The Wall Street Journal recently featured an interesting article about the communication skills of M.B.A. students, or more accurately, the lack of effective business communication skills.  Many M.B.A. programs are increasing emphasis on these skills in response to the feedback of employers.

Laura French is the writing coach for the Full-time UST MBA program communication labs, part of the curriculum since its inception in 2004.  She agreed that the writing that earns high grades in an academic setting can be very different from what’s required for effective business communication.

“The academic project is designed to show that the student knows what the professor does,” French notes.  “The business project is designed to provide readers with information or insights they wouldn’t have acquired elsewhere.”

I agree with Laura; some students need to be more direct and concise in their communication styles, but I often see another type of M.B.A. student, especially in our Evening UST MBA program – one who may be highly skilled and knowledgeable in their field or industry, but for whom communication skills were never critical in their undergraduate major or professional responsibilities to this point. Now they find themselves in graduate school, and struggling with the communication demands and expectations of a rigorous M.B.A. program.

I encourage these students to embrace this challenge, and use the M.B.A. experience as a safe environment outside their workplace to develop these skills.

  • For each assignment, emphasize presentation quality and clarity as much as content.
  • Ask non-classmate friends to read an assignment – did they understand your main point(s)?
  • Actively seek feedback from faculty and classmates on your writing, and ask to read others who scored well on assignments.
  • Step up to be the lead presenter for your group project.

An M.B.A. program is certainly a chance to gain advanced business acumen and expertise.  But it is also an opportunity to practice and polish another common trait of successful business leaders – effective communication – so that your acumen and expertise don’t get lost in the message!

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One Response

  1. Prof. Laura French

    MBA candidates are smart people, and they are good students. In order to be admitted to a graduate program, they need to have mastered the tasks required for academic success.

    And there’s the rub: The writing that earns high grades in an academic setting can be very different from what’s required for effective business communication. That term paper or exam is an opportunity for the student to show how much he has learned. The manager who creates a memo or report, on the other hand, has to know what to leave out.

    In addition, academic writing rewards keenness and precision: Slicing to the heart of the matter with Occam’s Razor. The business writer often has to choose between being proved right or getting things done. That can mean avoiding the black and white in favor of a more nuanced presentation of the facts–the sort of presentation that gets “Unclear” written in the margins of a term paper.

    It isn’t that MBA students are worse writers than Masters Degree candidates in English or history. It’s just that one would expect their writing experience to be more businesslike and less academic, and that just isn’t necessarily the case.