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How to improve your communication skills for work

One of the most essential skills in life as well as work, good communication enables you to influence the decisions of others. You'll likely come across many situations in your working life when you'll need to demonstrate good communication skills, whether that's when talking with customers or writing an email.

So what better time to start developing good communication skills than right now, before you enter into the world of work.

'55% of the meaning in our words is derived from facial expressions, whereas only 7% is in the actual words spoken.'

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If you only have a couple of minutes, watch this quick video on how to foster good communication skills: 

Why do good communication skills matter?

Before we answer the question, what are communication skills?, let's explore why effective communication skills are important.

Well, practically every job out there requires you to have good communication skills. Even if you have your sights set on a career that doesn't require much face-to-face interaction, you can guarantee that you'll still need to be able to express yourself over the phone, via video conferencing and in writing.

It should come as no surprise that almost every job description will ask for people who are good communicators. Being able to deliver a message in a clear, straightforward way while being aware of the situation around you is a sought-after skill and something that comes with practice.

Whether you're aware of it or not, even at school, you're faced with situations that require you to communicate well. Whether it's telling a story to a friend, discussing an assignment with a teacher or answering a question in writing, there's a real need for effective communication skills.

So what are communication skills? Here we'll take a look at some techniques you can use to become a great communicator.

Think first, speak second

man drawing on whiteboard
A great way to improve your communication skills is to think before you speak

The first tip we'd like to share with you is 'think first, speak second'. Take a minute to think of someone who you consider to be a good communicator. It could be a friend, teacher or celebrity. What makes them a good communicator? There are probably a few things at play but the chances are that one of them is that they think before they speak.

It's natural for us to want to express an opinion, or give an explanation when we think we can help or have the answer. However, taking a few seconds to think about what you're going to say first will help you articulate your answer in a more effective way. How many times do we say the first thing that comes into our head and end up confusing people?

The next time you're having a conversation with a teacher or a friend, be aware of answering straight away and take a few seconds to think over what you're going to say first - you'll be amazed at how more influential you can be by trying this technique.

Focus on really listening

Communication is a two-way street. In order to have a conversation, you need speak and then listen and vice versa. It goes without saying that the best communicators in any workplace are those who are able to listen patiently without interrupting the person who is speaking. By carefully listening to what people are saying, you'll be able to craft a response that will help resolve situations and give confidence in your ability.

One technique to improve your listening skills is to pay attention to the type of language that someone is using. Do they use a lot of adjectives, i.e. describing words like 'huge', 'tiny', 'fantastic', or 'awesome'? If so, that person could indirectly be telling you that they're creative. Similarly, if someone likes to break things down into lists or numbers, you might be able to assume that they are logical thinkers.

By paying attention to a person's language patterns and identifying the way in which they speak, you can mirror their language to help build rapport, or explain things in a way that will resonate with them.

The next time your teacher asks you to do something class, listen to they way in which they say it - there may be a few clues in there as to how they'd like things to be done. Take a look at this video from Mind Tools for more advice on how to improve your listening skills:

Be aware of your body language

It's often said that 55% of the meaning in our words is derived from facial expressions. 38% is in how the words are said and 7% is in the actual words spoken.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, it tells us that our body language is one of the most important components of effective communication skills. Whether we are aware of it or not, we're influenced by people's body language more so than what they actually say. A great example of influential body language at work can be seen when we watch politicians. Very often, politicians use their body language very effectively to make their points appear important.

A great way to improve your body language at school is simply to be aware of what your hands and facial expressions are doing while you speak. For example, if you're telling a story, use your hands to help build tension by placing them in front of you in a karate chop style as you emphasise important parts. Similarly, if you want to appear honest and trustworthy when speaking to teachers, try place your right hand over where your heart would be - this can make you appear more sincere.

Adapt your communication style

One thing you'll notice about people with good communication skills is that they're able to adjust they way they talk depending on who their audience is. This is something that we actually do naturally but with a little practice, you'll be able to influence the outcome of situations more effectively.

For example, at school, you probably speak to teachers differently to how you speak with your friends. But imagine if you somehow got your audience mixed up and started speaking to your teacher like you would with your friends. Would you be more or less likely to get a good reaction from your teacher?

Some of the most influential and charismatic people in the world are regarded so because of their ability to adapt their communication style.

Give clear and straightforward answers

This one may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to improve your communication skills is to give clear answers.

Think about it... how often do you give ambiguous answers when you're asked to make a decision.

  • "What shall we have for dinner tonight?"
  • "Erm... I'm easy, what do you want to have for dinner?"

See what we mean?

By giving clear, definitive answers, we appear more confident in our abilities, which is an important quality to have in the workplace. The next time you're asked a question, try to give a clear answer and see how much more influential you become in the situation.

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Image credits

Person writing on board via Flickr