Soft skills are essential for any job, particularly your ability to communicate. But if it’s not your strong suit, how can you get better?
‘I have good communication skills.’
It’s one of the biggest clichés when it comes to jobseekers listing their skills. You could be forgiven for having it on your CV, but it needs to be put in the bin, along with a number of other major CV clichés.
Why? Because simply saying that you have good communication skills doesn’t make it so. In fact, it probably shows that you’re not able to effectively tell people about certain tangible skills.
CVs are all about providing examples of your skills instead of merely stating them. But what if you aren’t confident in your communication skills?
It’s not the easiest skill to develop if it doesn’t come naturally, but it can be done. And, don’t worry, we’re going to do a little more than simply telling you what to do; we’re going to tell you how to do it.
1. Think about your audience
This is relevant in all forms of communication, be it written or in person. Before you start a dialogue with anyone, take a minute to think about who that person is.
Think about who they are in relation to you, their level within or outside the company. Then, think of previous conversations you’ve had with them. Think about how they like to communicate. Is it with a lot of detail, or is it action-based?
Then, decide the best form of communication. Would they prefer an email or just a quick face-to-face brainstorm? This all sounds like it takes a long time before you’ve even started but, in reality, it will take you less than a minute and you’ll get faster and more familiar with the process every time.
2. Take notes and reread
This is particularly important in meetings, but it’s good to write down all relevant bullet points so that you don’t miss anything.
A breakdown in communication can see important deadlines mixed up, projects done wrong or briefs misunderstood. Identify important dates and actions in any conversation and write them down.
After the conversation (in which you probably weren’t able to take down every word), be sure to read over your notes and fill in any extra details that you can think of. Consider the length of time that may pass before you see these notes again. Will you still be able to understand what you wrote?
Communication goes both ways, so it’s also essential that you read over anything you send to anyone, be it in a proposal, a report or a simple email. Make sure you’re clear and concise before hitting send. Be sure to keep an eye on your spelling and grammar, too!
Listening is the single most important element to improving your communication skills, and it’s also one of the hardest ones to develop.
One thing to start off with is the idea that you have two ears and one mouth – so, you should be listening twice as much as you’re talking. Being self-aware about your listening skills is the first step to making them better.
The same way we can train our brains to speed read or skim large documents and pick out the gist, we can also learn to ‘speed listen’ and focus on the key points that someone is making.
In response to someone who is aware of their inability to listen well, Lifehacker has some excellent and practical tips to help you increase listening skills.
4. Work on your empathy
Yes, it’s hard enough to work on one soft skill without having to worry about another one. However, empathy is key to improving both listening and communication skills so really, it’s three for the price of one here.
Monica Parker recently wrote about the struggle we can have with being empathetic all the time; however, there are some practical tips you can apply that will help you be more empathetic, especially at work.
Being more empathetic at work doesn’t just improve your communication skills, it makes you more productive.
5. Master the art of networking
There’s nothing like having some sort of ‘skills lab’ to practise your abilities and gauge your improvements when trying to learn something new.
Consider networking events your communication skills lab. The ability to network well is an art form and, if you can walk into an event and network effectively, you’ll be well on your way when it comes to your communication skills in any part of your life.
Of course, as with all soft skills, this is easier said than done. Former Inspirefest speaker Kelly Hoey networked her way to her dream career, so if anyone can help you work the room effectively and develop your communication skills along the way, it’s her.
6. Paraphrase the conversation
Meetings and long-winded discussions can get out of hand or derailed from time to time. It’s not a bad thing; some of the best ideas can come out of the meandering road that started somewhere else.
However, it can muddy the communication waters for those who are listening. Don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout any dialogue until you’re sure that you’re clear about everything.
After a conversation, either clarify the main points with the person or try to paraphrase it yourself as if explaining it to a friend. If you struggle with this, you may need some clarification. This is one of main weapons against miscommunication and will improve your skills exponentially. The more you do it, the less you’ll need to over time.
7. Practise public speaking
Even if you are sure you will never have to do any public speaking as long as you live (spoiler alert: that is highly unlikely), it’s one of the strongest skills you can have.
According to Cheryl Hamilton’s Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions, about three-quarters of us are estimated to have some level of anxiety when it comes to public speaking, so you’re not alone.
But if you challenge yourself to overcome your fear of public speaking, you will master the ability to communicate to a large crowd of people. And if you can do that, your day-to-day communications at work will be a breeze.