Book Reviews

Book By: Dr. Karen Lawson 
Review By: Myla Rugge
Undergraduate Advising
University of Washington


 With 50 Communication Skills Activities, Dr. Karen Lawson has designed a useful, if somewhat imperfect, resource for advisers and first-year program staff alike.  This well- organized, 3-ring bound workbook provides fifty communication skills activities that range from goofy and simplistic to sensible and sophisticated.  While published with corporate employees in mind (customer service, sales training and supervisory skills are mentioned specifically) there are many activities that would be useful for those who work with students.  However, most, if not all, would require some tailoring to student services issues, topics and concerns.

The activities are divided into eight  sections – Communication Awareness, Delivering Your Message, Nonverbal Communication, Communication Conflicts, Active Listening, Giving and Receiving Feedback, Written Communication, and, finally, Presentation Skills.  Each section contains at least five activities.  Each activity follows the same nine-part format, including a description of the goal, communication category addressed, time required, group size, materials, preparation instructions, what to say and do in the activity, discussion questions and possible variations.  This step-by-step format could be also used as a framework for others to develop their own communication skills activities.  Lawson also provides an “Applications Matrix” that lists all the activities by length of time required; this provides for a quick, easy reference to find the best activity for training sessions.

Of all of the activities, the nonverbal communication and active listening activities seem most useful.  For example, the activity titled “Body Language” encourages participants to increase their awareness of the impact of nonverbal cues.  While some may have a keen sense of a few kinds of body language it is unlikely they will have thought about all seven types.  Other good activities in this section include an examination of the varying degrees of personal space (“At Arm’s Length”) and an activity that examines situations when a person’s body language conflicts with the verbal message her or she is giving (“Mixed Messages”).

Two activities in the “Active Listening” section stood-out.  First, the activity “What Do You Know About Active Listening?” asks participants to speculate on what they know about active listening and then reveals the facts about peoples’ listen skills (e.g. “Sixty percent of misunderstandings can be traced to poor listening and only one percent to written communication.”).  The other active listening activity that was particularly interesting was “Listening Types Card Match”.  The goal of this activity is for participants to learn how to discriminate among the nine different types of listening.  This section of activities is notable because communication skills are often equated with speaking when, in fact, listening and body language are just as important to the communication process.

Several activities are well-intentioned, but are not particularly well-designed.  Some activities have such basic goals that they would seem to be a waste of time for even the most inexperienced student services staff member.  Overall I found less than half of the activities would be useful to my colleagues.  However, others might find more of the activities worthwhile.  The simple, well-designed structure of this workbook, along with the variety of the activities is bound to be valuable.  While this text is lacking in some ways, it is a great resource to get student services professionals thinking about the importance of communication and give them ideas of ways to improve their skills.


50 Communication Skills Activities. Book by Karen Lawson. Review By Myla Rugge.  HRDQ. 0pp., $139.00, (notebook), ISBN # 0165E1AB

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