Professional communication skills are for everyone. Interacting with others in an internship, job, or classroom is different from hanging out with family and friends. Here are some tips to improve your professional communication. While you’re in college, find opportunities to practice: internships, part-time jobs, and interactions with mentors and professors.

Listen/observe first

You’ve heard the saying that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Listening and observing can help you learn the norms of an organization. Pay attention to things like:

  • Facial expression
  • Tone of voice
  • Gestures
  • What others in the room are doing

Ask questions

Asking questions can help to clarify your understanding. It also shows that you’re paying attention. Open-ended questions tend to yield more information and prevent misinterpretation; they require more than a “yes” or “no” response. Start questions with words like who, what, when, where, why, and how. Examples include:

  • “What do you think about this project?”
  • “How do you think the clients will
    respond to our request?”
  • “Why do you expect that outcome?”
  • “How did you come to that conclusion?”

Use “I” statements

The use of “I” statements conveys what you are thinking or feeling in a nonconfrontational manner. It also conveys ideas in a clear way. Here are some examples of “I” statements:

  • “I think that I might be misunderstanding the goal.”
  • ‘I’m wondering if that’s the most direct way to do this.”
  • “When I think I’m not being heard, I think about how I’m saying it.”
  • “My concern is delays that may be outside our control.”

Learn the accepted norms in your team

Some teams have weekly check-in meetings. Some communicate only by phone or email—for others, it’s face-to-face.

In addition to the above tips, these ideas can also be helpful:

  • Use professional language. Refer to people as “Professor,” “Mr./Mrs.,” or “Colleagues.” Starting emails with “Hey” might not be smart in a professional setting.
  • Check spelling and grammar before hitting Send.
  • Make sure you spelled the person’s name correctly.

More tips to get you communicating professionally

Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.