What is the most critical skill you can have to get ahead at work? Hands down, it’s your communication skills. Your communication skills impact everything you do at work. You need to get people to listen to you and do what you say. Using excellent communication skills is how you network & get raises & promotions. Here I’m going to teach you how to improve your communication skills at work.
- Listen. Fight the urge to speak and really listen to people at work. You can go so far as to ask clarifying questions.
- Body Language. The best thing you can do to have fantastic communication skills is to keep your body open. Open your arms & keep your legs uncrossed.
- Facial Expressions. Relax the muscles of your face and allow your face to take on natural expressions. Smile when you are greeting people. Allow your face to react with emotion when you’re listening to people.
- Repeat & Rephrase. It’s always a good idea to confirm the messages of your clients & coworkers.
- Learn to Lead. Authority & warmth need to emanate from you. That means absolutely no whiny voices, no upspeak, & no glottal fry.
- Kindness Counts. There are many ways in which we can hurt people using our communication skills. And then, there are also solutions to those communicative problems.
- Be Concise. We lose people’s attention when we are too wordy. That’s one thing we can’t risk in the workplace.
- Deliver bad news with love and understanding.
- Introversion Impacts Others. Avoiding speaking to someone may inadvertently hurt their feelings. Say, “I never know what to say at these functions.” or tell a prepared anecdote to start the convo.
- Eye Contact. Eye contact is essential for establishing and maintaining successful relationships.
- Be articulate. Record yourself speaking before meetings to see how you come across. Take note of conciseness, tone of voice, & pauses as these all impact your ability to be articulate.
How to Improve Your Communication Skills at Work
Note: No one was born with perfect communication skills. If you know someone with a remarkable ability to communicate, he/she worked on it. So should you if you want to get ahead. I’m still working on mine!
There is no skill in the world that our society assumes we should be born doing entirely well without any instruction-except for communication skills! We study academia for 16 years at a minimum but take swimming lessons, music lessons, sports, you name it! But for some reason, our society feels that we should be perfect communicators during small talk, introductions, giving presentations, communicating bad news, etc.
So don’t blame yourself for not being the perfect communicator at work. Just think of it like practicing your golf swing. Work on it! Communication can be improved. And it must!
I know, I started with a boring one. Who wants to listen when they can talk instead? Fight the urge to speak and really listen to people at work. You can go so far as to ask clarifying questions. Making other people feel like they’re being heard is a great way to ingratiate yourself to others.
Say things like, “I hear you.” “I know what you mean.”
Also, the less you speak, the smarter you seem. It’s science.
Listening is crucial to improving your communication with colleagues. Make sure you aren’t thinking about what you’re going to say next while someone else is talking.
Back in the Flintstone days, people were afraid of getting hit with rocks & sticks. It was a thing. We evolved to be physically defensive, so we close our bodies by crossing our arms & legs. But the best thing you can do (to have fantastic communication skills) is to keep your body open. Open your arms & make sure your legs aren’t crossed. This makes the others in the workplace feel open & warm towards you. And you want that.
Another thing that’s evolved from our days living in caves is that we want to see peoples’ hands. Leave your hands open & visible, especially when you’re meeting colleagues & clients for the first time. That’ll make your coworkers much more comfortable with you.
You may have to work on making an open body posture comfortable & natural for you. If you’re feeling a little defensive in meetings, it’s going to be hard to open your arms & keep your legs uncrossed, but it’ll make all the difference.
When presenting in front of an audience, be sure that your body is facing the audience. Do not turn around to read your slide. Actually never read your slides, but that’s another story!
Do you know bitchy resting face? Our faces have muscles on them, and they get tight just like the other muscles in your body. That causes lines in the face. (You’ll see them in the brow and from the nose to the lips.) These are very unhelpful when you’re trying to have excellent communication skills at the office and elsewhere.
So relax the muscles of your face and allow your face to take on natural expressions. Smile when you are greeting people. Allow your face to react with emotion when you’re listening to people. This helps with developing & strengthening your relationships.
Repeat & Rephrase
It’s always a good idea to confirm the messages of your clients & coworkers. If your client has just conveyed what he wants or your boss just gave you some direction, rephrase it to make sure you are crystal clear about what they mean. Nearly every time, it’ll help the speaker to clarify with a bit more precision.
Leadership Communication Skills
I talk a lot about this with my manager and C-level clients. You need to have leadership communication skills to manage your team at work effectively. Authority & warmth need to emanate from you. That means absolutely no whiny voices. Record yourself to hear what you sound like and then fix it. That also means absolutely no upspeak or glottal fry.
You know what upspeak is, right? It’s when you use yes/no question intonation at the end of your declarative sentences. What does that do to your listener? It makes their brain decide if what you’ve just said is true or not. If you pepper your speech with it, nobody will take you seriously at all.
Your Leader Voice needs to be direct, authoritative & warm. Your body language needs to be friendly & open—also, no over-reacting or getting upset. Always be relaxed & calm. If you’re getting upset, that means you need to do my relaxation exercises.
Kindness Counts in the Workplace (And Elsewhere)
There are many ways in which we can hurt people using our communication skills. And then, there are also solutions to those communicative problems. Let’s address both in no particular order.
When attempting to get others to realize how smart they are, some people can be pretty aggressive in their speech—talking over others, being somewhat repetitive, and perhaps dismissive in their manner. Make sure this isn’t you by recording yourself in meetings & on your side of the phone conversation.
If someone who is under your leadership communicates in that fashion, perhaps they are unaware. But that person may be causing much conflict with their coworkers. Their coworkers may feel like they are being singled out or being mistreated. It’s up to you to address this with your employee. Don’t allow him or her to take up all the talking space. Ask them to try to use a kinder voice.
Of course, when delivering not-so-pleasant news to someone do it with love, & in private.
Learn to Deliver Bad News
Giving someone bad news is, unfortunately, a part of working with a team.
There are ways to do it without losing sleep worrying about it and hurting the other person (too much.)
Click here to learn how to deliver bad news with aplomb.
Introversion & Shyness Impact Communication Skills in the Workplace
I’ve heard people say, “Since I never talk to anyone or hang out with my colleagues, they just know I’m shy.” They may not know that you’re shy. If you’re not speaking to people, they may think you don’t like them. That will make them feel bad, yes?
Full disclosure: I was timid as a child. I’m still shy. But at one point growing up, I remember looking around at people and seeing their embarrassment, or their hopefulness or their fear just written all over their faces & body language, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t alone. That many or even most people often feel like I sometimes do! That’s pretty awesome.
Most of these feelings occur during communicative situations. Like when meeting new people, socializing at a party, introducing ourselves, speaking at a meeting. Something happens, and we can feel awkward or embarrassed. Unfortunately, some people react defensively and lash out, especially when this occurs in the workplace. We feel like our intelligence is being challenged.
In this situation, all we have to do is state what we’re feeling. Speak aloud that you are feeling challenged or awkward & guaranteed people will completely understand and admit they are feeling the same way. Or at least let you know that that wasn’t the case at all.
Many people use too many words to get their message across. We lose people’s attention when we are too wordy. That’s one thing we can’t risk in the workplace.
You are doing yourself a great disservice if you do not work on being concise every time you speak at work. Being concise is a big part of how communication can be improved.
Here’s how. Open the recording app on your phone:
- Record yourself saying something you need to say at your next meeting.
- Then listen to it and revise it.
- Take out passive language & redundancies.
- Finally, practice your edited version and then apply it at your next meeting.
You’ll be so surprised at how your colleagues will really listen to you.
That’s what it’s all about, right? Here’s a more comprehensive article on being concise.
Eye contact is so essential if you want to learn how to improve your communication skills at work. Make a point of looking directly into people’s eyes for at least 80% of your conversation with them. Your eyes should convey warmth, excitement, happiness & caring whenever possible. This is all part of learning how to improve your communication skills at work.
Are you the limp/dead fish handshaker or the power grip? Neither is good. You want a firm, warm handshake. You can even touch the back of the person’s hand with your other hand. Or touch their shoulder. Touching is excellent for strong relationships provided it doesn’t fall into creepy, predatory status.
Develop fun handshakes with your colleagues & clients, anyone at your peer level or below. It makes your greetings more interesting & enjoyable. Thereby improving your relationships. 🙂
Yes, Do Improve Your Communication Skills at Work
Improving your communication skills at work is of the utmost importance. We should always be working to foster better communication skills & finding ways to add kindness, warmth & authority to our communication style.
Remember, we only need authority when in our wheelhouses. Let go of a need for strength when others are speaking about topics in their area of expertise.
Click here to learn to be more authoritative.
The Psychology of Communication Skills
Here I am about to beat you up a bit. We often mistakenly equate our communication skills with our identity. We will say things like, “Well that’s just what I sound like.” or “That’s just how my voice sounds.” or, “I was born like this, I can’t change it. Others have to change the way they think of my voice & speech.”
This way of thinking about our communication skills is to our detriment. Firstly, we were not born with our communication skills. We learned them. Some things we learned well, others not-so-much. We learned them only by subconsciously observing rather than being taught in school. (with the exception of parts of speech & some writing skills-but actual speaking skills are learned by observation.
The people whom you know, or know of, who are extraordinary communicators have worked on their skills to one degree or another. The people who you’ve heard speaking publicly who’ve really crushed their presentations have likely hired a coach & practiced quite a bit. Chances are there are other areas of communicating at which they’re not as successful.
How Our Voices Impact Our Communication Skills at Work (and Everywhere Else)
Your voice has a significant impact on how people perceive your message. Huge. It can send all the wrong signals, all the right signals, or somewhere on that spectrum. “They” say that your “tone of voice” is 80% of your communicative message whereas your words are only 20%. You can control a room with just your voice. So if you want to improve your communication skills at work (and elsewhere) work on opening up your voice. Removing the physiological impact that stress has on your vocal mechanism.
Most of us allow the physiological tension within our vocal mechanisms to hinder our voices. I know I did! I just worked for a couple of months in my life (what a crazy short time!) to eliminate the tension in my throat and it resulted in my being more comfortable in anxiety-ridden situations. Win/win! I got an authoritative voice, and I’m comfortable in anxiety-provoking communicative situations? Wow! That’s amazing!
Improve Your Communication Skills at Work
We have a general pervasive misconception in our society that to improve your communication skills we need to work on our articulation & diction. This is incorrect thinking. Working on our articulation makes us sound choppy & staccato. Articulation is not the answer. The same goes when people have an accent. People are taught (wrongly) that they must articulate each letter in every word. But English is a crazy language. One letter doesn’t equate to only one sound. Each letter can represent different sounds.
Take the word “computer” We actually pronounce it: k’mpyuder. What happened to the /o/ in “computer”? Where did it go? But, of course, you hear people with an accent or who are just trying to improve their communication skills over-articulating. Making their speech choppy and less able to build strong relationships.
How about the word: different? Do we say all 3 syllables? No, we don’t. We say, diffrin^ with a glottal stop sound at the end.
Take the word: intonation. It’s pronounced: int’neishn. Where’s the /o/ sound in this word? It’s gone.
An articulate person conveys their message, communicates their message in a crystal clear fashion. Somehow we’ve confused “being articulate” with the actual articulation of sounds. Although the words come from the same place, they have different meanings. So use lots of air for speech, use a back resonance, be concise, and PRACTICE!
We weren’t born with fantastic communication skills, and we have to work on them to make them awesome. Be sure to record yourself speaking, listen & assess your speech. Were you concise enough, or could you have used fewer words? Was your voice confidence-inspiring?
Then follow my methods. Refine your message and apply the above techniques to your new & improved message. You will soon be communicating like a rock star in the workplace!
I’d Love to Hear From You
Tell me about how you improve your communication skills at work. Do you shy away from making eye contact & shaking hands? Do you have fun anecdotes to share at work parties or are you a wallflower? What tricks do you have for improving your communication skills? Anything I should add?