I wrote the following letter to my nephew as he takes his first communication course and I wanted to impress on him the tremendous values he'll get out of the course. And then I thought it might be of interest to other students taking their first course.
I hear you’re taking a communication course. Congratulations! It was a wise move on your part. And if it was required, then it was a wise move on the part of your college. I know you’re going to profit tremendously from this course if you apply yourself, which I’m sure you’re going to do. But, to motivate you perhaps a bit more, let me remind you of just a few of the benefits you’ll get from learning the theory and skills of communication. One day I should write a book about the values of communication study because I think many students don’t realize just how important communication is. I know that many students (before they entered my classroom, of course) think that since they’ve been communicating for some time that they therefore know how to do it and so don’t need a course in communication. And while it’s true that they know how to communicate, what is also true is that they can learn to communicate more effectively and in ways that will prove more personally satisfying. And that’s where your communication course comes in; it will provide you with the knowledge and the skills you’ll need to make your own communication more effective.
Communication is simply a major part of your world and if you’re going to understand this world, you need to understand communication—what it is and how it works, what it can do and what it can’t do. The more you understand about how communication works, the more you’ll find yourself in control of communication and the greater will be your skills for accomplishing a wide variety of goals.
At the start, consider that it’s through communication that you reveal who you are to others, or more accurately, who you want them to see you as. And so you use what we call “impression management strategies” to get people to like you, to find you attractive, to believe you, to follow you, to excuse you when you make a mistake. And, of course, these are strategies of communication; you create the impression of yourself that you give others through the messages you send and the way you receive or listen to the messages of others.
The skills of interpersonal communication will be largely responsible for the relationships you develop, maintain, or dissolve—your friendship, romantic, family, and work relationships. In fact, it would be difficult to visualize any interpersonal relationship without recognizing the central role that communication plays in every stage of a relationship—from development, through involvement and intimacy, and perhaps through deterioration, repair, and dissolution. Understanding how communication works at all stages of relationships will enable you to more effectively navigate your own movement through the relationship mazes you’ll find throughout your life so that you develop relationships that are satisfying, mutually productive, and that simply make you happy.
Your success in getting a job and in rising in the organizational hierarchy will be largely based on your communication skills. I will spare you the citation of studies, but the upshot of a tremendous amount of research is that communication consistently emerges as the single most important quality that employment interviewers look for in a candidate (yes, even more than a knowledge of the candidate’s major). And they look for that quality simply because that is the quality that is most important for the job—for just about any job you can think of.
A great part of your work life will likely be spent in groups—whether face-to-face or virtual. And your success in these groups, as a member and as a leader, will largely depend on your communication abilities. Understanding how groups operate, the stages they go through, the roles of members and leaders, the available decision making processes, and lots more will enable you to function more effectively in a wide variety of work (and social) groups. As you go up the organizational ladder and increase your role in civic life, the role of communication will become even more important and you’ll need the skills of public speaking. Understanding different audiences; the new technologies of public speaking; the role of research, evidence, and supporting materials; organizational strategies; and, how to use these insights in preparing and presenting speeches will enable you to effectively inform and persuade large audiences—a crucial skill for management.
Well, Michael, this is a long way of saying that there will never come a time in your life when communication will not be a major factor influencing your satisfaction and your success. So, study hard; there’s lots to learn. And, you’ll be rewarded.