Communication is critical skill – one that hiring managers look for in their candidates.  For those in customer service positions, strong communication and effective problem-solving skills are must-haves. But for everyone else, you still must be able to actively listen (not just look like you are listening) and communicate effectively – either verbally or in writing.

This is because in today’s flat organizational environment, most workers wear many hats.  We may, at some point, be asked to handle a customer complaint.  Now, by “customer”, I do not necessarily only mean a person who is physically standing at a counter in front of you wishing to make a purchase.  Everyone, regardless of your job title, has a customer base.  For some of us, that may be other employees in your departments.  For some of us, it may be front-line employees, such as sales reps or customer service reps.  For some of us, it may be the customer himself.

So here are a couple of communications skillsets that every employee needs to have in order to succeed in their job.

1)      Focus on your first impression –  many of us have hung up the phone and tried again because the person answering the other end grunted his salutation.  That first impression sets the tone of the entire conversation, so make sure it’s the tone you want.

2)      Do not interrupt – Be careful about interrupting.  It shows that you are not really interested in the issue at hand.  You simply want to offer your solution – that may not even be the right solution – or make your point.  Many times, conflict can be avoided by simply allowing the person to state their problem, vent their feelings and express their emotions.  So let them, and wait until they are completely finished before you begin to speak.

3)      Listen actively – Communication is not a one way street.   You need to be willing to listen – truly listen – as well as speak.  One way to support this is to let people know that you are listening.  Show them by nodding or eye contact (if it is a face-to-face conversation), using phrases such as “I see” , asking questions or simply paraphrasing the situation.

4)      Ask the right questions – Do not attack or point blame or try to justify you or your company’s position.  Simply ensure that you truly understand the person’s issue – again paraphrasing goes a long way here – through the use of clarifying questions.

5)      Be courteous and empathetic – Customers don’t expect perfection, but they do expect courtesy and empathy when things do not go well.   Realize that you are not the target of the person’s complaint…the situation is.  Honestly try to put yourself into his/her shoes.  How would you feel if (for example), the product that you saved for and then purchased was delivered broken or a promised repair was never completed?

6)      Use the Appropriate Method to Communicate. Depending on individual customer situations your communication methods might need to change.  Sometimes e-mail is acceptable, but there are other situations which require a more personal touch such as a phone call or even a face-to-face conversation.  Make sure you understand how your customer wants to communicate with you and do that. Do not rely on one method of communication, simply because that is what you are comfortable with.

So, as a candidate for a job – any job – it is important to highlight your communication skills.  You need to show the hiring manager that you have the six skills (listed above) during your interview.  Model them…right there during the interview.  Do not interrupt.  Actively listen.  Ask the right questions.  Be courteous, and follow up in any manner that is appropriate.

By Christiane Soto,

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.