Why do I need a communication skill when studying at a foreign university?
Why do I need a communication skill when studying at a foreign university?


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10 Must-Have Skills for a Harvard University Student


Habit #6. Effective communication skill

With some caution, we move on to the sixth essential skill of the international student, the skill of effective communication. If it weren't for the context and logic of the 10 Must-Have Harvard Skills column, I would have put this key skill in first place. Not so much because it opens many doors, but because of its versatility and complexity of development.

In the context of talking about a mandatory skill for successful study and further professional development abroad, the level of possession of this skill in an intercultural environment can become decisive in the quality of the experience gained and the opportunities acquired.

What makes communication effective?

Depending on the context of communication, there are many definitions of the effectiveness of a communication skill.

In the life of a Harvard student, effective communication skills are essential for successful academic, professional and social life in an intercultural environment. Within the framework of classroom meetings, where much attention is paid to the critical discussion of the material, effective communication will be the ability to track the course of the discussion and the argumentation of students' opinions, support or refute points of view, effectively building one's proof. When looking for and further work on campus, it is important to understand the requirements of the employer, learn the language and learn the norms of communication in the office. When presenting your start-up to a potential investor, it is important to present only that information and in such a form that even the most high-tech project can be understood by a person who does not have the slightest experience in this area, but who wants to decide within 60 seconds to give you money or not. In a student's daily life, effective communication comes down to healthy interaction with classmates who have diverse cultural, social, academic and professional backgrounds, formed stereotypes and personal opinions on many sensitive topics.

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From these examples it follows that the speaker always has an audience with which he communicates, and the effectiveness of communication is assessed by the ability to achieve their goals. In this regard, a versatile understanding of the audience, its previous experience, preferences, moral and ethical standards of communication, expectations and goals, acceptable body language and other aspects of non-verbal communication are important analysis criteria for choosing a method of verbal delivery of information.

But is it enough to learn to analyze and understand your audience in order to communicate effectively? Let's turn to our brain and find out what he thinks about this.

What hinders effective communication?

The brain loves to distort information. This phenomenon in psychology is called cognitive distortion. The essence of this phenomenon lies in the fact that our brain is not inclined to perceive information in its pure form. Due to the selective nature of its work, the data center selects and clings to familiar information, paying less attention, and sometimes even omitting low-frequency information that may form the core of an idea or opinion.

In addition, our brain perceives information through a filter formed by our beliefs, emotions and opinions regarding a particular subject. The more established your opinion on a particular topic or perception of a particular idea, the more difficult it is to recognize a very similar, but still different thought.

It is also important that the already formed attitude to certain information predetermines its perception at a new meeting. In the past, a positive attitude towards something will encourage a positive perception of such information, while a negative experience will automatically reinforce the negative connotation. Such a phenomenon as cognitive bias explains why stereotypes have become an integral part of the communication culture, and why negative stereotypes spread faster and are more difficult to eradicate.

In an international environment where, in the process of communication and an abundance of new information, we are subject to the power of stereotyped thinking and tend to cling to familiar information in abundance of new information, the ability to stay open is more important than ever. Understanding this feature of the nature of the brain will allow you to be more attentive to the process of perceiving information.

In addition to our personal cognitive distortion, the purity of communication is also violated by the fact that, as interlocutors, we do not always choose words and syntactic constructions accurately, and as a result, we do not say what we mean. Given the speed of verbal communication and the lack of the ability, desire, or even the courage to “rewind” the conversation, we often make unreasonable conclusions that, like a snowball, exacerbate misunderstandings in the process of communication.

If it is important for you to exist harmoniously in an international environment, it is important to learn to perceive exactly what your interlocutor has in mind. If some information is not clear to you or seems illogical, you can always clarify whether you have understood correctly, understand or clarify the reasons for this or that opinion. And only then, you can conduct a critical analysis of the information received and your opinion, formed by previous experience.

The ability to remain consciously open to new information is a skill that can be trained. It requires the practice of conscious thought control, which belongs to the highest cognitive function of a person - his executive power.

How to be an introvert in a culture that requires constant communication?

If the US academic and professional culture is one of active communication, how do introverts survive in such a society?

Introversion is often perceived with negative connotations, especially in relation to communication skills. Unlike extroverts, who enjoy being in society and are constantly looking for an opportunity to take their thoughts and ideas to the public, introverts prefer and love to be alone with their thoughts. However, this does not mean at all that introverts are bad conversationalists or do not have communication skills. And introverts are great at formulating their thoughts and following the conversation, being able to maintain an interesting conversation. The problem is different - the imposed stereotype that introverts cannot communicate takes root in the mind of a person, and he does not perceive the skill of communication as an area in which to learn and grow. By the way, extraversion and the ability to communicate effectively are not at all connected by a causal relationship.

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Effective communication skills are individual and trainable. If you're insecure about your communication skills, start learning. In such a strategy, training your “active listener” is a win-win first step. With this approach, your main goal is not a momentary assessment in the course of the story, as we all tend to do, but careful monitoring of the interlocutor's logic. When you lose the thread of a story or don't understand something, don't be afraid to ask a question politely.

Sincere involvement, thoughtful questions, a pleasant expression and a sense of tact will make you a pleasant conversationalist.

How do admissions committees evaluate communication skills?

If the skill of effective communication is so important, how does the admissions committee assess its presence? Surely, from the point of view of the admissions committee, a personal or Skype interview would be the best way to evaluate. Given that Harvard had about 40 bachelor applicants this year, even to select 000 accepted students would have required a huge amount of time and money. At the final stages of selection, or when the selection committee cannot decide on a candidate, many competitive universities resort to Skype interviews. A similar strategy is followed by MBA programs, as well as admissions committees for PhD programs. Also, video presentations are being actively introduced as an element of the introductory package of documents. In addition, the development of communication skills can be tracked from your extracurricular activities and professional experience, evaluating the nature of the work and the results of your activities. Letters of recommendation are also an additional source of external evaluation of your communication skills.

What interlocutor are you? How do you formulate your thoughts? How open are you to new information and opinions that differ from yours? Did you have the opportunity to observe yourself from the side, for body language, facial expressions? Would you like to keep yourself company? The answers to these questions will allow you to understand what your prospects are and what you need to work on.



Author: Evgenia Efremova, Master's student at Harvard University 
and academic director Global Ambassador


 ← Read the article about 5 Habits Read about 7 skills next week→ 

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