Soft Skills at Work: Effective communication is job No. 1

What is the soft skill many employers rank as their No. 1 priority?

The ability to communicate effectively.

It really doesn't matter the industry in which you work. You must be able to communicate ideas, opinions and work-related reports clearly and concisely.

The importance of communicating effectively was driven home to me when I sent an email to a client that turned out to be confusing for him. I had asked for the emails of the two employees I'd been coaching. The only problem was that I neglected to include the word "addresses."

That omission started us down the miscommunication trail. He wrote back thinking I needed the email text and proceeded to tell me he had not communicated with them via email, but rather in person.

We exchanged more emails before straightening it out, and it took me a while to realize that just using the word "emails" was misleading in my initial message to him. I had simply not communicated well.

To be an effective communicator, there are fundamentals you must master. Here are some of the most important:

•Tone of voice

Does your tone sound angry, or do you have a smile in your voice? Good communicators always watch their tones since the first impression might be the last if they don't sound friendly and welcoming. Frustration, boredom, excitement or other emotions are conveyed through the tone you use. Take the time to monitor your tone, and ask co-workers or family members to tell you what they observe.

•Length of message

Be brief and concise. Rambling messages can be confusing, and it is likely that the recipient of the message won't respond or even read it all the way through. Write so that no interpretation is needed.

•Jargon and slang

Avoid using terms that people may not comprehend, particularly industry jargon. People may be embarrassed to say they don't understand an expression. Assume they are not familiar with jargon and refrain from using it unless you are certain they will know the terms and it will be appropriate. This applies to slang also.

•Nonverbal messages

People communicate with their body language, too. You might say, "I'd be happy to help you," but if you are rolling your eyes, smirking, frowning or yawning, clients and customers will be watching and believing these behaviors and may never get past their initial impression of you.


Communicating well starts with listening intently. It is hard to respond if you haven't heard and understood what the other person is saying. Listen more than you speak and wait for the person to finish talking rather than interrupting to make your point.

There are many aspects to communicating effectively. As employers have said, improving and mastering this skill is a key to moving forward.

CONNECT! Coalition tip

There are many styles you can use to communicate with others. For example, when emailing a good friend, you may include an informal greeting, jokes or text language. But with a client, you would never be this familiar.

Understanding who your recipient is and what is appropriate for that person are important components of communicating effectively.

Marcia Hall, founder and principal of Reputation COUNTS, is a soft skills and business networking trainer and member of the CONNECT! Coalition, a project of the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. and BWCC Foundation. Contact her at

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