5 Communication Skills You Can Learn at Any Age

5 Communication Skills You Can Learn at Any Age

The ability to communicate is a valuable asset. Good communicators make more money. Studies show that oral communication is one of the most important competencies for college grads entering the workforce. Successful entrepreneurs are more likely to be excellent communicators, and that’s no coincidence.

And while we learn the basics of communication—spelling, grammar, more nuanced things like long-form writing and forming arguments—in school, texting, emailing, and other day-to-day forms of communication aren’t taught.

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Communication matters. Here are a few of the most important communication skills to hone.

5 Essential Communication Skills

Listening

You might not think of listening as a communication skill, but it’s at the top of this list for a reason. Have you ever chatted with a person who rattled on and never gave you the chance to get a word in edgewise? That person might be a world-class talker, but they’re certainly not a good communicator.

Listening to a person teaches us how to communicate with them. Their contributions to the conversation provide important insights and context. It’s a good rule of thumb to listen more than you talk. When you find common ground, speak up and share your own thoughts and stories. Just resist going on too long. If you want to be interesting to others, you have to be interested in them.

Don’t forget to ask clarifying questions. When someone offloads a lot of information at once, you might simply say “Okay, let me run this back to be sure I have it straight” and then reiterate what the speaker said. Repeating pertinent parts of a conversation shows that you were listening. It also helps you get things clear in your own head so you’re less likely to misunderstand or forget what was said. This skill is especially valuable when it comes to technical matters or instructions.

Clarity

Clarity is huge. It’s important—it prevents your listener from having to ask “Say what, now?” (And it’s critical in writing, where the reader can’t interrupt to ask for clarification.) Often, what we say makes sense in our own heads but we fail to consider that our listener doesn’t have the same context. Every time you use a pronoun like he, she, or they, make certain the listener knows who that pronoun refers to. Ditto for other nonspecific words like it and this.

I was hoping we could get a better handle on this.

This phrase might leave the listener asking, “Get a better handle on what?”

I was hoping we could get a better handle on pronoun reference rules.

The correct example gets specific, so we don’t have to ask what. That’s clarity in action. Use it in speaking and perfect it in writing and you’ll be far less likely to be misunderstood.

Openness

Have you ever encountered a person who kept their arms folded and didn’t make eye contact when you approached? That person may have simply been distracted or preoccupied, but odds are you read their body language as unfriendly and you didn’t make an effort to talk.

If you want to communicate, you have to look open to it. Uncross those arms! Make eye contact. Smile. Although I tend to be on the quiet side until I get to know a person, I became great friends with someone in a singing group I belong to all because he took a moment to shoot me a smile and a friendly nod, which made me feel he was someone I could approach and say hello to. You never know where a little openness might lead!

Empathy

Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

That’s what empathy is, and it’s essential to good communication. We all walk around in our own little worlds, but to make a connection with someone requires the ability to put yourself in that person’s place and try to understand their point of view. When you do that, the snippy sales clerk becomes a person who might be slogging through a difficult day, the bratty toddler in the next line becomes a tired and overstimulated child, and his wheedling parent becomes an exhausted mom at the end of her tether.

When you’re able to empathize, you can approach conversations calmly and rationally. You might wish the sales clerk a good day and offer the weary mom a smile, or even a helping hand when everyone else is glaring daggers. Whether you’re at work, at home, or hanging out with friends, empathy skills can help you defuse emotionally charged situations.

Energy

Think of some of your favorite people to talk with. Odds are, they’re usually upbeat and full of life. We’re naturally drawn to people who lift our moods. If you’re capable of it, try to be just a little more energetic than the person you’re speaking with. It’s possible to show enthusiasm for a topic even if it happens to be difficult. Be engaged. Listen intently. We naturally like people who can elevate a conversation rather than bring it down.

Communicating effectively doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some of us have to work at it. And working at it means being conscious of the things we can do to improve. It’s worth the effort.

How can I practice communication skills?

There are lots of ways to practice these important communication skills. You could ask trusted friends or colleagues to rate you on your skills, and give you suggestions on where you can improve. You can try to focus each week on a different skill. You could also try to assess your skills at the end of an important conversation by asking the other person questions like Did you feel like I was listening to you? or Did I make that point clearly? 

Grammarly can also be a big help in improving your communication skills. With our delivery, clarity, and engagement checks, you can gauge how clear your message is, as well as how effectively it’s coming across to your recipient.

Communicating effectively doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some of us have to work at it. And working at it means being conscious of the things we can do to improve. It’s worth the effort.

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