Have you heard of the man who went shopping casually only to come back with supplies plenty enough to start a mini-store? The story goes like this… His wife had given him a short list of the stationery items their daughter needed for school. Without hesitation, armed with the list and his wallet, the dedicated husband and dad proceeded to fetch the items. However, because of a communication glitch, he back came with much more than his wife and daughter bargained for. Apparently, he had misread his wife’s numbered list and thought each item number meant the number of items required! The story is a reminder of how easy it is to miscommunicate and why we should continually seek to improve our communication skills.
Miscommunication can easily take you off course. Although the example above was easily rectifiable, poor communication could lead to grave unintended consequences. The need to improve one’s communications skills is potentially universal. I am yet to come across anyone who doesn’t want to get better in this area. You are never too young to start working on your communication. If you are a student who wants to clinch the best opportunities when the time comes, effective communication is key.
What is communication?
Communication is a highly desirable and highly sought-after social skill. Arguably it is the soft skill that tops the essential requirements list of employers and great institutions of learning.
It is not unusual to think that communication simply relates to how we talk to each other. In its barest form that conclusion is accurate, but in truth, communication has many more layers.
Communication between parties covers:
- Clarity of delivery
- Grasping the emotions of the person you’re communicating with and
- Listening to understand the intentions behind the information you’re receiving
Knowing and doing these, transitions your communication skills from basic level to effective.
Basic Communication can be littered with undesired errors. Just like the written miscommunication example in the story above, verbal miscommunication regularly occurs when operating at a basic level. In some extreme instances conflict may ensue; the exact opposite of your intended outcome. Sadly, such misunderstandings can occur in any setting, socially or professionally.
As a student who wants to stand out from the crowd, you need to move from basic to effective communication.
Before we delve into what you can do to improve your communication skills, let’s explore the various types of communication.
Types of communication
There are three main types of communication:
This relates to the use of speech. Aside from day-to-day conversations with your peers, your verbal communication prowess is tested in a range of formal settings. At school or college this could be when delivering important presentations. Prospective employers would also like to know that you can convincingly converse with and influence their existing and potential clients.
If you hope to be successful in this area, remember to always maintain a clear and confident voice. Make sure the information you aim to deliver is as simple to understand as possible.
Strong verbal communication does not stop at speaking clearly and succinctly in an engaging and convincing manner. You also need to be an active listener. Employers and universities tend to favour you if you demonstrate active listening skills. This is because they know your responses will be better tailored to requirements and solution orientated.
If you’re a student whose dream career requires regular engagement with clients, start developing effective verbal communication skills now.
This pertains to the exchange of information without the use of words or speech. Body language is a core type of non-verbal communication. Good posture, positive hand gestures and a warm disposition such as a smile, are all examples of effective body language.
Knowing how to project a positive body language is important however you also need to know how to read the non-verbal cues of whoever you are communicating with. This is an invaluable skill. For example, if you notice a lack of interest, you can change your approach, tone of voice, topic etc.
Although you can’t feel positive all the time, being aware of your emotions and how you come across helps you manage your non-verbal communication better. If for example, you tend to cross your arms when feeling agitated, self-awareness will you help you manage this better.
A positive body language allows for a more effective conversation.
Start working on your non-verbal communication skills now if you want to be ahead of the curve when your education is completed.
This is where information is exchanged via words and numbers via formal and informal notes, letters, reports and emails etc.
Compared with the nuances of other forms of communication, written exchanges tend to be more direct, clearer, succinct and concise.
When communicating verbally and even non-verbally, we often add humour or try to create a lighter tone of conversation.
Although this can also be done with written communication, the capacity is limited. Hence you will do well to use discretion and tread carefully when attempting to do this.
Most importantly to maintain professionalism, always review written content before sending or publishing it.
As a student, this aspect of your communication skills gets tested much earlier than others. Apart from SATS and GCSE English Language exams, you will be expected to provide a written personal statement for your university application.
How important is good communication?
Effective Communication is a key component in establishing and maintaining relationships in every facet of life.
- It influences how close you become with friends and family in your personal life.
- It's essential in the maintenance and enhancement of the chemistry between you and your peers or colleagues in the workplace.
- It goes a long way towards boosting morale and cultivating a healthy working relationship.
- Research shows that performance, commitment and workplace productivity improve in a cordial working environment.
On the other hand, think back to a time where you had a teacher who didn’t have good communication skills. More often than not, the poor communication left you disinterested about the subject and with no motivation to give your all.
How to improve your communication skills
As a student, you can improve your communication skills in a number of ways. I’ve shared some of them below:
Seek opportunities to communicate
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The best way to improve your communication skills is to communicate more often. Activities such as the following help you increase your proficiency
- Work experience - voluntary or paid especially when customer-facing
- Joining clubs and societies in school
- Taking positions of responsibility in school e.g. becoming a prefect
- Take regular breaks from your screen to speak face-to-face with others
- Attend our Soft Skills workshop. For details of the next one, post your details here
Ask for feedback
If you’re going to get better at communicating, you need to know how you’re currently coming across. Ask for feedback from a trusted observer (parent, teacher, mentor etc) to help you get better.
There is no point seeking feedback if all you’re going to do is be defensive and see it as a personal attack. You wouldn’t develop either if you have a wrong mindset such as believing you cannot improve.
One of the best ways to handle constructive feedback is to implement the suggested improvements as soon as possible. Then continue to practice the new ways of communicating until you master the skill.
Feedback doesn’t always have to come from a third-party. You can achieve this by being self-aware.
- Notice how you come across in high pressure situations. Does this invoke high stress levels and strong emotions which compromise the clearness of your delivery?
- Does this manifest itself in poor body language as you unconsciously display negative non-verbal signs?
- Do you catch yourself slouching and/or sighing thus conveying disinterest?
- Do you find yourself using fillers such as ‘like’ and ‘um’ when speaking because you are nervous?
To avoid the quality of your communication becoming compromised, practice retaining composure and calming down before continuing a conversation.
Consciously make the effort to display positivity as it will show that you care about the conversation. Smile, maintain eye contact and an upright posture. Doing these increases the effectiveness of your communication and lessens the chance of defensiveness and hostility from the other person.
You can practice all these in low pressure situations, such as with your friends or family.
Focus on the conversation at hand
In all forms of communication - verbal, non-verbal and written - your attention needs to be principally on the conversation.
This will ensure that the information you’re aiming to convey is clear, concise and easy to understand.
- Avoid distractions such as smart phone notifications when you’re having a conversation.
- Actively listen to the information you receive so your response is meaningful.
Observe great communicators
If you want to become good at something, then you should learn from the best.
Great communicators use a range of effective body language cues, tone of voice, the power of pauses and so on. Viewing such communicators regularly will help you recognise what good looks like and help you up your game.
Watching TED Talks and UK Youth Parliament regularly should help you in this area.
Whether you’re seeking work experience, a university place, an internship or an apprenticeship, effective communication skills are absolutely crucial. As a student who wants to succeed, you cannot afford to neglect this and the earlier you start the better.
The tips above should set you on the right path, so start working on your communication skills today and watch yourself blossom.
If you would like further help in this area, come to our next Soft Skills workshop in Feb 2021. To confirm your interest in the next workshop post your details here (no credit card required).