What are verbal communication skills and how can you improve them?

What are verbal communication skills and how can you improve them?
SEEK content teamupdated on 12 December, 2023
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You may have noticed a common factor in job ads: they all seem to ask for good communication skills. Talking is something we all do every day, but it’s not always something we’re good at. So, at what point does it become a skill? 

In this article, we’ll walk you through what verbal communication is, why it’s important, and how these skills can be developed to benefit both your professional and personal life.

What is verbal communication?

In a work context, it usually refers to speech, with written communication referring to written language, and non-verbal communication referring to body language and other cues. 

It also involves give and take, so listening skills are a big part of it, too. When it comes to the skill level, sometimes this may refer to holding a presentation, having a chat with your team, talking with customers, or asking a team member for help.

Why is verbal communication important?

At work, it improves relationships, raises productivity, and makes everyone happier. It’s a great skill to make sure your words and message are being clearly conveyed. Whatever methods you use, it’s a powerful tool that can make you a fantastic asset in any workplace. 

The importance of good verbal communication skills at work

In the workplace, having good communication skills can help you form strong relationships. Not only that, but you'll be able to collaborate more easily, build trust, and be better understood. Also, as a lot of verbal communication is combined with non-verbal cues, like body language alongside speech, it can be a powerful way to get your message across.

The impact of poor verbal communication skills

Not being able to express yourself verbally can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, a chaotic workplace, and low morale. However, as with many other skills in the workplace, verbal communication is a skill that can be improved. With some dedication and practice, and you’ll be adding these skills to your resumé too.

Types of verbal communication skills

There are a few characteristics that help define verbal communication, so let’s break it down:

  • Verbal tone and pitch. This is how your voice sounds, helping convey emotion, add interest, and make your speech more conversational. You can think of pitch as the highness or lowness of your voice, and tone as how harsh or soft it sounds.
  • Voice modulation and inflection. Voice modulation is when your speech shifts between loud and soft or fast and slow. Without it, you’d sound a lot like a robot! Inflection is when your voice rises, like the end of a sentence when you’re asking a question.
  • Clarity and pronunciation. These are things like speaking words correctly, emphasising the right syllables and sounding the letters out properly. They add credibility to your communication, so do your research on any words that might trip you up.
  • Articulation and enunciation. These are closely related to clarity and pronunciation, but are more about speaking without mumbling or slurring.
  • Use of appropriate language. This comes down to knowing your audience and the context in which you’re speaking. For example, the language you’d use when presenting at a conference would be a lot more formal than how you’d talk with a colleague about a project.
  • Listening skills. Verbal communication is more than just talking, listening skills are also key. Being able to actively listen means that you’re not just talking ‘at’ someone, but respecting them and inviting them into the conversation.

Benefits of effective verbal communication skills 

So now hopefully you have a better understanding that verbal communication skills are important to convey our message clearly. But are there other benefits? The answer is yes - and there are a few!

Improves team collaboration

Whether you’re working across teams or within a tight unit, being able to convey your ideas verbally makes for better collaboration. It can also make it easier to solve problems, ensuring there are no misunderstandings or confusion.

Increases workplace productivity

Having good communication skills in the workplace also increases productivity, reducing any unnecessary back-and-forth or misunderstandings. 

Communicating your ideas or issues clearly and promptly means you can ensure everyone is on the same page, or more easily come to a compromise where others are resistant.

Allows for better conflict resolution

Conflict is a part of every workplace, but having top-notch communication skills can make it less of a problem. A good communicator will be able to tease out the issues, and understand each point of view by asking questions and actively listening. This will make it much easier to find a solution that everyone can accept.

Enhances customer service

It’s not just internally that communication skills are useful, they’re also useful in customer service and client-facing roles. Engaging with customers and clients and understanding how they tick can increase their overall satisfaction. Everyone likes to feel heard, so being able to build rapport and speak their language is a great skill to have.

Increases job satisfaction

Finally, having good communication skills in the workplace equals greater job satisfaction. You’ll be able to foster relationships, drive change, and negotiate things like pay rises and promotions. It’ll also help you ask for feedback and grow into new opportunities.

These are just a few benefits, but they show how powerful verbal communication skills in the workplace can be! 

Barriers to effective verbal communication skills

While important, there are a range of barriers that can impact communication skills. Knowing if any of these barriers is impacting your communication is a great first step to developing this essential skill. 

Here are some of the main barriers:

  • Language and cultural differences. These are inevitable in our global workplace, and can be challenging to overcome. For example, what’s considered polite in one language can sometimes sound harsh or rude in another, leading to misunderstandings or conflict. It can also be hard to convey a message if you don’t have the vocabulary to explain it in a language you aren’t fluent in.
  • Physical barriers. You can experience these in a remote or office setting. They could be anything from a noisy working environment, working in a different timezone to your colleagues, or even a closed office door.
  • Psychological and emotional barriers. Psychological safety is being supported in the workplace. It means that you feel free to bring up issues or make mistakes without fear of negative consequences. If that environment doesn’t exist, it can be hard for even the best communicators, as it can feel risky to think outside the box and share your ideas.
  • Technological barriers. We’ve all been in online meetings where nothing seems to go right. The webcam isn’t working, your colleague is frozen, the program crashes. Despite our best efforts, sometimes technology can get in the way of great communication skills.

Verbal communication defines you to some extent in the workplace, as it's a large part of how you present yourself. If it’s something within your control, it pays to try and overcome these barriers. That way, you can get the most out of your workplace relationships.

Strategies for improving verbal communication skills

Now that you understand the importance and benefits, you might be wondering how you can improve your verbal communication skills. Here are some tips you can try out to build your skills.

Practise active listening

Despite what it sounds like, active listening isn’t having a ‘walk and talk’. It’s using eye contact, asking open-ended questions, and giving your full attention to the speaker. Most importantly, don’t interrupt, even if you feel you have something to add, as there’s always time for that when they’ve finished. 

You can also paraphrase what they’ve said back to them, to either clarify something, or show that what they’ve said has made a strong impact on you. Try it out! It’s a great way to improve your communication skills by making the person you’re talking to feel heard and understood.

Use clear and concise language

To be a good verbal communicator it’s important to be clear and concise. This means using plain, straightforward language that the listener is familiar with. By doing this they'll be more likely to understand you, and you'll be more likely to stick to the topic. 

Not only will you be more productive, but it’ll make you sound more professional and confident. To practise, plan out what you want to say, know your audience, and stick to the relevant information.

Ask questions for clarity

Asking relevant questions is a great way to show that you’re listening, but it also allows you to get a deeper understanding of what’s being said. Don’t be shy to ask for clarification. It shows you’re interested and lets the other person add more value to the conversation. Just remember to not interrupt or cut the speaker off, and instead wait for a gap in the conversation to ask your question. 

Be aware of non-verbal communication

To make a strong impact when speaking, you can use non-verbal communication like body language to support your message. Things like maintaining good eye contact, smiling, and having a welcoming posture will bring the listener in. To add to this, being aware of the other person’s body language and expression is equally important, as it lets you know whether what you’re saying is landing as you intended. 

If you feel you’re losing your audience, try asking questions or framing what you’re saying differently.

Use positive language

To build rapport, encourage a dialogue, and inspire the people around you, a great strategy is to use positive language. Even if you have a negative message, you can always frame it in a positive way. To do this, make sure the person you’re speaking with knows that it’s okay to ask questions or disagree. You can be straightforward, but be constructive and interested in what the other person has to say.

To quote Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Be mindful of tone and inflection

Think of verbal communication like music. It can be loud and harsh, or soft and melodic. It has a rhythm that can draw your audience in and keep the conversation flowing. Being aware of that is a great way to add interest to your communication skills and make sure your message lands correctly.

Things like talking louder to punctuate a point adds confidence to your speaking. You can also use this to stress certain important words in your speech. Similarly, talking quietly can also emphasise a point, bringing people in to listen.

Switching up your tone while you’re speaking can add emotion to your speech, such as joy, surprise, and urgency. It also creates more interest in what you’re saying, so it’s a good strategy to bring your audience along for the ride. Practice modulating your tone in front of the mirror to see how it can alter the message you’re trying to get across.

Use stories and analogies

Stories are fantastic if you’re wondering how to improve oral communication skills in the workplace. Using stories and analogies allows your audience to more easily picture what you’re trying to say. 

An engaging story will go a long way to bringing people into a conversation, especially if the subject matter’s a bit dry. This can be one of the best methods of communication to keep your audience interested.

You can do this using an analogy or two. Analogies are a comparison between two things that are similar in one way but different in another, and they’re a great way to quickly get a complex message across. 

For example, you could use the analogy of a cake to talk about teamwork. A cake has lots of different ingredients, and won’t be successful unless you have the right ingredients. This is like a good team, where everyone brings their unique skills and experience to the mix.

Verbal communication skills for remote work

Having great oral communication skills in the workplace isn’t just a benefit in face-to-face work. With remote work, you don’t have the luxury of being in the same space as those you’re talking to, so getting it right is even more important. Being able to communicate verbally with your colleagues means you can build strong relationships, even though you may have never spoken to them face-to-face. This also means that you’re more likely to have good outcomes on projects as there’s less likelihood of misunderstandings or conflict.

That said, there are plenty of communication challenges that come up when working remotely. Different time zones mean quickly jumping on a call or video chat can be difficult, and casual interactions, or ‘watercooler’ moments don’t happen as they would in an office. Getting the timing right for these interactions to happen virtually can be near impossible when colleagues are scattered across the country and even the world.

Lastly, technology plays a key role in connecting people who work remotely, so if the technology isn’t available for easy and quick ‘face-to-face’ communication, it can be hard for teams to get together virtually.

How to overcome barriers to verbal communication in remote workplaces

So what are the strategies you can use to get around these issues when working remotely?

Scheduling check-ins with your colleagues can make all the difference. Whether it’s a weekly check-in or a quick virtual stand-up every day, this gives everyone a chance to practise their talking and verbal skills. 

Keep an eye on your body language, as visual cues like this become even more important when your colleagues aren’t in the room. Also, make sure that everyone’s on the same page and can make it to these meetings, as time differences can prove challenging if there isn’t much overlap. 

To overcome cultural and language barriers in remote work, use a similar approach as you would in an office-based role. Take the time to understand the cultures of your teammates using active listening and asking questions. Try setting up a group on an instant messaging platform so colleagues can chat about things that interest them. This will make it easier when it comes to virtual meetings, as teammates will have found some common ground.

Finally, make sure that you know how to use any technologies that are in place for virtual communication. They're essential for talking with your colleagues, so it pays to take the time to learn them.

Roles that require good verbal communication skills

While every role can benefit from good communication, for some roles it's vital. If you’re applying for one of these roles, the better you are at verbally communicating, the more likely you’ll be ticking those critical interview boxes.

There are plenty of roles that centre around great communication skills. Examples are professions like:

Having great communication skills is useful for lots of roles, even those you may not have considered. Being a top communicator makes you more able to quickly solve problems, build relationships, be more productive, and increase your job satisfaction.

By using the tips above, and practising talking to people in a variety of situations, you’ll increase your confidence and add a useful tool to your belt. Good luck!

FAQS

What are some of the benefits of having good communication skills in the workplace?

Communication in the workplace has many benefits. It engages employees, increases job satisfaction, and raises productivity. In teams, it improves collaboration and cooperation between colleagues. Having good communication skills is therefore not only a benefit to individuals, but to teams and the wider organisation.

How can I improve my verbal communication skills?

There are plenty of ways you can improve your communication skills. To develop better communication skills you can:

  • Pause and reflect before speaking
  • Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions
  • Actively listen
  • Speak clearly and concisely
  • Consider your audience
  • Plan in order to speak confidently
  • Use eye contact and welcoming body language
  • Vary your tone
  • Be authentic
  • Practice!

What are some common barriers to effective verbal communication in the workplace?

Common workplace barriers in communication are:

  • Technological barriers
  • Physical barriers like a poor office setup
  • Working in a different time zone
  • Language and cultural barriers
  • Generational barriers
  • Hierarchical barriers
  • Psychological and emotional barriers

What are some strategies for effective verbal communication in remote work?

There are a range of strategies you can use to effectively communicate in a remote workplace. These include: 

  • Holding regular virtual meetings so that teams can discuss projects and stay engaged
  • Using communication tools, like Slack instant messaging, to provide a sense of community
  • Using project management tools like Asana or Trello to help you keep on track
  • Use virtual meetups that aren’t work related to make it easier for employees to communicate and connect.

How can I develop effective verbal communication skills for customer service?

To develop effective communication skills in a customer service field, try things like: 

  • Building a relationship through professional but personable conversation
  • Asking relevant questions and be interested in the answers
  • Mirroring their body language 
  • Using analogies to explain products
  • Actively listen to resolve disputes quickly

What is the impact of poor verbal communication skills in the workplace?

Poor communication in the workplace can impact employees and the business, leading to conflict, lack of engagement, poor job satisfaction, lowered productivity, and high employee turnover.

Workplace skills

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