If we asked a person born in the mid-20th century and someone born at the beginning of the 21st about their preferred method for communication, their answers would differ greatly. The first could talk about written correspondence, while the latter is more likely to list a long number of channels, all digital. We have grown accustomed to meetings over video calls, conversations through voice notes, and keeping up to date through social media.
The possibilities for communication are endless, at both the personal and professional level, which means that developing interpersonal and communicative skills has become a priority for organizations. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, an international non-profit organization that offers products and services to academic institutions and students, 81% of recruiters consider interpersonal skills to be more important than any other type.
Sending a voice note is not the same as writing an e-mail, making a phone call, or holding a meeting. Communication must adapt to each method. “Communication only makes sense within the mind of the receiver. We need to think about how they are decoding our message,” says Edward Schiappa. Schiappa is MIT’s John E. Burchard humanities professor, a researcher, and the instructor of MIT Professional Education’s online course “Persuasive Communication: Critical Thinking to Enhance your Message,” offered in both English and Spanish.
We receive so much information throughout the day—push notifications from applications, e-mails from work colleagues, social media alerts, messages, phone calls— that our ability to concentrate and listen has diminished. “It’s difficult to distinguish what’s essential from what’s not, so the demand for professionals that communicate clearly and effectively is more urgent than ever. More than simply transmitting their ideas, they must capture and maintain their audiences’ attention,” Schiappa stresses.
Communication is especially important among those from technical backgrounds. Take engineers, for instance. These highly qualified professionals are accustomed to speaking, presenting data, and exchanging opinions with colleagues that have very similar levels of knowledge. Problems arise, however, when they leave that circle and face the need to express that same information—whether in person or through a screen—with people from less technical backgrounds or with less experience in the field.
Enhancing employees’ communicative abilities is critical, helping them further their projects while also driving the company toward new elevated goals. In “Persuasive Communication: Critical Thinking to Enhance your Message,” Schiappa and MIT Professional Education guide participants as they perfect their interpersonal skills in vital areas such as public speaking, critical thinking, digital communication, visual persuasion, and audience adaptation—both virtually and in person.