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Business communication breakdown concept. Lack of communication skills. Businessmen drawing speech balloons on chalkboard.

How to improve communication skills

Possessing advanced communication skills can unlock doors in the business world.

It’s integral to just about every element of conducting business – from winning investment, pitching to buyers and collaborating on projects, to building customer bases, promoting brands and inspiring workforces. In fact, according to recent research by Michael Page recruitment, communication is the most in-demand skill employers look for in new hires.

Our globalised world is currently at an interesting, and often challenging, crossroads in terms of communication. While technology has facilitated easier communication than ever before, it’s simultaneously created a society where connection is often compromised. The situation grows more nuanced as factors such as a cultural shift to remote working, a rise in digital and social media networking, and increasingly multigenerational, multicultural and international workforces are added to the mix.

The importance of communication skills in adapting to these new ways of working – and supporting team members to complete jobs to the best of their abilities – cannot be understated. If you’re worried your interpersonal skills aren’t quite up to scratch, don’t worry: there is plenty you can do to improve them and take your business dealings to the next level.

Why are strong communication skills important in the work environment?

We’ve all had experiences in our working lives where a miscommunication has negatively impacted business dealings. They can range from the minor – a ‘rude’ email from a stakeholder or an awkward interaction with a colleague in the kitchen, to the major – not landing a job interview for a role you really wanted or failing to land any of your main points in a big presentation.

Effective communication skills underpin day-to-day business successes – not simply for ourselves, but for our colleagues, customers, and the wider organisation.

Good communication skills can lead to a number of important business advantages:

  • Reduced conflict and tension
  • Connection and collaboration with others
  • Greater productivity and efficiency
  • Better relationships with clients and customers
  • Healthy workplace culture
  • Employee empowerment
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Stronger team relationships
  • Enhanced brand reputation.

It’s also one of the most important soft skills in the leadership skill set. Employees are far more likely to work hard for charismatic, open and engaging leaders who regularly communicate with teams and encourage two-way communication and discussion – and know how to handle their own emotions – to awkward, aloof, dismissive or even aggressive leaders who aren’t transparent, fail to share important details and handle personal interactions poorly.

As such, business owners and managers must prioritise effective communication in the work environment if they are to reap its benefits.

What are the main methods of workplace communication?

There are different types of communication in our work environments and they often require us to adapt as we engage in them.

The most common methods of workplace communication are:

  •   verbal communication – for example, speaking to colleagues in person in the workplace
  •   non-verbal communication – for example, using facial expressions and body language to convey our messages
  •   phone communication – for example, ringing a stakeholder to give them an update
  •   written communication – for example, writing emails, leaving memos and compiling reports and presentations.

Depending on our role and industry, we may engage in some types of communication more than others. However, having the ability to communicate effectively using any method is highly desirable and will help you achieve the best outcomes.

What are the most effective ways to improve communication skills?

Great communicators have honed their skills over years of experience and practice. While some people may be, or appear to be, enviably natural communicators, it’s nevertheless a teachable skill that all of us can work to improve.

So, where exactly should you start when thinking about improving your communication skills? Here are a handful of suggestions:

  1. Practice active listening. Do you consider yourself a good listener? Improving our active listening skills – where we engage more meaningfully when someone is speaking, allowing us to absorb more details and understand what they’re communicating (both verbally and non-verbally) in greater depth – is the cornerstone of effective interactions.
  2. Be aware of body language. What is your body language ‘saying’ to your colleagues and co-workers? Check your non-verbal signals – including eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions, posture, haptics, appearance, and proxemics. Non-verbal communication has the potential to reinforce or undermine our spoken communication, so make sure your actions and words correlate.
  3. Think before you speak/act. Did you hit ‘send’ on an email you should’ve removed your obvious frustration from, or deliver a clunky, confused update in a team meeting? It’s fine to take a moment’s pause before you speak or respond, rather than saying the first thing that comes to mind. Pay close attention to what you say and the words you use, as well as the way you say it. Think about what you want to communicate and the impression you want to give to the other person, as well as their reaction and how your words might be received.
  4. Keep it brief, but specific. Are you communicating the key points clearly or getting tangled up in insignificant details? Consider the language you’re using and speak plainly, avoiding business jargon and acronyms that aren’t widely understood, and ensure messages are being received and understood. As well as verbal communication, this is critically important in written communications to ensure recipients engage with key pieces of information – and always proofread emails before you send them.
  5. Be equal and inclusive. How would you like to be spoken to – both generally and in this situation? While we all communicate in different ways, it’s fundamental to treat everyone equally in your interactions. Consider the other person’s point of view and always ensure that everyone is treated respectfully.
  6. Choose the right communication method. Would a quick Slack message suffice or is this news better delivered face-to-face? Which type of communication method would get the best response from this individual? Taking time to plan your communications will generally lead to better outcomes.

Above all, maintain a positive attitude and practise continual self-awareness. We won’t all communicate perfectly all of the time, but reflecting on your communication style – assessing how others respond to what you say, how you say it or how you act – can provide insights and ideas of how to improve future communications.

Advance your business communication skills to get ahead in business

If you’re an aspiring leader or senior manager – or are skill development to support your own business venture – the University of Lincoln’s online MBA Leadership programme will set you on the path to success.

Equip yourself with the skills, tools and insights to lead business in fast-paced, changeable and highly competitive global environments. You’ll develop an in-depth appreciation of the issues and complexities of conducting business at the highest level, and gain the knowledge to apply all you’ve learned to find solutions to challenging, real-world scenarios. On a flexible, 100%-online course, you’ll explore key areas such as leadership and development, workforce planning, innovation, entrepreneurship, strategic decision-making, financial management, marketing, and more.