In fact, “great communication skills” is one of the most often cited requirements for jobs across industries.
But what exactly are great communication skills? How are they used in everyday life? And how can you improve this set of interpersonal skills?
What Are Communication Skills?
In short: communication skills are not what you think. When you think of communication skills, you probably think of speaking. Speaking is one way of communicating, but it is not the only way, and it certainly is not the only communication skill.
According to the National Joint Committee for the Communicative Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities, communication can be defined as, “Any act by which one person gives to or receives from another person information about that person’s needs, desires, perceptions, knowledge, or affective states. Communication may be intentional or unintentional, may involve conventional or unconventional signals, may take linguistic or nonlinguistic forms, and may occur through spoken or other modes.”
Therefore, communication skills include active methods of communication, such as speaking or writing. They also include passive methods of communication, like listening and reading.
How Are Communication Skills Used in Everyday Life?
In today’s world of fast-paced technology, there are many more ways to communicate than ever before. Today, we communicate by:
- Speaking to someone over the telephone
- Video conferencing
- Writing emails
- Writing posts on social networking sites
- Sending pictures or icons via text message, email, or social networking site post
- In-Person speaking and listening
We also must not forget about all that we communicate without the spoken word. In fact, in all of the previous situations there are non-verbal forms of communication.
Non-verbal communication is the communication we send by our actions, tone of voice, etc. Sometimes our non-verbal communication sends messages that corroborate what our verbal or primary message is saying. Sometimes, our nonverbal communication sends messages that contradict what our verbal or primary message is saying. Below are a few common forms of nonverbal communication:
- Making gestures, like shrugging your shoulders or wringing your hands, when you speak.
- Making facial expressions, like rolling your eyes or raising your eyebrows, when you speak.
- Speaking at an exaggeratedly fast or slow pace or inflecting your tone low or high when you speak.
- Using emoticons or capital letters when you type.
In many cases, we are not even aware that we are communicating nonverbally. In fact, nonverbal communication is often at fault for instances of miscommunication.
Skills that are deceptively simple (but not really)
Communication is one example of an interpersonal skill you may just think of as taking turns listening and speaking, but there is a lot more to this soft skill. Hand gestures, eye contact, body language and even the ability to bring into play spatial separation are components of the communication process.
Did you know that humans consider personal space to be a four-foot radius that others should not invade without invitation? Get closer than this during a meeting and the message you seek to convey gets lost over the violation of this unspoken-rule.
Cultural values also determine the effectiveness of the communication process. Highly tactile cultures do not mind but invite touching during communication. Less tactile cultures consider a touch during business communication to be highly inappropriate.
Also hampering effective communication are stereotypes, prejudices and language barriers. As an educated individual, you may not consider yourself to suffer from a language barrier, but you may be incorrect.
Just as a student of British English will have to spend quite a bit of time to understand the American use of the language, a professional who is new to an industry may have to take the time to get used to new terminology. Even social groups have their own lingo, and effective communication relies on the ability to understand and use the lingo appropriately.
Granted, this discussion of communication as an interpersonal skill only scratches the surface. Nevertheless, even in this short space you have noted how many different facets determine successful communication attempts. At the same time, there is ample room for failure. Other soft skills feature similar intricacies. Further complicating matters are societal changes that lead to application changes of the soft skills.
How can I Improve My Communication Skills?
Because there are so many forms of communication, the best way to start to improve your communication skills is to determine which skills you struggle with. Sometimes, people struggle with all active communication skills or all passive communication skills. In other instances, individuals struggle with an individual skill, like listening or writing. Finally, some individuals may struggle with a certain skill in a specific situation. For example, many people struggle with speaking in public or writing under pressure.
Once you have identified the area that you need to work on the most, begin by forcing yourself to try that type of communication in low stakes situations. If you struggle with speaking in public, join a public speaking group of others who struggle this way. If you struggle with listening, commit to being quiet and being and active listener. Keep a journal of each of these encounters — analyze them, and make a plan for the next encounter. As you master one area, move on to another. It’s slow going, but it’s the best way to produce an effective, long-lasting change.