What Did You Say?By Terry Arndt
In a recent Life After Graduation, LLC survey, employers and college career centers ranked verbal communication as one of the top skills college graduates lack – and recent college graduates agree. When asked what skills do you believe would have been beneficial to learn prior to entering the workplace, nine out of ten recent college graduates cited verbal communication in their top two responses. Understanding pay and benefits was #1.
Knowing how to interact with colleagues, supervisors, and clients effectively is vital in ALL professional fields – not just business-related positions like sales and marketing. In today's workforce, communication skills are not optional – they are essential for every professional and can only be mastered with practice and a concerted effort.
Your success in the workplace is directly linked to your ability to interact with those around you. So what can you do to become an effective communicator?
- Rate of speaking. Do you speak rapid-fire or back-porch? If you speak too fast, you risk losing people and/or appearing insecure. If you speak too slowly, you risk boring people and/or appearing, well, slow.
- Volume. You have good ideas and the skills to put them into action, but if you mumble you are creating an obstacle to your own success. Speak clearly, enunciate, and project confidence.
- Non-verbal elements. Eye contact, posture, fidgeting…all of these non-verbal cues can really reinforce—or sabotage—what you verbalize. Be aware of what your body is saying at all times.
- Practice. Get out and start speaking – In front of class, groups, co-workers, etc. Take every chance you have to speak and use it to better yourself. Becoming a member of your local Toastmasters club is also a great way to develop your skills.
- Avoid the use of slang in the workplace. Words like cool, you guys, like, dude, awesome, right on, or man are commonplace in our vocabulary. Know that slang is like a language shortcut. For example, if your supervisor praises you for your work on a recent project and you respond, "cool," you are missing the opportunity to say something much more powerful, like "Thank you for noticing. I worked really hard on that project and learned a lot. In fact, I can't wait to be assigned another challenging project so I can continue to develop my skills."
- If you are not sure of the meaning or usage of a word, don't use it. Better to use simple, but correct, language than to try to impress someone with a big word and get it wrong.
- Nobody is impressed by lingo, big words or obscure language. Your goal should be to speak clearly and communicate your message – not to confound or confuse people with your intelligence.
- Reading is a great way to develop your vocabulary. Make a point of reading at least one magazine or newspaper a week and try to read a few books a year as well.
- Vary the words you use. Using the same word too much causes the word to lose its power. For example, if you say that everything is extraordinary, from the way your lunch tastes to the fact that you just landed a big client, people will begin to realize that you don't actually mean anything when you say something is extraordinary.
There's really no proof that good grammar and vocabulary are indicators of high intelligence or advanced degrees. However, if you are well spoken and articulate, people will assume you are intelligent, educated, and capable. If you use poor grammar and exercise a limited vocabulary, people will believe just the opposite.
Having spoken 10,000 or more words a day since childhood, you undoubtedly developed a few bad communication habits. And, like any bad habit—whether it's using slang or lots of "likes" and "uhs"—it can be hard to break. However, the benefits to becoming an effective communicator are well worth the effort.
According to John Frederickson, VP of Operations for a physicians group in Florida, Communication skills are definitely the key to success. "If I can get my message across better than the next person, and I sound great doing it, I've just made a valuable impression – and our clients agree." John may be on to something. For the last four years, John's company has been ranked #1 in customer satisfaction. John attributes this to his staff's communication skills. What does this mean for his employees? Higher wages.According to John, he provides his new employees a starting wage that is at least 15% higher than those offered by his competitors. "We want the best – and to me, the best is a candidate that possesses strong communication skills. It's that important."