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The 10 Essential Soft Skills List: 1 - Communication
Arguably, communication is the most important soft skill and the most sought-after skill by employers—as it’s also the biggest weakness within most companies. Since communication is a broad soft skill (or skill set if you prefer), it can be broken down further into four types that we’ll briefly cover so you can start considering how to improve upon each. Plus, we’ll include links to some related online courses at the end.
Whether speaking to a co-worker, a boss, or a group of people, what you say, and how you say it, matters. To speak in a highly effective manner, you need to ensure your message is clear, concise, and delivered wholly as you intended. Your tone and inflection (variance in tone) matter as does the clarity and concision of your language. It’s important that you know your audience and practice empathy (You’re going to see this word ‘empathy’ pop up a bunch throughout this blog series—as it is the key to mastering many soft skills.)
Stay on point and avoid using unneeded filler words like, “uh”, “um”, “alright”, “okay”, or “like” as they can detract from your message, and your perceived efficacy.
(If you know you have this problem and want to fix it, practice using small pauses instead—maybe practice with a friend and have them throw wads of paper at you when you use a filler word.)
Written communication is even trickier. You don’t have tone and inflection or body language to lean on—just pure, written word. To help illustrate how tricky written communication is, have you ever got a text from someone and you mistakenly think they’re mad at you—only to find out you misread the message? Was this likely your fault? Does this mean you’re a cynical pessimist? Probably not. Chances are that the sender didn’t have time to convey their tone. Or, they just didn’t realize how their message may have come across. Either way, cut them some slack and give them the benefit of the doubt!
With text messaging, and most DM apps, we have now emojis to help convey our intended tone. Though using emojis in professional communications is still a gray area and, without them as a crutch, there’s still much said that’s left open to interpretation. It’s best to practice using empathetic language and thoughtfulness towards the other party. (This should be carried over into every type of communication.) Practice re-reading your draft from your recipient’s perspective. Understand, that they don’t have or share the same mental mapping as you nor the same emotional aptitude.
Ever pay attention to other people’s body language when they’re talking? Some people can be very animated and disjointed—their mouths saying one thing, their hands, body, and eyes, another. You need to learn to be aware of your body language and control it. Your hands need only enhance the message, not distract or ‘Bogart’ it.
Besides ridiculous hand gestures, other body language like your stance, posture, or eye contact say a lot also. For example, crossing your arms conveys you as being closed off, your slumped posture may show you don’t care, or you’re just not engaged. And, avoiding eye contact may show a lack of confidence, nervousness, or indecisiveness.
(While it is a big part of communication, it’s also its own soft skill that we’ll cover later in more depth.) Being a good listener is a multi-faceted skill that involves a lot more than just hearing the other person. It’s important to make them feel heard. If you don’t seem as though you’re listening, the other person can start to feel alienated or undervalued. You need to actively listen. To do so, you can use body language, like moving into an attentive posture and using eye contact to show they’re being heard. Also, reciprocating their emotions can be a good way to show how their heard words are affecting you. Do not focus on your response while listening and try to avoid interrupting as this can be disrespectful. Lastly, try and rephrase or clarify what was said by the other person, in your own words, or ask follow-up questions.
Communication is a skill many will never fully master (and one we all should never consider mastered). We’ll spend a lifetime working to perfect our communication skills and we’ll still experience miscommunications. But, by continually working towards perfection and crafting our message in ways that resonate with our audience, we’ll find our communications to be far more effective.
Online Courses You Can Take
If you know your communication skills could use some work, and at the same time, want to gain an edge on the competition, consider taking some online courses now.
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