Express yourself with confidence, verbally and in writing. Score with the top 10 popular and subtle communication skills for online work and in-person interactions.
Communication at the workplace has always been multi-faceted, but it is also predominantly digital now. With remote work and distributed teams, freelance and contract work, the bulk of our communication has moved online, and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. Phone, email, Hangout, Zoom, WhatsApp, Slack, Skype etc, the avenues to connect virtually are immense, and each requires its own set of skills. That’s what makes thinking about the ‘How’ of skills in communication even more important now.
What are communication skills?
Communication is the transmission of information and your communication skills are your attributes or qualities that determine the effectiveness of that exchange. These can be verbal, nonverbal, written or visualizations, and go beyond conversation, involving speaking, listening, observing and empathizing.
Communication skills are consistently ranked as one of the top-3 skills valued by recruiters. In fact, the phrase “Have excellent written and oral communication skills,” a place of honor in practically every job description out there.
Why are communication skills important?
Communication skills are the top interpersonal skills that are vital for succeeding in today’s workplace. Basically, what we say, how we say it, and how we carry ourselves, all add up. Our ability to communicate well, is in fact, one of the top ways to build credibility and trust in the least amount of time. People are instantly attracted to companies and individuals whose message resonates with them. Think of the colleague you checked out who spoke well at a Zoom meeting, or someone whose witty tweet made you look them up.
In the workplace, when you share information clearly and thoroughly, you avoid conflict, frustration, and unnecessary back-and-forths. Effective communication skills hasten decision-making and break down barriers. They give you the confidence to advance in your career, and be competitive when searching for new jobs, or doing client outreach.
Which brings us to the question – how can you improve your communication skills in a digital-first environment, as well as highlight them on your resume? How can you show off your awesome interpersonal skills and market yourself and your ideas skillfully?
10 ways to Empower yourself at work by building your skills in communication
For most of us, communication in a single day can happen across multiple touchpoints. We skip from a phone call to chatting on Slack, to shooting an email before hopping on to a Zoom meeting. Here are some ways to harness your strengths across the various means of communication, broken down into audio/video, written, and general skills.
Verbal and non-verbal communication skills (Audio & Video)
Interviews, Presentations, meetings, discovery calls, appraisals, are all increasingly happening via phone and video. The ideas below will give you some food for thought on how to improve your communication skills, especially in virtual interactions.
Sharpen your virtual handshake
In the absence of the ubiquitous physical handshake, have you given thought to your virtual greeting? How can you make a strong impression from that first hello? It’s kind of like honing your elevator pitch for any given interaction, on any given day. So, before heading to those important meetings or calls, practice your virtual introduction. Make it short, but relevant to the situation and audience.
This is also where I make the case for small talk – casual conversations that can be an integral part of your virtual handshake. Even though work is business as usual, we are all human and we like to work with people we like, and can connect with on some level. Small talk helps you break the ice, extend relationships with colleagues, and build rapport with clients.
Your LinkedIn Profile Headline often serves as a virtual introduction.
Is your messaging impactful?
Showcase your Active Listening Skills
Listening is more than hearing- it involves intention and focus. Listening skills are a highly valued soft skill sought by all employers, making them an essential requirement on a resume. Attentive listening is a skill to be cultivated, as it validates the speaker and encourages them to share more, thereby increasing your influence.
Improving your listening skills is all about being more self-aware. This is a skill you need to work on, if you occasionally catch your mind drifting in a conversation. Or you listen just long enough to identify how you are going to respond. I find that repeating what the other person is saying in my mind, reinforces their words and keeps me focused. Maintaining eye contact, nodding in agreement and avoiding glancing at your phone or watch, are other methods to improve your conscious listening skills.
When in conversations, indulge in pauses that allow the other person to contribute, and recap key facts to demonstrate your attentiveness. If you truly make an effort to listen, follow-up questions come naturally. What works for me is visualizing and mentally highlighting phrases or actions that jump out while conversing. Then I zoom into those elements of the conversation for elaboration.
While you can demonstrate your listening skills in people interactions, how do you show your listening skills on a resume? Here are two examples to give you some food for thought.
Consistently working to make customers feel heard, validated, recognized, and valued, I helped improve our Net Promoter Score by 12 percentage points.
Invited team members’ to share grievances monthly, and solved problems 28% faster than other team averages.
Ask Powerful questions
Relevant questions are a byproduct of your active listening skills. The soul of effective communication skills is asking the right questions to stimulate conversations. It shows that you listened and understood what was communicated. Open-ended questions that don’t simply require a yes or no work better as they allow you to continue the conversation and solicit more information. By trying to gain more information in a conversation, you gain control, answers, and acceptance by the other party.
So, how can you ask better questions?
It starts with cultivating genuine curiosity for understanding others, their situations, background and motives.
Research the topic, client or company in question. Do your homework on proposals and projects. When in doubt, take a minute to frame your questions. When you are creating an element of dissent or asking an uncomfortable question, focus on the message and keep the language neutral and inoffensive.
Tip: I find that making notes while conversing helps with both strengthening your listening skills and asking relevant questions.
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Dance with Cadence
The rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words aka your cadence is an often-overlooked skill in communication. The first time I heard myself talk after a recorded event, I realized two things – I talked too fast, and was guilty of overusing filler words like ‘you know’ and ‘umm..’
The delivery of your words matters. Our vocal delivery dictates how we are perceived and understood, especially when we only have few opportunities to make an impression. A client we work with, the founder of a rapidly scaling startup gave us feedback on a potential hire, after a telephone conversation. Despite the resume fit, he believed the candidate talked too slow and lacked the passion and drive required for a high-intensity leadership role.
So a clear way to improve this would be to record yourself doing a phone or Zoom interview for example and then evaluating your speech patterns. Look for pitch, volume, speed, fillers, emphasis, pausing, etc. You can only improve what you can measure, so this is a great self-assessment tool.
Read: How can you use speech to persuade, compel and convert? More than public speaking – 4 lessons I learned doing a TED talk.
Activate body language
It’s called language for a reason – it communicates. Talking, listening, writing – your body language impacts every communication you undertake, even those behind a screen. How we dress, the gestures we make, are subtle, unintentional ways of communication that oftentimes speak the loudest. Even when a conversation is without video, our body language, the way we sit, the way we feel is intuitively obvious at the other end. An upright posture, smiling, leaning in, etc. are all facets of our nonverbal communication skills that strengthen our verbal message.
Effective nonverbal communication can be a critical skill for career advancement. An upright posture, and maintaining eye contact, for example, impacts all our communication by subtly transmitting leadership and confidence. By commanding a power-pose, we can make ourselves actually feel more powerful. Smiling often conveys pleasantness and positive energy. Patti Wood, a body language expert believes that because nonverbal cues are sent primarily from the “emotional brain” rather than the neocortex, they create more honest and revealing messages.
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Writing skills in communication
Next, let’s address the importance of good writing in communication skills. Persuasion and getting your point across clearly are two hallmarks of effective written communication skills. You don’t need to be a prolific writer to succeed at the workplace, but you do need writing skills that create a favorable impact. Whether you are writing a cover letter for your resume, or business communication for a client outreach, your words matter.
Get bare-bones clear
Speak plainly with simple words and simple sentences. Writer and marketer Julian Shapiro says, “simple language doesn’t weaken ideas. It strengthens them by helping what matters stand out.” All it means is that we don’t need to sugar-coat ideas for them to work. Also keep your writing concise by erasing every unnecessary word, repetition and fluff. We are in an attention economy and the best way to thank someone for their attention is giving them the facts- fast.
Whether it’s an email, a message, a memo or report, start with an end in mind and make it actionable with a specific request, or call to action towards the end. Clarity and brevity in writing are extremely valued communication skills in both professional and business settings.
Grammar & Tone
Success in written communication skills relies on grammar, punctuation and word choice. While tone and word choice are personal, being correct with grammar is a universal requirement for any job. Unfortunately, grammatical errors signal unprofessionalism, and incorrect grammar usage often creates a negative impression right off the bat. Fortunately, tools like Grammarly as well as in-built grammar checkers in programs like Word can help you with this.
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Additionally, emojis, memes, and gifs are now ingrained in our culture. But they do convey a sense of familiarity and informality. So, use these in accordance with the type of communication and the intended recipient.
What about your tone? Can you take the help of a peer, colleague, or mentor to help you analyze your writing communication and determine your tone? Does it come across as too bullish or overly apologetic? For work and business purposes, a confident and courteous tone is a good north star. The tone of the cover letter for your resume, for example, should be professional, positive, and upbeat. Conversational writing (where the writer has a conversation with the reader) is also desired but err on the side of formal.
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Practicing good netiquette in your digital engagements often gets a back seat, especially when speed is of the essence, or disagreements are in the air. On the flip side, there are inadvertent oversights that come across as very impolite. Whether speaking or writing, take a moment to consider if your words can be rephrased for softening the impact. If you REALLY need to interrupt conversations, can you start with an ‘excuse me’? Also, be mindful of your non-verbal cues- frowns, disdain, smirks, etc.
I’ve had the fortune of working alongside great bosses and peers who have inspired me with their restraint and courtesy, even under the most pressing circumstances.
The one common lesson I’ve learned from them – when in doubt, being polite is the route!
Start every communication with the question- ‘What’s in it for them?” Your listening skills discussed above help you immensely with cultivating empathy. Understanding what drives other people’s actions is a key skill at the workplace. If you can teach yourself to look at another person’s perspective, then you can tailor all your communication towards a more productive outcome.
I’ve had a pretty good successful outreach rate with my email communication each time I have made the time to think hard on “What’s in it for them?” For preparing a recent sales deck, our team had a mandate to make a list of potential answers to this same question. Think of it before you draft that cover letter for a job or seek a mentor. It pays (literally), to start with empathy.
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Customers, prospects, networking contacts, and colleagues, no matter whom you are interacting with, personalization is an awesome communication skill. Using a person’s name in conversation creates a culture of respect, recognition, and consideration for the discussion. Making the time to remember names, and finding out the likes and interests of a person creates connections in surprising ways.
A friend who is an avid soccer fan, nailed his sales meeting with a new client by simply researching about him. He discovered via social media that they supported the same team and used that as an ice-breaker. Needless to say, after a few minutes of intense soccer discussions, the client was happy to discuss business.
Similarly, if you personalize your emails and tailor your Linkedin messages with some research on the individual, it shows your level of care and interest.
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The good news is that with awareness and perseverance, all the communication skills discussed above can be developed, and improved. Even celebrities and business leaders are known to work with coaches in order to become more effective communicators. If digital is the way forward, we need to mindfully invest in improving our skills in online communication. After all, netiquette demands virtual interactions that maintain a personal connection.
You can’t use up creativity. The more you create, the more you have.
A Designer, Entrepreneur & US Patent Holder, Aditi graduated from a top design school and subsequently started her own design and merchandising business. Co-founder at Maroon Oak, she has over 17 years of business experience with Two Dotts, her design consulting company and an Etsy store which serves as an outlet for her gifts and patented product designs.
A mother to a teen and a tween, she enjoys running, dancing and raising her forever baby, a Bichon named Miltie.