Giddy-up, recruits! Today we’re bringing you a crash course on communication as part of our Soft Skills Training series. If you’ve only just joined us, please check out our introduction to soft skills.
In this hi-tech age of texting and Snapchat we are increasingly connected – but the quality of our communication is changing. It’s easy to become complacent; sending texts in place of a phone call or catching up over Facebook rather than meeting IRL.
When it comes to the workplace, the definition of good communication hasn’t changed post-internet. It’s as important as ever to have great face-to-face, telephone and written communication skills.
That’s why we’ve decided to devote this week’s soft skills training segment to communication. We’re going to show you how to demonstrate it from application through to your first week on the job, and what to do if you’re shy!
Soft Skills Training: What is Good Communication?
Simply put, communication means giving and receiving messages. We can exchange messages with others through verbal and nonverbal communication (body language, eye contact).
Everyone has different, idiosyncratic ways of communicating, e.g. an accent or a habit of gesticulating (talking with your hands).
While each of these factors can impact how other people will receive you, what counts as good communication is very broad. Typically a good communicator would demonstrate;
- - Listening skills
- - Eye contact
- - Clear speech
- - Open body language
- - A palatable tone of voice
In the workplace, employees need to have decent written communication skills too.
Soft Skills Training: Why Good Communication is Important
Other than work as an archivist, or grave-digging, there are very few jobs where you will enjoy minimal interaction with others.
Even as I write this, I sit alongside my two bosses and my web developer colleague. At some points in the day conversation with Matt, Aidan and Simon is unavoidable (especially prior to the coffee run or pizza order).
In the workplace, you are constantly around other people. Whether you’re in sales or research, you’ll have to liaise within your team and with clients – a broad spread of people from all walks of life. You’ll need to be able to represent your project to these people, you may need to deliver a presentation, you’ll need to understand which problems your client is facing to deliver solutions.
Good communication helps you rise to those challenges. It allows you to forge productive working relationships, advance ideas, avoid and resolve conflict, and most importantly helps you to bond with your team!
Ultimately, communication will underline the majority of your work activities regardless of your job title.
If you find communication difficult but you would like a normal job, pay attention to what comes next in this soft skills training segment. Alternatively head to Argos and invest in that spade because you, my friend, have a muddy future ahead of you as a grave digger.
Soft Skills: Communication at Work
As we’ve seen, communication is an inexorable fact of the workplace. It’s a soft skill, which means it’s something that should already exist within the character of an employee. It’s not something you could expect to receive at-work training in in the same way you might be shown how to use a particular piece of software (that’s called a hard skill).
For this reason, bosses will want to see you demonstrate excellent communication prior to a job offer. You can demonstrate written communication in various ways – your Stride bio, your e-mail exchanges prior to and post interview, your cover letter, how legibly you write out your name-tag at the group-recruitment evening…
You will also have opportunities to demonstrate great verbal communication skills prior to starting work; through your Stride video intro, on the telephone, at interview. Your firm handshake and steady eye contact is a great way to show off your nonverbal communication skills at interview, too.
Are You a Good Communicator?
No one is a flawless communicator, all the time. Do any of the following statements apply to you:
- - I sometimes accidentally talk over people
- - I rarely make eye contact
- - I sometimes need to ask people to repeat themselves
- - I am sometimes misunderstood
- - I often stand with my arms crossed
- - I sometimes zone out mid-conversation
- - I sometimes speak before I have gathered my thoughts
- - I am always right about everything
- - I sometimes wait for people to finish talking so I can start, without addressing what they’ve said
- - I don’t always say what I really think
The truth is, we all need to keep working to improve our communication skills. There are so many small factors which help us to build our picture of one another, that inevitably we will misrepresent, misread, or misunderstand at some point.
Poor communication can be the result of a number of factors. Perhaps you’re shy, perhaps you aren’t adapting to different situations, perhaps you completely lack self awareness and have no idea how you come across.
Safeguard yourself against poor communication and use the following soft skills training techniques to ensure you continue to improve!
Did you know that body language speaks the loudest? In a 1971 study of sales techniques, Albert Mehrabian observed that 93% of the time, nonverbal and paralinguistic cues influence the way we receive a message.
While the words you choose still have an enormous impact, your friendly smile, open body language and soothing tone of voice could almost make someone forget that you’re telling “yo mama…” jokes.
Good body language would include making good eye contact, giving a firm handshake, and keeping your fidgeting to a minimum for the duration of the conversation. If you’re meeting more than one person, continuing to address all persons present as you answer their questions would be another example of good body language.
If you’re in a group interview situation, try not to fold your arms!
In the workplace:
You might be trying to woo a client. Consider mirroring their body language, it forms a subconscious bond. You should try and stay focused and keep your posture open during meetings, too.
Time for a tea break? Here’s a funny example of fidgety, awkward, closed body language:
Tone of Voice:
The strength of your voice, the speed at which you speak, the volume of your voice; they’re all factors which can immediately turn the listener off or grab their attention. This is a really interesting article on improving the quality of your voice.
It’s also interesting to consider how to adapt your voice for different situations. Say you’re a salesperson pitching a product, and you’re using storytelling to engage your customer, speaking a fraction quieter will encourage them to come closer and pay closer attention – forging a more intimate connection.
If you’re mooting a point, you might want to enjoy your audience’s full attention. Make sure you hold court by speaking in a lower register, at a greater volume.
The eyes are the windows to the soul (don’t worry, we have plenty more cliches where that came from lined up in this soft skills training series…) Someone’s expression really can speak to you. If someone fails to look at you during a conversation, it doesn’t make you feel good and it doesn’t make you feel listened to.
Some people struggle to maintain eye contact, feeling shy or self-conscious. Like all things this behaviour gets easier with practice, so just start hitting people’s gaze! If you’re out of practice in the ol’ eye contact game, don’t overdo it and stare at people without blinking. This is aggressive and weird.
Try to hold your interviewer’s gaze. Doing so will build a subconscious rapport and mutually, you’ll be more interested in what the other person has to say. If you’re interviewed by more than one person, direct your eye contact towards a different person with every new point you make. This will make everyone feel included and engaged.
In the workplace:
By this point, eye contact should come naturally to you! Keep it up, and consider how you can pair this skill with active listening – thus rendering you a communication ninja.
When it comes to soft skills training, active listening is JobLab’s favourite communication behaviour. Actively listening goes beyond concentrating really hard on what another person is saying; when you practice active listening you give your co-communicator encouragement through small gestures such as nodding, smiling, and eye contact.
This technique will give the impression that you are bright, engaged, alert and interested. It will help you answer questions more thoroughly because you have genuinely engaged with the conversation. You’ll be more aware of subtext and enjoy a more reciprocal meeting.
In a group interview situation, employers will actually notice you, even though you’re not speaking. Giving others the floor is a gracious thing to do. When you do speak up, people will notice that though you’ve said less, what you are saying is considered and substantial.
In the workplace:
It’s a great practice because it makes the person you’re talking to feel listened to, fostering good will on their part. On a day when you might be feeling quiet, giving someone else the floor but remaining engaged is just as productive as waxing lyrical.
There are many situations where we end up feeling tongue-tied, or say the wrong thing altogether. Speaking with clarity is such an important part of communication.
People will obviously forgive you speaking imprecisely at times – most people do – but if you can practice this skill, it will put you ahead of the curve.
One method to improve your spoken clarity is to simply slow down. Use the time and space active listening buys you time to gather your thoughts. Some further tips can be found here.
E-mails, reports, social media management – adaptable written skills are vital in the job market. Employers ranked written communication skills are their third most important preferred skill. Obviously you have plenty of opportunity to show these skills off prior to interview, but what happens if you aren’t a confident penman?
Our number one tip to improve your written communication is to read more. Not only is reading sexy and cool, but you’ll gain a better understanding of syntax and grammar. What’s sexier and cooler than syntax and grammar?
You could also enlist a friend to proofread any really important documents. If they’re really nice, they’ll point out what you could do to make your writing even better. Failing that – enrol on a basic writing skills course; it really is an invaluable skill.
Never ASS-U-ME… Stay Open-Minded
It’s easy to let assumptions govern how we react to a situation or a person, especially as we become more experienced in dealing with people. It’s important not to let that happen, and to practice openness.
Communicate from a non-judgemental place and you’ll have more beneficial relationships with colleagues and anyone else with whom you cross paths. You’ll be more likely to listen to what someone is actually saying, rather than what you assume you’re hearing, and when you assume…
Presence and Energy:
This final section is more food for thought, in preparation for our next Soft Skills Training article which will discuss influence.
Part of being a good communicator is engaging the people you’re around and holding their interest. The kind of energy you bring to that situation will transfer onto your colleagues. If you’re tired and yawning, they might start to feel tired and worse still – bored. If you’re excited and passionate, your clients will believe you are that way for good reason.
A lot of “getting in the zone” comes down to self-belief. Self-belief comes from knowing yourself to be capable, but if you lack experience, that can feel hard to prove. In these instances, it’s worth adopting a fake-it-’til-you-make-it approach.
Patsy Rodenburg is an acting coach who conceptualised 3 “circles” of energy. It’s a little arty-farty, but there is certainly substance to the points she’s making – it works. Sometimes we have to put our best foot forward and “act” a little. We highly recommend this video:
That’s all for now folks! Check out our other Soft Skills Training piece on team working.
Who are we kidding? It’s Christmas! What are you going to do with all that spare time? Here are our top five free culture spots in London if you’re stuck for ways to keep the parents entertained.