Case in Point: Interview with an Employer: Jon Lurie started his career almost 15 years ago as a sole proprietor of a computer trouble shooting expert who repaired computer connections for private clients by appointment in New York City. He eventually transitioned to installing the first cable modem configurations when they became available, and as more advanced computer technology filtered down to private users, he offered more and more services, such as installing home office routers and wireless interfaces. His business grew, largely by word of mouth from satisfied customers.
While he acknowledges that his technical skills were indispensable, he attributes his rapport with customers to the fact that he often conversed with them throughout much of his assignments, sometimes discussing things that had nothing to do with the work he performed for them. He says that he first became aware of the value of his ability to carry an intelligent conversation with customers when he noticed that customers with whom he had the opportunity to talk almost always tipped him very generously on conclusion of the assignment compared to customers with whom he did not have the opportunity to talk. Mr. Lurie no longer does field work, but now employs approximately 100 independent contractor field technicians who report to him directly. As an employer, he realizes even more the obvious value of interpersonal communication skills. According to him, he regularly receives better customer evaluations for work performed by his most fluent and personable technicians than for work performed by his less fluent and less personable field technicians.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of those evaluations is that, "Actually, I get more positive evaluations for work that required another appointment to correct a mistake done by my technicians who speak well than I do for work that is completed perfectly in one appointment by my guys who don't communicate quite as well."
Lurie acknowledges that communication skills cannot replace poor technical skills, but given the choice between two equally qualified applicants, he always prefers to use technicians who speak English fluently, because it seems to make a difference in terms of customer satisfaction. That illustrates the importance of communication skills and demonstrates the value of generating a positive rapport with others, as detailed by Carnegie (1997) in principles he first explained more than 70 years ago. Mr. Lurie added, "By far, the worst response I get from customers is where the original work is performed by one of my guys who is not fluent in English or not particularly personable with customers when that work necessitates a subsequent appointment. On those occasions, it is not at all uncommon for the customer to tell me to send a different technician or even to ask me whether I have any employees who speak English."
Conclusion: It is perfectly understandable why students in technical-vocational college underestimate the importance of English fluency and basic writing skills. Very often, students may select that particular course of study specifically because they are more comfortable with technical skills than with academic courses of study that emphasize writing. However, once they enter the real world of professional employment, even in highly technical fields, they find themselves somewhat handicapped by the failure to communicate fluently in English and to write basic narratives without mistakes. It undermines their ability to make the all-important best first impression in interview situations, complicates interactions with customers, and even retards their professional success by limiting their advancement potential despite the fact that their technical skills may be excellent.
Carnegie, D. (1997) How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books.
A classic book on the art of interpersonal communication and cooperation, first published in 1936 and continuously in print since then.
Gerrig, R, Zimbardo, P. (2005) Psychology and Life. 17th Edition.
New York: Allyn & Bacon.
Psychology text book for college students, authored by renowned psychologist, Professor Phillip Zimbardo who conducted the famous Stanford University Prison Experiment in 1970.
Jordan, a., Hyden, J., Steinauer, M.H. (1994) Communicating for Success.
Cincinnati: South-Western Publishing.
Text book detailing the importance of effective communication in all facets of professional business.
Lurie, Jonathan, B. Interview Subject: President/CEO JBL Computer Solutions and NYHomeNetworks, LLC. This interview subject employs approximately 100 computer technicians and cable modem installers and is a subcontractor for Verizon.
Russell-Walling, E. (2005) 50 Management Ideas You Really Need to Know. London: Quercus.