What is communication competence?

11 Jan 2022

If you look at a job description you will see a list of required competencies. These competencies are skills and abilities that the employer wants the candidates to have. Not surprisingly, a common item on the list is communication skills, or communication competence.

Despite the term being common on job descriptions, it isn’t a phrase we use every day. And because it isn’t common, you might be wondering what is communication competence?

The basic definition of communication competence

First we should look at the literal definition of the phrase. The phrase has two words, each with a well defined meaning. The first way to define the phrase is to break it down and understand each word.

  • Communication: The act of transferring information and understanding from one place, person or group to another.
  • Competence: The ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

Put them together and you get the following definition.

  • Communication competence: The ability to successfully or efficiently transfer information and understanding from one place, person or group to another.

The Oxford University definition

Secondly, there is a semi-official definition and it comes from the Oxford University. Oxford University defines it in three ways:

  1. The ability to choose a communication strategy that is appropriate and effective in a given situation or context.
  2. The degree to which a communicator’s goals are achieved through effective and appropriate interaction. (a sender-oriented approach)
  3. The ability to communicate effectively with people of different backgrounds and cultures. (a receiver-oriented approach). This includes being responsive to the social and linguistic characteristics of particular audiences.

The unofficial business definition

Finally we come to the most common, but least official definition. Businesses often list communication as a required competency in job descriptions. This has led to a fourth definition of communication competence.

  • Business definition: The level of communication skills a person has.

This is the definition used in job descriptions. And, despite being unofficial, this is the most common definition most of us will come across.

As a side note, asking for communication competency in a job description is a terrible thing to do. There are hundreds of different communication skills and no one is good at them all. Each job needs specific skills. For example, a data analyst needs to be able to describe complex things, but they may not need to be a body language master. So, if you are writing a job description make sure to ask for the skills you actually need.

Communication competence vs communicative competence

If you Google ‘What is communication competence’, you’ll see results for communicative competence. While they sound similar these are actually two different things.

Communicative competence is an academic term related to learning a second language. Because it is academic, there are a lot of research, frameworks, and assessments based on communicative competence. Unfortunately, these frameworks and assessments can’t be used with communication competence.


If you want to answer the question ‘What is communication competence?’ you must first clarify where and why you are using the phrase. As you’ve seen above, there are literal meanings created by combining the definition of each word. There is the semi-official Oxford University definition, and an unofficial business definition.

The most common, and perhaps the most useful definition is the business definition. After all, that’s the one most of us see when applying for a new job,

 Would you like to find answers to more questions about communication competence? If yes, check out the 11 most commonly asked questions about communication competence.