What are verbal communication skills?
Verbal communication requires a specific set of skills that focus on utilizing words to convey information to those around you. Though the term refers to both written and spoken communication, it is primarily used when describing communicating through speech. The element in this type of communication that quantifies it as being verbal centers around an individual’s choice of words as well as how they are received and eventually interpreted. For the purpose of this course, we will be primarily focusing on spoken verbal skills.
To be an effective verbal communicator, it takes more than simply speaking. Verbal skills are comprised of how you deliver information as well as how you receive messages from others.
Examples of verbal communication skills
Within the realm of verbal communication, there are two major aspects that you must excel in: effective speaking and active listening.
Unsurprisingly, being able to communicate effectively through speech is one of the cornerstones of verbal communication skills. The ability to speak effectively involves three major areas:
- Word choice: The appropriate word choices will vary with different situations, topics and audiences. For example, you would speak very differently to a colleague than you would a conference room full of clients. Additionally, the subject matter would likely be very different. Regardless of the scenario, words should always be chosen carefully.
- Delivery: The way in which you deliver information can have a huge impact on the message you’re trying to convey. You should be aware of the pace and tone of your voice when communicating with others to ensure that you are delivering your words intentionally.
- Reinforcement: Though we are focusing on verbal skills, non-verbal communication plays a major role in effectively speaking. The cues that you send through your body language affect how your audience perceives the information you’re delivering. For example, you can indicate through movements and facial expressions if you are anxious, committed, interested or bored so be sure that your non-verbal communication matches the words you are saying as well as your intent.
All three of these areas have an effect on your central message, how it is conveyed and also how it received and processed by your audience.
It can be easy to become focused on planning your response rather than listening to the other person when having a conversation. However, in order to be a truly effective verbal communicator, you must also be a good listener. Here are a few ways to practice and improve your active listening:
- Focus on the speaker and what they are saying. Wait to formulate your reply until after they have finished talking.
- Maintain an open mind. It’s imperative that you truly hear their message before making snap judgments based on prejudices or stereotypes.
- Avoid concentrating on certain aspects of the speaker’s message exclusively. Instead, attempt to understand their overall message as well as their primary points.
- Keep distractions at a minimum. If necessary, suggest moving to a quieter area or turn your phone on silent.
How to improve your verbal communication skills
Verbal communication can be a challenge for some more than others. Regardless of your natural inclination, you can take steps to improve your verbal communication skills and build deeper relationships with others. Here are a few things you can do to improve this set of skills:
- Use reinforcement
- Ask questions
- Check for clarification
- Summarize the main points
1. Use reinforcement
You can improve your verbal communication by consciously encouraging others during a conversation, also referred to as reinforcement. Reinforcement shows the other party that you are listening and helps to build rapport by letting the person know that you are hearing and understanding them. This can be accomplished with verbal and non-verbal cues alike. Some of the non-verbal gestures you can use to reinforce others include maintaining eye contact, smiling and nodding your head
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that can accomplish many things, such as:
- Minimize nervousness in others as well as yourself
- Convey openness and warmth
- Offer reassurance
- Develop meaningful relationships
- Communicate interest in what others have to say
- Encourage others to join a conversation or discussion
2. Ask questions
Questioning can be a great way to obtain clarification, test one’s understanding of something or reach out for support. However, it’s also a useful tool when attempting to convey interest, initiate a conversation or entice others to join a conversation. There are two primary types of questions:
- Open questions: Open questions encourage elaboration or discussion. They typically take a bit longer to answer, therefore furthering a conversation and encouraging involvement from others. An example of an open question would be, “What did you do yesterday?”
- Closed questions: Closed questions, on the other hand, only require a simple answer. These responses are typically only a few words and allow the person asking them to maintain control of the conversation. Therefore, these types of questions are typically avoided when attempting to encourage verbal communication. An example of a closed question would be, “Did you finish the assignment?”
3. Check for clarification
Periodically checking with the other person to make sure that you are understanding what they are saying is called reflecting and is a skill often employed in counseling. Though its origin may be clinical, reflecting is a powerful way to check for clarification. The process usually involves paraphrasing the feelings as well as the message and then repeating them back to the other person. Aside from providing clarity, here are some of its other advantages:
- It shows the other person that you are trying to understand things from their perspective
- It demonstrates respect and genuine interest in what they have to say
- It allows the speaker to explain or expound on the topic if they’d like
4. Summarize the main points
Though similar to reflecting, summarizing is more focused on reviewing the information discussed in order to reach an agreement and ensure that all parties involved understand the expectations or next steps. This technique is often used after a meeting and provides an overview of the major issues that were discussed.