Everyone talks about communication. There are communication tools, communication software, communication companies, communication consultants, etc., etc. But, when they use the term “communication”, do they mean the same thing? Not at all.
For many, communication refers to transferring information from one place to another.
For others, communication means transmitting or broadcasting information, with no real regard for where it goes.
For some, communication is equated with presentation.
In fact, there are countless definitions of communication.
The definition we prefer is:
Communication is a process in which a person, through the use of signs or symbols, verbally and/or non verbally, consciously or not consciously but intentionally, conveys meaning to another in order to affect change.
(Berlo, David Kenneth (1960). The Process of Communication, Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, New York.)
In the training world, communication is often referred to as a “soft skill”, mostly because it is:
- hard to define,
- hard to teach, and
- hard to evaluate in a standardized way.
Traditionally, communication skills have been trained in two ways.
Unfortunately, role play has many shortcomings
Modeling is learning by example, in other words, “This is how it should be done.”
In its simplest form, modeling can be a printed table with common questions and “correct” answers. In higher forms, there may be an audio tape, video or live demonstration.
Modeling can be excellent means to teach basic concepts and processes. It is, however, a passive form of leaning and provides no opportunity for practice.
Unfortunately, role play has many shortcomings. First of all, most people dislike live role play; they are self conscious and embarrassed by having to perform in front of others. This means they will rarely take chances, try new approaches, or demand more time to practice. Secondly, it depends greatly on the ability of the trainee’s partner (most often another trainee) to effectively play their part and create a realistic recreation of the real life experience. Using trained actors is expensive, time limited, and, therefore, restricted to specialized workshops. Once the workshop is over, there is no ongoing opportunity for practice and skill development.
Other, so-called "Communication Simulators"
There are several computer-based programs that call themselves "Communication Simulators." They typically fall into two camps:
- Multiple Choice - The user watches a video and then selects the "best" response from a multiple choice list.
- Gaming - The user has an animated avatar and guides this proxy player through communication situations.
Although, admittedly, the world of social and business intercourse is changing, in the real world, we engage with people, real people; we speak, we gesture, we read a wide range of verbal and non verbal cues from others and give a wide range of verbal and non verbal cues to others.