What are Workplace Communication Skills and How Do You Teach Them? Blog Feature
Chris Zook

By: Chris Zook on January 18th, 2019

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What are Workplace Communication Skills and How Do You Teach Them?

Career Readiness | Communication Skills | 21st Century Skills

In the modern workplace, communication makes or breaks careers.

Communication is the key element in maintaining and progressing through a satisfying occupation. It’s the ability to tell someone else what you’re thinking while hearing (and understanding) what others have to say.

Everyone can communicate to some degree. But communication is an art and science, and experts in communication cultivate clarity, precision, and collaboration wherever they work.

So what are these workplace communication skills? More importantly, how can you teach them as part of a career readiness curriculum?

On this page, we’ll answer both of those questions and then some!

Workplace Communication Skills Breakdown: Verbal, Non-Verbal, & Email

Workplace communication is made of verbal and non-verbal communication.

In addition, it’s worth mentioning the intricacies of email since it has become the default method of communication in businesses around the world.

We’ll start with verbal communication.

Verbal Communication


Verbal communication is any conversation that takes place vocally.

That primarily includes face-to-face discussions.

However, it also includes phone calls, video conferencing, voicemail, and voice messaging.

The most important advantage of verbal communication is that speakers can use tone of voice to help convey the context of what they’re saying.

That context could be anything from sincerity to sarcasm — but that’s a major benefit that verbal communication has over non-verbal.

On the other hand, verbal communication is almost always temporary, which means it’s the responsibility of the listener and speaker to remember the discussion without any aid.

This isn’t true for voicemails or voice messaging, but it does apply to phone calls, video conferencing, and face-to-face conversations.

Because the latter three situations occur much more frequently than voicemails and voice messaging, it’s important to note that two people may have different interpretations of how a conversation actually goes.

These different interpretations — whether they’re accurate or not — can vary from mild misunderstandings to major miscommunications.

After all, with no central source of truth (like a written document), any disagreements over a verbal conversation are up in the air when it comes to determining what was actually said and intended.

Fortunately, verbal communication isn’t the only method of conversing in a business setting.

In fact, non-verbal communication is becoming the preferred conversation and planning format for many companies, especially those involved in cutting-edge technology.

Non-Verbal Communication


Non-verbal communication is any form of discussion that doesn’t have the benefit of vocal tone.

This most famously includes email, which we’ll discuss in detail later. It also includes instant messaging, text messaging, note-writing, social media posts, letters, data analysis, and more.

However, non-verbal communication includes more than just writing.

Non-verbal communication entails crucial social cues as well, including eye contact, body language, gesturing, and even physical touch!

As a result, you have a lot more areas of opportunity when it comes to non-verbal communication.

We’ll start with social cues. These non-verbal gestures and visual accents complement verbal communication.

Combining the right words with the right gestures at the right time can make all the difference between someone appearing selfish or helpful.

Context is everything in this case — and social cues help establish that context in conjunction with speech.

Non-verbal communication also entails writing, which comes with one major advantage over any other form of conversation — documentation.

Documentation provides that central source of truth for what someone said, when they said it, and how they said it.

While every conversation may not require everyone to double back to the first email in a 100-email conversation, documentation provides clarity and resolves conflict much more effectively than verbal debates.

Still, there’s one form of specific non-verbal communication that merits more of a breakdown.

That’s because it’s become the single most important communication method in the working world from a small business to a Fortune 500 company.


Email Communication


Email used to be considered a quaint or informal way of conducting business.

Today, it’s the most-used communication method for every desk job from the CEO to the entry-level clerk.

With email, you can direct projects, hold discussions, make decisions, and grow entire companies!

This is why it’s so important for students to know about email, how it works, and why it requires professional etiquette.

Emails are responsible for individuals taking action in a company. They’re the best way to make sure people stay in the loop on different ideas.

With the right email, someone can open themselves up to new opportunities that they never knew were possible.

With the wrong email, they could truncate their career and end up looking for another job.

Email is taken seriously in the business world. It’s significantly different from text messaging, instant messaging, note-writing, and chat.

If a student goes into a job with the expectation that they can treat email like a messaging service, they’re starting off on a bad foot.

To get them on the best start possible, it’s crucial that today’s educators teach email communication skills.

But that’s easier said than done, right? In fact, all communication skills can be tricky to teach.

After all, how can you teach what has been considered “common sense” for so many years, especially when technology keeps changing?

How to Teach Workplace Communication Skills


When it comes to teaching workplace communication skills, you’ll find a lot of variety in terms of approach and methodology.

That’s because workplace communication — like many soft skills — isn’t set in stone in terms of what it includes on the educational level.

Some states in the US have completely different standards when it comes to communication education in general.

But some teaching styles stick out more than others.

On the rest of this page, we’ll take an in-depth look into some of the most popular and successful online resources for teaching workplace communication skills.

These resources provide excellent guidelines to help you think about how you’ll teach these skills.

Teaching Verbal Communication


Global Digital Citizen (GDC) is an organization dedicated to helping modern students learn in ways that are best for them.

This means GDC constantly makes new strides in terms of experimentation and tracking results.

They have a brief (yet effective) suggestion for how to teach verbal communication to students of any age.

In fact, it’s so simple that you may already be doing this.

GDC recommends watching videos that demonstrate conversational skills.

During the videos, you have students take notes on:

  • Summarizing skills
  • Paraphrasing skills
  • Direct quotes
  • Responses
  • Vocal tone

For the videos themselves, you can use clips from popular movies that students know, like The Avengers, or even popular YouTubers who work in groups, like The Slo Mo Guys.

Regardless of what you choose to show, the goal is always the same.

You want your students to demonstrate that they’re aware of what conversations look like along with positive communication traits and negative communication traits.

Then, you can ask students questions about key parts of a conversation.

Why did one speaker cross their arms at a certain point? How did the other speaker reply? How did it impact the conversation as a whole?

Asking these kinds of questions helps students engage with verbal communication in a way that’s relatable and fun — especially when compared to learning from a textbook.

It’s also possible to teach non-verbal communication without a textbook, which we’ll examine next.

Teaching Non-Verbal Communication


Non-verbal communication skills are just as important as their verbal counterparts.

Upbility, an education thought leader on speech therapy, offers several suggestions to help you get started with teaching social cues.

One of the most direct ways to teach social cues is through simple roleplaying. This is where you create conversational scenarios in which one student says something, another replies, and the rest of the class takes notes on what they observe.

For this roleplay scenario, it’s key that you highlight the subtle areas where social cues add emphasis to a conversation.

These areas include:

  • Facial expressions
  • Body language
  • Gesturing
  • Eye contact
  • Personal touch
  • Personal space
  • Physical appearance

After each exercise, you can ask the participants and observers to discuss what happened, why they interpreted a conversation a certain way, and how that interpretation could’ve changed based on non-verbal factors.

As for written communication, your options are surprisingly more limited than when dealing with social cues.

That’s because “writing skills” is an enormous subject that includes career readiness, creative thinking, problem solving, and more. Plus, because writing is so dependent on grade level, it’s a challenge to offer insight into teaching students without delving into the specifics of which students.

It’s provided by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which is a branch of the US Department of Education.

Overall, the IES provides a thorough guide detailing every step you can take to teach writing skills to teens and adolescents.

We recommend downloading the guide yourself (it’s free) and following its information as closely as you can.

This leaves us with the final communication skill we have to cover — email.

Teaching Email Communication


Email is simply the most powerful and convenient tool for communicating.

As a result, students need to learn how to write emails effectively and intelligently before they enter the modern workforce.

This includes understanding principles of business writing in general, like common questions and implied tone.

It also requires students to practice writing emails of their own — especially emails that they send in response to others.

This is easier said than done, and these concepts include a lot more information than they may seem at first.

But when you approach email communication from an effective teaching strategy (like the four phases), you can take that complicated topic and make it understandable for students of any age.

This approach can also work for verbal and non-verbal communication as well. In fact, you can teach all workplace communication skills much more easily when you do it in a structured environment.  

As a result, our final teaching suggestion is a way for you to combine all of these workplace communication skills into one convenient resource.

It’s called Business&ITCenter21.

Business&ITCenter21: Curriculum to Teach Communication Skills and More!

Business&ITCenter21 is a digital curriculum used by thousands of teachers every year to teach career readiness and 21st Century skills like communication, professionalism, public speaking, digital citizenship, and more.

With the curriculum system, you get pre-made lesson plans, blended teaching materials, interactive student lessons, and automatically graded assessments.

Best of all, you get a blended learning resource that lets you differentiate your teaching strategies and help as many students as possible - anytime, anywhere.

Wondering if Business&ITCenter21 is right for you and your students? Check out the curriculum catalog to discover all of the topics included:

Explore the Business&ITCenter21 Catalog


About Chris Zook

Chris Zook is a contributing author to the AES blog. He enjoys everything about online marketing, data science, user experience, and corgis.