Is Communication Competency a Skill or an Art

Communication refers to the process of creating understandable meaning between two or more people through expression and interpretation of messages. Communication is, therefore, an endeavor to reach the minds of others (Cleary, 2008). According to the MacMillan dictionary, skill refers to individuals’ ability to do something well, due to experience and specific training, while according to artist’s fundamental view, art refers to the selective re-creation of reality. In this context, art is an activity that requires specific skills or knowledge (Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2012).

Therefore, communication competency refers to effective exchange of the key knowledge, skills, and abilities in all modes of transmitting, understanding and receiving ideas, thoughts and feelings. Communication competency involves the verbal exchange, listening, non-verbal, written, electronic modes of message transmission, and it helps to effectively transfer and exchange information and feelings (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2009). This definition of communication competency as the effectiveness in all these areas, strongly suggest that it’s more of experience and specific training and less of specific knowledge that depict an art. There are key aspects of communication competency that point to this fact. They include the following:

  • The conveyance of information, ideas and emotions to another person in order to be received as was intended.

To realize this ability, one needs to have strong descriptive skill (the skills of identifying concrete, specific examples of behavior and its effects). This arises from the recognition that, too often individuals do not realize that they are not being clear and accurate in what they are saying, thereby resulting into poor communication. This generally arises from lack of the description, which involves a tendency to jump quickly to the generalizations, conclusion and judgments (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2009). The usage of the language correctly contributes to the effective communication. These description skills do not involve special skills, but in reality, they acquired in the classroom and improved by constant usage in our daily lives. This points to the fact that communication competency is a skill that needs constant improvement and not an art.

  • Provision of Constructive Feedback to Others

Normally, communication involves talking to one another; it is spreading of information and presenting our mood and emotions to one another (Fiske, 2002). For one to adequately interpret what others are trying to communicate regardless of their differences on the mode of communication scenario and individual differences, one need to have had some exposure to the same communication or scenario before. This is more complex if it involves a dynamic society with different values. The provision of timely constructive feedback to the recipient is not due to a particular knowledge but due to well-developed communication skills. One has to learn and have necessary and adequate experience, so as to associate and differentiate one individual case to another, in addition to making changes whenever the meaning of the same changes. This points to the earlier fact that communication competency is a skill and not an art.

  • Engaging in Active Listening

Active listening refers to the process of information and emotion integration in a search for a shared meaning and appropriate responses. An active listener is also excellent in questioning. Questioning skills refers to the abilities to solicit and ask for opinion and information in such a way that one will get relevant, honest and appropriate response. This incorporates the use of nonverbal clues to show that the person is listening. These skills require the individuals, having a dialogue, to bring relevant information and emotions into the conversation and to reduce any misunderstandings, regardless of the response by the other person (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2009). Although there is criticism that someone, possessing effective questioning skills, should have an art of his own or specific knowledge, both active listening and questioning skills are either learnt in class or are developed and improved by experience. This, in addition, supports the notion that, communication competency is a skill and not an art.

  • Adequate use and Interpretation of  Non-Verbal Communication

 Non-verbal communication is vital for the expression of true feelings and intentions. These non-verbal communication methods include the facial expressions, physical contact, eye contact, the body posture, the tone of the voices, the dressing among other methods. For one to possess communication competency, he/she should be able to understand, correctly interpret and use nonverbal communication. These non-verbal communication skills help in building our connection with others, and in expressing what one actually means. It also helps to navigate challenging situations and in building and improving family and work relationships. The nonverbal means of communication, sometimes, compliment the verbal and written ones to clarify the messages, encoded in them. For an effective communicator, the nonverbal signals should match up the verbal ones so as to increase the trust, clarity and rapport (Segal, Smith & Jaffe, 2012). This adequate use and interpretation of the non-verbal communications is not due to specific skills or knowledge, i.e., not an art, but due to constant monitoring and learning from the environment around the communicator. Most of these non-verbal communication skills can only be acquired  and developed by the participation among the people or the audiences if they are new. Therefore, they need learning and constant improvement in every aspect. This is a characteristic of any skill, and therefore, illustrates the communication competency as a skill and not as an art.

  • The Ability to Use Verbal and Written Communication Adequately

This involves the presentation of ideas, information and also emotions to others. This might be either one on one conversation or in group presentation (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2009). This information can be in the form of reports, memos, letters, notes, e-mails and the like. The ability to communicate to people in small groups or a large gathering cannot be learnt in class but arises due to the exposure or the experience of doing the same. There are cases, where people, who can effectively communicate with one person, are unable to comprehend or even say any conclusive information in a large gathering. Effective group work, in any case, requires careful attention and monitoring of the nature of communication in addition to critical and creative thinking to decode the written, verbal and non-verbal communication among the people and act accordingly (Littlejohn & Foss, 2007). This ability to talk to a large gathering effectively is not inborn or due to specialized knowledge but due to continuous exposure. This also points to the communication competency being a skill.

  • Technologically Literate

Communication competency is closely related to the technological literacy, in that for someone to be effective, he/she should be able to use the ways and means that other people are using to pass information to them (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2009). Technological literacy refers to the ability to select and use technological innovations appropriately to meet the interest of oneself or others. The knowledge of how to use those inventions comes  after the invention and learning. Therefore, it is the role of any competent communicator to keep updating himself/herself with these technological changes so as to be able to understand and respond to the receiver of the message effectively. Due to the learning nature for one to be technologically literate, communication competency is seen to be more of a skill that is sharpened time after time and not an art that literally means specialized knowledge.

  • Stress Management Techniques

 Stress can hamper effective communication by interfering with the capacity to think clearly, logically, critically and creatively, thereby affecting the way one responds to different scenarios. For one to be competent in communication, he/she should be able to recognize, when he/she has stress. In order to do this, he/she can recognize, when he/she is or when he/she is becoming stressed, and therefore, take action either by taking a moment to calm down or by bringing other senses to the rescue. In case of a conversation between a person and other people or a group, he/she should look for any humor in the situation, be willing to accept a compromise or even taking a time out to regain the balance. These stress management techniques are either learnt or developed by individuals, and then, practiced over duration of time for them to be effective. It should be noted that, by learning to quickly reduce and manage stress in any crucial moment, one can safely face most of the strong emotions one is experiencing, thereby regulating the feelings, and therefore, behaving appropriately. Learning to control stress is not an art but a skill that needs constant learning and improvement (Robinson, Segal & Segal, 2011).

  • Elevated Emotional Awareness

            In  life, emotions play decisive roles in the ways people communicate with each other. The way someone reacts to emotionally driven people, as well as nonverbal cues from them, affects significantly how they understand them and how the same people understand the communicator. Emotional awareness always gives people the tools to understand themselves as well as understanding other people. It is, therefore, crucial that any competent and effective communicator should understand himself/herself, not only at rational levels but also on deeper emotional perspective so as to fully understand others, resolve conflicts creatively and also build a strong, affectionate connection with other people. This helps the individual to communicate clearly and effectively, even when they are delivering negative messages (Robinson, Segal & Segal, 2011).

In conclusion, although there have been numerous cases, where art itself is an aspect of communication, in that, some of the many skills, attributed to communication competency, can be acquired by many individuals without prior learning, it is also evident that those skills are also improved by constant learning. With the numerous facts above, communication competency has been shown to be involved closely with numerous related skills, and therefore, it is evident that it is a skill and not an art as many would like to put it.

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