How to Improve Communication Skills

Communication is the key to personal and professional success, and in the workplace, it boosts employee morale, productivity, and satisfaction. It is also vital to collaborative and harmonious teamwork and enhances the quality of employee-leader relationships. 

1 – Listen actively

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

People like to be heard in full, so the next time you find yourself in a conversation, practice active listening.

This technique requires that you listen attentively to what is being said and respond in a way that reflects your attention and understanding. 

Note that active listening is not hearing the words spoken but determining the overall meaning of the message that is being communicated.

You can let the person know you are listening to them with occasional nods, short comments, paraphrasing, or other subtle cues. 

2 – Consider body language

Since around 55% of all communication is non-verbal, it is important to pay attention to both your own body language and the body language of the person you are communicating with.

For a message to be conveyed clearly and authentically, verbal communication must be aligned with non-verbal communication.

What do your eye contact, posture, tone of voice, and facial expressions say about your level of engagement and professionalism?

NLP was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who believed that the thoughts and behaviors of successful people could be taught to others. Neuro-linguistic programming is a means of changing the thoughts or behaviors of an individual to help them achieve a desired outcome. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is based on the idea that people use internal “maps” to navigate the world. However, these maps are often constrained by certain limitations or unconscious biases that are unique to every individual.

3 – Simplify and be specific

Adhere to the KISS principle wherever possible. 

The KISS principle is an acronym of “keep it simple, stupid”, a phrase thought to have been coined by Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson. The KISS principle argues most systems work best when they are simple and not complicated.

Prepare in advance, devote time to only the most salient points, and do not include any information that is off-topic or irrelevant.

4 – Maintain eye contact

Maintaining eye contact does not mean staring into the other person’s eyes indefinitely.

Aim for eye contact 80% of the time, or around 4 in every 5 seconds.

Compliment your eye contact with hand gestures to project more confidence.

5 – Avoid assumptions

Communication in the workplace is often hindered by leaders who make assumptions about subordinates.

If there are concerns over the performance or behavior of an employee, avoid jumping to conclusions about the cause. 

Instead, create a non-confrontational environment where the employee feels safe to voice their concerns and a solution can be devised.

6 – Learn communication styles

Some teams prefer to use Slack, while others prefer email. Learn these communication styles and adapt the message to suit.

Forbes also found that Millennial employees detest talking on the phone, with around 68% preferring to communicate via text.

7 – Seek feedback

Routinely ask your manager or colleagues for an appraisal of your communication skills. 

To start, ask them to rate a list of skills on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, pose the following questions:

  • What is one thing I can do to communicate better?
  • What is one thing I should stop doing?
  • What is one communication skill I can work on to benefit the organization most?

8 – Remember the person on the other end

Remote work is probably here to stay, but it is still important to show up for the other person as if the interaction were face-to-face. 

To that end, don’t rely on text-based communication or other forms where tone of voice, facial expressions, and other important cues are superfluous.

Zoom calls are a much better way to build a connection with the person and iron out any potential issues or miscommunications.

9 – Have a plan for small talk

Extroverts hate small talk, but it is nevertheless a non-negotiable part of effective communication in the workplace. 

Develop the mindset that small talk is not an excruciating waste of time but instead a way to build rapport with an important client or extend your professional network. In terms of topic choice, stick to the FORD method (family, occupations, recreation, and dreams).

10 – Be ready for the answer

From time to time, you may receive an answer that is unexpected or different from the one you expected.

Always listen to the other person with an open mind, be cognizant of your non-verbal reaction, and never interrupt.

Key takeaways

  • Communication is the key to personal and professional success, and in the workplace, there are untold benefits for employees, teams, and organizations.
  • Active listening and appropriate body language are two of the most effective ways to improve communication in the workplace. 
  • Other tips include maintaining eye contact without staring, seeking feedback on one’s communication abilities, and having a plan for inevitable small talk.

Key Highlights

  • Active Listening: Actively listen by focusing your attention on the speaker and using verbal and non-verbal cues to show understanding. This fosters trust and connection between individuals.
  • Body Language: Non-verbal communication, including body language, plays a significant role in conveying messages authentically. Ensure that your non-verbal cues align with your verbal communication.
  • Simplify and Be Specific: Follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) by preparing in advance, emphasizing essential points, and avoiding irrelevant information.
  • Maintain Eye Contact: Aim for consistent eye contact (around 80% of the time), complemented by confident hand gestures.
  • Avoid Assumptions: Don’t jump to conclusions about employees’ performance or behavior. Create an open environment where concerns can be discussed and resolved.
  • Learn Communication Styles: Adapt your communication style to suit different platforms and preferences, such as text-based communication for Millennials and using Zoom calls to enhance connection.
  • Seek Feedback: Regularly ask for feedback on your communication skills from managers and colleagues. Use specific questions to identify areas for improvement.
  • Consider the Other Person: Even in remote work situations, prioritize face-to-face interactions like Zoom calls to build connections and prevent misunderstandings.
  • Small Talk: Embrace small talk as a way to build rapport and professional relationships. Use the FORD method (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams) to guide conversation topics.
  • Be Prepared for Unexpected Answers: Approach conversations with an open mind and avoid interrupting when receiving unexpected or different responses.

Applied Strategies To Improve Communication

Business MeetingsActive Listening:During meetings, practice active listening by focusing on the speaker, asking clarifying questions, and summarizing key points. This improves comprehension, reduces misunderstandings, and fosters productive discussions.Enhanced understanding and engagement.More effective meetings and better decision-making.
Team CollaborationEffective Feedback:When collaborating with a team, provide and receive feedback constructively. This fosters open communication, encourages continuous improvement, and builds trust among team members.Improved team dynamics and performance.Increased innovation and better project outcomes.
Client InteractionsEmpathy:When interacting with clients, practice empathy by understanding their needs, concerns, and emotions. This helps build rapport, trust, and stronger client relationships, ultimately leading to better business outcomes.Improved client satisfaction and loyalty.Increased client retention and business growth.
Leadership and ManagementClear Communication:Effective leaders and managers communicate clearly and concisely. Avoid jargon, use simple language, and articulate expectations, goals, and directions to ensure alignment and reduce confusion among team members.Enhanced team productivity and morale.Greater employee satisfaction and goal achievement.
Conflict ResolutionConflict Management Skills:Develop conflict management skills, such as active listening, empathy, and negotiation. These skills enable you to address conflicts constructively, find mutually beneficial solutions, and maintain positive working relationships within the team.Reduced workplace tension and disputes.Improved teamwork and a healthier work environment.
Sales and Client PresentationsEffective Storytelling:In sales presentations or client meetings, use effective storytelling techniques to engage your audience, convey your message persuasively, and create an emotional connection with potential clients or customers.Increased client engagement and sales conversion.Improved sales performance and revenue growth.
Networking and Relationship BuildingNetworking Skills:When networking, focus on developing strong interpersonal skills. This includes making authentic connections, active listening, and nurturing relationships over time. Strong networks can lead to valuable opportunities and business partnerships.Expanded professional network and opportunities.Increased career advancement and business growth.
Remote CommunicationVirtual Communication Adaptation:In virtual work environments, adapt your communication style to suit remote settings. Use video conferencing, clear written communication, and time management to ensure effective communication with remote colleagues, clients, or team members.Efficient remote collaboration and project execution.Reduced miscommunication and virtual team productivity.
Public Speaking and PresentationsPresentation Skills:Enhance your presentation skills by practicing public speaking, using visual aids effectively, and structuring your presentations logically. This boosts confidence, engages your audience, and ensures your message is conveyed clearly and convincingly.Increased audience engagement and impact.Successful presentations and positive audience perception.
Negotiation and Conflict ResolutionNegotiation Skills:Develop negotiation skills by understanding the negotiation process, preparing thoroughly, and using effective communication strategies. These skills can help you achieve favorable outcomes in negotiations and conflict resolution scenarios.Successful negotiations and win-win solutions.Improved relationships and collaboration with counterparts.
Email and Written CommunicationEffective Email Etiquette:In written communication, practice effective email etiquette by using clear subject lines, concise messages, and polite language. This ensures that emails are understood, prevent misunderstandings, and maintain professionalism in written interactions.Improved email communication efficiency.Reduced email misinterpretation and timely responses.
Cross-Cultural Business RelationsCultural Sensitivity:When working with diverse cultures, develop cultural sensitivity by learning about different cultural norms, customs, and communication styles. This fosters respect, avoids cultural misunderstandings, and promotes effective cross-cultural collaboration.Improved cross-cultural relationships and trust.Enhanced global business opportunities and partnerships.
Time Management and PrioritizationCommunication Planning:Plan your communication effectively by setting clear objectives, prioritizing tasks, and managing your time efficiently. Organized communication ensures that important messages are delivered promptly and that you stay on top of your responsibilities.Reduced communication delays and stress.Increased productivity and better time management.
Delegation and Task AssignmentsClear Delegation:When delegating tasks, communicate expectations, responsibilities, and deadlines clearly to team members. Effective delegation fosters accountability, reduces misunderstandings, and ensures that tasks are completed efficiently and effectively.Improved task management and team productivity.Enhanced team performance and goal achievement.
Crisis CommunicationCrisis Communication Planning:In crisis situations, develop a crisis communication plan that includes clear messaging, designated spokespersons, and channels for updates. This ensures a swift and coordinated response, minimizes confusion, and maintains public trust.Effective crisis response and reputation management.Reduced reputational damage and quicker crisis resolution.

Read Next: Communication Cycle, Encoding, Communication Models, Organizational Structure.

Connected Communication Models

Aristotle’s Model of Communication

The Aristotle model of communication is a linear model with a focus on public speaking. The Aristotle model of communication was developed by Greek philosopher and orator Aristotle, who proposed the linear model to demonstrate the importance of the speaker and their audience during communication. 

Communication Cycle

The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

Berlo’s SMCR Model

Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.

Helical Model of Communication

The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Lasswell Communication Model

The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, and transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

Modus Tollens

Modus tollens is a deductive argument form and a rule of inference used to make conclusions of arguments and sets of arguments.  Modus tollens argues that if P is true then Q is also true. However, P is false. Therefore Q is also false. Modus tollens as an inference rule dates back to late antiquity where it was taught as part of Aristotelian logic. The first person to describe the rule in detail was Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.

Five Cannons of Rhetoric

The five canons of rhetoric were first organized by Roman philosopher Cicero in his treatise De Inventione in around 84 BC. Some 150 years later, Roman rhetorician Quintilian explored each of the five canons in more depth as part of his 12-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria. The work helped the five canons become a major component of rhetorical education well into the medieval period. The five canons of rhetoric comprise a system for understanding powerful and effective communication.

Communication Strategy

A communication strategy framework clarifies how businesses should communicate with their employees, investors, customers, and suppliers. Some of the key elements of an effective communication strategy move around purpose, background, objectives, target audience, messaging, and approach.

Noise if Communication

Noise is any factor that interferes with or impedes effective communication between a sender and receiver. When noise disrupts the communication process or prevents the transmission of information, it is said to be communication noise.

7 Cs of Communication

The 7Cs of communication is a set of guiding principles on effective communication skills in business, moving around seven principles for effective business communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, complete, coherent, and courteous.

Transactional Model of Communication

The transactional model of communication describes communication as a two-way, interactive process within social, relational, and cultural contexts. The transactional model of communication is best exemplified by two models. Barnlund’s model describes communication as a complex, multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. Dance’s helical model is another example, which suggests communication is continuous, dynamic, evolutionary, and non-linear.

Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication, often referred to as lateral communication, is communication that occurs between people at the same organizational level. In this context, communication describes any information that is transmitted between individuals, teams, departments, divisions, or units.

Communication Apprehension

Communication apprehension is a measure of the degree of anxiety someone feels in response to real (or anticipated) communication with another person or people.

Closed-Loop Communication

Closed-loop communication is a simple but effective technique used to avoid misunderstandings during the communication process. Here, the person receiving information repeats it back to the sender to ensure they have understood the message correctly. 

Grapevine In Communication

Grapevine communication describes informal, unstructured, workplace dialogue between employees and superiors. It was first described in the early 1800s after someone observed that the appearance of telegraph wires strung between transmission poles resembled a grapevine.

ASE Model

The ASE model posits that human behavior can be predicted if one studies the intention behind the behavior. It was created by health communication expert Hein de Vries in 1988. The ASE model believes intention and behavior are determined by cognitive variables such as attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. The model also believes that intention predicts behavior such that one’s attitude toward a behavior is influenced by the consequences of that behavior. Three cognitive variables are the primary determinants of whether the intention to perform a new behavior was sustained: attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. Various external variables also influence these factors.

Integrated Marketing Communication

Integrated marketing communication (IMC) is an approach used by businesses to coordinate and brand their communication strategies. Integrated marketing communication takes separate marketing functions and combines them into one, interconnected approach with a core brand message that is consistent across various channels. These encompass owned, earned, and paid media. Integrated marketing communication has been used to great effect by companies such as Snapchat, Snickers, and Domino’s.

Social Penetration Theory

Social penetration theory was developed by fellow psychologists Dalmas Taylor and Irwin Altman in their 1973 article Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships. Social penetration theory (SPT) posits that as a relationship develops, shallow and non-intimate communication evolves and becomes deeper and more intimate.

Hypodermic Needle

The hypodermic needle theory was first proposed by communication theorist Harold Lasswell in his 1927 book Propaganda Technique in the World War. The hypodermic needle theory is a communication model suggesting media messages are inserted into the brains of passive audiences.

7-38-55 Rule

The 7-38-55 rule was created by University of California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian and mentioned in his book Silent Messages.  The 7-38-55 rule describes the multi-faceted way in which people communicate emotions, claiming that 7% of communication occurred via spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

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