How to Improve Your Communication Skills Today
“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” Lawrence Clark Powell
Communication is an essential part of life, and when it breaks down misunderstandings, quarrels, and even wars break out. In a world increasingly overrun by casual online interaction, many people are wondering how to improve communication skills in both written and verbal formats and realizing that professional, fluent communication takes time and practice.
Whether you’re researching how to improve communication skills in the workplace or in relationships, this article will provide resources, links, and tips on how to improve your communication skills. It contains sections on:
- Business communication
- Social communication
- Improving your vocabulary
- Practicing your skills
Improving Business Communication
The Harvard Business Review claims that internal communication within a company is key to performance. This truth encompasses all levels of a company including you, which means that your clear and effective communication is integral to the company’s success. You should be constantly asking yourself “How can I improve my communication skills at work?” and finding ways to improve.
One of the best ways to improve your workplace communication is to learn from an expert. This can mean taking an online class, going to a professional development seminar on communication, or simply finding a mentor at your workplace. Your mentor can critique your speeches and business letters and share many years of experience on how to improve communication skills. But if you already have a mentor and want additional resources, here are some more tips on how to improve verbal communication skills and written communication skills in the business world.
According to csi.edu, the four methods of speech delivery are:
- Manuscript (read)
For our purposes, the extemporaneous and impromptu methods of delivery are most relevant. Extemporaneous delivery requires more thought and effort, but it can greatly reduce stress and improve the effectiveness of your communication. You’ll first outline what you want to say, then practice presenting the points on the outline and elaborating on them ad lib. For articles on organizing and presenting your speech, visit speakwithpresence.com.au. This form of presentation can be very effective in arenas such as:
- Public speaking (delivering an oral report or presentation)
- Training and teaching
For some parts of your job you’ll need to be able to communicate off-the-cuff. This will include areas such as:
- Workplace relationships
- Customer service
This sort of unprepared communication is called impromptu. You may be especially discouraged in this area if you’re shy, introverted, or insecure about your public image. Strategies for improving include:
- Having formulas. An opening formula is common sense when you’re answering the phone, but it can work for a cashier in retail situations or a customer service representative as well. A simple “Did you find everything all right today?” followed by “and how is your morning going?” can elicit appreciative responses from customers.
- Rehearsing the answers to common questions ahead of time. The more often you practice saying something, the more fluent you’ll be.
- Practicing small talk.
- Smiling! Sciencedaily.com claims that friendly smiles and greetings are the highest cause of customer loyalty toward small businesses.
For further help, you may want to get involved in community activities such as dramatic productions or book clubs where you can practice speaking out loud and communicating with your voice and whole body. Theater games involving improvisation are particularly helpful.
If you need to know how to improve communication skills at work, you may be thinking of that tricky business letter or perhaps a grant you wish had been more successful. Here are a few types of written communication, along with resources to help you learn how to communicate better in each format.
- Reports can be either oral or written. This Canadian website has a helpful step-by-step guide to preparing written reports, and includes advice on business letters as well.
- Another resource on business letters is this article on xerox.ca.
- Everyone needs a resume. Free resume workshops abound, and you can find resume tips, advice, and examples at this website.
- White papers can be written according to this handy guide by the Purdue OWL.
- Grants often have to be written to individualized specifications. Curtin University in Australia provides help and tips at this page.
Improving Social communication
If you’re wondering how to improve communication skills in a relationship, social interaction is what you need to work on. Communication in relationships is almost totally based on one-to-one communication, which should nearly always be more personalized and less formal than business communication.
Verbal social communication is one of the scariest things known to introverts. It’s sent many frustrated people home to Google “how to improve my communication skills” and caused many others to withdraw from society altogether. Some relevant social situations include the following:
- Phone calls
You can get away with writing an outline before placing a phone call (since your friend can’t see you from the other end of the phone) but for the other situations the best remedy is to practice until you get better at improvising (see the section on practice below).
Here are some free online resources to facilitate and improve your written social communication.
- Letters: Debretts.com provides British etiquette and advice on personal letters.
- Wedding invitations: After worrying about the fancy paper, matching envelopes and RSVP cards, template, and calligrapher, you don’t have time to stress over wedding invitation wording. Here is a helpful British article on choosing the best wording for your invitations.
- Texting: For those less involved in the world of texting, some acronyms and shortcuts may leave you very confused. Slang.org is a helpful resource that provides definitions for many texting acronyms.
Improving Your Vocabulary
A large vocabulary can enhance your comprehension as well as giving you more options when looking for just the right word to express what you mean. Fun ways to expand your vocabulary include vocabulary game and challenge sites and free vocabulary testing sites. Some of these include:
Remember, the point of increasing your vocabulary is to aid communication, so be careful when speaking or writing and don’t use an obscure word just because you know it. Use it if it enhances the clarity and impact of your message and if you have a reasonable expectation that your target audience will understand it.
Other ways you can expand your vocabulary include:
- Read books on vocabulary. Some people read the dictionary for this purpose, but if you don’t have the time for that you can try something more user-friendly, like Norman Lewis’s vocabulary book “Word Power Made Easy.”
- Read old books in general. Books by Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, popular in their day, are still well-written and interesting and can introduce you to words like “antiquary,” “requite,” and “quotidian,” some of which are more relevant to modern English usage than others, but all of which will improve your overall understanding of the English language.
- Read technical books in your profession to become more familiar with technical vocabulary.
Practicing Your Skills
Practice is a great way to solidify your skills in written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. Here are some ways you can practice each type.
- Read books. Read any books you like, so long as they’re well written. Try to notice what the author does to make it a good book. Over time you’ll get better at analyzing good writing and applying what you find to your own writing.
- Journal. Clearly summarizing, describing, and narrating the day’s events is great practice. From time to time, go back and read your journal to evaluate your communication and see whether it’s improving.
- Write multiple drafts. Anytime you’re composing a business letter, grant, lesson plan, or other important project, consider the first draft “practice.” Then learn from your mistakes, and your next revision will be greatly improved.
- Correspond. Do you have pen pals? Writing regular letters (or emails) to a friend is a social interaction exercise less stressful than going to parties and, if you let it, can be another means to improve your written communication skills.
- Practice speeches ahead of time. As mentioned above, this can make you sound much more confident and knowledgeable during your presentation, but it can also help you think through how to avoid awkward-sounding sentences and how to make fluent transitions on the fly, all of which can help greatly with your improvisatory speech skills in the long run.
- Play theater games. Any improvisational games are great for your conversational skills.
Using these resources on how to improve communication skills can help you become more socially adaptable, more self-confident, and even more valuable in your workplace.