One of the most common skills listed for a job applicant is “communication”.  Unfortunately, after hiring people for every job from door greeter to CEO, I’ve learned that most people are terrible communicators. In my experience, most people confuse the ability to speak and type for communication skills. Speaking a language or writing emails does not equal the ability to communicate.

Good communicators are seamless at sending and receiving information. They know that communication in the working world isn’t just about sharing ideas. It’s laughing, being present, and learning about the audience’s perspectives so that they can frame their dialog strategically. Excellent communicators know if what they say is not what their audience hears, it can cost both sides a lot of wasted time and money. When you add different modes of communications, mixed generations, slang, and even environments to the mix, it can seem like disaster is inevitable 

Here is how to avoid it: 


Before you start make sure that everyone participating in the conversation begins from the same frame of reference.  Take a moment to ask your audience if they all understand your perspective. Get verbal acknowledgment that they’re with you and not off on their own thought processes. If you leave someone behind, you are not a good communicator.

Don’t talk to yourself 

Are you ever guilty of talking to yourself in your own head and then being upset that your audience hasn’t read your mind? If you’ve ever been told by someone else, “I’m not a mind reader,” you are probably guilty of inferring understanding. Just because you understand what you’re talking about does not mean everyone else does. Talking over the heads of your audience will never make you look smart. It just makes you look arrogant. 

It would be great if you could find a way to let those words and ideas out so that your audience can share your understanding and help build on your ideas. Share your knowledge and do it with tact. Remember, if you are talking to yourself, you can’t possibly be listening.  


Be present and make sure everyone else is present. When you are in a conversation with another person, respect them enough to pay attention to them. If you don’t want to have the conversation with them, then say so. Excusing yourself from a conversation is far less rude than wasting another’s time (or letting them waste yours).


Listening is more than hearing. You can “listen” to body language, tone, vocabulary, and intent. Yes, there is a lot that happens in communication. And most of it happens when you aren’t doing anything.  Skillful communicators listen with the intent to learn. If you are mentally preparing your rebuttal or off in your own thoughts, you aren’t listening. Be present with your audience and treat them with the respect you would require of yourself.

Wait until the end 

One of the worst habits we have developed is interrupting someone mid-sentence. We’ve become a soundbite nation, reading only a few sentences of something, getting our news from headlines, and accepting our own preconceptions without question. Communication can’t happen effectively if you don’t know the whole story.

Learn to use “the gap” when you are in communication with someone. Let them finish their thought and then wait in silence. Make sure you have let the other person have their thoughts and opinions truly heard before you speak. Just hold the gap for a moment. Then respond.

Expressing yourself effectively is only half of the skill of communication.

Only if you can do all of these, can you add “excellent communication” to your skills bank.