In today’s global and fast-paced business environment, employers are looking for candidates with the right balance of “hard” skills – specific abilities such as software engineering and accounting – and “soft” skills. Soft skills, such as critical thinking, building personal relationships and collaboration, are less tangible than hard skills, but are crucial to your career development and advancement.
Many career experts say there is a “soft skills gap,” and communication is one of the areas where most professionals are lacking.
Here are eight types of communication skills that are crucial for your success:
1. Written communication
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 82 percent of employers want a candidate with strong written communication skills. In fact, written communication skills are the most desired quality overall, ahead of problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team.
College is the perfect time to work on improving your writing skills, and many schools offer writing resources to support students in their academic and career development. Another way to improve your written communication skills is to read more often. Whether it’s your favorite business journal, a well-authored blog or even a novel, reading from articulate authors expands your ability to communicate clearly and effectively.
2. Public speaking
Many people have a fear of public speaking, but developing strong presentation skills early on will benefit you significantly in your career when you’re asked to give a presentation at a sales meeting, a conference or to internal team members. The classroom is a great place to practice your presentation skills, gather feedback from your instructors and classmates, and learn new public speaking techniques.
Being a skilled communicator also means you know when and how to listen to others, and you can remain engaged in a conversation even when you’re not the one doing the talking. Active listening is important in customer service, when you’re dealing with clients and when you’re working in a team.
Good leaders know that listening can be a powerful skill as well. It’s important to create an opportunity for others to share their thoughts and ideas because it could help advance a discussion or lead to a breakthrough in solving a problem. Listening fosters a positive work environment by prioritizing trust and respect.
Having empathy means putting yourself in others’ shoes and seeing things from another perspective. Doing so forces you to see multiple sides of an issue, including ones that you have never considered before. This allows you to be a better manager or team member, to anticipate needs and challenges before they arise and to respond effectively when they do. When you lead with empathy, you allow yourself to learn and grow.
5. Reflection and critical thinking
Trust is an important part of creating a positive team culture, and it goes both ways: To earn the trust of your colleagues and team members, you need to show you have faith in them as well.
When challenges or issues arise, seek first to understand the root of the problem and give others the benefit of the doubt. Ask yourself, “What are the factors that led us to this point? What other challenges is my team facing, and how can I put them in a position to succeed?”
When you take this approach, you show your team that you’re on their side. You might also uncover roadblocks or inefficiencies that are inhibiting your team’s success, and you can work to improve those processes in the future.
Communication skills are also an important part of giving and receiving feedback. If you are a manager, you should regularly provide your employees with constructive feedback. Offering feedback shows that you recognize the contributions of others, and are invested in helping them improve and succeed.
When you offer feedback, you should be direct and specific, but also friendly and approachable. It should not feel like a confrontation, but rather a conversation. If you are the one receiving feedback, it’s important not to become defensive. Instead, stay calm and listen for ways that you can improve the next time.
7. Body language
Your facial expressions, posture and eye contact can all play a role in how others perceive an interaction with you. For example, having your arms crossed over your chest can make you seem defensive, or angry. Glancing at your phone when a colleague is speaking can make you look disinterested.
To avoid sending any unintended signals, maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact and face the person who is speaking to you. The most important thing is to be aware of your body language so that you can be sure you are making the right impression.
In order to engage in thoughtful conversation with others, you need to respect others’ ideas and perspectives. Don’t dismiss anyone because of their opinions, ideas or solutions. You may disagree, but understanding and respecting others’ points of view will go a long way to creating a problem-free work environment and demonstrating your integrity as a team member or leader.
If you aspire to grow your career, it’s important that you look for ways to develop these skills early on and commit to sharpening these skills proactively.
An MBA program focused on communication, problem-solving and other soft-skills, can help you get to the next level. Herzing’s MBA program is designed to prepare you for career advancement with a curriculum that embeds leadership training, encourages collaboration, requires presentation and incorporates other activities that hone communication skills.