How can I improve my communication skills?

Being an effective communicator is the ultimate key to success, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not. But we must define communication skills specifically. Once measured, most anything can be improved.

What is having good communication skills anyway?

I used to run a resume writing service. The folks who contacted me usually had an incomplete resume to start from.

A bit sheepishly, they’d slide the paper across the table to me and say something like, “It’s not very good…”

I’d take a glance and begin jotting down notes. Most of these aborted resumes were Frankenstein documents stitched together from hazy memories and internet templates. They featured a header, something generic about “objectives,” and a few bullet points for work history.

When it came to qualifications, almost all of them boasted about communication skills.

On the one hand, I knew what they meant. Then again, the phrase “communication skills” doesn’t really mean anything. Does it? Are we talking about public speaking or interpersonal skills or horse whispering?

I often wondered if communication skills meant something to the effect of “I know how to have conversations with other humans and do so every day.” If that were true, we could land fabulous jobs by also citing our solid eating and breathing skills.

These encounters happened years ago, back when Netflix still only mailed DVDs and before the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 had become Lost.

Much has changed since then. Netflix DVD subscribers are going the way of dinosaurs, and those Lost survivors have flash forwarded to that big island in the sky. But people still tout their communication skills when trying to advance in the professional world.

The importance of communication skills

In 2015, the Pew Research Center conducted a study to find out what adults considered the most important skill for kids to have. Options included science, math, teamwork, art, writing, reading, and more. Across the board, respondents picked one clear winner: communication skills.

It didn’t matter if the person answering the survey was male or female, parent or childless, college educated or not. Every group selected communication skills as the most important for young people.

For the adults answering that survey, the best way to be equipped for life was by having the skills of an effective communicator. Presumably, they saw the problems of being a math or science whiz who is unable to communicate well.

And teamwork? It’s hard to imagine anyone thriving on a team if they lack communication skills.

What are these critical skills? Why do they matter so much? And what does developing them mean for entrepreneurs?

So let’s get specific. And since it’s the internet, and I have to compete with Buzzfeed, cat videos, and cat videos on Buzzfeed, I’m going FULL LISTICLE baby. Here then is your official…

12 Communication Skills For Entrepreneurs Who Want To
Avoid Financial Ruin And Public Humiliation

Okay, that’s a bit intense. But remember what I’m up against here. Kitten videos. Cat memes.

Here then are the most important communication skills you should focus on if you want to succeed in business and/or life or learn how to improve communication skills at work.

1. Be Empathetic

Communicating starts with being able to relate to someone. Empathy is understanding what a person is feeling in any given moment.

If we understand how others make sense of the world, then we can better present ideas in ways that make sense to them.

Sound too touchy feely? You choose to ignore the perspectives of others at your own peril.

Some people might be more empathetic by nature, but you can develop this critical skill by thinking about others. Who are they? What do they want? Why? Every interaction with any listener or audience should always begin with those questions.

2. Healthy Active Listening

active listeningIf empathy is number one, then listening comes second. But a specific type of listening.

Even active listening can be toxic. It’s not enough to carefully listen to someone who you aren’t trying to understand. If a potential customer is just a mark, like a target, you won’t approach them in the best way because their best interest isn’t your top priority.

See why empathy is critical? No communication strategy is best if it’s not built around the perspective of whoever is listening.

You simply cannot be a good communicator without being a good, active listener.

3. Understanding Nonverbal Communication

A facial expression is worth a thousand words.

We say loads with our body language, eye contact, hand gestures, tone of voice, and other such factors known as nonverbals.

Some of my friends and students have teased me about my “resting Clay face” at times. Apparently, there were times when I would get locked in on what someone was saying so much that my face was intense and stone-like, hard to read. Inside I was happy, interested, pleased, and tracking along. But my expression appeared too intense, as if I were annoyed or even angry.

Do you know anyone like that?

It takes a lot of empathy and focus to make sure every part of yourself is reinforcing the message you’re trying to convey.

Our silent communication shades everything we’re trying to say. Likewise, we must be able to read the nonverbal communication of others.

4. Conversation Skills

Some people are just difficult. Some folks are hard to talk to. Entrepreneurs who attract people do much better than those who repel them.

Become easy to chat with. Small talk might not be your thing. I get it. But small talk leads to real talk.

Conversations are the key to networking and establishing all the relationships you need in business. Ask people about themselves. Then listen. Find common ground. Build connections from these moments.

Being able to converse with someone might seem like a little thing, but it’s often everything.

5. Public Speaking & Presentation Skills

Now don’t freak out, but you’ll have to get used to speaking in public if you want to succeed in business.

As a young man, billionaire Warren Buffet was terrified of public speaking. Yet he knew there was no way around the scary task. So he invested $100 and completed speaking and leadership training based on Dale Carnegie’s classic best-seller How To Win Friends And Influence People.

Then he forced himself to speak in front of small audiences again and again.

Stay tuned for my forthcoming book and course on public speaking. Join my community to receive updates and special offers.

If you’re always improving as a conversationalist, you should improve as a speaker. Yes, being on a stage is way different than talking with someone. But when writing a presentation, always think of it as a conversation with your audience. You’re not just speaking at people but with them.

And speaking of writing…

6. Writing skills

I lean towards speaking and interpersonal skills a lot on this site, but writing is my first love. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur in the digital age, it should become yours too.

We all write regularly. The question is whether we write well or not.

You need to be writing pitches, presentations, emails, articles, and more. Even if you outsource your writing, how do you communicate what you want written? Probably in writing.

If writing is a real chore for you, please don’t give up. Like public speaking, the craft of writing is one you must do regularly in order to get better.

Still not sure where to start? Pick up a copy of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley, which she rightly calls “Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.”

7. Clarity and Brevity

I almost lumped clarity and brevity in with writing. But we should always aim to keep our words clear and brief.

As Donald Miller, CEO of Storybrand, always says, “If you confuse you’ll lose.” Anyone can blabber on and on in circles without making a point (or a sale). But those who think through the best way to share a direct message win.

If you confuse you’ll lose. – Donald Miller, Storybrand CEO

My great professor Ron Forsythe started drilling this into his students heads on day one of university (along with other great Secrets for Success).

Keep it simple. Find your core message and key points. Then repeat them over and over. It takes a lot of thought to distill your message down into memorable soundbites. Worth the effort though.

8. Giving & Getting Feedback

If you’re making friends in business and developing others, giving feedback is super important. Practicing empathy is a great start.

But what about receiving feedback?

Not only is taking constructive feedback an important skill, it’s a sneaky way for me to bring up effective listening again. Just because we can never lose sight of how much listening matters.

Receiving feedback requires healthy, active listening. The catch is you’re not trying to understand what your listener needs in this case. Good feedback is a chance to understand what you need.

  • Where can you improve?
  • What can you do better?
  • How are you falling short?

Taking feedback isn’t always easy. But we must accept the truth from those who care if we are going to improve as communicators and succeed.

9. Persuasive Speech

Persuasion is motivation through communication.

Whether you’re on a stage or at a café table, the ability to make a persuasive argument will always serve you well.

Persuasion is not unethical. It’s not coercion or forcing people to think a certain way.

Rather, think of persuasive speech as a way to win support by finding common ground, presenting valid facts, and presenting a clear case. Whether you’re in sales or not, negotiation is an important skill to improve.

Once you understand someone’s viewpoint, you may be able to shift their belief towards a better way of thinking. Always do so with grace. Persuasion should not be something you do to a listener but with them.

10. The Art of Self Disclosure

How much should you reveal about yourself and when?

Self-disclosure is sharing personal information about yourself with another person. Fail to open up to anyone ever and you’ll come off as cold and disconnected. Share too much of the wrong info at the wrong time, and you’ll scare folks off.

How to strike the proper balance?

The ability to know when to share more about yourself and when to hold back is as much art as skill. The more you know yourself, the better.

You can even disclose things about yourself in nonverbal ways, such as by what accessories you wear or the expression on your face.

When it comes to connecting with others, self-disclosure can be significant. It’s how we form relationships.

This field of study is huge so dive in if you like. Just be aware that you control what to reveal about yourself and when. And it matters. Here’s a funny example of way too much self-disclosure.


11. Choosing The Correct Communication Form

You have many choices when deciding how to communicate a given bit of information. Understanding the options and choosing correctly is a skill. What form best suits your message?

Will a phone call do it? An email? Maybe you need to meet in person, but should there be a group involved or is 1-on-1 interaction best?

Sometimes a text message is the best method of communication for what you need to accomplish. Then again, in some cases texting might sink your chances for success.

In the digital age, you have loads of choices. In addition to the usual suspects above, there are instant messengers, video chats, webinar tools, and collaboration platforms like Slack to choose from. The trick is to understand each so you’ll know which ones are best for each situation.

12. Selecting The Right Communication Medium

In addition to those five forms of communication, we may use any one of four different mediums.

  • Verbal – You can hear the language. (i.e. speaking, singing, and making certain sounds).
  • Nonverbal – In addition to what was mentioned earlier, there are many forms of nonverbal expression, from a simple sign to artistic forms, such as dance.
  • Written – Anything typed or transcribed digitally or physically.
  • Visual – Includes illustrations, photographs, charts, videos, and the like.

When communicating something, ask yourself what the best media are for your message. Does the correct approach require conversation? Will you need visuals?

There may only be a few communication mediums, but the applications are many. Be thoughtful in the tools and techniques you use in various situations. Think through what you need to communicate, what your personal strengths are, and what is most likely to succeed with your audience.

Don’t interpersonal skills make the list?

You might wonder why interpersonal skills aren’t on this list. Good eye. Interpersonal skills are one of the outcomes of developing the types of communication skills listed above.

Communication and interpersonal skills are certainly tied together. You could view the former as more technical capabilities that overlap with the latter “soft” skills. Both are equally important. Think of the interpersonal stuff as people, or social, skills. But it’s all about communication.

Why communication skills matter so much

The reason all those adults from the Pew study want all those kids to develop communication skills is simple. Life is challenging. We have many problems to solve, and communication is the only way to solve them.

And that’s without being in business. How costly is miscommunication for businesses? Large global companies lose an average of $62 million annually to poor communication.

Are poor communication skills preventing you from getting work?

How much are you losing? We may only be tiny dreamers and operators compared to them but failing to communicate is no less harmful to our bottom lines.

If hours of your week are gobbled up by poor communication, you understand this pain.

Leadership communication skills are important because when we communicate well we gain time and money. Focus on developing the dozen skills and traits addressed above, and your chances at success will skyrocket. Let’s keep improving and head in the profitable direction.

Which skills are you most trying to develop?

Want to learn more?

Learn more about these 12 communication skills and how to use them to connect with others, build meaningful relationships, and gain influence in my book Gain Influence Through Communication.

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