The 29 communication skills of effective communicators
Effective communicators are characterized by the right communication skills.
In essence, communication skills are soft skills that represent one’s ability to receive and provide different types of information, under different circumstances, and with different people. Strong communicative skills are essential for effective team communication at the workplace.
In this article, we’ll talk about the benefits associated with the right communication skills and list the 29 communicative skills you need to possess to be an effective communicator. We’ll also provide advice on how to obtain them — with examples that explain how these soft skills help individuals and their teams thrive in the workplace.
Communication skills: definition
One definition of communication skills describes them as “the ability to realize communicative goals while behaving in a socially appropriate manner.”
While this definition sums up the gist of it, one of the most influential texts on communication, “The Handbook of Communication Skills”, examines various definitions of the term in scientific literature and comes to the conclusion that there are six main elements that comprise the concept of communication skills:
- They entail a process — Communication skills are not fixed; rather, they adapt and develop in active interaction;
- They rest on intentionality — Communication skills are directed toward achieving communicative goals;
- They involve an interrelated repertoire of behaviors — Communication skills are complex and interconnected (e.g. “smaller” skills, such as self-awareness, emotion control, and asking/answering questions, contribute towards developing more complex skills, such as negotiation);
- They rely on contextual awareness — They need to be situationally appropriate;
- They can be learned — Although some people are better than others in communication skills, these skills, together with the behaviors they entail, can be learned.
They involve cognitive control — It’s not just about learning the appropriate behaviors, but also about knowing how and when to use them.
The importance of strong communication skills in the workplace
Great communication is the single most important component of successful teams. That’s why employers are increasingly looking for expert communicators to join their workforce.
Here are some benefits a team experiences when communication is at the highest level.
1. Strong communication skills are the key to great teamwork
The #1 in-demand soft skill at the workplace is communication. Namely, one Linkedin research has shown that 57.9% of new hires pride themselves in great communication skills.
This is hardly unwarranted — after all, working in a team means you need to request/provide information, give instructions, discuss and solve problems, as well as interact with colleagues, superiors, and clients on a regular basis.
2. Strong communication skills help your team thrive
If every teammate possesses the right communication skills, the team flourishes. This is tied to the fact that collaboration is the key to team success, while communication is the key to successful collaboration.
Teammates who possess the right communicative skills are able to:
- make decisions faster;
- solve problems easier;
- strengthen their professional relationships;
- build clearer, better-streamlined workflows.
3. Strong communication skills increase team productivity
When team members can communicate effectively, their overall productivity increases. In fact, workplace statistics show that teams that are well-connected tend to be 3.5 times more productive than those that aren’t.
This is hardly surprising since when employees are skilled communicators, the communication flow is unobstructed, and teams are both more efficient and effective at performing their daily tasks.
4. Strong communication skills build trust
Trust is essential for successful team functioning, and when you have strong communicators on the team, a sense of trust increases. It’s especially important for managers to have great communication skills since one study has found that 80% of employees believe strong communication is a key factor in developing trust in their employers.
Effective communicators don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations and resolving conflicts. They strive to be transparent and honest, which is the foundation of trust.
5. Strong communication skills are linked to lower employee turnover
Great communication is vital for employee job satisfaction, and when a team member (especially a new recruit) is experiencing problems communicating with their team, they are much more likely to quit.
Organizations that foster strong communication skills among employees are 50% more likely to experience low turnover rates.
Why are communication skills important to your career?
No matter how great your technical skills are, if you don’t possess the right soft skills, you might find it difficult to progress in your career. You’ve probably noticed that when choosing between people of the same level of expertise for managerial positions, leaders usually favor expert communicators over wallflowers.
It’s not just about advancing to higher positions either — getting entry-level jobs can be extremely difficult if you don’t know how to communicate properly.
Here’s why communication skills are vital for your career.
1. Communication skills are vital when starting a new career or entering the workforce
Whether you’re a graduate looking for their first job or you’re switching careers, landing that first entry-level position is incredibly difficult. These jobs often attract hundreds if not thousands of applicants, so it’s difficult to stand out.
However, possessing the right communication skills might help tremendously. Whereas you and your peers all have similar qualifications, you are much more likely to get hired if you are a great communicator. In fact, one GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey shows that as many as 69% of recruiters are confident in hiring graduates straight from business school, provided that they possess the right communication skills.
This number is well justified — after all, the right communication skills bring a number of benefits to any workplace.
2. Strong communication skills influence what/how you can learn
Good communication skills are what helps you seek, absorb, and provide information in the first place.
Once you learn how to speak, you gradually learn how to ask questions and express opinions.
Once you learn how to read, you gradually gain the ability to read books, instructions, and articles.
Once you learn how to write, you gradually gain the ability to write down important knowledge you learn from your teachers and parents in early life, and colleagues and superiors in later life.
Your interactions with other people help you think critically, learn how to be more open-minded, and better express yourself.
3. Strong communication skills enhance your professional image overall
Great communication skills are the key to a great first impression — they influence how the people you are working with will view you.
The more attentive and communicative you are when interacting with colleagues, superiors, and clients, the more professional will you appear to others.
4. Communication skills take precedence over technical skills in the hiring process
Employers are increasingly looking for people who possess some critical soft skills (communication being one of them). Research has found that as many as 93% of employers consider soft skills to be “essential” in a candidate, as opposed to only 59.8% who think technical skills are the most important.
In line with that, possessing the right written and verbal communication skills will always increase your chances of getting the job you’ve applied for. Moreover, these skills will also help your career progress through promotions at the later stages of your employment.
5. Strong communication skills enhance your professional image overall
Great communication skills are the key to a great first impression — they influence how the people you are working with will view you. The more attentive and communicative you are when interacting with colleagues, superiors, and clients, the more professional will you appear to others, which is why communication skills are crucial for success in the workplace.
The current overview of communication skills at the workplace
Despite the benefits strong communication skills bring both to the individuals who possess them and the teams they work with, employees, managers, and job candidates currently seem to lack prowess in communication — the current state of communication skills at the workplace seems deficient in several areas:
- Insufficient communication skills overall — As many as 60% of employers state that job applicants do not demonstrate sufficient communication skills to be considered for the jobs they apply for, according to Time;
- Money loss — companies lose as much as $62.4 million per year, because of faulty communication happening between employees or faulty communication aimed at employees, according to SHRM;
- Insufficient directions — As many as 57% of employees report they don’t get clear directions for their work, according to HR Technologist;
- Uneasy communication overall — As many as 69% of managers are simply uncomfortable while communicating with their teams, according to HR Technologist;
- Disorganization — The same number of managers fails to organize communication within their teams, according to Rallyware;
- A lack of official communication — As many as 70% of communication in an organization circulates in the form of rumors and unofficial information, according to Chron;
- Troubling feedback practices — 37% of managers are uncomfortable at the thought of providing feedback to an employee, because they fear a negative response, according to Harvard Business Review;
- Missed deadlines — 28% of employees cite poor communication as the key reason for late project delivery, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association.
Types of communication skills you need to pursue
To overcome the current challenges of poor workplace communication, and enjoy the benefits of effective team communication, everyone involved in team processes needs to perfect the right communication skills.
We recognize three types of communication skills effective communicators employ in their daily interactions in the workplace:
- Self-regulation skills — Successful communication starts from the self, i.e. to establish rapport and mutual understanding, you first need to be able to maintain control of your emotions;
- Expressive skills — In order to get the message across, you need to understand how you can best express yourself in a clear, professional, and respectful manner;
- Interpersonal communication skills — Whereas the previous two types relate to the way you conduct yourself in communication, this one involves the skills necessary to enter into a two-way interaction with much consideration for the other person or people.
We’ll delve deeper into each type, elaborate on every individual skill, and offer actionable advice and examples.
The term self-regulation refers to exercising control over oneself by the self. It represents the ability to monitor and regulate our emotional and physical responses to external situations we find ourselves in.
In the context of communication, self-regulation skills refer to those skills necessary to keep control of ourselves and our responses in interactions with others.
These skills are the stepping stone to successful communication, and if they are lacking, we’ll struggle to acquire other, more tangible communication skills.
Here, we’ll discuss the self-regulation skills you need to become a superb communicator.
Self-awareness is just what it sounds like — the ability to be aware of yourself as you are, i.e. to see yourself as clearly and objectively as possible through reflection and introspection. Research shows that self-awareness is crucial for communication in the workplace and overall job-related well-being.
Organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich has studied this elusive communication skill and found that people tend to think they are self-aware, but only 10–15% actually are, as she expounded on in an HBR article.
Furthermore, she recognizes two types of self-awareness:
- Internal self-awareness — the way we see ourselves (our aspirations, values, passions, etc.) and our impact on others;
- External self-awareness — the understanding of how other people perceive us.
Neither of these types is superior to the other, and they are both equally important for successful communication. Internal self-awareness allows us to understand what we want and need and how to communicate it, whereas the external type helps us see things from the other person’s perspective and adjust our behavior accordingly.
How to improve your self-awareness
Wanting to improve your self-awareness is already a huge step toward it. It means you are willing to reflect on your image of yourself as well as how others perceive you and how this affects your communication. Here are some practices to adopt if you want to build your self-awareness:
- Evaluate your goals and motives — Think about why you’re communicating, what you’re hoping to achieve, whether you have a hidden agenda, how you feel about your interlocutor, and similar. This way, you’ll make conscious any unresolved emotions and issues that may hinder your interaction;
- Ask friends and family to describe you — Ask your most trusted circle of friends and family to give you their honest view of you as a communicator, with a special emphasis on what you could improve on;
- Ask colleagues for feedback — Choose the co-workers who are likely to give you honest and thoughtful feedback and ask them what you could do to become better at communication. If your self-awareness levels are low, you might feel a bit hurt and surprised by the comments you hear at first, but acknowledging them is vital for becoming more self-aware.
🔸 Example of great self-awareness
Mike is in the break room at work, eating his lunch and chatting with a new co-worker. A discussion about the traffic congestion that morning leads Mike to start talking about a great interest of his — sports cars.
As he starts elaborating on why a particular sports car is his favorite, he notices his interlocutor nodding politely but seeming a bit distracted and bored by the topic. He wraps up, apologizes for getting carried away, and asks the new colleague how he has been doing so far at his new job.
It might not sound like a communication skill, but being present is an essential part of any successful interaction. While you may be physically present (at least, in face-to-face interactions), you also need to be there mentally.
Some call this skill mindful communication, as mindfulness is the practice of focusing all your attention on the present moment.
Being present involves not letting your mind wander while you’re engaged in communication with colleagues. It sounds easier than it is in practice, as we often get distracted by other issues, be it personal or work-related ones. However, people notice when we’re “not there”, and this absent-mindedness can seriously hurt our communication and relationships with others.
How to be more present in communication
Being present is a matter of not getting distracted, and it might take some time to master. Here are some tips to work on it:
- Actively shift your focus on the conversation at hand — Even though you might be excited about planning your vacation or worried about a problem at work, choose to give your interlocutor your undivided attention;
- Get involved in the conversation — If you’re finding it difficult to follow the interlocutor, ask questions and subquestions to get more involved and direct the conversation where you want it to go;
- If you can’t focus, be frank — Sometimes, despite all our efforts, our mind is just too preoccupied with something else. If that’s the case, be honest with the other person and ask them to catch up later if possible.
🔸 Example of being present
Lana, a sales manager, is thinking about the behavioral problems her daughter is having at school. She’s extremely worried about it, but when a sales lead qualification analyst approaches her to talk about the new lead generation strategy, she puts the worry aside to focus on the task at hand.
At one point, her mind starts to wander back to her daughter, but she shifts her focus back to the analyst again and asks about an aspect of the strategy that needs clarification.
Appropriate emotion control
Emotions play an important role in communication — especially if we take into account how often people jump into making decisions solely based on how they feel.
We distinguish between positive, negative, and two-fold emotions.
Types of emotions at the workplace
According to Fredrikson (2009), positive emotions include:
These positive emotions lead to several benefits at the workplace, including:
- better interpersonal relationships;
- improved social interactions;
- better creativity and innovation;
- increased job satisfaction;
- lower employee turnover.
On the other hand, according to Bond University professor of management Cynthia Fisher and her study, “Emotions at Work: What Do People Feel, and How Should We Measure It?“, the most common negative emotions at the workplace include:
They often push you to make ill-advised decisions or engage in conflict at the workplace.
However, some emotions are two-fold.
For example, fear can be good — at least for some teams, and in certain amounts. A lack of a healthy dose of fear in security firms or investment banks can make people act recklessly and make mistakes that affect their clients.
However, research by Berkeley professor emeritus Barry Staw and his colleagues shows fear can also negatively affect people’s executive functions — such as memory, impulse control, and even judgment.
Creating the right emotion culture
Because of this, it’s crucial managers endorse the right emotions, in the right amount — and, make a conscious effort to build the right emotion culture for their teams.
According to the definition by professors Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, a well-established emotion culture for a team includes:
“The shared affective values, norms, artifacts, and assumptions that govern which emotions people have and express at work and which ones they are better off suppressing.”
To build an appropriate emotion culture, managers can:
- Encourage positive expression
Help people make the most of their moments of joy at work and transform their negative emotions into something positive (instead of bottling them up).
- Commit to communication
Help people connect with each other, and with the company as an institution — by allowing them to express their concerns and ask questions.
- Emphasize feedback
Help people express themselves through feedback sessions — during which they will be able to share their opinions and concerns.
How to improve your emotion control
Our emotions are not outside of our reason’s reach, and we can take steps towards learning how to control them so that they don’t control us:
- Identify your emotions — If all you know is that you’re feeling upset or unbalanced, you need to identify exactly what you’re feeling, when the feeling started, what triggered it, etc.;
- Acknowledge and accept your feelings — Keeping control of your emotions is not the same as repressing them. Psychologists agree that feeling our feelings is essential to our well-being because it points us to a problem that needs addressing;
- Reframe your thoughts — If you enter a situation (e.g. a business networking event) with a negative attitude (“No one there will like me.”), you’re setting up a lens through which you’ll look at the situation. Advise yourself as you would a good friend in such a situation. Would you accept their irrational fear that no one will like them, or would you advise them to stay open for positive experiences?
🔸 Examples of appropriate emotion control
- A company culture in a marketing agency that prescribes people are free to express their concerns and opinions in a neutral, fact-based manner that is void of strong negative emotions.
- A financial services company that encourages a little fear when handling clients’ accounts, just to avoid employees being reckless when handling accounts.
Proper stress management
While stress management may not seem like a classical communication skill, it is still an ability that helps you build effective communication.
When you are stressed, you’re more likely to:
- Pay insufficient attention to a conversation;
- Misunderstand or miscommunicate something;
- Say something you’ll later regret;
- Enter into unproductive conflicts.
On the other hand, being less stressed helps you communicate better.
How to improve your stress management
According to the American Psychological Association, to cope with stress at work, teammates and managers need to:
- Track stressors
- Identify the situations/people/settings causing you stress;
- Understand how you feel when you’re stressed;
- Understand how you act when you’re stressed.
- Establish boundaries
- Decide when you’ll be available/unavailable for work contacts (e.g. outside of work hours);
- Avoid checking emails and messages at night;
- If you work from home, create a work corner/home office, to strike a clear balance between your workstation and the rest of your life at home.
- Develop healthy responses
- Identify what helps you relax (e.g. yoga, exercise, hobbies, socializing, etc.).
- Take the time to recharge
- Manage workaholic tendencies;
- “Switch off” from work when you’re not working;
- Take breaks;
- Take vacation days.
- Meditate (e.g. deep breathing exercises and mindfulness).
- Get support
- Accept help from others who can help you manage stress;
- Accept stress management resources (e.g. online information, referrals to mental health professionals, etc.).
- Talk to supervisor
- Have conversations with superiors about employer-sponsored wellness resources.
🔸 Example of proper stress management
Stella is a history teacher at the local high school which currently focuses on providing virtual lessons.
She feels stressed on Mondays, which causes her to miscommunicate and misunderstand information during weekly faculty meetings she attends online.
One day, Stella takes the time to think about and manage her stress:
- Step#1: Track stressors
She realizes the faculty meetings occur immediately before her lessons with a particularly difficult group of students who tend to sabotage her classes — they pretend their internet connection is down, and then they send her messages about lessons before and after the lessons. This is probably the situation/people/setting that causes the stress that lowers her efficiency at the faculty meetings.
- Step #2: Establish boundaries
She decides she will instigate an official policy that prescribes the hours when students will be able to contact her — and thus limit this time. She also prescribes penalties for those who miss classes because their Internet connection was down, but they couldn’t prove it or were outright caught lying.
- Step #3: Develop healthy responses
She decides she will practice yoga for 10 minutes every day before she needs to meet with the group of students in question.
- Step #4: Take the time to recharge
She decides she will take her breaks and vacation days “more seriously” in the upcoming period — to better recharge overall.
- Step#5: Relax
She decides she will combine her 10-minute yoga exercises with mindful meditation, for a better effect.
- Step #6: Get support
She decides to share her troubles with her colleagues who also teach the same group of problematic students — together, they share insights and ideas for improvement.
- Step #7: Talk to the supervisor
She decides she will soon talk with the school’s dean about the situation, and educate herself about the employer-sponsored wellness resources she has heard the school offers, but has never tried them thus far.
As a result of the steps Stella has taken towards proper stress management, she manages to hold more productive lessons — but also pay full attention during the weekly virtual faculty meetings.
Getting your message across is a major part of the communication process, and there are many ways it can go wrong. You may fail to make the message clear, which can cause a misunderstanding. Alternatively, you may unwittingly use such a tone that the person you’re communicating with questions your motives or the sentiment behind your words.
That’s why adopting expressive skills is vital for successful communication.
Here, we’ll discuss the seven Cs of communication, which will help you express yourself better, as well as six additional expressive skills to acquire on your path of becoming a more effective communicator.
The seven Cs of communication
The seven Cs of communication represent a checklist of principles that you should follow for delivering your message in the most effective, efficient, and engaging way. They include confidence, clarity, consciousness, courteousness, concreteness, correctness, and coherence.
In communication, confidence helps you convey what you want in an efficient manner — it is one of the seven “Cs” of effective communication.
After all, one Indeed survey shows 98% of workers say they perform better when they feel confident.
To appear confident while communicating, you’ll need to:
- have a clear tone of voice;
- make eye contact during conversations;
- speak honestly;
- be assertive;
- express gratitude when appropriate.
How to improve confidence in communication
It’s one thing to appear confident, and quite another to actually be confident in communication. Here are some tips to improve your confidence:
- Be yourself — If you’re saying something just because you think people will like it, you’re building up stress and tension that don’t allow you to be confident;
- Fake it till you make it — There’s scientific truth to this old adage. It may appear contradictory to the first tip, but it doesn’t mean you should be insincere — it just means you should use the above tips to appear confident while communicating, and eventually, you will feel more confident.
🔸 Example of confidence
Lexie is a confident product manager.
She makes eye contact when getting her points across.
She maintains a clear tone of voice, even during arguments.
She stands up for what she believes in, but doesn’t feel threatened by the opinions of others, even if they are wildly different from her own.
She speaks honestly, and expresses gratitude publicly, when someone helps her out in important matters.
As a result of her confidence, Lexie commands respect among her colleagues and superiors.
Clarity is the second “C” of effective communication — in communication, clarity ensures there are no misunderstandings.
How to improve clarity in communication
To maintain clarity in communication, you’ll need to:
- ensure what you are saying makes sense;
- ensure the other person understands what you’re saying;
- ensure YOU understand what the other person is saying;
- use short, direct sentences;
- avoid jargon (e.g. “baked in”, “corner case”, etc.);
- avoid absolute language (e.g. “never”, “always”, etc.);
- avoid filler words (e.g. “uh”, “um”, etc.);
- be specific;
- be detail-oriented.
🔸 Example of clarity
Nathan is an internist.
He usually needs to consult with other specialists when diagnosing patients.
During these consultations, he is always as specific and detailed as possible when describing symptoms.
He uses short, direct sentences, and avoids using filler words, to ensure maximum clarity of thoughts.
He double-checks whether he has understood his colleagues, by repeating key phrases they’ve just uttered — he also double-checks whether his colleagues have understood him, by asking them follow-up questions.
As a result, he and his colleagues are quick to diagnose patients correctly.
The third “C” of effective communication, conciseness, implies you are communicating complete information about a particular topic — but, in fewer words.
It is usually tied to written communication.
How to improve conciseness in communication
To be concise when communicating, you’ll need to:
- exchange passive voice with an active voice as much as you can;
- replace overused, vague phrases (e.g. “bad”, “good”, “know”, “very”, etc.) with more substantial alternatives that fit the context (e.g. “faulty” instead of “bad”, “admirable” instead of “good”, “understand” instead of “know”, “strikingly” instead of “very”, etc.);
- remove redundant qualifiers (e.g. “quite”, “rather”, “really”, etc.);
- use action verbs instead of overusing forms of “to be ”(e.g. “attempts” instead of “is an attempt”, “exemplifies” instead of “is an example”).
🔸 Examples of conciseness
- Instead of saying: “I’m am very much focused on an attempt to solve the problem”, say: “I’m attempting to solve the problem”;
- Instead of saying: “This process is seen as a positive change to our usual workflows”, say: “The teams sees this process as a positive change to our usual workflows“;
- Instead of saying: “There are indications of Jacob’s misunderstanding of the workflow in his argument”, say: “Jacob’s argument indicates his misunderstanding of the workflow”.
As reported by one Accountempts survey, as many as 85% of respondents believe being courteous to coworkers has an impact on one’s career prospects.
Turns out, they’re right — the fourth “C” of effective communication, courteousness, is an important communication skill that helps you build a professional relationship with your colleagues.
How to improve courteousness in communication
To be courteous in communication, you should:
- say “Good morning!” when you arrive to work;
- say thank you when someone helps you;
- show respect to the people you are communicating with;
- listen to people without interrupting them;
- say “Goodbye!” or “See you tomorrow!” when you leave the office for the day.
🔸 Example of courteousness
Helen is a software developer who’s famed for her courtesy amongst teammates. She always says “Hello!”, “Goodbye!”, and “Thank you!” at the appropriate times. She never interrupts people while talking, respects diverse opinions, and aims to communicate her thoughts as clearly as possible.
As a result, her colleagues start mirroring her courteousness — which ultimately makes the workplace a friendlier, more comfortable environment to work in.
The fifth “C” of effective communication, concreteness, is a vital communicative skill in most forms of communication — be it visual, written, or verbal.
How to improve concreteness in communication
To be concrete in communication, you’ll need to:
- use facts and figures when applicable;
- use specific, definite, and vivid language;
- use precise modifiers;
- avoid generalizations.
🔸 Examples of concreteness
- Instead of saying: “Our storage facility is suitable for large units”, say: “Our storage unit is suitable for 30-feet units.”;
- Instead of saying: “The majority of the class has failed math”, say “60% of the class has failed math.”;
- Instead of saying: “You should not eat anything on the night and morning before you test your lipid profile”, say “You should not eat anything 15 hours before you test your lipid profile.”
- Instead of saying: “We offer a more beneficial plan for our long-time clients”, say “We offer a $299 plan to our 10-year clients.”
The sixth “C” of effective communication, correctness, gives credibility to your words.
The people listening to what you are saying/reading your messages are likely to form a subconscious connection between your usage of grammar and the value of your words.
How to improve correctness in communication
To ensure what you write or say is grammatically correct, you can enlist the help of:
- a reputable English grammar book;
- an online dictionary;
- a writing app (e.g. Grammarly, Hemingway app, Sentence Checker, etc.).
🔸 Example of correctness
Charlie is a copywriter in a marketing agency that specializes in social media for restaurant chains. It’s imperative that Charlie’s copy proposals are grammatically correct.
So, apart from having a fellow copywriter proofread his proposals, he also uses an online dictionary with thesaurus options and a writing app.
As a result, his copy is usually the one selected for client proposals.
The seventh and final “C” of effective communication, coherence, refers to the smooth flow of your ideas — if your communication is coherent, then your ideas are logical and consistent.
How to improve coherence in communication
To be coherent in communication, you’ll need to:
- Stick to your topic — don’t try to cover several unrelated matters at once, just to save time;
- Cover similar topics together — in case you do have several issues to attend to, compartmentalize them, for easier management;
- Order ideas in a logical manner — list items/steps/actions in chronological or spatial order;
- Use transition words/phrases — these words/phrases connect ideas, and help your readers/listeners go from one thought to the next with greater ease.
🔸 Example of coherence
Nicole and Anna are a Q&A specialist and customer support specialist in a SaaS company — to identify bugs and solve user issues, they need to communicate and collaborate on a regular basis.
Because of this, they put extra effort into making thoughts and opinions coherent:
- when providing data for bug reproduction, Anna stick to the topic until Nicole has all the information she needs;
- when providing data for bug reproduction, Anna orders the steps that led the clients to the app problems chronologically;
- Nicole groups bugs by type, and labels tickets accordingly;
- both Anna and Nicole use transition words to help the flow of their conversations and connect processes (e.g. “as a result”, “because”, ‘next’, etc.).
As a result, they are the most productive Q&A/customer support duo in the team.
Additional expressive skills
While the seven Cs are a staple of successful self-expression in communication, there are more skills to develop if you want to become a competent communicator who knows how best to convey their message.
Proper nonverbal communication
When talking with someone face-to-face, you usually focus on what you are saying — but, you may be unaware of the meaning your nonverbal cues may be adding to your words.
These nonverbal cues include nonverbal patterns such as facial expressions, body posture, gestures, tone of voice, pitch, and loudness.
It’s important you adjust them to fit with the norms of communication — but also with what you want to convey.
How to improve your nonverbal communication
The silent nonverbal communication code dictates that we:
- maintaining comfortable eye contact;
- keep an open posture;
- vary the tone of our voice to keep it interesting;
- keep a comfortable distance from the interlocutor, etc.
To improve your nonverbal communication, you can do the following:
- Notice how people react to your nonverbal cues — Others’ reactions to your nonverbal cues will tell you what you could correct;
- Watch others — Pay close attention to how your co-workers, especially the ones you consider great communicators, communicate nonverbally and copy their behavior;
- Mirror your interlocutor — Their nonverbal cues will tell you how they prefer to communicate.
🔸 Example of proper nonverbal communication
Clara and Amy are two sales specialists who frequently need to communicate to get quality results from their lead and prospect processes.
Every time they meet up to talk about prospects and leads, they both take on an open stance, use a friendly tone and medium volume, and maintain eye contact.
As a result, they avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings.
In linguistics and communication studies, appropriateness represents:
“The extent to which an utterance is perceived as suitable for a particular purpose and a particular audience in a particular social context.”
In line with that, appropriateness is an important communication skill at the workplace — it includes:
- proper grammar;
- proper pronunciation;
- proper vocabulary;
- proper pragmatics — i.e., how you use language in practical, concrete situations.
The question of whether you use the right words in the right situations, in front of the right people, determines whether you are appropriate or inappropriate.
It determines how your peers and superiors will view you.
How to improve your appropriateness
To ensure you’re appropriate, always consider the following:
- Where are you talking?
Are you talking next to the water cooler, or in the meeting room?
Your communication should be more structured in meeting rooms.
- Who are you talking with?
Are you talking with a superior or a peer?
Your communication should be more formal when talking with a superior.
- Why are you talking?
Are you holding a presentation in front of your CEO or talking with a colleague about how you spent your weekend?
Your communication should be more structured and formal when holding a presentation in front of your CEO.
Apart from assessing the situation and adapting the way you communicate to the people you communicate with, there are also some general pointers you need to follow, regardless of the variables:
- Don’t swear too often;
- Don’t indulge in negative gossip;
- Don’t lie;
- Don’t overshare your problems;
- Don’t interrupt people, or talk over them.
Now, the problem of appropriateness may be even more complicated than that — at least for some teams, such as:
- Culturally diverse teams who need to communicate in a non-native language they all understand, but which may not be their mother tongue;
- Former in-office teams who’ve just switched to remote work.
According to Naomi Baron, such teams will need to decipher what is appropriate in digital writing — BUT, also, what is culturally appropriate in the English language and culture. Unless they do, they may seem rude or disrespectful to team members who ARE English native speakers.
🔸 Example of appropriateness
Tom is a client manager who participates in stand-up meetings with his team every day.
He never interrupts people when they are speaking.
When it’s his turn to speak, he is honest, straightforward, formal, and structured.
When the meeting officially ends and the team eases out of the meeting agenda by chatting for a couple of minutes, he becomes less formal — but doesn’t indulge in negative gossip or overshares about his problems.
As a result, his teammates view Tom as a trustworthy professional and have no hesitation in contacting him when they need his help with any client.
According to Alessandra & Hunsaker (1993), directness is an important element in certain communication styles — such as the communication styles of Socializers and Directors.
But, it’s also an important communication skill:
- It lowers the possibility of misunderstandings and miscommunication;
- It helps you convey clear messages.
However, if not handled properly, a directness in communication may make you come off as curt, rude, and disrespectful.
How to improve your directness
To become better at being direct, you’ll need to:
- Understand why you want to be direct
You can be direct because you’re annoyed with a colleague, without even being aware of this — but your colleague is likely to understand this hidden agenda behind your words.
This happens because your tone of voice, the words you chose, or your body language give you away.
To avoid being direct because you’re trying to express a negative emotion (and not because you’re trying to communicate effectively), pause before speaking, to give yourself a chance to reflect on your motives and intentions — and find a better alternative, if possible.
- Think about the message you want to deliver
Think and find clear, straightforward, and precise words — for whatever you want to say.
- Separate facts from opinions
If you have a specific opinion about something, state the facts first, and then declare your opinions on the matter — but be clear where the facts end and your opinion begins.
- Be extra direct with requests
When making a request, be clear about what you want to be accomplished, why you want it accomplished, and how.
- Be extra direct with replies to requests
When faced with a request, be clear about when you’ll be able to respond to it properly.
If it’s a task a colleague has asked you to help out with, be clear on whether you’ll be available.
A clear: “I’m sorry, but I’m swamped with work, and won’t have the time to help you out”, is more than a valid answer.
If you plan to act on the request, but find something unclear, ask additional questions that will clarify the matter.
🔸 Example of directness
Maya is a manager displeased with a member of her team, Patrick, because he keeps arriving 15-20 minutes late to work every day.
Instead of asking: “Why have you been late the past week? Is everything OK?”, Maya is polite, but direct.
She says: “I understand you may have some difficulties at home, but it’s not fair to the other teammates that you’re always 15-20 minutes late, while they all arrive on time. Please make the effort to arrive on time tomorrow.”
As a result of their talk, Patric does make the effort to arrive at work on time tomorrow, as a sign of respect towards his manager and teammates.
According to a study at the University of Massachusetts, as many as 60% of people lie at least once during a simple 10-minute conversation.
However, dishonesty is linked with several detrimental consequences — according to Dr. Robert Cialdini, the author of books Influence and Pre-Suasion:
- Dishonesty disrupts employee performance — as stress that comes with lies increases, performance decreases;
- Dishonesty decreases turnover — stress that comes with dishonesty increases employee turnover;
- Dishonesty destroys team trust — you no longer feel like you can trust your teammates.
On the other hand, honesty offers a range of benefits:
- Honesty nullifies the negative effects of dishonesty — stress and its negative effects decrease;
- Honesty promotes authenticity — it gets easier to get to know people if they are honest about who they are;
- Honesty creates a safe space — it gets easier for people to form a connection in an honest environment;
- Honesty inspires honesty — if one teammate is honest, others will be inspired to follow suit.
How to work on your honesty
To practice honesty, you’ll need to:
- Keep your word
Always deliver on what you promise.
- Keep to your integrity
Keep to your commitments, values, ethical principles, and morals.
- Take responsibility
When you make a mistake, take responsibility for it, and propose solutions to fix it.
- Reserve judgment
To inspire other people to be honest about their thoughts, ideas, and opinions, don’t dismiss whatever they have to say with no facts to support you — even if you do disagree with them.
🔸 Example of honesty
Leah is a senior product designer who values honesty.
When she says she will be at the office to talk with Eric about the color palettes for their new product at 10 am — she delivers on her promise.
She has certain values, morals, and ethical principles that fit with the values, morals, and ethical principles her company upholds as well — she always keeps to them.
She takes responsibility for less-than-stellar solutions in her designs and actively works on improving them, based on team feedback.
She reserves her judgments about the proposals of junior product designers — if she finds fault in their ideas, she proposes ways to build upon them.
As a result, Leah’s teammates know they can always count on her.
Assertive communicators are able to:
- present both positive and negative feelings and ideas in a direct, honest, and open way;
- assert their rights and opinions, while also respecting the rights and opinions of others;
- take responsibility for their actions without blaming others.
As a result, people graced with this communicative skill are able to foster a work environment that involves:
- less stress;
- more trust;
- more confidence;
- better communication overall.
How to improve your assertiveness
To be more assertive in communication, you’ll need to follow the 3 C’s of assertive communication:
- Be confident — believe that you can handle any situation;
- Be clear — ensure the message you are conveying is clear and easy to understand;
- Be controlled — ensure you deliver and respond to information in a controlled and calm manner.
Other ways you can become more assertive while communicating with others include:
- Using “I” statements;
- Setting boundaries by exercising your ability to say “No” to some requests;
- Planning responses ahead of time;
- Embodying an assertive stance.
🔸 Example of assertiveness
Cho is a project manager at a large company that takes on 50 client projects per year.
Her boss wants her to take on the company’s most important project for that year — he says he believes she is more than capable of handling the project.
Cho agrees to take on the project — but, when she gets the materials and the deadlines, she immediately feels overwhelmed.
She wants to perform well and doesn’t want to let down her client or boss — but, she finds that she cannot finish all her assigned work by herself.
So, she sets up a meeting with her boss to discuss matters and explain her position — at the meeting, she says:
“I want this project to succeed, but I am afraid that I might not have enough time and resources to finish everything as expected — considering that I already have several other projects whose quality I also don’t want compromised.”
The boss agrees that the workload is unrealistic — he admires Cho’s determination to finish a smaller number of projects with higher quality, rather than to dive into a larger number of projects and leave half of them unfinished because she doesn’t have the time.
Together, they identify the project the boss can delegate to another project manager, thus freeing Cho’s time to focus on her newest project, and a couple of key earlier projects.
The ability to choose the right communication channel
Choosing the right channel for relaying your message can be a challenge if you’re not deeply familiar with communication channels your company usually employs. There may be an organization-wide channel matrix prescribing which medium to use in what situations.
If not, you need to think about what works best for you in a specific situation.
- If you have a quick question for a colleague, you can turn around and ask them in person. However, if you need to stay quiet in order not to disturb others in an open-concept office, you could DM them on your team chat app;
- If you want to ask the HR for paid time off, you may want to send a formal request via email instead of asking in person or apply over the HR software your company uses.
How to become better at choosing the right communication channel
Choosing the right communication channel is a skill you develop with experience, especially when you’re in a new work environment. However, there are some guidelines to follow whenever you’re unsure what channel to use:
- Ask yourself what kind of message you’re trying to convey — Is the message informal or formal? Is it lengthy? Does it require an immediate response? These questions will help you identify the right solution;
- Think about the communication practices at your company — If your organization has a preferred way of communicating in different situations, it’s best to do as is customary, e.g. if the usual way people contact their managers is by phone, call your manager;
- Think about what you want to achieve with your message — Is your message an announcement? (use the company noticeboard) Do you need a formal response from the recipient? (try email) Does the message require some back-and-forth communication with the other person? (a team chat app would be best).
🔸 Example of choosing the right communication channel
Rashid is a content writer working on a new blog post for the company website. He’s not sure how to structure one section of the post and would like some guidance from the content editor.
He wonders if he should leave a comment directly in the Google Doc so that she can see it once she starts reviewing the article or DM her and ask her opinion now. He then goes to the team chat app and sees that she’s changed her status to “Do Not Disturb”, so he goes for the first option.
Interpersonal communication skills
The previous two categories of skills were all about the way you carry yourself and present the information you want to convey (i.e. how you act), but the third one, interpersonal skills, relates to the way you interact with others.
These skills require more work and dedication, as you can only hone them in the back-and-forth of direct communication with others.
Active listening is a crucial form of communication.
By actively listening to someone, you’re not just hearing what they are saying, you’re also:
- paying active attention to their words;
- actively showing you are listening;
- providing timely feedback;
- deferring all judgment;
- responding appropriately, in a timely manner.
The types of active listening include:
- Informational listening — its purpose is to take in new information, without further scrutinizing it;
- Critical listening — its purpose is to understand and then evaluate what you’ve just heard;
- Empathic listening — its purpose is to understand someone’s feelings;
- Rapport listening — its purpose is to build rapport with someone;
- Reflecting — its purpose is to restate what the other person is saying/feeling.
How to improve your active listening skill
Techniques you can use to become better at actively listening include:
- Paying active attention to the speaker
- Maintain eye contact, nod, and smile;
- But, don’t just smile, nod, and tune out — make the effort to truly understand what the speaker is saying, and ask questions when you don’t understand something;
- Pay attention to the speaker’s body language, to pick up any additional meaning behind their words.
- Avoid distractions
- Try to tune out background noise;
- Don’t let thinking about what you want to say in response distract you from what you are listening to;
- Never interrupt the speaker mid-sentence, no matter how important and immediate you think your contribution would be.
- Encouraging the speaker to continue
- Have an open posture;
- Paraphrase what you hear;
- Repeat key phrases and words;
- Ask for confirmation of how you understood something;
- Be honest and open when replying.
🔸 Example of active listening
Gawen and Robb are a junior and a senior illustrator, working for a marketing agency that runs a blog about the latest marketing trends.
Gawen has an idea for an illustration for the latest blog post and wants to run his idea past Robb.
While listening to Gawen’s idea, Robb maintains eye contact, nods, and encourages Gawen to finish disclosing his plan by uttering an occasional “Uh-huh” or “Yes”.
Once Gawen is done speaking, Robb paraphrases the idea, repeats key phrases and words, asks a couple of questions, and seeks confirmation for whether he understood the idea correctly.
Gawen listens to the questions attentively, answers them, and confirms that Robb understood everything correctly.
Gawen’s idea is then greenlit and he starts working on the realization.
By actively listening to one another, both Robb and Gawen managed to quickly understand the idea was worth the effort — which saved them a lot of time.
Great chatting skills
To be able to effectively communicate with teammates about work, you’ll also need to feel comfortable about chatting with them about non-work matters.
So, make the effort to boost your chatting skills, build rapport with colleagues, and get to know them as real people.
How to improve your chatting skills
For this skill, practice is key — you can:
- Initiate small talk
- Upon first arriving at work;
- Before a meeting;
- While making coffee;
- Before you leave home at the end of the day.
- Spend time together outside of work
- Make arrangements to volunteer for a cause;
- Go out for drinks;
- Go to the gym together;
- Find a hobby you share.
- Invite colleagues for lunch
- This can be a daily habit that involves having an organized lunch break where you all order from the same restaurant;
- Or, you can simply state your intentions to go to the nearby restaurant, and ask whether someone would like to come with you.
During these socialization moments, you can ask your colleagues the following questions:
- “How are you?”
- “What do you plan to do for the weekend?”
- “Where do you plan to go for vacation this year?”
- “What are your hobbies?”
- “What do you think about topic X?”
🔸 Example of great chatting skills
Jenna, Arthur, Kate, and Sarah are surgeons at a local hospital.
To build effective teamwork and communication at work, they’re making the effort to get to know each other better by going to the gym as a group, two times per week.
Through casual conversations at lunch breaks, they also discovered they share a passion for fantasy-themed board games.
So, they get together twice per month to indulge in game sessions, talk, and bond over their shared interests.
As a result, they get to know how each of them thinks and behaves — which proves useful during surgeries.
Responsiveness implies that the person in question is fast to reply and engage in conversation. As such, it is an important skill in communication — especially for remote teams who usually need to rely solely on technology to communicate and collaborate.
In order to help their teams be responsive in communication, managers will first need to create an internal communication code — for example:
- Emails mean *low* urgency — Reply to emails within 24 hours;
- Messages in public/private channels and threads mean *medium* urgency — Reply to messages in public/private channels and threads as soon as convenient (e.g. ideally, within an hour);
- Direct messages and mentions mean *high* urgency — Reply to direct messages and mentions in a team chat app as soon as possible (e.g. ideally, within 10-15 minutes);
- Phone calls mean the *highest* urgency — Reply to phone calls during work hours (e.g. ideally, within 5 minutes);
A clear internal communication code will set expectations and boundaries in terms of team responsiveness.
How to improve your responsiveness
To improve your responsiveness in the workplace, you can do the following:
- Prioritize — If you’re overwhelmed by the number of people that require your response, follow your company policy on the urgency of each type of message and respond accordingly;
- Respond as soon as you can — Try not to postpone your responses, even if (and especially if) you’re dealing with a difficult situation. The longer you wait, the more people you’ll have to get back to.
🔸 Example of being responsive
Felix is a highly responsive project manager who works remotely. During work hours, he replies to:
- emails within 2 hours;
- relevant messages in private/public channels and threads of his team communication app within half an hour;
- mentions in private/public channels and direct messages within 5 minutes;
- phone calls immediately.
Even when he is not directly communicating with someone, he still shows his engagement with the team by adding emojis to the funny memes and videos his colleagues post in the #random channel of their chat app. He also adds emojis and comments to the general information managers and senior executives post in the #general channel.
He does so because he understands how important it is to stay in the loop and connected with the rest of the team while working remotely.
Whenever there is a problem or a challenge in the project, Felix’s colleagues and superiors know they can rely on him to answer and provide help as soon as possible.
According to a study by Officevibes, 70% of employees say having friends at work is a key element of a happy, positive work environment. Moreover, as many as 58% of men and 74% of women claim they would refuse a higher paying job — if that meant they would need to work with people they don’t get along with.
So, being friendly emerges as an important work goal — and, being friendly while conversing is a great starting point for developing the right kind of friendships at work.
Friendliness in communication offers several benefits:
- It increases knowledge sharing;
- It increases team spirit;
- It increases morale;
- It makes you seem more approachable;
- It improves mental health issues;
- It makes individuals more satisfied at the workplace.
How to improve your friendliness
To be friendlier at work, you should:
- Mirror how people prefer to interact
For example, if other people use the company’s team chat app to communicate, don’t use emails just because you’re used to them.
- Greet colleagues
For example, say “Hello” or “Good Morning” when you arrive at the office.
- Be helpful (but not too pushy)
For example, if a colleague seems overwhelmed with his workload, show you are available to help him out if needed.
- Make the effort to engage with co-workers
For example, initiate conversations when having lunch at the same time as your colleagues.
- Recognize the accomplishments/contributions of others
For example, if a colleague helps you out with a task, publicly praise them for their help.
- Be kind
For example, repeat the positive feedback you heard about a colleague’s work if they weren’t there to hear it first-hand.
🔸 Example of friendliness
Lisa, an insurance agent, is new at her job.
To fit in and be friendly with her new teammates, she’s quick to adapt to the chat app the finance team uses on a daily basis.
She greets everyone when she arrives at work.
She tends to initiate conversations and engage with colleagues in a kind, helpful manner.
Because of this, her teammates start to see her as a helpful, professional, trustworthy person they can rely on.
The habit of asking and answering questions when someone doesn’t understand something is important for teamwork success — especially if you operate in a work-from-home arrangement, where over-communication helps teammates stay on the same page.
How to be better at asking/answering questions
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review by Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John titled “The Surprising Power of Questions”, the trick to properly asking/answering questions is in identifying key challenges. And, then learning how to overcome them:
CHALLENGE 1 — ASKING QUESTIONS: The person you are asking is reluctant to share the information you need.
- To avoid evasive answers, ask simple “Yes”/”No” questions;
- Ask detailed follow-up questions;
- Frame tough questions as pessimistic assumptions (e.g. “We’re experiencing some declines in sales, aren’t we?”);
- Ask the most sensitive question first;
- Follow-up with less sensitive questions.
CHALLENGE 2 — ASKING QUESTIONS: The person you are asking is shying away from sharing bad news.
- Ask open-ended questions to get negative feedback;
- Build rapport through less-sensitive questions, and slowly build up to what you really want to know;
- Frame tough questions as pessimistic assumptions.
CHALLENGE 3 — ANSWERING QUESTIONS: Answering the question would bring you to a strategic disadvantage.
- Prepare in advance;
- Share all the same, to build trust.
CHALLENGE 4 — ANSWERING QUESTIONS: You fear you’ll speak too freely/You fear you’ll fail to make the conversation delightful and productive.
- Use storytelling to engage the other speaker;
- Be energetic and humorous;
- Don’t talk too much about yourself;
- Ask questions about others;
- Divert the more difficult questions by answering a different question;
- Divert the more difficult questions by telling a joke.
🔸 Example of asking/answering questions
Katie is a customer report specialist and Rose is the customer support director — they work on a scheduling app.
An important company has recently canceled the app’s enterprise plan, and rumor has it that it had something to do with Katie ignoring their requests for a video call.
To get the truth, Rose arranges a 1-to-1 meeting with Katie, and asks a couple of simple “Yes”/”No” questions:
- “Did company X contact you?”
- “Did company X request a video call?”
- “Did you reply to company X’s request as soon as possible?”
- “Did you solve company X’s problem?”
- “Did you know company X is a priority client?”
After receiving answers to the above-listed questions, Rose expands her approach.
She asks follow-up questions, and she starts with the most sensitive question: “Why didn’t you reply to company X’s request as soon as possible?”
Rose frames tough questions as pessimistic assumptions:
- “Were you afraid you wouldn’t be able to answer company X’s questions?”
She then follows up with less intrusive, but still vital questions:
- “Why didn’t you ask a fellow customer support specialist to help you with the more difficult questions?”
- “Why didn’t you ask one of the developers to join you on the call?”
Rose eventually finds out that it was Katie who contributed to the loss of the priority client — but, only because a more experienced customer support specialist advised her to ignore their requests.
A study about the “2020 State of Workplace Empathy” shows that as many as 51% of employees struggle to demonstrate empathy at work on a daily basis.
However, empathy IS something worth pursuing, as evident by the benefits it brings to a workplace — according to Businessolver’s 2017 Workplace Empathy Monitor report:
- 92% of HR specialist believe that a compassionate workplace is a crucial factor for higher employee retention;
- 80% of millennials and 66% of baby boomers would leave their current job if their workplaces were to become less empathic;
- 77% of employees would be willing to work more hours and 60% would be willing to accept a salary cut — if they were working in an empathic workplace, to begin with.
Other benefits empathy brings include:
- An overall boost in productivity;
- improved understanding of other people;
- Increased cultural competence;
- Improved professional relationships.
How to improve your empathy
To be empathic in communication, you’ll need to:
- practice listening, openness, and understanding;
- watch out for signs of burnout, overwork, and workaholism in others;
- show interest in colleague’s ideas and challenges;
- demonstrate the willingness to help out where you can;
- support colleagues who are going through a personal loss.
🔸 Example of empathy
Xavier has been the chemistry teacher at the local elementary school for five years now — and, he’s just lost his twin brother in a car accident. His colleagues understand that this is a difficult time for Xavier, and are empathizing with him.
The math and music teachers have experienced similar personal losses in the past year, so they offered to take Xavier out for lunch and talk about anything he wants/needs to talk about — to better process the loss.
Other colleagues have been similarly understanding and open to talk — whenever Xavier wanted to talk about his loss, they’d listen.
The dean of the school has even sent an open invitation to Xavier, in case he wants to discuss taking a vacation.
The school’s psychologist has extended her condolences and said Xavier can come over to her office any time if he wishes to talk.
Xavier feels appreciative of the fact that his colleagues have been so supportive of him during this difficult time — he feels glad that he took the position in this school instead of going abroad five years ago.
Respect is an important element in communication — according to the report, “The Human Era @ Work”, as many as 63% of employees state that being treated with respect by their leaders makes them more satisfied with their jobs. However, research that covered 20,000 employees across the globe has shown that half of the employees don’t feel respected by their bosses.
Respect from colleagues can also go a long way.
How to show respect in communication
To show respect towards others at work, while communicating, you’ll need to:
- Be polite and kind
Good manners are always a must, so don’t let a bad day influence how you treat others.
- Listen attentively
Communication is a two-way street, so don’t forget to listen as much as you talk.
- Avoid negativity
Never insult or make fun of other people’s ideas, even if you do feel frustrated with them for some reason.
- Talk to people (not about them)
If you have a problem with an idea, discuss it head-on with the person who had the idea, not behind their back.
- Refrain from criticizing
Disagreeing with an idea is fine — but nit-picking an idea and patronizing the person who had it can only damage your professional relationship with this person.
- Treat people equally
It doesn’t matter whether someone is a seasoned senior executive or a junior specialist who just arrived to the company — if both are invited to a meeting to share ideas, listen to both with equal respect.
🔸 Example of respect
Connor is a young software developer who’s new to the company — but, he has worked on 5 successful products thus far, and has a great deal of experience to share.
While at a stand-up meeting, the team starts talking about a recurring bug they can’t seem to fix.
Connor speaks up because he has experienced similar issues while working on his previous products.
But, most of the team rebuffs him before he can form a full idea, because they don’t know him and because he is young. So, they assume he is “just a new guy” who’s decided to talk to have others take note of him.
But, the team leader is familiar with Connor’s background, so he halts the discussion, to let Connor speak his mind.
Led by the example of the team leader and ultimately impressed with what Connor has to offer, the rest of the team listens in silence, and refrains from criticizing what they don’t understand about his idea. When Connor is done explaining his idea for the fix, the team lead points out a smaller logistics problem in Connor’s plan — but, together, the team finds a solution for the bug.
Being open-minded at work chiefly means that you are open to new ideas and opinions — but, it also means being tolerant and receptive to attitudes, actions, ideas, and opinions that are vastly different from what you’ve come to expect.
In communication, open-mindedness is a great foundation for innovation. When teammates are open-minded, everyone will feel at ease to explore new ideas and propose innovative solutions to old challenges.
How to be more open-minded in communication
To be more open-minded at the workplace, you’ll need to:
- Fight the impulse to react negatively if someone has a different opinion than yours;
- Get out of your comfort zone while looking for solutions to a problem;
- Listen to colleagues with patience, and refrain from rebuking their suggestions from the start;
- Try to understand someone’s point of view, especially if it’s different than yours;
- Ask questions about what you don’t understand, to free yourself from judgments, stereotypes, and biases;
- Accept that you may sometimes be in the wrong — either because your starting point is off, or because you have the wrong data;
- Make the effort to learn from others.
🔸 Example of being open-minded
Denise is an open-minded graphic designer working in a marketing agency.
In brainstorming meetings, she tends to propose ideas and solutions actively.
But, she is open to suggestions that build upon her ideas and solutions, and improve them.
She listens to her colleagues’ ideas and solutions attentively — she loves it when someone has a different opinion than her, because she sees it as an opportunity to learn something new. Whenever she doesn’t understand something, she asks questions — this tactic helps her better understand her colleagues, and sometimes even gain enough new, important information to change her own opinion for the better.
As a result of her open-mindedness, Denise makes the most of all her opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Giving and receiving feedback
Constructive feedback is an essential part of workplace communication, and it’s vital for continuous personal and professional development, as well as engagement at work. Companies that implement regular feedback have 14.9% lower turnover rates than those that don’t.
It’s equally important to know how to give it and how to receive it, and people often struggle with both, especially when the feedback is negative. However, negative feedback is just as important as the positive kind, as long as it’s constructive.
How to be better at giving feedback
Giving effective feedback is a matter of tact and consideration for the other person. Here are some tips to become better at it:
- Prepare in advance — No matter whether you’re giving feedback to a subordinate, a superior, or a colleague, you should prepare by thinking about the best way to present your information so that the person in question takes it well. What’s more, you should also re-evaluate your feedback and support it with examples;
- Use positive language — If you want to encourage the person to learn from their mistakes and not dishearten them, you should use positive language. So instead of saying, “You should stop doing…”, try something like, “Maybe you could try…”;
- Make it actionable — As the above example illustrates, it’s not about simply providing critique, but it’s also about giving actionable advice on what and how to change.
How to be better at receiving feedback
People are often defensive or discouraged by feedback, which disables them from truly considering it rationally and deciding what to do about it. Here’s how to become better at receiving feedback:
- Be open — Actively listen to the person providing feedback and be open to what they have to say. This kind of attitude will help you learn something from it unlike coming prepared to defend yourself against any allegations;
- Thank the person for the feedback — Great communicators are always open to feedback and are glad to receive it. By thanking the person who provided it, you show them that you value their opinion and are open for active collaboration;
- Ask for clarification if necessary — If you don’t agree with the feedback or something is not clear, politely ask for clarification or an example that would back their claim. It’s important that you and the other person get on the same page and nothing is left unsaid, as this can build resentment.
🔸 Example of effectively giving and receiving feedback
Katie, a project manager, is talking to Sam, one of the team members working on the project Katie is leading:
Katie: “Sam, I’ve noticed your great work on the project, but you seem to be missing your targets a lot this quarter. Are there any challenges preventing you from getting the deliverables ready on time?”
Sam: “Thank you, Katie, I am putting a lot of effort into this project, but sometimes, I get too caught up in details and time just flies by.”
Katie: “I understand, when you’re meticulous, you tend to spend a lot of time trying to make everything perfect. But maybe you could try a different approach. How about you focus on creating a rough draft first and then polishing it?”
Sam: “That might work.”
Katie: “Or try a different time-management technique. You could practice by limiting your time for each part of the project, and attempting to finish within that time frame.”
Sam: “Yes, that’s a great idea, I will definitely try it.”
Katie: “Great, and if there’s any way I can help, just let me know.”
Sam: “I will. Thank you for your input Katie, I will do my best to implement your suggestions and get back to you with the results.”
Negotiation is a complex skill that requires much thought, consideration, decision-making, and problem-solving. A negotiator can’t reach a decision alone — the process is intertwined and needs both (or all) parties to reach a consensus.
Generally speaking, there are five stages of negotiation:
- Preparation — involves identifying value and understanding interests of both parties;
- Exchanging information and validation — involves information sharing and establishing rapport;
- Bargain — trying to come to a mutually acceptable solution, making and managing concessions;
- Conclusion — the parties reach an agreement;
- Execution — the parties act on the agreement.
How to improve your negotiation skills
Here are some tips to help you become better at negotiating:
- Be honest — It’s vital to be ethical in your negotiations, no matter how hard you want something, as otherwise, you’ll compromise your relationship. That’s why you should always be truthful and never try to deceive the other side in order to tip the scale in your favor;
- Keep a professional tone — Even if the discussion is heated, incorporate your self-regulation skills to remain in control of yourself and the situation;
- Be considerate of the other party — Respectful negotiations are a sign of a successful and flexible communicator who can assert their needs while respecting those of the other party, so you should truly work toward the best solution for both parties instead of trying to push your idea.
🔸 Example of successful negotiation
An SEO specialist negotiates a job offer with an HR manager of a marketing agency. He’s offered a lower salary than he asked for, so he tries to negotiate some other benefits or perks that would make up for the difference between salary expectations and offer. The manager offers a free digital marketing course of his choice to help him advance his skills and develop further professionally. The SEO specialist weighs the pros and cons, decides he’s happy with the arrangement, and accepts.
Most people find themselves involved in a conflict at work every now and then. Conflicts arise due to our differences, but they don’t need to have disastrous effects if handled properly. However, some research suggests that 89% of people who get involved in a conflict at work let it escalate instead of doing something to ameliorate the situation. This can be detrimental to workplace relationships and overall productivity.
There are a few emotional and cognitive traps that can exacerbate the conflict and prevent resolution:
- Blind fairness — the inability to see what’s objectively fair, and interpreting fairness as that which best serves your interests;
- Overconfidence — being too sure of your judgment and failing to reassess your stance on the matter;
- Commitment bias — unwillingness to diverge from a decision made in the past and staying committed to it even if it evidently doesn’t bring about desired results anymore;
- Avoidance — avoiding the conflict entirely due to discomfort and negative emotions associated with it.
How to improve your conflict resolution skill
Conflict resolution is a complex skill that involves the acquisition of some other communication skills (such as self-awareness, emotion control, and negotiation). Here are some tips to improve your conflict resolution skill:
- Identify the root cause — If someone snaps at you for placing a mug on the desk too loudly, chances are, there’s an underlying issue the colleague has with you that is much bigger than the situation that made them lose their temper;
- Try to stay rational and agree on facts — Conflicts can get quite emotional and those involved can get defensive, which is why it’s important to review the facts rationally and see what you can do about it;
- Keep a positive attitude — If you allow your negative emotions to get the best of you, you are much more likely to remain entrenched in your bias. However, if you maintain a positive attitude and display a willingness to cooperate, you will find the solution much more easily.
🔸 Example of successful conflict resolution
Tim and Nick are assigned to the same project. At the same time, Tim is working on a few other projects and expects Nick to take the bulk of the new one. However, Nick doesn’t know about Tim’s other responsibilities, so he thinks it’s unfair that Tim wants him to do more. He is annoyed so he confronts Tim about it during a lunch break but waits patiently for Tim to tell his side of the story.
When they gather all the facts, Nick apologizes for being confrontational since he didn’t know about Tim’s work on other projects, whereas Tim apologizes for not informing Nick about it and assuming he knew. They agree to have Nick do the main part of the project.
Patience is often seen as a passive character trait rather than a skill you can actively practice and hone. However, in the words of American theologian Fulton J. Sheen, “Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is timing.”
So although it comes more naturally to some people as opposed to others, you can practice patience in interactions with others and develop it just like any other communication skill. In other words, you can work on developing the skill of properly timing your responses for the best results in communication. This means that even if someone is struggling to get their message across, you will not cut them off or hurry them, but instead, you will calmly wait for them to finish or listen carefully and prompt them in the right direction by asking thoughtful questions.
It also means you will have patience with yourself when you’re struggling to communicate your thoughts and ideas.
This way, you facilitate the conversation flow instead of losing your temper and giving up.
How to improve your patience
Improving your patience requires exercise and persistence. Here are some tips to help you work on it:
- Slow down — If you’re struggling to communicate something, slow down your thoughts, break them into chunks, and try to think about the issue at hand step by step;
- Think before you speak — Stopping to think before you speak will allow you to formulate your thoughts better, consider how best to frame the message for your interlocutor, and avoid any misunderstandings;
- Wait for the other person to finish — While you might be tempted to stop your interlocutor and immediately provide the input you might think would be valuable, you should wait your turn and actively listen first.
🔸 Example of patience in communication
Maya, a content writer, is trying to communicate her vision for a blog illustration to Rachel, the team illustrator. However, she lacks the professional visual art terminology to best explain her ideas so she’s struggling to provide accurate descriptions that would help Rachel understand her vision, which takes time.
Rachel understands that Maya doesn’t have a background in visual illustration, so she listens carefully and asks questions to narrow down Maya’s ideas. She even provides examples of possible visual solutions so that Maya can show her exactly what she wants.
Wrapping up: How to improve communication skills in the workplace?
Having stellar communication skills is no longer a plus in the workplace — it’s a must. As you can see, these skills are many, but with a little bit of effort and persistence, you can master them all in time.
The key to developing strong communication skills is consistency. You should work on them a bit every day and watch the results of your efforts improve your productivity, team spirit, and happiness at work.
The key is to work on all of them, starting from self-regulation skills, as you can’t communicate effectively with others if your intrapersonal communication is off. Then, when you’re in agreement with yourself, you can practice expressing yourself and building your expressive skills so that others can understand you well.
Finally, you can work on strengthening your interpersonal communication skills so that you can build strong workplace relationships and mutual understanding.
Overall, these skills help job applicants land new jobs. They help current employees progress their careers. They help teams collaborate, no matter the circumstances. In the end, strong communication skills emerge as the foundation for successful teamwork and effective communication — as such, they are always worth pursuing, both by individual teammates, and the teams they constitute.
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