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Communication skills

A nurse in consulationWhy is communication important?

Good communication skills in the workplace are vital for conveying information to people clearly and succinctly and in a way that they can understand. Communication is a two way process and good communication is about being a good listener as well as a good speaker. You need to be empathic, so that you can understand how others will interpret your words and behaviour. 

Is all communication the same?

How you communicate at work often depends on your job. If you’re a nurse, for example, you need to use a whole host of different skills, including written, spoken and body language. You need to be empathic, but also commanding. Being able to tailor your communication skills to different situations is important as different environments and audiences will need to be handled slightly differently.

Written communication also needs careful consideration and can easily be misinterpreted, particularly when using email or text. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are important, but so is your use of words and sentence structure. Always re-read an email before you send it and think about how the other person will interpret what you have written. Choose words that are appropriate for the situation, like you would if you were speaking, and think about how you finish the email – you probably wouldn’t want to finish an email to your boss with a smiley face.

How do I improve my verbal communication skills?

  • Remember to let the other person get their thoughts across and try not to interrupt them. Try to listen more than you speak in a conversation and give the other person your full attention.
  • Be open and honest in what you say. If you are not, your body language may well give you away.
  • Learn to express yourself well. It is not just what you say, but how you say it. Your tone of voice can sometimes change your meaning entirely.
  • Always make sure the other person has understood you, or you them, and don’t be afraid to clarify an instruction or ask them to repeat a phrase, as this can often be where issues in the workplace arise.
  • Alter your style of communication to match your listener or audience. This is a really good way of building a relationship with them and makes the information you need to impart more relevant and accessible.
  • Think before you speak. Once the words have been said it is impossible for you to take them back, so think about the person you are speaking to and the outcome you are looking for. Will what you are going to say, and the way you in which you will say it, gain you that outcome?

Learn more about communcation skills

To improve your communication skills you could complete the OU OpenLearn unit, Key skill assessment: Communication

Investigate good examples of effective and ineffective communication from the Transforming care unit, Effective and ineffective communication.

Further information on communication skills

Read guidance from ACAS (the arbitration and conciliation service), via HR magazine’s website, on ‘difficult conversations’ at work.

Take the quiz on communication and read other useful information about communication at MindTools.