There is only one skill-set applicable across every industry and to every person, no matter their role: communication. Think about it: our communication skills (both verbal communication and nonverbal communication) impact every stage and aspect of our lives – from our interpersonal communication and socialization as kids to our career opportunities and collaboration skills as adults.
What this article covers:
Writing a cover letter? That’s communication. Asking for a raise? Communication. Proving a point at a family dinner? Communication. Attempting to motivate direct reports? You guessed it, more communication. These are pivotal moments in one’s life that can make or break personal relationships and professional development opportunities. But for decades, many have bundled communication skills into soft skills, or confined them in a box labeled “written communication”.
Make no mistake, written communication is critical for workplace communication success too, but effective communication goes far beyond a pen and paper or a keyboard.
Effective communication even goes beyond verbal communication! Achieving strong communication skills requires the mastery of nonverbal cues like hand gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and tone of voice in addition to listening skills and emotional intelligence.
Only when we take every facet of communication into consideration is it possible to truly take our communication skills to the next level. And by improving communication, we improve our lives and the lives around us. Yep – it’s a pretty big deal.
But first, we listen!
If you’re wondering how listening skills affect our ability to communicate, remember: communication is a two-way (and sometimes multi-lane) street. Good communication doesn’t happen in a silo. If you’re not paying attention or taking the time to implement active listening skills, how can you expect to express your ideas in a way that will earn the trust and respect of others?
Compelling, clear, and concise communication often depends on your ability to connect with those you’re talking to and find out what matters to them.
How does one do this, you ask? Making eye contact and asking open-ended questions is a good place to start. These seemingly minor verbal and nonverbal cues signify that you’re paying attention, which helps build rapport. Let’s talk more about how nonverbal cues impact our communication skills.
Active listening is just the first step in putting effective communication skills into practice. (And ultimately, it’s less about active listening and more about Adaptive Listening™ – a small, but important difference…trust us.)
As mentioned, nonverbal signals play just as big of a role in achieving strong communication skills as verbal communication does. That’s because it’s not just our words that convey emotions and attitudes – our bodies do too. And although body language can improve communication skills, it’s possible to use negative body language that works to your detriment too. We’ll get into that.
Effective communication skills: the body language basics
Here’s the tricky part: body language is sometimes expressed subconsciously – making it difficult, but not impossible, to master. Creating awareness is key. Once you’re aware of your own body language and the body language of others, it will do wonders for your nonverbal communication abilities. Let’s review the body language basics so you can improve your communication skills and relationships in the workplace and elsewhere:
We give away a lot of emotional information with our faces. There’s a reason that poker players strive for a ‘poker face’ – a neutral or emotionless expression – so they don’t indicate whether they have a good or bad hand.
When it comes to communication in the workplace, though, a poker face can come across as cold, uncaring, or confusing. On the other hand, if someone on the leadership team starts a meeting with a smile, most employees would assume that she’s in a good mood, right? And if the corners of her mouth are turned down in a frown, you may fear she’s about to share some ominous news. That’s the power of our facial expressions – they communicate what’s on your mind before you even utter a word. With that said, if you’re interested in developing strong communication skills, you must be cognizant of what your face communicates.
Eye contact is another one of the most powerful nonverbal cues. Making eye contact can signal interest, attention, and sincerity, while avoiding eye contact can signal shyness, disinterest, or dishonesty. However, making too much eye contact, or staring, can make others feel uncomfortable. When speaking to a group, it’s important to try and make eye contact with everyone in the room.
Sources say you should try maintaining eye contact for around 4-5 seconds per person, and hold eye contact 50% of the time while speaking versus 70% of the time while listening. However, different countries have different social and cultural norms, so always double-check if you’re communicating abroad.
Gestures add emphasis and clarity to our words, helping to convey meaning and emotion. Some folks are naturally inclined to talk with their hands, which often improves communication skills. After all, keeping your arms locked in place when speaking looks robotic and unnatural. But using your arms too much can be distracting!
So, when it comes to using gestures to communicate effectively, the goal is to use them intentionally. For example, making a rainbow motion with your hand above your head can signal a brighter future or a big idea, while shrugging your shoulders can signal uncertainty. Next time you’re speaking to someone, pay close attention to whether you use your body a lot when you speak, or barely at all.
Tone of voice
Tone of voice isn’t what you say but how you say it. Typically, tone is easily heard and understood. After all, it doesn’t take long to determine whether someone is speaking in a friendly tone or, a not-so-friendly one. If your colleague says they’ll be happy to work on a project over the weekend, but their tone comes across as snarky or sarcastic, it signals a disconnect between what they’re saying and their true feelings. Or, if a keynote speaker says ‘I’m so excited to be here’, but their tone is completely deadpan, the audience isn’t likely to be convinced, or excited themselves. These are just two examples of how tone can negatively impact your credibility as a communicator. For the most effective communication, the tone should match the message.
It’s not always easy to control our nonverbal signals. We can’t go back and edit them like we do with written communications. It takes time, practice, and a lot of emotional intelligence. But nonverbal cues cannot be ignored if you wish to leverage strong communication skills.
We’ve looked at the importance of nonverbal and verbal communication skills as a way to drive your personal growth or strengthen workplace communication more broadly, but let’s turn to the value of having a strong communications strategy when it comes to internal communication.
You can learn a lot about your company culture by studying the channels of employee engagement. What is the employee experience when it comes to two-way communication? Are workforce communications enhancing productivity, creating more efficient conversations with real-time feedback? Are the common tool choices simply requiring more training without the added benefit of better performance?
When it comes to communications best practices, the most effective way to guarantee that your company is producing a consistent message is to work from the inside out. In other words, internal communications are critical.
Let’s look at three ways your internal comms are (or are not) delivering your company’s vision:
Your intranet is ultra-important
An endless stream of articles have been written about employee communications and the communication tools you need to ensure that your company culture and your business goals stay in sync. Being able to keep your employees and staff connected in a world increasingly geared toward remote and hybrid work must be a top priority for all organizations.
While there has been much debate about productivity in the workplace with the move to remote, conflicting studies matter far less than the immediate pressures of keeping your workforce connected. Think of employee engagement as a kind of employee advocacy. Employees want the flexibility to choose where they work, but they don’t want to lose out on the employee experience. They want you to provide the best communication tools so that distance doesn’t leave them feeling disconnected.
Keep employees in the loop so no one gets left out.
You may not be thinking that internal employee communication has much to do with your external branding, but the reality is that messaging from external or internal communicators produces an on-going feedback loop that shapes how everyone sees and experiences your organization.
An important way to strengthen these channels is to make sure your employees feel they share a common knowledge base when it comes to company news, campaigns on behalf of management, and even social media strategies that your teams are pushing as a part of a larger communication strategy. While you may see much of this communication as external, you might be surprised how often employees feel like they are the last to know about critical messages and campaigns because their department feels isolated from the larger company. Calling an All Staff meeting or sending out a memo is an easy way to make sure you involve employees and get them up to date on company news, which in turn makes them feel more invested in and valued by their workplace. You can also utilize one streamlined instant messaging channel or website where you broadcast and store important messages including company origin, purpose, and values stories.
Cultivating internal culture is critical for communication success, too
Last, but certainly not least, organizational culture is a critical facet of internal communication. At Duarte, we’re intentional about maintaining remote connections. We conduct annual kickoff meetings and quarterly updates to discuss how we are executing on our large-scale mission and vision. In addition to communicating company-wide updates and goals, we ensure that everyone has the opportunity to mingle and get to know each other. We conclude every All Staff meeting with a round of speed stories so that employees can interact across teams and departments. This instills a sense of belonging and promotes internal communication despite the fact that we’re a remote workforce. You may even want to consider creating a dedicated ‘Culture Team’, or ‘Rec Department’ as we call it, to host regular team building activities and events.
By embracing a communication strategy that promotes the value of internal communication and culture as much as it focuses on external communication, we create opportunities to elevate organizational communication across the board.
We previously addressed the value of consistent internal communication, so let’s now turn to external business communication. Of course, this is a broad category: everything from public relations to digital marketing to customer service gets folded into this kind of outreach. There is also the delicate balance of keeping external stakeholders informed with a constant stream of press releases, company news, conferences and live events.
A one-size-fits-all communication strategy is not an option! Whether you are increasing brand awareness or avoiding negative fallout with tactical crisis communications on social media, you need your nonverbal, presentational and interpersonal skills practiced, polished and ready to deploy at any time.
You might not think of these power skills coming into play here. And while we can certainly empathize, we must respectfully say…it’s time to think again!
Reference any business writing manual and they will tell you about the 7 C’s of effective business writing, but some of those same principles apply here as well. Whether speaking to a potential customer or redesigning your brand images, clarity, conciseness, concreteness, and consideration are all communication skills and strategies that will increase your connection with your audience, demonstrate greater emotional intelligence, and, perhaps, unsurprisingly, elevate your business communication as a whole.
Where to focus your communications skills training
Productivity in the Workplace
Communication Tools and Training
Industry Conferences & Learning Opportunities
When it’s time to improve your communication skills
We’ve covered the basics of how to communicate effectively internally and externally, but with new generations coming through the ranks and new hybrid communication hoops to jump through, organizations cannot remain complacent when it comes to communication skills training.
Investing in your company’s communication skills and communication strategy will always be money well spent.
Not only is soft skills training a tool for employee retention and enhanced company culture, but according to Harvard Business School Online, inadequate communication can actually cost you money – an average of $64.2 million per year for large companies. It’s easy to see how communication skills can make or break the employee and customer experience – yet Human Resources departments often allocate their professional development budgets to technical skills courses. By doing so, organizations are leaving money – and potential – on the table.
The rising need for more effective communication in the workplace is evident from the increasing amount of communication courses available online. It may even feel overwhelming to choose between the abundant amount of communication courses out there. Online courses include both on-demand professional development courses where learners watch a downloadable video and gain a certificate of completion and online live courses that are more interactive and collaborative. It comes down to knowing what your employees want, and what your organization needs.
The Duarte’s Method’s focus on putting your audience first and moving them to your desired outcome helps you in:
Now that more workers are returning to the office, there’s an expectation to speak in front of colleagues again. This is a source of new anxiety as many no longer feel confident in their persuasive speaking skills.
The good news is, in this hybrid world, you have an opportunity to develop both in-person and online communication skills that can set you apart from the rest. It is a smart investment in your personal and professional development that will pay off tenfold as you start learning how to improve your public speaking skills regardless of medium or mode.
Polishing your communication skills with Duarte
At Duarte, our communication consultants are really your solution architects. It doesn’t matter if the challenge is a business transformation or increasing employee engagement by driving culture change; as your collaborative partner, we’ll help you develop a holistic approach.
With a specific focus on leadership communication, we’ve worked with 84% of the top US-based tech companies and world-renowned brands, developing or redesigning critical messaging—everything from technical reports to marketing communications.
Working in industries as diverse as financial services, healthcare, and technology, our teams work to elevate an organization’s business strategy, helping change communications internally and externally through content strategy, design, and communication coaching services.
Our clients value our philosophy of creative problem-solving and leading with empathy. That’s why our business partnerships not only get results, they frequently become long-term working relationships.
Duarte’s approach to communication training for employees
Communication skills are at the heart of every high-performing team. But it’s also clear that effective communication in the workplace doesn’t always come naturally. Fortunately, you can set yourself and your team members up for success with skills training designed to propel your workplace communication forward.
A shared training experience doesn’t just improve communication for your team. Attending a course together can also help you:
- Establish a common language to make faster decisions
- Break down silos and find cross-team efficiencies
- Adopt a unified, repeatable process for improved internal and external communication
- Boost emotional intelligence, team culture, and employee retention
- Build a team of communication change agents in your organization
- Create a new customer service approach
- Identify conflict-resolution strategies
Our courses, workshops, and trainings are all rooted in The Duarte Method, which our consultants use daily with the biggest brands in the world. But we don’t believe in a ‘one-size fits-all’ approach. Our expert facilitators and coaches offer personalized support and will flex to meet your individual needs.
|OUR TRAININGS||ARE PERFECT FOR…|
|Slide:ology®||Visual thinking – When you need to apply design principles to convert ideas into effective visuals and slides.|
|VisualStory®||Incorporating story and visuals – When you need to use design thinking to organize your content, then transform ideas into a visual storyboard for your presentation.|
|Captivate™||Public speaking – When you’ve finished your research, crafted relevant and compelling content, and even created stunning slides. But you still need to deliver perfectly.|
|Resonate®||Story structure for presentations – When you spent weeks gathering quotes, facts, rationale—everything you think you need to make your point. But when you stand up in the conference room, your idea seems to fizzle away, despite your big effort.|
|Illuminate™||Change communication – When you need to drive organizational transformation by overcoming fear and skepticism with authentic, emotional, audience-centric communication.|
|Duarte DataStory®||Storytelling using data – When you need to communicate data in a way that inspires action.|
|Adaptive Listening™||Interpersonal communication – When you need to improve working relationships and better connect with leaders, peers, direct reports, and external stakeholders.|
|Speaker Coaching||Personalized speaker coaching – When you‘re having difficulty moving your audience to action, want to run your presentation by an expert, or seek personalized presentation feedback.|
These specialized courses and trainings provide ways to improve all aspects of communication, from listening skills to written communication to speech delivery.
Whether you’re a manager looking to level up your leadership skills, or a data scientist seeking techniques to build better professional relationships – our highly participatory workshops use a mix of instruction, examples, and live coaching sessions so you can immediately put your new skills to practice and achieve your communication goals.