Coronavirus: information and updates

Communication skills

Communication is the heart of everything we do. Good reading, writing, speaking and listening skills are essential for the workplace.

Good communication helps to break down barriers, increase productivity and reduce errors.

People often focus on what they should say. But effective communication is less about talking and more about listening. Listening well means not just understanding information, but also the speaker’s emotions. Being able to communicate well helps to solve problems.

Communication can be:

  • written: this could be a CV
  • verbal: speaking to an employer at an interview about what you can do
  • non-verbal (or body language): this can be the most important form of communication at an interview

Watch this video about body language to impress at an interview.

The communication process

We can communicate in many ways:

  • emails
  • letters
  • texts
  • social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • books
  • newspapers
  • phone
  • Skype
  • face to face
  • body language
  • sign language

Skills for a communicator

  • knowing what you want to say
  • deciding the best time and place to say it
  • judging how you want to say it
  • keeping it simple
  • speaking as clearly as you can
  • making eye contact (face to face)
  • checking the other person has understood

Types of questions

Open questions

  • start – When? Why? What? How? Which? Where?
  • create conversation
  • gain information
  • allow a free response

Closed questions

  • need a specific response
  • can be answered with yes or no
  • can I … did you… will you… is this…
  • directive
  • used to gain commitment
  • used to clarify
  • used to summarise
  • useful for checking information

Skills for receiving messages

  • concentrating and clearing away your other thoughts
  • active listening by giving your full attention
  • checking you are picking up the right message
  • listening positively and not pre-judging
  • not switching off listening if you disagree with something said

Active listening

  • listening with the intention of achieving full understanding
  • makes listening an active skill by, for example, nodding, smiling, and generating questions to check or understand and search for more details

Attentive listening

  • engaged, and sending signals that you are listening
  • alert, encouraging body language, demonstrating that you are focused


  • engaged in receiving communication
  • engaged in the listening process but not necessarily showing that you are


  • registering sound
  • mind is elsewhere

Barriers to active listening

Different barriers to active listening and how they can be overcome
BarrierHow we can overcome it?
Background noiseClose windows, speak louder, ask to be quieter.
AccentsAsk to repeat and speak slower.
ConfidenceAttend confidence course, practise and get feedback.
PhoneSwitch the phone off.

Non-verbal behaviour – body language

Non-verbal behaviour, often known as body language, makes up 55% of the initial impression we create.

We can look at someone and ‘read’ them. Of course, we can never know exactly how they are thinking and feeling because we cannot hear their thoughts! Body language can give us some clues.

Body language is made up of lots of little signals, not just one thing. Eye contact, facial expression, how we sit or stand, and what we do with our arms and legs - all contribute.

Eye contact

Keeping steady eye contact (but not staring) is a sign that you are listening.

Facial expressions

For example, a big grin is inappropriate in the middle of a serious conversation.


Lean forward if you can, as leaning away can signal feeling defensive.

Crossed arms or legs

This can signal feeling defensive or feeling aggressive depending on how our arms or legs are positioned.

“Mirroring and matching”

This is when our body language automatically copies the person we are communicating with. For example, both people leaning towards each other, or both people crossing their arms.


The basic building block of good communication is feeling that every human being is unique and of value. Match the way you communicate to the way the other person takes in information. This increases the likelihood that the message you send will be the one they receive.

Employment information supported by Virgin Media.

We're working with Virgin Media to support 1 million disabled people in getting into and staying in work by the end of 2020.

Was this page helpful?

We're sorry to hear that.

Tell us how we can improve it

Need more help?

Opens in a new windowOpens an external siteOpens an external site in a new window