How to improve communication skills training for your employees

Communication is an essential skill for all types of workplace professionals, including frontline workers like customer service reps, cashiers and salespeople. For this reason, frontline employee training shouldn’t just cover job-specific skills but should also emphasize communication skills.

Consider that in the Axonify Content Marketplace (our ever-growing library of off-the-shelf training materials for businesses), communication is one of the most requested content subjects, right along with mental health, customer service, stress management and equity/diversity/inclusion. As factors like technology and remote work continue to change the rules of communication, employers are more eager than ever to ensure that their teams are up to the task.

Our content marketplace is loaded with valuable training materials related to communication, but it’s important to foster the right types of communication skills if you want to achieve the maximum benefit.

3 types of communication to include in employee skills training

Your employees’ communication training should focus on three distinct types of communication:

  • Verbal. Verbal or oral communication skills include those related to active listening, empathy, clarity, translation, diplomacy and connection. Effective verbal communication training should emphasize points like the following:
      • Start with active listening (more on that in the next section)
      • Use a warm, friendly tone to make a positive impression
      • Ask open-ended questions when appropriate to build rapport
      • Speak with confidence
      • Think before speaking (it’s okay to pause before responding)
      • Respond with empathy and curiosity—and without judgment
      • Be succinct and use concise language when speaking
    • Our Content Marketplace contains hundreds of off-the-shelf training modules to support digital training as a foundation before employees practice on the job and get feedback and coaching. Our available training topics include:
      • Conducting virtual meetings
      • Addressing challenges in customer service
      • Building a trusting customer relationship
      • Building rapport over the phone
      • Commonly misused words
      • Using communication to resolve conflict
      • Conflict de-escalation techniques
      • Live chat communication skills
      • Commonly misused words
      • Positive language for customer service
  • Nonverbal. Nonverbal communication skills include body language, eye contact, emotional control, observation and awareness. For example:
      • Maintain relaxed, open body language (avoid stiffening your body or crossing your arms)
      • Be aware of your facial expressions; maintain eye contact when both speaking and listening, and maintain a slight smile to project warmth and interest
      • Avoid distracting or aggressive gestures like finger-pointing, fidgeting, playing with hair or tapping
      • Be mindful of your posture; stand up tall and straight, and don’t slouch when seated; the goal is to project confidence, energy and authority
    • Examples of topics in our Content Marketplace that are applicable to nonverbal communication skills:
      • Non-verbal communication (general)
      • Building a trusting customer relationship
      • Using communication to resolve conflict
      • Conflict de-escalation techniques
  • Written. Written communication is often overlooked in frontline roles, but it’s nevertheless essential. Everyone from contact center agents to grocery workers now communicate with customers through digital messages. For anyone undertaking these communications, there are specific written etiquette guidelines that should be reinforced, such as keeping messages succinct and proofreading carefully. Some organizations may also have their own internal guidelines for written communications. The following are just a few examples of essential written communication skills for employees and leaders in the workplace:
      • Carefully double-check all written communications before hitting “Send”
      • Strive for impeccable grammar and spelling; you’re speaking as a representative of your organization
      • Use active voice in written correspondences
      • Strive for clarity and conciseness; include only need-to-know details
      • Always keep it professional; don’t send it to a colleague or customer if you wouldn’t feel comfortable with everyone in the workplace seeing it (including your direct supervisor)
      • Never write or respond to a heated message in a moment of anger; wait until you cool down, and maintain a calm, professional demeanor when responding
    • Examples of topics in our Content Marketplace that are applicable to written communication skills:
      • Basic grammar for business writing
      • Commonly misused words
      • Positive language for customer service
      • Conflict de-escalation techniques

As you’ll notice, there’s a lot of overlap. For example, conflict de-escalation requires both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. That’s part of the reason why it’s so important for employees to have a well-rounded understanding of verbal, nonverbal and written communication skills.

Strong communication skills begin with one skill in particular

There are a lot of durable skills related to communication, but there’s one skill that should never be overlooked: Active listening. If your training doesn’t address this key aspect of interpersonal communication, the rest is going to fall flat.

Active listening means listening fully to what another person is saying. It’s listening without judgment, without distraction and without mentally processing what you’re going to say next. It’s about making a conscious effort to hear, understand and retain the information delivered. Active listening skills make the other facets of effective communication possible, and therefore it should be heavily reinforced in any employee training related to communication.

Consider the following example: An angry customer is complaining about a poor customer service experience. They have been a loyal customer for a long time, and now they’re threatening to boycott the company and destroy your Yelp rating. You can ignore them, dismiss them or defend yourself…or you can employ some active listening.

You make eye contact, listen intently to the customer’s feedback, defer judgment and then provide verbal affirmation when it’s your turn to speak. You just de-escalated the situation and brought the customer back to your side because, more than anything, they wanted to be heard.

This is just one example, of course, and it won’t work so smoothly every time, but if you equip your team members with this basic skill, it will make a difference.

Effective communication training requires a hybrid approach

Communication skills development requires both an academic and practical approach. While the theories of effective communication can be taught via lessons and videos in your learning management system, those skills should then be practiced and fine-tuned in person.

If you use an LMS or are planning to implement an LMS, start with communication-specific modules that address the fundamental aspects of communication noted above. Many LMSs have lessons already available that you can pull from. For example, in the Axonify Content Marketplace, you can find retail-specific materials related to upselling customers, acknowledging and engaging customers and more. Use these types of lessons to introduce important communication strategies.

Then, once your employees have had the opportunity to learn the basics, the next step is to contextualize the skill to the specific application or role. For instance, a person may learn the basics of business writing, but then how do those concepts apply within their own job? Once they have that sorted out, the manager can observe them on the job and deliver meaningful feedback.

Make effective communication skills training a priority

Like all durable skills, communication has value well beyond the scope of any one job. As your team members advance through the organization and take on new roles and responsibilities, communication is a skill that will remain 100% relevant every step of the way. Often, it will become even more critical as they rise up the ladder.

So don’t neglect workplace communication in your company training. It may seem like a small thing, but better communication skills translate to better job satisfaction and a better experience for your customers.

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