Everyone wants to thrive in the workplace and lead by example by exhibiting marketable skills. But how can you make that desire a reality? Giving some focus to communication skills could be the key. According to a recent LinkedIn study, interpersonal communication is the number one gap in the US workforce.
Which type of communication is the right one to develop, though? There’s long been a divide between masculine and feminine communication styles, with many workspaces prioritizing the former over the latter. Yet while there are some benefits to direct and commanding communication methods, the more personable elements of communication — many of which have historically been labeled too feminine — are finally getting their due. The ability to engage another person in a human way is invaluable in the contemporary workplace.
Whether you naturally fall on the “softer” side of the communication spectrum or not, developing a few hard and soft communication skills can drive real success in the workplace. Here are five areas to give some attention.
Communication Hard Skills
Writing a report or drafting an email may seem like an insignificant daily task, but it requires hard skills that are fundamental to success in workplace communication. If you’re already a strong writer, don’t sell yourself short — this is just as crucial in the workplace as verbal communication.
High-quality writing demonstrates the ability to think critically, express oneself clearly, and sift through unnecessary information, so take the time to develop better writing skills, whether that’s attending a seminar or even just evaluating your tone in emails. Do some research into the gendered connotations of certain words, too, to understand where certain writing might touch some unconscious biases.
2. People Management
Recent research from LinkedIn found that people management is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace. And while some aspects of people management require soft skills, much of employee training and development involves hard skills: managing schedules, communicating deadlines, and keeping processes organized. Those are all abilities you can easily learn and develop with a little attention.
Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for women to be overlooked for people management because they don’t seem direct or authoritative enough. But culture is shifting. The abilities to read nonverbal cues and be a good listener are more valued in the workplace, particularly in companies that are moving toward inclusion and collaboration.
Communication Soft Skills
One study on workplace interactions found that women, when asked to do more than is reasonable or possible, find it more difficult to negotiate workload limits than men. It’s particularly frustrating to see that disparity when the aggressive negotiation tactics often favored by males in the workplace could get a female professional labeled as difficult.
Fortunately, outright aggression isn’t needed for effective negotiation — with the right strategy, other negotiation tactics can be equally as successful. Navigating critical conversations is about speaking with confidence, providing data to back up your points, and actually listening to the other party to address their concerns. So practice using those tactics, out loud, with yourself and with trusted friends or colleagues. They’ll come in handy a lot in your daily work, whether you’re setting boundaries or asking for a promotion.
4. Interpersonal Relationships
The ability to relate to others, both inside and outside of your company, is a key component for success. A lot of interpersonal skills are already considered more feminine, including the ability to see another’s point of view, speak empathetically, and listen proactively. And whether those skills come easy to you or not, they’re worth developing.
Growing interpersonal skills is not only vital for the face-to-face interactions that happen between co-workers, but also for talking over the phone, especially with customers or clients. Recent data found that 65 percent of consumers still prefer to contact a business by phone rather than in person, so interpersonal skills — especially engaged listening — set you up for success in those phone conversations that lack visual cues.
And remember: practice makes perfect. Putting yourself in situations that require interaction will really strengthen this skill.
Collaboration skills are an increasingly essential ability in today’s business world, as lots of companies have moved to open workspaces to encourage greater collaboration. This increase in teamwork allows companies to gain insights from a variety of people and put various ideas together to come up with the best solution.
Being able to work well with others gives you an edge in today’s workplace. When you can work well with others to achieve a common goal, they’ll want to work with you again. Learning to work effectively with people of different backgrounds, personalities, and cultures will set you apart from other employees.
Maybe you’ve already got a handle on some of these skills, or maybe you’re still working on them. Either way, as more professionals recognize the value of emotionally intelligent, authentic, caring, and collaborative teammates, the pressure to fit into one standard mode of communication is lifting. Once you’re aware of your natural strengths and communication style, use the information here to bring them to the next level.
Elaine Thompson is a digital journalist whose writing has been featured in a variety of online publications. Her work focuses on safety and sustainability at home and in the work place.