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What Are Verbal Communication Skills?

woman explaining concept at desk with team crowded around her

If you’ve explained a difficult concept to a teammate or taught a friend about a project you’re working on, chances are you used verbal communication skills. These are the soft skills you use when talking to someone else. A person with good verbal communication skills communicates effectively, efficiently, and empathetically. 

In this guide, you’ll learn:

Verbal Communication Skills Definition

In the literal sense, verbal communication is oral communication with words that you or others speak out loud. On the other hand, nonverbal communication is about what’s not said out loud: gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Written communication is about words on the page (or in an email or Slack message).

You’re using your verbal communication skills every time you speak out loud to a coworker, whether in person or on Zoom. 

Verbal communication examples include:

  • Explaining your processes for gathering results to a coworker
  • Presenting your final project findings to relevant stakeholders
  • Introducing an external client to your brand
  • Giving your teammate real-time feedback on their presentation
  • Asking follow-up questions to clarify what your manager has asked of you
  • Complimenting a teammate on their work and sharing what they did well

Why Are Verbal Communication Skills Important in the Workplace? 

Verbal communication skills are a core part of everyday workplace interactions. You’ll use these skills to tell your boss about what you’re working on, share results with stakeholders, and give your team updates. You’ll also use them when you respond to others, whether to ask a clarifying question or provide feedback. Employers want candidates with these skills because they’re more effective, collaborative team members.

It’s no surprise that the rise of remote work has decreased the amount of verbal communication we have with our teammates. We don’t have candid conversations when passing by someone’s desk or when we’re walking out to get coffee. Because we don’t talk to our coworkers as much in a remote workplace, when we do have the chance to communicate with them verbally, flexing this skill is crucial.

Verbal communication also doesn’t have to be synchronous. Using tools like Vimeo, Loom, or even voice messages, you can verbally communicate with team members asynchronously and they can hear your explanation, thoughts, and ideas, even if you’re not speaking to them in real time.

Whether working synchronously or asynchronously, remote or in-person, verbal communication skills are essential for communicating your ideas and understanding others’ work.

How to Include Verbal Communication Skills in a Job Application

Because these skills are about what you’re saying rather than what you’ve written (like on a resume or cover letter), the interview is where your verbal communication skills can shine. 

You can show off these skills in the interview with:

  • Tone: Have a positive, confident tone when speaking to the hiring manager
  • Responsiveness: Avoid simply responding to questions with structured, prepared answers. Instead, aim to make the interview more conversational rather than a rigid back-and-forth. 
  • Clarity: Be concise and straightforward, even if that means pausing to get your thoughts together before answering.
  • Curiosity: Ask original questions during the interview that help you understand the company further and demonstrate your interest.

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How to Improve Verbal Communication Skills

Verbal communication skills are two-fold — you need to communicate your work clearly and understand and respond to others’ work. When improving these skills, focus on both aspects to become a well-rounded, more effective communicator.

Prepare for Any Audience

At work, you’ll need to communicate with many different people — people on your team, people in various departments, your manager, your manager’s manager, external clients, etc. Practice explaining your work in different situations by putting yourself in a variety of scenarios.

For example, let’s say you need to explain the process you used on your latest project. How can you explain what you did in two minutes? What about in 30 seconds? How can you explain this to a young student? How would you describe this to a grandparent? Challenging yourself to communicate the same process in different scenarios will prepare you for communicating with multiple team members and stakeholders.

Watch Your Tone

It’s not just what you say — it’s how you say it. How you speak to others at work reflects not only on your work but on you as a team member. Do you want to be positive and confident? Empathetic and clear? Your tone should reflect how you want others to perceive you in the workplace.

It can be hard to hear how we come off when we’re the ones talking. To practice this, record yourself explaining something or giving feedback to someone else, then watch the video back and make any adjustments.

Give Feedback (That’s Actually Helpful)

It’s not enough to simply share your opinions on someone else’s work. The best feedback is constructive and actionable.

“Being able to give feedback in a meaningful and tactful way is a critical communication skill,” career coach Tazeen Raza says. “This is something that a lot of people struggle with at various levels.”

To give constructive and actionable feedback, start by asking yourself a few questions about the person’s work:

  • What was this project’s biggest strength?
  • What areas have room for improvement?
  • What other resources can I or someone else offer to improve the project?
  • What further context can I give this person?

The goal is to tell the person what was strong about their work and what needs improvement. Then, you’ll need to give them tangible ways to improve with clear paths to action.

Be an Active Listener

Communication is a two-way street, meaning your verbal communication skills will get you nowhere if you aren’t listening to what other people say. Active listening is a workplace skill that focuses on attentive and empathetic listening. 

In practice, this means that you listen to what others have to say for the sake of listening. You don’t interrupt or have something ready to respond with. Instead, you focus entirely on what they have to say, then take time to process it before you reply. 

Verbal Communication: The Bottom Line

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we use our verbal communication skills every time we speak out loud with a friend, family member, or coworker. Someone with good verbal communication skills stands out when they can clearly, effectively, and empathetically communicate their ideas — and truly listen to and give feedback on others’ ideas. 

Looking to improve your communication and other professional skills? Check out Cisco’s Career Readiness Virtual Experience Program.

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