Is communication competency situational?

14 Jan 2022

Do you communicate the same way in a work meeting as you do at a party? Probably not. We change how we communicate depending on where we are, who we are with, and what the situation requires. Despite this, one of the questions people type into Google is ‘Is communication competency situational?’.

Yes, communication competence is situational

The answer is YES, absolutely, communication competency is 100% situational.

Does a priest at a wedding speak in the same way a drill sergeant speaks to new recruits in the army? None of the weddings I’ve been to have included red faced shouting and cries of ‘Drop and give me 20!’

The same is true when it comes to communication in the workplace. Different situations call for different communication skills. For example, body language is often described as an important skill. But does body language help you write a simple email? Not as far as I can tell.

Talking to a colleague about an issue with a task requires one set of communication skills. Alternatively, presenting to the CEO and a room of one hundred people would use different skills. Thee, and hundreds of other examples show why communication competency is situational.

There is no such thing as universal competence

You probably know someone who is a good communicator. No matter what situation they’re in they seem to find the right words, and people listen to them.

Despite their ability, those people are not universally competent. There are situations in which they will not be a great communicator.  That’s because there are so many different communication skills and even more different situations.

It is possible for someone to learn many communication skills. What is less likely is for someone to master them all. People can spend a lifetime learning specific types of communication and not have an ounce of ability in other areas. For example, a master hostage negotiator might be terrible at giving a political speech. Likewise, a brilliant sales person might be unable to deliver bad news to a manager.


If you find yourself struggling to communicate in a new situation, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that communication competence is situational.

For more information about communication competence, check out the 11 most commonly asked questions about communication competence