Going Pro: The Art of Communicating

Editor’s Note: The Times’ relationship coach Nancy Plummer is now offering monthly relationship guidance for the workplace, starting with today’s entry.

By Nancy Plummer, Columnist, The Times

NancyGoingProWe’ve all experienced the frustration of seeing a less qualified or less experienced colleague get the better clients, trips, bonuses or promotions. Before shrugging it off or even rushing to quit, it’s best to consider why.

Surveys show that in this era of technical wizards, what corporate executives are really looking for in the workplace are topnotch communication skills. According to a 2010 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), communication skills are ranked highest among a job candidate’s “must have” demonstrated skills. In fact, developing your communication skills can help you not just in getting a promotion, but in all areas of both your professional and personal life.

No matter the industry, having effective communication skills is imperative for succeeding in the workplace. That’s why I always advise my clients to start by putting into practice a few tips to sharpen their skills:

Tip #1:Non-verbal communication. Research shows that 80% of what we communicate is through our body language. Thus, while you’re at work, whether you think no one is noticing or not, be sure to maintain good posture and don’t frown – even if you’re tired or bored. When you’re with others, make sure to never cross your arms (or take a similar defensive pose), instead speak with your hands or keep your arms by your side to convey a sense of openness and stand tall (but not stiffly). Whether you are talking or listening, always be sure to keep eye contact with the person or persons with whom you are speaking. If someone is talking to you, occasionally nod to indicate attentiveness and understanding. Also, if you’re in a negotiating position (where you need to seem powerful), try taking up more room with your body – e.g. wider stance.

Tip #2: Your voice. When talking with others, speak in a clear and steady voice, yet never so loudly as to be disruptive. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. once eloquently stated, “Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” One of the most important abilities of a master communicator is to speak sparingly when appropriate. However, that doesn’t mean “keep quiet”. To quote another great orator, Plato, “wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” To this end, research shows that co-workers rate their colleagues with reputations as incessant speakers and over-sharers as the least likely to advance professionally.

Tip #3: Courteous telephone and in-person skills. A trick I learned from my father is to always smile whenever speaking on the phone. Although it sounds unlikely, studies show that people can tell if you are smiling just by listening to your voice! So smiling makes for a far more pleasant telephone conversation. Also, try to greet people by name and whenever you’re in an in-person group setting, be the “diplomat” and try to include everyone in the conversation; don’t shoulder them out.

Tip #4: Make sure your word is gold. Your reputation is the most valuable professional asset you have, so don’t promise to have a report in by 5 o’clock unless you are certain you can deliver. How often do we say things we don’t really mean? Ask yourself an honest question… do your colleagues, bosses, clients, friends and family trust your word? Are you always on-time for meetings, deadlines, returning calls, etc.? One of the hardest, yet most vital lessons to learn in life is: “mean what you say and say what you mean”.

Tip #5: Be careful with emails, texts and social media. I always advise my clients not to write or post any comments or photos that they would not want to see in the headlines of their local newspaper. In other words, always remember that what you write or post is never confidential – as much as you might want to think otherwise. Celebrities and politicians are constantly getting in trouble for indiscretions which they thought would stay confidential. Don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way; keep your settings private and keep your posts pleasant and professional.

Tip #6: Be a team player & be encouraging. There are so many nay-sayers; you never need to be one. Instead, be known as someone who always has something positive to say. Focus on encouraging everyone around you to be more receptive to other people’s ideas, comments, and critiques. Stick to the old adage: “treat everyone as you would want to be treated”.

Improving your communications skills takes practice and awareness. Although it doesn’t guarantee you a promotion, it’s sure to help!

Nancy Plummer is Founder of the Elite Empowerment & Education Council, empowering individuals and groups to transform their personal and professional lives.

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