Nowadays, a good and understandable oral expression is definitely essential for your professional and personal life. Good communication skills have been described as something which depends just on your talent and you either have it or not. However, a good level of communication skills actually IS something you can achieve. You just have to know where to star, and that’s why we’ve prepared this easy guide.
First of all, you might be asking why should you even be bothered about how good or bad your communication skills are. Although in everyday life it might not be as strictly important, it is definitely crucial in the academic and professional world. There’s normally no room for misunderstandings, exhausting explanations or second chances, which is why you should have a good base of what to say, how and when to do it. I would also like to point out that this article is focused on communication in the academic and professional world only, and the same advice might not work for other areas.
There’s actually a whole science behind every simple phrase you say, and it has its own name: Pragmatics. It is actually an interesting science somewhere between linguistics and psychology, which can basically describe how you use your language in order to communicate with others based on every particular situation. In this case, I’ve chosen the theory which I think fits the best your needs and which is called “cooperative principle”.
Right before talking or writing, you should always think of which is the situation, because every particular situation is different and based on that, you will have to adjust your speech or written expression to it.
The cooperative principle is something which basically tells you how you should express your ideas in order to make the communication as effective as possible in that particular situation. It’s author, H.P. Grice, organized those principles in four categories (or four maxims) which should never be violated, unless you want to express something different (such as sarcasm or metaphor).
This one is especially important in the academic area. You should obviously never lie, that’s something we already know. However, you also need to avoid expressions which state as truth something that actually lacks evidence. If you’re talking about some polemic topic which has no clear conclusion, you should never state one of them as a general truth, because it might actually lead to misunderstandings. Instead, you should include expressions such as: “According to X and Y…“ or directly quote the source you’re working with. Even in those cases when you’re just using the same idea as someone else did, you should always mention the source. If not, it would give the impressions that those are your words or ideas and this is not the truth either, not speaking about violating author’s rights.
This maxim tells you that you should never give more or less information than actually required. That basically means you should always give the minimum information which will make the other person understand exactly what you want. That means you have to synthesize and adjust to the situation. For example, you can’t talk during 2 hours about quasars using scientific terminology if your audience has no idea about astronomy. First, make it shorter – it is scientifically proved that 45 minutes is the top for being able to pay attention without getting too tired. Then, think about a golden rule: n+1, “n” being what they actually know and “1” being the new information. If it’s just “n”, they won’t learn anything. If it’s “n+2”, it will be too difficult for them.
That actually means you should never give any information which is not related to the topic you’re talking about. Although it is quite a self-explaining principle, I would like to give you a little advice: always read twice whatever you write, might it be an email or an essay. It will help you eliminate those parts which are not really relevant, besides the fact that you will correct any mistakes you might have done.
This one is probably the most important one in order to be understood. Avoid anything which might be ambiguous, too long or too short, unclear or not logical, and make sure the ideas you want to express are well organized. Why? Just because that way, the other person/people will find it much easier to understand you and it will save their and your energy and time.
Although it’s not a part o Grice’s maxims, I find courtesy something which is especially important to keep in mind in the academic and professional area. The important thing here is that being too polite is not a good thing either, especially because being it might actually mean you want to get something from the person you’re talking to.
Especially for those of you who are studying or working in a foreign country, make sure you understand properly how exactly does courtesy work in its culture, which will avoid some possible misunderstandings. You will soon be able to read an article about intercultural communication where I will dedicate some words to this topic.
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As always, I hope you’ve found this article useful and I encourage you to leave us a comment or a suggestion. If you are interested in knowing more about pragmatics and how it can help your professional life, don’t hesitate to contact me via the comments section below. I will be very glad to help you!