Thursday, September 16, 2010

Communication Skills

“I know that you are good in communication skills, but there is always a scope for improvement. Try to improve your communication skills.” This statement came as a surprise to me as it was one of the very few instances in which I received a negative comment on my communication skills. I accept that I am not an expert in communication skills, but I am not very bad either.

Communication is a very broad term and can be classified as verbal communication and non-verbal communication. Generally (especially in my profession), non-verbal communication has less importance when compared to verbal communication. After all, why would we need to gesture to people when we have emails, phones, VC and more importantly a big mouth? Imagine how awkward it would be, if everyone wave their hands and say ‘Hi’ to their superiors. Would it be professional? Definitely not.

On the other hand, verbal communication is very important and can further be classified as listening skills, reading skills, writing skills and speaking skills.
The major hindrance to listening skills is prejudice. Even before someone starts to speak, we assume that we know whatever he/she is going to speak or decide that it is going to be a useless topic. Obviously, we’ll lose our focus and miss out the important points if there are any.

Reading skills are, in my opinion, the easiest of these four skills. I say this, because most of the times we have the chance of reading again and again till we understand.
Further, we have dictionary.com to refer meanings of words unknown to us. :) We may overlook if we read fast and hence it is preferable to avoid quick reading whenever possible.

Writing skills are more important than the aforementioned two skills. Optimum and appropriate usage of vocabulary with proper punctuation, grammar and unambiguous content is what I say as writing skills.
I still remember the example told in a training. “Hang him not, spare him” and “Hang him, not spare him” are two sentences with same words but are antonymous because of a single comma. Don’t forget that a small punctuation error can take a life!

Speaking skills are considered to be the most important and most difficult of verbal communication skills.
Many people misinterpret fluency to be speaking skills. It is totally wrong. If someone blabbers fluently for a question that requires a simple yes/no, is it speaking skill? The one who asks the question might even forget what he wanted to know!

Suppose that you have moved into a newly constructed house and on the first day, you open the water tap and see that water is not flowing from the tap. What would you do? May be you would check the overhead tank to see if it is empty and fill it. Even after filling it to the fullest, if water doesn’t flow from the tap, what could be the reason? Since it is a newly constructed house, it is highly probable that there is a block in the water flow from overhead tank to the tap.

It is the same with vocabulary. Everyone will have their level of vocabulary. Some know 1000 words, some 5000 words and some know tens of thousands. Though it is always preferred to have the water tank full, it is not a guarantee that water will flow. Similarly, it is good to have high level of vocabulary, but it is more important to remove the ‘block’ through practice.

There are a lot many ways to improve communication skills. To improve listening skills, watching movies with subtitles will help. To improve reading skills, reading newspapers, articles etc. and to improve writing skills, writing something of our choice and ensuring that the grammar, punctuation and meaning are correct will certainly help. (This is what I am doing now.)To improve speaking skills, as mentioned before, it is more with the ‘block’ than with the words. To remove the block, we can even speak with ourselves (but must ensure that others won’t consider us to be mad!)

Just knowing a ton of theory doesn't make one an expert. (I still remember few of the blunders I made, especially the one in my final year of B.Tech in an event Amalgam'09). If we are able to do what we know and stick to the fundamentals at all times, we can constantly improve. After all, knowing is only knowing. Doing is only doing. Knowing something and doing it is skill. Are we skilled?