50+ essential communication skills for every professional

50+ essential communication skills for every professional
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 19 July, 2023
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Communication skills are essential in your everyday work life, whether in writing your resumé for your job application or motivating your team through obstacles. They are among those interpersonal abilities that have stood the test of time. If you want to grow professionally, you need to brush up on the effectiveness of your communication. After all, as communications expert Kristi Hedges stated in her interactive Harvard Business Review webinar, "Developing great communication skills is a key to professional success."

Speaking well is one thing, but communication faces a major obstacle in Singapore, where a culture of politeness, according to Cultural Atlas, encourages indirect communication. Many Singaporeans rely on non-verbal cues and other details to read between the lines.

But whether you want to know if that personreallydid like your singing or you want to better delegate tasks to your team, becoming an effective communicator should be among your priorities.

What are communication skills?

According to executive coach and author John Baldoni, communication is the glue that holds an organisation together. Communication skills measure how well you can exchange ideas and connect with others. There are three kinds of communication skills:

  • Verbal
  • Non-verbal
  • Interpersonal

In terms of work, communication skills are the building blocks to excelling in any role and field. After all, being able to take complex problems and simplify them for all audiences is a critical capability that not every person has. Think about a teacher who can't explain the laws of physics to students in ways they can understand.

Why are communication skills important in the workplace?

Singapore Management University goes as far as to say that communication skills can make or break a person's career.

First, good communication skills can help you build a great workplace culture. Effective communication contributes to employee morale and workplace productivity. Professor Sattar Bawany says: "[Communication] paves the way for more opportunities to communicate with followers, thus enabling the organisation to gain the benefits of all employees' minds."

Second, workplace relationships go beyond completing tasks together. Clients, employees, managers, and executives team up in different contexts, and with different dynamics. Communication skills are necessary to foster these relationships. If you want to build a high-performance team, you need to make sure everyone is in sync. Plus, this helps manage conflicts in the workplace.

Good communication skills lead to opportunities, improvements, and innovations.

Understanding different communication styles

Your communication style depends largely on your personality, the content of your message, and who you are speaking to. According to Princeton University, there are four main communication styles:

Passive communication

Passive communication refers to a style that defers to others. Examples of passive communication could be "I'm okay with what you think" or "I'll go with whatever the team wants."

While this might seem weak or counterproductive, there are times when passive communication can be beneficial. It can be a safe way to de-escalate workplace conflicts. By deferring instead of matching high emotions, you can provide time and space for all parties to process issues and calm down.

Aggressive communication

Blunt, loud, and commanding statements are telltale signs of an aggressive communicator. "This is what I want" and "This is what we should do" are typical sentences in this type of communication.

Sometimes, adopting aggressive communication can be helpful to get something done immediately. But be careful when using this. Singaporeans typically value a calm demeanour over an aggressive one, so your team might not respond to you. Moreover, frequent domineering communication exhibits a lack of control rather than authority.

Passive-aggressive communication

Passive-aggressive communication manifests as passive on the surface, but with resentment underneath. This approach is more subtle compared to other communication styles. You can see passive-aggressiveness in sarcastic remarks, the cold shoulder, or side comments.

The passive-aggressive communication style expresses negative emotions without addressing the actual issue. Because of this, it can easily disrupt work relationships and lead to toxic workplaces.

Assertive communication

Assertive communication is a style that is effective in most situations. It means you can assert yourself while respecting the feelings, ideas, and needs of others. "I" statements are central to this. Phrases like "I'm considering…" or "I feel that…" exhibit ownership without passing the blame.

This communication style is necessary for work situations that benefit from dialogue and the sharing of ideas. For example, a brainstorming session will inevitably involve different viewpoints and opinions. Assertive communication can help you build consensus and raise your profile in meetings.

What to always consider

People do not use just one communication style all the time. Think of these styles as additional tools for your communication skills. Except for passive-aggressive communication, you must be able to adopt these communication styles in various situations in your professional life.

Verbal communication skills

Two women talking in an office setting

Studies at Indiana State University say that verbal communication is about written and spoken language. Strong verbal communication skills mean you can express yourself clearly through your words and tone. Situations where you use your linguistic prowess include doing well in an interview, writing a great cover letter, or leading a client pitch.

Note, however, that verbal abilities are not always effective by themselves. They usually work better with the right non-verbal cues.

Oral communication

Oral communication is the spoken aspect of verbal communication. It can be as simple as a conversation or as complex as a business meeting. Recently, schools in Singapore have stepped up their public speaking initiatives to respond to the new oral exam component of the GCE O-level and N(A) level examinations. This shows a growing push to develop better communicators in Singapore.

But beyondwhatis said, oral communication noteshowit is said. A disconnect between the message and the delivery can lead to mistrust or confusion. There are six factors at the core of good oral communication skills:

1. Verbal tone and pitch

Whatever the message, the tone and pitch should match the emotion. Adopting the right timbre will help you get your message across effectively, and keep your audience engaged. For example, a friendly and upbeat tone in casual settings may help build rapport with your team.

2. Voice modulation and inflexion

Modulation and inflexion refer to variations in volume and emphasis. These changes allow the speaker to pace themselves and engage with their audience better. These factors can help you underscore the most salient parts of your speech.

3. Clarity and pronunciation

Even the greatest speech can lose meaning if the audience can't understand what you are saying. Clarity and pronunciation help ensure that the audience isn't lost in your message. Also, keep in mind that culture changes language and pronunciation. So if you're speaking to a foreign audience, it might help to slow down to ensure your audience understands what you're saying.

Clarity is doubly important when you're discussing technical terms or definitions.

4. Articulation and enunciation

While similar to clarity and pronunciation, articulation and enunciation refer to the precision of the sounds and syllables in words. By enunciating, you're less likely to swallow your words, and you'll be able to deliver your message correctly.

5. Use of appropriate language

Different contexts require different uses of language. Slang and puns might get your colleague's attention, but they can be off-putting for a client. Always try to be aware of the social dynamics and relationships you're in. By adapting your words to the appropriate context, you'll be able to communicate more effectively and avoid misunderstandings.

6. Listening skills

Effective communication is a two-way street. Active listening will make you more open to others' needs and perspectives. In doing so, you can build positive relationships in your workplace.

Written communication

Written communication covers all correspondence through a written medium, like a CV that stands out, good and bad cover letters, work emails, job application emails, and more. Remember that you can't take back most written correspondence. Clever use of written communication skills can display professionalism.

According to Wigan & Leigh College, three main elements comprise written communication : structure, style, and content. Awareness and proper use of these elements can considerably polish up your writing.

1. Structure

In business communications, clarity is often the most crucial part. A good structure will help organise your words and guide the reader through your thought processes. There must be a clear, logical order to what you're writing. Have a clear beginning, middle, and end to your correspondence.

A clean layout and format can also be a huge benefit. It helps avoid visual clutter, thus making your writing easier to follow.

Another helpful tip would be to start working on your introduction and ending first. A strong introduction and ending can do wonders. An engaging opening will draw your readers in. A powerful conclusion will make sure that you leave a lasting impression.

2. Style

There's a broad spectrum of writing styles. Each has its uses, and whichever you choose will always depend on what you're writing and to whom you're writing. Your colleagues and managers will always appreciate a direct and concise style.

Use short paragraphs and sentences. Long, rambling text can get tedious or confusing. Leave the flowery language to literature. Being direct is more beneficial for the workplace.

Finally, always consider your readers. If you're writing for the general public, avoid using technical jargon that may alienate them. If they have to google what you've written, it means you caused some confusion. But if you're writing to a company executive, using business terms is expected. Adapt to your reader.

3. Content

Identify your main objective and always stick to it. Make sure that all essential points connect to your goal. Maintaining a logical flow to your ideas will also guide your readers.

For example, if you're writing a cover letter, your objective would be to convince the recruiter that you'll be an asset to their company. To achieve that, it would help to explain how you found the company and why it interests you. Then you can outline your work experiences and list your skills and qualifications. Finally, end with how you could make an impact on the company.

By striving for clarity in your content, you'll be able to get your point across while keeping your reader engaged. Of course, don't forget to triple-check your spelling and grammar.

For a deep dive into verbal communication skills, refer to this2023 guide on how to win at work with verbal communication.

Non-verbal communication skills

Two women shaking hands outside an office

Non-verbal communication refers to the exchange of information without using words. Subconscious actions are an example, such as stuttering when you're nervous. But this can also be done intentionally, such as raising your voice when you want attention or power dressing to exude confidence at work.

Non-verbal communication can convey a lot of messages. Most importantly, they can strengthen and support your verbal communication skills. Professors Ravi Kudesia and Hillary Elfenbein's study on non-verbal communication in the workplace states that "non-verbal signals may not merely reflect power, they might also helpcreatepower."

There are seven types of non-verbal communication:

Facial expressions

Facial expressions make up the majority of your non-verbal cues. These mannerisms and reactions are usually universal. For example, a frown signifies negative emotion, regardless of race, age, gender, or status.

Be sensitive to your and other people's facial expressions. If you're listening to a presentation, a smile might help ease your co-worker's nerves as they present. Your client's clenched jaw might be a sign of stress or tension. Reading and responding to these facial expressions can go a long way in building trust and relationships.

Body language

How a person moves can say a lot about their mood. If your client's body is turned away from you, they might not be paying attention. Leaning towards you may signify interest. You can act appropriately in any situation by identifying these gestures and postures.

However, body language can have different meanings in various cultures. A small bow during a handshake might be off-putting to Westerners, but it's a common sign of respect for East Asians. So, like any other communication skill, don't forget the context behind body language.

Eye contact

Eye contact is a natural part of any conversation. It signifies that you're actively listening to the flow of the discussion. It can also show confidence and interest in the topic.

But do note that in Singapore, like in other Asian countries, holding eye contact with your superiors can be seen as disrespectful. Some religions may even prohibit eye contact between opposite genders.

Tone of voice

As stated before, the tone is essential in your verbal message. An apology can be perceived as insincere if delivered in a flat tone. Always make sure that your tone matches your intent.

Personal space

Personal boundaries are important even in the workplace. Every culture, person, and relationship will define these boundaries differently. So, be sensitive to the needs of the people you're working with.

A simple example would be a job interview. An employee is using company time to conduct that interview. Being late, even if it's just by five minutes, means you're wasting that employee's time – and the company's time as a whole.

Touch

Touch can be a component of personal space. Some situations and actions allow for touch, like greeting someone with a handshake. However, a hand on the waist sends a very different message. Be aware of the different meanings and ways of communicating via touch to ensure you don't cross personal boundaries.

Appearance and attire

Appearances and attires aren't meaningless; they demonstrate how people present themselves to others. You can gauge someone’s effort and attention based on how they dress.

Always dress according to the prescribed dress code. In doing so, you show respect to whatever event you're in, and to the people around you.

To know more about reading body cues further, read this article on the best non-verbal communication skills for work.

Interpersonal communication skills

Colleagues smiling and laughing together

According to surveys of Singaporean hospitality employers, the most sought-after talents are the ones with a good attitude, critical thinking abilities, and most important, interpersonal communication skills.

This shouldn't be surprising, as interpersonal communication skills allow people to connect and relate to each other, prompting positive relationships among co-workers, clients, and managers.

Below are the usual situations where you can practise your interpersonal skills. Working on these traits could create a more positive work environment.

Conflict resolution and negotiation

Conflicts are natural occurrences in the workplace. In such a hectic setting with so many perspectives, it's common to have different opinions. A good organisation equips its employees to find a middle ground amid these differences.

Harvard Law School's Negotiation Programme suggests that negotiation can help de-escalate, resolve, and avoid conflicts using three strategies:

  • Avoid being provoked into an emotional response. Emotional responses only shift the balance of power and distract from constructive criticism.
  • Don't abandon value-creating strategies.By finding common ground in shared values, opposing parties can be open to compromises.
  • Use the time to your advantage.Perceptions can change over time through the negotiation process.

Through these negotiation strategies, opposing parties can better manage their emotions while opening themselves to the perspectives of others. By applying these strategies, you can be productive in conflict resolution. Even more crucial, you'll be building healthier work relationships and environments.

Networking

Networking and connections can boost your career. By connecting with the right people, you're opening yourself to career opportunities, crucial industry information, and possible professional partnerships.

To ensure you're networking correctly, you must identify which people or groups you want to connect with, and find ways to communicate with them. Take advantage of events like product launches, seminars, and forums. These spaces forge the best connections. Of course, be ready to pitch yourself to them !

Collaboration

The best work is often the product of cooperation rather than individual brilliance. Building team dynamics requires an acknowledgment that everyone can contribute. Diversity of thought is key here. Accept a wide variety of perspectives. Yes-men will only limit your possibilities.

Of course, team members have to trust each other. Trust allows people to be more open, honest, and supportive of each other. You can develop trust by suggesting clear goals, ensuring everyone works consistently, and sharing responsibility.

Problem-solving

Collaboration also extends into problem-solving. Identifying problems and executing concrete solutions are the lifeblood of successful projects. By working as a team in these contexts, you're opening yourself to teamwork and training for similar issues in the future.

You can initiate collaborative problem-solving by suggesting regular team meetings, brainstorming, studying SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), and analysing root causes. By discussing issues as a group, you'll also be able to find answers that consider different perspectives. The group can then provide a solution that caters to a broader audience.

Feedbacking

Asking for feedback can be terrifying, because it forces you to see yourself through the lens of other people. But as Lapshun and Fusch's study on Singapore mid-level managers shows, "Feedback [is] a critical mechanism for sustaining trust and shaping the team's performance."

Opening yourself to assessments displays a work ethic that's productive and determined. To ensure you take advantage of this, ask questions that pinpoint development opportunities. Try to be as specific as possible to get concrete feedback. For example, if you're looking for input in team dynamics, you can ask, "Was I accepting or dismissive of this person’s ideas?"

Giving feedback can also be tricky. It's easy to point out the negatives. Orienting your comments towards measurable goals and possible improvements is more constructive. A vague statement like "Your report was sloppy" doesn't provide direction. Instead, you could say, "Your analysis needed more data sources." This way, the person receiving feedback has something concrete to focus on.

Cultural sensitivity

An inclusive workplace shouldn't just be a buzzword. When properly encouraged, an inclusive culture can lead to incredible developments and innovations.

A study of over 19,000Harvard Business Reviewreaders revealed that "organisations rated as diverse and inclusive had cultures more heavily weighted toward flexibility and independence." These inclusive work cultures leaned on openness, creativity, and exploration in business strategies and problem-solving.

Building this type of work culture isn't an easy task, however. Cross-cultural communication requires emotional awareness and understanding of cultural differences. For example, providing lunch with only pork dishes can alienate Muslim community members.

Flexibility in communication styles is also essential to adapt to different cultural norms. It's best to avoid using culture-specific idioms or phrases to avoid confusion. Active listening will also be crucial to overcoming language barriers.

For an in-depth guide to these soft qualities, refer to this article on the best interpersonal skills for work.

List of communication skills for your resumé

If you're not sure which of your capabilities fall under communication skills, here's a comprehensive list. When you add any of these examples to your resumé, describe concrete situations, projects, or events to contextualise how you applied these abilities.

List of communication skills for your resumé

Conclusion

As industries continue to grow, diversify, and globalise, communication skills will remain at the core of the development of both workers and companies. While it presents unique and ever-changing challenges, honing your communication skills is a journey worth taking. Being a good communicator – verbally, non-verbally, and interpersonally – will introduce you to better relationships and deeper professional experiences.

FAQs

  1. Why are communication skills necessary in the workplace?

    Communication skills are essential because every organisation needs collaboration, teamwork, and relationship-building. More often than not, you will work with others to identify problems and create solutions. Communication skills allow you to take an active role in this process.
  2. How can I improve my communication skills?

    The best way to improve is to first identify your weak points. Do you find yourself defaulting to one communication style? Are you struggling with verbal, non-verbal, or interpersonal communication skills?

    ⁠From there, you can ask more specific questions regarding those skills. Do you find yourself stuttering during presentations? You may need to rehearse in front of your teammates first. Do you need help with interpreting your foreign colleague's gestures? Do research or ask them about their culture and mannerisms.

    ⁠Be bold and ask for feedback on your communication skills. Improvement will come easier with constructive criticism.
  3. What are some common barriers to effective communication?

    Since effective communication is context- and relationship-based, pinpointing specific barriers may be difficult. But there are some overarching themes that you can look at.

    ⁠Try to identify if any physical and systemic barriers are causing issues. Although technology bridges the gap for many physical barriers, remote dialogues still have disadvantages compared to face-to-face interactions. For example, a video call will allow you to talk to one another, but your conversation may be prone to internet issues or distractions.

    ⁠Systemic barriers, meanwhile, refer to inefficient or inappropriate use of information systems. A prominent example of this would be the different generations' preferences in communication channels. Some older employees might feel comfortable using Viber or Messenger apps to communicate at work. But for younger Millennials or Gen-Z, Slack or Discord are preferable.

    ⁠In cases like these, the company and employees must reach a compromise. Whatever the platform, companies should facilitate proper training to avoid communication issues in the long run.
  4. How can I communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds?

    Interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures can be a tricky task. Bridging cultural gaps is difficult because your habits or tendencies in communication may not translate well to your audience. You can learn some of the nuances of another culture, but that will take a lot of time and exposure.

    ⁠In the short term, practise cultural sensitivity. Avoid using culture-specific words like slang or overly technical jargon. These can be easily misunderstood when the other person has a different background.

    ⁠Accept differences instead of pointing them out. Even when you're both speaking in English, there will be variations in gestures, intonations, and even pronunciations. Don't judge their competence because of these differences.

    ⁠Finally, don't be afraid to ask and clarify. It shows you're taking the initiative to understand each other. The best way to bridge cultural gaps is to learn.

    ⁠Want to learn more about developing other skills in the workplace? Visit JobStreet’s Career Advice page for professional advice that will help give you an edge at work.

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