How to Improve Communication Skills: Best 2023 Practices

how to improve communication skills
Image Credit: EnglishCollege

A leader’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively with employees, within teams, and across the organization is one of the foundations of a successful business.

And in today’s complex and quickly evolving business environment, with hundreds of different communication tools, fully or partially remote teams, and even multicultural teams spanning multiple time zones, effective communication has never been more important—or more challenging.

Thus, the ability to communicate might be a manager and employee’s most vital skill. 

The good news is that communication skills can be learned, improved and even mastered. 

And the tips in this article can help you improve and maximize your communication skills for the success of your organization and career.

But like always, let’s begin with the basics…

What Is the Definition of Effective Communication?

The most effective communicators clearly inform others while actively listening to them. They can accept verbal and nonverbal input while also expressing their thoughts and opinions in a welcoming manner.

A connection with others is required for effective communication. It’s a dance with a partner who sometimes moves in unexpected ways. This means that being in sync with your audience is the most powerful skill you can use. It entails understanding and communicating with its needs and responding to real-time feedback. It entails engaging in the conversation that your audience desires.

All of this, however, take some practice.

Why Is It so Important to Improve Communication Skills at Work?

It’s easy to believe that as long as you do your job well, being a good communicator isn’t necessary. That could not be further from the truth!

Every aspect of your job is dependent on communication, and your ability to communicate directly correlates with your ability to do your job.

With the rise of remote work, poor communication skills have been highlighted by the increased use of messaging rather than face-to-face workplace communication.

If you work with clients, your communication skills will make or break the relationship.

Consider the following aspects of that work that necessitate effective communication:

  • Pitching your business to the client,
  • Establishing a personal relationship of trust with them,
  • Understanding what they want and communicating it clearly to the appropriate teams
  • Obtaining feedback,
  • Communicating any changes or delays, and many others.

How to Improve Communication Skills: 8 Tips

The following are simple practical tips to help you improve your communication skills in no distant time.

Be Concise and Clear

The most important aspect of communication is word choice. When it comes to wording, less is more.

Clarity and, when possible, brevity are the keys to powerful and persuasive communication, whether written or spoken.

Define your goals and your audience before engaging in any form of communication.

Outlining what you want to convey and why will help you ensure that you include all necessary information. It will also assist you in eliminating irrelevant details.

Avoid superfluous words and flowery language, which can detract from your message

And, while repetition may be necessary in some cases, use it with caution. Repeating your message ensures that it is received, but too much repetition can cause them to tune you out completely.

#2. Plan Ahead of Time

Before you start any type of communication, plan out what you will say and how you will say it.

Being prepared, however, entails more than just practicing a presentation.

Preparation also entails considering the entire communication, from beginning to end. Investigate the information you may require to back up your message. Consider your response to questions and criticism. Try to plan for the unexpected.

Prepare a list of concrete examples of your employee’s behavior to support your evaluation before a performance review, for example.

Know exactly what you want before engaging in a salary or promotion negotiation. Prepare to discuss ranges and potential compromises; know what you are and are not willing to accept. And keep specific details on hand to back up your case, such as relevant salaries for your position and location (but make sure your research is based on publicly available data, not company gossip or anecdotal evidence).

Furthermore, before you start a conversation, think about potential questions, requests for more information or clarification, and disagreements so you can address them calmly and clearly.

#3. Be Aware of Nonverbal Communication

Our facial expressions, gestures, and body language can, and frequently do, convey more information than our words.

Nonverbal cues can have up to 93 percent more impact than spoken words. If the two disagree, we are more likely to believe nonverbal signals over spoken words.

Leaders must be particularly skilled at reading nonverbal cues.

Employees who are hesitant to express their disagreements or concerns, for example, may show their discomfort by crossing their arms or refusing to make eye contact. You may be able to adjust your communication tactics if you are aware of others’ body language.

Leaders must be able to control their own nonverbal communications at the same time.

Your nonverbal cues should always support your message. Conflicting verbal and nonverbal communication can be confusing at best. At worst, it can derail your message and undermine your team’s trust in you, your organization, and even themselves.

#4. Take Note of Your tone

What you say isn’t always as important as how you say it. Your tone, like other nonverbal cues, can either add power and emphasis to your message or completely undermine it.

In workplace disagreements and conflict, tone can be especially important. A carefully chosen word with a positive connotation fosters goodwill and trust. A poorly chosen word with ambiguous or negative connotations can quickly lead to confusion.

Tone in speech includes volume, projection, intonation, and word choice. It can be difficult to control tone in real time to ensure that it matches your intent. However, being aware of your tone will allow you to adjust it appropriately if a communication appears to be going in the wrong direction.

When writing, tone can be more easily controlled. Make sure to read your communication once, if not twice, while keeping tone and message in mind. If doing so does not violate confidentiality, you may want to read it aloud or have a trusted colleague read it over.

And, if you’re having a heated debate via email or another written medium, don’t be too quick to respond.

If at all possible, write your response but wait a day or two before sending it. Re-reading your message after your emotions have calmed down often allows you to moderate your tone in a way that is less likely to escalate the conflict.

#5. Active Listening Should Be Practiced

Communication almost always involves two or more people.

When it comes to communicating effectively, listening is just as important as speaking. However, listening can be more difficult than we realize.

Communication expert Marjorie North notes in her blog post Mastering the Basics of Communication that we only hear about half of what the other person says during any given conversation.

The goal of active listening is to ensure that you hear the entire message, not just the words the person is saying. Here are some suggestions for active listening:

  • Paying complete and undivided attention to the speaker
  • Getting rid of distractions, judgments, and counter-arguments in your mind.
  • Avoiding the urge to interject your own thoughts.
  • Maintaining an open, positive body language to keep your mind focused and to demonstrate to the speaker that you are truly listening
  • When responding, repeat or paraphrase what you’ve heard.
  • Pose open-ended questions to elicit additional information.

#6. Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence serves as the foundation for communication. Simply put, you cannot effectively communicate with others until you assess and comprehend your own feelings.

For example, leaders with high emotional intelligence will find it easier to engage in active listening, maintain appropriate tone, and use positive body language.

Emotional intelligence includes more than just understanding and managing your own emotions. The other component, which is equally important for effective communication, is empathy for others.

Empathizing with an employee, for example, can help to ease a difficult conversation.

You may still have to deliver bad news, but actively listening to their point of view and demonstrating that you understand their feelings can go a long way toward mending wounds or avoiding misunderstandings.

#7. Create a Communication Strategy for the Workplace

Today’s workplace is a constant flow of information in various formats. Every communication must be understood in the context of the larger information flow.

Without a workplace communication strategy, even the most effective communicator may struggle to get their message across.

A communication strategy is the framework that your company uses to send and receive information. It can and should define how and what you communicate with customers and clients, stakeholders, managers, and employees.

Starting at the broadest level, your strategy should include who receives what message and when. This ensures that everyone receives accurate information at the appropriate time.

It can be as specific as how you communicate, including which tools you use for which information. For example, you can specify when a group chat for the entire team or organization is appropriate, or when a meeting should have been summarized in an email instead.

Developing simple guidelines like this can help to streamline the flow of information. It will help ensure that everyone receives the information they require and irrelevant details do not overburden that important information.

#8. Establish a Positive Organizational Culture

The corporate culture in which you communicate is also important in effective communication.

Communication will be easier and more effective in a positive work environment founded on transparency, trust, empathy, and open dialogue.

Employees who trust their manager will be more open to hearing their manager’s message. Managers will find it easier to create buy-in and constructive criticism if they encourage their employees to speak up, make suggestions, and offer constructive criticism.

Authoritarian managers who refuse to share information, are closed to suggestions, and refuse to admit mistakes or accept criticism are likely to have their suggestions and criticisms met with defensiveness if not completely ignored.

Without that foundation of trust and transparency, even the most minor communication can be misinterpreted, resulting in misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict.

Communicating with coworkers and employees will always be difficult. Misunderstandings and miscommunications will always exist, and unfortunately, corporate messages aren’t always what we want to hear, especially during difficult times.

On the other hand, building and mastering effective communication skills will make your job as a leader easier, even during difficult conversations. Investing time in developing these skills will undoubtedly be time well spent.

How to Improve In-Person Communication Skills

Face-to-face communication adds multiple layers of information to an exchange, whether it is between two people or two hundred. In-person communication frequently creates a synergy that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. Here are some pointers to help you make the most of your team’s face time and improve your communication skills:

#1. Make Direct Eye Contact

Few metrics provide as much feedback as eye contact when it comes to determining whether or not your message is being received. You can quickly tell if the person you’re speaking with understands you, is distracted, worried, or confused — much of which is lost in digital communication.

#2. Request Feedback

Are you sure they got it? Ask! Asking people to repeat back their version of what you just said is a powerful technique. This can often improve retention, immediate understanding, and reduce future misunderstandings. You can also request that they contact you with suggestions on how to improve your presentation and other forms of communication.

#3. Recognize Nonverbal Cues

Yawns, fidgeting, and looking around the room are usually telltale signs that your audience is preoccupied with something other than what you’re trying to say. Don’t take it personally if you notice this. Request that they share their thoughts, recap previous points that they may have missed, or adjourn for a later time.

#4. Reduce Distractions

Keep distractions at bay when chatting face-to-face with someone (or a group) by keeping unnecessary electronic devices out of the room. Keep attendance to only those who need to be there, and avoid scheduling at times when people are likely to be distracted (such as just before the end of the day or right before lunch).

How to Improve Your Online Communication Skills

Online communication quickly displaces office spaces as the primary location for conducting business. It may be difficult to adjust to meetings, conversations, and even people who collaborate with you or report to you digitally, especially if you’re used to in-person teams. Because online communication is a unique way to interact, here are some things to remember:

#1. Set a Time Limit

Online meetings can be even more difficult to concentrate on due to the distractions of a nearly infinite number of settings. Keep meetings short and to the point, and be especially careful to avoid (potentially) marathon Q&A sessions.

#2. Consider the Other Person

In most cases, the person presenting is the only one who can devote their full attention to the meeting. Assume that participants have multiple demands for their attention, especially when working from home, and structure the content accordingly.

#3. Recap Important Information

Many nonverbal and interpersonal cues can be lost when using a digital connection. Recap the main points to ensure comprehension. A quick review in an online meeting or a brief summary at the end of a lengthy email are both options.

#4. Remember to Respond

Even if the communication is informal, make sure to acknowledge it as soon as possible. Although you may have received the message, the person on the other end is unlikely to know unless you inform them. A few words or even a “like” will usually suffice.

How to Become a More Active Listener

Many people talk about the benefits of active listening, but few understand how it translates into actual behaviors. One of the most difficult aspects of active listening is being preoccupied with a response. Many people are preoccupied with coming up with the perfect answer, leaving no time to engage with the input. Consider the following steps to break this habit, which serves no purpose for the speaker.

Consider New Ways to Add Value

You may believe that adding value to an exchange is primarily determined by what you say. However, this is not always how others see it. Most of us appreciate responses that help us think through our own ideas, clarify our assumptions, or point out potential flaws. We don’t always need a listener to be brilliant or to wow us with their own data. Instead, we may value how they helped us sharpen our thinking the most.

Paraphrase Without Judgment

If you find yourself preoccupied with responding, try shifting your focus. Instead of adding your own thoughts, challenge yourself to provide a summary that does not include your opinion or judgment. As you listen, aim to provide a concise summary, possibly clarifying the speaker’s initial language.

Pose Questions That Encourage Speakers to Think

The next step after paraphrasing is to ask probing questions. Similar to how a coach listens, these questions encourage speakers to delve deeper into their own thinking, clarify their expression, or consider potential concerns. You can play devil’s advocate by pointing out inconsistencies or unclear language. All of these are genuine gifts to a speaker and will help you focus on listening.

Interrupt Respectfully

Active listening is not mindless indulgence, and not all interruptions are impolite. Sometimes speakers get lost in the weeds, providing unnecessary depths of detail. Interruptions can help them remain relevant – and be rewarded with increased engagement.

Most speakers don’t mind being interrupted by a question that allows them to continue speaking. Interrupting someone in a meeting and ending their floor time is much more difficult, especially for introverts. Ensure to:

  • Recognize the speaker (“Thank you for bringing that up.”
  • Use a friendly and polite tone. Get feedback from others on how you sound and present yourself.
  • Refer to shared interest (“I’d just like to make sure we get a chance to hear from everyone about the project.”

How to Keep Audiences Engaged While Speaking

Be Pertinent

Many audiences will be unimpressed by data because we are inundated with it. In fact, a common reason for wordiness is a desire to cover all bases or anticipate all possible questions.

You should carefully curate content for relevance to keep listeners engaged, especially in virtual meetings. Consider how this information will affect your target audience. How might it assist them in their work? Is this level of detail necessary to grasp my main point?

Be Concise

The ability to express your ideas in as few words as possible is a hallmark of executive presence. Listeners appreciate this because it demonstrates your preparation and respect for their time. Furthermore, concision conveys confidence: the confidence to do less, to say something once and trust that it will be received.

Many speakers struggle to be concise, especially in virtual meetings where the feedback loop is flat. They may repeat themselves “just to be sure” or use additional examples to make a point. However, this type of “more” is frequently less, as audiences disengage after getting the point the first time.

Concision is a courageous act. The belief in your own preparation and the clarity of your delivery. It becomes more difficult to maintain this belief in virtual meetings with cameras turned off. As a speaker, you may want to ask your audience to be fully present and turn on the cameras — and then reward them with your confident delivery.

Make Room for the Audience to Fill in the Blanks

Pause after making a point to slow yourself down and check in with the audience. Not just a second to catch your breath, but a genuine moment of silence. It leaves an opening for your listeners to fill, providing you with real-time feedback on what they need next, both virtual and in-person. How specific do they want you to be? Do they have the questions you planned to answer? Or are they taking your ideas in a completely different direction?

We are often wary of silence, as if it indicates that something is wrong. However, things happen in silence, and you might be surprised at what your listeners offer when given the opportunity to speak up. You may get useful hints on how to sync and proceed regardless of how they fill the space. That is when communication turns into dancing.

Consider Pushback as Opportunities Rather Than Obstacles

You may believe that making a compelling case should result in instant buy-in. Of course, this almost never happens. When your proposals are challenged, you become frustrated, if not defensive, as you try to explain why you are correct. Soon, lines are drawn, and both sides double down, leaving you in a rut.

To avoid such a shutdown of your ideas, you might want to reconsider how you handle pushback. Most new ideas are not accepted in the form in which they are first proposed, and your audience may not require you to have ready-made answers to all of their questions. Consider your pitch as an opening volley, and the pushback as guidance to have the necessary conversation. Instead of defending reflexively, ask follow-up questions to validate and investigate the concern.

Improve Communication Skills: References

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