Why should students take courses in Communication?
Communication is a topic that people assume they know a great deal about, particularly because they interact with many individuals on a daily basis via multiple channels—face-to-face conversations, phone, and email, for example. Yet there is much more to the discipline of Communication than many realize. Communication Currents invited five Communication scholars—Kevin Barge, Brant Burleson, Dennis Gouran, Lynn Harter, and John Heineman—to respond to questions people typically have about the discipline of Communication as well as how the issues studied in the discipline relate to everyday life. See the full column in Communication Currents (Volume 2, Issue 4) for answers to all of the questions posed to our expert panel.
Brant Burleson: Good communication matters. It matters fundamentally in terms of the individual's success personally (in terms of their personal relationships), and it matters maybe even more in terms success professionally. There are a lot of studies that show that employers want good communication skills in their employees first and foremost, and by that they mean, in addition to being able to read and write effectively, the ability to communicate orally with others effectively, and to participate in teams. In fact, there is a large body of research that shows that effective communication skills are one of the major predictors of upward mobility in the organization; that is, people who have good communication skills are more likely to get promoted, they're more likely to get raises, they're more likely to end up getting positions that they want. People with good communication skills are not only more effective in informing others and persuading others, they're also more effective at getting support from others and acquiring information from others, and getting others to believe in them and what they're doing. And as you can imagine, those are tremendously important skills in virtually any aspect of professional life.
Then, in the personal sector, good communication skills matter fundamentally in terms of the quality of your relationships -- the relationship with your close partner. Good communication is part and parcel of being a good parent, communicating effectively with your child, communicating effectively with your neighbors, and communicating effectively with others in your community. And the real truth of the matter is, we're not taught how to do that. We may be exposed to good models here and there, but that's really happenstance. For the most part, we're not really ever taught how to be good persuaders, provide information, provide support, even entertain each other, and that's why you want to take Communication classes in college, because that's where you should be learning these kinds of communication skills, skills that are going to make a difference in the quality of your life.
Lynn Harter: Communication is an integral part of a liberal studies education because what communication helps students to focus on how they use symbolic resources at hand to create and maintain relationships, to participate as a citizen in the public sphere, whether that's attending a city council meeting and exercising their voice about a local initiative or petition. Or maybe it's being involved on a board of directors for a local non-profit organization and being the person who's responsible for communicating with various stakeholders of that organization.