Written by S.M. Audsley

“Good communication can be as stimulating as coffee, and just as hard to sleep after,” said Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American author and aviator. As human beings, we crave connection, socialization, and communication; even the most introverted person needs to be in dialogue in some way with others. Today, Koko the gorilla, who started learning sign language at one year old, shows us what is possible when we consider communication as one of the most vital fields of study. We communicate every day. Whether it’s verbal, non-verbal, via text, social media, email, or otherwise, communication is key to our functioning society. Needless to say, studying communication can be a rewarding and fascinating area of study. 

Francine Patterson, Koko the gorilla’s lead caretaker, describes communicating with Koko, in an interview in The Atlantic: “She would perch on this high spot where she could watch people come and go and she would sign ‘food’ to them. It might mean ‘Give me the treat you’ve got,’ or it might mean ‘I want my toothbrush,’ or even just, ‘Engage with me.’ She understood that signs had power. That particular sign got her food, so she wondered, ‘What else can I do with it?’” What a wonder! Imagine communicating with an animal in this very human way? Communication is such an important part of our day-to-day lives that there are many degree options available in communication, at both undergraduate and graduate level. Let's explore this fascinating field of study...

1. What is communication?

You might not be communicating with Koko the gorilla, in your office or workplace environment -- but sometimes you might think the person sitting next to you in the staff meeting is speaking an entirely different language! How then do we bridge the gaps and create understanding between different people and diverging opinions? 

The study of communication allows you to discover the interdisciplinary factors of this field of research and also to find out how communication between people has changed over time. Communication programs are often comprised of humanities, liberal arts, social sciences, and media practice. Most who major in communications are also interested in languages, politics, and other cultures. The virtual world, social media, and mass media are changing at such a rapid rate it might seem like it is impossible to keep up. However, a student of communication stays current on all the changing trends in media and also analyzes them in research projects. 

The University of Twente in the Netherlands explains, “[C]ompanies are always fighting for the favour of consumers, with branding, positioning, and advertising among the tools of the trade. Design has become one of the most powerful cards in this game. [...] Communication professionals need to be able to understand consumers.” How do we understand the motivations of others? Dr. Lee McGaan, professor of communication, says one of the six reasons to study communication is that, “Studying communication can improve how we see others as communication is the way we meet others, develop and manage relationships and work effectively with others.” He adds, “Studying communication develops important life skills, critical thinking, problem solving, conflict resolution, team building, [and] public speaking.”

2. Communication is vital for nearly any workplace

Texts, phone calls, Facebook posts, emails, messaging, staff meetings, interviews -- the list could go on and how about how deeply integrated communication is in our everyday lives. What most people often take for granted is how important communication skills are -- “soft skills” are generally overlooked, but they are essential to performing well in all types of environments. 

“I realized that the ability to communicate and get along with people, and understand what’s on other people’s minds, and do full-strength critical thinking – all of these things were valued and appreciated by everyone as important job skills,” said George Anders, author of You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education. His research supports the argument for investing in yourself -- learning soft skills and critical thinking and analysis -- you can’t go wrong because it’s an essential component and valued skill set for almost all fields.

Amanda Ruggeri, writing for the BBC.com, reports that, “LinkedIn’s research on the most sought-after job skills by employers for 2019 found the three most-wanted “soft skills” were creativity, persuasion, and collaboration, while one of the five top “hard skills” was people management. A full 56% of UK employers surveyed said their staff lacked essential teamwork skills and 46% thought it was a problem that their employees struggled with handling feelings, whether theirs or others’. It’s not just UK employers: one 2017 study found that the fastest-growing jobs in the US in the last 30 years have almost all specifically required a high level of social skills.” 

A degree in communication will give you an edge in the competitive job market. A recent report from CommunicationStudies explained, “One of the biggest issues in the last five years is employees e-mailing instead of going to talk with, or at the very least picking up the phone to call, the person they need to communicate with,” says Patti Wood, professional speaker and trainer. “People don’t know how to make a request face to face and they avoid difficult or emotional conversations.”

What’s the solution? Learn how to communicate. M. T. Wroblewski writes for Small Business Chron, “[C]ommunication informs and persuades, motivates and encourages, and even comforts and consoles. Being open and honest with your employees is the first step toward developing a culture of trust. And they should pay you back tenfold with dedication and loyalty. If you want to cultivate a close-knit business environment, communication is the key.”

Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire business magnate who founded and owns Virgin Group, which controls more than 400 companies in various fields, counts the ability to communicate as "the most important skill any entrepreneur can possess". He says, "Communication makes the world go round. It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow and progress. It’s not just about speaking or reading, but understanding what is being said—and in some cases what is not being said.” So important does he find communication that Virgin Airlines has a "digital detox" strategy, where the servers are switched off completely at some of its American offices from 10am to noon on Wednesdays, meaning staff are left without email access, as the multinational wants staff to send fewer emails and engage in more face-to-face meetings. 

3. Communication is an increasingly important field of study

Due to our increasingly globalized, connected world, communication is growing in importance and relevance by the day. Not only will you stand out in a crowded applicant pool, you will also have the skills to advance in your career and to become a valued asset on your team. 

“Small businesses no longer sell just to customers in their communities. Globalization connects businesses and customers across the world. Companies open satellite offices to decrease production costs, forge relationships in new territories and access new consumer markets. The importance of communication in globalization is paramount because individuals from different countries, ethnicities, languages, cultural attitudes and other variations must understand one another and express themselves to another effectively in order to work together,” writes Morgan Rush for Bizfluent.com. As an expert in communication, you’ll be able to “read the room” and facilitate positive exchanges between people from varied backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. As an increasingly important field of study, you’ll find yourself well-equipped to transition from student to successful employee at almost all companies and organizations.

4. There are many exciting (and growing) career opportunities

After completing your degree, you can find satisfying and challenging work in many fields; some communication majors end up pursuing careers in media or journalism -- but you need not feel limited to only these options at all. A degree in communication can provide you with foundational knowledge that can lead to exciting (and growing) career opportunities. 

According to reports from the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of jobs requiring a communication degree, or where such a degree is useful, is only going up. “The number of jobs for public relations specialists and managers is expected to grow by 24 percent through 2018, considerably faster than the average growth rate for all jobs,” reports CommunicationMajor. The field is expected to increase and also coincide with increases in positions in advertising, marketing, promotions, and sales managers.

Nicole Schuman, writing for PRNewsOnline.com, stresses that you should pay attention to how you express yourself. She writes, “[C]ompanies are interested in your communication skills. What will set you apart, though, is your willingness to showcase excitement for the work.” Some examples of the best jobs for communication majors are public relations specialists, meeting or event planners, college alumni and development officers, media and social media managers, and human resources managers. It’s important to remember that communication is key in all aspects of a healthy working organization or company. All employers want to have teams that can work cohesively together to solve problems and collaborate effectively. As a trained communication specialist, with a degree in hand, you are positioned to excel and find a place at almost all organizations. 

Okay, so maybe, at the end of the day, you don’t need to learn sign language to communicate with Koko the gorilla. But you will certainly build strong relationships and social bonds and build trust among your co-workers and peers if you have excellent communication skills. All of this can be learned through a degree in communication, which will set you up for success in a competitive job market that values highly qualified applicants. To communicate or not to communicate? That is the question of the day!

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