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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Flakes, PE

Six Essential Skills Professionals Need to Communicate Better and Build Stronger Work Relationships

Illustration courtesy of Black Illustrations

Students chose to attend college to acquire the skills needed to be successful in the careers they intend to pursue. Colleges however place a heavy emphasis on academic study but place little emphasis on practical and social skills.

To be successful in the workplace today, professionals need more than the learned education from academic study. This is underscored by a 2019 survey by Morning Consult of more than 650 employers which found that 73 percent of employers believe “it’s very or somewhat difficult finding qualified candidates”. The survey also revealed that soft skills are highly in demand by employers, and even more so than technical skills.

Technical skills are no less important than ever, but a greater emphasis needs to be placed on noncognitive skills such as communication and relationships with peers in a work environment. Below are six essential skills that will help younger professionals better communicate ideas, become more impactful leaders, and develop better relationships at work.

Emotional Intelligence

Professionals with high emotional intelligence (EQ) understand their emotions and the emotions of their team members. This often leads to better collaboration, increased trust, and greater productivity from team members.

Develop the Skill: There are 4 main elements of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Below are some tips for growing your emotional intelligence.

  • Know Your Stressors (Self Awareness)

  • Think Before You Speak (Self-Management)

  • Practice active listening (Social Awareness)

  • Observe others (Social Awareness)

  • Learn to take feedback and criticism well (Relationship Management)

  • Acknowledge other people’s feelings (Relationship Management)

Further Reading: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Jean Greaves and Travis Bradberry

Conflict Resolution

Conflicts within teams sometimes occur over work assignments, personality clashes, style differences, and values. Conflict resolution skills can lead to better collaboration among teams and improved work relationships.

Develop the Skill: Embrace conflict; Practice active listening; Practice empathy; Work together to find common goals; Focus on the future and do not hold grudges.

Further Reading: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson


Most decisions require a compromise between both internal and external parties. Also, many work opportunities are negotiated. Good negotiation skills will lead to more decisions resulting in your favor.

Develop the Skill: Do your research; Clearly state your request. Be patient; Listen actively. Be prepared to respectively say no.

Further Reading: Never Split the Difference: Negotiation As if Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss


Professionals must communicate their thoughts and ideas both verbally and in writing. Persuasion is key to convincing management and team members to believe in your ideas or perform requested action. Professionals must be clear and organized in their writing and produce easy-to-read and understand documents.

Develop the Skill: Establish trust; Be credible; Be confident; Use the correct tone. Be persistent without being impatient.

Further Readings: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Public Speaking

Professionals are expected to verbally communicate their ideas and opinions in front of audiences. An audience could be as small as a few team members or in front of a group in a conference setting. Professionals who are confident public speakers can clearly present their thoughts in a logical and organized manner.

Develop the Skill: Become active in a public speaking organization such as Toastmasters International or volunteer with an organization, society, or fraternity where you must speak in front of an audience.

Further Reading: Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds by Carmine Gallo

Microsoft Applications

Although knowledge of Microsoft’s products is more of a technical skill than a noncognitive skill, Microsoft offers some great applications to aid in communication. Surprisingly, few professionals have more than a basic understanding of these applications. Advanced knowledge of Microsoft’s products, however, allows professionals to be more efficient and productive.

Below are Microsoft applications that are great for communicating ideas along with examples of advanced features to master.

  • Word: Control formatting using styles; Properly track changes to control revisions.

  • PowerPoint: Use of slide master slide to create consistent slides; Selective use of transitions and animations; Proper use of color and images.

  • Outlook: Managing inboxes such as archiving, filtering, and searching.

  • Visio: Proper use of layers; Work with diagrams, themes, and custom shapes.

Develop the Skill: There are many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) such as Coursera, edX, LinkedIn Learning, Udacity, and Udemy that provide instruction in this area.

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