Improve your communication skills to land you your next job – and also stay in it with 5 ways to improve your communication skills.
It’s rare to see any job ad or position description that doesn’t mention communication skills as being essential to the role. We are also in the middle of an ongoing digital revolution where digital communication looks set to eclipse face-to-face comms, at least in volume, if not in importance…but might in the future.
This is paired with another revolution – or rather evolution – in the workplace where hybrid and flexible work looks set to stay and dispersed teams scattered across timelines and hemispheres are becoming the norm.
So, having broad communication skills – or working on improving how well you communicate – will remain high on the required competency list for most prospective employers.
Here are the 5 communication skills we rate as critical both when looking for a job and once you’re in it.
1. Be an active listener (or reader) first and foremost
How often as a child when we were a bit cheeky or outright naughty did we hear from our parents, “Are you listening to me!?” While at the time it might have been annoying (or ignored), it might be the most important lesson our parents tried to teach us.
Active listening (or reading carefully, in the case of digital communications) is the foundation of all communication. It allows us to fully take in what is being communicated, while also offering respect to the person communicating.
You can be an active listener by:
Taking in body language, facial expressions and tone of voice;
Trying to focus on one communication channel or person at a time; and
Asking questions or reframing what’s been communicated to show you have understood and are keen to explore the topic more.
2. Choose your communication channel wisely
With what seems an ever-growing array of communication channels at our disposal, choosing which to use could be the difference between achieving your goals and not.
Face-to-face, phone, video chat, email, instant messaging and (don’t mock it!) the old school hard-copy letter – each communication channel has its pros and cons.
And each situation you need to communicate in will have a leaning towards one channel or another, often based around what you need to communicate but also when taking into account the recipient and what you know of them – which channel would they be most comfortable with in terms of the information you need to communicate?
There are also expediency, urgency and ease factors that need to be taken into account, so you need to use your professional and personal smarts to assess which channel is best.
For example, calling a colleague in a different time zone and waking them up in the middle of the night might not go down so well, meaning an email is the way to go…and yet if it’s super urgent, the call is clearly warranted.
3. Presentation – Think before you speak, type, message etc…
Processing the communication received and choosing your channel to reply are best followed up with considering how best to present your response.
So, in verbal communications, try not to talk over someone (even in heated discussions) both so that you hear them out but also to give yourself space to formulate a response and similarly be heard out.
With written comms, and particularly instant messaging, try to avoid being instantly reactive. Fully take in what’s been communicated, draft your response, read the communication again and then proof/fact-check your reply. As part of this, keep the return communication concise, on-topic, clear and comprehensible.
And maybe most important of all: don’t hit send unless urgency is an issue so that you have another moment to ensure what you’re about to communicate is bang on.
4. Show empathy and respect
This goes back to active listening but is also critical in your reply.
Having empathy and respect woven into your communication skills (and your broader professional skill set) will foster better relations between you and colleagues (and in job interviews, too) because exhibiting these character traits shows you are open-minded and can see issues from other perspectives, even if you don’t personally hold the same perspective.
This final critical communication skill may seem a little left-of-centre and outside of the standard communication process, but being able to provide and receive feedback in many ways pairs well with the skills listed above.
Given the personal nature of either communicating or receiving feedback, using active listening, showing empathy, thinking about how the feedback is presented and choosing the best channel to deliver it will determine how successful the feedback process is.
The best feedback is constructive, well thought out and, where possible, proactive rather than reactive. It should provide insight into an issue and solutions on how to move forward and improve or strengthen the situation.
To be fair, it’s not always easy giving or receiving feedback, especially when it involves highlighting a shortcoming, but framing it through a solution rather than a problem-oriented mindset can alleviate some of the discomfort for both the deliverer and recipient.