The Importance of Communication and What You Can Do to Improve Today

A recent article in the Globe and Mail, "Recruiters put premium on communication skills", highlights the importance of effective communication skills to a successful career. In this post I will focus on two key abilities highlighted in the article, the ability to effectively and efficiently convey ideas and the art of face-to-face conversation. These abilities resonated with some recent personal experiences. At the end of this article I will pose a couple of practical challenges that you can try today.

The first is the ability to convey ideas effectively and efficiently. Last year, I took part in the Three Minute Thesis Challenge, which encourages graduate students to orally present their research within three minutes. For some perspective, I consolidated nearly four years of research into a three minute presentation. It was not long after completing the challenge that I realized that three minutes is still not short enough in most circumstances. I came across a blog developed by a senior student at Harvard called "lol my thesis" []. On this blog, students tweet about their research findings, forcing simplified descriptions of graduate-level research. The descriptions are usually humorous and void of technical and/or discipline-specific jargon. I took the opportunity to formulate and post my own tweet. Now, when someone asks about the focus of my Doctorate research, I respond by providing my actual thesis statement, followed by: “and, to sum-up my findings in 140 characters or less…” proceeded by my pre-rehearsed description in plain language, which people can actually understand. I have found that the ability to communicate my ideas concisely not only supports effective, two-way communication but also supports my own understanding of the idea, topic, or project.

The second is one’s ability to engage in face-to-face conversation. I recently read a great book called "You, Inc.", which highlights the importance of comfort. The authors describe how we generally enjoy working with people who make us feel comfortable. After reading the chapter, I began to notice a marked difference between meetings with certain individuals. Some colleagues consistently arrived to meetings on time and well prepared. They asked about my weekend and we engage in short conversation around a common interest we had at one point established. Those meetings are comfortable and I look forward to working with those individuals. Other meetings are less comfortable and I noticed that, for me, discomfort tends to arise when the individual is inconsistent in either mood or level of preparation/engagement in our meeting agenda. Paying more attention to their phone, or showing up to a meeting unprepared are sure-fire ways to make me feel uncomfortable. These characteristics and habits seem to be much more noticeable during face-to-face interactions. In a time where e-mail and text messages are becoming ever more common forms of communication, we may be getting less practice with in-person interactions. That being said, taking the opportunity to practice and become proficient in face-to-face communications can help you to stand out among a crowd.

My guess is that if you look around, you will discover that you have countless opportunities to work on your communication skills. I challenge you to review your list of projects, the committees your sit on, or the book you are reading. Try to come up with your own 1-3 sentence response to someone who asks you what that project/committee/book is all about. Further, the next time you are at a restaurant, the bank, or a family function, notice the things people around you do to make you feel comfortable as well as those that make you feel uncomfortable. Use these examples to become more conscious to the way you yourself engage with others during in-person communications.

Posted on August 28, 2014 and filed under Opinion.