Marissa Taffer
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A quick Google search for “communication skills” will return over 774,000,000 results. Why is this such a hot topic, and why are so many people looking to up their game when it comes to communication? Good communicators make better leaders, go further in their careers and are more respected in work and life.

Why it pays to be a good communicator.

Good communication is important in every facet of our lives. On one extreme is appropriate signage for hazards like a wet floor, broken glass or live wires— these can literally save lives.  

In our careers, good communication can mean clear directions for work assignments, which will help you and your team avoid emergency late nights in the office. While working late isn’t life-threatening it certainly threatens work-life balance! 

In a leadership role, you can use communication to inspire your team, sell an idea or make a big change in your department or the business.

Being a good communicator is essential in roles like sales and marketing, where you’re literally telling stories to help people see a need to spend money. We all know what a lousy sales pitch sounds like but what about a great brand story? If you close your eyes and picture a hot Starbucks drink, a new iPhone or the perfect pair of jeans, you’re probably telling yourself the brand story.

Additionally, memories are a powerful vehicle for communication. Reminding you of traditions like your grandmother's apple pie, family heirloom Christmas ornaments or a special toy you got as a child will make you eager to go to the store and buy the ingredients for the pie, an ornament to pass on to your child or that special toy for someone else in your life at the holidays. This is all through the power of communication. 

If you’re looking to keep people safe, grow in your career or sell a product, service or idea, it is important to have good communication skills. 

4 Steps for honing your communication skills.

1. Understand your audience.

Different people like to be communicated with in different ways. Some managers just want the bullet points, whereas others like a lot of detail. Some people want to meet face to face, but others prefer email or Slack. Make sure you know how people prefer to communicate. When you start a new role or meet with a new member of your team, it is a good practice to ask them how they like to be communicated with. You can also set up recurring meetings to help facilitate regular face to face meetings or calls. That way it's always on your calendar and top of mind. There's nothing worse than realizing you wanted to meet with someone and forgot for six weeks! 

2. Ask for feedback.

Ask your boss, peers or direct reports for feedback on both your verbal and written communication regularly. This could be part of a formal performance review or informally as a casual question after a meeting. You could say “What did you think of that meeting?” You could also ask about how they perceived someone else in the meeting — for example, “What did you think of Gary’s presentation? I thought he used too much jargon and since I am not on the marketing team, I had no idea what he was talking about half the time. I had to Google almost every other word.”

3. Check to make sure that your audience understood you.

Ask questions and get feedback from the person you’re communicating with to ensure they understood what you told them, There's nothing worse than thinking you explicitly told someone what you expect and having them misunderstand or not listen. Before you leave a meeting, make sure that everyone is clear on the next steps. There's nothing more frustrating than having a good meeting and no one knowing what to do next. By confirming all of the next steps from the meeting and who is responsible, you take away the possibility of confusion or work not getting done because of ambiguity. You may also want to keep records or minutes, so you have something to refer back to. This is especially helpful if a member of your team is often late with work or turns in assignments with errors repeatedly. You could try to schedule a meeting with them and review all of the meeting notes — reminding them what they had agreed to and when. 

4. Listen.

The best communicators are also great listeners. Practice active listening and make sure you hear what others are really saying. Don’t just listen to respond. A big part of being a great communicator is listening to others. You may want to interject with some phrases like, “That is so interesting” or ask them to tell you more to help them feel heard. You can also thank people for sharing their stories with you. People like to talk about themselves and share their stories, and one of the most generous gifts you can give someone is that of your time and attention. 

Take every opportunity to test your communication skills. In order to improve, try to communicate in different ways. Don’t just rely on texting or email. Be sure to communicate face to face, over the phone and with other kinds of writing. You can even try expressing your opinions and ideas through a blog post or by recording a podcast on a topic you find interesting. There are so many ways to communicate now, so be sure not to limit yourself.

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