In this technology driven age people rarely communicate face-to-face anymore. Emailing, texting, and Tweeting have kept us hidden behind computer screens and handheld devices. It's time to dust off your professional communication skills and speak to people, especially if you are searching for employment. In-person communication is always the best option so you can utilize eye contact and positive body language. Remember, first impressions are lasting so be prepared to put your polished, professional self out there.
Since you don't have a built in auto correct mechanism for verbal communication like spell check on computers, you must become self aware and take charge of your communication skills. Ask those in your circle of trust to give you constructive feedback and listen and observe others in your professional circles to emulate great communicators you know.
Here are some strategies to keep in mind as you begin to put your communication skills into practice.
1. Think before you speak and consider what you want to say before you open your mouth. In a professional situation you must be succinct and able to get your point across effectively. Rambling and tangential comments decrease your effectiveness and cause your audience to lose focus. Always consider whom you are addressing and customize your comments for each audience.
2. Diction is paramount - speak clearly and embrace your inner confidence. Be aware of your tempo and volume making sure not to speak too quickly or too softly. Channel your inner news anchor and aim for that kind of articulate delivery. Listen to yourself on your voice mail message to gage your clarity and vocal articulation. Clear diction is essential in the communication process - if you are unintelligible, your message will never land.
3. The use of appropriate humor is welcomed and can add levity to a situation but use it wisely and sparingly. Inappropriate language and off color jokes are never acceptable in a professional situation. This is not the time to test drive your stand-up comedy act, but a little humor can break the ice and set the tone for a conversation.
4. Body language is as important as what you actually say out loud. Make eye contact with those to whom you are speaking, assume a confident posture while standing or sitting, and be sure to smile naturally when it feels right. Avoid fidgeting and extraneous facial expressions. Keep an open body position and avoid crossing your arms so as to welcome your listener and draw them into your conversation.
5. Be an attentive listener - it's an important part of how you communicate with others. Don't interrupt or finish another person's sentences. Be engaged and show them you are genuinely interested. The ability to fully comprehend information presented by others through active listening is a vital part of communicating.
6. Avoid filler words such as: "like" and "um" and avoid colloquial phrases in the professional arena such as: "you guys". Actively listen to yourself to catch these filler words and remove them from your day-to-day vocabulary in professional conversations.
Since the hidden job market represents 80% of positions that are never posted, it's wise for job seekers to get out from behind the computer to be seen and heard. Building and stewarding professional relationships is how you will get noticed, recommended, and eventually hired. Strong communication skills still sit at the top of the list for career competencies that employers value most.
Honing your communication skills will distinguish you and set you apart from the competition.
It takes practice to polish these skills and build your communication confidence. So get out there and start talking with people. Attend networking events, community functions, or other activities and give yourself the opportunity to flex your communication muscles. Step away from your computer and start talking with people!
Caroline Dowd-Higgins pens a career transition blog called "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" (www.notthecareeriordered.com). She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
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