Case-in-point: A recent survey of 400 companies conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that, on average, each company lost $62.4 million per year due to inadequate communication.
“In an era when Artificial Intelligence and other digital technologies are changing the way organizations operate, communication skills will become even more vital to strengthening relationships and promoting collaboration and adaptability,” says Carl Zangerl, faculty director for the communication and human resource management programs within Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies.
At all levels of an organization, communication is the key to maintaining strong working relationships. Open lines of communication build trust between employees which can ultimately lead to increased productivity and a boost in morale.
If an open flow of communication exists, where employees feel their voices are heard, they often feel better about themselves and the organization they work for. On the contrary, if there is a lack of communication within an organization, this can produce an unmotivated and disgruntled workforce. Effective communication is critical to an organization’s success.
What Is Effective Communication, Really?
An effective communicator is one who is engaged, considerate, and really listens to the other person; taking the time to ask questions and respond accordingly. When they speak, they are clear, confident, and gracious in their interactions.
Over the span of his career, Zangerl has seen firsthand how important it is to be an effective communicator.
“Communication is one of the so-called ‘soft skills’ that employers tell us are essential for career advancement. During my own corporate career, I often noticed that the individuals who assumed leadership positions in even the most technical functional areas were the most effective communicators.”
Top 3 Communication Skills for Workplace Success
1. Active Listening
Active listening involves paying close attention to what others are saying, and asking clarifying questions to demonstrate interest and understanding. This facilitates effective communication while simultaneously allowing us to show respect and build relationships with the other person with whom we are communicating.
“We tend to focus too much on delivering our messages and opinions, and too little on listening,” Zangerl says. “Understanding what others are trying to tell us—whether it’s face-to-face or via another medium—is the basis for shared action and collaboration.”
2. Awareness of Communication Styles
There are four main communication styles you might encounter in the workplace, and Zangerl recommends that professionals be aware of all of them in order to facilitate effective communication. They are:
- Passive: Passive communicators are quieter and don’t always express their true feelings. They can act indifferent or agreeable, depending on the situation, in order to keep the peace and not rock the boat.
- Aggressive: Aggressive communicators are the opposite of passive communicators, and often express their emotions freely without any consideration for others. They can be intimidating or abusive in their interactions with others.
- Passive-aggressive: Passive-aggressive communicators strive to appear aloof, even when they are actually upset or annoyed. It is subtly evident that they are angry, but because they tend to avoid confrontation, it can be unclear what they are truly thinking.
- Assertive: Assertive communicators are considerate and express themselves in a clear and direct manner. They are respectful in their interactions with others.
“We know that there are a wide variety of communication styles, which can often result in misunderstandings,” Zangerl says. “This requires us to be aware of our own communication style and to carefully observe both the verbal and nonverbal of others. The ability to recognize our own style and be adaptable is so important in creating a sound foundation for mutual understanding.”
The ability to persuade others is very useful in the workplace, and employers value employees who demonstrate proficient persuasive skills because it can lead to increased productivity. The skill involves convincing others to complete a desired action or behave in a specific way, typically to achieve an end goal.
“Communication is all about influencing the attitudes and behaviors of our audiences, both in the workplace and outside, with customers and other external stakeholders,” Zangerl says. “Translating the principles of persuasion into our messages increases the odds of achieving impact.”
Communicators with strong persuasion skills can “read“ the room and have a keen awareness of their audience. They are also friendly and charismatic, and can establish a rapport with whoever they are trying to persuade. Persuasive communicators make their offers or ideas tempting by presenting them in such a way that people believe they benefit from whatever it is that the persuader is convincing them to do.
Other persuasive skills include countering any objections and making modifications to their proposals, if necessary. If they can’t convince others completely, they will negotiate and try to reach common ground. They are able to do this by listening and catering to people’s interests.
Additional Communication Skills For Success
While Zangerl notes that the three communication skills discussed above can have an outsized effect on your career’s trajectory, there are many others that you should practice and develop.
4. Giving Feedback
Communication is a two-way street, and strong communicators are able to provide and accept feedback. Good feedback offers answers to questions and solutions to problems. The goal of feedback is improvement or betterment.
5. Written Communication
Written communication is just as important as verbal communication in the workplace. It is often the first communication you share with an employer, even before you are hired. You should always be clear and concise in your written communications.
This is particularly important in the workplace, because people are more likely to respond to your ideas and opinions if they are presented with confidence. Confidence can be demonstrated through eye contact, tone of voice, and good posture. It helps to be prepared when making a presentation or argument so that you don’t stumble over your words and can deliver your statements with poise.
It is best to approach workplace communications with an open mind. You should accept that you might not always agree with someone’s point of view, but try to be sympathetic to their perspective and always show respect. This way, you can disagree amicably, and avoid causing rifts that may affect future work.
8. Presentations and Public Speaking
To communicate successfully when giving a speech or presentation, it is important to hook your audience immediately and try to garner their interest. Many effective communicators use notes to guide their presentations—just be sure to maintain regular eye contact with your audience to keep them engaged.
With nerves, it’s easy to rush through your points quickly. Don’t forget to pace yourself! To be effective, project your voice and use visual aids if necessary. Lastly, you should end on a strong note, to ensure that your entire presentation leaves a lasting impression.
Empathy involves a shared understanding of others’ emotions, which is critical when it comes to communicating at work. If you understand how or what someone is feeling, you can assess how to best communicate with them, and choose the right approach.
10. Cross-Cultural Communication
In today’s global economy, it is important to acknowledge cultural diversity and try to transcend communication barriers. The best way to approach this is to be patient, respectful, and open to learning and understanding cultural differences.
11. Digital Communication
Digital communication involves all online communication for an organization. Proficiency in digital communication is becoming increasingly necessary in the workplace, with the onslaught of social media and digital devices. To be successful in digital communication, adopt a growth mindset because you will have to continue learning to keep up to date with ever-evolving digital media.
12. Conflict Management
Conflict management skills are hugely important in the workplace. Successful conflict management involves hearing all sides of a situation, being able to empathize, and resolving any issues. Usually, conflicts can be managed with compassion, patience, and some problem-solving. Taking ownership of one’s actions and being able to apologize is also key.
How to Develop Your Communication Skills
If you’re interested in developing your communication skills, Zangerl offers some advice.
“An excellent way to fine-tune your communication skills is to be a keen observer of communication dynamics in your workplace,” he says. “Pay attention to communication practices that achieve results, as well as those that undermine collaboration and share understanding. There are numerous skill-building resources available online, including LinkedIn Learning modules.”
Formal education can also be a very powerful tool in helping you improve your communication skills. For example, earning a master’s degree in communications offers professionals a number of career benefits, including increased job options, higher salary, job security, and more.
“A graduate program in organizational communication enables you to see how all the pieces fit together, to view communication both strategically and tactically,” says Zangerl.
If you’re considering pursuing a graduate degree in communications, it’s important that you choose a program that will help you reach your personal and professional goals. Seek a program that will:
- Round out your existing skillset
- Offer experiential learning opportunities
- Allow you to learn from industry-sourced faculty who have actually worked in the field
- Connect you with a network of like-minded individuals
This article was written by Tim Stobierski for the Northeastern Graduate Programs blog.
Posted by Carl Zangerl, Faculty