2.3 Communications Skills

Exercise – Communication skills assessment
Open and Closed Questions
Video – Open Questions
Active Listening
Video – How to be a good listener
Module 2 Quiz



Regardless of the size of business you are in – whether a large corporation, a small company, or even a home-based business effective communication skills are essential for success.

Effective communication is all about conveying your messages to other people clearly and explicitly. It’s also about receiving information that others are sending to you, with as little distortion as possible.

Doing this involves effort from both the sender of the message and the receiver. And it’s a process that can be loaded with errors, with messages mixed-up by the sender, or misinterpreted by the recipient.

When this isn’t detected, it can cause tremendous confusion, wasted effort and missed opportunity.

In fact, communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information as a result of the communication.

By successfully getting your message across, you convey your thoughts and ideas effectively. When not successful, the thoughts and ideas that you actually send do not necessarily reflect what you think, causing a communications breakdown and creating roadblocks that stand in the way of your goals – both personally and professionally.

To deliver your messages effectively, you must commit to breaking down the barriers that exist within each of these stages of the communication process.

Let’s begin with the message itself. If your message is too lengthy, disorganized, or contains errors, you can expect the message to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Use of poor verbal and body language can also confuse the message.

Barriers in context tend to stem from senders offering too much information too fast. When in doubt here, less is sometimes more. It is best to be mindful of the demands on other people’s time, especially in today’s ultra-busy society.

Once you understand this, you need to work to understand your audience’s culture, making sure you can converse and deliver your message to people of different backgrounds and cultures within your own organization, in your country and even abroad.

Many employers will look for a good standard of the host countries language when employing staff, in the UK colleges and training companies provide English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses to help migrant workers and individuals improve their communication and language skills, further information and a course search section can be found at this link.

Click here to complete a short assessment on communication skills

Open and Closed Questions

Asking the right question is at the heart of effective communications and information exchange. By using the right questions in a particular situation, you can improve a whole range of communications skills: for example, you can gather better information and learn more; you can build stronger relationships, manage people more effectively and help others to learn too.

So here are some common questioning techniques, and when (and when not) to use them:

A closed question usually receives a single word or very short, factual answer. For example, “Are you thirsty?” The answer is “Yes” or “No”; “Where do you live?” The answer is generally the name of your town or your address.

Open questions elicit longer answers. They usually begin with what, why, how. An open question asks the respondent for his or her knowledge, opinion or feelings. “Tell me” and “describe” can also be used in the same way as open questions. Here are some examples:

  • What happened at the meeting?
  • Why did he react that way?
  • How was the party?
  • Tell me what happened next.
  • Describe the circumstances in more detail.
  • Open questions are good for:
  • Developing an open conversation: “What did you get up to on vacation?”
  • Finding our more detail: “What else do we need to do to make this a success?”
  • Finding out the other person’s opinion or issues: “What do you think about those changes?”
  • Closed questions are good for:
  • Testing your understanding, or the other person’s: “So, if I get this qualification, I will get a pay rise?”
  • Concluding a discussion or making a decision: “Now we know the facts, are we all agreed this is the right course of action?”
  • Frame setting: “Are you happy with the service from your bank?”
  • A misplaced closed question, on the other hand, can kill the conversation and lead to awkward silences, so are best avoided when a conversation is in full flow.


    If you are in a group of learners your tutor will have some open and closed question activities for you to do at this stage.


    Active Listening

    Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.

    We listen to obtain information.
    We listen to understand.
    We listen for enjoyment.
    We listen to learn.

    Given all this listening we do, you would think we’d be good at it! In fact we’re not. Depending on the study being quoted, we only remember 25-50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers, family or friends for 10 minutes, they only really hear 2½-5 minutes of the conversation.

    Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25- 50%, but what if they’re not?

    Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings – all necessary for workplace success.

    The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try and understand the total message being sent.

    In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

    You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by what else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these barriers contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.

    There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.


    1. Pay attention.
    Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly.

    • Look at the speaker directly.
    • Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!
    • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors.
    • “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.
    • Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.


    2. Show that you are listening.
    Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.

    • Nod occasionally.
    • Smile and use other facial expressions.
    • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
    • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.


    3. Provide feedback.
    Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.

    • Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back.
    • Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say…” “Is this what you mean?”
    • Summarize the speaker’s comments occasionally.


    4. Defer judgment.
    Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.

    • Allow the speaker to finish.
    • Don’t interrupt with counter-arguments.


    5. Respond Appropriately.
    Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.

    • Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
    • Assert your opinions respectfully.
    • Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.


    If you are in a group of learners your tutor will have some active listening activities for you to do at this stage.

    Module 2 Quiz

    Module 2 Quiz Answers

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