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How to Develop Communication Skills in Students

More than half (53 percent) of college graduates are not working or are underemployed.

One reason why recent graduates have a hard time finding work is because they lack communication skills. They might have the knowledge needed to do their jobs, but they struggle to collaborate with others and share that knowledge with colleagues, customers, and clients. 

Do you work in a student success center? Do you want to help your students develop better communication skills and increase their chances of finding employment after graduation?

If so, keep reading. This guide breaks down the importance of good communication skills, as well as how you can teach them to your students. 

Why Communication Skills Matter

Hard skills and technical knowledge certainly matter for new graduates entering the workplace. However, soft skills like the ability to communicate are just as — if not more — important.

Here are some specific reasons to start prioritizing communication skills development:

Shorter Job Searches

The job-searching process is a lot easier and takes less time when you’re a good communicator. 

One study showed that 73 percent of business leaders see soft skills like communication as more important than job-specific skills.

If your students can prove that they’re good at communicating during job interviews, they’ll likely find that they get hired faster than others. This could happen even if they technically have less experience or fewer skills. 

Better Team-Building

These days, most jobs require at least a little bit of team collaboration, whether someone works in healthcare or the IT sector.

If someone gets hired at a company and then struggles to communicate with their team members, they might not last very long with that particular employer.

On the other hand, those who can effectively communicate their needs, tactfully provide feedback, and teach others will have a much easier time finding employment and keeping it.

Increased Innovation

Many professionals believe that communication is the most important factor when it comes to increasing innovation at a company.

Students who graduate from college with good communication skills will likely have more unique ideas that they can bring to the workplace. They’ll also have an easier time sharing those ideas with their colleagues and getting others on board with them.

This makes them more valuable assets to the company and increases their chances of sticking with the business longer. 

Improved Problem-Solving and Productivity

In addition to increasing innovation in the workplace, good communication skills can also improve problem-solving and minimize productivity issues. One study even found that good communication improved an organization’s productivity by 25 percent.

When students graduate from higher education with finely honed communication skills, they’ll have an easier time collaborating and solving problems and will be able to get more done in a shorter time frame. These abilities all make them more valuable to their employer.

Better Leadership

Not only will good communicators be more likely to retain their jobs long-term, but they’ll also have an easier time rising through the ranks and qualifying for leadership positions.

Furthermore, good communicators typically make good leaders. They know how to set clear expectations, provide feedback (both positive and negative) to team members, and make sure everyone stays on the same page. 

Most Important Communication Skills for Students to Learn

“Communication” doesn’t just refer to the way people talk to one another. There are several different types of communication that students must master, these include:

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is the most well-known form of communication. It involves using spoken language to share intentional messages with listeners.

Verbal communication can be broken down into several categories, including the following:

  • Vocabulary (the words you use and how they fit the situation)
  • Grammar (the way you use your words — sentence structure, tense, etc.)
  • Volume (the volume with which you speak)
  • Tone (the energy and emotions with which you speak, the emphasis you put on certain words or syllables, etc.)

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication (NVC) refers to all the ways you communicate without speaking. It is often said that the majority of communication is non-verbal. Because of this, it is a critical skill to learn.

Imagine you’re a hiring manager with two people sitting in front of you. One is slouching and looking at their phone, and the other is sitting up straight and making eye contact. You’ll likely see the second as a better candidate for the job, right?  

Teaching effective non-verbal communication can make it easier for your students to present themselves properly and make a good impression even when they’re not speaking.

Active Listening

Good communication also involves active listening. You should teach your students to truly listen to those who are speaking, rather than simply waiting for their turn to speak.

Active listeners don’t just hear the other person. They also analyze what that person is saying to understand their intention and respond appropriately. 

Written Communication

A substantial 73 percent of employers say they want to hire employees with good written communication skills. This is especially true in the digital age when so many people work remotely.

Teach your students how to communicate effectively in writing (choosing the right words, using proper grammar, writing with different audiences in mind, etc.) and you’ll significantly increase their chances of getting hired. 

How to Develop Communication Skills in Students

You can see why communication skills matter, but you might also be unsure of how to help students develop them.

Implementing the following tips can make it easier for you to set your students up for success after they graduate:

Encourage Proper Word Choice

Proper word choice is one of the most important things to consider when communicating with others. After all, the words a student uses with their friends will likely differ from the words they use with their colleagues — and those words will likely differ from the words they use with their superiors.

Students should know when to use different types of words. This includes understanding situations in which jargon is appropriate, when they should speak more generally, and when to use formal terms.  

Share Practical Examples

Many students have an easier time understanding good communication when they can see or hear it modeled for them. This is where sharing videos or letting them listen to podcasts can come in handy.

When students can see people they know and admire exhibiting good or bad communication, it’ll help them know what to do and what not to do. 

Teach Effective Listening

As we mentioned above, active listening is one of the most important components of effective communication.

When you’re conducting communication exercises with students, or when you’re looking for examples of good or bad communication, be sure to make references to active listening.

Talk to students about the importance of listening to understand, rather than listening to respond. Explain how they can use their body language to show that they’re listening, too (leaning forward slightly, making eye contact, nodding, etc.).

Encourage Empathy and Open-Mindedness

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what they’re experiencing. Active listeners are good at empathizing with those with whom they’re speaking, and they know how to look at situations from the perspectives of others.

Teach your students about the importance of empathy when it comes to effective communication. Encourage them to enter conversations with an open mind as well.

If they enter a conversation while assuming that they already know what the other person is going to say, they’re going to have a hard time truly understanding and communicating.

Work on Writing

Don’t forget about written communication, either.

Give students opportunities to practice writing different types of professional messages. This might include a cover letter, an email to a potential employer, and a chat message to a colleague.

Talk about the differences between these various messages, too. Explain how word choice, tone, and other factors can change depending on the person to whom you’re writing and the purpose behind your message.

Provide Feedback

Finally, give plenty of feedback.

Most students can benefit from working on their communication skills, and they need constructive feedback from you to help them with this task. Let them know what they’re doing well and what they can improve moving forward.

Deliver these messages in writing when possible, too. That way, students can refer back to them as they continue practicing.

Improve Your Teaching Skills Today

Effective communication is one of the most important skills college students should develop if they want to increase their chances of getting hired after graduation.

Keep the tips listed above in mind as you teach communication skills. For more guidance, continue reading our blog to get relevant insights and resources.

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