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Poor communication skills have cost many lifetime opportunities

By Antoney Luvinzu | June 5th 2021

We live in the information age, and being able to communicate effectively is, perhaps, the most sought-after skill today.  

Speech performance, writing skills, sending/decoding non-verbal cues, concise thought articulation are such essential skills with a direct impact to one’s success in life; from the quality of our relationships/interactions to how much we earn.

Such a shame that this extremely vital skill is so underrated, even undervalued this side of the Indian Ocean. Yet most educators and learning institutions seem to be merely watching on.

You have heard grim stories of graduates who cannot put together a cover letter? Or a resume? Or employees who cannot write a half-decent email free of syntactical and/or grammatical errors? Or make a simple presentation without the help of PowerPoint? These stories are not only true but widespread.

Very few institutions and educators persistently emphasise and actually work on instilling proper communication skills in learners. And neither is the curriculum strong on the same.

Most studies indicate that effective communication is best learnt through operant conditioning rather than classical conditioning. Which is why it ought to be a conscious effort on the part of educators, learning institutions and policy-makers to advance this cause and bridge the gap.

As averred earlier, developing effective communication skills is imperative in all aspects of one’s life; from the academic arena to professional career and social life. Good verbal and written communication skills are essential in delivering and understanding information promptly and accurately. Effective communication is a vital life skill and should not be overlooked. To communicate well is to understand, and be understood.

So what, exactly, does effective communication entail?

Listening is one of the most important aspects of communication. Successful listening is not just an understanding of spoken or written information, but also an understanding of how the speaker feels during communication. If a speaker can see and feel that someone is listening and understanding, that can help build a stronger, deeper relationship between interlocutors. Active and intent listening can also create an environment in which everyone feels safe to express ideas, opinions and feelings, or plan and solve problems in a creative way.

Straight talking is equally important. Conversation is the basis of communication, and one must not neglect its importance. Even a simple, friendly conversation with colleagues can build mutual trust and even detect problems before they become serious. A healthy dose of chatting with an unknown person can lead to a business opportunity. Be accessible and friendly, because then you will be able to talk to almost anyone.

This includes non-verbal cues such as blinking, facial expression, hand movements, gestures, eye contact, attitude and tone of your voice, muscle tension and the way one breathes. Body language communicates more than words would ever do. But why, exactly, are non-verbal communication skills important? According to Salesforce research on interpersonal communication, 93 per cent of communication is non-verbal. Developing the ability to understand others and use nonverbal cue will help you connect with others, express what you think, meet challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and at work.

Unemployable graduates

Emotional intelligence is another vital aspect. In communication, feelings play an important role. Communicating, just like in making decisions, is informed more by the way you feel than the way you think. Guided by emotions, your nonverbal behaviour affects the understanding of other people and how others understand and perceive you. If you are not cognizant of your feelings, or if you do not have a handle on them, you will not be able to express your needs, articulate your thoughts effectively. You will struggle to effectively receive, interpret or decode information coming your way. This can result in frustration, misunderstanding and even conflict.

Quite a good number of Kenyan graduates have fallen short of their full potential as they tend to exhibit gaps in communication skills. Lack of active listening skills, inability to coherently and concisely articulate their thoughts, poor speech performance, and ineptitude in sending/decoding non-verbal cues has rendered alarming numbers of graduates inept and unfit for the job market. That, coupled with poor work ethics, partly explains the high unemployment index.

And what’s more, the skill gap in the Kenyan job market is gradually widening, partly due to poor communication skills; the inability of graduates to express their special aptitudes. To this end, we perhaps should put to question the quality of communication skills our schools and institutions of higher learning offer.

Building a strong social support network through communication is imperative in our social lives. They are the presentation of a person’s character. It’s about how you behave and talk with people. It’s about how you’re influencing people around you.

At all levels of education, students must be able to communicate effectively. Without well-developed communication skills, learners run the risk of falling behind their peers or becoming emotionally overwhelmed or withdrawn at school. Academic success depends on solid communication skills, beginning with clear oral communication. Students are often called upon in class to answer questions. These questions may range from those with simple factual answers, to those that involve putting thoughts together and making arguments. Answers to questions need to be communicated effectively so teachers can assess a student’s knowledge. Students with challenges in speech performance may also become embarrassed if they are unable to communicate at par with their peers. If a student stutters or mumbles, they may become fearful of speaking up in class, and this in turn can lead to dismal performance and diminished self-esteem.

Outstanding performance

Even as the main objective of the Competency Based Curriculum is to empower students with knowledge, skills and aptitudes in various fields in a flexible educational programme tailored to each student, we should also stress out the importance of grooming students with vital communication skills even as the curriculum rollout gathers momentum.

Communication skills play a fundamental role in career development. For some, good communication comes naturally, but for others, it can be harder to articulate their thoughts and feelings when conversing. A keen and effective educator would take note of such a learner and engage them in activities and learning experiences that would hone the said skills.

In the recent vetting of applicants for the Chief Justice and Supreme Court judge positions, a few individuals were noticeably outstanding just by the way they communicated. Lady Justice Martha Koome, who eventually bagged the prize, answered questions fluently and candidly, putting her own professional stamp on them. Justice William Ouko, who was appointed judge in the highest court, was also a model of efficiency, emerging the best of the seven applicants.

On the other hand, failing to communicate effectively could result in you missing your chance of closing a life-changing deal, securing your dream job or advancing in your career.

It is for this reason that educators, learning institutions and the suits at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development should appreciate the gravity of this vital skill. There is need to model the curriculum accordingly, retool teachers to enable them hone these skills in learners, and make this skill a component in the assessment criteria.

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The writer is an IB Educator


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