Communication is an art, people say. One can really be a talented communicator. Some of us really are natural speakers, who can get the audience on the edge of their seats at every presentation. Others are at their best in social situations, they can appease every conflict. This a nice and romantic view, but it can be pretty deceiving. Because just like every other skill, communication is something that can be learned through enough practice.
Communication as art
Obviously, some people feel more comfortable in social interaction than others. However, it is wrong to conclude that these people are naturally better at communicating. For example, extravert people are not necessarily better conversation partners. Communication is not a trait, it’s a skill. At first glance, the parallel with art seems not relevant anymore because of this, but I disagree. Art is a skill as well. You can really insult a virtuoso violinist by saying “You are really naturally gifted”. With this statement, you wipe years of training off the table like it’s nothing. Besides that, it is also demoralizing for those who are not yet a virtuoso.
Making every mistake
Similar to playing the violin, communication can be trained as well. One of the most important requirements for constructive practice is that you allow yourself to make every possible mistake. This might be scary, but it really is a great learning experience. That is why I instantly bought a mute when I started playing the violin, so my neighbors did not have to listen endlessly to false scales and I could make mistakes in a safe environment. The same goes for communication. You can, for example, practice a presentation or pitch in the bathroom mirror, till you are completely satisfied.
Video role plays
Interpersonal communication is more difficult to practice on your own. At TrainTool we found a solution for this: with video role plays you can react to all kinds of situations on your smartphone or computer, without someone seeing what mistakes you make.Your reaction is filmed with your webcam, so you can get an even better view on what you can improve. Only when you are satisfied with how you react to the situation, you can share the recording with your colleagues, classmates or even your mother.
Extending your repertoire
Obviously, a video role play is artificial. You don’t know the actor in the video and you are not actually in that situation, and because of this it might not feel completely natural. However, that it doesn’t feel exactly the same as a real conversation with a a customer or colleague, does not mean that it is not useful. With video role plays you can practice small pieces of communication in a smart way. This will result in the extension of your repertoire so you don’t have to think about your communication techniques during conversations. When I’m practicing with my violin before a gig, I’m also not practicing for a crowd. I’m just practicing the short parts that I find challenging, difficult fingering for example, or hard string crossings. When I master these kind of things, I don’t have to think about the underlying technique during my performance, so I can focus more on other things, like interaction with the audience. Ultimately, I will feel more comfortable during my performance and I will enjoy it more.
By practicing difficult communication techniques in a safe environment, you can make mistakes unnoticeably. In this way you can develop into a talented conversation partner or presenter, even without actually possessing this talent. After all, talent is only an illusion. Communication is an art, which means that with some training everyone can do it!
Discover how students of Wageningen University practice communication skills with a Faculty of Skills training program!