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Improving your communication skills

Improving your communication skillsCommunication skills are important for everyone. Get some simple tips to help improve yours.

Listening

When people think of communication skills, they usually think about how to make themselves heard and understood – but listening is just as important. Good listening ensures that you don't miss anything, and that the person you're communicating with feels valued and understood. To improve your listening:

  • Don't interrupt people, or try to finish their sentences if they pause.
  • Focus on the person you are talking to: look at them when they speak, and try not to think about other things or be distracted by your surroundings.
  • When the other person is speaking, don't spend the whole time thinking about what you are going to say next. Not only will you miss things, the person talking to you will be able to tell you aren't listening.
  • Check you have understood by putting what you have heard into your own words. It's easy to think you've understood something but come away with a very different idea than the speaker intended.
  • If you don't understand, don't be afraid to say so and ask questions. If you keep quiet and hope that all will become clear later, you're likely to get more and more confused.

Speaking

When it's time for you to speak, it's easy to think of it as 'your turn' – but really, speaking is all about helping the other person to listen and understand you. To improve your speaking:

  • Don't speak too quickly: not only can this make you hard to follow, you might find that your brain can't keep up with your mouth and you make mistakes.
  • If you're talking for a long time, make sure you give the other person an opportunity to clear up anything they don't understand and ask questions.
  • Think about what you're saying from the other person's point of view: for example, if you refer to a person they might not know, check whether or not they know who you're talking about before you continue.
  • Pay attention to the person you're talking to so that you can tell if they have something to say or need to end the conversation. Don't force them to interrupt you.

On the phone

  • When you answer the phone, give your name. If you're at work, give the name of the organization you work for as well. This way, the caller will know straight away if they have the wrong number.
  • Remember that the other person can't see you, so they're missing out on a lot of non-verbal communication. Try to speak more slowly and clearly to make up for this.
  • Don't try to do other jobs when you're on the phone. Because your hands and eyes are free, you might feel the urge to do some other simple jobs, like checking your emails, but it's easy to become distracted and miss something if you do this.
  • If you need to spell something out, like your name or a postcode, remember that letters are difficult to hear on the phone. (For example, 'f' and 's' can be hard to tell apart.) Using a spelling alphabet can help with this.
  • Keep useful information, like important phone numbers, close at hand on your desk or wherever you normally take phonecalls. This way you can get them quickly when you're on the phone.

Email

  • Give as much information as you can in the subject line – avoid generic subject lines like 'Hi' or 'Question'. For example, if you want to arrange a meeting, it's better to put something like 'Are you free to meet on the 24th?' than just 'Meeting'.
  • Keep your emails as short as possible, and put the most important information first.
  • Try to reply to your emails as quickly as possible. It's easy to forget about them if you let them sit in your inbox.
  • Always double-check your emails before hitting 'Send'. As well as re-reading what you wrote, make sure that you've included any attachments, and that you're sending it to the right person.
  • If you need to copy someone new in on an email, mention that you have done this in your message so that everyone is aware.
  • Remember that you have no control of where an email ends up once you've sent it: before you hit 'Send', think carefully about what would happen if it ended up in front of the wrong person.

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