Is ‘conversational competence’ the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach?

We regularly hear about the challenge of working in the current landscape – where VUCA has become the new ‘normal’ (VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.)  Soft skills are seen by many as the most critical to develop to help face these new experiences.

Back in 1989, almost 30 years ago now (30 years, yes…really!), Stephen Covey – in his famous ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ saw communication as the most important skill in life.

In 2005, Dan Pink’s ‘A Whole New Mind’, we started to learn how in the “Conceptual Age”, the skills that are going to matter the most are not the “high tech skills” but rather, skills related to “high touch, high concept and high empathy”.

High Touch: “… involves the ability to empathise with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.” (Page 3, A Whole New Mind)

High Concept: “…involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.” (Page 2, A Whole New Mind)

Once again, communication skills are at the heart of what will help people to thrive in the ever evolving workplace.


Communication – the art of having a good conversation!

This fabulous TED talk by Celeste Headlee explores the importance of communication as a skill set – and shares 10 tips for how to have a better conversation.

She begins her talk by asking this question – Is conversational competence the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach?

This question has been one I’ve been reflecting on often in recent weeks since I saw this post. It might well be because of the time I am at in my life : our kids are nearing the end of secondary school, and their bright futures are just within reach. They are spending so much of their time with their heads in their books, working hard to get the highest marks they can; marks that will grant them entry into whatever course is going to take them on their first stage of their career. I remember being at that stage too and when I think about my first ‘real’ job (dare I say as an auditor!), it was actually not the knowledge and technical skills that helped me do well, but rather the ability to actually have a conversation with people, the ability to make some ‘small talk’ and create a comfortable energy so things didn’t feel awkward!

And as a leader, to be honest, it was these same skills that were core to my success – or were the reasons why there were some days that didn’t go as well! And in my role as a facilitator, communication skills are still up there as some of the most fundamental skills I need to pay attention to and continually improve.

So now, I am focusing on helping my kids improve their ‘conversational competence.’ This is what is going to help them be successful in whatever they do! And it is something all adults can also pay more attention to – in all aspects of our life. Celeste suggests 10 things we can all do to have a better conversation. 

Make some time after one of your next conversations and reflect on how well you did these things?

Select one thing to work on in conversations for the next week…