around you are saying, ask questions if you need to clarify something and rephrase your answer, so that you can show the person that you have understood them correctly.
You will be amazed by how quickly this technique will boost your communication skills!
- Express yourself in a clear and concise manner
Whether you talk to someone in person, via email, or by the phone, it’s crucial that you express yourself clearly, and that you convey your message in as few words as possible.
The simple rule, "Think about what you want to say before you say it" will stop you from confusing your audience.
Also, consider the loudness, tone and pitch of your voice. If you speak too quietly people might have trouble hearing you. On the other hand, a loud voice can sound aggressive. A balance is what’s needed.
- Non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication is when you use your body language to communicate with other people around you.
Various wordless signals like body position, facial expressions, hand gestures, small movements and eye contact are usually done intentionally or unintentionally. And these signals are extremely important.
Multiple studies show that from 70% to 93% of all information we receive comes from non-verbal communication. Keep that in mind when talking to other people.
Plus, you should pay attention to the signals other people send you too, and try to maintain eye contact with people when you’re talking to them.
Empathy is another crucial skill for effective communication, because in order to really understand another person, you have to look at things from their point of view.
You need to relate to this person's feelings and emotions. That will help you to approach the conversation in an effective way.
- Stress management
Another important skill is the ability to communicate effectively under pressure.
You need to learn how to manage your emotions when a conversation gets heated. Otherwise, you will say something that you will regret later on.
Additionally, returning to a calm state will help to calm the other person too.
These are universal skills and developing them will improve your communication abilities, whether you interact with clients, managers, or friends and family.
Now let's talk about what to do if you need to improve your communication skills.
How to Improve Communication Skills?
Communication skills will take a lifetime to master, but don’t be discouraged, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your skills relatively quickly. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Avoid communication barriers. What are they? Stress, lack of focus and negative body language are the most common. Try to pay attention to such things when communicating with someone and you will see an improvement in your skills in no time.
- Observe good communicators around you. Undoubtedly there are people around you who always present information clearly and with empathy and respect. Take notes on what these people do differently. Think about how they explain complex topics to people, consider what tone of voice and body language they use in various situations, think about how they respond to conflicts. Then apply this to yourself.
- Ask for honest feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to determine which areas need to be improved on when you just use the self-reflection method. So, ask someone else for their opinion on your communication skills, as this will help you to understand what to focus on.
- Take a course or read a book. On platforms like Coursera, EdX and Udemy, you can find online courses that cover almost every possible aspect of communication. You can learn anything from business communication to presentations, to negotiation. Reading books is another great option and there are plenty of them to choose from. But if you can’t decide which book to choose first, we suggest you go for "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.
- Practice a lot! Communication skills are actually habits: it’s a habit to maintain eye contact, it’s a habit to keep your emotions under control, for example. And like with any other habit, you need time and regular practice to develop it. So, actively seek opportunities to communicate. For example, if you need to improve your writing skills, you could start a blog on a topic that interests you.
Effective communication is one of the most powerful skills to have, and it can improve all areas of your life. Plus, communication skills are almost always very high up on a recruiter’s list of ‘desired skills’.
So, do invest some time and effort in developing your communication skills because you won't regret it!