Enhancing Skills Students Need: Communication
Communication skills are absolutely essential to succeed in the workforce. These skills are critical in delivering information quickly, accurately, and effectively to colleagues, customers, and other third parties. At the same time, communication skills are essential to listening and understanding information when it’s presented to you, and of course they’re fundamental to working in teams.
Why is it worth prioritizing effective communication skills?
Ultimately, being a good communicator means being able to grasp and transmit information quickly. The best and most simple way to put it is to communicate well is to understand, and be understood, an absolutely crucial part of being a productive, well-rounded team member.
There are several benefits in developing good communication skills that go deeper than being able to deliver and comprehend valuable information. These benefits include being able to influence and educate others, handle important conversations professionally, get and give clear answers through email/text-based discussion, develop connections, build relationships, and assert opinions.
Sounds great, but what actually is communication?
Communication can be broken down into eight key dynamics:
- Formal & Informal: Formal communication is typically used when there’s a need to be professional in the workplace through longer form documents and presentations. Informal communication is used when speaking, texting, or emailing short-hand.
- Oral & Written: When information is hand-written, typed, or crafted through visuals, it is considered to be written communication. While any form of communication that’s spoken aloud and processed audibly is considered to be oral communication.
- Internal & External: When referring to the workplace, internal communication includes your interactions with people inside your company, and external communication includes interactions with people outside your company.
- Verbal & Non-Verbal: Verbal communication is using words to convey thoughts and ideas. Non-verbal communication includes other characteristics like body language, eye contact, and gestures that can similarly be used to convey thoughts and ideas.
Employers demand that employees are good communicators across each of these dynamics. They look for team members who can discuss and handle problems internally and externally, feel comfortable asking for information, provide instructions and outline processes effectively, offer clear and constructive feedback, interact well with clients, and develop good relationships with colleagues.
However, employers see a major gap in students’ communication skills, and seemingly, students are unaware of this gap. According to a recent workplace report by LinkedIn, communication is the number one skills gap and students are largely unaware.
According to the 2018 Jobs Outlook Survey, only 41% of employers ranked current students as proficient in Oral/Written Communications, while 79.5% of students thought that they were sufficiently proficient. Similar to what we discussed regarding students’ critical thinking abilities, employers think recent graduates lack the communication skills needed to excel in the workplace.
For example, research shows that communication style and technological aptitude differences may be a large cause for this gap. Since younger generations typically communicate through shorthand text style informal communication, it can often feel unprofessional and cause misunderstandings and misalignment between different stakeholders. The key is to be aware of the differences between informal and formal communication and know when it’s appropriate professionally to use both. In fact, the more you’re aware of each of the key communication dynamics mentioned above (and how they can be used to drive your intended results), the more effective you’ll ultimately be as a communicator. We find that it’s most important for students to be exposed to many different communication styles and provided with many opportunities to communicate with different types of stakeholders so they can figure out what works best for them.
The good thing is, despite the existence of the communication skills gap, this skill can be taught, practiced, and fine-tuned in educational settings that leverage experiential learning engagements with real industry stakeholders.
For example, CapSource brought together students from the University of Notre Dame’s MBA Program with Colada Shop, a DC-based fast-casual Cuban coffee shop concept poised for growth. The goal of the project was to help the shop assess the performance of their key original suburban location in preparation for a round of funding. Based on their analysis, students provided insights on the company’s current customer profile, suggestions for how they can increase daytime/lunchtime store traffic, and tactics the company can use to improve product offerings and customer retention.
The engagement took place fully on-site over a one-week period where students got to work directly with the company’s CEO & Co-Founder, Asim Walia. The students were expected to quickly understand the business model and communicate directly with the entire management team throughout the engagement in a highly efficient, effective, and professional manner. Students were able to engage with customers, provide updates on their analysis, and present a final comprehensive overview at the end of the engagement. Students were able to use formal, informal, oral, written, internal, external, verbal, and non-verbal communication skills in just a one week experience working with a real company on a real project.
In case the CapSource Capstone highly interactive small team-based consulting format doesn’t work for you, we suggest taking a look at our Live Business Case format, which allows faculty to integrate project-based experiential learning engagements into a traditional classroom setting.
Just like Montclair State University’s MBA Program, you can create an incredibly interactive and highly industry-focused learning experience through Live Business Cases that allow students to develop their communication skills by:
- Initiating and Engaging in Meaningful Dialogue: Each student should be encouraged to (and rewarded for) meaningfully contributing in every class session. Learning is an active process and requires students to be engaged and to interact by contributing meaningful short form comments and questions just as they’re expected to in every professional meeting they attend. They shouldn’t be afraid to share their opinions and perspectives in respectful ways. By engaging in conversations about the host company and project, students can practice their verbal communication skills while also collaborating on ideas with each other. This process is much easier when there are real-world implications and no correct answers. Everyone can really contribute meaningfully to class just by doing a little research and organizing/sharing their thoughts, ideas, questions, comments, or concerns.
- Actively Listen, Reflect, and Offer Feedback: Communication isn’t only about individuals sharing their opinions, asking questions, and transmitting information. A big part of effective communication is listening to what others have to say and clearly understanding what they’re communicating. Active listening is being attentive to whoever is speaking by facing them and maintaining eye contact. It is also paying attention to what the speaker is saying and refraining from interrupting. After taking the time to clearly listen to whoever is speaking, it is important to reflect on what has been said and create meaningful dialogue by offering feedback and asking follow-up questions. This too is much easier to accomplish when working on real-world projects where students are required to work in teams and listen to each other, their faculty, and host company representatives in order to succeed.
- Review Written Communication: In the workplace, written communication needs to be well thought-out, clear, and concise. Written communication requires delivering enough context to the receiver(s), especially if they need to make decision(s) based on what you’re sending, but it’s important to remember to remove the fluff, or any unnecessary details. Anytime you are using written communication, you should review what you’ve drafted once or twice (or maybe even read it aloud) before sending to make sure the information makes sense and is organized in the most easy-to-understand way. The best way to improve your written communication is by practicing writing, asking for feedback, and providing feedback on other people’s writing. For example, you can practice this skill when working in groups by taking the initiative to recap your meetings, outlining key points, deliverables, and next steps based on what was discussed. You can ask your group if they understand the outline and agree with next steps.
CapSource brings together companies, schools, and students to collaborate through project-based, experiential learning engagements based off of real company challenges. Our education model requires students to communicate with real business leaders, their colleagues, and their faculty mentors in order to succeed. The students get to practice working in teams on complex real-world projects, asking key questions to gain insights, requesting information they need, and synthesizing that information in order to produce meaningful outcomes. Whether these collaborations happen from the safety of the classroom through the Live Business Case model or in the field in small consulting groups, students are practicing high fidelity communication skills because frankly they will fail without them!
CapSource’s primary objective is to bridge the skills gap between the professional work environment and higher education in order to ensure students are prepared to enter the real-world upon graduation. The experiential learning engagements that we source and design help students strengthen their abilities, like communication, and ultimately empower students be more prepared and eager to enter the working world.
To learn more about Capsource’s project-based experiential learning engagements, review our project charters and live businesses cases here.
About Guest Blog Writer – Jacqueline Luciano is the founder of UNRAVELED – a space catered to undergraduate students and young professionals trying to figure out and navigate life after college. After being in the professional world for over three years, Jacqueline has learned that there is so much more to figure out than what can be taught in the classroom. Students need to assess themselves, their skill-set, and their life goals in order to make themselves feel most successful about their career progress. Her foremost objective with UNRAVELED is to provide undergraduates and young professionals with resources that will make them more successful and better prepared for the real world. She hopes to provide readers with alternative perspectives that challenge conventional views of the workforce, on what college offers, and what students should consider about their lives after college. Jacqueline joined the CapSource team as a Guest Blog Writer because she believes experiential learning can alleviate a lot of the challenges she encountered while transitioning between higher-ed and the professional work environment.