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.

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.

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. 

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.

Grapevine 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.

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.

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