Experts on the changing labour market believe university students should learn communication skills as well as digital skills, although this has not been a priority at many academic institutions.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a professional association with more than 400,000 members worldwide, says workers with strong communication skills are in even more demand than software engineers in the labour market. In a blog post on its website, the organization pointed to LinkedIn data showing that American companies said they needed 1.4 million more people who could communicate effectively with others—more than triple their need for software engineers.
What Are Communication Skills?
Communication skills allow individuals to communicate effectively with others. They include the ability to listen, speak, observe, and show empathy. There are four main types of communication: verbal, non-verbal (such as body posture and tone of voice), written, and visual.
“Communication is a learned skill, just like riding a bike,” says Brian Tracy, a Canadian-American motivational speaker and author. “The more you practice, the better you become.”
“Effective Communications and Human Relations”, a self-improvement course from the Dale Carnegie company, says communication skills can be developed over time. It suggests the following principles, among others:
- Persuasive communication requires clarity, brevity, and action.
- Good relationships help you progress toward goals.
- It’s important to communicate your ideas effectively even when you disagree.
- Target cooperation with others, rather than having them obey your orders.
- Develop your skills in giving and receiving positive feedback.
One of the course’s themes is that to develop your communication skills, you must find ways to measure them. Following are some of its suggestions.
How to Measure Communication Skills
Ask yourself the right questions. Examples:
- How well do I anticipate potential causes of confusion and miscommunication? How can I stop such misunderstandings happening?
- How often do people understand what I’m saying in talks, e-mails, or social media posts? Am I giving enough accurate information and detail?
- Do I ask questions when I don’t understand something, or do I keep them to myself?
Take a communication skills test. This will help you identify areas for development. MindTools, a British-based online learning company, offers a test that assesses speaking, listening, writing, and reading skills.
Ask friends, family members, or colleagues for feedback. Constructive feedback can help you identify areas for improvement and build on your strengths.
Record yourself during a conversation, presentation, or speech. By listening to the recording and analysing your tone, speed, and clarity, you will be able to spot areas for improvement.
Observe the professionals around you. Notice the communication skills they use and try to adapt those same skills to your own interactions.
Books and Resources
There are many books that aim to help you improve your communication skills. Here are a few suggestions that have remained popular over time:
“How to Win Friends and Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie. This book, first published in 1937 and frequently updated since, is one of the best-known self-help guides in history. The book offers advice on how to improve your communication skills, build relationships, be more persuasive, and get along better with others.
“Communication is a learned skill, just like riding a bike. The more you practice, the better you become.”Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker and author
“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”, by Kerry Patterson, Stephen R. Covey, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. The book attempts to help readers handle difficult conversations productively. It covers topics such as active listening, conflict resolution, and giving and receiving feedback.
“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: 30th Anniversary Edition”, by Stephen R. Covey. Another classic of the self-help genre, this book was first published in 1988. In it, Covey, a former American business school professor, covers principles of communication, proactive thinking, a focus on winning, striving to understand others and understanding oneself.
“Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”, by Marshall Rosenberg. Rosenberg, an American psychologist who founded the nonprofit Center for Nonviolent Communication, introduced the concept of nonviolent communication as a method of communication based on empathy, respect, and understanding. His book describes how it can be helpful in resolving conflicts, building relationships, and expressing feelings without resorting to violence.
“The Power of Vulnerability”, by Brené Brown. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, in the United States, and her book discusses the importance of vulnerability in communication. Vulnerability is not weakness, she argues, but reveals the strength of being open and honest with ourselves and others.
A Sampling of Online Courses
University students can also benefit from courses offered on various online-learning platforms. There are hundreds of courses to choose from. Here are several suggestions to get you started:
“Improving Communication Skills”, on Coursera. This course, taught by Maurice Schweitzer, a professor of operations, information and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, aims to teach you how to be a more effective communicator in your personal and professional life. Topics covered include active listening, non-verbal communication, and speaking persuasively. The course is free and taught in English.
“Communication Skills”, on Edraak, a nonprofit online course portal established by Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah. This free course discusses how to learn successful self-development skills. It deals with communication skills, their importance, and types, and how to communicate with others in the workplace and elsewhere. The course is taught in Arabic.
“Effective Communication Skills”, on Almentor, an online video-learning platform based in Dubai. This course promises to show you how to build more effective relationships with people by improving your communication skills. It discusses how to make the best use of your personal and professional relationships, and how to overcome the barriers that hinder effective communication. Users may access this course and others in Almentor’s library via monthly or annual subscription. The course is taught in Arabic.
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