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


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10 Required Student Skills at Harvard University


Skill number 6. Effective communication skill

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

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

What makes communication effective?

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

In Harvard student life, effective communication skills are essential for a successful academic, professional, and social life in an intercultural environment. In the framework of classroom meetings, where much attention is paid to critical discussion of the material, effective communication will be the ability to track the course of the discussion and the argumentation of students' opinions, to support or refute the points of view, effectively building your evidence. When searching for and continuing to work on campus, it is important to understand the requirements of the employer, learn the language and learn the rules of communication in the office. Presenting your start-up as a potential investor, it is important to present only that information and in such a way that even the most high-tech project is understood by a person who does not have the slightest experience in this field, but who within 60 seconds wants to decide to give you money or not. In the student’s daily life, effective communication is reduced to a healthy interaction with classmates who have diverse cultural, social, academic and professional experience, 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 his goals. In this regard, a diverse understanding of the audience, its previous experience, preferences, moral and ethical norms of communication, expectations and goals, an acceptable sign language and other aspects of non-verbal communication are important analysis criteria for choosing a method of verbal communication 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 it.

What hinders effective communication?

The brain likes to distort information. Such a phenomenon in psychology is called cognitive distortion. The essence of this phenomenon is 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 completely omitting low-frequency information, which can 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 push a positive perception of such information, while a negative experience will automatically increase the negative connotation. Such a phenomenon as cognitive distortion explains why stereotypes have become an integral part of the culture of communication, and why negative stereotypes are spreading faster and 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 stereotypical thinking and tend to cling to familiar information in abundance of new information, the ability to remain open is more important than ever. Understanding this feature of the nature of the brain will allow you to be more careful about the process of perceiving information.

In addition to our personal cognitive distortion, the purity of communication is also disturbed 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. Considering the speed of verbal communication and the lack of the ability, desire or even courage to “rewind” the conversation back, we often draw unfounded conclusions, which like a snowball aggravate misunderstandings in the communication process.

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 correctly understood, understood or clarified 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 lends itself to training. It requires the practice of conscious control of thoughts, which refers to the highest cognitive function of a person - his executive power.

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

If academic and professional culture in the United States involves active communication, how can introverts survive in such a society?

Introversion is often perceived with a negative connotation, especially regarding communication skills. Unlike extroverts, who enjoy being in society and are constantly looking for an opportunity to bring 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 interlocutors or lack communication skills. And introverts are able to perfectly articulate their thoughts and follow the course of the conversation, being able to maintain an interesting conversation. The problem is different - the imposed stereotype that introverts do not know how to communicate, is rooted in the human mind, and he does not perceive the skill of communication as an area in which you can learn and grow. By the way, extraversion and the ability to communicate effectively are completely unconnected by a causal relationship.

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

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

How do admissions assess communication skills?

If the skill of effective communication is so important, how does the selection committee evaluate its presence? Surely, from the point of view of the selection committee, the best way to evaluate would be a personal or Skype interview. Considering that about 40 candidates for bachelor's programs received this year at Harvard, even to select 000 accepted students, huge time and financial resources would have to be spent. 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 PhD program admissions. Also, video presentations are actively being 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, too, are an additional source of external evaluation of your communication skill.

What kind of interlocutor are you? How do you formulate your thoughts? How open are you to new information and opinions other than yours? Did you have the opportunity to observe yourself from the side, the sign language, facial expression? Would you like to keep yourself company? Answers to these questions will allow you to understand what your prospects are and what you should work on.



Author: Evgenia Efremova, graduate student at Harvard University 
and academic director of Global Ambassador


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