Why Communication Skills are so Important and How to Develop Them
Communication is a vital skill for anyone to have, especially in daily working life. Whether you are an entrepreneur, in management or in another role, being able to communicate successfully is key. However, some people may not be blessed with top-quality communication abilities. If you’re in this category, I urge you to continue as I share the importance of being good at communicating and how to develop, if needed.
Your communication skills make a difference in so many aspects of your life. You get questioned about them in job interviews, they affect your relationships with coworkers as well as personal relationships.
People who are expert communicators deliver killer presentations which change their businesses and careers. They negotiate complex deals and manage to identify common ground to a range of different people. They can look someone in the eye, find the right words to say and defuse a potentially difficult situation. They are also able to be honest and supportive of those around them.
But not everyone has great communication skills. So, let’s talk about ways to develop and improve your communication skills.
‘We’re not communicating’
The majority of workplace disputes can be put down to a problem of communication, small or large. Often, both parties in a dispute feel they have shared all of the necessary details appropriately with their colleague but that the communication has not been returned.
Many people will work in a tight-knit office of colleagues, many of whom may have worked together there for a number of years. Even though colleagues usually know each other very well, some will continually accuse each other of ‘not communicating’. Repeatedly, people will get annoyed with each other, using phrases such as, ‘Well no one told me about this’. In a busy work environment, it is easy to forget to share information with your colleagues and it is often easier to just focus on getting your own work done.
There are a variety of ways in which people fail to communicate. For example, it may be that you do not reply to emails to update your people on next steps or when you have completed work, you may be someone who only replies when there is a problem. As an entrepreneur, you should reply to emails and update the appropriate people quickly and efficiently.
Not being efficient with email can cause people to feel frustrated. Yes, sometimes people are very busy and forget to reply, but making a quick note to reply to an email, may minimize numerous issues and confrontations.
What does it mean to have good communication skills?
A key component of communication is being open and honest in your interactions with people. A good communicator is willing to listen to others and share their own thoughts and responses. Being honest doesn’t mean you tell everyone everything you are thinking, it just means making sure you are straightforward, clear and concise and that those around you have the information they need.
If you have good communication skills, other people feel that you are listening to them and that you are showing them respect. This is vital within the workplace and can ensure you build trusting relationships.
Communication is about letting other people know how you feel and not just telling them what they want to hear. Good communication skills do not necessarily mean that you are always smiling and always making other people happy.
Different people handle situations differently, so being able to adapt your communication skills is essential. You may be able to be slightly more abrupt with someone as they’re able to handle it and that’s how they listen. However, someone who is slightly more sensitive will need a different approach – still ensure you are being clear and understood, but just using a different tone of voice can result in successful communication.
How to improve your communication skills
- Before a meeting or conversation make a list of the key things you would like to share or the key things you would like to find out.
- Look out for people in your life who are good communicators. Look at how they stand, how they speak, what vocabulary they use. Ask yourself, what is it that makes them such a good communicator?
- If you have to deliver a presentation, practice how you will successfully communicate with the audience. Filming yourself and watching it back is a great way to see how you come across and enables you to spot areas of improvement.
- Practice using positive responses such as: ‘I see your point’, ‘I really like that idea’, ‘I understand what you mean’. By using positive reinforcement you can help those around you recognize the value you see in their work.
- Also, practice difficult sentence starters: ‘Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to’, ‘I really wish I could but…’ ‘I need to talk to you about…’, ‘I have just got some bad news’. If you deliver bad news, you can still show those around you that you care and that it is difficult for you too.
- Don’t mindread – never assume you know what someone means or what they are thinking. Always check with them using open questions.
Communication Questions To Ask
- What are my strengths?
- What compliments have I received when I communicate?
- What do I want to improve on?
- What do I find most difficult in communication?
- What opportunities are coming up which will stretch my communication abilities?
Don’t Rush It
There is no point in trying to change everything overnight. You have to take it step-by-step and you do not want to push yourselves too far. Set yourself a few key targets and a deadline for when you will do them. See some examples below:
- If there is a colleague who you find intimidating to talk to, do not plan to start conversations with them twice a day. Instead, you could plan to find a topic to speak to them about in person once a week.
- If your office manager is looking for volunteers to host team meetings, you don’t need to say you will do one next week. However, you could put yourselves forward to host one in a few months and spend that time watching how other colleagues deliver team meetings. Watching others is a great way to develop and learn.
- If someone expresses anger towards you in an unreasonable way this could be a good time to practice your communication skills. Speak in a calm voice and tell them you understand and ask them if they could speak in a different tone, calmly. The first time you try this it may not work but the important thing is that you are practicing communication skills and your conflict resolution skills. As a manager, you will have to deal with upset or annoyed employees more than most, so ensuring your skills are tip-top is essential.
How to set your goals
Write down a list of areas you would like to improve on, then try to break them down into SMART targets (SMART = Specific, Measured, Achievable, Realistic, Timely).
Make sure that you are realistic in setting these goals; if you are currently nervous about speaking to a small meeting room, it is unlikely you will be delivering large public lectures after a short period of practice.
Once you have identified your key targets, make sure to measure your progress. Keep a diary and note down your progress every week. Write down what you did, what the outcome was and how it compares against your overall target.
Key advice for improving your communication skills
- Look people in the eye when you talk to them, but ensure you get a balance – you don’t want to stare at them.
- Try not to cross your arms or legs as this can make your body language seem closed off, you want to appear open and approachable.
- Respond to what others say by nodding or saying phrases that show you have been listening e.g ‘I see what you mean’, ‘I like that’, ‘Yes, exactly.’
- Communicating via technology is also vital. Be sure that emails are clear and concise. Re-read them and ensure that they are implying what you want them to. Additionally, there are numerous HR softwares, such as this one from Advanced, that encourage quick and efficient communication by allowing people to invest time in their team, not admin.
- Listen to other people and take time to think about your reply. It will be appreciated that you are listening and engaging with others.
- Ask others various questions about themselves, or about their work. Admit when you do not know the answer to something or when you have bad news.
- Give other people credit for their good ideas and try to use praise and encouragement in your daily interactions.
- If someone is hostile to you, start by listening to what they say and then ask them if you could sit down and have a longer discussion. Demonstrating you have time for others is an important communication skill.
- When you are trying to resolve a conflict ask everyone to identify what they would ideally like the outcome to be, then you can work towards a resolution. Often clear objectives really help to resolve issues.
- When speaking to a room, take your time, breathe slowly and imagine that your voice is going to fill up every corner of the room. Look around the room at different people so that everyone feels that you have engaged with them. Always allow time for questions and be open to the questions that they ask.
Do not be offended if other people criticize your communication skills, especially at a time when you are trying to improve them. A key part of good communication is that you are open to criticism – this does not mean you have to believe or do what the other person says, but it is important that you are willing to listen to and consider criticism.
As an entrepreneur, and someone that manages others, there will be times where you need to have difficult conversations that can be daunting. Pause, take a breath and then try to speak as honestly as possible while recognizing and respecting other people’s points of view.
How can you tell if your communication has improved?
With a soft skill like communication, it can be difficult to tell the improvement. Often though, you will recognize that other people are responding to you in different ways. Perhaps your daily interactions are smoother or your confidence has grown more when in meetings. As an entrepreneur, you’ll have a number of ideas and plans that you wish to share and perhaps now you feel that you’re more confident in voicing these to the suitable people and ask for feedback.
To conclude, a successful communicator is someone who is able to communicate with a number of different people; from young to old, assistant to CEO and creatives to corporate, face to face as well as via email or phone. They adapt their communication depending on these factors, as well as the personality of the person they are talking to. Being an entrepreneur, you will be speaking with various people, one of them may even give you your big break, so be sure to develop and improve your communication skills.