The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2016 survey listed leadership, teamwork and communication as the top three most valuable skills for employees. Communication is the cornerstone of good teamwork and good leadership. In order to succeed in business, you must be able to communicate your ideas clearly to others.

Effective Business Communication Skills

Business communication can be broken down into five broad subjects.

1. Collaboration

Collaboration and teamwork are vital to business success. Being able to collaborate carries a number of benefits for an employer, from better marketing to increased employee satisfaction to a higher quality of product or service.

The art of collaboration isn’t just one thing, though; it’s a complex network of interrelated skills. In order to collaborate, you must be good at asking questions, respecting others’ contributions, generating their trust and considering their perspectives. These skills contribute to an employee’s ability to collaborate effectively, and there’s another important component of collaboration: emotional intelligence and awareness.

From a neurological perspective, people tend to make decisions based on emotion rather than logic, so understanding the emotions of others improves your ability to understand why they make decisions and how to turn that to the team’s advantage.

2. Public Speaking

Whether you’re speaking in front of colleagues at a meeting, in a crowded seminar hall or to your team before a big project, you must be able to clearly and concisely convey your ideas. Warren Buffet once told a class of business students that he’d pay any of them $100,000 for 10 percent of their future earnings. He then offered to increase that value by 50 percent if they were skilled at public speaking. Leaders in business must develop comfort speaking in front of others, both with authority and credibility.

For many, anxiety is a very real barrier to strong public speaking. Inc. has a number of tips to aid your public speaking abilities, taken from TED Talk speakers. You might consider creating contingency plans to address your two biggest fears associated with public speaking, or setting a backup goal in case your speech goes off the rails. Being open to questions through your speech helps involve the audience members and keep them engaged. It can also help you establish rapport and build comfort. People tend to respond to personal stories, so coming up with one or two stories beforehand to illustrate points you want to make can be a great way to connect with others.

3. Listening

A big part of effective communication is effective listening, according to Jimmy Lee of Dorsett Hospitality International. By developing good listening skills, you help create an environment where everyone feels heard and valued. You also train yourself to hear and retain important information. People can generally tell when you’re listening to them. Most people will respond better to good listeners. Remaining actively engaged with your conversation partners creates a sense of enthusiasm and respect in your work environment.

When you’re listening to others, pay as much attention to them as you can. Notice quirks in their body language. Listen to their words and, if you have trouble focusing on them, repeat their words in your head to help you retain focus and absorb the information. Avoid interrupting a person you’re listening to, but do show that you’re interested in what they’re saying by responding with short, encouraging comments like, “I see” or “Yes.”

In business, people often disagree. When this happens, avoid appearing judgmental of a person you disagree with. Difficult conversations can be uncomfortable, but they often lead to helpful breakthroughs if approached with an attitude of respect and collaboration.

4. Nonverbal Communication

In addition, Lee stresses the importance of attending to nonverbal communication. People say a lot without uttering a word, and a facial expression or quirk of body language can communicate attitude and interest better than words can. Gestures, eye contact, tone of voice, posture, breathing and other factors contribute to nonverbal communication. People can pick up on these cues in conversation.

Being aware of your own body language and other nonverbal cues can put you in control of the image you put forth in the office. Body language is more important than you think. Researcher Amy Cuddy has done studies revealing that “body language shapes who you are.” Do you adopt a defensive posture around your boss? Are you slumped in your chair when you work? Do you avoid eye contact with your coworkers? Each of these cues can cause people around you to infer things about you, and being aware of them helps you not only to control how others perceive you but also to make you more aware of body language in others.

5. Written Communication

Email has become a standard way to communicate both in business and in our personal lives, and many people treat electronic communication as less formal than other forms of communication. In a business context, it’s important to treat your emails the same way you’d treat a written letter. It’s fine to be friendly with your coworkers but, when communicating through writing, err on the side of formality. When you write something down, you create a permanent record of that communication; make sure it’s a permanent record you don’t mind having to address again in the future.

In any form of written business communication, clarity is paramount. Once you’ve written something, look it over before you send it to anyone. Ensure that it says what you intend for it to say. Make sure your facts are accurate, and ensure that you’re being respectful. When in doubt, with any written communication, ask these three questions:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it respectful?
  • Is it necessary?

Communication skills are essential for business professionals. An online business degree, like the ones from Jefferson, can help provide you with the skills you need to be an effective communicator in your career.