Friday, April 7, 2017

Management Communication? Yes, MBA Students, We Need To Study It

I teach management communication for MBA programs. I often encounter this reaction from students when I tell them what I do: “I’ve gotten this far in my life. So I must know how to write and speak reasonably well.” These individuals balk at the need for further training and education. They believe they can tackle any strategic communication challenge with their current skills.

This resistance surprises. Employers emphasize strong oral communication skills when selecting candidates. Check out the 2016 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Report and this announcement for more details.  

MBA candidates would never question the need to study finance, contracting, or supply chain management. These arenas are technical. It's impossible to work in them without specialized education (and often experience as well). Most people thus recognize the need for additional knowledge, skill, and experience limits in specialized domains. 

Yet it’s different with management communication. But it shouldn’t be. For one, public speaking and writing are fundamental. An understanding of communication theory and strategies offers an indispensable conceptual framework, moreover. More importantly, you can excel as an engineer—but mediocre communication skills will retard your professional development. 

Second, there’s a lot to know about individual and organizational communication. I’ve studied the subjects for years (and consulted and taught about them as well). I see how much more I need to learn. Third, varied approaches to writing and speaking demand different skills. Business and academic writing, for example, are very different. There's no generic toolkit of communications skills that works across different organizational contexts. Ongoing education and training can help here. 

Finally, routine miscommunication and misunderstandings plague modern workplaces. Both result from poor communication skills. We cultivated them starting with the earliest days in our lives. Dubious practices in different work environments reinforce them. In short, we can’t fall back on mindless, habitual patterns. Nor can ignore the evolving impact of new technologies on our communications activities. We have to unlearn what we've learned. Then we can adopt  current best practices.  

Do excellent communication skills guarantee success in business and life? Not always but successes abound. Writing and speaking skills make the difference. The thoughtful application of relevant theory and practice play a major role as well. In short, MBA students thus should reconsider their perspectives on management communications skill building. They're critical in helping them realize the possibilities inherent when applying the fruits of their education. 

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