What Are Essential Verbal Communication Skills?
Essential verbal communication skills go beyond mere talking. We learned how to talk at a very young age but are never formally trained in verbal communication. You might’ve taken a public speaking course. However, that is just one form of verbal communication. There are four essential verbal communication skills every entrepreneur must master to be an effective and successful business leader.
Types of Verbal Communication
First, let’s consider the various types of verbal communication that we need to build skills around.
Conversation is the art of informal communication. It could be small talk, social conversation, business conversation, or any other low-key and casual communication.
Listening and Reflecting
Listening and reflecting is an essential verbal communication skill that focuses you on the speaker, not on yourself. This is such an essential skill that we will cover it in depth below.
Presenting is the verbal communication skill of speaking to others more formally. Everybody has suffered death by PowerPoint, indicating the most people are poor presenters. As an entrepreneur, your presentation skills must be at a high level. After all, you are talking to investors, shareholders, partners, customers, and employees. In each case, you have to tell your story through your presentation skills.
Selling and Persuading
Selling and persuading is another essential verbal communication skill. Selling, of course, is a form of persuasion that asks another person to take action. It could be something as simple as an email opt-in or something more complex like purchasing a product or service. Persuading is broader than selling and involves verbal communication designed to have another person accept a point of view, belief, or argument.
Answering questions is an essential verbal communication skill in which you respond to the inquiries of others. Most people don’t spend much time thinking about answering questions as an oral communication skill and thus do not develop it.
Nonverbal Communication Skills
Although this article is focused on essential verbal communication skills, nonverbal communication skills are worth mentioning. There are two basic nonverbal communication skills.
Attending is the skill of listening without saying any words. You might say, “Uh-huh,” or “Yeah” to assure the speaker that you’re paying attention. Attending is much more complex than you might think because you’re basically listening in silence without verbally responding to the speaker.
Following skills involve prompts and door openers. A prompt is a simple question such as “What’s going on?” You are simply prompting the speaker to talk about what is on the speaker’s mind. A door opener is similar to a prompt and invites the speaker to say more. You might say, “What else?”
Purposes of Verbal Communication Skills
You can begin to sharpen your essential verbal communication skills by thinking about the various purposes of verbal communication. Here’s a list of some goals of verbal communication skills to get you started thinking about why you speak in the first place.
Sometimes, you are asked for advice. How and when you give that advice is a skill you must cultivate. As a general rule, advise less and listen more. Most people are too quick to put in their two cents before listening to the speaker.
Issuing Orders or Instructions
Telling people what to do, is an essential function of leadership. Knowing how to tell people what to do so they are motivated to follow instructions is a high-level verbal communication skill.
Storytelling is a powerful purpose of verbal communication. This is a verbal communication skill every entrepreneur must master because stories are compelling. You can convey more information more persuasively through a story than through any other form of verbal communication.
Teaching and Training
Teaching and training is another verbal communication skill that has its own mastery. How many great teachers have you had in your life, and why were they great. And then think about how many bad teachers you had. These were teachers that bored you or disengaged you and made learning hard. As an entrepreneur, you will have to teach and train and learn how to do so while making it fun, engaging, and memorable.
Informing others by conveying information is another verbal communication skill. You may be in the teaching mode, but you may be simply in a mode where your transferring information to other people.
Disciplining, coaching, and correcting others’ performance is a very distinct verbal communication skill that must be handled with great care. You’re looking to change a behavior or obtain a different outcome from another human being without breaking a relationship. This takes skill and patience.
Recognizing and Rewarding Others
Recognizing and rewarding others is its own type of verbal communication skill. The challenge is to reward people for performance without alienating the rest of the team. One of the significant problems with sales contests, for example, is that there is only one winner. On a sales team of 100, you are building 99 losers when you only have one winner. Competition is not all that it’s cracked up to be as a motivator.
Building trust is another critical verbal communication skill for entrepreneurs. Trust is nothing more than the amount of risk someone is willing to take with you that you will betray them. Low risk of betrayal means high trust. An increased risk of betrayal means low trust. You build trust through your words and your actions. Obviously, building high trust means that your actions must be consistent with your words over some time.
Expressing emotions is another form of verbal communication. This is a skill that very few have mastered and yet is extremely powerful. When you can express your emotions, you will be more authentic, transparent, and trustworthy because people see you for who you really are.
Validating Others’ Emotions
Validating others emotions, what I call “listening others into existence,” is another essential verbal communication skill for entrepreneurs. When you listen others into existence, you provide such a deep and profound experience for the speaker that the speaker will follow you anywhere.
Creating Emotional Safety
Creating emotional safety is another essential verbal communication skill for entrepreneurs. Studies have shown that leaders capable of creating emotional safety for their teams outperform regular teams by orders of magnitude. As an entrepreneur, you want your people to feel emotionally safe, honest, transparent, and authentic. If your working culture is emotionally unsafe, you will experience absenteeism, non-engagement, turnover, and low productivity.
The 4 Essential Verbal Communication Skills
Verbal communication skills play a pivotal role when it comes to building fruitful relationships – whether it’s at work, home, or a casual encounter.
Listening is the #1 Essential Verbal Communication Skill
Listening is the number one essential verbal communication skill. Without knowing how to listen and what to listen for, you will never be an effective communicator.
Listening to and Reflecting Emotions
The deepest level of listening is called affect labeling or emotional reflecting. In this type of listening, you are ignoring the words, paying attention to the emotions of the speaker, and reflecting back those emotions with the simple “you” statement
Affect labeling is counterintuitive and counter normative. It seems to violate all of the rules of conversation that you learned as a child. However, brain scanning studies show that affect labeling is the most potent form of listing. Therefore, it is the primary verbal communication skill every entrepreneur must master.
Listening to and Reflecting Meaning
The second deepest level of listening is core messaging. Core messaging occurs when you reflect back the meaning of speaker is trying to convey but can’t. You have probably experienced people who wander all over the place when they are speaking. This can be annoying, and your response is to seek out the meaning the speaker is trying to convey and reflect it with a metaphor.
Listening to and Reflecting Words
Listening to the words that somebody is saying is the third deepest level of reflection. This is where we think that we should spend most of our time. However, studies show that paraphrasing what people say is only partially effective for creating connection and understanding. As with all other forms of listening, ignore what you were taught about active listening. Instead of using an “I” statement, always use a “you” statement.
Listening to and Reflecting Instructions, Procedures, and Lists
The shallowest level of listening is mirroring. Mirroring occurs when you reflect back word for word what the speaker is said. Use mirroring when you listen to and reflect instructions, procedures, lists, and so forth to make sure there is perfect clarity between the speaker and you. You never use mirroring for any other type of listening. Again, ignore what you learned in your active listening class because that information is wrong.
Managing Anxiety Is the #2 Essential Verbal Communication Skill
The second essential verbal communication skill for entrepreneurs is learning how to manage their anxiety.
Why Managing Anxiety Is An Essential Verbal Communication Skill?
At first blush, managing anxiety does not seem to be a verbal communication skill. However, if you are anxious, you will not communicate anything to anybody because you will be so stressed out. Learning how to manage your anxiety is, therefore, an essential verbal communication skill.
There is one simple, foolproof way to manage your anxiety at the moment. And that is to greet your anxiety and acknowledge it by telling yourself out loud, “This is me feeling anxious.” Alternatively, you could simply reflect your own anxiety by saying to yourself, “I’m anxious and nervous.” Brain scanning studies show that this skill, called self affect labeling, immediately calms the emotional centers of your brain and restores you to confidence and clarity.
Organizing Is the #3 Essential Verbal Communication Skill
The third essential verbal communication skill is organizing. How many times have you been called upon to speak, and you froze. There are two types of speaking situations: prepared and spontaneous. A prepared verbal communication is one in which you spent some time thinking about what you will say. You might have an outline or PowerPoint ready to go, and your preparation gives you high confidence.
The spontaneous speaking situation occurs when you are asked without warning to say something or to speak.
Use Structured Information
The secret to being organized in a spontaneous situation is to use structured information. Our brains process structured information 40% faster than unstructured information. This means that we can speak confidently and fluently without preparation if we can use some pre-learned structure. Essentially, structured information increases processing fluency.
There are two simple formulas for creating instant structured information.
What? So What? Now What?
The first formula asks three questions:
- So what?
- Now, what?
All you have to do is answer these three questions, and you have confidence, poise, and influence.
‘What?’ is simply you explaining what it is you’re going to talk about.
‘So what?’ is you explaining why the topic is relevant to the audience.
‘Now, what?’ is you talking about the path forward into the future.
If you want a fun exercise, find a friend and do a little role-play. Have your friend suggest some oddball topic, use this formula, and give a three-minute talk. Then reverse roles. You will be amazed at how easily you can handle curveballs.
The second formula for developing structured information is Problem – Solution – Benefit. You could replace Problem with Opportunity. This formula is pretty straightforward because you start by stating the problem. Next, you talk about either solutions or ways to find them. You end by talking about the benefits of solving the problem. Simple, neat, and straightforward.
Connecting Is the #4 Essential Verbal Communication Skill
The fourth essential verbal communication skill for an entrepreneur is learning how to connect. This is pretty straightforward if you pay attention to the words that you use. There are two distinct types of language: connection language vs. distancing language.
Connection language uses direct, active voice grammar with “you.” Distancing language uses indirect, passive voice grammar with either an “I” statement or no reference at all.
Here’s an example of distancing language:
“Today, three ideas will be presented. It is imperative that these ideas be mastered as quickly as possible.”
Here’s an example of connecting language:
“Today, you are going to learn Point 1. Then you are going to learn point 2. Finally, you are going to learn Point 3. When you have mastered these three points, you will be able to do X, Y, and Z.”
As you read these different types of language, which one connected with you? The subtle difference between distancing and connecting language is crucial in verbal communication. It’s a skill that you must master.
The Importance of Practice
These four essential verbal communication skills for entrepreneurs do not come naturally. Like any skill, they must be practiced. Here are some ideas on how and what to practice.
How To Practice
To practice these essential verbal communication skills, create many role-plays taken from your daily life and rehearse how you would use the skill. One effective (and maybe painful) tool is to video record yourself and critique your performance. Another way to practice is to find a friend who wants to learn these skills and practice together on. Of course, any online video platform will work for this purpose. When you first record yourself, you may shudder at how you sound. That’s okay. It’s telling you, you have some room for improvement.
What To Practice
Here’s what you should practice.
- The four levels of reflective listening: listening to emotions, listening for meaning, listening to the words and paraphrasing, and mirroring back instructions or procedures.
- Consciously practicing self-affect labeling to manage your anxiety. All this requires is that you feel nervous and say to yourself, “I feel nervous.” Practice this until it becomes second nature.
- Practice using the structured information formulas: by having a friend throw oddball and curveball questions to you. Use both formulas and practice until you become fluent that using them.
- Practice using connection language and distancing language. You want to practice both forms of language because sometimes distancing language is essential. The most important thing is to learn to be conscious of the two different formats so that you can call upon them instantly and as needed.
When To Practice
Think about practicing whatever you have, a spare 15 or 20 minutes. Or, carve out a specific time each day to spend 15 or 20 minutes on one or more of the practices. You will be surprised at how quickly you master these four essential verbal communication skills. If you are diligent about practicing every day for just a few minutes, you can expect mastery in 4 to 6 weeks.
The secret is practicing every day for a short time. And, practice is much more critical than intellectualizing and thinking about the practice. You could never become a scratch golfer by thinking about your golf swing. And you will never become a formidable communicator, should practice the basic skills themselves.
Get Feedback and Coaching
Finally, seek out feedback from friends and colleagues. If you need more support, find a good communication coach for help. These four essential verbal communication skills for entrepreneurs are the foundation for a successful business career. Without them, you will be at a distinct competitive disadvantage with your peers.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Doug Noll’s official website.
Doug Noll speaks about and teaches people how to solve difficult, intractable, and highly emotional problems. He was a business and commercial trial lawyer for 22 years before turning to leadership development, problem-solving, and peacemaking. He is a Senior Consultant with Mobius Executive Leadership and maintains a high-level mediation and arbitration practice.
For your daily dose of inspiration, subscribe to our newsletter!