Why do employers give mixed messages about communication skills?

22 Feb 2021

Most jobs require good communication skills. We know this because they say so in the job descriptions. So why is it that many employers give mixed messages about communication skills?

Job descriptions list communication as a required skill. This is true for the entry-level and manager job descriptions. Despite this, many companies provide limited, if any communication skills training for their staff. And those that do, tend to limit training to current or soon to be senior managers.

This means many employers contradict themselves when it comes to communication skills. So which is it? Do companies want employees at all levels to have good communication skills or just those at the top?

Do employees need good communication skills to become a senior manager? Or do they need to become a senior manager to get access to training to become a good communicator?

This feels like a bit of a chicken or egg situation — which comes first, the skills or the training?

Most job descriptions list communication as a required skill

Communication skills are the most common skill listed in job descriptions. Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, made this claim multiple times in the news. It is often repeated in business and manager skill articles.

Even jobs for students leaving university list communication as a required skill. 7 out of 12 graduate programs require communication and collaboration skills. (Results taken from a review of 2020 graduate positions offered at AWE, Informed Solutions, Capitol One, Thales Group, Astrazenica, University of Ulster, Kering, YouView, NetPay, Amazon and Solirius).

It is clear that good communication is important to employers. Not only that, but the skills are important in all jobs, in all industries. There is no limitation on who must be a good communicator.

Given the importance of communication skills, why is training limited to senior managers?

Many companies only train leaders to be better communicators

Despite communication skills being important for all jobs at all levels, very little training is available to anyone not already at a senior level.

Communication skills are most often taught in leadership and management courses. Sometimes there is a module dedicated to communications. But, more often the communication training comes as part of another topic. Topics like managing conflict, motivating a team, performance reviews, how to delegate etc.

I’ve experienced four management/executive development programs in two companies. Each of these courses includes some element of communications skills training. One instructor told our class that we were lucky. We were lucky because only a few people get to attend that particular type of training. That comment that made it clear to me that communication training is a limited resource. A resource available only to the higher levels in a company.

The communication contradiction

The instructor’s comments show a contradiction. Most jobs, including entry and mid-level jobs, need communication skills. But, companies will only train current or aspiring leaders to be good communicators.

These two situations create a challenge for many employees. How can an employee get the skills they need to reach higher levels if the training is only available to people already at a higher level?

If you are an employer, think about what you need and how you train people. Do the two things have a common goal? Are you giving mixed messages about communication skills to your employees?