Communication Skills at Work
Communication Skills at Work

Communication Skills at Work

Lead Author(s): Jonathon Sweetin

Source: NCLOR

Student Price: FREE

A job readiness resources for learners of English as a Second Language by Jonathon Sweetin.

This content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

ESL:  Communication Skills at Work

Competency Objectives: The learner will understand the influence clear, positive work communications have on job satisfaction and job success. 

Suggested Criteria for Success: The learner identifies communication skills that help develop positive work relations with employers-supervisors, co-workers and customers.

Suggested Vocabulary: judgmental helpful one way communication

rumors gossip two way communication

open subordinate chain of command

vertical horizontal non-verbal communications

Suggested Materials: pens or pencils and paper

chalk/marker and black/white board


Suggested Resources:

 Any communications handouts obtained from local resources.

 Any favorite or available Job Readiness and/or Job Search Workbooks, pamphlets, brochures, and handouts.  Some material may need to be modified for ESL lessons.

 NCSOICC (North Carolina State Occupational Information Coordinating Committee) site has information at  Click on Begin NC Careers.

 Resources available through your local Public Library, County, State, or Federal Employment Centers, JobLink Centers, Local Community College Career Centers, and Human Resources Development Programs.

 The Employment Security Commission of North Carolina at  Click on Individual Services.

Suggested Methods:

  • Discussion and definition of terminology associated with lesson
  • Group activities
  • One-on-one role playing 
  • Practice communication skills

Some Suggested Steps

Discuss/define the terms associated with the lesson.

Introduce types of communications.  Written communications consist of reading and writing.  Verbal communications are comprised of listening and speaking.  

Talk about the terms rumor and gossip and explain how they have an impact on job performance.  Play the old game of whispering something to one student, he whispers it to the next, who whispers it to the next, and so on.  The last student tells the communication he/she received.  You tell the communication you started.  What happened to the communication en-route?

Show what the term non-verbal communications means.  (Sigh, roll your eyes, look at your toe and scrape it on the ground, shrug your shoulders, point, smile)

What you said/What I heard.  Pair learners and ask them to create a map from their home to the location of this class.  One learner describes in detail the directions from his/her house to class.  The partner draws the map.  Reverse the roles and repeat the activity.  Share the instructions and the maps before the class.  Follow up by discussing the difficulty learners had with this activity.  How correct are the maps?  Could you follow the map to your destination?  Relate this activity to the work environment.  Ask learners for suggestions how to improve communications at work.

Keeping it Clear.  Explain employer expectations in relation to communications.  Include what to do in situations when the employee does not understand a work communication.  Have learners demonstrate asking a co-worker, supervisor, or customer to repeat a communication.  Have learners ask to check a communication with a co-worker, supervisor, or customer.  (Let me be sure.  You want me to  . . . .)

Ask learners to give personal examples of communication breakdowns in a work environment and to describe what occurred at work as a result of the communication breakdown.  Then assign learners to small groups and ask each group to identify some ways that the learner examples of communication breakdowns at work could have been avoided.  Let the groups present their suggestions to the class for open discussion. 

Communicate with Tact.  Use the handout from the end of this lesson entitled Keep the Communication Channels Open to discuss ways you can communicate with people while you both show respect for them and gain their respect for you.

Keep the Communication Channels Open

Get your point across without putting the other person down or threatening their


I can’t hear on the phone with your radio on.  Would you lower the volume,

please.  NOT  Can’t you work without running that stupid radio?

Try to understand a person’s frame of reference before you make a statement

I know it’s not an easy decision.  You’ve given it a lot of thought.  You’ll make the

best choice.  NOT  That’s a no-brainer.  Tell him no.

Use words showing degrees of difference rather than two value words

You did better than yesterday.  You’ll have it perfect soon.

NOT  You still don’t have it right.

Show that you are glad to have people ask you questions

Thanks for checking.  We won’t cook the chicken until after we make the pies.

NOT  Cook the chicken first.  Don’t you know anything?

Watch for non-verbal gestures that communicate lack of understanding or outright misunderstanding

Would you like me to work through the first one with you?

NOT  If you didn’t understand, why didn’t you ask?

Be aware that some of your words may be misinterpreted and give the person a chance to verify the communication with you. 

Would you like for me to go over any of that again?  OR

Any questions that you’d like to ask at this point?  If not, why don’t you call me after you get through Part I so we can look at it together before you go further.

NOT  What in the world are you doing?  That’s not what I told you!

Work on phrases that are appropriate and inappropriate excuses for absenteeism.  For Example:

Appropriate Excuses Inappropriate Excuses

I am sick.      I missed my bus.

My child is sick.    My wife/husband and I had a fight last night.

My car is broken.    I have trouble getting up in the morning.

I had a death in my family.  I do not like my job.