When we adopt models of well-being that illustrate its various dimensions, we inevitably uncover a common denominator: communication. All these facets of well-being (typically envisioned as slices in a circle) depend on some form of this vital component:
- Social — a diverse portfolio of relationships
- Emotional — the gateway to human flourishing, where we experience positive feelings most of the time… strengthened by relationships, gratitude, and compassion
- Career — facilitated by oral and written communication skills in a variety of circumstances
- Intellectual — calling upon skills to learn from written and oral expression and engage in stimulating dialog.
The connection to other dimensions of well-being — like physical, environmental, and financial — is evident; communication is a tool for almost everything we do. You’re engaged in communication now by reading this post, and you may engage further by responding with feedback. If your next task is writing an email, working on a presentation, participating in a meeting, discussing a household issue with family, leading or attending a webinar, taking a customer call, meeting a friend for lunch, or brainstorming with your team, you’ll be communicating.
The Skills Gap
Experts recognize communication’s indispensable role in well-being. The University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, summarizing a webinar on positive communication, explains:
The way we communicate matters because it has consequences. When it is done well, communication creates human contact, enables a person to discover solutions, builds people up, deepens their relationships, and serves as a source of inspiration and influence. And although all of us communicate every day at work and at home, we often fall short of our own best aspirations. Most often, it is because we may not know how.
This assessment is supported by data. A survey of corporate recruiters finds “four of the top five skills employers seek in new hires include oral and written communication, listening skills, and presentation skills.”
The recruiters’ experience is confirmed by a LinkedIn survey: “The U.S. is short 1.4 million professionals with soft skills, with communication as the number 1 skill in demand in all 100 metros we analyzed.”
LinkedIn describes this as a skills gap, “the misalignment between the skills people have (supply) and the skills employers need (demand).”
A report in 2008 estimated that small and mid-sized companies lose an average of $5,246 per year, per employee, to ineffective communications.
The range of specific communication skills can be sliced and diced innumerable ways — with differing impact on our work and personal lives. Categories include:
- Oral — conversation, listening, public speaking, teleconferences
- Nonverbal — body language, gestures, facial expressions
- Visual — graphs, images, colors, design, video
- Written — documents, notes, emails, texts, online interactions, articles, literature.
Style and content elements — like assertiveness, self-disclosure, feedback, conflict, and empathy — also are of paramount importance.
Tips for Well-Being Leaders
Enhance your own well-being while serving as a role model of communication skill development by:
- Choosing communication modes strategically. Decide whether in-person, email, teleconference, or text will be most effective considering the subject matter and your relationship with the audience.
- Listening actively. Give others your undivided attention and paraphrase their message to confirm you understand them correctly.
- Recording yourself. Use video to study as you practice an in-person interaction. Identify your strengths and opportunities to improve.
- Empathizing. Be aware of your audience; imagine their thoughts and feelings when they receive your message.
- Being clear, concise, and consistent. Establish a goal, especially for prearranged interactions, and keep it in mind as you listen and express yourself.
- Staying mindful of nonverbal communication. Note others’ facial expressions, motions, and posture.
- Learning about cross-cultural communications. Respect that cultures have different norms for phrasing, tone, gestures, and body language. For example, eye contact is encouraged in most of the US, Europe, and Australia, but may be considered rude in other areas.
- Seeking feedback. Ask trusted friends, family members, or coworkers to review documents you write and give objective feedback on your communication style.
This isn’t a complete list, so:
- Find out whether your organization offers or subsidizes communication skills training
- Explore online learning platforms like Coursera and edX for low- or no-cost opportunities
- Check your local library for helpful books as well as multimedia learning resources.
As you sharpen these skills and experience their pervasive benefits, try to discover ways to integrate them into your organization’s well-being program. You’ll be opening an important door to participants’ growth.
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.