Lost In Translation

Uniqueness of the human language notwithstanding, every new crop of employees seems to emerge with reduced ability to communicate well. Regardless of the efficacy thereof, B.Sc., B. Com. and B.A. degrees continue to offer a year or two of English courses. This is missing in the so-called professional streams of learning.

It could be either a belief that students of these courses are already well-equipped in the area of English language communication or a belief that the skills are not needed. Veterans of the industry will ascertain that both of the above beliefs are misplaced. The fact of the matter is that there is a clear dearth of good communication skills in young people.

A senior manager in a top IT company wrote to his counterpart on the client side after a personal interaction, "Thank you for your time with me. I was amazed at your waste experience…" He had meant to say "vast experience"!

Lest I be misunderstood, it is worth noting that these are technically competent young men and women, who will definitely be an asset to any organization … but for their language limitations.

In the Land of Gandhi

No less than a Placement Coordinator and a Senior Professor in a leading technology institute in Madhya Pradesh asked, "In this land of Gandhi, why is there so much emphasis on English language communication? Cant you select the candidates for their technical comp etence which is why you (recruiters from a leading IT major) are here?"

Personally, I dont think that Gandhi would have been against learning an "alien" language if that meant speaking to another person on equal terms. Hypothesis apart, this attitude towards communication skills needs to change. An employee with limited communication skills stands out as a liability – and sometimes, an embarrassment – on these counts:

(a) Reduced chances of being hired. Technically sound, but unable to coherently articulate concepts, implies that a less technical, but more expressive candidate gets hired ahead of this one.

(b) Reduced chances of a client-facing role. While our own people are more forgiving of our limitations (and sometimes even willing to work around them), the same cannot be said about external entities. Clients expect and demand quality in all aspects.

(c) Hurts prospects of progress. As the employee moves up the corporate ladder, the expectations of handling teams rises equally so. Such an employee cannot afford to be lax about his/her communication skills.

A senior manager in a top IT company wrote to his counterpart on the client side after a personal interaction, "Thank you for your time with me. I was amazed at your waste experience…" He had meant to say "vast experience"!

Wor(l)d Power

Having waxed eloquent about the need for communication skills, let us understand briefly about they are. Communication Skills is definitely not about having an extensive vocabulary or the ability to quote Shakespeare and Byron (though it helps!)

Communication is constituted by the simple set of:

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  • Listening to (not just hearing) what is being said.

  • Comprehending the import (not just nodding in agreement).

  • Being able to articulate a response in terms that answer the question unambiguously.

  • Express facts and/or opinions in a clear and concise manner.

Surely, this comes out of practice, but knowing the basics of the language is a good place to start.

Forward March

Investing in communication skills is indispensable if India is to retain its "alleged" supremacy in the IT sector. Improved skills will have a positive impact on the prospects of the candidate, his/her confidence level, percentage placement of his/her institute and productivity of the company he/she joins. That having been said, we need to address doubts, reluctance, inhibition and feelings of embarrassment to learn a basic skill.

Once we are in agreement that good communication is not just an optional skill, but a desired one, there can be no two views about taking it up early in the course. There are multiple ways of addressing this, a key one being an oncampus mandatory spoken English course that is built into the curriculum. This will need to be augmented by the students inclination to seek other resources like books, magazines and news channels.

The key thing is to hear, see, observe and learn. Learning comes out observing what is being said and written, not what you believe should be said; in observing how it is expressed (rather than how you would express it); and what is being expressed. After all, efforts lead to success.

"Through effort alone, a person can accomplish even small deeds. The deer do not willingly walk into the open mouth of a sleeping lion.