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How to improve your communication skills

It’s very common for a job ad to say that they’re looking for someone with good communication skills. But what does that mean? How do you know if you have good communication skills? And how do you improve your communication skills?

Just because you are hearing what someone is saying, doesn’t mean that you are listening to what they are saying. Active listening is the most fundamental component of communication skills. Active listening is not something that just happens, it is how you listen when you decide you want to concentrate on and understand what someone is saying to you.

What is active listening?

As well as giving the person who is talking your full attention, active listening also involves showing the speaker that you are listening and interested.

Think back to conversations that have been about topics you have a genuine interest in, or pay attention to your actions next time you have one. During those conversations you were most likely maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘yes’ or simply ‘mmhmm’ to encourage whoever was talking to you. When you do this, you are sending signals to the speaker that make them feel more comfortable and confident, allowing them to communicate more easily, openly, and honestly.

When you actively listen, you purposefully use these same signs to let the person know that you’re listening, even if they’re talking about spreadsheets instead of a hobby you share. You might also find that just using these signals helps you to pay attention and really listen to what the person is saying.

Here are a few of the key techniques to use that will help you become a better listener and great communicator:

Key active listening techniques

Pay attention

Giving the speaker your full and undivided attention is very important!

  • Look at the speaker and not at your watch or phone.
  • Try to not let your attention wander to anything else that might be going on, like other nearby conversations.
  • Put aside distracting thoughts and don’t mentally prepare what you’re going to say when it’s your turn.

Withhold judgment

You need to keep an open mind when you’re actively listening. You should be prepared to consider new ideas and new points of view, even if you don’t agree with them.

  • Let the speaker finish what they are saying before you ask questions.
  • Don’t interrupt with your views, judgements, and criticisms.

Show that you’re listening

Use your own body language and gestures to show that you are listening.

  • Make eye contact.
  • Nod occasionally.
  • Smile or mirror their facial expressions.
  • Make sure that your posture is open and interested.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and “uh huh.”

Ask questions

As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect on what is being said and to ask questions.

Ask open questions to get the speaker to clarify or expand on certain points, like “What do you mean when you say…” or “Tell me more about…”

Repeat what’s been said

You don’t need to memorise what someone is saying, but repeating a summary back to them in your own words lets them know that you’ve listened to and understood what they’ve said. It also gives you the opportunity to confirm the information or clear up any misunderstandings.