Verbal Communication

An Essential Soft Skill

Woman standing with thought bubble cut out next to her head illustrating verbal communication
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Verbal communication is the sharing of information among individuals or groups through speaking. It is one of the ways we interact with our bosses, employees, co-workers, and customers or clients at work. We also use active listening, nonverbal communication such as body language and facial expressions, and writing to communicate.

When your verbal communication skills are weak, the intended recipients of your messages won't be able to understand them and, subsequently, won't be able to respond appropriately. While these failures do not rest solely with the speaker—poor listening skills or the misreading of non-verbal cues may also be to blame—they begin with him or her.

How to Improve Your Verbal Communication

Improving your verbal communication skills will help you avoid misunderstandings at work. Take the following steps, beginning even before any words leave your mouth:

  1. Be Prepared: Before you start a conversation, figure out what information you want to provide. Then decide on the best way to relay it to your recipient. For example, do you need to do it face-to-face or will a phone call do?
  2. Choose Your Words Carefully: Use vocabulary your recipient can easily comprehend: If he or she doesn't understand your words, your message will be lost.
  3. Speak Clearly: Be aware of your volume and rate of speech. Speaking too softly will make it difficult for anyone to hear you, but shouting can be very off-putting. Speak slowly enough to be understood, but not so slowly that you bore the listener or put him or her to sleep.
  1. Use the Proper Tone: Your voice may reveal your true feelings and attitude. For example, if you're angry or sad, it will come across through your tone. Try to stay in control of this, to avoid revealing more than you want and distracting the listener from your message's intent.
  2. Make Eye Contact: The person to whom you are speaking will better be able to connect with you if you maintain eye contact throughout the conversation.
  3. Check In With the Listener Periodically: Get feedback to make sure the person with whom you are speaking understands you. He or she must "get" what you are trying to say. While you are speaking, observe his or her facial expressions and body language, or simply ask for verbal confirmation that he or she understands you.
  1. Avoid Distractions: Background noise will distract your listener and make it hard for him or her to hear what you are saying, never mind, understand it. Find a quiet place to talk. If you are speaking to someone by phone, go to a quiet area and make sure he or she is in one as well. If that isn't possible at the moment, arrange to talk when it is.

Careers That Require Excellent Verbal Communication Skills

Regardless of what your career is, you will likely have to speak to people at least on occasion. Therefore good verbal communication skills are critical. Some occupations, however, depend on having superior verbal communication skills. Here are several that require this soft skill:

  • Chief Executive: Chief executives are in charge of all activities in the organizations they run. They must be able to share information with those inside and outside the entity, including other top-level executives, employees, clients, and shareholders.
  • School Principal: Principals manage elementary and secondary schools. Excellent verbal communication skills let them interact with school faculty, parents, and students.
  • Manager: Managers oversee the work of a department's or entire organization's employees. They must be able to provide feedback to their workers in a clear manner.
  • Operations Research Analyst: Using their expertise in mathematics, operation research analysts help businesses and other entities solve problems. Strong verbal communication skills allow them to work as a member of a team.
  • Medical Scientist: Medical scientists research the causes of diseases and develop prevention and treatment methods based on their findings. They must be able to explain their results to colleagues.
  • Economist: Economists study the distribution of resources. They collaborate with clients and discuss their findings with them.  
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist: Clinical and counseling psychologists diagnose and treat individuals who have mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They spend their days talking to people.
  • Archaeologist:  Archaeologists study history and prehistory by examining evidence left behind by humans. They must explain their research findings to colleagues.
  • Marriage and Family Therapist: Marriage and family therapists treat individuals, families, and couples for mental disorders and interpersonal problems. They need to relay information to their clients.
  • Teacher: Teachers instruct students in a variety of subjects. They explain concepts to students, collaborate with other teachers, and discuss students' progress with parents.
  • Librarian: Librarians select and organize materials in public, school, academic, law, and corporate libraries. They teach library patrons how to use these resources.
  • Dentist: Dentists examine and treat patients' teeth and gums. They collaborate with dental hygienists and assistants, as well as discuss procedures with their patients.
  • Pharmacist: Pharmacists dispense prescription drugs to patients. They provide information and instructions to them so they can use these medications effectively and safely.
  • Marketing Manager: Marketing managers devise and implement companies' marketing strategies. They collaborate with members of marketing teams.
  • Software Developer: Software developers oversee the creation of computer software. Strong verbal communication skills allow them to instruct members of their teams.