This is the fourth in a five-part series discussing skills critical for future success. Other articles cover critical thinking, creativity, and entrepreneurship.
While communication skills have always been important in the workplace, the advent of AI makes them even more significant. While some forms of communication can be taught to AI tools, others are uniquely human.
The four main types of communication are:
- Written, which includes formal (e.g., reports, white papers, some emails) and informal (e.g., chat messages, some emails)
- Verbal, including conversations with and among team members and presentations/public speaking, in person and virtually
- Non-verbal, including behavioral and body cues, in personal and virtually
- Visual, using graphics and other visual media to convey a message
AI can be trained to use some kinds of written communication. Chatbots are a current example, and using AI to create email campaigns is either already here or about to arrive. However, as of yet, AI cannot create communications that lie outside the parameters built into it. And though it can analyze information and be taught how to respond in certain scenarios, it cannot synthesize new responses that may be needed in some cases. As far as verbal, non-verbal, and visual communication, AI isn’t yet a player in those areas.
In the evolving workplace where AI will be increasingly present, it is important to hire independent talent with well-developed communication skills across all types.
7 Characteristics of Effective Communicators
In the workplace, these seven characteristics are valuable contributors to team productivity and project outcomes.
Stays on Message
In written and verbal communications, the writer or speaker stays focused on the topic being addressed. They are clear, succinct, and to the point.
Matches the Medium to the Message
The medium used can depend on the message being conveyed. Verbal communication can be the best medium for messaging that requires immediate two-way interaction. Quick questions or information sharing among team members can be best suited to chat spaces like Slack. A competent communicator uses the best medium for the message.
Accepts and Provides Useful Feedback
Accepting and providing feedback is an essential workplace skill. Strong communicators can accept constructive feedback and provide constructive input to others. They ask and answer relevant questions and offer specific examples that bear on the feedback.
This communication skill is important in both team and one-on-one interactions. Effectively reading and understanding a person’s reactions and emotions, often expressed nonverbally, allow responses that acknowledge their position. This can help the interaction continue to move in a productive direction.
Whether returning a phone call or replying to an email, a quick response is valuable. Skilled communicators respond to messages in a timely manner. Even when a full response takes time, they acknowledge receipt of the message and let the originator know when they can expect the longer answer.
Active listening requires close engagement with the person communicating. Active listeners pay attention to what is being said and how it is being delivered. They repeat or rephrase along the way to get confirmation that they accurately understand and ask questions as needed to gain clarity.
Applies Critical Thinking
Extending active listening across all communication types, a skilled communicator will analyze facts and observations. If needed they will engage further with the message originator to ensure accuracy and relevance based on their analysis.
Hiring for Communication
Here are some interview questions that can help demonstrate communication skills in your potential contractors.
How do you prefer to communicate at work?
There are two points to note. First, does their preference work for the role they will fill? Second, do they talk about matching the medium to the message, that is, having preferences that vary according to the communication?
You’ve made a mistake that affects another team member. How would you let them know?
In most situations, this kind of communication requires live verbal communication, preferably in person or virtually. Not how the interviewee would approach the issue. Ask for real-life examples where they’ve either been the recipient or originator. Pay attention to how things were resolved.
How would you work with a team member who is uncomfortable with verbal communication?
Find out what options the candidate would pursue to accommodate the team member or encourage them to express themselves verbally.
Tell me about a work situation where non-verbal communication played a key role in outcomes.
The response to this request can help you assess how tuned in to non-verbal communication the candidate is and whether they can use their observations to adjust what’s being said to achieve a desired outcome.
How would you explain a complex issue to a new team member?
The response to this question can provide a lot of insight into the candidate’s skills. How do they propose to use different types of communication in their explanation? Will they encourage questions? How will they ensure that the explanation is understood?
The quality of communication on your team can significantly affect productivity and project outcomes. Ensure that the independent talent you bring on board are accomplished communicators, particularly in the areas that AI can’t touch.