Communication skills are not important, said no one ever.
This is especially true with employers. Communication is one of the most highly valued skills employers look for when hiring. My hunch is that most people rate their communication skills as above average (think about the math).
If communication is all about reading, speaking and listening, and writing, what’s so hard about that?
One definition of communication I like is “eliciting critical information and conveying a convincing interpretation of it.”
The ability to communicate well is much harder said than done because of technology and human interaction. The vast amount of information on the internet and the speed at which new information becomes available make reading online a different skill than reading offline. Online reading comprehension requires critically evaluating the source and accuracy of information, synthesising, and communicating via the internet to engage with other people. Human interaction requires verbal and non verbal proficiencies in order to establish shared meaning and achieve desired outcomes.
Communication will only get more complex as technology becomes more pervasive and people from different cultures get connected.
Communication as a 21st century skill requires kids to go way beyond expressing themselves and being understood.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identifies the following key skills
- Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts;
- Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes, and intentions;
- Use communication for a range of purposes (e.g., to inform, instruct, motivate, and persuade);
- Use multiple media and technologies, and know how to assess impact and their effectiveness a priori;
- Communicate effectively in diverse environments (including multilingual and multicultural)
I asked the founder of a coding bootcamp for adults what common attributes he sees in his best students.
Kai, the CEO of Rocket Academy, answered “strong communication skills”.
I was expecting numeracy skills, problem solving skills etc. Kai’s reply surprised me. He explained:
Software engineering work is largely about communication; writing code that teammates can understand without much explanation, writing documentation, writing explanations, explaining technical products and decisions to non-technical people, especially the more senior one gets.
He also explained why students with strong communication skills outperform.
Software engineers with poor communication skills typically aren’t able to articulate what they need to learn, which hinders their learning process, e.g. if reading comprehension isn’t as good, they can’t learn as fast, or if they can’t articulate questions clearly, instructors will have a harder time helping them.
Even in the job hunting process, communication skills play a significant role.
Software engineers with poor communication do not pass interviews, at least not with the good tech companies.
Many people think of software engineering as a technical role, but as Kai explained, strong communication skill is what separates good students from not-so-good students, and great software engineers from mediocre ones.
I hope this software engineering example helps parents understand the importance of communication as a 21st century skill, and why we need to help our kids learn how to effectively listen, read, persuade, and articulate ideas.