In our first blog post about learning essential soft skills, we discuss the importance of communication skills and teamwork, and provide you with tips on how to work on these areas.
Today we’re talking about two useful soft skills; communication and teamwork. Soft skills are described as non-technical skills that people have, taking into account qualities such as personality, attitude and motivation. This means that soft skills can be applied to all kinds of different jobs and situations, so all people can benefit from working on them.
Whether you think you’re already a great communicator and team player or want to improve on or better understand these skills, this article will be able to provide you with some useful tips and advice. We’ll discuss the importance of interpersonal skills such as communication and teamwork, explain how you can understand them, and demonstrate where they might be useful.
Why are communication and teamwork skills important?
The use of the word ‘soft’ when referring to ‘soft skills’ makes it sound as if these kinds of skills are not as important as ‘hard’ or technical skills. However, this is a false assumption, as soft skills are neither easier nor less important than hard skills. In fact, LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report from 2019 showed that 92% of hiring managers and talent professionals said that soft skills were just as important as hard skills – or even more so.
That’s because soft skills often linked to the kind of professional you are – to be around, communicate with and work alongside. The director of people at Southwest Airlines, Greg Muccio, even called soft skills “essential skills”, which is perhaps a more appropriate name for them.
Communication skills are one of the most important soft skills because they can have a huge impact on all aspects of life. Teamwork may only seem important if you work in a very collaborative environment, but developing your teamwork skills will help you in all relationships you have with others, making it highly transferable.
Although we do provide some specific tips in this post, we’d like to point out that communication is not just about following a certain set of rules dictating how you speak, listen and present yourself. It’s better to think of communication skills as a tool for us all to better understand and connect with each other, even if we don’t all think in the same way.
What’s more, taking a rigid approach to communication often ignores the fact that we’re all different, and that neurodiverse people, for example, may respond to situations differently than neurotypical people.
How can I improve my communication skills?
Here we’ve put together some great advice and tips on how to develop your communication skills and what to look out for when you’re communicating with others. It’s important to note that not everyone communicates in the same way, and this doesn’t mean one way is better than the other. Some people may struggle more with certain forms of communication than others, so it’s extremely important to create an inclusive environment for all.
Perhaps the most important communication skill, listening attentively can be a real asset. Communication is a two-way street, but often we just list issues to the person we’re talking to and don’t listen to their responses properly. Instead of truly listening, we simply plan our next response.
Next time you’re in a conversation, try focusing entirely on what the other person is communicating to you. Techniques such as clarification, reflection, and active listening show you’re concentrating on the conversation.
It’s worth mentioning that paying attention to someone doesn’t just have to mean using your ears, as not everyone communicates vocally. Instead, just try to be attentive to the person you’re communicating with.
Be aware of body language
Studies by Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that between 55% and 93% of all communication could be non-verbal. Nonverbal communication, or body language, includes things like eye contact, your posture, facial expressions, gestures, your voice and even how you’re breathing.
In some cases, keeping an eye on other people’s body language will help you communicate effectively. You could also try to use open body language, and match your words and meaning to your body language.
However, it’s important to note that some neurodivergent people, such as those on the autistic spectrum, might struggle to read body language or facial expressions in a conversation, so you shouldn’t place too much importance on body language in every situation.
Instead, try to be clear and concise when you’re speaking to an audience you don’t know so that people don’t need to try and read between the lines.
Try not to rush
When you’re speaking with others, it can be useful to try and think about the message you need to communicate. This can be especially important in communications with potential clients at work, for example. However, it also helps when communicating across cultures.
Sometimes though, this isn’t that easy. In some situations, people may find it difficult to not blurt things out. It’s rarely meant to be disrespectful, so it’s worth bearing that in mind.
Be clear and concise
There are a number of reasons why it’s so important to be clear and concise when communicating with others, especially when you don’t know them very well. One reason is that you never know whether someone you’re talking to might have neurological differences, and may find it harder to understand you.
Talking or writing in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand (unless you’re specifically communicating about something technical) means there are less likely to be misunderstandings. In written communication, using short sentences and shorter paragraphs can be beneficial.
Be aware of your audience
The ideal way to communicate massively depends on who your audience is. Are you talking to your friend, grandparent or boss? Adjust accordingly, and think about whether you should take a formal or informal approach.
If you don’t know your audience, refrain from using jokes, sarcasm or ambiguous language, as these things can impede understanding and cause confusion.
This is related to showing that you’re actively listening in a conversation. Asking questions can help to show and develop your understanding of something, and often helps to show that you’re interested in what the other person is saying.
However, it’s not necessary to ask questions in every scenario, such as in the middle of someone’s presentation. Instead, you might want to wait until they invite you to ask them. Additionally, it can be better to ask closed rather than open questions, so that the person you’re talking to understands exactly what you’re asking.
Don’t immediately judge people in conversations and try to listen more objectively without bias. Oftentimes, it’ll come across in your face and body language if you disapprove of someone, so it helps to keep a truly open mind.
Treat everyone equally
This advice is relevant to everything in life, but is certainly important in communication. Don’t talk about people behind their backs and don’t let social and work hierarchies change how you treat people, e.g. try not to speak to younger colleagues patronisingly.
Treating everyone equally means including everyone when you’re communicating. Managers in workplaces should make sure that everyone feels respected and represented, for example. This might mean letting people know when there are organisational changes at work or ensuring everyone has the means to communicate effectively, such as providing a screen reader for those with impaired vision.
This only really applies to things like emails and virtual messages, but it’s always worth double-checking them for grammar, spelling or other mistakes. It’ll make you appear more professional and capable. Using a writing assistant like Grammarly can help if you struggle with grammar or spelling.
Be brief but specific in presentations
When giving a verbal presentation or writing a short report, it’s important to be brief but specific. This is so that you keep your audience’s attention and don’t waste their time with unnecessary information.
It can also be very beneficial to use diagrams, as some people might struggle to process large chunks of information without any visual aid. Diagrams will probably make your presentation more interesting too.
Take notes in meetings
Even if you have an excellent memory, you will never remember everything you hear. At work, some people find it really help to take notes in important meetings, and it’ll show that you care about what’s being said.
Maintain a positive attitude
Attitude is everything when it comes to effective communication. If you radiate positivity, you’re likely to have positive communications with other people. Of course, you can’t be expected to be positive every day, and nobody expects that. Mental health should be prioritised, so if you notice your colleague or friend seems to be in a bad headspace, consider reaching out to them.
Take online communication courses
It’s easy to look at a piece of advice and say you’ll use it, but the best way to improve your skills is by proactively working on them, and online courses are a great way to do that. Take a look at our communication courses and our other courses related to soft skills.
How can I improve my teamwork skills?
Here we’ve put together some great advice and tips on how to develop your teamwork skills and what to look out for when you’re collaborating with others.
Establish ‘team rules’
This is particularly important in the workplace. Different people have different needs and boundaries, and it’s good to establish what kind of environment everyone is comfortable with, regarding both work and personal boundaries.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses
Not everyone enjoys the same tasks, and the best thing about working in a team is being able to divide work according to people’s strengths and passions. This will help to make you and your team happier.
Establish clear roles and responsibilities
Similar to the previous point, it’s important to have clear roles and responsibilities so that everyone can set individual goals and there are no conflicts about who does what.
One of the most crucial things you can do to create a positive team environment is to show gratitude and appreciation to your team members, especially if someone has gone above and beyond to help you.
Be open to different perspectives
You won’t always get on with everyone in your team, but it’s important that you try not to ignore, talk over, pick apart or harshly judge others for voicing their opinions and ideas.
Understand your collective goal
The purpose of a team is often to work towards a collective goal, so make sure that everyone fully understands their objectives and works towards it.
Improve your time management skills
When you’re part of a team, you want everyone to be fulfilling their role. Improving your time management skills will help make sure you don’t waste your own or other people’s time.
Work on your leadership skills
Even if you’re not always leading a team, having good leadership skills can be advantageous in many situations. For example, maybe your team is fairly introverted and you need to get them to communicate with each other.
Working on your leadership skills also goes hand in hand with improving your communication skills. In our open step about how other people communicate, you can listen to Dana Denis-Smith, a business leader and CEO, talking about communicating as a business leader.
Give constructive feedback
In order for teams to improve and progress, sometimes they need to provide each other with constructive feedback, so you should feel prepared to offer it. Additionally, you should welcome thoughtful criticisms.
Try teamwork exercises
If you don’t know anyone in your team very well, it might be useful to try some team-building exercises together. Just make sure the activities are fun and don’t end up making everyone feel more uncomfortable!
Take online teamwork courses
If you want to be more proactive in developing your teamwork skills, you should take a look at our courses related to soft skills, including teamwork and leadership.
Where will I use teamwork and communication skills?
Developing your teamwork and communication skills can be beneficial to you in daily life, whether you’re making an important phone call, networking at an event or even playing sports. Below we go into a bit more detail about where you’ll find these soft skills most useful.
If you attend university, you’ll often rely on your communication and teamwork skills. No matter what you study, you’ll likely need to write an essay, present information and complete a group project at some point.
For many subjects, written communication skills will be helpful, as you might need to effectively and clearly communicate your ideas on paper. For other subjects, there may be a lot of collaboration or visual opportunities, so working on your teamwork skills can be useful.
Often, when people work on their communication and teamwork skills, they want to improve their work performance and relationships. Even if your work is fairly solitary, you’ll probably need to communicate with other teams and departments at times.
In addition, there are many jobs that require you to communicate and work effectively with colleagues, businesses, clients and customers on a daily basis. Good communication and teamwork often leads to respect from other employees, work opportunities and promotions.
When we have arguments and cause unnecessary conflict within our relationships, this can sometimes be due to a lack of communication. Whether we’re talking about familial relationships, friends, partners or colleagues, it’s extremely important to be able to communicate with others. It will help you empathise with other people, understand different points of view and come to amicable resolutions.
Perhaps negotiation is part of your job, but even if it’s not the slightest bit related, negotiation skills are a great thing to have. Having strong communication skills may enable you to negotiate better because you’ll be able to connect more easily with the person you’re negotiating with and assert yourself as someone to be taken seriously.
You may want to negotiate your new salary, the price of a house or the terms of an agreement – either way, improving your communication skills will be advantageous.
Where can I learn more about communication and teamwork?
If you’re looking to actively improve your communication and teamwork skills, we have a variety of fantastic courses related to these important areas. Taking online courses not only enables you to learn vital skills from home, but also demonstrates to employers that you’re willing to put time into your own personal development.
- Intercultural Communication by Shanghai International Studies University
- Learning Online: Communicating and Collaborating by the University of Leeds
- Professionalism and Workplace Etiquette: Master Communication and Soft Skills by Central Queensland University
- Communication and Interpersonal Skills at Work by the University of Leeds and Institute of Coding
- Influencing and Communication Skills for Managers by the University of Law
- Communicating with Diverse Audiences by the University of Surrey
- Science Communication and Public Engagement by EIT Food, the University of Turin, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and EIT
- Coaching in Education: Addressing the Need for Deep Communication by Norwegian University of Science and Technology
- Coaching Skills: Team culture by Deakin University
- Leading Teams by the University of Michigan
- Collaborative Working in a Remote Team by the University of Leeds and Institute of Coding
We hope that this guide to communication and teamwork skills has helped you to understand the importance of soft skills such as these, as well as how different people can approach them. Hopefully, you now have some useful and practical advice on how to develop and improve such skills, and understand how others may utilise them.