When you look back over the past year, you likely are able to acknowledge how hard things were for you, your family and your work team – but do you also see areas in which you’ve grown? What sticks out most to you?
For many of us, the way we communicate changed because we stopped seeing our peers in person. Communication soft skills are some of the most important skills you can have, both in your personal life and at work. This blog explores some of the best methods for improving communication soft skills.
What Are Good Communication Skills?
Communication skills affect how you give and receive information, so they go way beyond simply how you speak with others. In fact, according to Indeed.com, they were among the most highly requested skills in job postings in 2020.
The specific skills under the communication umbrella are endless, and the way we use them varies depending on what kind of situation we’re in. In terms of developing good communication skills in the workplace, there are many that individuals should focus on as a priority. Some of the top communication soft skills include:
- Active listening
- Using appropriate modes of communication (verbal, written, nonverbal, etc.)
- Delivery of information (tone, friendliness, volume, etc.)
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Clarity and brevity
Anyone can say they have good communication skills on a resume, but truly effective communication can only be displayed in practice. Individuals who treat others with respect, friendliness and empathy are those who have reliably strong communication talents.
When we make an effort to understand those with whom we are communicating, we naturally tend to listen better, use modes of communication we think will be most effective, and respond in an appropriate and timely manner.
Why Communication Soft Skills Matter
Communication skills are absolutely crucial for the workplace, especially now that the pandemic has forced most of us to reevaluate how we work with others and share information in our day-to-day processes. Nonverbal communication has become crucial because much of what we do has moved online. Even when we interact with people in person, wearing a mask can impact how our words are received.
Those who have been most adaptable to this huge change have stood out as excellent communicators. Posture, body gestures and even someone’s stance can all affect the way their words are absorbed by the other individuals around them. Online, we have adapted the way we use our words to convey tone and deeper meaning.
In the workplace, communication in the context of working with teams is especially valuable. When teams are able to communicate clearly across various channels and between many different individuals, they see improvements when it comes to setting clear and reasonable goals, creativity is enhanced and problem-solving efforts go more smoothly. In addition, work relationships are healthy, conflict is avoided, and company culture starts to be built upon a foundation of trust and comfort.
Here of some of the ways in which a company that is known for excellent communication excels:
- Employees are able to work on tasks that complement their talents because expectations on job performance are clearly set, and employees know which tasks to delegate because they understand their own strengths as well as those of their teammates.
- Great problem-solving skills and communication during challenging times helps the organization to remain agile and adaptable.
- When workers feel comfortable with their teammates and individuals in other departments, they feel more valued, aligned with company goals and missions and they tend to stay in their jobs for longer, reducing turnover costs.
- When conflict is rarely an issue because employees are able to diffuse and solve interpersonal issues quickly, a healthy culture begins to develop. This helps the company create a good reputation, attracting top talent and improving the overall competitiveness of the company in its market.
3 Tips for Managers to Improve Communication
Most organizations aren’t great with communication from the start. It really falls upon leaders to demonstrate effective communication soft skills in the workplace, modeling what they think their employees should reflect in their own work teams. If your organization is lacking in the communication department, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are ways in which managers can work to develop these skills in their employees. Furthermore, when managers work to improve their own communication with their teams, peers and leadership pick up on this. Strongly modeled communication helps to improve overall communication for organizations as a whole.
The following are three tips for improving communication at the personal and organizational levels.
1. Improve your nonverbal communication
Being great with nonverbal communication often relies at least somewhat on having strong interpersonal intuition, and this is not something that everyone is good at – this is normal! There are ways in which leaders can help their teams recognize and understand nonverbal communication, which includes training and coaching on being a positive influence through posture, gestures, eye contact, etc.
Invest in upskilling your employees through regular training and development opportunities that allow them to practice and develop nonverbal soft skills. This can include leaving doors open for employees who are interested in leadership training opportunities, for example.
You can also improve your nonverbal communication skills by:
- Learning to notice and replicate the nonverbal signals your peers and higher-ups demonstrate.
- Look out for when someone’s words aren’t matching their body language to pick up on hidden implications.
- Pay attention to your own tone of voice and that of others, especially during challenging conversations. What does tone convey that your words can’t?
- Take a holistic approach to how to interpret signals/gestures. For example, start to observe how you use gestures – which gestures do you use when you’re angry, nervous or excited? And how do those drive home a point?
2. Engage your team in honest and open conversations.
Many times, employees aren’t really sure what they can say in front of leadership. This can choke out avenues of communication that would have otherwise helped your team evolve and function positively in your organization. Be willing to share your own thoughts and feelings with your team members where appropriate. Don’t use your team as an emotional crutch, but instead, be transparent and model what a healthy expression of thoughts and emotions should look like. This helps to foster trust and break down barriers that can stifle creativity and healthy feedback.
Encourage your employees to share details about their personal lives with you, if they’re comfortable doing so. Ask them about their interests, both at work and outside of work, so that you can understand more about what makes them tick. This will help you connect them with opportunities in which they can use their best skills, benefiting both your organization and your employees on a personal level. Enhancing feelings of trust and appreciation helps your employees feel more confident to take on challenging conversations with each other, and the open communication will spread throughout and between teams in your workplace.
3. Practice active listening.
Remember, active listening is a key component of being a great communicator. You should be able to model this well before you start demanding that your employees start listening better. Empathetic and active listening takes work, and it can be draining.
Here are some ways to improve your active listening skills:
- Give verbal or nonverbal head nods, and make sounds like, “mm hmm” to show that you’re listening.
- Paraphrase what the other person says, using your own words to seek clarity.
- Ask probing and clarifying questions to make sure you understand what they’re trying to convey.
- Help the other person express themselves clearly if they get stuck by using empathy to put yourself in their shoes.
- Consider the appropriate time to respond or whether to continue to let the other person speak.
- Use eye contact and facial expressions to show the other person that you’re engaged and that you care about what they have to say.
- Validate key emotions or concepts that come up in conversation.
Active listening is probably one of the most difficult communication skills to master, because many of us have a hard time maintaining the attention span to listen intently to every conversation we have, especially when working at a job that requires continual communication throughout the day. For this reason, it’s important to model to your employees the benefits of taking breaks and blocking out quiet time during the workday. Employees should feel empowered to take the steps they need in order to remain great communicators.
It’s Time to Level Up
When it comes to developing and enhancing communication skills within your own organization, it’s best to start at the leadership level and watch the effects trickle down to the operations level. And no matter which industry or field you work in, continuing to build these critical communication skills will help you stand out in the office, as well as take your organization to the next level.
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