Students and graduates: Master the art of conversation to excel at work

By Lorraine Ansell

Learning how to converse fluently and authentically could give young people the edge in the modern workplace, writes voice-over artist Lorraine Ansell.

Growing up in a world where it’s normal to interact with others via technology, many young people are more confident communicating online than in person. They underestimate the importance of conversational skills to their future careers.

Not only are they joining a multi-generational workforce, where reaching for a smartphone isn’t the default method of communication for everybody, they’re also entering an environment where conversation is integral to making personal connections, building networks and opening doors.

Research among recent graduates, conducted by CEMS — the global alliance in management education — suggests it will be exceptional people skills that will help future employees navigate a volatile and uncertain digital economy, in which humans work alongside machines.

More than half of respondents (56%) considered either social skills (33%) or the ability to manage people (23%) the most important skills to develop as technology increases in the corporate workplace. They rated these soft skills more highly than teachable hard skills (7%), technical, job-specific content skills (7%) or process skills such as critical thinking (12%).

So how do we help our students master the art of talking to the people around them, and why is conversation still so important?

In the workplace, technology (from email to instant messaging and tools such as Slack and WhatsApp) has helped streamline business communication, but this is sometimes to the detriment of richer and deeper communication.

Business meetings take place with people of different ages, with varying mindsets and from a range of cultures and backgrounds, so only by communicating face to face will true connections be made. Conversation is the verbal invisible connection we have with others, involving emotion and a real meeting of minds. Conducted effectively, it can enable the sharing and growing of ideas.

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