What are verbal skills and why are they important?

Strong verbal skills will help to encourage essential discussion, whether in the conference room or in your living room.

We all have a natural ability to express ourselves in different ways. Effective interpersonal communication is essential in the workplace and at home. It plays a key role in bringing people together, especially when discussion is focused in areas of controversy or conflict. If we have strong verbal communication skills, we are more likely to experience success.

Michigan State University Extension recommends you consider these verbal skills next time you are part of a crucial conversation:

  • Ask questions – pose questions that are relevant, well-timed and open-ended. Open-ended questions increase the scope of discussion because they require additional information. Effective questioning is an essential skill. Questions can be used to obtain information, start a conversation, test understanding, draw someone into a conversation, seek support or agreement, determine level of disagreement, etc.
  • Probe – continue a specific discussion using follow-up questions (tell me more about…, please explain… ) or non-verbal signals (nodding, remaining silent, maintaining eye contact)
  • Paraphrase – restate in your own words what someone else has said to confirm active listening.
  • Redirect questions and comments – ask other group members to respond to questions or comments directed to you. This helps keep everyone engaged in the conversation.
  • Reference back – refer to something said earlier, to encourage people to acknowledge and build on each other’s ideas. (“Remember our discussion last month when we decided to…?”)
  • Include quieter members – ask specifically for those who have not yet shared their thoughts to speak.
  • Round robin discussion – have one person speak after another, in some defined order to include everyone (with the option to “pass”)
  • Encourage divergent views – expand the possibilities for problem solving or new ideas: “What does someone else think?”, “Is there another idea that we have overlooked?”, “What would those who are not here, say?”, “What are other options?”
  • Encourage convergent views – begin to bring the group to consensus: “Even in the face of disagreement, are there any areas where we all agree?”, “What do we agree is important in this issue?”
  • Shift perspective – encourage the group to consider an issue from other points of view (details of this part vs. relationship to big picture, advantages vs. disadvantages, and thoughts from another group’s perspective on same issue, etc.)
  • Summarize – give a brief and concise review about a series of comments on an issue, allowing both parties to review and agree on what has been said, prior to moving to next discussion topic
  • Bridge – say a few words about (review briefly) what was just discussed or occurred, and information about what the group will do or what will happen next.

How can you improve verbal communication skills? Think before speaking: help organize your thoughts through active listening and recognize when to apply these various skills. You will increase your confidence as you use these verbal skills.

Don’t forget to vary your vocal tone and voice inflection: This non-verbal skill will add interest and energy to your conversation. Group discussion benefits from added vitality and passion. There is nothing worse than listening to “Monotonous Murray” drone on and on... 

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