Published on 6th June 2017
When looking at job adverts of any discipline, you will notice that one requirement in particular tends to come up again and again: “excellent communication skills”.
It’s hardly surprising that communication is so important for employers, as unless you work in a role where you are completely isolated from the world, you will need to be able to communicate.
But what do employers actually mean when they ask for “strong”, “excellent” or “first-rate” communication skills?
It is sometimes overlooked that some of the best communicators are also the best listeners. Listening involves taking the time to focus on other people’s views and ideas and asking questions to further understand their points.
Without listening, teamwork can suffer as there is a lack of unity and leadership skills can be hindered as some people could potentially feel ignored. Furthermore, in creative environments, brainstorming ideas and listening to multiple angles is an effective way of generating fresh new ideas. Without listening to teammates, there could be good ideas going to waste!
To listen effectively, it has been said that you must ‘actively listen’. This involves giving your full attention to the speaker and actually processing the information they are conveying. Merely hearing them speak whilst thinking of your own comments to retaliate with, is not an effective way of listening.
It is important to show the speaker that you are really listening to them. Nodding, smiling and making sure that you are not distracted are simple ways of conveying that you are engaged and focused on what they are saying.
Communication is not just about the words you are saying, it is also about how you are saying them.
Body language, eye contact, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice are key elements of communication. If you are slouched with your arms folded, failing to make eye contact and not looking engaged or focused on the conversation, this will communicate to the other party that you are disinterested in the matter and that you don’t care about their response or opinion.
Negative body language will inevitably lead to poor or misinterpreted communication.
A vital part of communicating skillfully is showing that you respect the person you are speaking with. Even if you have different views on a certain matter, it is important to show them that you are listening to and understanding what they are saying before making your own points.
In a face-to-face setting, you can show respect through your body language and tone of voice, by smiling and keeping a suggestive tone rather than trying a more authoritative approach.
Via email, it is recommended that you take the time to check the tone and composition of your message, as words can be more easily misconstrued, making sure it is well written and free from spelling mistakes.
You can also show respect by choosing the right medium to convey a message. More sensitive or complex messages should be conveyed via telephone or in person, as this allows you the chance to display immediate empathy or offer information to a number of questions more effectively and efficiently.
Accuracy and clarity
Effective communication involves conveying your message clearly, concisely and accurately. Waffling wastes time and dilutes your message – less is more! If you are prone to being long-winded, take the time to think about what you are going to say in advance rather than trying to stumble through a conversation.
As the above points demonstrate, being a strong communicator doesn’t necessarily mean you like to talk a lot, it covers a wide range of skills.
Rather than putting “excellent communications skills" on your CV, show employers you understand what they are looking for, e.g.: “I am an attentive listener” or “I am able to adapt the tone and style of my writing to suit my audience” and provide good working examples as evidence.
by Mathew Reeves