Good communication skills will help you succeed in your career. But knowing when to pick up the phone, meet in person or send an email, along with how to best craft your message, can be challenging. While technical skills are important, your communication skills are what build the foundation for strong relationships within your network.
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"Good communication skills foster positive working relationships that lead to a better, more efficient and effective work environment,” says Tom Codd, vice chair and U.S. Human Capital Leader at PwC. “When you consider the significant portion of time spent with co-workers, good communication makes life more pleasant."
Communicating at work is different than in a social setting since you have to be able to be able to ask clarifying questions and give constructive feedback. “Being able to be upfront about issues and telling someone in a respectful way without making it personal is very important,” says Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of Human Resources at career website Indeed.com.
As you move ahead in your career, having good communication skills become even more important. “If you’re a good communicator, you will fit into any aspect of the business and it will help you move forward,” says Mike Erwin, senior career advisor for CareerBuilder.
Experts provide guidance on how to improve your communication skills.
What makes for good communication?
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"The key to effective communication is listening,” says Codd. “By taking the time to listen to our colleagues and really hear their perspective, we are able to better able to communicate our own point-of-view in a thoughtful way."
Asking questions also helps to show that you’re actively listening and engaged in the conversation at hand. “If you’re going into the meeting, make sure everyone has at least one question in their pocket to ask because that gives people a spotlight and some recognition while helping them become better communicators,” says Erwin.
Knowing your audience and being able to fit your style to that audience is at the core of how you communicate too. “Empathy hits home, but always try to put yourself in their shoes and whether your conversation will be a surprise to them,” says Wolfe. Put your message in perspective by considering how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end.
What’s the best way to communicate?
Each company promotes a preferred means of communication, whether that’s on email, an intranet system, chat, posting boards, social media like Twitter or Facebook, phones, or in person. “There are so many different forms of work communication,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor, “and you have to be aware of how people at your work communicate and adhere to that.” When you don’t follow convention, your message could get lost or miscommunicated.
"Different communications vehicles are appropriate for different situations,” says Codd. “Technology is great for quick exchanges of information, but certain messages are still best delivered in person."
Face-to-Face. Experts suggest meeting in person when you’re planning, brainstorming or tackling a tough business challenge, as well as those times when you need to give constructive feedback or have difficult conversations.
Hiding behind emails because you don’t want to see their reaction or are uncomfortable with the conversation isn’t the best solution, advises Wolfe. “Go have a conversation and be as transparent as possible. More often than not, that’ll get you a lot further.”
Email. This is a great way to send status updates, guidelines or goals to your coworkers. “Email has a purpose, and it makes it easier to send documents and to make sure larger groups are informed, but when email is too long, people are missing out on a lot of points that people are trying to communicate,” says Erwin.
Experts suggest addressing your note only to those who need to see the message and to provide the appropriate context. Since these messages can be open to interpretation, sometimes, a quick phone call or meeting is a better option.
Treat your emails and other electronic messages as you would social media. “Whatever you write on emails could be seen by anyone and you could be liable for what you write,” says Dobroski. “Your company owns the rights to your emails and certain emails may be inappropriate to the workplace.”
Video Calls. As an alternative to a phone call, video conferencing is a great way to make sure people are focused on the conversation and not distracted with other tasks. “Your coworkers will listen more carefully when they can actually see the other team members and know that they too can be seen,” says Nellie Borrero, managing director of Global Inclusion and Diversity at Accenture.
Are emojis and acronyms ever appropriate?
Not everyone understands the meaning of emojis and acronyms, and experts caution against using these at work, particularly with management. “Emojis, Internet acronyms and slang should be used sparingly when communicating with certain members of your senior level,” says Dobroski. “They’re looking for the next leaders of your workplace, and they’re looking for maturity.”
Should you communicate differently with senior colleagues?
“How you communicate with people should be consistent,” says Dobroski, “but your communication should be thoughtful, relevant to business, short and concise.”
Experts suggest maintaining the same tone as well. "Every person, regardless of title, deserves to communicated to with respect,” says Codd. “The level of formality may be different based on the individual's role in the organization, or the familiarity between the two individuals. As a general rule, when in doubt, err on the side of being more formal rather than less."