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What does it mean to have excellent communication skills?

Adithya Rayaprolu
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 19, 2001
Posts: 137
If I fail in an interview just because I do not have communication skills, how should I improve? On what basis they will decide I do not have communication skills even if I answered all the technical questions? How can I improve communication skills?
Thanks a lot.
Kyle Brown
Ranch Hand

Joined: Aug 10, 2001
Posts: 3892
"Excellent Verbal Communication Skills" usually means that the interviewer understood your answers to his questions without having to ask you to repeat your answers, rephrase them, or without having to strain to understand the way you speak.
A hallmark of "Excellent Written Communication Skills" is that you have a track record of being published in different forums. For instance, having an article published in the Java Developer's Journal would be a good indicator of such skills.
As for how to improve your communication skills --Practice. That's the single most important thing to do. There are other things you can do as well -- Take a course on technical writing. Join Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills. If English is not your first language, work with a tutor to improve your verbal communication skills.

Kyle Brown, Author of Persistence in the Enterprise and Enterprise Java Programming with IBM Websphere, 2nd Edition
See my homepage at for other WebSphere information.
Rufus BugleWeed
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 22, 2002
Posts: 1551
Sometimes my cynical nature leads me to believe
excellant communication skills means that you
should be a good politician.
I used to work with a guy from Bangladesh. He
was a green card holder in the US. In
his reviews they would cite him for poor
communication skills. He spoke better English
than most native American speakers. He
could have improved his personal appearance. But
his work ethic was outstanding. I felt he gave
the company great value for their money.
I knew another guy who had many years of
experience. He felt there was only two answers
a person could ever give management. 1) Yes Dear,
only don't phrase it quite that way. 2) I'll
fix it. How much communications ability does that
The companies, management, seldom seem to conduct
effective or efficient meetings. They want one
thing and do another...
[ October 27, 2002: Message edited by: Rufus BugleWeed ]
shay Aluko
Ranch Hand

Joined: Nov 01, 2002
Posts: 167
I hate to break it to you --but excellent communication skills may usually mean "sorry your name sounds funny/i cannot relate to you". I have experienced this personally a lot of times. Despite the advances that have been made in the US, there is still a lot of funny bigoted attitudes out there. I challenge anyone to dispute this. You have to hang in there, somehow you will find a hiring manager willing to look beyond the superficial and hire you because you can really do the job.
Michael Morett

Joined: Sep 06, 2001
Posts: 28
>>You have to hang in there, somehow you will
>>find a hiring manager willing to look beyond
>>the superficial and hire you because you can
>>really do the job.
"can really do the job" means more than programming. Don't downplay or minimize the impact on communication skills. Assume for the moment that the hiring manager or team lead isn't racist, he may have a legitimate concern.
I have worked with people, whom I liked as a person, but found difficult to work with because they were so difficult to understand. Either it was their accent, their choice of words used or mannerisms (ie. interrupting people in midsentence.)
I have even developed on a few occasions "listening fatigue" where I just became worn out and tired of trying to concentrate really hard to truly understand what he/she was trying to communicate (usually verbal as opposed to written). It became preferable not to deal with these communication issues.
It aint worth it. There are too many coders out there that can communicate effectively.
Forget "coding" for the moment. Software development is more than coding. I'm not gonna preach. You know the routine. It means dealing with a multitude of people in various levels in the project/company/client company. It means LOTS of communication.
Give the hiring manager/team lead a break. He's got a legitimate concern.
Jon McDonald
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 02, 2001
Posts: 167
Just thought I would chime in here:
When I was interviewing with a bunch of staffing firms, I inquired about the "exellent communication skills" prerequisite. On more than one occasion I got the response "we just want people who can speak English". By that, I assume that they meant speaking with a proficency close to or at the level of native speaker.
In one interview, while I was waiting, the guy was interviewing this industrial or electrical (I don't remember which) engineer from Singapore. From what I understood, this canidate had at least a master's degree in his field of engineering and something like 10 or 15 years of experience. However, his English was so bad I was suprised he was able to complete the interview. The man had a basic proficency in English (about the same level of proficency as I have in French) but was unable to communicate in a manner that I would consider sufficient to work in a technical capacity, as part of a team in the U.S.. This does not make him any less skilled, it merely lowers the ability of the company he is working for to maximize those skills.
I am able to communicate on a basic functional level in French. I can buy food, get day to day tasks done, and have some discussion with people on certain topics. However, there is no way you could drop me in a technical team in France and expect me to be able to take or receive instruction sufficiently, unless the team members were speaking English. No matter how skilled I am, unless I was working solo (and even then I would need help translating the requirements docs) I believe I would be a greater detriment to the team than If they hired someone a little less skilled but who could communicate with the team better.
Just some thoughts,

"I study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy in order to give their children a right to study painting poetry and music."<br />--John Adams
Michael Morett

Joined: Sep 06, 2001
Posts: 28
Very well put Jon. I like the analysis and examples.
Hopefully this will clear up any confusion or misguided assumptions that the hiring manager is racist. It's too easy to place the blame on the hiring manager. Too easy to use the race card.
There are times that I sometimes have trouble understanding fairly complex subjects (ie. struts)--even when delivered by someone with *excellent* communication skills. Imagine knowing that your primary resource on the team for struts has terrible communication skills. It's not a pretty thought.
Thomas Whalen
Ranch Hand

Joined: Aug 26, 2001
Posts: 123
This thread has really enlightened me to what employers are seeking when they interview clients. This brings up a question for me, however, along the lines of "communicating effectively".
Through years of being hard of hearing, and not really having the opportunity to participate in a lot of discussions, thus not developing my speaking skills, I have a speech impediment.
I won't say that it is a "horrible" speech impediment. In fact I think the impediment goes as far as the occasional tying together of words or the inappropriate use of emphasis of certain syllables. To compound matters, I am a southerner living in the New England area!
Definitely my speaking is getting better, and it does seem that a lot of my "good days" in communicating on a daily basis has a lot to do with confidence in myself: the wearing hearing aides, the not paying attention to the fact that I wear hearing aides (in the ear canal kind, hardly noticeable), the maintaining of good posture. Sure, since I have developed a keen awareness of one's emotions and tones of voice and eye movements -- comes from years of habitually reading lips -- I catch people looking to see if I wear hearing aides (probably an association with my speaking ability to the fact that "something is wrong").
Overall, I have made improvements in leaps and bounds, and seem to forget about my communication barriers when the topic of conversation warrants my participation and I know the topic. Still, I wonder what employers must think of this. There is no point in asking THEM what they think about it, because in the back of their minds might be the fear of a lawsuit if I was turned down for a job and they had talked about my handicap. And family? They tend to speak in support of you, rather than give you the cold, hard truth. That's fine, at least in moments of frustration like this they are there to console me. I cherish and appreciate it!
I would say that this continuation of the thread, on my part, is geared toward the genteman who made it clear that communication is key in the workplace. He seemed to be the most straightforward about this issue. Hopefully he will respond to this, and I'll remember to check this thread.

if you don't know, then ask. if you do know, then share. love is knowledge.
Michael Morett

Joined: Sep 06, 2001
Posts: 28
Hi Thomas,
I don't know if you were referring to me in anticipation of a response, but I thought I'd slip in my opinion on your situation.
Your situation is a bit different. You have a medical condition which you have no control over.
(pauses a long time on this one)
I'm hard pressed here. The compassionate side of me suggests we acknowledge the situation for what it is and try to make it work. It's the right thing to do.
Those on former debating teams in college or just in the mood to pick a fight will see that I am easily contradicting myself. "How is he different from others", some might ask.
I guess at the heart of your question is the notion of "reasons" for difficulties in communications--are there some reasons which are deemed acceptable when a person's communication skills are less than a hiring manager or team lead desires.
For me, personally, I'd cut you considerable slack. In my mind, your situation is medical and through no "fault" of your own. "Fault" is a loaded term and I use it cautiously. I see your situation as different than a person who's native language is not english, or is english and they just never learned it well.
Short of playing social worker and digging deep into the candidate's childhood for explanations as to why they never achieved a firm grasp of the language, I'm not sure what to do.
If the reason is related to immigration or foreign nationals, again...what do I do? Jon used the analogy of joining a French team and I think it's a beautiful description of the problem.
What makes the issue of communications so important is that application development is so damned difficult. Go read the javadocs for struts. It's written in perfect english and heavy/audible accents are not an issue. And it's STILL a pain to figure this stuff out. Ditto with EJBs.
I believe the desire to hire someone with excellent communication skills is to have one less layer of "noise" to sift through. One less battle to fight. One less issue to deal with during the duration of the project when so many other things inevitably cause problems.
From personal experiences, I've encountered communication issues with all sorts of people, form (nearly?) all races. For every one person I can think of who is of a particular race which had a communication issue, I can point to another from the same race or nationality who did not--(usually born in the states, however).
The Scots are particulary difficult to understand (for me). And I lived in London for two years! Heaven help the American bosses who hire a native Scot. :-)
This is a problem that is not easily overcome. My New York accent is still with me after leaving the city 11 years ago.
Do not underestimate the negative impact of being perceived as difficult to understand. I can remember too many times not initiating a business/technical conversation due to this very issue. Sometimes it is so hard to understand someone that you feel like an idiot saying "what did you say"..."can you repeat that"..."what was that?" I just dont do it unless I have to.
As I watch the elections on TV, it brought a point to mind. Can you think of a news anchor that has a strong accent? In terms of race or nationality, there are a mix of news anchors out there, though there is a heavy majority of white males. Still, it drills the point home. If I can understand you easily, you will be more successful than if I have a hard time.
When I see some of the posts on this board, it is *clear* (typos aside) that some people cannot communicate effectively. I don't care what their tech skills are. If I were hiring, I know I have a potential problem. The ace in your sleeve is that your impediment is limited to speech. and hearing. Ok. Work with me. We have an uphill battle. But you can make up for it in written form. Use emails or documents to your advantage. Make them ask "who wrote this?....damn this is good".

Good luck!
Tim Holloway
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Jun 25, 2001
Posts: 17410

A lot of job postings are created with the aid of canned software and "Excellent Communication Skills" (or often "Excellent written and oral communication skills") is just something that gets boilerplated in.
In practical programming terms, what I interpret it to mean is that the candidate should be able to create and work with documents that clearly indicate what the task is and how is it to be/is being handled and to be able to speak comprehensibly about the task(s), its goals and its progress.
Around here, a FOREIGN accent is probably a plus - if it's European, you have a mystique, and if it's Indo/Asian, they assume you work cheap. The one case where an accent is Not Good is Black American - that will get you pegged as being too unintelligent to learn to speak "properly" or being too defiant to do so. Being overly regional isn't a good idea either - even within that region - the more pronounced an accent is, the more unpolished the speaker is percieved as being.
Of course, if someone's explicitly being rejected because of "communications skills", that's a different matter. However, while you may get faulted for presentation skills and have it called as communication skills, you really don't get enough of a chance to "communicate" in the context of a job interview. Although I try to illustrate the point by bringing along some of the stuff I've published (as if it helps).

An IDE is no substitute for an Intelligent Developer.
Seyi Aluko

Joined: Aug 15, 2002
Posts: 2
If I may reply one of the previous posters, no one is playing a "race-card" this is the situation as it is. You cannot begin to appreciate what barriers you face in getting a job unless you are an immigrant yourself and your name is not readily familiar.Face the facts, peaple tend to identify with applicants they can relate to. That'sthe truth whether you like it or not. This is not to say that there are no unbiased hiring managers out there but frequently "excellent communication skills" is usually a polite way of rejecting applicants on the basis of their accent etc. This view may not be popular but that has been my experience.
Fred Grott
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 05, 2002
Posts: 346
Originally posted by Adithya Rayaprolu:
If I fail in an interview just because I do not have communication skills, how should I improve? On what basis they will decide I do not have communication skills even if I answered all the technical questions? How can I improve communication skills?
Thanks a lot.

OKay let me give you the real meaning, remember you are usually interviewed by non tech people..
To Communicate is to explain who your akills can complete the project or job on the level your mom canunderstand without leaving out details that need to make a hiring decision..

MobileBytes blog - Sharing Technology - My Programming Knols
Jason Menard

Joined: Nov 09, 2000
Posts: 6450
Originally posted by Seyi Aluko:
You cannot begin to appreciate what barriers you face in getting a job unless you are an immigrant yourself and your name is not readily familiar. ... but frequently "excellent communication skills" is usually a polite way of rejecting applicants on the basis of their accent etc. This view may not be popular but that has been my experience.

May I ask how you are certain that when you are rejected for a job it is because of your race?
Ray James

Joined: Feb 14, 2002
Posts: 15
If I fail in an interview just because I do not have communication skills, how should I improve?

If the employees of a company work in teams then naturally it facilitates things if they can all speak/understand/write to each other at a level that is required to do their job. If you're a heads down programmer, then much less is required. However, if you're a team leader then you need a much higher degree of fluency than the programmer does. There are many levels to learning a language, and it is not easy. I've been in brazil for the past few years and I'm just now getting to the point where I feel I'm working at a good professional level in portuguese.
There are other possibilities: the interview was in some way biased or for some other reason just didn't like you - but if that's the case there's nothing you can do about it except go on to the next interview.
Michael Morett

Joined: Sep 06, 2001
Posts: 28
Originally posted by Seyi Aluko:
...but frequently "excellent communication skills" is usually a polite way of rejecting applicants on the basis of their accent etc. This view may not be popular but that has been my experience.

Tech skills are not the sole criteria to measure in a candidate. I would argue they are not as important as other criteria. You can teach skills in a few months. You can't teach character and integrity.
You seem to imply accent is not a valid basis to reject a candidate. I don't know US law on this subject, but I dont think it protects people who cannot communicate well, for whatever the reason. Accent may be one reason. Intelligence may be another. Choosing to use slang in business contexts may be another.
Mark Herschberg

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
We all seem to be very bitter about this topic. Ok, granted, I see a lot fo BS, too and sympathize with it, but not all "excellent communication skills" are BS.
Here's is something we teach students in a program I help teach at MIT:
You are an engineer whose team is under consideration for being downsourced. You have to make a 3 minute speech to a group of managers as to why your group shouldn't be outsourced. Here's the catch: the gorup of manager you will be presenting to will all be of one type: geeks, visionaries, touch-feelies, bean-counters. These groups roughly correspond to engineers, execs, HR, and accounting, respectively. The idea of the exercise is to get the students to understand that the pitch must be presented differently, from choice of arguments, to particular language, for each group.
While the example is contrived, the point is real. I've met countless "geeks" who were great engineers, but couldn't explain themselves to non-engineers. Those people are more limited, because they can't take positions which regularly interact iwth customers, exec, sales, etc. (We got a lot of good feedback as to how practical this exercise turned out to be.)
I agree. Here's the link:
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