How important are reading skills in business?

Estimated read time: 5 minutes



We certainly hear a lot about people needing excellent written communication skills. It makes sense because if the stuff they write and send to people doesn’t, that’s a problem. But how about reading skills in business? Don’t they matter, too?

Think of it this way: Somebody can send a crystal clear message. To the point. Using the correct terminology. All that. But then the recipient reads it wrong or too fast or misunderstands something, and the swirl of miscommunication has started.

That’s where reading skills in business come in. And they are ever more critical in a world where teams communicate via Slack, text, and other written communications. And it’s not just about reading one message, but about moving back and forth between totally unrelated text-based chats.

What are reading skills in business?

Reading skills in business is the skill that people exhibit when they are consuming and then comprehending somebody’s written message. That can come in email, Slack messages, and other such channels.

Someone skilled at this will put emotions aside, read the message with an open mind, and understand what the other person is trying to say. They will also take a breath between unrelated conversations to refocus to what each conversation is talking about.

At times, people can fail at reading something correctly because they are:

  • reading it too quickly.
  • A secret trigger word turns me off.
  • Multitasking while reading the message.
  • I am not taking the time to reread.
  • Still thinking about another conversation they just read and responded to.


Part of good reading skills also includes asking for clarification. For example, don’t get into an email fight because you thought the tone was rude when in reality, it was the reader’s current mindset and mood that just read it as disrespectful.

Reading and responding to messages correctly is more important than ever because it helps teams move quickly and collaboratively and allows teammates to work asynchronously.

Read next: How to be creative [includes podcasts]

How do lousy reading skills in business influence teams?

Maybe we don’t hear much about reading skills in business because it can be hard to quantify whether somebody has good or bad reading skills.

Poor written skills can be easy to spot when somebody can’t communicate well through the written word. Their emails, Slack messages, memos, whatever, don’t make much sense. Or are unclear. But when somebody reads a Slack message and doesn’t get it, how do we know?

Well, probably only through their response, which will be chalked up to poorly written communication skills and not incomprehension while reading the last message.

Depending on how inadequate the response is, it can affect collaboration and communication on the team. That can range from:

  • Going down the wrong rabbit holes of tasks
  • Wasting time on the bad collaborations
  • Miscommunications – the person will likely try to connect the response to the initial message, which can cause issues if they don’t join now.
  • Hurt feelings. Professionals have them, too.

How to improve your reading skills in business?

Indeed, there’s a piece of good writing skills here as well. If the other person sends an incomprehensible message, your excellent reading skills should tell you that the statement makes no sense and that you’ll need to ask for clarification.

Read next: How to stand out with LinkedIn voice messages [Step-by-step guide]

But, there are ways to improve comprehension of any received message. Here are my top tips:

Do not skim it!

We are so used to skimming content on the web that this can naturally happen. For example, when an incoming message pops up, we skim over it.

This can be dangerous because we are looking for keywords to comprehend the message so that we might take away the wrong tone.

Control the dopamine

You know that little rush when a message comes in. A new email has arrived, and somebody is texting or slacking—the excitement. So we better respond right now.

Fight the urge to react at the moment. Of course, the flip side of this is to let messages sit for too long and respond way later. But, it’s good to be aware that people can feel a bit of a rush when communicating live.

Keeping your goals and the other person’s in mind can have an impact here. What are they trying to accomplish with that message, and what are you trying to achieve with your reply?

Getting your “oh-so-important” thoughts off your chest might be an unconscious goal, but it won’t help collaboration.

Reread messages

It’s okay to read messages twice or three times or however many times you need to. It’s not like anyone will know anyway. Often, I try to follow this flow:

  • Skim quick
  • Reread
  • Control any overreactions and consider the goals!
  • Draft a response
  • Edit response and check if it responds correctly
  • Update response
  • Send response

It makes a lot of sense in theory but can easily be overlooked and instead look like this:

  • Skim message
  • Fire off a response without reading it again

Focus on the conversation at hand

People often move between totally unrelated Slack messages. Keep that in mind and don’t take the mood or tone from one to another.

And, of course, keep in mind that sometimes it can be better to pick up the phone or hop on a Zoom call. But reading skills in ongoing business communication are crucial and something to learn and work on.



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