Job skills, in general, come in two categories: hard and soft:
- Hard job skills are specific to a particular job and include knowledge such as wiring for a motherboard or proper operating procedures for a piece of medical equipment.
- Soft job skills usually are consistent throughout the business and industry world. These skills are often thought of “common sense.”
Now, a good question to answer about any soft job skill that someone says is important is “why?” Here, the answer is pretty straightforward. Learning good, not adequate, but good written and verbal communication skills is important because of the amount of business that’s done through the two media: ALL of it!
Whether we are talking procedures, work requests, or daily logs…whether we are talking about applying for a new position, making a suggestion for an in-house improvement, or asking for a raise…whether we are talking customer service responses, marketing details, or client offers…ALL of it is accomplished through written or verbal communication.
Now, every business wants to increase profits, improve customer satisfaction, and maintain a superior professional reputation. Your image isn’t yours alone; your image, your reputation reflects back on your coworkers, your manager, everything to do with your company – even up to an international level corporation! But you want to be considered a valuable employee that contributes to the company’s image, right? How else do you gain promotions and raises and move up the ladder of success? You don’t without the most basic of job skills – good communication!
Communication is a two-way street. Not only do you have to convey your own ideas clearly, but you must be able to listen closely and understand the ideas of others as well. Many people can communicate well either in writing or speech, but often they can’t do both. The secret is to transfer what you do well from one to the other – because good written and verbal communication skills do have some similar qualities, including the following:
Listen (or read) Closely
It might sound corny, but a good plan to follow when communicating with someone is the Golden Rule, that is, treat others the way you want to be treated. This is actually the single most important element of good communications.
When you are speaking or have written a document, you want others to give their full attention and efforts to politely understanding the information and opinions you are trying to express. So, do the same when you are listening or reading. This is discussed more in Reciprocity, below. Often it can help to keep a scratchpad or notebook handy to jot down highlights and key points the other person is making. Not only will this help you remember the encounter (written OR verbal), but it will also help you formulate questions that might arise from the communication.
Clarity and Coherence
Yes, we’ve all heard the saying, “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with b*,” but a confusing, unorganized presentation of even the most accurate information is going to reduce your credibility and, thus, your reputation. The more time someone has to spend wading through the “fluff” to get to the “meat” of your information, the less likely they will be to take what you have to say seriously.
Be concise as well. Don’t use cliches, extra phrases like “you know,” and don’t explain how to build a clock when someone asks you the time. You might even consider jotting down an outline of what you want to say. This doesn’t mean it needs to be an “official” outline with Roman numerals for headings like you learned to create back in school. List the main points you want to make, and list the supporting ideas or information for each point. Organize the outline, make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, and then, stick to it!
This goes hand-in-hand with the above point. It might involve the formatting of a document, the standard words and terms you use to provide information, or even the attitude you present with your own personal style. If you want your manager, coworkers, and/or clients to see you as a valuable and professional part of your organization, then you need to consistently present that professional quality.
With many business communications, your style of communicating is the first – and perhaps, the only – impression people are going to get about your attitude. Think of it like this: when you go to an interview, do you wear old, grubby jeans and dirty t-shirt? Of course not; it wouldn’t present the image you want your potential employer to see!! Now consider the three phone calls from a disgruntled client – you want to present that same professional image every time. That is, you must be consistent in the WAY you communicate.
In relation to the WAY you communicate, also always ensure that your grammar and punctuation (or grammar and pronunciation) are correct. Again, your image is reflecting back on everything and everyone related to your company as well as reflecting upon back on you – and you don’t want to present an image of someone too lazy to learn the basic conventions of the English language!
The previous point related to the WAY you communicate. Here you must look at WHAT you are communicating. Make sure that any information, facts, and figures you provide are completely correct and make sure that facts and opinions are clearly distinguishable.
Nothing ruins your image quite as quickly as inaccurate information, whether it’s accidental or intentional. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll check on that.” Sometimes, mistakes do happen, though, and accidental misinformation is often simple to correct – you just apologize and explain that you made a mistake. But, right now, you are probably also thinking, “I would never intentionally give false information!” And that might be true, but what about exaggerating a little bit? What about that line on your resume that says you are virtually an expert with a particular computer program, when you are merely familiar with it? Once you start exaggerating to make your points, to convince someone of something, it’s difficult to draw the line; it’s much easier to present accurate information in the first place than to try and explain why it wasn’t correct later.
Of course we all know we are intelligent, and we are sure it comes across in our communication abilities – not book smarts, but common sense. Not so! Most of us, at some time or another, write or speak without thinking much about what we are trying to say, much less how we say it. But taking the time to think before you write or speak can make a world of difference in the above points.
The key is to consider both the purpose of and the audience for your communication. If you are speaking to a coworker about a technical glitch, standard industry jargon can be helpful. However if you are trying to write a web page giving information to customers about the glitch, chances are that same jargon is only going to confuse them. So think, first, about the person with whom you are communicating, and combine that with some thought about why you are communicating with them in the first place. And then move on to the next point!
That’s just a fancy word for following The Golden Rule. It may sound corny, but in your written and verbal communications, treat others the same way you would want to be treated in a similar situation – it fits every instance listed so far in this lesson!
If someone is disappointed or unhappy with your or your company’s product/services, don’t snap at them. Instead try to understand his or her point of view – whether you agree with it or not might be another matter, but at least understand. Although you should – almost – always follow company procedures, try not to offer silly clichés and platitudes. These might include telling a coworker, “that’s not in my job description!” Or it might be nothing more than telling a customer, “sorry about that!” Whether you are trying to lighten the atmosphere with a joke or, in the second example, offering a sincere apology, make sure you do it in your own words, not with a flip response!
Although the two types of communication have many similarities, they also have one big difference:
- Written communication does not usually have a sense of urgency to it – it’s not required immediately, while verbal communication is often quick, even unanticipated at times. Each of these qualities has its own pros and cons.
The slower response factor for written documents usually allows you time to think about what, how, to whom, and why you are writing. Thus, written communication often allows you to plan ahead, to revise, to get all of the points listed above right, BEFORE you send it. However, written business documents have more usage conventions relating to grammar and punctuation, and they often depend upon just what type of document you are creating.
On the other hand, verbal communication is much more forgiving – no punctuation! And you can immediately explain anything that is misunderstood. Because of that same immediacy, you might need to plan ahead for anticipated responses and questions whenever you are planning a business discussion. If you can anticipate a possible question and develop its answer ahead of time, you will be that much better prepared!
All in all, remember that communication, whether written or verbal is a two-way street. In order to communicate, you must not only convey information, thoughts, and ideas, but you must listen to them as well.
For a teaching lesson plan for this lesson see:
Communication Lesson Plan