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Can communication skills be taught?

Manish Kataria
28/10/2016 0 0

My answer to this question, despite being a communication skills trainer myself, is 'No'. This may come as a surprise to many and I am sure the whole fraternity of communication skills trainers would be up in arms to take a stab at me as soon as they read this. But before anybody strikes a deadly blow to me, let me clarify my stand. 

What I mean by communication skills cannot be taught is that I don't believe communication skills can be taught like a course and that's because in my view weak communication skills is symptom of a problem and not the problem itself. Therefore the first task for any communication skills training program should be the diagnosis of the root problem. A cookie cutter approach without diagnosis of the problem is hardly likely to yield any results.

So the next logical question would be – what are some of the root causes of weak communication skills? Of course there are some usual suspects such as lack of confidence, poor language skills and social anxiety. However, weak communication skills can also stem from such root causes as becoming a prisoner of your own public image, extreme negative thinking, inability to confront and low self-esteem. Some of these causes are even inter-related. For example –low self-esteem would lead to lack of confidence and negative thinking.

Most people also wrongly assume that communication skills is synonymous with language skills. Well, language skills is only a subset of communication skills and therefore cannot be synonymous. It always helps if one possesses good language skills but even with average language skills one can become a great communicator. At the heart of it, communication is all about structuring your ideas and conveying them, and you can do that through words, gestures, eyes or body language. There cannot be a greater communicator than the one who is able to structure his thoughts precisely and concisely and then transmit his ideas and emotions to others in exactly the same form without any distortion or noise. Whether you employ simple language or very ornate language, you grammar was impeccable or there were mistakes, you communicated through language or gestures to achieve this is completely inconsequential as long as others understand your ideas and feel your emotions without much distortion.

Is body language something that you should learn? Ever noticed how your body language automatically changes depending on whether you are feeling confident or diffident. So body language only seems to be an expression of what you are feeling inside. It’s your body telling the world about your current mental state and if you force your body to convey something other than your mental state, it only comes across as highly artificial. That’s why I believe that a trainer should not focus on body language but body etiquettes. Etiquettes can be learnt and practiced but body language should not be forced. Let your body talk freely and openly and if something needs to be changed that’s within you and not outside.

Does it mean that seeking help to improve communication skill is futile? Absolutely not. A good mentor can work with you to help you overcome the root problems while imparting necessary foundation skills (such as audience analysis, voice intonations and modulations) and helping you identify the root problems and overcome them. 

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