Communication Skills: Overview

Almost everyone has difficulties with communication at some point or another. Conveying your needs, thoughts, and feelings in an academic or professional environment can be especially challenging. The experience may leave you feeling nervous or even intimidated, especially when power dynamics are in play. Mastering the fundamental skills can make a big difference in how your career evolves.

The Essential Skills modules provide comprehensive instruction in four critical interpersonal communication skills: planning your message, active listening, expressing yourself clearly, and receiving and responding to feedback. Using real-life examples drawn from the reports of graduate students in science and engineering, you will hone your ability to communicate effectively for academic, personal, and professional success.

Planning the Message

As a graduate student, time is probably something you don’t have in great quantity. Allotting extra time for communication tasks like emails, phone calls, and even face-to-face meetings can be inconvenient and even annoying. However, taking a few moments to consider and prepare a well-crafted message can help you to communicate more efficiently with the limited amount of time you have. Moreover, planning will promote higher quality interactions and prevent miscommunication.

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Active Listening

Most people take listening for granted. You are bombarded every day with so much information that it becomes easy to just coast along, selectively listening only for things that may be of interest. Many important details can get lost in the process, leading to communication difficulties. Active listening is an essential skill that promotes mutual understanding and sets the stage for effective interaction.

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Expressing Yourself

Expressing yourself effectively is much more than simply saying what’s on your mind. Especially in an academic or professional setting, you will want to make sure that you make a good impression and bring attention to your needs. What you choose to say or don’t say, how you use nonverbal communication, and the way you carry yourself in a conversation can strongly influence the outcome of your interaction.

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Receiving and Responding to Feedback

Receiving and responding to feedback are essential components of our daily lives. Even if unsolicited, you hear the thoughts and opinions of others on a daily basis, and just as often you share your own. Receiving feedback from someone with authority, such as your advisor, can be an uncomfortable experience. This module provides instruction in how to be receptive to and evaluate feedback, make it useful to you, and respond in a way that will improve your communication outcomes.

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Assertiveness is an interpersonal communication technique that you can employ when you need to obtain a particular goal or objective. When you are assertive, you are able to express yourself in a way that doesn’t violate the rights or needs of others, but does advocate for your own wants and needs. You will be able to recognize assertiveness, and learn approaches for being assertive in your interactions with others.

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Conflict Management

Conflict happens whether you want it to or not. It is unavoidable—it will always occur when two or more people with differing views get together. Conflict management is an important ability that requires awareness and interpersonal skill. You can learn things to watch out for when conflict arises, and techniques you can apply to effectively manage and resolve it.

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Negotiation is an advanced strategy that relies on the mastery of many communication skills. Although negotiation is thought to be an experience, like being at the “negotiating table,” it is actually an active process. It happens almost every day in the school environment and the workplace. This module outlines the negotiation process, and highlights strategies that you can apply in your own negotiations.

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