Communication skills, meaning how we respond and interact with colleagues, are high on the list of marketable skills for employees, according to Udemy's 2020 Workplace Learning Trends Report. But LinkedIn found that they're also an area where most employees tend to fall short.
An easy place to start: brushing up on proper phone and email etiquette. "It's important to develop those phone and emailing skills," says Nashville-based career strategist Jena Viviano. "That's going to help you with potential clients or job prospects, or if you're managing a team."
In fact, says Viviano, those kind of soft skills, which make it easier to connect with colleagues and do your job well, are "the No. 1 thing that helps people rise up through the ranks."
Try her best practices to improve your professional calls and emails.
"I think the biggest thing that the next generation has to face is that they have to be really good at writing," says Viviano. In a professional email, she explains, this means being grammatically correct, and briefly and effectively expressing your purpose.
Start the email by introducing yourself and mentioning the reason for your email. You'll also want to include a brief subject line that summarizes your purpose.
Viviano also stresses that when writing a professional email, you need to be formal, without "sounding like a robot." "Use your voice memos on your phone," she says. "Say what you want to stay in an email and then listen back to it and type it out."
Here are four tips to keep in mind when sending a professional email:
- Have a clear subject line: This could be a phase or sentence like "Requesting a meeting on Friday," or "Next steps for Monday's presentation."
- Use correct grammar and punctuation: Carefully read through your email to make sure there are no misspellings or grammatical errors that could make your email come off as thoughtless or rushed.
- Keep it brief: "No one wants to read a novel," says Viviano. Keep your email down to a few sentences that clearly state the purpose of your message.
- Include a signature: Most of the time, this is automatic. It should include your name, title, and company or organization to remind the recipient who you are. If you're emailing people you commonly interact with, it's OK to be a bit more casual and sign off with just your first name.
Video by Courtney Stith
If you avoid picking up the phone at all costs, you might struggle with making professional calls. But Viviano says knowing proper phone etiquette is vital to your professional success.
Before you pick up the phone to make a call, start by "elevating your energy," she suggests. It's also a good tactic when you're answering a call.
Her reasoning: What may be a case of nerves can actually come across as a lack of interest. "I hear a lot of people when they hop on the phone nowadays, because they're not used to it, it sounds like they're very monotone," says Viviano.
Here are some of the best practices for professional phone calls:
- Communicate your purpose efficiently: Introduce yourself, and briefly explain the reason for your call. For example, "Good morning! This is Jane Doe calling from Company X. I'm calling to arrange a meeting about. ..."
- Smile when you speak: Viviano says this is a good way to sound more upbeat and enthusiastic.
- Be polite: Start your call with a greeting, and end by thanking the person for their time.
If cold calling a client or colleague makes you nervous, Viviano suggests preparing notes in bullet-point form to ensure you cover key points during the conversation.
Perfecting these soft skills is essential to career advancement, says Viviano.
"You have to be really conscious about how you're being perceived, because otherwise it could hurt your chances of moving up through the ranks," she says. "It could also hurt your chances of leading people well or getting a new job. Soft skills actually matter more than the hard skills."
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