For the past 15 years, I have been working closely with language through the profession of an announcer. In recent years, the question of how to become proficient at communication is something that I am often asked by students, working professionals, and people whom I interview. Sometimes, I am even asked this question by entertainers who appear on TV with me.
Today I cannot help but notice how often we hear the phrase “communication skills”.
There is nothing difficult about communication; indeed, it is nothing more than the conversations which take place in daily life. Even babies who cannot yet speak are able to communicate with their parents by crying and laughing. Every day, we speak with people without much trouble. Almost no one has performed specialized study regarding how to speak. The act of speaking is similar to eating or walking—we consciously review how we perform that behavior and practice until it becomes second nature, until one day it can be done without thinking.
So, why is communication skills receiving so much focus recently?
The answer to this question can be found in cultural and social changes in communication.
In the first place, Japan has a unique form of implicit communication based on a traditional culture of inferring meaning. This culture is embodied by Japanese expressions such as “don’t make waves,” “silence is virtue,” and “being in harmony with others.” This can be summarized by the Japanese proverb “say one thing and ten things will be understood.” It has been said that Japanese people who have been raised in such a communication environment are poor at speaking out publicly and leading a conversation.
Conversely, the method of communication in Western cultures is based on speaking frankly, asserting one’s self, and stating opposing opinions. This requires a clear conversational exchange which is not found in Japanese culture.
As an example to explain this difference, Japanese people often start conversation by talking about the weather or social conditions.
More specifically, a Japanese person will often start a conversation by making an open-ended statement such as “It’s nice weather today, isn’t it?” The other party is then free to continue the conversation based on personal inference. On the other hand, a person from a Western culture will say something like the following: “The weather was nice this morning, so I went jogging. How about you?” Notice how the Western speaker makes a more specific statement which includes personal information. This is a major cultural difference in communication. I’m sure that many people reading this explanation will realize that they engage in the communication patterns discussed above.
The implicit communication method used by Japanese people results in a series of vague exchanges, thus creating the disadvantage of more time required for conversation. However, it also has the merit of achieving a deeper understanding of the other party. Therefore, it is an extremely important method for building a trusting relationship with the other party. Nevertheless, the advancement of internationalization is making transactions and cooperation with overseas partners an essential part of business at corporation. In addition to the Japanese communication style which requires more time and incurs greater costs, many corporations now require a Western communication style in which matters are conveyed simply, frankly and clearly. Put simply, the internationalization of communication skills is now required.
According to the Report on Elements Prioritized during Hiring which is issued annually by the Japanese Business Federation, communication skills have been the top quality sought by corporations in prospective employees for 12 consecutive years. During the period of job search activities, the statement that “our company is looking for talents with a high level of communication skills” can often be heard at the information sessions of each company. This shows how companies are more interested to hire people who possess superior communication ability, particularly in Western-style communication skills which enables self-expression and assertion. Then, how is it possible for Japanese people to acquire the ability to express themselves directly as in Western countries? The answer is surprisingly straightforward. We simply need to study communication methods again and acquire confidence in our own ability of expression.
Communication is a combination of speaking, listening, and conveying.
① Speaking: Breathing, volume, tone, speed, pauses, intonation, pronunciation, clarity
② Listening: Understanding, questioning, feedback, posture
③ Conveying: Structure, concreteness, empathy, emotions, line of site, expression, vocabulary
In Western-style communication, the elements listed above are clearly expressed. Japanese people also use these elements in daily conversation, but most people have never focused on how they use each element in conversation. I encourage you to review each item. For example, consider the volume of your voice and speed of speaking when having a conversation. Think about your line of sight and posture when talking. Assess whether you have the necessary vocabulary to convey your ideas. By doing so, you will find many positive and negative aspects of how you speak. You can significantly increase your communication ability simply by fixing these negative aspects.
Speaking in short sentences is one technique used by professional announcers which can be easily applied by anyone. Japanese people tend to use a huge amount of adjectives when expressing themselves, leading to long sentences. This may result in a manner of speaking which is difficult to understand or fails to convey the main point.
Think about how people express affection for each other. They simply say “I love you.” This is short and to the point. I recommend using short sentences in your daily conversation. If you notice that a single sentence in your speech is becoming too long, insert a period and stop what you are saying. Surprisingly, what you have said up to that point is enough to effectively convey your ideas. By repeating this technique, you will naturally become capable of speaking in short sentences, and will have moved closer to the Western-style communication of direct expression.