Being able to communicate effectively is the most important of all life skills.
Communication is simply the act of transferring information from one place to another. It may be vocally (using voice), written (using printed or digital media such as books, magazines, websites or emails), visually (using logos, maps, charts or graphs) or non-verbally (using body language, gestures and the tone and pitch of voice).
How well this information can be transmitted and received is a measure of how good our communication skills are.
The Importance of Good Communication Skills
Developing your communication skills can help all aspects of your life, from your professional life to social gatherings and everything in between.
The ability to communicate information accurately, clearly and as intended, is a vital life skill and something that should not be overlooked. It’s never too late to work on your communication skills and by doing so improve your quality of life.
Communication skills are needed to speak appropriately with a wide variety of people whilst maintaining good eye contact, demonstrate a varied vocabulary and tailor your language to your audience, listen effectively, present your ideas appropriately, write clearly and concisely, and work well in a group. Many of these are essential skills that employers seek.
Verbal communication skills are ranked first among a job candidate’s ‘must have’ skills and qualities.
According to a 2016 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
Interpersonal Communication Skills
Interpersonal skills are the skills we use when engaged in face-to-face communication with one or more other people.
Verbal communication is all about what we say, which is an important way of getting our message across.
The words that we choose can make a big difference to whether other people understand us. Consider for example, communicating with a young child, or with someone who does not speak our own language very well. You need to use simple language, short sentences, and check understanding regularly. It is quite different from a conversation with an old friend whom you have known for years, and with whom you may not even need to finish your sentences.
Reflection and clarification are both common techniques used in verbal communication to ensure that what you have heard and understood is what was intended.
Questioning skills are one very important area of verbal communication, often used in clarification, but also to extract more information, and as a way to maintain a conversation.
Finally, two specific areas where you will need verbal communication skills are making a speech, and in conversation.
Using our voice is only the tip of the iceberg. We actually communicate far more information using non-verbal Communication. This includes non-verbal signals, gestures, facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and even our appearance.
Listening is a vital interpersonal communication skill. When we communicate we spend 45% of our time listening. Most people take listening for granted, but it is not the same as hearing and should be thought of as a skill.
Elements of Interpersonal Communication
Much research has been done to try to break down interpersonal communication into a number of elements in order that it can be more easily understood. Commonly these elements include:
For any communication to occur there must be at least two people involved. It is easy to think about communication involving a sender and a receiver of a message. However, the problem with this way of seeing a relationship is that it presents communication as a one-way process where one person sends the message and the other receives it. While one person is talking and another is listening, for example.
In fact communications are almost always complex, two-way processes, with people sending and receiving messages to and from each other simultaneously. In other words, communication is an interactive process. While one person is talking the other is listening – but while listening they are also sending feedback in the form of smiles, head nods etc.
Message not only means the speech used or information conveyed, but also the non-verbal messages exchanged such as facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and body language. Non-verbal behavior can convey additional information about the spoken message. In particular, it can reveal more about emotional attitudes which may underlie the content of speech.
Noise has a special meaning in communications. It refers to anything that distorts the message, so that what is received is different from what is intended by the speaker. Whilst physical ‘noise’ (for example, background sounds or a low-flying jet plane) can interfere with communication, other factors are considered to be ‘noise’. The use of complicated jargon, inappropriate body language, inattention, disinterest, and cultural differences can be considered ‘noise’ in the context of interpersonal communication. In other words, any distortions or inconsistencies that occur during an attempt to communicate can be seen as noise.
Feedback consists of messages the receiver returns, which allows the sender to know how accurately the message has been received, as well as the receiver’s reaction. The receiver may also respond to the unintentional message as well as the intentional message. Types of feedback range from direct verbal statements, for example “Say that again, I don’t understand”, to subtle facial expressions or changes in posture that might indicate to the sender that the receiver feels uncomfortable with the message. Feedback allows the sender to regulate, adapt or repeat the message in order to improve communication.
All communication is influenced by the context in which it takes place. However, apart from looking at the situational context of where the interaction takes place, for example in a room, office, or perhaps outdoors, the social context also needs to be considered, for example the roles, responsibilities and relative status of the participants. The emotional climate and participants’ expectations of the interaction will also affect the communication.
The channel refers to the physical means by which the message is transferred from one person to another. In a face-to-face context the channels which are used are speech and vision, however during a telephone conversation the channel is limited to speech alone.
When you have the opportunity to observe some interpersonal communication, make a mental note of the behaviors used, both verbal and non-verbal.
Observe and think about the following factors:
- Who are the communicators?
- What messages were exchanged?
- What (if any) noise distorts the message?
- How is feedback given?
- What is the context of the communication?
You probably do this all the time, subconsciously, but when you actively observe interpersonal communication you can more fully appreciate its mechanics.
Using Communication Skills
Interpersonal communication skills are important in a wide range of circumstances and environments: probably, in fact, anywhere where we may meet and interact with other people.
Good interpersonal communication skills enable us to work more effectively in groups and teams, which may be either formal or informal.
Most of us engage in some form of interpersonal communication on a regular basis, often many times a day, how well we communicate with others is a measure of our interpersonal skills.
Interpersonal communication is a key life skill and can be used to:
- Give and collect information.
- Influence the attitudes and behavior of others.
- Form contacts and maintain relationships.
- Make sense of the world and our experiences in it.
- Express personal needs and understand the needs of others.
- Give and receive emotional support.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Anticipate and predict behavior.
- Regulate power.
Other Communication Skills
Communication skills encompass far more than simple verbal and non-verbal communication, even in a wide range of circumstances.
Other instances of communication include:
Presentation Skills Although, for many of us, presentation skills are used infrequently, there will probably be times in your life when you need to present information to a group of people, either in a formal or informal setting.
Writing Skills Communication skills are not limited to direct interaction with other people and the spoken word.
The ability to be able to write clearly and effectively is key to communication, and this set of skills should not be limited to journalists or professional authors. Poor written communication can be frustrating for the reader and potentially damaging for the author – would you buy a product from a website peppered with spelling mistakes?
Personal Skills Personal Skills are the skills that we use to maintain a healthy body and mind. But they can also enhance communication.
Communication is a complex subject with many areas and skills to consider.
Common Barriers to Effective Communication
There are many barriers to communication and these may occur at any stage in the communication process. Barriers may lead to your message becoming distorted and you therefore risk wasting both time and/or money by causing confusion and misunderstanding. Effective communication involves overcoming these barriers and conveying a clear and concise message.
- The use of jargon. Over-complicated, unfamiliar and/or technical terms.
- Emotional barriers and taboos. Some people may find it difficult to express their emotions and some topics may be completely ‘off-limits’ or taboo.
- Lack of attention, interest, distractions, or irrelevance to the receiver.
- Differences in perception and viewpoint.
- Physical disabilities such as hearing problems or speech difficulties.
- Physical barriers to non-verbal communication. Not being able to see the non-verbal cues, gestures, posture and general body language can make communication less effective.
- Language differences and the difficulty in understanding unfamiliar accents.
- Expectations and prejudices which may lead to false assumptions or stereotyping. People often hear what they expect to hear rather than what is actually said and jump to incorrect conclusions.
- Cultural differences. The norms of social interaction vary greatly in different cultures, as do the way in which emotions are expressed. For example, the concept of personal space varies between cultures and between different social settings.