Effective communication skills: How to improve and develop them

Effective communication skills: How to improve and develop them
SEEK content teamupdated on 01 February, 2024

You often see ‘excellent communication skills’ listed in the criteria in job advertisements. That’s because communication skills form the foundation of cooperation and collaboration, and are essential for learning on the job and being a productive team player.

Communication skills can also help you get ahead at work, leading to more career opportunities and greater job satisfaction. In this article, we cover the basics of effective communication, including strategies for improving them and advice on how to list communication skills on your resumé.

What are communication skills?

Put simply, effective communication involves conveying a message clearly so the recipient understands the intended meaning. It encompasses several different types of communication, including:

  • Verbal communication: using language to convey information.
  • Non-verbal communication: body language, facial expressions, gestures and other non-verbal cues play a significant role in communication. Observing non-verbal cues can help you to understand the true meaning of a message.
  • Visual communication: involves using visual aids like graphs, pictures, charts and infographics to convey ideas.
  • Written communication: the ability to communicate ideas through text.

While the ability to effectively convey a message is a fundamental aspect of communication, the practice of active listening is an equally important part. Active listening means paying full attention to someone while they’re speaking to you, responding with your own verbal and non-verbal cues and making a point to understand the person’s message.

By using effective communication and active listening skills in the workplace, you can minimise misunderstandings, improve your own efficiency and maintain open and empathetic professional relationships with colleagues.  

How to improve communication skills

Communication skills don’t always come naturally. For some, they take time and practice to develop and maintain. If you’re wondering how to develop your communication skills, here are a few steps to help get you started.

Step 1. Consider your audience

Everyone communicates differently, so it’s important to tailor your style of communication to your audience. By communicating in a way that captures their attention, you’re more likely to keep them engaged so you’ll have a better chance of relaying your intended message.

Step 2. Use active listening

Practise your active listening skills at every opportunity. Give the speaker your full attention. Do your best to avoid interrupting them, and wait for them to finish before responding. When you do respond, it can be helpful to reflect on what they’ve said to demonstrate your understanding and avoid miscommunication.

Step 3. Speak with clarity

To become an effective communicator, it’s important to express your thoughts clearly and concisely. Organise your thoughts before speaking or writing to keep your message simple and easy to understand. Be sure to avoid unnecessary jargon or overly complex language, unless it can be easily understood by your audience (see step 1).

Step 4. Understand body language

Be mindful of body language and other non-verbal cues. They can be used to support what it is you’re trying to say. Maintaining eye contact is essential for engagement and to convey sincerity. With that said, it’s also worth paying attention to the other person’s body language to get an idea of how they’re feeling and if your message is being received the way you intend.

Step 5. Encourage feedback

Asking for feedback is a great way to make sure your message has been understood. It’s also a good way to find out if you need to improve upon your own communication style. You might want to ask people to repeat what you’ve said in their own words to make sure it’s sunk in. This can help to boost the retention of information, avoid misunderstandings and fix any miscommunication that may have happened.

Strategies to improve your communication skills

If you need help improving your communication skills, there are several different strategies you can use. Here are just some of the things you can do to become a better communicator. 

Practise, practise, practise

As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’, and that certainly applies to communication. One of the best ways to master effective communication skills is to do exercises that focus on your weaknesses. Whether that’s active listening, rehearsing a speech or doing writing activities, there are plenty of ways you can practise communication skills.

Seek a mentor

Is there someone at work – or who you look up to outside of work – who you think is a great communicator? It could be worth approaching them and asking if they’d be willing to provide you with personalised guidance to help you improve your skills. Having a mentor can be a great way to get personal advice and gain real-time feedback on your communication style.

Take online courses

Online courses provide a convenient way to boost your communication skills. Online courses will often cover a range of communication topics, from basic principles to advanced techniques, to provide you with a comprehensive learning experience. 

Listen to podcasts on communication

Tuning into a podcast on communication can be an effective way to enhance your skills. Plus, you can also practise focused listening by actively reflecting on what you’re listening to.

Read books and blogs on communication

There are countless books on all forms of effective communication: public speaking, email writing, networking and interpersonal skills, listening and more. Did you know that the act of reading itself can help you improve your writing skills?

Try professional coaching

Working with an experienced professional or communication expert can provide you with valuable knowledge and insights that you can use yourself. They can help you practise in a safe space and tailor their training to your specific needs.

Participate in workshops and seminars

There are a number of workshops and seminars focused on communication skills that are run by professional organisations. Toastmasters is one famous example of an organisation dedicated to improving public speaking skills. You’ll also find groups for improving writing skills, book clubs that can help you get better at reading comprehension and meet ups where you can practise your conversational skills.  

Use online tools and apps

Some tools offer interactive exercises, feedback and assessments that have been created to help enhance specific aspects of communication.

Actively participate in discussions

Engaging in discussions, whether at work or in a casual setting, can be a great way to practise your communication skills. It can help improve your ability to articulate thoughts, respond to counter-arguments and think on your feet.

Dos and don’ts of effective communication

If you’re interested in mastering effective communication skills, there are a few rules to live by. Here we break them down into a list of dos and don’ts.

  • Use multiple communication styles
  • Spend time practising these multiple communication styles
  • Practise active listening and paraphrase what you hear, to avoid misunderstandings
  • Observe non-verbal cues and use your own body language to convey a message
  • Tailor your communication style to suit your audience
  • Use simple, concise language
  • Be open to receiving constructive feedback
  • Interrupt the speaker
  • Jump to conclusions without letting the other person finish
  • Overcomplicate your message
  • Show negative body language, including facial expressions
  • Send a written message without proofreading it first
  • Talk at the other person, instead try to have a two-way conversation
  • Assume your audience understands what you’re saying – ask for feedback to ensure they’ve understood the message correctly

Communication strategies for the workplace

Effective communication is fundamental not only to your performance at work, but also to the overall success of the business. With this in mind, there are several effective communication strategies you can put into practise on the job to improve your own performance. These can be broken down into verbal and non-verbal categories.

Verbal communication strategies

Verbal communication means using speech/spoken words to relay information to someone. Strategies to improve your verbal communication include: 
  • Asking for feedback and providing feedback to others
  • Focusing on your tone of voice when speaking with others
  • Not interrupting when someone else is speaking
  • Using clear, concise language to avoid confusion

Non-verbal communication strategies

Non-verbal communication strategies are just as important in getting your message across. Techniques to improve your non-verbal communication include: 

  • Maintaining the right amount of eye contact during a conversation
  • Focusing on the person communicating
  • Showing open, positive body language
  • Acknowledging what other people are saying and asking for clarification if needed
  • Practising active listening
  • Avoiding distractions

How to list communication skills on your resumé

Once you have mastered effective communication skills, you’ll want to list them on your resumé. Highlighting your communication skills is a great way to stand out from other job seekers.

The first step is to identify your top communication skills. You might want to look at a full list of communication skills, to find which ones relate to you most. Once you’ve developed your own list, try to narrow it down to your top three to five. 

If you’re struggling to narrow down your list of communication skills, try focusing on those that are relevant to the position you’re applying for. Read the job description to get a good understanding of what it’s asking for and tailor your communication skills to address those needs. Don’t be tempted to list skills you’re not confident about. Stick to the ones you feel you’ve mastered. 

Finally, rather than just listing your communication skills, work them into your experience section to demonstrate how you’ve used them in a workplace setting. In the interview stage of the hiring process, the interviewer may want examples of when you’ve used your communication skills – if you’ve already provided them on your resumé, you’re one step ahead. 

Example of communication skills on your resumé

There are many communication skills you could list on your resumé, but it’s important to focus on those that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. Here are just some of the communication skills you could list on your resumé:

  • Active listening
  • Attention to detail
  • Collaborative skills
  • Crisis communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Interviewing skills
  • Motivational skills
  • Negotiating
  • Presenting
  • Public speaking
  • Relationship management
  • Written communication

Sample resumé skills section

There are several ways you can list your communication skills on your resumé. Here’s an example of how you could present your top skills while providing a little more context on how you’ve applied each skill in a work environment:

Key skills 
  • Presentations: engaging presentation skills, both in-person and through online platforms
  • Written skills: high level of written communication skills, reports, white papers, presentations 
  • Collaborative skills: proven ability to work in team settings, across departments
  • Public-speaking skills: experience addressing different audiences at conferences
Communication skills are fundamental to success in the workplace. They pave the way for effective collaboration, quick problem solving and positive relationships with your colleagues. Mastering effective communication takes time and practice, but they’re skills worth developing, no matter your profession.


Why is effective communication important?

Effective communication plays a key role in your professional success. It’s essential to collaboration in the workplace, overcoming challenges and learning new skills and abilities. It’s vital for identifying and solving problems, resolving conflicts and maintaining positive relationships with your colleagues, clients and other stakeholders. 

What are the key components of good communication?

Effective communication involves a number of key components including: 

  • Clarity (using easy to understand language) 
  • Conciseness (being economical with words) 
  • Active listening (paying full attention) 
  • Giving and picking up non-verbal cues, like body language
  • Understanding your audience, so you can tailor your message to their level 
By doing the above, you’ll be better placed to convey your intended message and avoid misunderstandings.

What are some common communication barriers to watch out for?

Some common barriers to effective communication include: 

  • Making assumptions 
  • Casting judgement or having biases
  • Language or cultural barriers 
  • Lack of feedback 
  • Ambiguous messages
 Being mindful of these can help you avoid potential communication issues.

How can I become a better listener?

Active listening is an important part of effective communication – but it takes practice to master. When talking to someone, pay full attention to them, avoid distractions (like your phone) and don’t interrupt. After they have spoken, paraphrase what they said, asking questions if you need clarification. Active listening is a skill that develops over time, so the more you practise it, the more you will improve. 

More from this category: Workplace skills

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