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What is it?

What is Communication Competency?

Communication competency is the ability to convey ideas clearly and effectively in verbal, non-verbal, and visual manners.
Chan, CKY (2021)

McCroskey (1982) believed that “there is a long tradition of concern with making people more competent communicators” (p.1).  Communication is a basic skill for all and developing the necessary skills and abilities for communication is essential not only in the old times, but also in the contemporary society. Communication competency thus becomes a key competency, and according to Larson et al. (1978), communication competency is understood as "the ability of an individual to demonstrate knowledge of the appropriate communicative behavior in a given situation." (p.16).

A range of competencies are defined under the umbrella term of communication competency. According to Rafiei et al. (2019), communication competency includes the ability to use communicational skills, quick learning skills, spoken and written communicational skills, the ability to use new technology, decision-making ability and problem solving, interaction skills, team building skills and acquaintance with different languages. Chan and Fong (2018) wrote on communication competency to include self-expression, writing skills, and the ability to work with and listen to others. While communication competency may be defined differently in different studies, one may recognise that these abilities and skills complement each other to mediate communication, to share meaning. Communication competency includes an indefinite range of skills and abilities that allows one to communicate over various channels and methods and in diverse situations. Broader definitions of communication competency may include abilities and skills related to technological communication and global communication, such as communication ability over technological platforms or in different languages.


Examples of Communication Competency

Effective Communicator

Are You an Effective Communicator?

An effective communicator can:

  • Articulate ideas using verbal means;

  • Convey ideas clearly in writing;

  • Listen attentively;

  • Communicate with others effectively using visual aids; and

  • Express your thoughts and attitude accurately via non-verbal means (e.g. eye contact, facial expressions, body position and hand movements.

Effective communicator_F.png

Are You an Effective Communicator?

Why is Communication Competency Important?

Chan et al. (2017) found students’ self-perception of their skills to ‘Express and receive ideas clearly’ and ‘Write Concisely’ were lower than what they deemed necessary. While we find it important to be able to communicate with others, not all are communicating effectively or appropriately. As Tobin and Watters (2020) pointed out, communication is critical to the outcome of all human interactions. This highlights the importance of communication competency, and in particular, some communication skills or abilities may be comparatively underdeveloped. Take the example of daily conversations – one may be good at public speaking, to express opinions in front of a crowd, but bad at listening to others actively. One may be good at communicating with others through text or emails, but bad at conversing about feelings. Referring to the above understandings, these are some characteristics of an individual with good communication competency:


Characteristics of Good Communication Competency

Communication competency is essential for everyone. It allows one to express oneself, to function effectively with others, and enables one to work successfully in a professional environment. Acknowledging that communication competency should be achieved for all, it is thus important for communication competency to be transferred from classrooms to professional environments. However, can instances of communication competency be captured? How do educational institutions facilitate communication competency in classroom practices or curriculum? How can one evaluate the communication competency of another individual, or can communication competency be assessed? More importantly, what can students do to develop communication competency that is applicable for their future career?

Why is It Important?

How is Communication Competency Developed?

Littlejohn and Jabusch (1982) believed that theory and practice by themselves are essentially useless in developing competence, and in determining that there is interplay between practice and theory, they suggested a model for the development of communication competency. Four components were suggested:

  • process understanding,

  • interpersonal sensitivity,

  • communication skills and

  • ethical responsibility.


The Development of Communication Competence,

Littlejohn and Jabusch (1982)

Process understanding promotes a reflective attitude. One should be willing to think about one’s behaviour as a communicator, to evaluate the progress of one’s own relationships. Conscious choices should be made in relationships, and apart from adjusting to conditions, personal and group needs should both be considered.

Interpersonal sensitivity promotes attentiveness to others and to environmental cues. There may be various communicative signs from specific contexts, and one should understand not only the signs, but also the meanings and feelings behind the signs.

Communication skills may be separated into initiating skills and consuming skills. In initiating skills, one starts the communication process, for example giving feedback in a conversation, public speaking, and creating graphics. On the other hand, listening skills, reading skills and critical evaluation skills are part of consuming skills.

Ethical responsibility is the value dimension, outlining how one should be caring and open. Concerning for others and honesty are necessary, in which not only an individual, but all audience should benefit from the communication. Communication competency is therefore not only an individual’s ability, but involving a range of abilities, skills and values for involvement in a range of communication activities.  

There are various factors that affect facilitation of communication competency in an educational context. For example, students may be overly conscious of their grades and performances, or fear to communicate with others because they are introverts, not confident in expressing themselves, or face language barriers. A study by Palpanadan et al. (2019) investigated English communication competency among Malaysian undergraduate students from technology departments. Findings revealed four factors influencing students’ English competency: mother tongue interference, lack of confidence, lack of practice and home environment. Suggestions in this study provided interesting thoughts to tackle challenges in facilitating English communication competency, such as encouraging enhancement trainings to boost students’ communication competency, to create an environment at home and at educational institutions where students may find ample opportunities to practice communication skills, and embedding communication competency in the curriculum and policy.  These suggestions raised interesting insights for facilitation of communication competency.


Developing Communication Competency

How is It Developed?

How Should I Assess Communication Competency?

Numerous classroom activities and teaching methods may be applied to facilitate communication competency, including team presentations in class, personal reflections and portfolios. Despite the attempts, there are questions as to how effective these activities and methods are, and how to evaluate the effectiveness or otherwise.

Case Studies

Case Using Self- and Peer Assessment

Nikolic et al. (2018) investigated two formative assessments to improve communication competency for engineering students at a university in Australia, in which the assessments did not count towards students’ final grade. Students found benefits in self- and peer assessment processes, yet this did not translate into significantly improved oral skills. One of the reasons the authors suggested was that because the formative tasks were not counted towards the final grades of the subject, students who could have improved the most did not engage with the activity. Nevertheless, this study provided an example for assessments that do not focus on grades and had little impact on the workload of teaching staff.


Examples of Assessment Approaches for Communication Competency

Case Using Instruments

A number of instruments have been developed to assess communication competency. For example, Schirmer et al. (2005) appraised fifteen instruments designed for assessing communication competency in medical educational settings. Some examples of the assessment instruments are in the table:

Results indicated that existing assessment instruments vary considerably regarding content, properties, and usability. Assessment instruments for communication competency in medical education were found to be mostly checklists rather than rating scales. However, the study noted that checklists provide clearer behavioral definitions for assessors, whereas experts would do as well or better with rating scales that use criteria to assess students. Findings from this study may be applicable for other contexts in education and research.


Examples of Assessment Instruments

Case Using Assessment Rubrics

On the other hand, there are other assessment rubrics related to communication competency that may be considered. Bowen (2017) suggested a rubric to assess visual literacy competency, whereas Hung et al. (2013) designed a rubric for multimodal literacy. These rubrics may be adapted to align with learning outcomes of programmes and assess communication competency in different contexts.


Examples of Assessment Rubrics

How evaluation methods fit the educational goals in a course or programme would be an important consideration for any discipline, and different instruments or methods will be needed to assess students in different programmes and at different levels of training.


Concerns in adapting communication

competency assessment instruments

How Should I Assess It?

Ending Remarks

There are a lot of challenges regarding the facilitation of communication competency, including questions about what should be included in curricula and how to assess it. However, including communication competency in a programme is essential, as it would have lifelong benefits for an individual. For knowing more examples about developing communication competency or the challenges regarding the development of communication competency, you may wish to visit the further readings suggested below.

Ending Remarks

Further Readings

  • Holt, J., Coates, C., Cotterill, D., Eastburn, S., Laxton, J., Mistry, H., & Young, C. (2010). Identifying common competences in health and social care: An example of multi-institutional and inter-professional working. Nurse Education Today, 30(3), 264-270.

  • National Communication Association (n.d.). What is Communication?

  • University of Minnesota (n.d.). Communication in the Real World - 1.4 Communication Competence.

  • Yüksel, S., & Taneri, A. (2020). Communication Competency in Foreign Languages and Digital Competency in Life Sciences Course Book. Journal of Curriculum and Teaching, 9(3), 190-196.

Further Readings


Bowen, T. (2017). Assessing visual literacy: a case study of developing a rubric for identifying and applying criteria to undergraduate student learning. Teaching in Higher Education22(6), 705-719.

Chan, C. K. Y.  & Fong, E. T. Y. (2018). Disciplinary differences and implications for the development of generic skills: a study of engineering and business students’ perceptions of generic skills. European Journal of Engineering Education, 43(6), pp.927-949, DOI: 10.1080/03043797.2018.1462766.

Chan, C. K. Y., Zhao, Y., & Luk, L. Y. (2017). A validated and reliable instrument investigating engineering students’ perceptions of competency in generic skills. Journal of Engineering Education106(2), 299-325.

Hung, H. T., Chiu, Y. C. J., & Yeh, H. C. (2013). Multimodal assessment of and for learning: A theory‐driven design rubric. British Journal of Educational Technology44(3), 400-409.

Littlejohn, S. W., & Jabusch D. M. (1982). Communication competence: Model and application. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 10(1), pp.29-37. DOI: 10.1080/00909888209365210.

Larson, C. E., Backlund, P. M., Redmond, M. K., & Barbour, A. (1978). Assessing communicative competence. Falls Church, VA: Speech Communication Association and ERIC.

McCroskey, J. C. (1982). Communication competence and performance: A research and pedagogical perspective. Communication education31(1), 1-7.

National Communication Association (n.d.). What is Communication?

Nikolic, S., Stirling, D., & Ros, M. (2018). Formative assessment to develop oral communication competency using YouTube: self- and peer assessment in engineering. European Journal of Engineering Education, 43(4), pp. 538-551. DOI:10.1080/03043797.2017.1298569.

Rafiei, N., Yarmohammadian, M. H., & Keshtiaray, N. (2019). Defective cycle of entrepreneurship education in humanities in higher education. Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, 22(2), 1-16.

Schirmer, J. M., Mauksch, L., Lang, F., Marvel, M. K., Zoppi, K., Epstein, R. M., ... & Pryzbylski, M. (2005). Assessing communication competence: a review of current tools. Fam Med, 37(3), 184-92.

Tobin, S. A., & Watters, D. A. (2020). Communication : an enabling competency. Anz Journal Of Surgery, 90(3), 364-369.

Palpanadan, S. T., Ahmad, I., & Ravana, V. K. (2019). Factor Analysis of English Communication Competency Among Malaysian Technology Undergraduates. International Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology, 10(3), pp. 808–817.

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