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How to measure communication skills online?

“Know thyself!” With this ancient Greek saying philosophers, authors and artists have been emphasizing the importance of self-knowledge for ages. Among them Socrates, Plato (in their dialogues) and, a little more recently, The Wachowski’s (in “The Matrix”). Knowing what your strengths are provides you with self-confidence and enables you to do even more with the skills you already possess. Besides that, knowing what skills you can and want (!) to develop further is a crucial first step in the learning process. How can you find out which skills to nourish and which can be developed? 

Multiple choice questions and assessments

growth measure skills sObviously, there have been several attempts to objectively answer these questions. Think of (online) assessments with role plays or multiple choice questions about the best behavior in a given situation. Besides the question of whether a multiple choice question describes real behavior, efficiency is also a problem in this case. Because how does one scale up a role play to thousands of employees? Smart use of (online) audio-visual applications brings the classic idea of self-knowledge a step closer. Video role plays can measure communication skills like providing feedback, negotiating, and presenting in an objective and reliable way.

Recorded on video

How does that work? The situation is described and a short video shows the conversation partner posing a question or statement. After that, participants record their reaction on their smartphone, tablet or webcam. Observable behavior! This exactly shows the validity of an approach through webcam, smartphone or tablet. The results of an online video assessment are not based on self-reflection or personal preferences, but on someone’s own reaction, complete with text, intonation, mimics and posture. Recorded on video and reviewed at a later moment either by a participant or an assessor. Several studies, some of them conducted at the Erasmus University Rotterdam (Oostrom et.al, 2010, 2013), show that the behavior of subjects in a webcam test is a large predictive value of their behavior in social reality. Additionally, online assessments are independent of time and place and can be done by thousands of employees at the same time.

Objective evaluation

You can appoint your own managers as assessors, but it is also possible to make use of external coaches. They evaluate the recorded reactions based on concrete behavioral criteria that are related to a specific soft skill. The skill of ‘providing feedback’ for example, can be related to three criteria: a) name a concrete action of the person you are talking to, b) make clear what the implications of this action are for the participant himself c) do not judge the person while doing so. Make sure that every criterion is embedded in at least three or more exercises. In this way the assessment is never based on only one answer. To guarantee absolute objectivity, it can be useful to test whether different assessors evaluate the same action in the same way.

Test or scan?

If you want participants to be able to either pass or fail a test, then you will have to compare their scores to a set score. In that case the term ‘test’ is used. With a test however, the focus will often be on the participants’ inabilities and this can be damaging for their motivation. The alternative is a scan where you show the participants a relative score and a comparison with other (anonymous!) participants. In this way participants can see how they score compared to their department, organization or sector.  

Whether someone sees themselves as an uncertain and timid speaker, or as someone who speaks publicly with ease like Barack Obama, communication skills can always be developed (Gibbons et al, 2006). Getting to know the current personal skill levels helps your organization to make well-argued choices regarding communication training. The next steps are substantiated learning interventions and training paths, targeting the individual development of every participant. With implementing online scans, we were able to help Rabobank. Read their experiences in the case study!

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About this blog

Professional communication is an art. We want to help people reach an unexpected level of competence and as a result become more comfortable, happy, effective and successful in all possible areas of professional communication. We support organisations that train their employees in this. Here you can read our insights. You'll find updates on our platform in the Product Blog.