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Most career, leadership, and even relationship experts would say that communication is one of the most critical people skills to have. But what does communicating well actually entail?
Read on to learn more about what good communication skills are and how to improve your communication skills so you can always get your message across—in and out of the workplace.
Why is Communication Important?
First, let’s define communication: It’s using common language, images, and tools to get a message across. Done well, this allows you to connect with others, share information effectively, and get your ideas out into the world—all crucial elements of success in the workplace and in social settings.
What are Effective Communication Skills?
Sure, most of us learned to talk when we were toddlers. But communicating effectively is different than simply using our words. Without good communication skills, your message might be misunderstood or not engaging enough to keep someone’s attention. Effective interpersonal communication skills involve saying what you need to in a clear and interesting way, regardless of the format you’re using to communicate.
How to Improve Communication Skills
Even just having the intention to improve your people skills is a great place to start! But to dive deeper, read on to learn about each of the types of interpersonal communication skills and ways you can master them in every aspect of your life.
Learn Good Communication Skills for Work!
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While there are three main types of communication skills—verbal (speaking and written), non-verbal, and visual—those can be further broken down into the following seven interpersonal skills that are critical for effective communication in the workplace and beyond.
- Spoken Communication
Spoken communication—or oral communication—is the act of saying your message out loud. Exceptional spoken communication skills can benefit you in situations large and small: from delivering a speech to leading a high-stakes meeting to having more engaging one-on-one conversations.
The best spoken communication is:
- Clear: Your thoughts are organized so people understand and follow what you’re saying.
- Concise: Remember that long-winded professor who lost people 10 minutes into class? Don’t be that person.
- Confident: Sounding assured in what you’re saying helps you come across as a leader.
How to Get Better at Spoken Communication
The best way to improve your spoken communication is to be prepared! Whether that means planning and practicing for a big presentation, or pausing to collect your thoughts before answering a colleague, it really helps to know what you’re trying to say before you say it.
- Nonverbal Communication
When you’re in a room with another person, you’re communicating with them, whether you intend to or not. Even if you’re not saying anything at all, your body language and facial expressions—whether a furrowed brow or a relaxed smile—reveal a lot about your thoughts and feelings.
Being mindful of these nonverbal actions, even when you are speaking, is one of the most important interpersonal communication skills. Looking away from the person you’re speaking to or fidgeting can distract and deter from your message, while solid eye contact and hand gestures that emphasize your points can enhance it.
How to Get Better at Nonverbal Communication
Since you can’t exactly watch yourself while you’re speaking, it can be challenging to improve your nonverbal communication. Short of practicing talking in a mirror (which is an option, too!), try to imagine how you are coming across to anyone you’re speaking to, and then adjust your eye contact, body language, and facial expressions to align with the message you’re trying to send. You can also pay attention to people who you think have strong nonverbal communication and emulate their behaviors.
- Visual Communication
Visual communication is how you get a message across using images, design elements, and organization of information. While it may seem like only graphic designers need to excel at visual communication, it’s valuable for anyone who needs to make presentations, explain concepts through charts or diagrams, or make their writing more engaging through the use of visuals.
How to Get Better at Visual Communication
The best way to improve your visual communication is to look for the design elements you encounter on a daily basis, and pay attention to why they work (or don’t). Learning some of the core principles for visual design wouldn’t hurt, either!
- Written Communication
Even if you’re not a writer by trade, being able to write well is critical for effective communication in the workplace today. Whether you’re crafting an email to a coworker, putting together a formal proposal, or anything in between, knowing the basics of good written communication will help you get your thoughts across in powerful ways.
How to Get Better at Written Communication
The best way to get better at writing for communication is to practice! Specifically, as you’re writing, make sure you’re paying close attention to every step, including:
- Understanding your audience so you can tailor your writing to them
- Having a goal in mind as you’re writing
- Coming up with a plan and a structure
- Editing for conciseness and clarity
- Removing any grammatical or spelling errors that could be distracting
- Listening & Active Listening
It may seem counterintuitive, but listening is actually one of the most important communication and interpersonal skills out there. Communicating effectively is about reacting to what another person is saying—and that means you truly have to hear them out! Being able to listen well will improve your empathy, collaborative problem solving, persuasion, conversation skills, and so much more.
There are actually two aspects of listening: You understanding what the other person is saying, and the other person feeling like they’re being heard. That’s where active listening comes in, which are nonverbal cues that signify you’re paying attention, such as nodding your head.
How to Get Better at Listening
If you notice you’re zoning out during conversations, there are several ways to encourage yourself to stay engaged and really listen:
- Write down a summary of the main takeaways from the conversation after you finish. This will force you to really pay attention while you’re talking.
- Or, if it wouldn’t be awkward, take notes during a conversation or meeting, which can help you stay focused.
- Ask questions during the conversation—which ensures you’re paying attention and staying curious.
- Try to repeat back the other person’s message, with phrases such as, “So it sounds like you’re saying…” This will ensure you’re understanding the other person correctly—and help them feel like you’re truly listening.
- Asynchronous Communication
In today’s world of remote work, asynchronous communication is becoming increasingly important. Asynchronous communication is the ability to convey important information without talking or chatting live with someone—for example, brainstorming on a collaborative document rather than holding a meeting. This can save you from being in meetings all day, give everyone more time to think about information before responding, and create documentation you can easily share with others.
How to Get Better at Asynchronous Communication
Having good asynchronous communication skills starts with good written communication skills so you can effectively organize information and share it in a succinct and clear way. You’ll also want a strong understanding of the tools available to you for effective communication in the workplace, and a sense of which is right for each occasion. Next time you need to convey information or problem solve with a colleague, ask yourself: Does this need to be a meeting? Or is there a better way to achieve this?
While storytelling isn’t one of the core interpersonal skills, it can really take your communication from good to great. Infusing compelling, detailed stories into your communication can draw people in and help them better connect with your message.
How to Get Better at Storytelling
The best place to start with improving your storytelling is learning some of the skills of effective storytelling and components of stories, including:
- Great characters
- Challenging situations
- A world view
- Lessons learned
- New possibilities
Top Communication Skills Takeaways
While it can feel like good communicators are just born with it, you can improve your people skills. Identify the communication skills that you struggle with the most, set the intention to improve, and start taking steps (or classes!) to practice and perfect the way you say what you need to say.
Learn More About Storytelling for Communication
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