How to Improve Communication Skills: 21 Tips
Want to be able to inspire and lead at work? Resolve conflict the healthy way? Turn new connections into close friends? You need to develop your communication skills.
And in a world where most of us spend our time communicating through screens and keyboards, our people skills have taken a turn for the worse.
But that’s yet another reason why communication skills are so important and valuable nowadays — as remote teams become more common, you need to be able to effectively communicate with your team, even when you’re not all in the same room.
Beyond work, these tips can help you communicate with everyone from your boss to your best friend, from your partner to strangers.
Here are our 21 tips on how to improve your communication skills.
A conversation shouldn’t be all about you talking. At least half of the time should be spent listening to what the other person has to say.
Not only does this make for a balanced conversation, it’ll help you pick up on subtle cues in what they’re really trying to tell you.
Make an effort to really listen to what people are saying, rather than using that time to formulate what you’ll say next — we’ve all done it. And resist the urge to check your phone or otherwise multi-task when in a conversation.
2. Think About Your Body Language
Communication skills aren’t just about talking, your body language sends a message, too.
If your arms are crossed, you look closed off. If you’re frowning, you look mean. If you’re fidgeting and avoiding eye contact, you look nervous.
So, remember to think about what your body is doing in a conversation, as well as what your mouth is saying.
Our body language tips include:
- Stand up tall and open up your posture
- Use the 50/70 rule when it comes to eye contact: spend 50% of the time making eye contact when speaking and 70% of the time making eye contact when listening
- Make occasional hand gestures
3. Read Other People’s Body Language
As well as thinking about your own body language, learn to read the body language of others. It could tell you what they’re really thinking.
Look out for when the person you’re speaking to is avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, or standing in a closed-off posture — it may show they’re nervous, for example, and this can change how you speak to them and what you say.
4. Cut the Fluff When Speaking
It’s easy for your message to get lost if you say too much. So, especially when communicating something important, cut the fluff and be more direct.
Don’t skirt around the problem, bury bad feedback in pleasantries, or tell a long-winding story that ends in a work request.
Be concise and clear.
5. Keep Written Communication Short and Clear
Cutting the fluff is important for written communication, too.
When writing emails, keep them short and consider breaking up your text and using bullet points to make things easier to read.
Clearly state any requisitions you have or actions you need certain people to take.
6. Train Yourself Out of Using Filler Words
This goes hand in hand with cutting the fluff, too.
Filler words include:
We often say these when we’re nervous, searching for the right words to say, or just out of habit.
When public speaking, they can make you look uncomfortable, however, and even in everyday conversations they can get annoying and get in the way of what you’re really trying to say.
Try to listen out and catch yourself when you use a filler word and aim to cut down on how much you use them.
7. Be Honest
Honesty is the best policy as they say. Whether you’re in an interview, giving someone feedback, or speaking with a loved one, strive to be honest with everything you say.
This may feel uncomfortable in certain situations, but it can help you get to the root of a conflict or gain respect from others when owning up to a mistake.
8. Ask Questions
Everyone loves talking about themselves — it’s one of the reasons we all need a reminder to listen more. But you can use this fact to your advantage.
When having a conversation, listen to what the other person is saying and then ask a genuine follow-up question.
This will not only keep the conversation going, it’ll make the other person feel heard and interested in.
9. Use “We” and “Us” to Bond with People
To help bond with new connections, or strengthen bonds with existing friends and colleagues, use “we” and “us” casually in conversation to show the connection between you two.
Don’t overdo it, but the occasional “we” can present you as a team, rather than individuals.
10. Take a Breath
When speaking to someone face-to-face, and especially when having a tricky conversation, it’s easy to let emotions get the better of you.
Don’t be afraid of slowing down and taking a breath before you reply.
That extra half second should stop your brain from reacting, giving you a moment to compose yourself and filter anything you’d rather not say.
11. Practice Your Public Speaking
Public speaking may be the most daunting type of communication, but it’s also an important skill to have. And the best way to build that skill is to practice.
If public speaking gives you nightmares, start small. Speak up more in meetings, join a panel, or volunteer to introduce a speaker at an event — rather than be the speaker.
12. Get Feedback
This one is a daunting one, too, but it could help you improve the most.
Ask a trusted friend or colleague for feedback on your communication style.
Do they find you talk too fast? Are they often left confused about what you’re asking for? Are you too direct, or not direct enough?
Getting an outsider’s opinion can help you find areas you need to improve.
13. Prepare for Difficult Conversations
Benjamin Franklin once said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
This doesn’t mean you need to script every conversation before it happens, though. But a little preparation goes a long way, especially when you know you’ve got some tricky discussions coming up.
Preparing could include:
- Making notes on what you want to cover in a presentation and running through it a few times.
- Brainstorming how to answer common interview questions before the interview itself.
- Practicing tough conversations, such as salary negotiations or having to fire someone, with a close friend and getting their feedback.
14. Vary Your Communication Style
You obviously want to be yourself in anything that you do, but it’s also a fact of life that people respond best to different communication styles.
If you know a colleague struggles with low confidence after bad feedback, consider throwing them a compliment about their work first, before diving into the bad news.
Another team member may prefer to get straight to the point, instead.
You should also consider introverts and extroverts in your team. Introverts may keep quiet in large meetings only to open up with great ideas when you have one-to-one calls with them.
As you learn about the people around you, vary your communication style to bring out the best in them.
15. Be Specific When Giving Bad Feedback
Giving good feedback feels great. You get to boost someone’s confidence and build them up. Giving bad feedback, however? That doesn’t feel so great.
When giving someone feedback, remember to comment on the actions instead of the person. You don’t want it to look like you’re attacking their personality.
Cut the fluff and be specific about what they need to improve exactly.
So, instead of saying “you need to improve your writing,” you’d say something like, “your article is great, but it loses focus in the middle. Let’s discuss how we could improve the structure of this section.”
16. Use the “Sandwich” Technique for Feedback
Consider throwing people a compliment when giving bad feedback.
You may have heard of the “sandwich” technique when it comes to giving feedback. This is where you pay the person a compliment, give them some bad feedback, and then wrap it up with another compliment.
This should help soften the blow and not knock their confidence too much, all while keeping the conversation lighter and more positive.
Just beware not to lose the feedback amongst the compliments. Being direct and honest still wins.
For example: “That was a great sales call. You explained all our product features really well. One note to work on is giving the lead a chance to ask questions. Other than that, you did a great job.”
17. Choose the Right Communication Method
There’s nothing worse than a meeting that could have been an email. But also, long email threads that go back and forth for days can sometimes be solved with a five-minute call. And personal or emotive discussions or apologies are almost always better done face to face.
Approach each discussion with a fresh slate and ask yourself: what’s the best way to communicate this message?
18. Tell a Story
Stories are powerful in all kinds of situations. Whether you want to give an engaging presentation or write a compelling article, consider how you can weave storytelling into the task.
19. Show Someone You’re Listening
Half of great communication is great listening. To show someone you’re really listening to them, you want to ask great questions and further the conversation. But you also want to give them signs you’re listening while they’re still talking.
This could include:
- Appropriate facial expressions
- Eye contact (aim for eye contact when listening about 70% of the time)
Plus, add in short phrases like:
- “That’s great”
- “I see”
20. Remember Key Points About People
Small talk is a hard but necessary evil. To make it easier, make an effort to remember key points about people you interact with regularly to give yourself something to ask about in your next conversation.
For example, if your boss mentions they’re going to a gig this weekend, you can ask how it was in your Monday morning chat before a meeting.
If a client mentions they’re moving house, you might note this down and ask about it on your next sales call.
People will feel important and interested in, and it’ll help your small talk flow more easily by giving you more to talk about than just the weather.
21. Clear Your Mind
We’re all busy people and our minds can be pretty busy places, too.
When having a conversation with someone, you might find yourself thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner, how to respond to that tricky work email, and what you can say next to sound impressive.
All this takes us away from what the person is actually saying and how we can best respond to connect with them.
Clear your mind and focus on the task at hand: communication. Aim to connect with the person, empathize with them, and engage in clear conversation with minimal mental distractions.