In recent years, a series of studies have shed light on a rather alarming trend - the gradual decline in communication skills within our society. This issue is particularly concerning given that, in our service-based economy, the ability to communicate effectively is fundamental for the success of both individuals and businesses.
The reasons behind this decline are not surprising but certainly thought-provoking. We are all aware that face-to-face conversations should be prioritised over brief digital messages, yet we find ourselves compulsively checking our phones around 85 times a day. We have grown accustomed to the expectation of constant accessibility and perpetually reaching out to others. It's a paradox - our digital age, while connecting us in unprecedented ways, seems to be weakening our physical, real-world communication skills.
Factors that contribute to the decline in communication skills
Unlike the past, where many of us financed our studies through part-time jobs in the service industry, today's teenagers have fewer opportunities to engage in such activities, missing out on vital social interactions.
The disappearance of outdoor play and its valuable lessons in teamwork and conflict resolution is another key contributor to the problem.
Furthermore, extended families that once provided a rich environment for intergenerational interaction have become less common, with "home" now often comprising only immediate family members. As a result, children miss out on the valuable experiences of communicating with people from different generations.
On a brighter note, today's children are being taught critical thinking and basic presentation skills as part of their school curricula. However, this alone is insufficient to bridge the ever-widening skills gap.
The implications of this decline in communication skills extend beyond the individual, impacting society and the economy. One study suggests that the UK alone may face a shortage of 1.4 million skilled workers, a problem that will significantly affect large organisations. In a service-based economy that relies heavily on human interaction and trust, having an entire generation of leaders with deficient communication and interpersonal skills could be disastrous.
Effective communication skills are not acquired overnight, and it's a challenge that demands attention from an early age. Companies such as Google and Starbucks, which focus on developing well-rounded skills in their employees from the start, are poised to reap the benefits of a talent pool well-prepared for leadership roles.
So, what does it take to possess good communication skills?
"WALK the Talk" model
At MetaMind Training, we've devised a model known as "WALK the Talk" based on four dimensions of effective communication:
Words: Choosing powerful and impactful words.
Architecture: Structuring your message effectively.
Listening: Truly listening to understand, rather than listening to reply.
Kinesics: Paying attention to body language, gestures, and non-verbal cues.
Among these, "Listening" is often underestimated and neglected. As Stephen Covey famously stated, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Unfortunately, little has changed even a generation after Covey's quote.
Why is listening so difficult?
Listening is a complex skill. While we can speak at a rate of two words per second, our minds are capable of processing three times that amount, leading to wandering thoughts and distractions.
To become a better listener, consider these tips:
Let go of the urge to respond immediately. Cultivate curiosity about others and aim to let them express themselves fully.
Ask questions that genuinely interest you, taking the conversation in a direction that piques your curiosity.
Establish a personal connection through body language, maintaining eye contact, leaning forward, nodding, and displaying appropriate facial expressions.
By practising these tips, you'll discover that listening is a tremendous advantage. You gain more information, enhance personal and professional relationships, and demonstrate care and respect towards others.
The decline in communication skills is a pressing societal and economic issue. While our digital age has brought immense connectivity, it's essential that we do not forsake the art of effective communication. By recognising the issue, prioritising early development of communication skills, and embracing effective listening, we can collectively address this challenge and ensure a more connected, understanding, and prosperous society.
For more on communication skills, give some of our other blogs a read!
By Mette Johansson, founder of MetaMind Training, author of “How to Make Yourself Promotable – 7 skills to help you climb the career ladder” and speaker on leadership topics, including Authentic Leadership – “Unmask The Leader Within”