Communication skills

Improve your communication skills

What is communication skills?

At its simplest, communication means being able to convey a sense of meaning to another person or group of people and for it to be understood. Good communication skills, therefore, cover a wide range of activities, from conveying visual meaning in the form of symbols to talking and using body language. In short, there is no single definition of what communication skills really are. In the main, however, people refer to communication skills to discuss how people relate and interact with one another in daily life. In most cases, this means talking, but all other forms of communication, including digital and written work, must also be taken into account. Remember that good communication skills do not merely rely on making yourself heard but on being able to listen to what is being communicated to you just as much. This is because communication is always a two-way street to some extent.

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 Can communication skills be taught?

Yes, they can. Although communication might be thought of as an innate ability, it must always be acquired, usually in childhood. What is innate – in humans, at least – is the part of the brain that is devoted to communication. How we use this part of our neural networks will differ from person to person, however. Babies who are not exposed to verbal language, for example, will commonly find it harder to speak as toddlers than those who have been in earshot of people speaking for much of their infancy. People who feel their communication skills are below par can find numerous courses that are devoted to the subject, whether it is in public speaking confidence, foreign languages or improved literacy.

Why are communication skills important?

The question of why communication skills are important can be answered by looking at it from the perspective of not being able to communicate properly. This is because, without adequate skills in communication, we have the ability to be heard but not understood. With improved skills, it is possible to convey even more sophisticated messages to those around us. Some people with exceptional levels of communication adeptness will go into a career that is based on their skills, perhaps in a leadership position, in politics or as a spiritual leader. Without them, we are basically more alone. It is by communication that humans have managed to be so successful in living cooperatively, certainly compared to other species. Without good communication, misunderstandings are more likely, and this is the cause of much conflict in the world, many people would argue.

What communication skills do employers want?

Employers often say they want candidates with good communication skills without qualifying what they really mean by such a request. Unless it is a communications role you are after, which means that highly specialist skills in modern communications will be a prerequisite, what an employer really means is likely to include the ability to speak clearly, to put ideas together in a coherent and straightforward way as well as the ability to read and write to a reasonable level. Few employers mean they are only looking to hire an orator with the skills of Cicero when they ask for good levels of communicability. What it boils down to is operational efficiency. People who cannot communicate what they are doing well will cause their managers headaches as things will inevitably go wrong or be conducted without the right priorities being managed first.

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How can you improve your communication skills?

One of the most important things to improve your proficiency in communication is to slow down. Break ideas down and put them back together as simply as you can. Keep to everyday words and avoid jargon or technical language that only some people will be able to grasp. If you do need to use a technical word or two, then explain in the briefest terms possible what this refers to so that the people you are communicating with don't have to look it up themselves. Such explanations should give an overview and not be exhaustive in their detail, however. Pause after each sentence when you are speaking, and don't rely on your choice of words alone. Eye contact, a friendly stance and even a smile can all help you to communicate better.

Which are the main types of communication skills?

To answer which are the main types of skills that are associated with communication conventionally, you would have to say there are five categories. The first is verbal communication which means speech. The next is non-verbal communication which includes things like body language. Then, there is written communication which can come in the form of books, emails and anything else that is written down. The next category is visual communication which might mean symbols or even visual art in some senses. Finally, listening is a key communication skill. After all, good communication is not just about assertiveness but also empathy and having the confidence to pay attention as much as to put your message across. Some people would also choose to include family communication as a distinct type in its own right. This might be things like 'unsaid rules' around parenting and family conduct, which isn't always directly communicated.

What does non-aggressive communication skills mean?

Non-aggressive communication is another way of describing NVC non-violent communication. This is a methodology that uses the principles of non-violence and non-aggressiveness to help improve the quality of communication and to achieve less antagonistic outcomes. The basic idea is to develop skills in communication that mean things are expressed compassionately. Part of this will be to use empathy for the person you are communicating with while still being assertive. Using it, you might explain why you are asking someone to do something rather than just telling them to or requesting it, for example. The method is increasingly used by psychologists to help with certain mental health disorders. It is also used in educational settings, businesses and even among diplomats to help them communicate better. Part of this approach will mean utilising your emotional intelligence to communicate in a way that takes into account the feelings of others.

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What are examples of good communication skills?

As mentioned, NVC can help people to communicate with a greater level of emotional understanding with more confidence. Usually, this will involve empathy and authenticity when talking or writing something down as well as listening to counterarguments and other points of view. This must be done actively, however, if the communication is to work effectively. In some cases, skills with communication are not things that can always be learned from others directly. This is because some people innovate and use new means that others have yet to think of to communicate in novel and eye-catching ways. Typically, such people are artists and use their skills in communication through visual art, the written word, comedy or even, in some cases, through the medium of music to make their points. For most people, however, good communication consists of a level of assertiveness matched with the confidence to listen to others.

How can you improve communication skills at work?

If you want to know how to improve your communicability in the workplace, then the best place to start is by studying those people who you already consider to be good communicators. There is nothing wrong with mimicking their style. For the most part, communicating better in the workplace will mean making points directly and to the point without skirting around issues or going on for too long. If you need to give a presentation, for example, rehearse it beforehand so you can judge for yourself what to cut – most work presentations go on far too long. Say the words you have written down out loud, which will help you to cut down on stumbles and errors. Use bullet points in emails so written communications are more easily read. Emojis have their place with informal communications with colleagues, too, since they often help to convey tone more effectively than words.

What communication skills are important in parenting?

Being respectful when communicating with children is very important since younger kids can sometimes feel that their opinions and ideas are undervalued by parents. When parenting as a couple, it is often a good idea to 'be on the same page' so that children receive a consistent level of communication which helps them to know where they stand and where the boundaries are. As mentioned before, listening is a big part of communication, and this is certainly the case with children, both youngsters and teenagers. When children feel listened to, their self-esteem is likely to go up. They'll also feel more able to open up with problems and issues outside of the family, such as schoolwork, so they don't bottle up their worries. Remember that parenting is not all about leadership either, especially as kids get older. As such, like all forms of communication, talking with children should be a healthy two-way street.

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Can communication skills help build a friendship?

Asking whether greater communicability can help a friendship to grow, you would have to say yes, it can. This is because what communication is ultimately about is trust. When we say, write or visually present something, what we are doing is describing it somehow. The idea is to help the other person understand the thoughts and emotions we have inside, something that they'd have no insight into unless we communicated them to them. What humans are essentially doing by communicating is creating social cohesion. In other words, we communicate for our collective better outcomes. Part of this is bargaining and negotiating, yes, but it is all about building a rapport and, therefore, trust. In essence, we become friendlier with those we have built such rapport with. As such, friendship is really built on trust derived from successful communication.

How does being shy affect communication skills?

Being shy does not necessarily affect the ability to communicate well. Indeed, some extremely shy people are very effective communicators. However, what being shy can do to you is make it harder to overcome the period of initial contact you might have with someone else. Typically, a shy person would prefer to communicate non-verbally, to begin with, perhaps with a note or a text message, rather than to introduce themselves face-to-face. In the worst cases, shyness leads people to cut themselves off from others to some degree. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that they are bad at communication. It is just that some forms of communication are likely to be more effective than others for shy people. One thing that shy people can do is practice what they are going to say before they say it so they can get over the initial hurdle they feel when talking to someone for the first time.

How does mental health affect communication skills?

The question of mental health issues and communication is a vexed one. Some people find that their mental health condition(s) does not impact negatively on their skill with communication at all. Indeed, some famous writers have admitted that their condition might have even helped them with their work and assisted them to communicate better. That being said, for most people who suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression, mental health problems will typically make them less communicative and more willing to stay quiet and even avoid using body language. In cases of manic depression and other similar disorders, the reverse can be so with people being even more intensely communicative and even grandiose. Such episodes tend to be a one-way street, however, with the inability to listen properly being a common symptom of such disorders.

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Communication skills in summary

Even some people with good communication skills do not have the emotional intelligence to understand that listening to others is just as much a part of communicability as saying or writing something. When you do speak or write, it is crucial to think about what is being communicated from the receiving party's perspective. You already know what you think in an abstract sense. Ask yourself whether what you've said or written truly conveys this. It is surprising how many people in leadership roles assume what they have said has been understood without bothering to check. If you are not sure, then simply ask the person you are talking to or writing to whether they get it or not. If they don't, then this doesn't mean your skills in communication are not up to scratch, but you may need to put things in a different way to make them understood. Checking in and rewording something where necessary is a key communication skill – not evidence of the lack of skill.

The good news is that communication skills can be learned. Even people who are skilled communicators can continue to improve their skills by learning from others, too. Presenting ideas in the same way all the time is a bad approach, even if such methods have worked in the past. The reason for this is that the way people respond to communications changes over time as societal tastes and preferences shift. Always look for a new angle with your language use, chosen subject matters and body language to continue to communicate effectively. Remember that confidence and assertiveness help to get messages across well, but only when they are matched by empathy and authenticity. Without the latter, your communications may simply come across as too bossy.

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