Effective communication: 10 top tips

The ability to communicate effectively is fundamental to any job. Kevin Young (pictured below), vice-president and managing director, EMEA, at e-learning provider SkillSoft, offers his top tips for getting your message across.

When a recent survey asked a range of professionals what was the single most important skill they needed to do their job, the ability to communicate effectively came out top of the list.

The survey, carried out in support of Campaign for Learning’s Adult Learning Week, revealed that almost half of all respondents felt they needed to improve both their written and verbal communication capabilities.

It’s not surprising; a good communicator can help get things right first time, without mistakes, misunderstandings and missed opportunities. No wonder we all wish we were better at communicating.

The good news is that communications skills can be learnt. Of course, the term ‘communications’ has a huge reach – from personal conversations to presentations, from writing an e-mail to creating persuasive marketing copy, from a cold call to a warm handshake.

However, all communications have a few things in common, and as a starter we’ve distilled SkillSoft’s courses and online library on the topic to put together a few key tips:

  1. Are you an aggressive, passive or assertive communicator? The goal is to be the latter. Get to know yourself – maybe assertiveness training would help you hone your communication skills.
  2. Whether you are writing or talking, always tailor your communications to suit your audience and your relationship with them. Use words they will understand and common references they will appreciate. Be warm but respectful.
  3. Keep to the point. There’s no need to be abrupt, but you do need to be concise and direct. Don’t hide the key to your conversation in the middle of inconsequential chatter. Don’t presume your listener has some psychic way of knowing what’s important.
  4. Pay attention to the role body language pays in communicating your message. Be open, not defensive, in the way you stand.
  5. Watch where you position yourself in relation to your client or colleague. Some experts believe our ‘communications zones’ are culturally programmed – but a new business contact may feel uncomfortable if you stand as close to them as you would a trusted colleague. Be sensitive about giving people space.
  6. Listen, listen, listen.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand or need further details. Remember a conversation is an interactive event, not a one-way dialogue
  8. It helps to end a business discussion by summarising the main points and the decisions reached by the participants. Clarity now will help save much time further down the line.
  9. Plan tricky phone calls beforehand by deciding (but not scripting) exactly what you want to say and the goal of the call. It helps to stand up and smile when making an important call.
  10. Remember to give feedback to show you’ve been listening – even if it means summarising what they’ve said and repeating it back to them. Not only does this reassure the speaker that their remarks have registered with you, it also confirms that you have understood what they have been saying.

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