How do you improve your communication skills?

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One of the most common causes of work-related conflict is lack of communication between co-workers. Because good communication skills are essential in just about any workplace, it is important that you master the basics. Here are some tips on how to improve your communication skills.
  1. Listen. Active listening is one of the most important communication skills you can acquire. By listening intently and not allowing your mind to drift off during meetings and discussions with co-workers, you can ensure that you are retaining the important information being discussed. Take notes during meetings and ask pertinent questions about the subject matter--repeating what the speaker has said will also help to keep the information in your brain.
  2. Accept constructive criticism. Taking on a defensive posture is not the way to communicate in the workplace. If someone offers you some constructive criticism, talk with her on how to improve things. When critiquing others, do it in a professional way.
  3. Be aware of your body language. Your body language communicates for you before you even open your mouth to speak--in fact, your body language often says more about you than the words that you say! Avoid crossing your arms, which may indicate boredom, and try to maintain eye contact when having a business discussion. Yawning, fidgeting and rolling your eyes will not impress your co-workers--or your boss--either.
  4. Answer your phone. Making yourself available is a big part of maintaining effective communication. If you're at your desk, try to answer your phone. Check your voicemails often and respond in a timely manner. Remember that others are relying on you in order to get their own jobs done, so responding quickly to messages is extremely important.
  5. Use e-mail correctly. Your e-mail skills can help to make or break your business communications. Because e-mails can be misconstrued (you can't hear the sender's tone as you can in a conversation), it is imperative that you word e-mails carefully. Also, check for typos and reread the e-mail to yourself before you send it. Be careful about whom you copy and blind-copy on e-mails--be sure that you are sending workplace communications only to the people that need to be included. Also, be careful with blind copying (bcc) on e-mails--this practice, of copying someone on an e-mail without the knowledge of others in the e-mail loop, should be reserved for unique situations only.
  6. Practice effective writing skills. Your writing skills are one of your most important communication skills. If you have problems in this area, brush up on your writing skills by taking a business writing or English class. Always check for typos before sending out any written communication. If it's an important memo or presentation, have a co-worker read it over for you to make sure your message is clear.
  7. Speak with confidence. If you have to give a formal presentation, make sure you are confident and have a thorough knowledge of the subject matter--any nervousness will show through. Many people have a fear of speaking in public--if this is a problem for you, consider taking a public speaking class. When giving presentations, practice beforehand in front of a friend or co-worker. Make sure you are armed with detailed notes and practice your spiel over and over until you have it memorized. Visual aids, like a PowerPoint presentation, can also help you to get through a presentation. Allow your audience to ask you questions at the end to make sure that everyone understands what you have said.
By following these basic guidelines, you should find an improvement in your workplace communication skills, which in turn will enable you and your co-workers to get your jobs done more efficiently.
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