How To Improve Communication Skills

By Deanna deBara Posted December 17, 2020

 

If you want to be successful at work, effective communication is a must. But the truth is, most organizations struggle with communication. According to research from Project.co, 89% of people think that effective communication is vital—but a whopping 8 out of 10 rated their own business’ communication as either average or poor. And in a survey outlined in an article from the Harvard Business Review, 69 percent of managers said they weren’t comfortable communicating with their employees in general.

 

Not communicating effectively with your team can lead to a host of issues, from productivity to employee morale. So, if you want to make work a better, more effective place—for yourself, your coworkers, and your company as a whole—improving your communication skills is a great place to start.

 

But how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s take a look at three strategies you can use to improve your communication skills—and improve your, your team’s, and your organization’s performance in the process:

Practice listening

When most people think about improving their communication skills, they assume they need to find better ways to communicate their thoughts and ideas. But if you really want to improve communication, you should consider working less on communicating what you want to say—and, instead, focus more on listening to what others are saying. 

 

Because the truth is, most people are terrible listeners. For example, in a study outlined in a 2013 Scientific American article, participants were asked to listen to a ten-minute oral presentation and then, following the presentation, describe the content. Moments after the presentation, half of the participants were unable to describe what they had just heard—and 48 hours, a full 75 percent could not remember the presentation's content. 

 

Think about how that translates into the workplace; if you can’t remember what your boss or coworker said during a meeting yesterday (or ten minutes ago!)—and vice versa—effective communication is pretty much impossible. According to research from Project.co, 92% of people have had to repeat a piece of information to two or more people within an organization—and 85% of them found it annoying.

 

Not only will important communication get lost in the shuffle, but you and your team will likely spend a good chunk of time feeling unheard—which can lead to frustration and feeling disengaged with work.

 

That’s why, if you want to become a better communicator, focus first on becoming a better listener. When someone talks to you, stop what you’re doing and really listen. Ask questions if you need them to clarify. Stop multitasking in meetings and, instead, really tune in to what people are presenting, discussing, and talking about.

 

The more present you are when you listen, the better you’ll understand and retain the information that’s being shared with you—and the more effectively you’ll be able to communicate with your team as a result.

 

Use a mirror to improve your nonverbal communication

Most experts agree that the majority of communication is nonverbal—and that everything from your facial expressions to your body language can actually send a stronger message than what you’re saying.

 

But the problem is, many people aren’t aware of their own nonverbal communication cues—and how those cues are reading to other people. So, essentially, you could think that you’re communicating one thing to a colleague, coworker, or supervisor—but your nonverbal communication cues could be sending an entirely different message.

 

That’s why, if you want to improve your communication skills, you need to get a handle on your nonverbal communication. And the best way to do that? With a mirror.

 

Next time you have to communicate something important at work (for example, give a presentation to your entire team or have a challenging feedback conversation with a direct report), practice in front of a mirror. Pay attention to what happens with your face and body while you’re talking. For example, do you furrow your brow or look up when you’re reviewing data points? That might read as confusion, which can lessen the impact of your message. Do you cross your arms when delivering challenging news? That kind of body language could signal to your colleague that you’re closed off—and put them on the defensive. Do you have trouble maintaining eye contact? People might read that as you being dishonest.

 

The point is, getting familiar with your nonverbal communication cues—and changing any cues that aren’t aligned with your message—can help you more effectively communicate at work. So, if you want to improve your communication skills, don’t just think about what you’re saying—think about what your face and body are saying as well.

 

Sketch out bullet points

Part of effective communication is being able to communicate everything you need to communicate—whether that’s in a conversation, a meeting, or an email.

 

But, in the moment, it can sometimes be hard to find the right words, organize your thoughts, and get across your entire message. And, an hour after hosting the meeting, having the conversation, or sending the email, you might find yourself thinking, “I meant to share X, Y, and Z—but I totally forgot!”

 

If this scenario sounds familiar, one of the best things you can do to improve your communication skills? Start preparing and organizing your thoughts before the meeting, conversation, or email—and sketch out all the bullet points you want to cover.

 

For example, let’s say you have to give a presentation on your team’s sales performance. Instead of winging it—which could lead to your leaving out important data or pieces of information—take the time to write out your main talking points (and the data and statistics to support those points) a few days before the meeting. Not only will it help you organize your thoughts and make sure you’re not leaving anything out, but it will also give you a structure to practice with—which will make your presentation more cohesive overall.

 

Taking the time to sketch out bullet points will ensure that your communications are clearer, more organized, and more complete—while will make for more effective communication overall.

 

Make more effective communication a priority

The better you communicate, the more effective you are—at work and in life. And now that you know how to improve your communication skills, you’re armed with the strategies you need to become a more effective communicator—and improve your performance, productivity, and organization in the process.

 

What are some strategies you use to strengthen your communication skills?

 

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com.

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