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What Are Verbal Communication Skills?

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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. 

Verbal communication skills are crucial to succeeding in the workplace, both for sharing updates about your work and progress, but also understanding what others are working on. Showing you have stellar verbal communication skills can make you stand out in interviews — and help you thrive once you land the role. 

So, what exactly do verbal communication skills look like and how can you build yours?

Verbal Communication Meaning

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 Types and Styles

There are a few different types of verbal communication depending on how many people you’re speaking with.

  • Intrapersonal communication: communication you have with yourself, including how you process information and speak to yourself. These are your inner thoughts.
  • Interpersonal communication: communication between two people. These are the conversations you have with one other person, whether you’re asking for feedback, sharing updates, or asking them what they had for lunch.
  • Group verbal communication: communication between at least three people. Similar to interpersonal communication, these are the conversations you have about any topic — as long as it’s a smaller group.
  • Public verbal communication: communication where there’s one speaker and an audience. For example, if you’ve attended a large workshop or class, you were a listener in public verbal communication.
  • Mass verbal communication: communication where a small group of people passes down information to large groups of people. This may include communication types like television, social media, or radio.

There are also different verbal communication styles depending on how you communicate, regardless of who or how many people you’re communicating with.

  • Aggressive verbal communication: communication focusing on getting your way at all costs, regardless of whether that requires hostility, intimidation, or manipulation.
  • Passive communication: indirect communication that circles around your actual needs and wants, which can lead to confusion.
  • Passive-aggressive communication: communication where you don’t always share your opinions directly, but feel negatively if others don’t understand your needs.
  • Assertive communication: communication where you express your needs and opinions clearly, directly, and confidently.

Verbal Communication Skills Examples in the Workplace

Where do you apply verbal communication skills in the workplace? You use them any time you’re talking to someone else at work! Here are a few examples of when you’d use these skills.

Meetings

Meetings are one way that teams get together live to communicate about projects, goals, progress, and general updates. You’ll use verbal communication skills not only if you share updates in a meeting, but also to ask clarifying questions and respond to others. 

Presentations

Similar to meetings, presentations are a way to share information, progress, and updates live with other people. Presentations tend to take on more of a formal manner than meetings, meaning you’ll need to adjust your tone and presence when verbally communicating.

Working With Your Team

The everyday conversations you have with your team count as verbal communication, too! This is often less formal communication and may even include personal updates and questions, depending on how much you’d like to share. For example, everything from greeting your coworkers to asking them about their weekends counts as verbal communication!

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Working With a Client

Client-facing roles also require another type of verbal communication to work productively and serve the client’s needs. This communication is typically more formal and requires empathy and active listening skills to ensure you understand what the client is looking for.

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Giving and Asking for Feedback

Feedback is a crucial part of improving workplace processes, productivity, and company culture. Yet feedback needs to be given and asked for with the right tone and context. For example, you wouldn’t blurt out that your coworker needs to fix something with their presentation style when you first see them that day. Instead, you might ask if you could share a suggestion with them, then share your opinion and potential solutions. Verbal communication skills are key here for knowing what feedback you want to give, and how to deliver it.

>>MORE: How to Ask for Feedback at Work (With Example Questions)

Asking for Help

You won’t always know the right course of action at work, and that’s OK! Sometimes we need to ask for help, whether that’s with decision-making or figuring out who at the company may be able to get a specific task done. You’ll use verbal communication skills to figure out how to phrase your request and what context to make the request in.

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 and hybrid schedules have 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.
  • Active listening: Listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying so you can respond appropriately. This includes not just the content of what they’re saying, but picking up on their tone and nonverbal cues.

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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.

Follow Your Coworkers’ Leads

While every person you work with might not have the best verbal communication skills, it can still be helpful to follow other people’s lead when you’re just starting out. It’s similar to how you might understand what the correct business attire is at your first workplace. While you should still keep your personal style, looking around to see what other people tend to wear can give you a good idea of whether the office is more casual or formal.

The same goes for verbal communication. Some workplaces use very formal and direct communication, while others might be more relaxed. While you should still communicate in a way that feels authentic to you, you can change the level of formality based on your office environment.

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. 

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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.

Image credit: Canva Studios / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.

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