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Verbal skills: benefits

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Just like mathematical skills, verbal skills are extremely important both for performing well as a student and in later life. In fact, verbal skills are more likely to be useful in a wide range of jobs on a day-to-day basis. As an example, drafting emails and writing up documents is part of the routine in many skilled and semi-skilled jobs. Having sufficiently strong verbal skills to be able to execute these tasks twice as fast means a substantial boost to one's overall productivity.

Verbal skills include:

  • Strong vocabulary
  • Skills of comprehension and interpretation (reading passages, grasping key points, being able to answer questions about them)
  • Analytical skills: Being able to synthesize and manipulate ideas expressed verbally
  • Skills of expression and exposition

Note that although verbal and math skills are often considered two different ends of the intellectual skill spectrum, verbal skills can be quite useful in mathematics. In particular, the verbal analytical skills strongly overlap with skills used in higher mathematics, such as skills of proof discovery.

Although primary language classes (such as English language classes in the United States) are often considered the main place to build verbal skills, it is worth noting that these classes may not be the most efficient way to build verbal skills -- although they have other benefits such as exposing students to quality literature and ideas.

Verbal skills in the workplace

Do people at work need good verbal skills? Yes and no: it depends on the level of verbal skills they need.

Some general points

  • Most people employed at typical workplaces have few opportunities for direct communication with the public in their capacity as employees. Even when they draft communications, the content of the communications may be censored by senior people and public relations officials. Although good verbal skills are helpful with drafting written content in general, there are several mediating factors between having the skills and producing content for external consumption.
  • Verbal skills are often necessary for good intracompany communication, whether in person or through electronic means (for instance, via email).
  • Strong vocavulary (with the exception of profession-specific jargon widely understood by one's co-workers and/or customers) is rarely often in either public or intracompany communication, because one needs to use jargon that the people one is communicating with can understand.
  • Tact may matter more than verbal flair: The biggest problems that companies face is not through lack of clear communication but rather through tactlessness towards the feelings of customers or other stakeholders. While one can think of tactful communication as a component of verbal skills, it is quite separate from the other components.

Cases where verbal skills matter more

Some jobs and side projects require more verbal skills. For instance:

  • Writing books, blogs, or articles requires one to compose long-form written content, and therefore relies on verbal skills.
  • Jobs in advertising and public relations require verbal skills, but with a different focus and with more attention to the psychology of people.
  • Leadership jobs in companies, particularly small companies and startups that cannot hire professional public relations teams, require good verbal skills because the leaders of the companies are communicating directly with the public through oral means (speeches and presentations) and written content (blog posts, brochures).