Communication skills are one of those things that are discussed so widely that we sometimes miss the entire point: what are communication skills, anyway? Are they the ability to get what you want from other people? Are they talking endlessly about your feelings? Do good communication skills make someone else feel valued and appreciated? Is it turning a stressful conversation into a pleasant, enjoyable conversation?
The answer is that communication skills factor into all of the above. Oral communication skills are not even the only or most important type of communication skill: we communicate non-verbally all the time, and this is often just as effective as speaking. So what are people talking about when they talk about communication skills?
Sometimes communication skills are considered effective or excellent when they produce desirable results. For example, someone who works as a salesman must hone his communication skills to do his job successfully—the desired result being that if he speaks convincingly enough of his product, he will have success when someone goes on to purchase that product. But someone who works as a construction worker must also possess excellent communication skills. If he can’t signal his intents and expectations to the other members of his crew, he risks not only his safety but that of the others present as well. Therefore, we might also say that the construction worker is proven an effective communicator when his projects are completed safely.
However, none of this is to say that either the salesman or the construction worker’s wife is happy with each man’s communication skills. Just because the salesman is verbally adept at selling doesn’t mean he can translate this skill into quickly ending conflicts or promoting feelings of love and acceptance in his marriage. And just because the construction worker is used to working closely with a team on a job does not mean he necessarily understands that his wife’s head nod towards the oven means, “will you please take that roast out of the oven?”
Communication skills exist in many different arenas – almost as many as there are people in the world. That is the whole point of communication. It helps to build a communal experience of the world out of the individuals that comprise that world. It is what makes us feel like we’re not alone in life.
A person with excellent communication skills is someone who can navigate between many various arenas of communication successfully – someone who can make himself understood as well as understand those around him.
Improving communication skills can be difficult because most people believe that they are already excellent communicators, whether or not this is the case, and few of them are. However, communication skills are vital not only to individual happiness but to a satisfying shared human experience.