Master communication skills like a pro

Earlier this year, Sophie Wardlow took The Communications Challenge. Here, we go behind the video and have a chat with Sophie about mastering those all-important communication smarts. You can watch the video here to see how Sophie got on: 

Hi Sophie, well done on the communications challenge. It looked hard! Which bit did you find most tricky, and why?

“Thanks very much. It certainly was a challenge – what a busy day! When a guy came up and asked for the goat’s milk, he didn’t speak English, and so none of us knew exactly what he was asking for. We had to find what did exist as a mutual language, like using gestures and pointing, for example, rather than words. But I definitely found that adapting to each of the customers was key – I learned something from each customer I spoke to, and so got better throughout the day. Practicing gave me a confidence that I didn’t really know I needed until I was in the middle of tricky situations.”

How do you deal with communications in your own day-to-day job?

“Well, I’ve always been in a job that has a high customer service motivation. I do a lot of work with young people, such as workshops post-bereavement. So, communication is one of the keys to doing my role well, but it can be extremely difficult. One of the main things I’ve learned is to adapt my own communications style – like body language - to the way young people are feeling, or reacting. Some of the pre and post-bereavement children I deal with find communicating very difficult. In one example, it took 45 minutes to get one young person to say anything at all. It wasn’t easy, but by adapting to the young person, gradually they started to communicate, which really helped them.” 

Is there an example of how developing good communications skills have helped you in your life and career?

“I would say job interviews have been the biggest thing – you have to present the best side of yourself, but also let your individual personality shine through. It can be a tricky balance but it’s so important. I think the same thing with university interviews – going to meet the staff was a huge thing for me, I remember it well. I had to use some of the skills I had developed working in customer service to help me develop the confidence to go and chat to staff. I think it’s important to remember that you really don’t have to worry about sounding stupid. Sometimes if you don’t know all the information, that’s fine. When you’re starting out everyone understands that you’re learning as well - if you are chatty and open, then you can deal with challenges.”

Are there any areas of communication you still find really challenging?

“I think I could still really improve at public speaking – I lack confidence in front of lots of people, so could definitely improve in that area. To get better, I’m trying to do more of the workshops, and deliver them in front of the groups of children, for example, but it takes time. “

That sounds great – the LifeSkills site has lots of content along those lines, which can help people to develop skills for the workplace

What tips would you give to a young person about developing their communication skills?

“I would say there are four main tips I’d give.

1. Remember that communication really is something you can get better at – as you deal with different situations, you develop a toolkit that you can use.

2. Believe in yourself. Use the self-confidence that you do have to try and build on it.

3. Learning from others is another really big thing. I watched people at work and picked up the things that they were doing well and I wasn’t doing. Getting a mentor could be really helpful.

4. Finally, try to be aware of yourself and how your actions are coming across - be sensitive about who you are talking to and wh

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