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How to Improve Your Communications Skills

Some of the information in this topic is adapted from the books Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business and Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff.

Sections of This Topic Include

Test - What is Your Preferred Style of Communications?
What's Your Communication IQ?
Communications Tools to Use With Employees
Additional Perspectives on Communications Skills

Also consider
Appreciative Inquiry
Communications (Organizational)
Communications (Writing)
Interpersonal Skills
Interviews (exit interviews, by media, for a job, selecting job candidate and research method)
Non-Verbal Communications

Related Library Topics

Test - What is Your Preferred Style of Communications?

Before you read more about how to communicate better, you might get an impression of your naturally preferred style of communications. Take this online test.

Communication Style

What's Your Communication IQ?

© Copyright Marcia Zidle

Communication, which occupies approximately 70% of our waking hours, is what many leaders find the most frustrating.

Many of us were never taught to communicate in ways that lead to positive outcomes. Rather, we tend to experience annoyance, anger or just give up on the person or the situation. Here's how to communicate better to get better outcomes.

Take a Quick Communication Quiz.

Think of a recent important conversation How many of these questions can you answer YES to?

  1. Did I prepare ahead of time for this conversation?
  2. Did I think about what's the best way to approach this person?
  3. Was I aware of the other person's communication style and spoke to it?
  4. Did I pay full attention, without multitasking, to what the other person was saying?
  5. Was the intent of my communication to discuss and understand rather than be right?
  6. Did I listen, without interruption, to the other person's point of view even if I didn't agree?
  7. If I was asking the person to take a specific action, did I make my request clear and concise?
  8. Did I summarize what I thought I heard the other person say before expressing my point of view?
  9. Did I follow-up to see if the conversation was successful – it led to a positive outcome for the other?
  10. If the outcome did not meet my expectations, did I reflect on how to better communicate with that particular person?

What’s Your Communication IQ?

8-10 Yeses indicate you’re the tops. Keep up the good work.

4-7 Yeses is OK. Brush up in certain areas.

0-3 Yeses. You have work to do.

To Raise Your Communication IQ:

1. Talk less, hear more.

We want to be heard and listened to but we don't always concentrate on listening to others. We focus more on our agenda than on the other person’s concerns or issues.

2. Don’t shoot the messenger.

We want to understand but our ability is tainted by our perceptions of the person speaking or the outcome we are looking for. So, we often pass judgment on the speaker and disregard the message. Concentrate on the message not the messenger.

3. Avoid mind reading.

We want some kind of action or response from another person. However, we don’t let them know what we really want or how to achieve it. Before assuming the other knows what you want, first inform and then ask for feedback.

4. Stop pushing.

We want agreement from others, so much so, that we often become consumed with being right or proving our point. Rather, look for areas of mutual agreement. Then work from there to create a greater outcome.

Career Success Tip

Steven Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says; "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Therefore, in your communication, make sure to understand others before you start trying to be understood.

Are there situations in which you need to raise your communication IQ? What do you need to do to get better outcomes? How will you know that you have been successful?

Communications Tools to Use With Employees

© Copyright Carter McNamara

Effective communication is the “life's blood” of an organization. Organizations that are highly successful have strong systems of communication. One of the first signs that an organization is struggling is that communications have broken down. The following guidelines are basic in nature, but comprise the critical fundamentals for ensuring strong ongoing, internal communications.

1. Each employee writes a one-page weekly status report to his/her supervisor.

These reports may seem a tedious task, but they are precious in ensuring that the employee and supervisor have mutual understanding of what is going on. The reports also come in very handy for planning purposes. They make otherwise harried employees stand back and reflect on what they are doing. In the dated report, include a description of:

  1. What tasks were done last week.
  2. What tasks are planned next week.
  3. Any current highlights, trends or issues regarding your activities.

2. Chief Executive Officer conducts employee-wide meetings.

Employees greatly appreciate that the CEO finds time to talk to them, and the opportunity to meet their CEO in person.

  1. For clarity, focus and morale, be sure to use agendas and ensure follow-up minutes.
  2. Mention any significant events for employees, for example, birthdays.
  3. Review the overall condition of the organization.
  4. Consider conducting “in service” training about the organization where employees take turns describing their roles to the rest of the employees.
  5. Consider bringing in a customer to tell his/her story of how the organization helped them.

3. Each supervisor conducts meetings with all employees together.

Have these meetings even if there is not a specific problem to solve – just make them shorter. Holding meetings only when there are problems to solve cultivates a crisis-oriented environment where managers believe their only job is to solve problems.

  1. Prepare for these meetings by reviewing the employee’s weekly status report.
  2. For clarity, focus and morale, be sure to use agendas, take minutes and ensure follow-up minutes.
  3. Facilitate the meetings to support exchange of ideas and questions.
  4. Use these meetings for each person to briefly give an overview of what they are
    doing that week. If the meeting includes 10 people or less, then have each person
    give a one-minute description of what they did last week and plan to do next week.
  5. Have each person bring his/her calendar to ensure the scheduling of future meetings accommodates everyone’s calendar.

Each supervisor conducts one-on-one, monthly meetings with each employee.

This ultimately produces more efficient time management and supervision.

  1. Review overall status of work activities.
  2. Hear status from both the supervisor and the employee.
  3. Exchange feedback and answer any questions about current products and services.
  4. Discuss career planning, training plans, performance review plans, etc.

4. Use memos.

It is much more effective if important day-to-day information is written to people rather than said to people. Use of memos, or even e-mail messages, is ideal in these situations. In your memos or e-mail messages, include:

  1. “Subject” line, with a phrase describing the topic of the memo.
  2. “To” and “From” lines.
  3. “Date.”
  4. “Summary” describing the highlights in a paragraph near the top of the memo.
  5. “Action” specifying what you want the recipients to do with the information in the memo, for example: to respond, to take note, to starting doing something or to stop doing something.
  6. “Signature” line, that includes the signature of who wrote the memo.

5. Every employee gets an Employee Manual.

The Employee Manual includes all of the up-to-date personnel policies of the organization.

Additional Perspectives on Communications Skills

Managing By Walking Around
Big Dog on Communicating
Coaching Tip – The Art of Being Succinct
What’s Your Communication IQ?
Your Communications May Not Be Communicating
Best Practices: Your Approach to Great Communication
Five Keys to Clear Communication
When Facts Are Not Enough – 10 Tips for Communicating to a Non-Technical Audience
Dialing for Dollars: Telephone Skills that Matter
8 Coaching Tips to Enhance Interpersonal Communication
10 Question Quiz – How Do You Communicate Messages?
10 Tips to Communicate Messages Effectively
Can You See Me Now? How to Speak When Your Audience Is Remote
You Can Catch More Flies with Honey…Using Positive Communication Skills for Better Results
Fighting the Dreaded Upward Inflection, Right?
Useful Communications Skills — How to Paraphrase and Summarize
Online Communications for Change Presentations

Learn More in the Library's Blogs Related to Communication Skills

In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to Improving Your Communication Skills. Scan down the blog's page to see various posts. Also see the section "Recent Blog Posts" in the sidebar of the blog or click on "next" near the bottom of a post in the blog.

Library's Coaching Blog
Library's Communications Blog
Library's Leadership Blog
Library's Supervision Blog

For the Category of Communications:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

Related Library Topics

Recommended Books on Interpersonal Communications

Recommended Books on Business Writing