The Basic Skill: Communication


The first question we might ask is : what can you learn that will help you in being an employee? The schools teach a great many things of value to the future accountant, the future doctor, or the future electrician. Do they also teach anything of value to the future employee? The answer is : “Yes – they teach the one thing that it is perhaps most valuable for the future employee to know. But very few students bother to learn it.”

This one basic skill is the ability to organize and express ideas in writing and in speaking.

As an employee you work with and through other people. This means that your success as an employee – and I am talking of much more here than getting promoted – will depend on your ability to communicate with people and to present your own thoughts and ideas to them so they will both understand what you are driving at and be persuaded. The letter, the report of memorandum, the ten-minute spoken “presentation” to a committee are basic tools of the employee.

If you work as a hamburger clerk in a fast food chain you will, of course, not need much skill in expressing yourself to be effective. If you work on a machine your ability to express yourself will be of little importance. But as soon as you move one step up from the bottom, your effectiveness depends on your ability to reach others through the spoken or written word. And the further away your job is from manual work, the larger the organization of which you are an employee, the more important it will be that you know how to convey your thoughts in writing or speaking. In the very large organization, whether it is the government, the large business corporation, or the Army, this ability to express yourself is perhaps the most important of all the skills you can possess.


Of course, skill in expression is not enough by itself. You must have something to say in the first place. The popular picture of the engineer, for instance, is something to works with a calculator, drawing board, and compass. And engineering students reflect their jobs. But the effectiveness of engineers – and with it their usefulness – depends as much on their ability to make other people understand their work as it does on the quality of the work itself.

Expressing one’s thoughts is one skill that the school can really teach, especially to people born without natural writing or speaking talent. Many other skills can be learned later – in this country there are literally thousands of places that offer training to adult people at work. But the foundations for skill in expression have to be laid early : an interest in and an ear for language : experience in organizing ideas and data, in brushing aside the irrelevant, in wedding outward form and inner content into one structure: and above all, the habit of verbal expression. If you do not lay these foundations during your school years, you may never have an opportunity again.


You should take courses in the writing of poetry and the writing of short stories. Most of you won’t become poets or short-story writers – far from it. But these two courses offer the easiest way to obtain some skill in expression. They force you to be economical with language. They force you to organize thought. They demand of you that you give meaning to every word. They train the ear for language, its meaning, its precision, its overtones – and its pitfalls. Above all they force you to write.

I know very well that the typical employer does not understand this and may look with suspicion on a young college graduate who has majored, let us say, in short-story writing. But the same employer will hire college graduates and complain – with good reason – that they do not know how to write a simple report, do not know how to tell a simple story, and are in fact virtually illiterate. And the employer will conclude – rightly – that the young graduates are not really effective, and certainly not employees who are likely to go very far.

This verbatim is taken from one of the many books of Peter F Drucker. As usual he just writes it in a way that any changes to it will impact the correct understanding of the ideas / thoughts.

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