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Communication (Young HPC | Skills and behaviours)

The ability to communicate is one of the single most important skills you can have in life. Vital to your personal and professional relationships, communication is at the heart of every interaction you have with others. In work, communication skills can help you better understand your role and responsibilities, and make you a more effective colleague and manager. Time and time again, it’s mentioned as a key requirement in job descriptions – particularly for business administration roles – so how can you become a better communicator?

What is communication?

Communication is simply exchanging information with other people. While much of it involves talking, we also communicate in writing. For example, in a document or email; through social channels like WhatsApp; or teamworking forums like Slack.

Humans are also great visual communicators: we use facial expressions and hand gestures to add emphasis or context. And sometimes create pictures, diagrams and films to get our ideas across.

Communication is the first life skill we learn. Even as newborns, we use our cries to get attention. And as with many life skills, it’s something that most people continue to develop and improve. By the time we’re adults, we can convey complex or incredibly subtle ideas. And use multiple ways to communicate them at the same time. Using slides to accompany a presentation, for example.

People make gestures (gesticulate) while talking to emphasise the meaning of what we’re saying. Some scientists believe that gestures may be a fundamental part of language.(1)

In the workplace, good communication is the foundation of understanding between colleagues. It’s vital to team working, and can help develop your emotional awareness. Communication ensures everyone knows their role and responsibilities. In a nuclear power station like HPC – with complex operations and managed risks – communication plays a critical role in getting the work done efficiently and safely.

My role can have serious implications on others around me, so I have to make sure that I’m on the ball the entire time.

Thomas Keirle,
Lifting Technician Apprenticeship

Communication is a highly transferable skill, valued by all employers. Some people even make a career out of it... Like those who work in PR, marketing or journalism. But it’s important to remember that communication is an exchange – it’s just as important to read and listen, as it is to write and talk.

Examples of communication in action

We instinctively know how to communicate, but we don’t always get it right. Let’s look at some examples of how better communication helps people understand each other, or what they’re meant to do.

Finn is conducting job interviews and has selected a candidate who is deaf. He’s keen to ensure the candidate is at ease, and is given an equal opportunity.

Ahead of the interview, Finn researches the problems faced by all candidates with disabilities, and takes particular steps to support the interview. These include providing an interpreter to make communication easier, and writing down the interviewers’ names and their questions ahead of time.(2) It makes communication much easier for both of them, puts everyone at ease and, importantly, gives the candidate an equal opportunity to apply for the role.

Jamilia’s going away for a week, and her friend Chen is flat-sitting. She sent him an email explaining how to work the alarm, but while she’s away he keeps messaging her questions. In the end he can’t get it to work.

It’s important to communicate in the most appropriate format. Usually, it’s easier to show people how something works than to explain it in words. Jamilia could have invited Chen over, or shared a quick how-to video of the alarm via WhatsApp.

Simon added a new colleague to the CC field of an email to check how to spell his name. He forgot to remove him, however, and wrote an email that was critical of his department’s work. Although his colleague doesn’t seem too offended, Simon is mortified.

It’s vital to check your written communication. It’s easy to miss a typo, or to accidentally mangle the meaning of a sentence and give people the wrong idea. It’s also a good idea to check email recipients. It’s better still to discuss issues and be supportive to others, rather than criticising their team!

Why is communication important in the workplace?

A failure to explain, understand, or check that someone has understood a job could result in wasted work or resources. Even more seriously, communication failures when planning or undertaking risky work could put you, your colleagues, or the public in danger.

On the flip side, good communication can raise the efficiency of a business. If objectives and strategies are clearly explained, everyone can pull in the same direction. Teams that communicate well tend to work well together, and achieve more. At the same time, they’re more enjoyable places to work.

Communication is an important skill to develop if you want to progress your career. It helps you contribute and understand ideas, and have a clear picture of your work and how it fits in. You’ll be more employable if you can explain your personal strengths, skills and ambitions in covering letters, your CV, and during interviews. It’ll also help during one-on-one mentoring, and in other opportunities to discuss your career with peers, advisers or employers.

What’s Zero Harm?

At EDF, our ambition is to achieve Zero Harm. We want our workplaces to be safe and healthy for everyone: our employees and anyone working on our behalf. Zero Harm is now part of our culture. We take a rigorous approach to risk and communicate our safety priorities daily – for example, in our Daily Safety Message at the start of every meeting. This keeps Occupational Health & Safety at the forefront of all our minds, all day, every day.

How might you have demonstrated good communication at school or college?

Every student relies on their communication skills. But you may have done it so often you don’t realise!

Every lesson or training session involves an exchange of information between the teacher or lecturer, and the class. There are doubtless many times you’ve shared your thoughts, too. Think of the times you’ve worked in pairs or groups. How did you share and explore ideas? Did you talk, make sketches or even build models? You’ve probably even communicated in a foreign language!

You’ll have demonstrated communication in extra-curricular activities, too. Drama, or debating rely heavily on communication skills, as do team sports.

Finally, don’t forget the fundamental importance of communication skills in your social life. Think about how you and your friends communicate. How do you ensure everyone is heard? Do you speak or share with a wider group of followers? Without realising it, you probably already think about using the right platforms for the right information: choosing Instagram for pictures, and TikTok for video, for example.

How can you develop this skill?

We practise our communication skills every time we interact with another person. But to really develop as a communicator you need to seek out new experiences or challenges.

If you’re not a confident communicator, try giving a presentation to one or two close friends or family members. Think about how you might use visual aids – like videos or slides – to help make your points, or even add a bit of humour.

If you feel confident, you could push yourself by giving a bigger presentation, or by taking part in a debate. Local political groups can be a good forum to learn and develop speaking skills. Alternatively, you could join a drama group, or look for a course in stand-up comedy. Organisations like Young Enterprise will let you practice communicating in a business-like setting.

We’re not all comfortable speaking – many people prefer to write ideas down. Simply reading lots of varied material will help you develop this skill. Think about how the writers you like use language to achieve an effect. Try to think about the structure of what you’re writing, and whether it will make sense to the typical reader.

Once you’re more confident, you could seek a wider audience for your writing. It’s easy to set up a blog, YouTube channel or social platform. And develop your communication skills in a wider public environment.

Three communication exercises

There are many activities and worksheets available to try and help you improve your communication skills – such as these from BBC Teach. If you’ve got a friend who also wants to skill up, why not try the following exercises?

Choose one person to talk for two minutes on any subject they like. The other person has to try as hard as possible not to listen. It can be hard for both parties to keep this up! This is a great way to show how communication is an exchange of information: listening is as important as talking.

Each person has to explain the thing they’re most proud of, and the thing they most regret. While person A does so, person B notes down anything they notice about the way person A communicates each topic.

It’s much easier to talk about good experiences than bad ones. How did that affect the way the other person communicated? Did they hesitate more, speak less directly, or struggle to maintain eye contact while talking about their regret, for example?

Each person takes it in turns to communicate something simple without either speaking or writing it down. Examples might include “Would you like a cup of tea?” or “Shall we meet up for lunch tomorrow”?

This exercise shows how reliant we are on words. We can communicate without them. But it’s much harder and slower – and it’s prone to misunderstanding.

Managing communication during Covid-19

The Covid-19 lockdown has made everyone rethink how they communicate. Without meeting in person, we can’t shake colleagues’ hands or hug friends or family. On video calls, it’s harder to pick up expressions or gestures.

Have you noticed more subtle issues? Usually on video calls, only one person can talk at a time. Think about whether conversations have felt different, and why. Have you tried different ways to stay in touch – perhaps trying more traditional ideas like letter writing?

How can you demonstrate communication?

There are ample opportunities to demonstrate good communication skills to an employer, beginning with your first email, covering letter or application form. It’s vital to ensure that your CV is well structured and free of any typos. It should be comprehensive, but not overly long. Get a teacher or experienced family member to help you perfect it. And double-check any emails or letters before you send them. Get advice on putting together your CV.

Remember that employers are likely to look at your social media accounts. If you’re on LinkedIn, make sure your profile is a match for your CV. Try to bear potential employers in mind online: think before over-sharing, or posting something that could seem unprofessional. Read more on how to present yourself professionally.

Talking to employers – in interviews or at careers fairs – can be nerve-wracking. So think in advance of the questions they might ask, and how you might answer them. It’ll make you better prepared and you’ll get more from the interaction too! Think of some examples where you’ve demonstrated good communication skills that you can share. And make sure your answers are relevant and considered.

Useful links

There’s no shortage of articles and material to help you become a better communicator. Some useful sites include:

  1. Youth Employment has advice on building your communication skills

  2. Grammarly has some good tips for written communications

  3. This Forbes magazine article tackles tips for writing at work

  4. Practise your communication skills on your family with this activity on Start Profile called Careers Family


Related skills

Communication crosses many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.

Communicating effectively makes it easier to work together with others on problem-solving tasks. Read more about team working and problem solving.

A good communicator doesn’t just think about what want they want to say, but what the other person’s needs might be. Read more about emotional awareness.

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