Two-thirds of employers rank communication as the top "soft skill" they want in employees. And it makes sense. The need for effective communication spans every industry, every role, and every location. None of us work in complete isolation, so providing direction, giving and receiving feedback, and sharing information is a critical skill for all of us.

Communication isn't just how products and services are created and sold; it is the underpinning of our professional relationships and what can make work exciting and inspirational.

So, it's clear that employers are looking for employees with sharp communication skills. But what makes this ability top the list?

Excellent communication skills are rare. Ability to communicate well is often taken for granted, deprioritized, or assumed to be "good enough" in employees who are otherwise doing their jobs well. When we seek training, it's often in pursuit of more technical or so-called "hard" skills.

Few people- regardless or role or level- bother to invest much time or effort in self-improvement when it comes to soft skills. This lack of attention creates an opportunity for you.

Your writing, speaking, and non-verbals (facial expressions, posture, and movement) are all forms of communication you use at work. Here are a couple of exercises you can do today to increase these skills and stand out among your peers.

  1. Really listen. "Seek first to understand" is one of Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and it's the first rule of good communication. Active listening requires that you make eye contact, nod or demonstrate with your facial expressions that you're hearing what is being said, and repeat back what you've heard to confirm your understanding.
  2. Get to the point. Lead with your most important point or request and only fill in with your rationale and details if the other person asks for more background.
  3. Pace yourself. Speaking slowly with more frequent pauses allows you to check in with the other person to confirm their understanding and create the space for them to ask questions.
  4. Rehearse. Too often we "wing" important conversations. We figure that we've practiced them in our head and made assumptions about how the other person will respond. A more useful technique is to write down what you want to say, anticipate the questions that might come up, and answer those.

Improving your communication skills is one way you can make yourself a more desirable employee (or job candidate). Without effective written and oral communication, we're unable to share our best work with our teams, companies, and the people who will benefit from it the most. The good news is that there are simple, practical steps you can take to strengthen your skills -- - and you'll notice improvement right away.