Communication Skills

Also See: What is Communication?

Being able to communicate effectively is perhaps the most important of all life skills. It is what enables us to pass information to other people, and to understand what is said to us. You only have to watch a baby listening intently to its mother and trying to repeat the sounds that she makes to understand how fundamental is the urge to communicate.

Communication, at its simplest, is the act of transferring information from one place to another. It may be vocally (using voice), written (using printed or digital media such as books, magazines, websites or emails), visually (using logos, maps, charts or graphs) or non-verbally (using body language, gestures and the tone and pitch of voice). In practice, it is often a combination of several of these.

Communication skills may take a lifetime to master—if indeed anyone can ever claim to have mastered them. There are, however, many things that you can do fairly easily to improve your communication skills and ensure that you are able to transmit and receive information effectively.

The Importance of Good Communication Skills

Developing your communication skills can help all aspects of your life, from your professional life to social gatherings and everything in between.

The ability to communicate information accurately, clearly and as intended, is a vital life skill and something that should not be overlooked. It’s never too late to work on your communication skills and by doing so, you may well find that you improve your quality of life.

Communication skills are needed in almost all aspects of life:

  • Professionally, if you are applying for jobs or looking for a promotion with your current employer, you will almost certainly need to demonstrate good communication skills.

    Communication skills are needed to speak appropriately with a wide variety of people whilst maintaining good eye contact, demonstrate a varied vocabulary and tailor your language to your audience, listen effectively, present your ideas appropriately, write clearly and concisely, and work well in a group. Many of these are essential skills that most employers seek.

    Verbal communication skills are ranked first among a job candidate’s ‘must have’ skills and qualities. According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

    As your career progresses, the importance of communication skills increases; the ability to speak, listen, question and write with clarity and conciseness are essential for most managers and leaders.

  • In your personal life, good communication skills can improve your personal relationships by helping you to understand others, and to be understood.

    It is almost a cliché that personal relationships need communication. Failure to talk has been blamed for the breakdown of any number of partnerships and relationships—but the ability to listen is also an important element. Communication is also vital in wider family relationships, whether you want to discuss arrangements for holidays, or ensure that your teenage children are well and happy.

    If this area is of particular interest, you may want to read our pages on Communicating with Teenagers, Talking to Teenagers about Contraception, Pornography and Consent, and Talking to Teenagers about Sex and Relationships. Our pages on Personal and Romantic Relationship Skills also contain a number of pages touching on communication.
  • Communication skills can also ensure that you are able to manage interactions with businesses and organisations

    Over the course of your lifetime, you are likely to have to interact with a wide range of organisations and institutions, including shops, businesses, government offices, and schools. Good communication skills can ease these interactions, and ensure that you are able to get your point across calmly and clearly, and also take on board the responses.

    Being able to complain effectively is an important skill, for example, as is handling criticism yourself.

Communication is a two-way process

Communication is not the same as broadcasting, or simply sending out information.

It is a two-way process. In other words, it involves both the sending and receiving of information.

It therefore requires both speaking and listening, but also—and perhaps more crucially—developing a shared understanding of the information being transmitted and received.

  • If you are the ‘sender’ of information, this means communicating it clearly to start with (whether in writing or face-to-face), then asking questions to check your listeners’ understanding. You must also then listen to their replies, and if necessary, clarify further.
  • If you are the recipient, it means listening carefully to the information, then checking that you have understood by reflecting back, or asking questions to ensure that you both have the same understanding of the situation.

It is, therefore an active process. There is nothing passive about communication, in either direction.

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Our Communication Skills eBooks

Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be an effective communicator.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their communication skills, and are full of easy-to-follow practical information and exercises.

Developing Communication Skills

Good communication skills can improve the way that you operate through life, smoothing your way in your relationships with others.

Poor communication skills, on the other hand, can sour relationships from business to personal, and make your life significantly harder.

Some people seem to understand how to communicate without even trying. They are able to tailor their language, tone and message to their audience, and get their point across quickly and succinctly, in a way that is heard. They are also able to pick up the messages sent to them rapidly, understanding both what is said, and what has not been said.

This may seem effortless, but the chances are that they have spent plenty of time honing their skills.

Along the way, they have probably also developed a good understanding of themselves (called self-awareness) and habits of reflecting on success and failure, and the actions that have led to one or the other.

A Long-Term Project

Developing excellent communication skills is probably best thought of as a long-term project.

The chances are that you will continue to learn about communication throughout your life. Few, if any, of us would ever say that we had nothing left to learn on the subject.

That is not, however, to say that it is not worth starting the journey.

There are many small, easy things that you can do immediately that will help you to communicate more effectively.

Communication Skills on SkillsYouNeed

Here at SkillsYouNeed, you’ll find lots of pages and articles to help you understand and improve your communication skills.

You’ll find sections on:

Interpersonal Communication Skills

Interpersonal skills are the skills we use when engaged in face-to-face communication with one or more other people.

For a good general introduction to the topic of interpersonal communication skills, you may like to read our pages on Interpersonal Communication Skills, What is Communication? and Principles of Communication. They will help you to understand the basics and start to be aware of what you might need to improve.

Our pages on Barriers to Communication and The Ladder of Inference give you some ideas about what may be going wrong in your personal communication processes. Improving Communication provides information about how you might start to address those issues. There may, in particular, be issues relating to Intercultural communication, especially if you work or interact with people from other cultures on a regular basis.

Our more specific pages on interpersonal communication skills are divided broadly into Verbal Communication, Non-Verbal Communication and Listening.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is all about what we say, which is an important way of getting our message across.

Verbal communication can be both written and spoken, but these pages focus mainly on spoken communication.

The words that we choose can make a big difference to whether other people understand us. Consider for example, communicating with a young child, or with someone who does not speak our own language very well. Under those circumstances, you need to use simple language, short sentences, and check understanding regularly. It is quite different from a conversation with an old friend whom you have known for years, and with whom you may not even need to finish your sentences. Equally, a conversation with a friend is very different from a business discussion, and the words that you choose might be considerably more technical when talking to a colleague.

See our pages on Verbal Communication and Effective Speaking.

Reflection and clarification are both common techniques used in verbal communication to ensure that what you have heard and understood is what was intended. Reflection is the process of paraphrasing and restating what the other person has just said, to check that you have understood. Clarification is the process of seeking more information to inform your understanding, for example, by asking questions. You can find out more on our pages on Reflecting and Clarification.

Questioning skills are one very important area of verbal communication, often used in clarification, but also to extract more information, and as a way to maintain a conversation. Find out more in our pages on Questioning Skills and Types of Questions.

Finally, two specific areas where you will need verbal communication skills, and which are worth considering separately are making a speech, and in conversation.

Non-verbal Communication

Using our voice is only the tip of the iceberg.

We actually communicate far more information using Non-verbal Communication. This includes non-verbal signals, gestures, facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and even our appearance. These can serve to either reinforce or undermine the message of our spoken words, so are worth considering carefully.

If you want to say something outrageous, wear a suit.

The late Dr Joe Jaina, Organisational Psychologist at Cranfield School of Management.

You can find more about this on our pages on Body Language, Face and Voice, Personal Presentation and Personal Appearance.


Listening is also a vital interpersonal communication skill.

As we said above, communication is a two-way process. Listening is an essential part of receiving information. When we communicate, we spend 45% of our time listening. Most people take listening for granted, but it is not the same as hearing and should be thought of as a skill.

Our Listening Skills page acts as an introduction to the subject and you may also be interested in the Ten Principles of Listening.

Our page on Active Listening provides a lot more information about how to listen effectively and can also help you to avoid misunderstandings, while Types of Listening explains more about the theory of listening.

We also have pages on Ineffective Listening and Listening Misconceptions. It is always worth thinking about what you should not do, as well as what you should do, when trying to develop your skills. You may find that you recognise some of the bad habits you or other people have picked up when listening.

Using Communication Skills

Interpersonal communication skills are important in a wide range of circumstances and environments: probably, in fact, anywhere where we may meet and interact with other people.

We have a number of pages on how to use communication skills. For example, they are essential for starting to build relationships, both professionally and at home. You may find our page on Building Rapport helpful, and also advice on being interviewed (Interview Skills) and interviewing others (Interviewing Skills).

Good communication skills can also help you to provide feedback effectively, and in a way that will not cause offence: a vital skill throughout life.

Good interpersonal communication skills enable us to work more effectively in groups and teams, which may be either formal or informal. Our pages on Groups and Teams explain more about working in groups, and the skills required.

Other Communication Skills

Communication skills encompass far more than simple verbal and non-verbal communication, even in a wide range of circumstances. SkillsYouNeed also includes pages on some more specific forms of communication skills, such as:

Presentation Skills

Many of us only use presentation skills infrequently. However, there will probably be times in your life when you need to present information to a group of people, either in a formal or informal setting.

Presentations are far more than simply standing up in front of a screen and talking your way through a set of slides. They also include the ability to get your point across in meetings, both small and large, and even pitching your business idea to a potential investor.

Start your journey on our Presentation Skills main page.

Writing Skills

Communication skills are not limited to direct interaction with other people and the spoken word.

The ability to write clearly and effectively is also key to communication.

This set of skills should not be limited to journalists or professional authors. Poor written communication can be frustrating for the reader and potentially damaging for the author – would you buy a product from a website peppered with spelling mistakes, or full of incomplete or unclear sentences?

Browse our pages on Writing Skills to help you to understand and overcome common mistakes, and improve how you communicate using the written word.

You may also be interested in our pages on Study Skills. Not just for students, these are the skills you need to enable you to learn, communicate your ideas and understand the ideas of others more effectively. They can, in particular, help you to read more critically, and retain more information by making notes: improving the process of receiving written communication.

Personal Skills

Personal Skills are the skills that we use to maintain a healthy body and mind. But they can also enhance communication.

For example, Improving Your Self-Esteem and Building Your Confidence can help you to feel more positive about yourself and your abilities - including your ability to communicate. And feeling positive is the first step to acting more positively, and therefore effectively.

By having a deeper understanding of yourself and a more relaxed and positive outlook on life you are more likely to be charismatic, a trait that can further aid the communication process. Our page What is Charisma? explains this in more detail. Good communication is also linked to assertiveness, or standing up for what you believe. Our section on Assertiveness explains more.

During times of stress, or when we are angry, we may communicate less effectively. Learn more about these emotions and how to control, reduce and manage them in our pages What is Stress? and What is Anger? You may also be interested in Avoiding and Managing Stress and Tips for Dealing with Stress, as well as Anger Management.

We even have pages to help you deal with more difficult situations such as Dealing with Aggression and Communicating in Difficult Situations.

Communication is a complex subject with many areas and skills to consider.

Being able to communicate effectively is also a skill like any other. It too can be learned, given time. Anyone can make a start on improving their communication skills at any time, and the investment of time and effort is likely to pay off rapidly.

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Our Communication Skills eBooks

Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be an effective communicator.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their communication skills, and are full of easy-to-follow practical information and exercises.