10 Communication skills you need for work and life

Communication is a vital Young Professional skill that comes in many forms. It’s okay to find some forms easier than others! Here are 10 communication skills you might not have thought of before, but they are all possible to learn and improve.

1. Asking clearly for what you want

You cannot reasonably expect other people to read your mind! Even if you think what you want from someone is extremely obvious, they might not see it at all because people are very different. So expressing what you need from someone clearly and unambiguously is the quickest and most effective way to actually get it. At home, this might look like telling your partner “I’m working late on Tuesday, can you sort out dinner that night please?” At work, it might be telling your colleague “I really need that report by Friday so I can plan for the sales meeting please, will you be able to do that?”

2. Clarity

Clarity just means being clear. That is, saying exactly what you intend to say – not waffling or being vague. If you feel as though you’re not being properly understood, ask yourself if you’re being as clear as you could be. Think about what you want to express before you say it. Try to say it in as few words as possible – one of my writing tutors always used to say “don’t use ten words when one will do!” And don’t be upset or annoyed if someone asks you for clarification on something you’ve said.

3. Putting things in writing if they’re hard to say

Sometimes things can be difficult to say out loud, or hard to put into words in the moment. Writing them down can be an incredibly useful alternative. This might take the form of sending someone a letter (or, more realistically, an email) or just writing everything down to get your thoughts in order before you speak to them in person. Next time you feel you want to say something important to someone but can’t find the words, try writing it down instead. The beauty of writing is you can edit and reword as many times as you need to to get the message right.

4. Pausing to think before you speak

“Think before you speak” is something most of us are told as children but surprisingly few of us are good at as adults. If you want to add something to a conversation or push back on something someone has said, practice pausing for five to ten seconds, taking a deep breath, and really considering exactly what you want to express. This will stop you from blurting out the first thing that comes into your head and regretting it. Thinking before you speak is a big part of critical thinking, which is a skill employers look for in any candidate for any job.

5. Walking away if things are getting heated and coming back later

Walking away from an argument or disagreement can feel impossible in the moment. You can feel overwhelmed by the thought that “I have to resolve this NOW!” But this tends to lead to things getting more and more heated until they become impossible to resolve productively. Practice saying something like “I think we’re both getting very stressed here, so I’m going to suggest we come back to this conversation in an hour when we’re both feeling calmer.”

6. Using “I” statements

This means using statements like “I think” or “I feel.” It shows you’re taking ownership of your feelings and not casting blame or accusations onto somebody else. An example at home might be “I’m frustrated that I had to do extra housework at the end of a long day” rather than “you never do the hoovering!” An example at work might be “I’m concerned about the extra burden that will place on my team” rather than “you’re pushing your responsibilities off onto us!” The message is there, but it comes across as giving information rather than making an accusation.

7. Avoiding overgeneralising

This means almost any sentence containing the words “always” or “never.” These types of sweeping generalisations are rarely true, and even more rarely helpful. If something is happening repeatedly that is frustrating you, you can express that and talk about it. But “I occasionally feel as though my contributions are minimised” is much better than “Boss, you never give me any credit for my ideas!”

8. Speaking up if you get spoken over

Unfortunately, this is still something that happens and it especially happens to women and to younger employees. Professionally but firmly pushing back if someone speaks over you is an important skill that will get you a long way in the workplace. Try sentences such as “I wasn’t quite finished” or “I want to hear your response, but please let me finish first” if someone tries to jump in and speak over you.

9. Admitting when you’re wrong

People are often afraid to admit when they’re wrong because they worry it will undermine their credibility or make them look less intelligent or capable. Actually, the effect is completely the opposite. Humility is important and underrated. Learn how to say “I was wrong” or even just “I’m sorry” will get you a long way. Admitting when you’re wrong and learning from mistakes is all about being able to bounce back from situations with resilience.

10. Active listening

Communication isn’t just about what you say! It’s also about how you listen to other people and their input. Practice really listening to someone else, not just waiting your own turn to speak. This is called active listening. Practice positive body language, like turning towards someone, or  nodding to show you understand. Avoid being distracted while they’re talking (repeatedly looking at your phone, staring out of the window, and so on.) Asking well thought out follow-up questions is also a great way to show that you are listening and care what the other person has to say, especially if they are open-ended questions.

What communication skills do you want to start using every day?

If you want to improve your skills, try this free course from the Open University on Effective Communication in the Workplace. You can also search for instructional videos on Youtube, read more articles like this one, or even ask if your workplace would be willing to send you on some training courses.

Communication is an absolutely essential skill in life…

Whether you’re thinking about interpersonal relationships with your friends, family and partner, or your professional relationships at work and school, communication is the number one thing you need to help them thrive. However, communication also isn’t just one thing. It encompasses a number of different skills. Some of these may come more easily to you than others – that’s okay! There’s actually no such thing as a naturally “good” or “bad” communicator. It’s all just learned skills that you can practice or pick up, same as anything else.

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