The Importance of Conversations – Jennifer Oaten

When was the last time you struck up a conversation with someone on the bus or train, at the gym, in the supermarket queue or even in your own work staffroom?

In today’s world, we are more globally connected than ever before, thanks to technology. Nevertheless, this era has posed many challenges to our connections with those around us. While texting or online messaging is often the preferred option over in-person conversation, it fails to offer the sense of connection and belonging that humans inherently crave. Consequently, many people now resort to burying their faces in their mobile phones instead of engaging in meaningful conversations, ultimately contributing to the growing sense of isolation and loneliness in our world.

Conversation is the most human characteristic we have. It is where empathy is born, where eye contact enables understanding, and we learn so much about others. Through conversation, we learn about other people and ourselves.

The ability to communicate effectively is crucial in every area of life, from personal to professional domains. Good communication skills, like conversations, enable us to comprehend and make ourselves clear to others and share and receive information.

Why are communication skills so important?

Communication is a crucial skill needed in all aspects of life, including relationships with family, friends, colleagues, partners, academia, and careers. In fact, according to a 2016 LinkedIn survey in the United States, communication topped the list of most sought-after soft skills by employers.

In addition to developing meaningful relationships, communication skills grant us the ability to avoid conflicts and solve problems effectively. Honest and open communication is also essential for building healthy friendships and relationships.

Good communication skills can help us better understand people and situations, guide our decision-making, and even aid in conflict resolution. Whether it is expressing opinions, asking questions or contributing to discussions, or seeking help, successful communication is critical for success at school, in the workplace and in leadership opportunities.

The different styles of communication

Each person communicates differently, and our communication style is influenced by several factors, including family background, personality, and life experiences.

There are primarily three styles of communication: passive, assertive, and aggressive.

  1. Passive communicators tend to avoid conflict and have a difficult time expressing their thoughts and feelings. They may refrain from speaking up, even when they need to, for fear of being criticised or rejected.
  2. Assertive communicators, on the other hand, are confident and direct when expressing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. They respect their own rights, as well as the rights of others, and can manage conflict effectively.
  3. Aggressive communicators, as the name suggests, tend to be forceful and often hostile when communicating. They may use threatening or derogatory language to advance their needs, sometimes at the expense of others.

It is important to recognise the different communication styles to improve our communication skills and build stronger relationships. A healthy communication style should consider the needs of all parties involved, express thoughts clearly and effectively, and manage conflicts constructively.

The importance of communication in young people's mental health

For young people, friendships and relationships are crucial for positive mental health. Good communication skills and a wide circle of friends can help them feel a sense of belonging which contributes to better mental health outcomes.

Unfortunately, with the rise of social media, young people may not be developing the necessary communication skills needed for effective face-to-face conversations. Online communication can be attractive and easy, leading to less practice in interpersonal communication.

Poor communication can lead to issues not only in friendships but also in family and other relationships. It is important to empower young people with communication skills that promote healthy relationships, manage conflicts and foster a sense of belonging.

By teaching effective communication skills early on, young people can develop the ability to communicate in different situations and via different media, face-to-face or online. Communication skills can be improved with practice and can strengthen not only one’s own mental health but the health and wellbeing of those around them.

Our approach to communication development

We recognise the importance of communication in students’ mental health and wellbeing. As part of our Mental Health Strategy, we have identified communication as a key skill that students need to develop to ensure positive wellbeing.

To help our students develop effective communication skills, we are focused on two key goals:

  1. making friends and keeping them, and
  2. negotiating effectively with others.

We have established a scope and sequence of skills for different year groups to ensure that we are providing a comprehensive approach to communication development.

To achieve this, we have taken the following steps:

  • All teaching staff participated in a workshop on communication frameworks presented by our College Psychologists.
  • Our College Psychologists run workshops during our Year Pastoral Care Time (PCT) to help students understand and develop communication skills.
  • Our emPOWER program includes skills sessions before group work to foster effective communication.
  • Learning area tasks incorporate self and peer evaluation of group working.
  • Friendship workshops are provided to students in Years 5, 6, and 7 to further support the development of communication skills.

Through these initiatives, we aim to equip our students with strong communication skills that will benefit them academically, socially, and emotionally.

What can families do?

Here are some practical tips to help improve communication at home:

  • Create tech-free spaces, such as the kitchen, dining room, or car, where devices are not allowed, and conversation is encouraged. This creates an environment where individuals can unplug and focus on connecting with those around them.
  • During meals with family, friends, or colleagues, avoid placing phones on the table between you. Make mealtimes an opportunity to listen and be heard.
  • Get involved with the communication development initiative being rolled out at the College and use the frameworks at home to improve communication with teenagers. Additional information and conversation starters will be provided.

By focusing on communication skills and modelling good behaviour, families can create a supportive and inclusive environment where everyone feels heard, respected, and valued. Good communication skills are essential for building meaningful connections, understanding others, and achieving personal and professional goals, both at home and in the wider world.

I encourage you to initiate a conversation with someone you don’t know. This small act of kindness could brighten their day and contribute to a more connected and accepting world.

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