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How to improve communication skills

While studying a formal qualification can help you secure your dream role, it's just as important to ensure you're constantly working on building the soft skills that will make you an asset to any team. One of the most important of these skills is communication – the art of connecting and collaborating with your colleagues, to successfully work towards shared goals.

Effective communication is a crucial skill employers look for, as people who communicate well are usually great at fitting into a new team and filling leadership roles.

It's also vital that you can demonstrate this sought-after skill in your job interview – particularly if you’ve listed communication as a skill in your CV. We’ve compiled our top five tips on how to improve communication skills to help you on your job hunt.

How to improve your communication skills

Understand your current communication style

If you want to learn how to improve communication skills, start by thinking about your current style of communication. How well have you connected with co-workers in the past? Do you generally find it easy or difficult to express your ideas? Do you prefer to communicate face to face or over the phone, or via email?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to poor communication, including, but not limited to:

  • A general lack of confidence in the workplace
  • Personality clashes between colleagues
  • Stress and anxiety
  • A company culture of dysfunctional communication
  • Limited experience working within a team
  • Language barriers

Learn to listen

Effective communication isn’t just about how you talk to people. Learning how to listen is also fundamental to improving your communication skills.

When communicating with your co-workers, focus on really listening to what they have to say. Communication is a two-way street, which means you can only be a successful communicator if you’re taking part in a dialogue, rather than a monologue.

If you’ve struggled with listening in the past, try asking questions to clarify information. Take notes in meetings and can review them again later to practise taking in and retaining relevant information.

When you focus on being an active and engaged listener, your colleagues will know you’re taking on board what they’re saying. This means listening, clarifying, providing feedback, and acknowledging what they’ve said in some way.

Try very briefly summarising what they’ve told you at the end of the conversation to show you’ve listened, and give them the opportunity to correct any misunderstanding. A short course in interpersonal skills can also help you learn how to develop communication skills through effective listening.

Learn to be direct

We’ve developed a culture where people are encouraged to soften their language and communication style to be more likeable and less assertive. We often don’t want to tread on toes or upset anyone, and this sometimes means our messages get lost in translation. For example, you might overhear someone say:

“If you have a minute, could you have a quick skim of those files I emailed you? If it’s not too much trouble. Sometime today would be great…”

Instead, they could simply ask:,

“Can you please review the files I emailed you as soon as you’re able?”

See how much clearer the message and request is when the language is to the point? Being direct doesn’t mean being bossy or rude. It means offering the most relevant information in a straightforward way so your co-workers can easily understand what you require.

Learn to understand non-verbal cues

The way you stand when talking to someone at work may not seem like a big deal, but body language tells its own story, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

We instinctively know that someone may be frustrated or disengaged if they stand with their arms folded, or feeling anxious if they play with their hair.

Learning to be aware of your own body language can help you communicate a consistent message. Picking up on the non-verbal cues of others can also help you read between the lines. Creating this awareness can be as simple as reading an article or two about body language, and making an effort for a few days to take note of non-verbal communication around the office. Standing tall and confidently will soon become second nature, and will enhance your communication style significantly.

Learn to master effective email

Email is often unavoidable at work, and while this form of communication offers incredible potential to easily reach clients and colleagues, it can also be a minefield for miscommunication, misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

It’s a lot harder to convey tone in written communication, which is why so many people tend to pepper their emails with smiley symbols. While this may be acceptable among friends and even some close members of your team, it’s unlikely you’ll get a great response if you send a meeting reminder to your CEO with a winking face, or try to grab a client’s attention in capital letters.

Wondering how to improve communication skills via email? These are the top things to consider as you type:

  • Be brief. No one likes long, rambling emails. Bullet point important information.
  • Be clear and direct. Instead of simply replying “Yes”, respond with “Yes, I will be attending the meeting” to indicate you’ve understood the request.
  • Be courteous. Being brief and direct doesn’t mean you have to throw common courtesy out the window. You can still convey a warm tone via email without being too wordy. You can open with “I hope your day is going well”, without getting into a long back-and-forth about your colleague’s weekend or the weather.
  • Be professional. When in doubt, leave all emojis, emoticons, slang, and images out.

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