... Excellent Communication Skills ..
…. Excellent Communication Skills …
Hands up who knows what this means?
Nope, me neither!
For those of you who have looked at job adverts recently, you will know that these 3 words appear on almost all job adverts. But what exactly does ‘excellent’ mean and what is the communication type referred to? Communication is not just verbal, and yet, we as job seekers, are meant to instinctively know what ‘excellent communication skills’ means.
These 3 words on job adverts, could, and probably do, put some people off applying for the post. Employers could therefore be missing out on the ideal candidate just because they did not fully explain what type of communication they were referring to and how they would measure for excellence. For those of us with speech disorders, who are hearing impaired, dyslexic, or whose first language is not English, we could very well feel excluded.
So, I decided I wanted to challenge Scottish employers to re-think their job adverts and the wording around communication. Communication is covered under The Equality Act 2010 as a protected characteristic.
Excellent, is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as meaning – “extremely good; outstanding” but how is this measured at an interview? Or how is this measured by employers in general? And what exactly does “extremely good” mean? Surely, this is open to individual interpretation, and potentially unconscious or even conscious bias. Who judges if the candidate has ‘excellent’ verbal communication and how?
THE WORK BEGINS
I began to write to the individual recruiting managers where the job adverts asked for ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ communication skills, in the hope that they could explain what they meant by this. All these managers passed my letter on to their HR departments! In all honesty, this was what I expected. Job adverts are not created anew for each post that is advertised. Job adverts are used time and again with no real update unless an issue is highlighted.
It was then that I decided, as I was doing this campaign on my own, that this may be the best way to make contact for public sector employers – it would certainly be a lot quicker than searching Indeed or S1 Jobs etc to locate the job adverts.
SCOTTISH PUBLIC SECTOR
For the Public Sector employers, I drafted a standard letter around their use of the wording ‘excellent/good communication skills’ and asked them to respond. Many replied to say that they had never actually thought as to the wording and how it wasn’t very inclusive. Some of the Public Sector employers asked for a video call with me to discuss how they could change their job adverts to be less exclusive.
On the video calls, I highlighted how in the past, if a job advert had asked for ‘excellent communication skills’ I didn’t apply as I thought this didn’t describe my communication style and I never even looked at the full job specification where oftentimes the communication type was explained. So, in effect, I was inadvertently being excluded from applying just because of those 3 words which had no full explanation.
On these video calls, I always made it very clear, that I was in no way saying that those who (sometimes) stammer are not good communicators. We are! I was only addressing the wording around communication and that it was not explained.
Some public sector employers are now looking to amend their job adverts and remove any reference to communication where there is no character allowance to include exactly what the communication entails. All reference to communication would then be on the full job specification and it would detail, as much as possible, what the post holder would be required to do – for example, make internal telephone calls, make external telephone calls, use email, present at meetings etc. As for the terms ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ these would only be used if it were absolutely necessary for the post.
SCOTTISH PRIVATE & CHARITABLE SECTORS
The Private & Charitable Sectors were a little more time consuming as I had to spend time searching through internet job sites to locate job adverts where they asked for ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ communication skills. Some of these employers did not provide a contact email address either, so this took extra time trying to locate this on their official website. Some employers I had to leave as there was no email address on their website and I simply didn’t have time to phone them all and explain the campaign – although this would have been great speech practice for me!!!
Again, the responses I was getting from the Private and Charitable Sector was very promising. Many of the employers that I emailed, or spoke to via video call, are also going to re-think their wording on job adverts.
Interviews were another area that I wanted to address.
Many people, not just those with communication difficulties, experience interview stress and anxiety. A simple way to alleviate this would be to give all interviewees a copy of the questions at the beginning of the interview. I know when I go for an interview, I must consciously remember to breathe, remain calm and, also try to listen to what the interviewer is asking me. Many times, I have completely missed the question as I am trying to keep my breathing in check and, there is probably only twice per interview that I can ask for the question to be repeated.
By making it standard practice to give all interviewees a copy of the questions would make the whole interview process inclusive for all. It is optional whether you read or listen to the questions which therefore also means it is not excluding people who are dyslexic or whose first language is not English.
A copy of the interview questions is also a very good idea for when the interviewer is not great at asking questions. I had an interview recently, where the interviewer was very long winded and took absolutely ages to formulate the question! Some questions went all the way around the houses and back again, and I was often asked “do you get what I mean?”, to which I gave a perplexed look followed by “yeah I think so…?” And that was from someone who is ‘fluent’ and who probably thinks of themselves as a ‘good’ communicator!
So, I guess, as most of us already know, being ‘fluent’ does not necessarily make you an ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ communicator!
EXCELLENCE – DOES IT REALLY EXIST?
Employers really need to stop putting so much emphasis on ‘excellent’ communication, especially when that communication type is verbal. Just because you do not stammer does not automatically make you a good or excellent communicator. Communication is so much more than ‘fluent’ speech. Diversity in the workplace is key – we need Equality In Opportunity!
EMPLOYER CONTACT & FEEDBACK
I contacted 75 employers during the course of this campaign (period January to May 2021 approximately) with the split per sector shown as below:
The 3 further pie charts show the contact or feedback from each sector, where YES signifies if a response was received or video call took place. The public and private sectors are quite evenly split in their responses versus no response.
There was one employer – sector and employer name will remain anonymous – who were advertising for an administration post. They stated that this post “does require at the very least good communication skills, and to settle for any less would be difficult for the entire workforce to work around should that candidate be selected into this particular post” – personally I would not want to work for an employer who cannot see that diversity and inclusion is, in my opinion, vital for any business to succeed.
I wanted to have some posters, or visual communication, around this campaign, that could be used by employers, to highlight that communication is not just verbal. However, I am simply not artistic enough for this! I therefore asked for help from one of our young members – Cameron Coupar (Cameron’s older brother – Alasdair – is currently our Young Persons Ambassador) to create these. Cameron, very cleverly roped in help from his older sister Ellen too. The posters will be used on our social media. I am sure you will agree that they have both done an amazing job, especially considering I gave Cameron a very vague brief of what I wanted! The posters can be used by employers to publicise the different types of communication – if you are an employer and would like a copy of the poster, please get in touch with us.
Thank you very much Cameron and Ellen!
I have really enjoyed running this campaign and hope that I have helped to make a small difference to the recruitment process. However, I wish I could have contacted more employers, but I simply had no more free time in which to do this. During the campaign, I was working full time, doing additional shifts as a nursing auxiliary (as I somehow needed to justify getting my Covid jag even though I work full time in NHS Fife) and, also keeping up with my self-employment. Phew, no rest for the wicked and all that!
Overall, I am happy with the outcome from this campaign, and I hope that more employers find out about this and look to amend their job adverts too. Covid has given us all a chance to re-think how we do things and has opened so many doors of change and opportunity.
I have also helped to increase the reach of the Scottish Stammering Network as some employers were unaware of the charity. This can only lead to more help and support for People Who Sometimes Stammer or Hold Back. (I don’t like using the term People Who Stammer because we do not stammer all the time, so what are we when we don’t stammer? Eugh – labels!!!)
Some employers gave me feedback on the campaign, and I have chosen a few to post here and on our social media pages:
“Most organisations are rightly focused on diversity and inclusion at the moment and we all want our people to feel valued and engaged. Key in all of that is making sure people feel they are heard but being heard is so much more of a challenge when you sometimes find talking difficult. That’s why this campaign is so important and that we all make an effort to #HearThePerson“
Andrew Latto, HR Director, Kingdom Housing Association
“Working alongside Cheryl King has given us a greater insight into the role of communication within our jobs, the many forms it can take and has helped shape how we write about communication. We are now a lot more specific and descriptive rather than just having a generic statement like ‘excellent communication skills’. We hope this will make it easier for people to understand what good communication actually means.“
Nick Targontsidis, Business Partner, NHS Education for Scotland
“Until we spoke I hadn’t really considered the issues that people with a stammer would have applying for jobs. It was good to focus my thinking on how the wording – we take for granted – could deter excellent candidates. Something I am now conscious of – thank you“
Edwina Cameron, HR Manager/ OD Partner, NHS Borders
WANT TO HELP?
Keep your eyes open for job adverts that ask for ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ communication skills and contact the employer to ask what they mean by this, and how they will measure for excellence in verbal communication. Even if you are not intending to apply for the post this will help to make employers more aware of how their wording could potentially be excluding the ideal candidate from applying for their post.
Let’s have Equality In Opportunity!