Frustrated by the he said she said? Here’s how to improve your communication skills

By Hannah Kingston

Friday September 4, 2020


How often do we blame poor communication skills for poor workflow efficiency, missed deadlines and projects that aren’t quite up to scratch? 

Working from home has likely unearthed the true extent to which below-par communication skills can push tasks behind, and at the end of the day, leave people feeling disgruntled.

Whether or not you are continuing to work from home, you may be getting frustrated by the he said, she said of everyday communications within your team.

Everyone, at different stages of their professional and personal lives, can do with a touch up on their baseline communication skills.

Here are 10 proactive ways to improve your communication skills:

  1. Ask yourself if you’re actually listening or you’re waiting for your turn to talk
  2. If the email is over five sentences, just call
  3. Don’t be too embarrassed to ask questions
  4. Set agendas before meetings 
  5. Always take action notes and circulate after meetings
  6. Keep it concise 
  7. Practice delivering your ideas in a linear way
  8. Maintain an interactive task board that everyone has access to 
  9. Call out good and poor communication 
  10. Ask colleagues and peers for feedback

Ask yourself if you’re actually listening or you’re waiting for your turn to talk

One thing that is almost always more important than talking is listening. One of the most important communications skills out there is learning how to listen when other people are speaking. Whether you are in a team meeting or a one on one, try to really focus in on what the people or person is saying to you and what that means in the broader scheme of things.

If you are in the habit of interrupting someone while they are speaking, make a mental note to kick it to the kerb, meaningful conversations should have more than one person doing the talking.

If you are in the habit of waiting for your turn to talk without listening to what the person is saying, it’s time to start implementing mindful listening. Instead of rearranging the next things you are going to say in your mind, listen. If you start this good habit, you will learn more from your colleague and/or peer, enabling you to to offer relevant insights back to the person speaking.

If the email is over five sentences, just call

If a paper trail isn’t necessary but what you are trying to say is clunky and takes a lot of explaining, make the phone call. It saves time for both parties as the need for constant back and forth is eliminated.

Unless you need a record of the communication, it is much easier for you to make the call. Added bonus? You get to have a friendly chat with a colleague which is much nicer than a lengthy email that takes too much time to unpack.

Don’t be too embarrassed to ask questions

Whether you have heard your question answered five or fifty times, it’s always better to ask again as opposed to guessing. Even if you feel a little embarrassed about having to ask for clarification, it’s not always going to be a reflection of your communication skills if you don’t know the answer to a question.

Always ask and ask again if you are unsure, it’s better to go into a project knowing as much as you can about it before getting started, and it saves everyone’s time and energy.

Set agendas before meetings 

Let’s face it, meetings can get derailed easily at the best of times. During remote work, it’s much easier for people’s minds and eyes to wander past the shoulders of their colleagues and external’s homes.

To maintain good communication among the internal and external members of the team, it is essential to set an agenda ahead of the meeting, including what you would like to discuss and desired outcomes of the meetings. That way, everyone knows why they are there and there’s a much greater chance of everyone staying on track.

Always take action notes and circulate after meetings

To keep the lines of communication clear (and accurate), it’s important for meetings to be followed up with action notes so that everyone on the team knows what the next steps are, what is expected of them within that and the timeframe in which they need to complete their share.

Always take action notes and share them following a meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page, welcome feedback, edits and clarification.

Keep it concise 

Good communication skills rely on comms to be concise. Without being rude, keep it short and focused. If someone doesn’t understand your message or email, strike while the iron is hot and make the call straight away.

Good communication depends on the communicator, making sure that your colleagues understand you is your responsibility as much as it is theirs.

Practice delivering your ideas in a linear way

If you find that you are the type of person that often goes on tangents, don’t beat yourself up! There are ways that you can polish up your presentation skills.

If you are due to share your ideas or insights, write down your own personal agenda as well as the format in which you would like to deliver your presentation. It might even help to practice in the mirror. When it comes to holding people’s focus, it is essential to highlight the facts in a digestible way. When delivering new ideas or insights, remind yourself that the people you are speaking to have likely never heard this information before, so deliver it to them with that in mind.

Maintain an interactive task board that everyone has access to 

There are ways to keep an eye on what everyone else is up to without micro-managing. Whether your working remotely or in the office, you can stay on top of your workload and how that corresponds with your teams easily with platforms such as Trello, Monday and Asana to name a few.

Call out good and poor communication 

If poor communication is slowing you or the entire team down, it’s time to call it out sooner, rather than later. Nothing changes if everyone accepts the status quo. If communication is poor among your team, try to address it. Ask where the gaps are and see what can be done to improve the current set up.

If your team members would benefit from a communication skills course, see if there is available funding to facilitate it. Ultimately poor communication is time-consuming and time is money so it won’t be long before there is a clear return on investment.

Ask colleagues and peers for feedback

As you and your team move toward optimal communication, ask colleagues and peers for feedback. Ask if they understood the brief after you discussed it with them. Ask them if there is anything you could do to make it clearer.

Offer feedback where appropriate, let your team members know what works best for you and what makes for optimal communication for you.

Now read: How to get a promotion in the public sector: 10 tips for getting ahead

Now read: Ten simple yet effective ways to make your CV stand out 

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