Develop students’ communication skills with PEG

Developing students’ employability is one aim of the higher education sector. What constitutes employability is subject to much debate; yet despite the term’s ambiguity, employers commonly cite the possession of good communication skills as a vital ingredient. 

Being an effective communicator can help people to work well with others and enable them to make a positive contribution to their organisation. Hence, it is clear to see why communication skills are so valuable to employers and, therefore, to our students. 

However, in seeking to enhance communication skills there is often an emphasis on developing students’ ability to express ideas, present persuasively and inform others. This narrow focus on transmitting a message neglects an important aspect of communication: listening.

During conversations, the role of the listener is typically portrayed as one of absorbing information and seeking to understand what is being said: passive and edging towards mundane. Yet, listening is far from passive. When we listen we act on the message: decoding and re-presenting what we hear according to our own experience, views, culture, values etc.

As a result of this inevitable process, the message is co-authored and therefore changed. The original intent of the message may be misinterpreted or completely altered when the listener’s meaning is assigned; affecting the degree of shared understanding that is achieved. In an organisational context, that this changed message could be acted upon offers up clear challenges for customer and client relations, team work, project management and all manner of collaborative endeavours.

Given the importance of effective collaboration for organisational success, there is a need to develop an approach that stresses the importance skilled listening; and offers up a quick, easy and fun! way for educators to engage students with the above concerns.   

Funded by a HEA Teaching Development Grant, Dr Clare Butler, Lecturer in Work and Employment at Newcastle University Business School, has developed the Probability Evaluation Game (PEG). PEG is an innovative teaching instrument, which emphasises to students the (high) likelihood of miscommunication; and the intricacy and challenge of skilful listening. PEG has been used with students enrolled on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes including accounting and finance, economics, human resource management, mathematics, politics, English and law. PEG sessions have involved up to 30 players and the game takes between 35-45 minutes: perfect for a seminar or workshop slot.

PEG is available via www.peggame.wordpress.com

The website includes details on the background to the game, how PEG was developed and describes how the game is played. Beyond the focus on skilful listening, playing PEG also offers the opportunity to discuss a range of other (often intriguing and tricky) issues of relevance to many workplaces: trust, cross-cultural communication, risk and the pervasiveness of unspoken rules.