All the job seeker advice out there says you need to have top-notch communication skills to get hired and stay ahead of the competition. That advice isn’t wrong – in fact, according to the 2013 Job Outlook Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the number one skill employers want from their new hires is the “ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.”
But what does that mean, exactly? What do excellent communication skills look like in the workplace? We got some straight talk from Marvin Brown, an expert in business communication strategies and the author of How to Meet and Talk to Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime: Simple Strategies for Great Conversations, on the specific communication skills you need to get hired and get ahead at work.
Kick lazy talk to the curb.
How often do you hear yourself saying “um,” “you know,” and “like” as conversation fillers? Chances are you’re not even aware of it, but your interviewer certainly is. It’ll take some work (and maybe a public speaking course), but make up your mind to banish those utterances from your speech. “Imagine that your words have value, where vague and meaningless words are worthless, and specific, interesting words cost more,” advises Brown. You want your words to be as valuable as possible so employers are inclined to pay attention to what you have to say.
Accept compliments graciously.
When someone says something nice about you or your work, how do you typically respond? Do you contradict the praise by saying “It was nothing,” or perhaps bounce the words back to the complimenter by saying, “You too”? Not only does that display a lack of confidence, it also discounts the person who offered the kind words. Next time, says Brown, “Take it in, and let the other person know that their gesture of generosity is meaningful. Smile, and say something like, ‘Thanks! You made my day.’”
Accept criticism graciously, too.
If accepting compliments is difficult, accepting criticism can be a killer. No one wants to hear negative feedback about their job performance, but getting defensive will only exacerbate the issue. “Try to listen to what the other person is saying about your work, not about you personally,” says Brown. You want to show employers and coworkers that you are capable of and open to change. Brown recommends responding with a simple statement that shows appreciation, such as “Thank you for pointing that out to me,” or “That’s really helpful – you just did me a big favor.”
Keep it simple.
Maybe you’re hoping to charm employers with your funny jokes and fancy words, but trying too hard to impress them can backfire and come across as disingenuous, says Brown. “Forget about being super eloquent, clever, or pretentious,” he advises. “Keep your exchanges simple and direct.” Once you get the job, it’s especially important to be genuine in your conversation so you can really get to know and get along with the people you work with.
Keep the conversation going.
Greeting colleagues with a “Hi, how are you?” may seem like a friendly move, but it’s actually a conversation stopper, says Brown. When engaging in pleasantries around the office or even in your interview, ditch the questions that have one-word answers and opt for open-ended queries that spark meaningful exchanges. Brown offers some examples: “What did you do that was exciting this weekend?” or “How do you stay so cheerful on a Monday morning?”
With a little work, you can polish up the communication skills that every employer wants so you can get (and keep!) the job you need.