Understanding Communication Skills

Why Communications Skills Are So Important

The purpose of communication is to get your message across to others clearly and unambiguously.

Doing this involves effort from both the sender of the message and the receiver. And it's a process that can be fraught with error, with messages often getting 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 key message that the sender is trying to get across.

When you successfully communicate your message, you convey your thoughts and ideas effectively. But, when you don't, the thoughts and ideas you are trying to impart do not necessarily reflect your true meaning, causing a communication breakdown and creating roadblocks that stand in the way of your goals – both personally and professionally.

Watch this video to get tips on how to get your message across clearly and effectively.

In a recent survey of recruiters from companies with more than 50,000 employees, communication skills were cited as the single most important decisive factor in choosing managers. The survey, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Business School, points out that communication skills, including written and oral presentations, as well as an ability to work with others, are the main factors that contribute to job success.

In spite of the increasing importance placed on communication skills, many individuals continue to struggle to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively – whether verbally or in writing. This inability makes it nearly impossible for them to compete effectively in the workplace, and can stand in the way of their career progression.

So, getting your message across is paramount to progressing. To do this, you must understand what your message is, as well as who you are sending it to, and how it will be perceived. You must also consider the circumstances surrounding your communications. For instance, the situational and cultural context.

Communications Skills – The Importance of Removing Barriers

Communication barriers can pop-up at any stage of the Communications Process. This process consists of five key phases: Sender, Message, Channel, Receiver, Feedback, and Context (see figure 1, below).

Figure 1. The Communications Process


The Communications Process Diagram

From "The Mathematical Theory of Communication," Copyright 1949, 1998, by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press.

To be an effective communicator and to get your point across without causing misunderstanding or confusion, you need to make sure your messages are clear, concise, accurate, and well-planned. This will ensure that they get through each stage of the communication process successfully. We'll now look at each stage in more detail:


As the source of the message, you need to be clear about why you're communicating, and what you want to communicate. You also need to be confident that the information that you're imparting is useful and accurate.


The message is the information that you want to communicate.


This stage of the process involves transferring the information you want to communicate into a form that can be sent and correctly decoded at the other end. Your success in encoding depends partly on your ability to convey information clearly and simply, but also on your ability to anticipate and eliminate sources of confusion (for example, cultural issues, mistaken assumptions, and missing information.)

A key part of being a successful encoder is knowing your audience. Failure to understand who you are communicating with will likely result in delivering messages that are "fall flat" or are misunderstood by your recipients.


Messages can be conveyed using a variety of different channels. Verbal communications channels might include face-to-face meetings, telephone or videoconferencing; while written communications can include letters, emails, instant messaging (IM), memos, and reports.

Different channels have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, it's not particularly effective to give a long list of directions verbally, and you're better off delivering negative feedback in person, rather than via email.


Just as successful encoding is a skill, so is successful decoding a message. This involves taking the time to read a message carefully, or listen actively to it.

Just as confusion can arise from errors in encoding, it can also arise from decoding errors. This is particularly the case if the decoder doesn't have enough background knowledge to understand the message.

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No doubt, you have in mind the actions or reactions you hope your audience will display in response to your message. But you need to remember that when you communicate something, each person interprets it subjectively.

This means that each person enters into the communication process with ideas and feelings that will undoubtedly influence their understanding of your message, and their response. So, to be a successful communicator, you need to consider what these ideas and feelings might be before delivering your message, and amend your message appropriately.


After hearing or reading your message, your audience will likely provide you with feedback. This could include verbal or nonverbal reactions.

Pay close attention to this feedback, as it should help you clarify whether your audience has understood your message or not. If you find that there has been a misunderstanding, try to adapt your message. For example, if you're talking about a complex subject, try to find the simplest way possible to communicate it. This will make it easier for everyone in your audience to grasp the subject matter.


The situation in which your message is delivered is the context. This may include the surrounding environment or broader culture. For instance, the corporate culture, international cultures, and so on.


Take a look at The Communication Cycle to help you organize and present your message effectively.

Removing Barriers From the Communication Process

To deliver your messages effectively, you must commit to breaking down the barriers that exist in each stage 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. So, if in doubt, just remember that "less is often more." Be mindful of the demands on other people's time, as well, especially in today's ultra-busy society.

Finally, make sure that you know your audience's culture. This will help you to converse and deliver your message to people of different backgrounds and cultures within your own organization, in this country or abroad.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (89)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi michellesh,

    Thank you for the positive feedback, and for letting us know the added value you have found in the resources.
  • Over a month ago michellesh wrote
    These are all excellent tip & strategies to help me whether I'm talking or communication with customers or co-workers. I'm very happy that I found your resources to help me at work or in the future.
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Ronald,
    Thanks for that feedback and pleased to hear you liked the article. Hope you enjoy more of our resources here to help you further your knowledge and skills.

    Mind Tools Team
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