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Developing Communication Skills

Developing communication skills

Artwork by: Lizabeth Zaft

  • Utilize the 7 C’s Checklist as a Guide for All Types of Communication
  • Practice the 10 Principles of Listening
  • Practice Verbal Communication Techniques

"The art of communication is the language of leadership." — James Humes

Communication is a way of transferring information from one person to another.  It can take on many forms such as verbal (face-to-face, phone, presentations), non-verbal (body language, dress), and written (emails, letters, reports).  Effective communication skills in the business environment are essential for day-to-day operations as well as career progression.  The most successful leaders are excellent communicators. 

Practicing communication skills in the following areas will help you with your coworker and customer interactions as well as with your career path.

  • Effective Speaking – Know your audience and anticipate their reactions.  State your message clearly in a way that your audience will understand.  Word choice and delivery should be carefully considered.

  • Active Listening – This involves eye contact, gestures such as nods, and brief comments to show understanding.  You need to approach a situation ready to hear what the other person has to say.

  • Asking Questions – Ask open-ended questions that generate additional discussion and understanding.

  • Body Language – Understanding body language can be tricky.  You need to recognize and decipher the meaning behind eye contact/movement, stance, posture, facial expressions, and other body language, like fidgeting.  You also need to be conscious of your own body language when delivering a message so that your words match your body language.  If they are incongruent, the message becomes confusing to the listener.

  • Determining Communication Methods – In business, you use many different methods of communication – emails, texts, phone, meetings, and written correspondence.  It is important to figure out which method is the most effective way to communicate your message.  Learning to communicate effectively through multiple mediums will go a long way to helping you achieve your career mobility goals.

To ensure you are communicating effectively, it is also important to keep in mind the barriers to communication.  A skilled communicator overcomes these barriers by continually checking for understanding and offering feedback.  Barriers to think about are:

  • The use of jargon or complex technical terms

  • Emotional barriers and taboos

  • Lack of attention, interest, distractions, or irrelevance to the audience

  • Differences in perception and viewpoint

  • Physical disabilities (hearing problems or speech difficulties)

  • Physical barriers to non-verbal communication (not being able to see body language)

  • Language differences

  • Expectations and prejudices (may lead to false assumptions or stereotyping)

  • Cultural differences

Once again, ask your accountability partner, manager, and peers for feedback on your communication skills as you practice verbal, nonverbal, and written communication. 

Utilize the 7 C’s Checklist as a Guide for All Types of Communication

When delivering a message through any means of communication, it is important to make sure it is:

  • Clear – Be clear about your goal or purpose

  • Concise – Keep it brief and stick to the point

  • Concrete – Provide a clear picture with details and facts

  • Correct – Proofread all of your communications; do not rely on spell-check

  • Coherent –The communication is logical and the points are relevant to the main topic

  • Complete – The audience has all of the data they need to be informed and potentially make a decision/take action

  • Courteous – Be friendly, open, and honest

Practice the 10 Principles of Listening

A good listener pays attention to what is being said verbally and non-verbally.  To develop your listening skills, practice the following 10 principles each time you are having a conversation or participating in a meeting.

  • Stop talking.  Do not interrupt or finish another person’s sentences.

  • Prepare yourself to listen.  Focus on the person talking and put other thoughts out of your mind.

  • Put the speaker at ease.  Make eye contact and use nods and gestures to encourage them to continue.

  • Remove distractions.  Avoid unnecessary disruptions.

  • Empathize.  Understand the other person’s perspective.

  • Be patient.  Allow the speaker time to finish communicating their thoughts.

  • Avoid personal prejudice.  Keep an open mind about what the speaker is saying.

  • Listen to the tone.  Pitch, volume, and tone helps you understand the emphasis of what is being said.

  • Listen for ideas not just words.  Concentrate so you can link together the ideas that are being communicated.

  • Wait and watch for non-verbal communication.  Eye movement, facial expressions, and posture all play a role in interpreting the message that is being delivered.

To show that you are actively listening, you can employ both non-verbal and verbal cues.  Non-verbal cues include: smiling, maintaining eye contact, leaning into the conversation, and mirroring facial expressions.  Verbally, you can ask questions, repeat what they said, or summarize the main points. 

Practice Verbal Communication Techniques

In the corporate environment, there are several keys to strong verbal communication. 

  • Place importance on the opening communication in a conversation.   First impressions make an impact on future interaction.  Formalities and appropriate greetings are expected – a handshake, an introduction, eye contact, small talk, and a friendly disposition.

  • Use reinforcement.  Use encouraging words and gestures (head nods, warm facial expressions) to promote openness in the conversation.

  • Use effective listening techniques.  These techniques are listed above.

  • Ask open-ended questions.  The use of these questions helps to gather information, draw someone into the conversation, show interest, and seek agreement.

  • Reflect and clarify.  Reflecting means to paraphrase or summarize information that you heard so that you can be sure to clarify what is being discussed.

  • Place importance on the closing communication.  The way in which you end a conversation will impact the way it is remembered.  Make sure not to end the discussion before the other person is finished saying what they need to say.  Also close out with formalities again – set a future meeting, shake hands, and end on a positive note.

These same principles apply to phone conversations and conference calls except you do not have the benefit of reading or using body language.  In those instances, the verbal cues become more important.   

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