Let’s have a conversation about communication and interpersonal skills…

Specifically I wish to talk about the lack of emphasis on teaching communication and interpersonal skills. This is the first of perhaps several posts in this vein.

First of all, what I want to preface this post with, is to affirm that people do learn this stuff. We do think about this stuff – some of us, quite a lot. However, I believe that while some of this is covered in early childhood learning, by the time we get to high school it’s negligible or non-existent.

We go through teenager-hood and then are sent out into the world as brand spanking new adults, where expectations are high but teaching, mentoring and the ability to safely practise are low.

On most job advertisements, there is a requirement for the applicant to demonstrate good communication and interpersonal skills. In our daily lives we personally talk to and communicate with many people.  We develop friendships and romantic relationships, we often have families that we relate to as well. Yet we don’t generally get more intensive teaching beyond our growing up basics about how to do all of this.

If we’re lucky we figure a bunch of things out early on and run with them. We learn how to make friends, sometimes we learn how to deal with friendship conflicts, sometimes we learn how to be in a romantic or sexual relationship, sometimes we learn how to deal with conflict here too. However, it’s all by doing, in the deep end when and where the consequences of your actions really make a different and unintentional (or even intentional) harm is very possible. It’s so unnecessary.

There are also those of us for whom figuring out communication doesn’t happen like that. Those of us who fall into this space continually find ourselves frustrated and flummoxed as to why things with other people don’t work out. We may have an inkling that it’s something we’re doing or not doing, but we may be utterly confused about what it might be. For those of us in this situation how are we meant to learn how to communicate better?

I get frustrated seeing people struggle over what I know to be issues of communication and interpersonal skills. I get frustrated knowing that the skills needed are well within reach to anyone who cares to learn – and has the opportunity to be taught in a safe and caring manner. So often this isn’t the case and it saddens me.

What tops this off for me, is that when workplace morale, culture and communication go out the window, we pay (either personally or companies) a large amount to then do a bunch of learning about communication and interpersonal stuff that we could quite easily have learned as a part of our general schooling.

Why do we have to get to a dire point of noticing that we’re missing some key skills and support before we are able to do anything about it? In some cases, we’d rather put on a strong front and deal with it through determination alone. There has to be a better way. I want to see these and related skills (like ethics) taught throughout schooling and before we enter the workforce, take on a trade, go onto further study, go travelling, or become a stay at home partner and/or parent (or any other life choices that we might wish to make that I’ve forgotten to mention).

There is no substitute for the communication skills I’ve (painstakingly) learned – mostly through that gauntlet of getting it so very wrong before I could begin to get it right. I’ve hurt people I cared about, I’ve alienated people, I’ve made situations worse where I couldn’t figure out what on earth I was doing wrong. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the years to turn that around. I’ve become very good at these skills and relationships in general by virtue of the fact that having spent far too long getting it wrong, I was deeply invested in having it go right.

The confidence I have now gained in my communication ability including with interpersonal skills is hard won and I’m proud of it, but more than that… I want to give it away so that other people don’t have to go through that same gauntlet of painful (sometimes traumatic) experiences before it all starts to come together. It’s not necessary to learn by trauma, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – and I have to say again – there has to be a better way.

Everything we do in the world, at some level almost certainly involves another person and it baffles me that we spend so little time teaching communication and interpersonal skills. If they underpin so very much of what our everyday lives are about, how is it that we value the teaching of these skills so little? Is it like that unwinnable equation of motherhood being the ‘most important’ job you’ll ever do while simultaneously being the lowest paid (by which I mean, we pay for the privilege).

I don’t pretend to know, but along with ethics, critical thinking and other community minded learning, I advocate to see communication and interpersonal skills being taught formally as a vital life skill – as important as being able to read or write.

 

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