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Improving your communication skills

Being a good communicator is crucial in any role. This guide provides you with details of how you can improve your written, reading, oral and non-verbal communication skills.

The graduates and professionals interviewed in the Standing out videos stressed that communication skills are key to being able to stand out and to being successful in your career. Whether you work for an organisation or for yourself, having the ability to communicate effectively with different people using the appropriate method is essential.

You may be exceptionally well-qualified, passionate and enthusiastic about your area of work but you have to make sure that these messages are communicated to an interview panel. It is your written application that will get you the interview but your oral communication skills will be assessed on the day.

The Evidencing communication skills guide gives examples of how to evidence good communication skills. This guide seeks to give basic pointers to help you to improve and develop your skills if necessary.  The UEL English Language Centre runs short courses for overseas students.

If you have specific writing needs then the UEL Disability, Dyslexia and Access Centre (DDAC) may be able to assess and support you to become a more effective writer. It is also possible to get help at the UEL Skillzone, they run support groups and offer appointments. If you need to do supplementary work to improve your writing, grammar and punctuation there are also online courses that you can take to help you.

Only by practising skills will you start to improve and to become a more effective, confident communicator.

Reading and interpretation skills

Ensure that you read as widely as possible. Not just books and articles that relate to your course but broadsheet newspapers and popular specialist journals, e.g. New Scientist, The Economist, New Society, New Statesman.  Trade journals will cover up-to-date issues that relate to your sector, as well as introducing specialist terminology you will need.  Reading fiction improves your vocabulary and gives you a broader perspective of life.

Pick out the key points of a piece of text and be able to summarise them.

Become proficient in quickly scanning documents to get an overview to be able to assess their value and to extract important information from them.

Writing skills

  • Decide who the recipient of your written work will be and structure it according to your audience.
  • Decide what format your communication should take: e-mail, report, letter, notes, table, diagram or chart.
  • Plan what you are going to write and identify its main theme.
  • Make sure that you adopt the appropriate tone for your communication. Curtness can cause offence, but being too familiar with someone can be equally as insulting.
  • Use the protocols for sending written communication within your organisation and house style if relevant.
  • Make sure that all spellings are correct and that punctuation and grammar conform to Standard English.
  • Do not use inappropriate jargon or acronyms.
  • Ensure that what you have written is clear and cannot be misinterpreted and that the main points are not hidden in too much text.
  • Give yourself enough time to revisit your written work in order to make improvements.
  • Always proofread.  Then proofread it again.

Oral communication skills

Before an important face-to-face conversation, make notes of the points you want to discuss. Be clear about what you want to say and structure it carefully.

Make notes before making a difficult or complex telephone call.

Your voice is very important. It is not just want you say that counts; it is how you say it. Politicians and business leaders often have voice coaching. Pay attention to the speed at which you speak and the pitch and the tone of your voice. Make sure that you speak clearly and enunciate your words. Animate your voice. Speaking in a monotone can be boring for the listener - you have to sound interesting! It is easier for someone to listen to you if you use a lower register.  Your voice will have resonance and sound more authoritative.

Listen to newsreaders on TV and radio, as well as to audio books.  Any accent is acceptable as long as Standard English is used.

Always practice a presentation or likely answers to interview questions. Record yourself.

If you really are concerned about your voice and lack confidence in using the spoken word formally, then joining a drama class, even for a short period of time, would really help you. Actors did not all start out speaking the way that they do. Lots of training has helped them to enunciate and project their voices, thus giving them the confidence to stand on stage and deliver lines.

Non-verbal communication

Be aware that you are still conveying messages to the person or people with whom you are interacting, even when not speaking.

People will derive messages from the ways in which you: walk, sit, speak and even when you are silently listening. In any interaction be aware of:

  • Facial expressions
  • Eye-contact
  • Posture
  • Gestures

Nervous habits (ask your friends to let you know if you are inclined to behave in certain ways when under stress).

Reassure speakers that you are listening to them by nodding, making notes, and via your facial expression.

Take account of cultural differences, bearing in mind that in some societies certain gestures can be offensive. However, be careful not to make assumptions and stereotype people.

Communicate with impact and empathy. Wherever you join us, you’ll be working closely with all sorts of people. So you’ll need to be able to get your point across and bring others round to your way of thinking. And you should be just as happy to listen to others’ ideas and opinions. You’ll have no problem expressing yourself clearly both face-to-face and in writing.

Price Waterhouse Cooper Graduate Programme information on communication skills