You’ve undoubtedly heard how valuable it is to have good communication skills, but you may be less clear about what they are.
The truth is there are many components. You are communicating every time you speak with or write to anyone whether in person, on an online platform like Skype or GoToMeeting, via email, text or social media. Communication is pretty much all encompassing, but the rules change according to the way you’re communicating.
Working from home? Stay in your PJs all day if you want to.
Going to the office? Dress appropriately.
Speaking on the phone? Doodle away. But be careful if you’re on a platform where you’re visible to the other party.
Email? Good grammar and spelling. All the rules you learned as far back as elementary school apply.
Texting? There’s a line between personal and professional texts. If you are texting a friend, or maybe even a peer, it’s perfectly okay to ask “where r u,” for example. But you may need to be more formal if you’re texting a colleague who is joining you at a meeting: “I’m about five minutes away. How far away are you?” Know your audience. The difference is how your text is perceived by the other person. Using social media acronyms or emojis is not considered good business practice in professional correspondence. And it’s just common sense not to text anything that might be construed either as confidential or professional advice.
Social media? By this time, the warnings about how you represent yourself are ubiquitous. The goal is developing an authentic voice while being careful about what you post.
Other kinds of communication are more subtle, such as etiquette. If you are having a meal with a prospective employer or client, have you ever wondered about which bread plate is yours? (Here’s a simple tip for that: Form your thumb and forefinger into a circle. Then look at your middle finger as the stem of a letter. You’ll have a lower case b on your left and a lower case d on your right. The “b” is for bread and the “d” is for drink.)
Handshakes are another type of nonverbal communication. Strong but not hand-crushing; definitely not limp.
Body language offers clues, too. If you are smiling while you are speaking, it will come through in your voice. Try it some time while you are on the phone. There are lots of other indications, as I wrote about in a previous column.
Whatever method you’re using to communicate contributes to a collective impression of who you are. Keep in mind that professional communications are different than personal ones. They all combine to become part of your persona—the general perception of who you are.