5 essential communication skills for personal and career success

Communication is a key part of our daily lives. We always communicate when we’re around other people, even if we’re not speaking. 

Communication skills are vital across our personal and professional lives. If your skills aren’t up to par, you might not be getting your point across. This can result in lost sales, customer disappointment and a confused, frustrated team. 

The good news? Learning effective communication is easier than you may think. 

With practice, you can develop many skills, such as active listening and emotional intelligence

Let’s get into tips to improve your professional and interpersonal communication skills.

What are communication skills?

Communication skills are your ability to exchange ideas, information and feelings. It includes things like:

  • understanding and using nonverbal communication,
  • active listening,
  • clearly expressing yourself and
  • adapting your communication to your audience. 

Essentially, it's the ability to say what you mean and have your audience understand you. You should be able to communicate through various mediums, such as in person, over Zoom, phone calls, emails and more.

Before we dig in deeper, let's examine some of the many types of communication skills.

Types of communication skills

There are several types of communication skills, so let’s review the top five:

Interpersonal communication skills

If you've ever met someone who gets along with everyone, they probably have excellent interpersonal skills. 

This allows them to communicate very effectively with others through verbal and nonverbal communication. 

They have great skills in areas like empathetic listening, an ability you can develop over time.

Verbal communication

Verbal communication is simply speaking. Combining it with other types of communication can have a big impact on how your audience responds.

Knowing what to say, how, and when to say it is a huge part of verbal communication. 

Sometimes, silence is better than speaking. At other times, you need to say it out loud. Learning to tell the difference can make you a better communicator.

Strong verbal communication includes being intentional with your tone, volume and words.

Nonverbal communication

We show what we're feeling through many facial expressions, such as frowning, looking away, or the way our eyes light up or dim. 

The same goes for other body parts, such as our feet. If you're speaking to someone, and your feet point toward the door, you're unconsciously sending the message you want to leave. 

Crossing our arms gives the impression that we're on the defense, while open arms imply we're listening.

According to the University of Texas, 55% of communication is nonverbal, 38% is vocal and only 7% is the words we speak. Vocal includes our tone and inflection.

This could explain why texts are less effective than phone calls and why calls don't have the impact of an in-person meeting. 

Many businesses prefer to meet over Zoom if they can't meet in person. We can gather more information when we see a person's face, even through a computer screen.

Becoming more aware of your nonverbal cues and how others interpret them can greatly improve your communication skills.

Presentation skills

Presentation skills are the ability to convey your message with confidence. They allow you to present something, communicate your thoughts effectively and make your audience understand your side. These skills can impact your team meetings, pitches and more.

Personal skills

Personal skills are key to good relationships with others, and developing these skills will make you more approachable. Employers are always looking for people with solid personal skills.

People with personal skills display critical thinking and interpersonal skills. They are flexible, dependable, motivated and problem-solvers. 

The importance of good communication skills

Good communication skills are crucial in many areas of life. We typically think of communication skills when giving a big presentation at work or going for a job interview, but they play a role everywhere. 

If you’re interviewing for a new role, communication skills can determine whether you get the job. While superior communication skills may not land you the job if your resume isn't as strong as someone else's, it will greatly improve your chances. 

However, you may have all the qualifications for a promotion but miss out to someone less experienced because you can't communicate effectively.

In our personal lives, communication skills can be the difference between great relationships and constant arguments. Clear, open communication ensures everyone’s on the same page and reduces misunderstandings, whether you’re talking to family, loved ones or employees.

How to improve your communication skills

Practice is the best way to improve any skill, and communication is no exception. You can read articles, ask questions and watch videos online, but until you practice, your skills won’t significantly improve. 

To boost your communication, focus on several skills, such as building emotional intelligence, practicing active listening, and preparing ahead of time. 

Instead of viewing this list and thinking it's too much, pick one skill at a time to focus on. Once you've grown in that area, pick another skill. This will help improve your communication skills.

Be clear and concise

Many people lose their train of thought and jump from topic to topic, which can frustrate their listeners. It's crucial to be clear and precise in business.

To do this, craft a beginning, middle and end. Begin with the problem, elaborate on it, provide ways to solve it and wrap things up with a brief recap. 

Instead of sharing something completely off-topic, skip it. You only have a certain amount of time before you lose your audience's attention. John Medina, a molecular biologist, claims people lose focus after 10 minutes. So make sure you get the vital information out quickly. 

Prepare ahead of time

Even if you aren't the type to write your speech down, ensure you have a general idea of what you will say. This will hold your audience’s attention better than scrambling for your thoughts.

Beyond writing down your speech or preparing it beforehand, you can prepare by understanding your audience. Consider who you will be speaking to for a presentation that will hold their attention.

Some audiences will understand jargon, while others need plain English. You wouldn't communicate with primary school students the same way you would a room full of doctors. 

Research is key. You can use the internet to your advantage to: 

  • look up industry news,
  • learn from other presenters who have spoken about a similar topic and 
  • discover facts that aren't common knowledge yet. 

It’s also your chance to explore what may come up in your presentation, especially during the question-and-answer session. It can ensure you aren't caught off guard with questions you didn't prepare for.

Be mindful of nonverbal communication

When practicing nonverbal communication, watch yourself in the mirror. This will help you be mindful of your body language and check in with it during conversations. 

Are you getting hot? Is your heart racing? Do you feel cold and clammy? These signs could mean you’re displaying some off-putting nonverbal communication that you need to correct. 

You also need to be aware of your audience’s nonverbal communication. Do they look dazed? Are they looking down or checking their phones? If so, you’ve lost your audience. Mix things up to regain their attention. 

You can use many tactics to adjust your nonverbal communication, even when you feel stressed or anxious. Smiling can make you more approachable and put you at ease. You can also mirror who you’re speaking to. If they’ve crossed their arms, cross yours. 

There are also techniques for shifting your audience's energy when their nonverbal cues demonstrate disinterest or an issue with what you’re presenting. 

To re-engage the audience, ask them questions, move around more, or tell a funny story. You can also use the show-and-tell technique during presentations, ensuring your audience hangs on your every word. 

Watch your tone

To have an effective tone, be loud and confident. Don't yell, stutter or speak so quietly that no one can hear you. These will quickly lose your audience, so go in confident.

Your audience needs to hear you speak and know you believe what you’re saying. An uncertain tone can cause confusion.

Keep in mind what topic you’re addressing. An upbeat, cheerful tone isn't appropriate if you're talking about the risks of drinking and driving. You want something more solemn. 

On the other hand, if you're trying to excite a group of athletes for the upcoming game, you don't want to sound like you're delivering a eulogy for the coach. 

Tone doesn’t just apply to speaking. You also need to watch your tone in written communication. Many people read words in capital letters as YELLING, which can unintentionally stir up trouble. 

Your written word choice is important because your audience can’t see any nonverbal communication. You may say something jokingly that comes across as aggressive. 

If in doubt, get someone to proofread any written comms before you hit send or read it out loud.

Practice active listening

When you're actively listening, you focus on the words and interact with the speaker. Without active listening, you may hear words without understanding their various meanings. 

To show others you’re actively listening, you can nod when appropriate, ask questions and rephrase what they said. This shows the speaker you care about what they’re saying, and asking questions can clear up any confusion.

True active listening also means tuning out distractions (including your thoughts of what to say next) and being fully present to hear what others say.

Build your emotional intelligence

This is a two-part deal. The first part of learning emotional intelligence is understanding your emotions. Figure out what your triggers are, and learn how to manage them.

If talking about a certain subject makes you angry or anxious, find strategies for using these emotions to your advantage instead of lashing out at someone else.

The other side of this coin is learning to recognize other people's emotions. Knowing how others feel is part of being a leader. 

Even if you can't empathize because you haven't experienced something, your nonverbal communication, active listening and tone can still convey compassion and understanding.

Emotional intelligence also includes understanding how someone may feel when they hear or read a message. 

Even if you’re not actively communicating face-to-face, emotional intelligence can help you consider others’ feelings before writing or speaking to them. This can reduce stress, miscommunications and anxiety for everyone.

Develop a workplace communication strategy

Gossip is a natural part of the workplace, but it shouldn't be the go-to for communication. 

People shouldn’t hear about important events through the rumor mill. You need a set of standards about who hears what, when they hear it and who they can tell it to.

For example, big news needs to go to the managers first. Then, they can tell those under them, and the news can trickle down to your teams. 

People with questions need to be able to ask someone directly rather than seeking advice from those who may not have the full details.

You also need to decide how to communicate specific information. Sometimes, a text is fine. At other times, you need to sit everyone down and have a face-to-face discussion. Having procedures in place can streamline your process. 

Offer vital information and news in a format where you can answer any questions and address concerns. This is ideal for sharing details quickly and efficiently while reducing worry and confusion.

Create a positive organizational culture

Very few people enjoy coming to work when it's all gloom and doom. Creating a positive workplace culture can bolster employees and make them feel valued. To do this, use the steps we've just gone over.

When everyone feels comfortable communicating and airing concerns, they feel more at ease, even if they don't like the subject or things don't go their way.

Don't let things turn into a gloom fest when dealing with people's concerns. That doesn’t mean ignoring negativity—it means acting on issues and asking for feedback.

If everyone complains and nothing changes, you’ll lose the positive culture you're trying to build. Openly communicating and taking action can create an organization where everyone enjoys working.

If you want to learn more about communicating better to improve your relationships with your teams and take your presentations to the next level, we can help. Get started today with the Storyteller Tactics Deck.


How long does it take to learn communication skills?

Everyone’s different. The more you practice your communication skills, the better they will get, and you’ll never completely stop growing. 

How can you practice your communication skills? ‎

Many experts recommend practicing in the mirror. This gives you the chance to see yourself as others will. Once you get comfortable with that, practice with friends and family. 

What are signs that someone has bad communication skills?

There are several signs someone can't communicate well. They speak over others, their tone is too aggressive or too soft, they aren't mindful of nonverbal cues, and they aren't clear.

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