When it comes to breaking down employee skills, we tend to divide them into two categories: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are things that you might learn in school or through on-the-job training, and they are quantifiable – you either have the skill at some level of proficiency, or you don’t. The beautiful thing about hard skills is that you can learn new ones at any time. Plus, once you learn a hard skill, it’s transferable, meaning that you can take it wherever your career takes you.

Traditionally, communication has been considered a soft skill that doesn’t require formal training. Organizations tend to believe that the ability to communicate is inherent – people will either succeed at communicating or bumble through conversations the best they can. But is this the best approach? By viewing communication as a soft skill, businesses are failing to fully reap the benefits that come from successful communication and significantly underestimating the pitfalls that occur when it is lacking.

How an organization approaches conversation skills can have a significant impact on its company culture and bottom line. At the end of the day (or fiscal year), conversations are at the heart of everything we do, from working well as a team to ensuring every employee understands and embraces a company’s goals. Conversations determine what will or won’t happen in an organization.

It’s that simple, and it begs the question, is communication really something organizations should not try harder to improve? Much of the time, leaders fail to realize that ineffective and missing conversations tend to be the root cause of some of today’s biggest business problems. In fact, more than 70% of employees say a lack of candor within their workplace impacts their organization’s ability to perform optimally, according to Fierce research.

Here are just a few examples:

Employee Turnover

Josh Bersin of Deloitte explains that each time we lose an employee, the replacement cost ranges “from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5–2.0X annual salary,” depending on the role. Even for small and medium-sized businesses, decreasing employee churn is an attractive way to save costs.

Employee Engagement

Transparency and trust go hand in hand, and they start with effective communication. If either declines, the erosion of employee engagement is not far behind. A recent Edelman Trust Barometer report found just 17% of employees trust their manager to tell the truth.

Workforce Productivity

The Energy Project found that a startling 50% of employees lack a level of meaning and significance at work. This problem is exacerbated by poor levels of employee engagement, which cost U.S. companies a shocking $450 to $550 billion per year, according to Gallup’s 2014 “State of the American Workplace” report.

Where there is a lack of strong communication, these symptoms become greater and greater. The truth is, however, that all employees can improve their conversations skills, to the benefit of not only their organization but to themselves, personally. By shifting to the belief that communication skills are hard, not soft, skills, every company can see improvements in their employees and, ultimately, in their bottom line.

Need more proof? There are some key reasons viewing conversations as a hard skill is paramount:

Communication Is a Generally Accepted Business-critical Skill

How often do you see on someone’s resume that he or she is a good communicator? Do you consider it one of your top strengths? While there isn’t a globally accepted way to measure the effectiveness of someone’s communication expertise, we know this skill is in high demand.

Yet, most of us fall short. According to recent Fierce research, nearly 81% of people said that ineffective communication occurs in their organization, but 50% of those individuals said the miscommunication isn’t related to them. In fact, the majority of workers recognize that communication problems exist within their workplaces, but they don’t think they’re the problem.

In a Multigenerational Workforce, Fostering a Shared Vocabulary Drives Performance

Bloomberg estimates that this year, Generation Z (those born after 1996) will surpass millennials as the largest age group, at over 30% of the population. By 2021, Gartner research predicts that one in five corporate employees will be from this generation. Each generation in the workforce has a preference for certain communication styles and channels. Couple these differences with an interconnected workforce, and it spells communication trouble – unless you develop a shared language through training.

Conversations Are at the Heart of Everything We Do

You can rarely accomplish any aspect of work without having some kind of conversation. Conversations are at the center of everything we do, so they can either make or break our success.

By viewing conversation skills as something that employees can learn and improve upon, organizations see a boost in productivity, increases in talent retention, improved employee engagement and so much more.

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