When one is creating a structure, any structure, one must plan for its foundation. Without it the structure will collapse. The problem is that foundation is not attractive, half of it’s underground and it still does not communicate the height of your project to the layperson. This concept directly translates to your success in the workforce, in the field you choose to define your life with. Few, if any, will see or hear about the work you put in at the beginning of your journey to develop employment ready skills. However, the skills needed to reach the level of success you desire will be clearly defined to others once you reach that level. You will look back and see how high your building has grown, thanks to the foundation you invested in so many years ago. This is the first entry in a two part series for my “BC 3010 – Advanced Peer Leadership” class where I will be talking about areas of competency, and the experiences that helped build them. This essay will endeavour to outline the development of my communication and interpersonal skills (so far) through a description of a selection of peer leadership experiences I have had at York University. As an additional goal, this assignment will help me reflect on my own development, and make my own path for future growth more focused. I hope that it also makes you reflect on your own journey, and the skills you need to build your own architectural masterpieces.
The development of communication skills, and the efficient use of them in various circumstances are built like any other skills, through practice, failing, adapting, and finally creating a personal feel for them where you are successful at using the skills at a moment’s notice. The practice needed for this level of efficiency doesn’t discriminate forms, whether you’re writing or speaking, the more you engage in it - the better you become at it.
Oral communication has permeated throughout my whole life but it definitely was a large part of my experience as a Student Health Ambassador at York (SHAY) for the Psychology program since my responsibilities entailed me to constantly talk to prospective university students.
My oral communication skills got sharpened as a result of being a SHAY because the organization gave me the opportunity too:
1. Effectively communicate information in a creative, interactive, positive, and genuine way suitable to the specific audience, while staying true to the identity of York University/Faculty of Health and the message of the Recruitment Office.
2. Respond to any questions/concerns students and parents may have had about York University and Faculty of Health programs, and direct them to the appropriate person for more information.
3. Explain to visitors why York University is such a great place to be a student.
In addition to my SHAY experience I was a Class Representative (CR) for 4 university science courses in my first academic year at York (2013/2014) where I spoke to thousands of students in the form of small presentations and more personally on an individual level.
Both of these volunteer positions enabled me to work in environments where I was able to experiment and find out which communication method and technique works best in each situation. These in-field experiments over the course of 2 years gave me the confidence and passion to want to speak in front of any type of crowd, non-dependant on demographic, and large or small. I am very grateful for what these experiences have been able to give me, and how they continue to help me in my present endeavours.
It is said that one of the best ways to get better at an activity is to teach others how to excel at it. I believe this is the case because firstly, by repeating and clearly communicating the information to another person you further ingrain it in your mind. Secondly, it will force you to step out of your comfort zone by making you want to know more than is required because you want to provide the best possible training for your peer. Being a Peer Writing Mentor (PWM) for Write to Succeed in the 2014/2015 academic year at York University made me realize this.
When I first started to volunteer as Peer Writing Mentor (PWM) I was still in the dark about writing resources on campus, writing techniques, and editing procedures - all the building blocks of successful writing. All I had was a passion for writing, and the need to learn more in order to improve. This need was realized because of the pressure I felt to provide better writing services for my university peers, whose precious time I did not want to waste with mediocre service.
As a PWM the main way I assisted fellow students with their writing assignments was by identifying the problem(s) they had and coming up with solutions that students could implement, through analyzing their; grammar and sentence structures, essay structures, referencing/citation (i.e. MLA, APA, Chicago), thesis and arguments/outlines, and past marked assignments. One of the main things I constantly told students that came to my drop-in sessions was to keep a firm structure to their essays, or other forms of writing, so as not to lose sight of the message they were trying to convey to the reader. All the concepts I advised students on, ranging from essay structure to referencing, I subconsciously and actively started to be more vigilant in as well.
As a result of the time and effort I put into advising, writing, and most importantly rewriting, I became significantly better at written communication, whether it was in the form of an email, topical essay, or data driven research paper.
Interpersonal skills for me have always been defined around being able to put myself into the shoes of those I am communicating with, no matter how much I disagree with their viewpoints at that time. By understanding where someone is coming from, physically (i.e. a neighbourhood, or in the larger context - a country) and psychologically (i.e. what culture dominates their perspective), and understanding the trials and tribulations that they themselves, their families, and ancestors had to go through for them to be where they are at that moment makes communication between individuals and groups far more effective. If you haven't already noticed, empathy is at the centre of this discussion.
Having been a CR in 1st year science courses, and having had recent exposure to 3rd year psychology courses as a CR this past semester (Fall 2015), I have come across a wide range of students, each with their own unique personalities and backgrounds. As a CR I served as a liaison between the course instructor and other students in the course, providing general feedback and bringing any concerns that arose to the attention of the instructor. I enabled students to voice course-related concerns, promoted professors’ awareness of undue challenges facing students for remedial action, and facilitated study group formation.
I would not have been able to commit to the above mentioned responsibilities as a CR if I didn't have the ability to interpersonally relate to the varying people that surrounded me on a day to day basis in my classes, laboratories, tutorials, study sessions, and events. Of course these experiences further strengthened my interpersonal skills, and the ability to effectively communicate with a diverse set of people. By following through with the incremental steps for helpful interpersonal communication I was able to make the most of these interactions with students, professors, and other university staff (Newton & Ender, 2010, p. 106). In order to continue to be effective interpersonally I must be culturally fluent by staying humble, asking good questions that promote understanding, listening with the intent to learn, and constructively responding to differences (Newton & Ender, 2010, p. 90).
Cross-cultural interpersonal skills go hand in hand with oral and written communication skills. Interpersonal skills are not able to be demonstrated without communication and oral/written communication will always be layered with an interpersonal component since communication entails an interaction between 2 or more individuals. In essence, thanks to the past experiences I have detailed in this essay I have learned how to effectively communicate through the spoken and written word, and do so with interpersonal finesse. Fortunately these foundational skills are not stuck in the ground as my construction analogy may have made you believe at the outset of this essay, but may always be improved upon and do not stay stagnant. Which means that our buildings can grow higher than the ones you and I see everyday.
Two other skills that also form the foundation for my aspirations, and the experiences that surround them, will be detailed in the next entry. This list of skills, in combination with the next list is not exhaustive but definitely constitute the major components of successful enterprise.
Newton, F. B., & Ender, S. C. (2010). Students helping students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.