Reconceptualizing Social Skills in Organizations: Exploring the Relationship between Communication Competence, Job Performance, and Supervisory Roles

Article excerpt

This study applies a three component model of communication competence (motivation, knowledge, and skill) within an organizational context and analyzes the relationship between job performance, position level, and communication competence. Data analysis revealed high job performers had significantly higher levels of motivation to adapt communication and higher levels of communication skill (empathizing, adapting communication, and managing interactions). Also, supervisors were more motivated to communicate and empathize than subordinates. Finally, level of job performance and job position (supervisor or non-supervisor) did not influence level of communication competence. These results' along with limitations and avenues for future research are discussed.


As organizational structures flatten and transformational leadership styles are fostered, corporate demand for employees skilled in interpersonal communication is on the rise. Organizations are working to recruit, promote, develop, and train transformational leaders who connect with employees emotionally and have verbal and coaching skills (Bass, 1999; 1990). Numerous studies querying graduates, employers, and faculty members show communication skill as one of the top areas needing improvement among employees and new graduates (Maes, Weldy, & Icenogle, 1997; Morreale, Osborn, & Pearson, 2000). Recently, HR managers from Fortune 500 corporations included listening, speaking, team participation, and communication of information as most important for business school graduates in the 21st century (Porterfield & Forde, 2001). Empirical research links social skills and other communication constructs with various organizational outcomes including job mobility (Kilduff & Day, 1994), upward mobility, job level, and pay (Haas & Sypher, 1991; Sypher & Zorn, 1986), leadership ability (Flauto, 1999) and general mental ability and job performance (Ferris, Witt, & Hochwarter, 2001).

While a number of these studies articulate the importance of communication skill, few address the impact of communication competence, which moves beyond social skills by including affective, cognitive, and behavioral elements. Communication competence describes the overall impression one has of a communicator who meets interaction goals at both an appropriate and effective level (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984). This article provides an overview of a relational model of communication competence within the organizational context and reports the findings of how job performance for employees and supervisors relates to communication competence.

Literature Review

Defining Communication Competence

Recognizing that communication competence is multifaceted researchers of employee communication competence should develop comprehensive conceptual definitions. Many scholars have attempted to define interpersonal communication competence: however, the process is likened to "climbing a greased pole" (Phillips, 1984, p. 25) and competence is still considered a "fuzzy" concept (Jablin & Sias, 2001, p. 819). The lack of a widely-accepted definition is due to the complexity of the communication process and problems with measurement (Rubin & Martin. 1994; Wiemann, Takai, Ota, & Wiemann, 1997). However, definitions of communication competence are becoming more specific as the issue of context is given more consideration.

Current conceptualizations of competence continue to rely on Spitzberg and Cupach's (1984) original criteria: appropriateness and effectiveness. Jablin and Sias (2001) define competence as "the set of abilities, henceforth, termed resources, which a communicator has available for use in the communication process" (p. 125). This definition is a strategic, goal-oriented approach to competence stressing knowledge and ability.

Obviously these definitions go beyond communication that is simply successful by emphasizing two main components: knowledge of communication and context and ability to obtain goals (skill). …