Poor Communication Skills: The Talk of the Town

20140513-Poor communicaation skillsEverybody’s doing it, talking about poor communication skills and wondering how to get people in their organizations to improve. You can’t pick up an employment ad without seeing ‘good communication skills required,’ indicating anyone with poor communication skills shouldn’t apply. What I haven’t yet determined, though, is what are considered good communication skills and what are considered poor communication skills? Yet whoever writes those employment ads and whoever talks about communication skills must assume that there is a standard for good or poor communication skills that everyone knows … everyone except me, that is. Am I the only one who doesn’t know the guidelines by which we are measuring good or poor communication skills?

OK, I get it, we expect employees to not use slang, to use correct grammar and, when writing, to use correct spelling. However, is that a one-size-fits-all standard? If, for instance, English is not individual’s native language, do we have a different measurement for them? What about Ebonics or accepted expressions or colloquialisms from different parts of the country? Are those OK, or are they in the category of poor communication skills? In a recent conversation with a client I said something, and he replied, “Are you from western Pennsylvania?” I was floored, and then he told me that I had stated something a way he heard only in western Pennsylvania. He had gone to graduate school in Pittsburgh. Once he mentioned it, I realized I wasn’t speaking proper English, yet it was the way I was raised and clearly accepted by folks in western Pennsylvania.

So my question is, what is the generally accepted standard for good communication skills and, conversely, how would I know when someone has poor communication skills? Last week I asked 25 people to define good communication skills and another 25 to define poor communication skills. Maybe I shouldn’t have been but I was amazed at how little consistency was in their descriptions. I heard everything from ability to write well (like I was supposed to know what that meant) to grammar to sentence structure and ability to talk well to customers (again, like I was supposed to know what that meant). Seems to me that this is a case-by-case standard depending on whom I talk to, yet when people mention good or poor communication skills they seem to think that everyone knows what they mean.

If one of you reading this article has some criteria or yardstick you use for measuring communication skills, please forward to me. I’d love to hear from you and of course will pass them along in future issues to everyone else. All I know is that I seem to be the only one who doesn’t have a definition of what poor communication skills are, or know how to determine when someone has good communication skills. I could use help from all of you.


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1 Comment

  • Keith Johnston Posted October 3, 2014 2:35 pm

    Great question! I would agree that there are few, if any, standards to measure good and bad communication skills. I would be very surprised if anyone comes up with some quantitative measures based on sentence structure and some of the other things you mention. I measure good communication skills on the willingness and ability to deliver your thoughts and ideas in a manner that can be understood by most people. In my career I have encountered a large number of people who either can’t put 5 words together in a memo, or it takes them 5 pages to communicate an idea which could be delivered in a paragraph. In today’s fast-paced business environment we need people who can get their ideas and instructions across quickly and in a manner that is easily understood. One can get a good feel for a person’s verbal communication skills in an interview. If communicating in writing is important, have the applicant write a memo on a topic which is relevant to the job they are seeking.

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