In the world where 85 percent of jobs are not listed, going to college just to get a degree is not enough. Ideally, college is a microcosm of the society that students should take advantage of to master the one skill that matters in both personal and professional life — clear and transparent communication in real life and online.
In person, we depend on nonverbal communication for 80 percent of the meaning (30 percent tone and 50 percent body), so it is important to show what you’re trying to say. It’s not a coincidence that Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, titled her book on leadership “Lean In.”
For example, in a group project discussion, your verbal message “let’s all work on this together” might get drowned out by your noncommittal reclined posture, which suggests lack of interest in engaging.
“If you’re trying to land (a plane) at JFK at rush hour, there’s no nonverbal communication,” said David Greenberg of Delta Air Lines in an interview for Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers.” “It’s people talking to people, so you need to be darn sure you understand what’s going on.”
Greenberg overhauled the communication protocol in Korean Airlines in 2000 to put an end to its pilot-error plane crashes. Pilot error is still the No. 1 reason for airplane crashes today.
Gladwell mentions “mitigated speech,” or sugar coating, as one of the problems of subordinate-leader relationship. However, it is part of what linguists call “code switching,” the ability to gauge the appropriate communication strategy based on the interlocutor.
An example would be the difference in the way you speak to your friend and to a professor. In the second case, like the crew of a plane, you might be using mitigated, deferential speech. However, if the authority figure (the pilot or teacher) were committing a mistake which could affect others, it would be the subordinate’s civic responsibility to use authoritative speech if needed.
And while in the case of an airplane, the consequences of failing to communicate transparently are stark and obvious, many professional judgment errors of speech can go unnoticed by us. However, that doesn’t change the error’s presence.
Inability to communicate in the most suitable manner for the occasion and audience can make the difference between landing a date, an interview or a job and not landing it.
Last millennials — those born between 1986 and 1996 — are leaving college and are expected to compose 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, according to Governance Studies at Brookings report titled “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America.”
And from boomers to millennials and Gen Z, the verve for text communication only rises; with it, the mastery of language becomes crucial. The individual’s image rests on the ability to convey the message without the visual and tonal cues as precisely and convincingly as possible. No pressure, right?
In this text-reliant world, literacy and emotional intelligence take center stage as we attempt to bypass the immersive in-person for the shallow online. We can gauge the acceptable familiarity of speech depending on the mutual history but not the mood of the person on the other side. We can’t express our emotions but can drown them in emoticons and end-sentence exclamation points.
But in this anxiety-ridden world of staring at the “seen” and “read” tags, there are few things worse than being flat-out ignored.
By not replying, you still send a message. By not replying, you convey that you do not care about the person on the other side of the line.
Make yourself clear and available for the dialogue, and build relationships with your peers now. Maybe one of those opportunities will be your ticket to a career or family of your dreams.