The Importance of Effective Communication Skills
Each year we survey employers about what they seek in candidates for internship and job openings. Communication is ranked among the top three most important qualities for employers. This module introduces you to some best practices around professional communication.
Step 1 – Learn
Read the overview of best practices for conducting business on the phone.
Step 2 – Practice and Analyze
Create a fun video of yourself telling a short story. Then you will look for communication patterns and habits you can build on.
Face-To-Face Communication Module
Introduction: Putting Your Game Face On
Have you seen this diagram before or something like it?
Body language and tone are just as important as the words you speak. Your communication style must be congruent with your tone, face, and posture in a work setting. Sometimes we have to think about how we come across to others so that our message is understood and free from distractions.
What do the experts say?
Communication is about the sender and receiver.
Experts talk about five fundamental communication issues:
- Encoding-Decoding: A sender encodes the message based on the intended meaning; a receiver decodes the news based on their understanding. We have succeeded in communicating only when the message translated is the same as the original idea.
- Intention: The sender must craft the message to clarify the intended meaning; the receiver must understand the intent.
- Perception: What you know, believe, and feel is based on prior experiences. People experience the world differently. Therefore, communicators must consider each person’s perspectives when they encode and decode messages. For example, a college student’s perception differs from a five-year-old’s, so we adjust our language, tone, and body language to fit the situation.
- Dialogue: Communication is a collaborative process. It would be best if you worked together to achieve successful communication. If one person does not collaborate, communication breaks down. This happens in politics when we listen to only one side of an argument.
- Noise: Did you ever try talking to someone while standing next to a jackhammer? It is impossible. Noise is anything that distorts the message, whether physical (like a jackhammer), jargon (like slang), inappropriate body language (like not facing you), facial expression (like a frown), inattention (like texting while you’re talking), disinterest (like yawning), and cultural differences (like accents or eye contact). Can you recall an incident where noise made understanding impossible?
What About Content?
Words matter. It doesn’t take much to offend someone (create noise). As an employee, indiscriminate words reflect poorly on you and your workgroup. Think before you speak, and put yourself in the listener’s shoes before you talk. Have you ever heard someone at work use words or tell stories that offend you? Never use off-color humor, stereotyping, profanity, and criticism of others.
Encoding (Word Choice)
Remember that noise can subvert the point of your message. Using poor grammar may undermine how knowledgeable you come across. Using abusive or off-color language is always unexpected and offensive.
Non-verbal elements include your tone and body language. To communicate effectively and avoid misunderstandings, you must understand the importance of nonverbal signals. Whether tone or body language, your nonverbal cues can affect your message in these ways:
- You can repeat your verbal message when you yell, “Do not!”
- Can contradict your verbal message; frowning and say everything is fine.
- Can substitute for your message. Your eyes and eyebrows can often convey a more vivid message than words.
- May add to or complement your message, saying “congratulations.”
- May accent or underline your message. Shrugging your shoulders or clasping your hands together can reinforce a message.
Friendly people make us feel good. Grouchy people upset us. The difference between the two is tone. Tone includes volume, emotion, and emphasis. Just listen to people talk in a language you do not speak. You can tell if they are friends or competitors simply by tone. When you are at work, always adopt a friendly and positive manner.
Speech Habits in American Youth Culture
There are four typical habits that supervisors usually do not like:
- Overuse of “like” or “you know”
- The Growl/Vocal Fry
- Overuse of filler words
“Uptalk” is an everyday speech pattern when the student ends a sentence with a rise in the voice that sounds like a question.
Saying “like” or “you know” several times in a sentence can be very distracting. The listener can lose the speaker’s train of thought and sometimes conclude that the speaker is unsure of themselves and their statements.
The growl/vocal fry occurs when students end their sentences in a tone that pops or growls. To some supervisors, it creates an impression of insincerity or shallowness.
Almost everyone uses an “um” when they talk now and then. But when overused, the listener gets impatient, leading to interruptions.
Body language cues include eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and touch.
It is critical to remember that cultural differences influence body language and its interpretation. What may be evident in one culture can mean something different in another culture. Eye contact is a typical example. In the American majority culture, we are taught that looking people in the eye shows confidence and respect. In other cultures, the opposite is true: looking at a person’s face can be disrespectful.
Eliminate distractions that will get in the way of listening. If warranted, provide a private setting.
TIP: If your attention is drawn away during an interaction, it is okay to let the speaker know that you were distracted for a moment. If you admit that you checked out for a bit and ask for clarification, the speaker will know that you were trying to listen and may appreciate you admitting to your brief lapse.
The key is to be respectful and work to serve your customer as best you can.
In short, your goal is to:
- Convey your part of the content clearly
- With well-defined intentions
- While taking into account the perspective of your fellow participant(s)
- Considering the context
Verbal communication is just as important in your personal life as in your professional life. By improving your verbal communication skills, you will connect, build rapport, earn respect, and gain influence, and your message will likely be better understood.
Step 2 – Application
- Think of the information you provide or deliver to a typical customer or colleague. Maybe it is explaining a policy or a process or procedure. Pick something that takes at least a minute to get across.
- Encode your message (write out the content). Use precise language and organize it for understanding. Come up with a closing remark requiring your customers to indicate their knowledge level or invite them to ask questions.
- Record yourself on your laptop camera or phone – practice imparting the abovementioned content. Keep adjusting your tone and body language until you get an approach that:
- It helps you communicate expertise, respect, and interest.
- It supports the real meaning behind your words.
Talk to a mirror if you cannot find a camera to record yourself.
Step 3 – Reflection
- What are some of the most common messages you have to communicate verbally in your job?
- Which of these messages are the most challenging? Or, which ones do customers tend to misunderstand most often?
- What changes did you make in your non-verbal presentation?
- Did you communicate in an empathic, inclusive manner and avoid insulting anyone?
- List three things you recorded or practiced in front of the mirror that improved the message.