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Communication Skills: How to Improve & Break Down Barriers to Communication


Effective communication skills

‘No man is an island’. Each and every one of us needs to communicate on a regular basis with others, in both our professional and private lives. Indeed, humankind has succeeded through the ability to cooperate in groups, exchange information and build sustainable relationships. We should be highly evolved to communicate effectively and successfully and yet; so many relationships suffer or break down because we misunderstand what someone says, we unintentionally offend someone or we simply don’t know how to establish or maintain a good rapport.

Every individual has a unique communication style, which is why it can be difficult to forge and cement positive relationships with everyone we encounter. We also all have our own insecurities and propensities to form misguided perceptions about others. We need to remember that communication is not simply about what we say, but how we say something, and how well we listen, react and emotionally relate to others. When we can harness our self-awareness, empathy and objectivity we can become more effective communicators, helping us to minimise conflicts and embrace happier relationships.  

This can have many positive consequences on all aspects of our lives. In fact, one could argue that learning how to communicate effectively is one of the most influential and life-changing skills that we can learn. On a personal level, being able to communicate well results in more trusting, emotionally intimate and fulfilling relationships. And in the workplace, having great communication skills can help us to earn respect and cooperation from team members, employees and managers. From a business perspective, this, in turn, helps to create more productive workplaces, alongside successful co-worker and client interactions, helping companies to grow and prosper.

How to: improve communication skills

Work on your self-awareness

Any self-improvement has to start with personal reflection. If we want to improve our communication skills, we need to start digging deep and reflecting on how we express ourselves, verbally and non-verbally. We also need to be aware of our own prejudices to avoid being set off by emotional triggers that cloud our judgement and objectivity when talking to others.


This seems simple enough, but how many of us have one ear in a conversation, while also thinking about our to-do lists at work, or chomping at the bit to express our side of the argument before the other person has finished? To really hear someone else is to give someone the attention and respect to listen to everything they have to say before leaping to our own opinions. Being able to reassure and demonstrate to someone that you understand what they have said is also a great way to show empathy and build trust.

Know your audience

People are unique and everyone comes with their own set of biases, expectations and cultural norms. When talking to or writing to someone, it’s important to be sensitive to these differences and alter our tone and conversation accordingly. When presenting to groups of people, pitching at the right level also takes some thought. Should the presentation include some interactiveness? Is it appropriate to tell jokes or does the occasion require something more formal?

Be aware of your body language

This one's a classic, but there’s a reason we always hear it. Good posture and eye contact command attention and reinforce respect towards who you’re speaking to. Smiling and unfolding your arms make you more approachable, and people more receptive to what you have to say. Subtly inviting others to open up to you and listen to you before you’ve said a word is a great win on the road to getting people on your side!

Check before you hit ‘send’

Have you made your points with as much clarity as possible? Is your tone appropriate? And are there any spelling or grammar mistakes in your text? With today’s online tools there’s absolutely no excuse to get these wrong! Before sending off a new message, we can also think if we really need to communicate anything via the written word. It’s generally best to leave any subject that could be misinterpreted to a phone call or face-to-face meeting.

Breaking down barriers to communication

Emotional Barriers

Sometimes, people without self-awareness or conviction can let factors such as pride, anxiety or a lack of confidence spill into defensiveness, rudeness or some other miscommunicated impression. Being an effective communicator involves speaking with clarity, which comes from confidence and knowledge in the information you are delivering. Empathy can also help you to pre-empt or respond appropriately to reactions from your audience.

Physical Barriers

In the workplace, it’s important to create opportunities that allow people to mingle and talk easily. Having an open-plan office, and an open-door policy helps to avoid invisible walls that keep people feeling isolated and less able to communicate quickly and effectively. If these are not possible, using online messenger services, such as Slack, can also help coworkers to feel ‘in the loop’ and avoid people missing out on conversations.

So, are you ready to converse more effectively, cultivate better relationships and change every aspect of your life for the better? With a little self-reflection, confidence and training, everyone can become a more articulate and captivating communicator.

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Last updated: 06 Feb 2019

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