What Is Communication Competence? (Plus Benefits and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 14, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Communication competence is how well a person can communicate their thoughts and ideas to others. You may find it beneficial to develop competency when you're communicating to help you achieve your goals in a conversation, such as persuading an audience. Understanding what communication competence is can help you improve your style of speaking with others effectively. In this article, we discuss what communication competence is, including the benefits, strategies for improving is and tips you can use to help develop communication competence.

Related: Communication Skills for Career Success

What is communication competence?

Communication competence is the knowledge a person has on the rules of grammar, syntax and nonverbal cues and when to apply them in various social contexts. You can gain competency through education and observation of those around you and how they communicate. Then, you can take when you've learned and observed and apply it to your social interactions. People can learn how to improve their communication, although their characteristics and genetic makeup can also influence how they communicate.

For example, a person who is nervous about speaking in front of others may know how to communicate well, but forget when they're standing in front of a crowd and they may feel anxious. As you learn more about communication competence, you can apply what you've learned into your everyday interactions. There are four different levels you can experience as you choose to work on your communication competence, which are:

  • Unconscious incompetence: Unconscious incompetence is when you don't know how to improve your communication and you're not aware you're not communicating competently.

  • Conscious incompetence: Conscious incompetence is when you're aware you're not communicating competently after you've learned the concepts, but you haven't applied them in your social interactions yet.

  • Conscious competence: Conscious competence is when you know that you're communicating well at the moment. You can use this experience to learn and base social interactions on in the future.

  • Unconscious competence: Unconscious competence is when you're able to communicate competently without thinking about it too much or at all. It becomes a second nature ability in your social interactions.

Additionally, as you learn more about communicating, you can adapt your communication styles based on the social setting you're in each time. For example, how you communicate in a professional setting, such as at a networking event, can differ from how you may communicate with someone in a more casual setting, a dinner party.

4 benefits of communication competence

When you develop and use communication competence, there are benefits of it, including:

1. Accomplishing communication goals

One benefit of having communication competence is you're able to accomplish your communication goals. People often connect their communication goals with their thoughts and feelings subconsciously or consciously when they're communicating with others. You can communicate your goals verbally and nonverbally, which means a person may interpret how you're feeling about the conversation based on such things as body language and other nonverbal cues even if you're not speaking.

There are three primary types of communication goals, such as:

  • Self-presentation goals: Having a self-presentation communication goal means showing who you are and how you want others around you to perceive you.

  • Relational goals: Your relational communication goals are how you develop and maintain relationships with your friends, significant others, colleagues and acquaintances. It also focuses on how you choose to end relationships with people in your life.

  • Instrumental goals: Instrumental goals are how you manage interpersonal conflicts, your ability to influence others when you're speaking with them and your ability to persuade others.

When you understand the three communication goals, you can use your competency to help you achieve what you're wanting to accomplish. For example, in a public speaking setting, you may identify your goals easier about wanting to portray yourself as someone with authority and knowledge wanting to influence your audience on a subject.

Related: Communication Influence Skills: Definition and Examples

2. Identifying misinformation

You may identify misinformation when you're in a social setting. When you use your communication competence, you can use context clues to learn more about the conversation you're having. You can do this by examining the speaker's nonverbal cues. For example, a shift in body language may indicate misinformation, but it may also show they're nervous about speaking.

If you're unsure about what they're sharing, you can ask them to explain further what they're talking about, such as asking for an example of what they're speaking about or inquiring about their sources. You may also research the information they were talking about later if you're unsure about the legitimacy of it and you may desire to avoid conflict with them.

3. Avoiding stereotypes or other offensive terminology

Another benefit of working on your communication competency is you can avoid any stereotype language and other offensive terminology in your vocabulary. You can avoid these types of language and terminology in verbal and written communication. Ensuring you're using inclusive and appropriate language when you're communicating with others. This may help others around you feel comfortable and safe. It also shows your ability to communicate well with an extensive vocabulary and background knowledge.

4. Minimizing conflict

You can learn how to minimize conflict in your interpersonal relations when you have competency in communication because you're able to diffuse high-tension situations. To do this, you can change the subject of the conversation before the conflict arises further. You can also try to diffuse the conflict in the conversation by acknowledging the opposing viewpoint. If the conflict requires a compromise by both parties, try to come up with suggestions on what you can both do to feel confident in the outcome.

When you're having a conflict with someone while talking that doesn't require a decision, you can both agree to disagree. Then you can change the subject of the conversation before the conflict arises any further.

Related: 8 Helpful Strategies for Conflict Management

6 strategies for improving communication competence

Here's a list of six strategies you can use for improving communication competence:

1. Develop flexibility

You can improve your communication competency by becoming flexible in your social interactions. There are six factors you can use to help you be adaptive in your communication based on the context of your surroundings:

  • Experience: If you've taken part in various social experiences, you can use your past interactions as a guide for your current ones. For example, think about if there was a time a social interaction you've been a part of that went over well and use that to help you improve your communication competency.

  • Composure: When you're in social interactions, notice how you're feeling and reacting to the situation. It's helpful to remain calm and accurate in most situations when you're communicating because it can help those around you understand your message better.

  • Confirmation: If you're listening to others in a social interaction, you can acknowledge their communication goal when they're speaking. For example, when someone else is speaking, you can occasionally nod to let them know you're listening, ask them clarifying questions or share your thoughts when they're finished.

  • Disclosure: In a social interaction, either a conversation with another person or a presentation to an audience, it's helpful to remain sensitive to the information you're sharing, including how much you're sharing. If you're speaking on a subject with a copious amount of information, you can construct the conversation or presentation with the basics of the topic to help the audience gain a general understanding.

  • Articulation: Working on the articulation of your ideas and opinions when you're sharing with others can help improve your social competency. Your vocabulary, the way you construct your sentences and your nonverbal cues while speaking can help you with your articulation.

  • Wit: You can use your wit or appropriate humor to help ease tensions in a conversation if they were to arise. Adapting your type of humor based on the social situation can help you diffuse conflict and help develop your interpersonal relationships.

2. Remain involved

When you're trying to improve your communication competency, you can take notice of how you're involving yourself in social interactions. Identifying your strengths when you're having a conversation, such as you maintaining eye contact with the other person, can help you understand what to continue doing when socializing. It's also helpful to notice where your weaknesses are so you can make a conscious effort to improve them. Here are three factors you can notice in yourself when you're having a conversation with others:

  • Response: Understand your role in the conversation, what to say to the other person and how to interact with the other person.

  • Perception: Consider how the other person you're speaking with is perceiving you and if it's the perception you want to exhibit.

  • Attention: Recognize where your attention is during a conversation. Make sure you're listening to the other person and hearing what they're saying.

3. Conduct your conversation management

Conversation management is how well you're able to maintain a conversation, such as how you handle topic changes and how you adapt to the surrounding environment. For example, if you're having a conversation with someone and then the surrounding room becomes louder than it was before, notice how you react to it. The more you're exposed to different social situations and learn how to handle them, you may see an improvement in your communication competence.

4. Show empathy

Empathy is a person's ability to understand the emotions of other people. When you're having a conversation with another person, you can show empathy to how they're feeling based on what they're saying or their nonverbal communication. It's about understanding the person's emotions rather than trying to help them solve their challenges. Offering empathy can help strengthen the interpersonal relationship and develop trust between you and the other person.

5. Measure the effectiveness of the interaction

After you've had a conversation, you can think about if it was effective. You can ask yourself questions, such as if you and the other person achieved the objectives of the conversation or if you accomplished your personal goals. If you find that you're having effective conversations frequently, you might improve your communication competency skills.

6. Use appropriateness vocabulary and nonverbal communication

You can measure the appropriateness of your communication during and after the conversation. You can determine this by assessing nonverbal cues, facial expressions and the actual words the other person is saying. Additionally, you can determine the appropriateness of your vocabulary and nonverbal gestures based on the surrounding environment. For example, you can use professionally appropriate language if you're attending a professional convention, which differs from the language you may use at an office holiday party.

Related: What Is a Communication Strategy? (With Definition and Template)

Tips for developing communication competence

Here are some tips you can use to help develop your communication competence:

  • Listen attentively and actively: You can use active and attentive listening when you're developing your communication competence. This shows the other person you're speaking with that you value what they're sharing with you and you can learn from their communication style, too.

  • Communicate your ideas clearly: Learn to communicate your ideas clearly when writing or speaking. This can help you share your ideas with others more efficiently, so they can easily understand.

  • Educate yourself: You may find it helpful to educate yourself or take courses on communication to help you improve your competence when communicating. Courses can help you identify the basics of communication and allow you time to practice what you've learned.

  • Request feedback: If you're open about working on your communication competence, you can ask your friends and family to give you feedback on your interactions with them. This can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses for you to improve.


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