By Brianna Hansen, admissions and data coordinator for Cornerstone University’s Professional & Graduate Studies division.
Communication is critically important for advancing your career. Whether you are a public speaker or spend most of your workday interacting with a computer screen or a steering wheel, effective communication skills will serve you well.
From improving your customer service to creating better relationships with your boss and coworkers, the benefits of communication are both obvious and surprising. Good communication is essential to achieving your professional goals and to being heard and understood.
Of course, this raises an important question: how can you grow in communication? If it’s so important for your career, you need actionable steps you can implement immediately.
Here are eight methods for improving your communication.
1. LISTEN FIRST
Female professional having a conversation with a male professional at a table
The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success. —James Cash Penney
Have you ever worked with someone who is more than willing to share their opinion but isn’t interested in anyone else’s? It’s frustrating, right? They make you feel like nothing you say matters.
Communicating is a two-way street. Listening is the most important communication skill because it makes the other party feel heard and improves your understanding of the situation. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it’s critically important. Two-way communication simply can’t happen if you’re not attentively listening to others.
By waiting to listen before talking, you create a positive dynamic between you and anyone else in the conversation. Listening also creates trust, and if you give someone your undivided attention and listen with your entire body, you can build trust and empathy far quicker than any other communication method.
You also give yourself an opportunity to compose your thoughts before delving into your desired message, which is a critical aspect of effective, results-oriented communication.
2. ASK QUESTIONS SECOND
I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others. —Ruth Bader Ginsburg
There is no more explicit way to make someone feel heard than to ask them questions and, when possible, to repeat some of their main ideas back to them.
Not only does this help you get to know them better (and help you form memories of important details), it makes it clear that you are an intentional listener who is committed to fully understanding people and their needs.
And by reiterating some of their main points, you ensure that you truly understand the points they make. This is what’s often called “active listening.” Active listening is not just hearing a person’s words but processing and incorporating them into your own response.
3. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
Graphic showing head with two speech bubbles
There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. —Simon Sinek
Preparing for a conversation can be very helpful. It allows you to structure your thoughts, anticipate objections and consider how your words will be received.
In the conversation itself, there may be times when someone says something you instinctively disagree with. In those moments, pause before you respond. Take time to consider what they’re saying. Speaking rashly can lead to painful consequences for both you and the person hearing you.
If something upsets you, it may be best to not respond at all in the moment. Let your emotions pass and come back to the subject when you can speak in a calm, clear and helpful manner. The last thing you want to do is lash out against the other person.
4. BE YOURSELF
Communication—the human connection—is the key to personal and career success. —Paul J. Meyer
Many people are so focused on communicating “professionally” that they forget to communicate personally. You’ve seen it and maybe you’ve even done it. It often involves a person using a lot of jargon words that don’t actually mean much. If you find yourself using words and phrases like synergy, incentivize, outside the box, ideate or move the needle, you may be slipping into jargon talk.
Professionalism is important. But if you worry more about seeming professional than just being yourself, it’s easy to get overlooked in the hustle when people are forced to make decisions based on gut feelings.
In those situations, people turn to their subconscious, which bonds with personalities far more than with polished, impersonal jargon.
5. BRIEF IS BEST
Two adult males having a conversation at a table
Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people. —Jim Rohn
This may seem counterintuitive after the encouragement to listen, ask questions and slow down before making your statement or request. But there are several good reasons why being brief is best.
Aiming to be brief prevents you from making potential mistakes, trims the filler around your main purpose and leaves the other party with the sense that you listened far more than you spoke. Even if you make a big request, do it in fewer, smaller words.
Ever notice how much more believable stories are when there aren’t too many seemingly-impossible details in it? The same is true of your communication. Be honest and forthcoming, but also be straight to the point. Even if you have a large chunk of time for a conversation, devote most of it to listening.
6. BE ASSERTIVE
Honest communication is built on truth and integrity and upon respect of the one for the other. —Benjamin E. Mays
This is a fine but very important line to walk.
Many people mistakenly believe that being assertive or having an opinion in the workplace is bad. They choose to remain silent in hopes that they will be perceived as more agreeable, only to find that the people with louder opinions get more attention.
This isn’t always because they are annoying or controversial. Oftentimes, being assertive about your opinions can show that you are confident and care about the work you’re doing.
You don’t have to be uncooperative to offer an opinion, and there is a fine line between caring and seeming selfish. But not inserting your thoughts or opinion may is far more likely to make you seem uninterested or forgettable than to help you achieve your goals.
Simply be respectful and humble in the way you share your opinions and you’ll be heard without coming across as overly aggressive.
7. DON’T COMPLAIN, MAKE SUGGESTIONS
Close up photo of two individuals having coffee
Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. —Nathaniel Hawthorne
It is seemingly natural to complain when things are stressful, frustrating or not going according to plan. But instead of complaining, offer up helpful suggestions for what can be improved and how to do it.
Complaining is perceived as negative, while offering helpful feedback is perceived as being personally invested in the situation. Within reason, try to avoid complaining and instead offer positive, insightful suggestions.
You’re more likely to get results and leave a positive impression on those around you. Suggestions for improvement build teamwork, while complaints are perceived as selfish, even if everyone secretly agrees with you.
8. OFFER ENCOURAGEMENT
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble. —Yehuda Berg
Most of us think of encouragement as cheesy, awkward or simply hard to do. However, few things are more refreshing and motivating than simple compliments.
But you may notice that when someone does something well, and simply mentioning that from time to time is one of the most surefire ways to demonstrate that you are invested in other people and aren’t afraid of communicating that with them.
YOU CAN IMPROVE YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
The good news is that if you want to, you can improve your communication effectiveness by focusing on a few skills. A sincere desire to hear and be heard is a great place to start—after all, communication is a two-way street.
Start with listening and identifying a few areas that you could improve. Even if your primary goal is career advancement, you can’t fake good communication. So, slow down and commit to learning some of these valuable skills. There’s no limit to how much you can improve as a communicator, or how far that can take you.