More kids are continuing their education than ever before. In fact, nearly 90 percent of Millennials who graduate from high school attend college within eight years. However, when most freshmen arrive on campus, they often find they’re missing some of the most basic skills they need to be successful. And abilities that encompass more than test taking, studying or even cooking and cleaning.

When the days of being micromanaged are over, and students have to fend for themselves, texting, emailing, online chatting and even that college degree will not be enough to be successful. However, being able to have effective face-to-face conversations will be the most valuable keys to better relationships and ultimately a happier life.

But, here’s what they don’t teach you in school.


With no one looking over their shoulder, kids must learn to speak up for themselves – and fast. Group dynamics are going to be a constant theme as they juggle college roommates, peers, and professors (and later on – bosses).

Jeffrey Cohen, an English professor at George Washington University,  puts it best: you’re no longer an adult in training.

Ellen Bremen, author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor, agrees. She claims there’s an “everybody wins” high school philosophy out there, muddling student’s abilities to exercise maturity and honesty. Excuses like “the dog ate my homework” are surprisingly rampant – yes, even at the college level. Bremen cautions what a real response (and response-able) student should say: “Professor, I was absent last Thursday. I saw on the schedule that you went over chapter 11. I read the chapter and worked on the assignment… and I believe I have all the notes. Have I covered all my bases?”

Sounds so simple, right? Yet, nine times out of 10, reality doesn’t play out this way. Conversations hold many layers, interpretations, and most often, deflections. Owning up to mistakes and general responsibilities, for example, is half the battle in effectively communicating.

So how can students (and anyone) rock a successful conversation?


Set an intention.

Every time that you engage in dialogue with another human being, there are two conversations that you’re involved in – the conversations you have with others and the conversation you have with yourself. So, without realizing it, you’re balancing an internal and external dialogue.

To be sure both run in sync, always ask yourself: What do I want from this conversation? Are you having the conversation to win? To prove YOUR point, to convince the other person? If so, hold on to your hat because it’s going to be a looooong unproductive exchange and likely one that will end in conflict. Your power resides in your ability to understand the other person’s point of view. If you are in a debate, you both lose.

When you go into a conversation with the intention to help (both yourself and the other party), your energy shifts because your focus is now on succeeding. And, your mind is no longer ruminating on what could go wrong or trying to be right… there is so much richness to that.

Accept other’s viewpoints.

Some people wear classic aviators, and others prefer sporty and sleek sunglasses. My point is, we all see the world through varying lenses. We need to remember that listening and validating another’s point of view does not mean we agree with it. It simply means that we believe that their opinion is valid because it is.

You should seek to understand their position as much as possible without interrupting and inserting yours. There will be time for your observations, and they will be more useful when you fully understand the situation from their perspective. Slow down and listen.

Feedback is key.

There’s a powerful way to provide feedback and respond to it. When giving feedback, be specific and don’t use adjectives. Describe the behaviors or what specific actions you like or dislike. Ask something like… So, what’s going well on (a specific project or situation)? Is there anything (action) you would do differently next time? Is there anything (action) that I can do differently next time?

When receiving feedback, ask questions that provide you with clarifying information. “Thank you for being honest. That’s a hard (or good) message to hear.” Or, “I want to be sure I understand what you need. Can you tell me specifically what actions you need from me in the future?”

Notice that these are curious, open-ended questions far from the glare of negative overtures like judging and blaming. You send a message about what’s important, and you demonstrate that you’re committed to understanding where this individual is coming from. This breeds trust and respect, in addition to keeping your emotions in check.

If students really want to make the grade – enhance their communication skills, learn how to handle conflict, and maybe score that coveted internship – they need to talk the talk.

Using the backdrop of our 4S Conversations® framework, we designed a training program to provide students and young talent with the skills and tools necessary to have effective conversations.

Check out our comprehensive communication program here and connect with a member of our team to learn more.

Now… we’re talking!


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