Building Communication Skills for High Performing Teams

I have been working with people this month on communicating with impact and exploring what the crucial skills are to communicate effectively with others. Whether that is to our teams, our line manager, our peers or at home with key relationships, there is a set of communication skills we can learn, to be even more successful in creating a good conversation. In this blog we will explore some of these skills further. 


Listening is a conscious communciation skill that can be developed over time and below we explore the different types of listening. Active listening is the aim, where we are fully present with the other person, paying attention and putting any judgements or other activities aside.

Types of Listening

Combative/ competitive listening 

We wait for a suitable pause to get our point across. Whilst a conversation is two way, pay attention to what is happening to you just before you speak – you are most likely gathering your own thoughts together to say something, rather than properly listening to the other person. 

Passive Listening

Consider how often you are in a conversation with someone whilst also multi-tasking. It is too easy to fall in the trap of looking at our phones, looking over someone’s shoulder to another conversation happening over there, or even typing on our PC in a meeting whilst someone is talking. I call passive listening the “yeah yeah yeah” response, where we make mindless chatter to act as if we are listening when we are not. 

Active listening 

This is the aim – to be present, fully attentive and leaving other activities aside to pay attention. This is where we are genuinely interested to listen rather than applying a skill. 


It is a key communciation skill to be comfortable with, have you noticed in conversations how someone fills the gap too quickly or even interrupts the other person to get their message across? The golden rule of great communication is get comfortable with silence – no need to fill it. Let the other person fully communicate what they have to say, allowing the space can elevate the conversation and the depth of the relationship as the other person feels heard. 


Using questions can move a conversation forward if applied well. Questions can be asked in service of the other person’s thinking, for example, “How did it make you feel” or “What would help you move this situation forward” or can be asked to move your knowledge forward, for example “What’s the size of the team”. We want to use the right type of question for the situation. 

If you are having a developmental conversation with a direct report then you may want to use a coaching style of questioning where you stay out of the “data” questions and use questions to enable the person to move their thinking forward. In contrast, if you are in a meeting where the purpose is for you to decide on something, then data questions will be appropriate. 

The key message here is to expand your awareness about your natural style of questioning, the type of questions you use as well as the amount of questioning you do. We don’t want question overload. 

As a guide, using open questions is almost always more effective than closed ones. And avoiding “quigestions” is another useful tip – these are questions with a suggestion in it. If you have an opinion it is far better to offer this to someone than use a question. 

The Conversation Container

A bit like a glass holds water, we also need a container for a good conversation, otherwise it can get messy and not have a purpose. We can use a coaching style for this. At the beginning of a conversation, you can co-create the purpose of the conversation with the person:

  • What do you want from our conversation today? 
  • What’s our focus?

During the conversation you can check in on progress:

  • How are we doing? (relating to the focus of our conversation).
  • What are you learning/ understanding about this topic? 

Towards the end of the conversation you can pro-actively bring it to a close with purpose:

  • What are the next steps?
  • What is outstanding?
  • What have we noticed?
  • Who can support you with this?
  • What else do we need to talk through before we finish today?

This framework can be used lightly for any type of conversation you have at work that needs a structure and purpose to it. Of course, if you are meeting a friend in a coffee shop this would feel odd! It is all about using the tools in the kitbag and applying them in the appropriate moments. 

Body Language

The saying goes that the body knows before the mind does. In conversation this means that your body language will tell the other person a lot about how you are feeling without you saying it. This is why we can’t just pretend to be present – we have to want to. We are aiming for body language and words to be in synch – for example if you say “that sounds great!” and yet your body language is closed or tells another story then this diminishes your message and credibility. 


As above, our presence will be felt and therefore we want to be pro-active about what our presence might look like on any given day. For example, if you come into a meeting after another very stressful one without any gap, it is likely that others will notice your stress. There are many ways to work on our presence:

  • Instead of 1-hour meetings, make them 45 minutes and give yourself a breather in between. 
  • Work out what helps and hinders your presence. 
  • Put an action plan in place to elevate your presence. For example, this could mean taking a regular lunch break, having a walk or doing some exercise to enable you to be present, refreshed and ready for others. 


A word about being human. Great communication skills are created by using skills AND being human. If you think about the best conversations you have experienced, it is most likely that the other person has enabled you to feel seen, heard and understood. Great communication is about two people connecting beyond the data and the work into a collaboration and partnership, where each person shows respect, seeks to understand and is willing not to know everything. This is sometimes called “vulnerability”, where we are comfortable to show up with curiosity rather than know how, and connection rather than fact finding.

Putting yourself in the others shoes  

It can be useful to imagine the other persons perspective. You can do this in advance of a conversation to hypothesise about what their approach might be and therefore how best to show up. You can also do this during the conversation particularly in moments of disagreement. 

In Summary

I have been working with several leadership groups recently, and they noticed that the single most important thing they have changed that has restulted in them showing up better in conversations, has been giving themselves time to reflect on their style and approach. Whether that is a coaching session or your own personal reflection time, I encourage you to pause and notice how you are doing. Key questions might be:

  • How did I show up in conversations this week or with X?
  • What was my presence like? 
  • When did I get distracted and why?
  • When did I step in to giving advice?
  • How did I use the conversation container?
  • What would others have said about my presence?

This isn’t about being zen like all the time and fully present – it is just not possible to get all the thoughts out of our head. Instead, it is about noticing more when you get distracted and why, so that you can chip away at becoming even more impactful in your communication with others. 

Key tips

  • Let silence into the conversation.
  • Practice active listening.
  • Reflect on your conversations and your presence regularly. 
  • Consider what style of questions to use for each conversation rather than a standard approach.  
  • Use a coaching container for conversations – that has a conscious start, middle and end to it. 
  • Be human in applying the skills – it is a relationship and partnership between two people. 
  • Make feedback a culture of giving and receiving it in a spirit of curiosity rather than judgment. 

If you would like to see how executive coaching can help you to build your communication skills, please get in touch.

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