Why fresh graduates are sabotaging their careers by ignoring their communication skills

how to improve communication skills
Your body language says a lot about you -- but is it saying the right things? Source: AFP

Far too few graduates think about how to improve communication skills — yet they can make or break your life and careers.

Whether collaborating with friends, family, peers or colleagues, the ability to communicate clearly and empathetically is essential for success.

Fail to do so and you’ll struggle to impress recruiters and even if you get hired, it can be a great struggle to rise up the career ladder.

That’s because we can’t work well without being clear and concise — these foster efficiency and productivity. They help you get your ideas, concerns and feedback across.

Remember that time when your group project was late because no one could agree on how to approach it. Tempers flared, words were said but in the end, nothing was achieved and you nearly failed a class because of that?

That’s just one pitfall of ignoring communication skills. There are many others.

The dangers of bad communication skills

There are four main types of communication skills:

  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Visual

Those who fail to master any of the above are at risk of:

  • Not getting hired: If you can’t answer the simple question of “Can you introduce yourself?” well, it’s likely you won’t get hired or promoted.
  • Sabotaging your career: 90% of employers ranked written communication as either “very” or “somewhat” important. That means if you can’t write well, you can’t impress nine out of 10 employers.
  • Painting a bad reputation of yourself: You may have the best ideas or the nicest thoughts in the world, but if you can’t convey them, you could be seen as incompetent and even evil.
  • Cause your company to lose money: Each year, US businesses lose up to US$1.2 trillion because of poor workplace communication, according to a study conducted by Grammarly and The Harris Poll.
  • Stay stuck in one job: For your skills to be transferable, you need to be able to convey that they are.
  • Lag behind in a digital-first world: More than nine out of 10 respondents of a survey said they’d had digital messages misinterpreted or misunderstood at work, an unproductive and even dangerous position to be in.

How to improve writing skills in English

Now that you know how important it is to get your message across, let’s start with the most important communication skill in the increasingly digital world of work today.

1. Keep it simple

Keeping things simple and accurate is important when looking for ways on how to improve writing skills in English.

A five-sentence paragraph is always more engaging than a 10-sentence para.

And your colleagues — but especially your bosses — are more likely to stay interested when they can easily follow along without being bogged down by overly complicated language or structure.

2. Prepare key phrases

When you encounter common situations or topics in your writing, having pre-prepared phrases allows you to quickly formulate your thoughts without pausing to search for words or phrases.

Preparing key phrases in advance can also save you time during the writing process.

For example, if your job requires you to get people to meet deadlines, phrases like “let’s get the ball rolling” “can we kick this off by X date” and “please keep me in the loop” are handy to have.

how to improve communication skills

While contractions are fine to use when texting you should leave them out of your writing. Source: AFP

3. Do not use contractions

I’m, They’re, She’s, How’s, When’s — these are contractions for “I am,” “They are,” “She is,” “How is” and “When is.”

As they’re often associated with informal speech and writing, it’s best to avoid unless you see your superiors using them in emails.

While contractions can be perfectly acceptable in casual conversations or informal writing contexts, they may not be appropriate in more formal or professional settings.

4. Reduce your word count

Words like “so”, “a lot” and “really” serve as fillers which do not add meaning to a sentence. By eliminating them, you can make your writing more precise and clear.

how to improve communication skills

When it comes to communication, body language is just as important as your actual speech. Source: AFP

The importance of body language in communication 

Did you know that when it comes to communication, your non-verbal language is actually just as important as your verbal speech?

Body language is often seen as one of the most effective communication skills because with it you are able to convey messages, emotions and intentions without uttering a single word. 

Here’s why body language in communication skills is essential: 

  • Body language is a universal form of communication that transcends language barriers. Even when you don’t understand someone, you can use their gestures and expressions to interpret their message. 
  • Up to 55% of communication is non-verbal, which includes facial expressions, gestures, posture and eye contact. Understanding and effectively using these nonverbal cues can enhance the impact of your message.
  • Body language adds context to verbal communication. It helps convey emotions and intentions that cannot be expressed through words alone.

How to improve communication skills: 8 best ways to get your message across 

how to improve communication skills

Practise your listening to improve your communication. Source: AFP

1. Practise your listening 

If you are looking for ways how to improve communication skills, start by listening.

If this is new to you, make it a habit to listen for at least 10 seconds longer before you’d usually respond — and gradually build from there to “listen twice as much as you talk.”

Effective communication is not just about conveying your message. Understanding what others are saying is just as important. 

By practising active listening, you can understand the perspectives, needs and concerns of others better. This then helps you to respond better. 

On top of that, taking the time to listen to others builds trust and strengthens your personal and professional relationships.

When people feel heard and understood, they are more likely to communicate. 

This will also help avoid any miscommunications that often arise from the lack of attentive listening.

Don’t score for the opposite side. Source: AFP

2. Identify your goal

Do you want to inform, persuade, collaborate or resolve conflict?

You need to know your goal before speaking or writing as different communication goals require different approaches depending on the audience and context.

You can change your communication style, tone and delivery based on your goal

You can also structure your message to convey your intent by organising your thoughts, prioritising key points and providing details or examples. 

If your audience has no idea who Taylor Swift is, don’t use her as an example. Source: AFP

3. Know your audience

Knowing your audience is essential when looking for ways on how to improve communication skills because it allows you to design your message to resonate with them. 

This prevents you from using an example about Taylor Swift to someone who has no idea about who she is and what she represents.

Instead, tailor your message to ensure it is relevant to their interests, needs and preferences.

This includes considering their background, knowledge level and concerns.

You can adjust your language and tone to ensure clarity and avoid confusion. 

Doing all these increases your likelihood of persuading them and, in turn, them trusting you. 

how to improve communication skills

Organising your thoughts will make you feel more prepared and confident when speaking. Source: AFP

4. Organise your thoughts

Jumping from Point A to Point X and Point Z and then back to Point B will only confuse whoever is listening or reading what you wrote.

By being organised — organising your points from A to Z in the correct order — you can avoid irrelevant details and make your speech concise and to the point.

Doing this  would maintain the audience’s attention and interest. Your message isn’t lost and you’re not boring someone else, especially your boss!

If you are someone who gets nervous when you have to speak in front of a crowd, then organising your thoughts is even more important.

This would make you feel more prepared and increase your confidence. 

how to improve communication skills

Thinking before you write or speak is important, but there’s no need to overthink. Source: AFP

5. Think before you speak

We have all been in a situation where we wish we could take back something we said. To ensure that doesn’t happen again, you can adopt the skill of thinking before you speak. 

Taking a moment to gather your thoughts before speaking allows you to articulate your ideas more clearly.

This helps to ensure that your message is understood by your audience, and you can say goodbye to any miscommunication or confusion. 

Yes, we understand it can feel hard to not respond instinctively. But don’t feel like you have to reply within seconds. Take a minute, even an hour or a day if you can, to follow the steps above.

This gives you time to consider the impact of your words and how they will be received, so you can choose appropriate language and the right tone.

You have a better chance of gaining more respect and showing more empathy by just blurting things out without thinking.

how to improve communication skills

Eye contact is important for effective communication. Source: AFP

6. Make eye contact 

Did you know that in some cultures, eye contact is considered a sign of respect and attentiveness?

Eye contact is a powerful non-verbal cue that signals attentiveness, interest and engagement in the conversation. 

When you look someone in the eye while they are speaking, you’re saying “I’m here, I’m listening and I care.” This goes a long in getting them to share their thoughts and feelings openly.

Aside from that, when you are speaking in front of a crowd and maintaining eye contact with them it shows confidence which intensifies the impact of your message. 

Eye helps you gauge their reactions and responses more accurately, allowing you to adjust your communication style.

Take all the time you need before responding. Source: AFP

7. Be patient 

Don’t you hate it when you are speaking, and someone cuts you off? Similarly, when someone is speaking it is important to be patient and allow them to finish speaking before you respond. 

Patience allows you to listen attentively without interrupting or rushing the speaker. As we’ve said above, active listening is key to effective communication as it demonstrates respect and understanding.

Cutting someone off can also annoy or even anger others. It is best to wait till the end before you respond to ensure that the message is received accurately.

This shows that you value the other person’s thoughts and opinions enough to give them the time and space to express themselves fully — which helps you build stronger, more meaningful connections with others.

how to improve communication skills

When looking for ways on how to improve communication skills, keeping your speech brief is important. Source: AFP

8. Keep it short and sweet 

Keeping communication brief is one of the best ways on how to improve communication skills.

It ensures that your message is clear and concise.

By removing unnecessary details, you can keep the focus on the main points you want to convey, making it easier for people to understand and retain the information.

The average human attention span is 8.25 seconds — they’re not listening or reading the rest of the way so make sure you get your points across right at the start.