Soft skills are important skills to have. And none is more important than communication skills
In fact, according to ZipRecruiter’s Job Market Recruit Outlook for Grads report, good communication was the top soft skill wanted by employers who listed openings on the company’s job search site. They included it as a requirement on 6.1 million job openings posted during the year leading up to May 1, 2022.
But what exactly are good communication skills, and how do you develop them?
There are a variety of communication skills, ranging from listening and speaking clearly to maintaining eye contact. And here are some of the most important things you need to do to be an effective communicator:
- Listen. – Good listening skills are at the top of the list. In order to communicate effectively, you need to practice active listening. Pay careful attention to what the other person or people are saying.
- Ask questions. – If you don’t understand something, ask questions. And you may want to repeat some of what they say in your own words. For example, the hiring manager might mention, “We’re looking for someone who is a good team player.” And you might respond, “Oh I see. You’re looking for someone who gets along well with others. Is that correct?” Doing this shows that you’re really hearing to what they have to say.
- Think before opening your mouth. – Although listening is very important, learning to respond appropriately is also an important skill. Take a minute to get your thoughts together before you speak. And make sure you don’t interrupt the person you’re talking to.
- Speak slowly and clearly. – Don’t mumble, and be sure to pronounce words correctly. If you’re not sure how to pronounce something, don’t say it.
- Eliminate “ums.” – Pay attention to whether you use “um” as a conversation filler, and try not to use it. Pause and get your thoughts together instead. You’ll sound more professional that way.
- Be brief. – Although you may be excited and nervous, don’t talk too much. Just say enough to get your point across, and that’s it. Remember the Traffic-Light Rule for when it’s your turn to talk. The first 30 seconds, the light is green, and the hiring manager is paying attention. The second 30 seconds, the light is yellow, and the hiring manager may think you are rambling or are concerned they will forget what they want to say next. The third 30 seconds, or 90 seconds into your answer, the light is red, and it’s time to shut up if you’re still talking.
- Display appropriate body language. – Don’t cross your arms. Doing so gives the message that you are insecure, defensive and shutting other people out. If you’re standing, let your arms hang by your side. And if you’re sitting you may wish to fold your hands in your lap.
- Maintain eye contact. – While there are many theories about eye contact, most experts agree that you should make eye contact with the person you’re talking to somewhere between 50 percent and 79 percent of the time. You can gently look away toward the side in between looking the person in the eye.
- Practice good posture. – Sit or stand up straight. Doing so will help keep you more alert and able to focus more effectively.
- Control your emotions. – If someone says something that makes you uncomfortable, don’t get angry. Just take a deep breath and hear them out.
- Don’t forget to smile.– Smiling is a language all of its own and indicates that you are happy to be with the person you are talking to. A smile can convey confidence and being at ease with oneself, and can indicate that you’d be a pleasant person to work with. It also offers connection and a sense of empathy which can demonstrate that you possess important soft skills, setting you apart from other job candidates.
- Develop an ability for small talk. – If you feel uncomfortable in social situations because you don’t know what to talk about, you may want to learn the FORD – family, occupation, recreation and dreams – method. Developing questions around these topics can be conversation starters and ensure that you can talk to just about anyone in just about any situation. In the case of a job interview, however, you may want to concentrate on slightly different topics, such as occupation, company and work environment. Ask the hiring manager questions about these things. How did they get into the work they do. Why did they choose the company where you are interviewing And what’s it like to work there. Do your homework in advance. Check out their profile on LinkedIn and Facebook to see where they’ve worked and what their interests are. Try to draw out the stories of their life that make them human. When you connect with them, and start to like them, they’ll start to like and care about you.
You may want to start out by practicing these communication skills with your family and friends as you go about your daily life. Before you know it, they will become second nature. And you will stand out in an interview, as well as social situations. You’ll find that even using a few of these suggestions can set you apart.