of employers, commissioned by the Association of
American Colleges and Universities, 80 percent of CEOs said they wished colleges
spent more time teaching students how to effectively communicate. Employers
routinely lament the lack of “soft skills,” incoming employees
Driehaus College of Business has discovered a way to bridge this skills gap by
injecting science into the art of communication, turning “soft skills” into a
tactical weapon for business success.
effective business communication is less about writing cover letters and resumes
and more about teaching students the essence of human relations, or how to
develop trusting, personal relationships with their peers and co-workers through
present communication from a purely literary or Aristotle lineage, which is
designed for debate,” says D. Joel Whalen, associate professor of marketing and
director of curriculum for the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business Center
for Sales Leadership Program. “The way business people communicate, it’s not
about debate at all; it’s about reaching a consensus and problem
Teaching Communication Science
nothing soft about DePaul’s communication skills courses, which are required for
undergraduate business majors and for many graduate business
In fact, Whalen (left), who helped
create the business communications program for the Driehaus College of Business,
pulls from the worlds of journalism, behavioral psychology and even human
biology to teach students how to effectively communicate with others. He puts
science into a realm that traditionally has been dominated by rhetoric and
learn how sense memory, persuasion psychology, communication science
neurobiology and associative memory effects communication. They practice
effectively communicating using a host of other research-based communication
The result is
that students understand that effective communication equals not just what you
say, but how you say it.
have a complex message, the words you say contribute only 10 percent to a
person’s understanding of your message,” says Whalen, who is a nationally
renowned business communication expert and author who is frequently quoted in
the media and educational circles. “The other 90 percent comes from your
attitude, tone and body language. We teach students attitude management and this
is an area of communication that delves deeply into behavioral
Self-Discovery Aids Communication Expertise
Whalen says, whenever we’re trying to impress a person, be it an employer,
colleague, even a significant other, the more important the communication the
more our anxiety level rises.
It’s an unconscious reaction to the
weight of our message. Our throat gets dry, our palms become sweaty and we tend
to act in ways that may make our audience feel our anxiety and, thereby,
distrust what we’re going to say.
But if you can learn to
master your attitude and suppress nervous anxiety to produce seemingly
effortless communication, you will be deemed more trust worthy than competitors,
Whalen says. This is why people may vote for a charming candidate even though
what she says isn’t all that profound.
“We have students go through a series of exercises that teach
them what happens biochemically when they communicate with others and tricks to
help them adjust their attitude so they minimize the insecurity they may feel
and communicate with confidence,” Whalen says.
All this science sounds impressive, but it would not mean
much if the techniques didn’t work in the real world.
students, Zoljargal (Zola) Enkhbold (pictured above), a DePaul undergraduate
business major, was skeptical about taking a communication class for her degree.
She took Whalen's class one fall quarter. Then, in the summer, as part of an
intership, she was presented with the opportunity to help a start-up company
make a pitch to the Prime Minister of her ancestral home of Mongolia. The
presentation was for a contract to produce clean energy products for the
country. The startup’s founders, both engineers, turned to her for help.
(Read more about Enkhbold's
did for that presentation I learned in Dr. Whalen’s class,” Enkhbold said.
“That class is amazing. It seems like just another required class, but it really
is useful in everyday real life. It comes in pretty handy.”
Undergraduate students like Enkhbold , as well as MBA
students and alumni, rave about DePaul’s effective communication courses.
Driehaus alumni often return to the classroom to role play with students and
model the effective communication techniques emphasized in class.
Executives from many Chicago-based
businesses, such as Leo Burnett, are as important to the course as books and
faculty lectures. A team of 15 accomplished DePaul alumni help teach DePaul's
business communication courses.
get comments from executives about how well our students communicate,” says
Whalen. “In addition, we always get comments from students on how often they use
the skills taught in our courses in their every day jobs.”
The best part, Whalen emphasizes, is not just that students
become persuasive, effective communicators, but that they learn to truly
communicate by listening and identifying with their audience. It is a twist on
teaching communication skills that showcases the business college’s distinctive
Vincentian value of putting the needs of others first.
“The key is that they learn communication is not about them,”
Whalen says. “They understand it’s about what’s going on with the other person
and how we can mutually communicate with each other to create a new version of
Interested in studying marketing at DePaul? Visit the Kellstadt Graduate School of Businessfor information on DePaul’s MBA and MS programs.