It’s no exaggeration to say that there aren’t many soft skills that are more important than communication – if you can communicate well at work, you’ll have a better career and your company will be more successful.
Communication isn’t just critical in the workplace, either. If you can master a variety of communication skills then things outside work will improve too – you’ll have better relationships with the most important people in your life and everyone you meet.
There are plenty of different kinds of communication, though, and it’s a complex field. We’ve cut through the noise to explain the five key areas you need to get right, and discovered why they’re so important.
If you’d like to bring more skills from the workplace to the outside world, head here for five essential technical skills (opens in new tab) you should master in your everyday life, or click here for our pick of five critical soft skills (opens in new tab).
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Clarity of speech
It’s no good talking to people if they can’t get their head around what you’re saying. When you’re speaking you need to choose words that express yourself clearly – if you’re straightforward, people will understand what you’re saying, but they’ll struggle if you just use jargon and buzzwords.
It’s not just about clarity of words, either. In most situations you’ve got to be honest about what you’re saying. If you know you’re going to be having an important conversation, it’s worth taking a minute to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Everyone involved will benefit, and the conversation won’t descend into confusion.
Bear in mind, too, that you’ll often need to adapt your speech to your audience. If you can remember this while being straightforward and honest, you’ll get better results from all of your verbal communication.
That last point goes hand-in-hand with the need for empathy and emotional intelligence. If you use empathy in your communication then you’ll be able to better understand other people’s reactions and feelings, whether they’re positive or negative. No matter the situation, that means you’re more likely to have improved outcomes from any verbal or written communication.
Ultimately, if you understand and respect the emotions of other people, you’ll have improved results. And, similarly, be aware of your own emotions when communicating so you don’t clash with the people around you.
Having emotional intelligence also means recognizing the beliefs and values of the people around you, and bearing those in mind when you communicate and make decisions.
It’s not enough to be a good talker – you need to be a good listener, too. You’ve got to listen carefully to what people are saying so you can properly process their words and mood.
If you pay close attention to other people then you’ll have better outcomes form all of your communication. Make sure you avoid distractions so you can listen properly, and ask questions if you need clarification on any topic. Be attentive to signs of emotion from the speaker – a huge part of human communication revolves around tone and inflection rather than words.
If you’re a considered, active listener, you won’t just get more out of your communication – in the future, people will feel like they can properly express themselves with you, too.
Body language is critical
Not all communication uses verbal or written words – indeed, more than half of human communication relies on body language. If you want to be an effective communicator in all areas of your life, understanding people’s movements is vital.
If you’re chatting to someone and they’re wearing a frown and crossing their arms, for instance, it’s clear that they’re not happy – and if you want a positive outcome from your chat, you need to bear that in mind. Conversely, if someone is smiling and talking with open arms, they’re clearly pleased with what you’re saying.
It’s crucial to pay attention to people’s body language when you’re communicating with them, but that’s not all – you have to make sure your own body language is appropriate to the situation, too. Look people in the eye, give them your proper attention, and make sure your posture isn’t closed or aggressive.
These tips can all help you have better communication at work and in other areas of your life, but communication isn’t always easy or successful – no matter how hard we try, disputes and problems are going to occur.
If you do find yourself in a situation where people aren’t happy and problems need to be resolved, it’s important to keep calm and remember the rest of your communication skills. Anyone who wants to diplomatically solve problems needs to speak with clarity, keep emotions in check and be acutely aware of the other people in the conversation – their words, their tone and inflection, and their body language.
Similar rules apply if you’re taking part in a negotiation. The situation may not be as antagonistic as a dispute, but you’ll get the most out of the situation if you remain aware of people’s body language and tone as well as their actual words. Ultimately, it’s about giving yourself as much information as possible to get the best outcome, and if you’re attentive to all aspects of communication then you’ve got a better chance.
You may often find yourself in situations where you have to delegate tasks to family members or friends. If that’s the case, ensure that you speak clearly – you need to properly explain what needs to be done, the deadline, and who needs to tackle the task at hand.
At the same time, be aware of body language and tone from other people – it may help you to spot a potential problem before it arises, especially if someone doesn’t like their new task.