What are good communication skills?

Feburary 29, 2024

Reading Time: 4 minutes

What does it mean to have good, excellent or expert communication skills?

Whether you’re searching for a job, considering a career shift or looking for ways to grow in your current role, honing your communication skills can help you make the most of your opportunities. The Capella University Career Development Center shares advice on ways you can help improve your communication skills for work.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

First, let’s compare hard skills with soft skills. Hard skills are quantifiable, like having an appropriate degree, number of years of experience in a field, technical training or membership in a professional organization. These are things you can list on your resume as stated facts.

Soft skills are subjective skill sets like motivation, adaptability and communication. You could have just as much experience and a similar education as another applicant for a job posting, but the ability to demonstrate good communication skills could be the feature that sets you apart.

So, let’s take a hard look at this soft skill.

Top 7 building blocks of good communication skills

1. Know your audience.

Whether you’re writing an email, presenting at a meeting, collaborating with a member of another team or speaking with a customer, adapt your message to suit your audience. For example, someone who works in the information technology field needs to be able to pitch a project to an executive without the message getting bogged down with technical details. At the same time, the IT professional needs to communicate instructions to the production and development team that will make sense to them.

2. Listen. No, really. Listen.

A good communicator should be a good listener. In conversation, resist the temptation to formulate a reply in your head before the speaker is done talking. Instead, spend that time actively listening to them, sending both nonverbal and verbal listening responses. For emails, try not to respond right away. Close the email and reread it later if you can. You’ll likely pick up more information on the second read and be able to respond to the request more appropriately.

3. Write well and proofread.

The importance of good written communication cannot be overstated or undervalued in the workplace. When you write professionally, you need to write well. Check your spelling, use proper grammar and avoid industry jargon. Proofread your work before you send it. This applies to emails, presentations, memos, reports, blogs – any form of written communication in the workplace.

4. Talk the talk.

Good verbal communication and interpersonal skills are essential for collaborating with others, communicating with your team and speaking with customers or clients. Speak clearly, concisely and loudly (but not too loudly), with a focus on building a good rapport with your audience. (See #1.)

5. Present with confidence.

Your job may call for you to present in a meeting or at a conference. The key to delivering a presentation is preparation. Conducting your research, then writing, rewriting and practicing your presentation, will help you prepare to nail the delivery. Other presentation skills include engaging your audience and speaking slowly so that they can follow what you’re saying. Many companies offer internal training to help improve their employees’ presentation skills. Find out if you have access to training opportunities for public speaking or search on the internet for presentation tips and tricks.

6. Get to the point.

Be concise and clear in your communications. If you’re writing an email, put the desired action items for the recipient in the first few lines. Then use the rest of the email to provide context or background – but not too much! When you’re contributing to a discussion in a meeting, be careful not to ramble on. And make sure what you have to contribute is relevant to the entire group. If it’s not, save it for a one-on-one conversation.

7. Step away from the keyboard.

Email is a prominent – maybe too prominent – communication tool in our personal and professional lives. But not every message is ideally presented via email. When a topic is complex or sensitive in nature, sometimes it’s best to just pick up the phone, stop by someone’s office or ping them for a call or video conference. A quick conversation can be much more effective than a series of emails. Connecting personally with your coworkers can also help build rapport and establish trust, which will make collaborating and communicating better going forward.

Good communication begins before you get hired

It all starts with your resume and cover letter. Because communication is a soft skill, it’s a matter of demonstrating your ability, not just listing “proven communication skills” on your resume. You can demonstrate how you communicate directly by showing your abilities on your resume and cover letter.

So take the time you need to compose them as well as you can. Edit and refine them. Proofread them and use the spelling and grammar check tools available in your word processing application. Don’t use the same cover letter for each job application: tailor your letter to each position – in other words, focus on your audience and what they want to see.

Once you’ve drafted your resume and cover letter, read both aloud. Ask a friend, family member or colleague to review them and help catch any mistakes or sections that could be improved.

This part will take more time and effort, but it could mean making a good first impression that may help set you up for success.

Read more about other soft skills.

The Capella University Career Development Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.

Learn more about how Capella can help support your professional goals with skills-based learning

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