Developing Communication Skills Among Engineering Students’ By Reducing Communication Apprehension


Communication apprehension is defined as an individual's fear or anxiety level associated with actual or anticipated communication with others. This apprehension can significantly influence a person's behavior, relationships, how others perceive them, choices in activities, and opportunities in both employment and education. Manifestations of communication apprehension include:

  • Avoiding eye contact.
  • Fixating on objects like a drink.
  • Appearing generally anxious, distant, and unfriendly.

These behaviors, which are attempts to prevent or limit interaction with others, are not surprisingly linked to feelings of loneliness, isolation, low self-esteem, and difficulties in discussing personal issues.

For individuals experiencing high levels of communication apprehension, the prospects for employment, job retention, and career advancement are markedly reduced. This means that those with high communication apprehension are less likely to be called for job interviews, offered jobs, or maintain their positions than their more communicatively confident peers. Furthermore, high communication apprehension profoundly affects an individual's educational experiences and learning outcomes, impacting their overall academic and professional development.

Individuals who fear effective communication share this concern with many others. Factors within the home environment, such as the frequency of family conversations and the nature of parent-child interactions, play a significant role in shaping a child's communication behaviors. Additionally, the school environment can contribute to issues related to communication anxiety.

Those apprehensive may experience physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, and a sensation of butterflies in the stomach. While such symptoms can be considered normal to some extent, individuals with excessive anxiety may experience more severe reactions, including increased nausea, memory loss, a feeling of numbness, a blank mind during performance situations, and shortness of breath. This results in feelings of panic rather than excitement during communication. Some individuals may also need more practical communication skills, but this issue is often not solely to blame. Instead, it is typically linked to an individual's belief in skill deficiencies, which fuels their apprehension.

Context or Background

In the Indian educational landscape, particularly for engineering students, success in on-campus recruitment heavily relies on their ability to demonstrate practical communication skills. While the past decade has seen a growing emphasis on the importance of these skills for engineering students in India, less attention has been paid to the issue of communication apprehension (CA) and strategies to mitigate it. English teachers are responsible for aiding their students in overcoming communication-related fears and fostering more positive attitudes towards communication activities. According to Miller (1984), our educational efforts should aim to produce confident students who can symbolically connect with others rather than shy away from such interactions.

Just as a doctor must diagnose a patient's illness before prescribing medication, it is crucial to understand the specific nature of students' communication challenges. Teachers often report that students struggle with communication, but what does this entail? Are they referring to a lack of speaking skills, a tendency towards reticence or shyness, or a deficiency in specific practical communication abilities? Or are they indicating that students lack sufficient language proficiency? Identifying the precise nature of these communication issues is essential for addressing them effectively.

Students often express their concerns and hopes, saying things like, "I'm not comfortable facing an audience," "I'm scared of participating in group discussions," "I don't feel at ease when I meet strangers," or "Sir, please don't ask me to give a vote of thanks. I can't do it. I'm very nervous." The truth is that many students experience communication apprehension, which hinders their ability to communicate freely and effectively.

Teachers unaware of the underlying causes of communication anxiety in their students tend to offer a one-size-fits-all solution: communication skills training. However, this approach is akin to prescribing paracetamol (acetaminophen) to anyone with a headache without diagnosing the specific reasons behind their discomfort. Just as medical treatments must be tailored to the individual's needs, educational approaches to overcoming communication apprehension must be customized to address the unique challenges faced by each student.

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Communication Apprehension (CA)

Initially, McCroskey (1970) identified Communication Apprehension (CA) as a form of anxiety linked explicitly to speaking. However, he later expanded this definition to encompass more than just the aspect of speech. By 1982, McCroskey described CA as an individual's level of fear or anxiety associated with either actual or anticipated communication with others. CA is the fear or anxiety of communicating in various contexts. According to Berger, McCroskey, & Baldwin (1984), CA pertains to how individuals feel about communication rather than their communication skills. This fear or anxiety can stem from various factors, including but not limited to a lack of proficiency in the language being used, insufficient practice, feelings of insecurity, or ingrained thought patterns. Notably, even those proficient in a language can experience CA. Some individuals may be adept at written communication but need help speaking in front of an audience. In contrast, others may excel in social interactions but find formal presentations challenging, and vice versa.

The fear of public speaking is notably widespread. Wilder (1999) categorizes these fears into five types: career terror, perfectionism, panic, rejection, and trauma. He explains these fears as follows: career terror arises from the daunting belief that one's job, career, and future are at stake in every public speaking opportunity; perfectionism immobilizes the speaker with the demand for flawless performance; panic combines unrealistic expectations with fear of failure and physical symptoms; rejection is a form of self-sabotage that almost ensures anxiety, fear, and poor performance; and trauma stems from a long history of being told one is not good enough. To gauge the CA among engineering students, a sample of 120 students was asked to complete the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA-24) developed by McCroskey in 1982. The PRCA is a widely used measure of CA in research, with various versions correlating highly.

Overcoming CA involves recognizing that it is a cognitive experience that may not always manifest in observable behaviors. Identifying students' CA levels was challenging, especially during activities like presentations, role-plays, and group discussions, as stated by Berger et al. (1984). This highlights the complexity of addressing CA, underscoring the need for tailored strategies that consider the cognitive aspects of this apprehension.

The authors further clarify that communication aptitude (CA) carries significant behavioral consequences, with individuals exhibiting high CA being more likely to avoid or withdraw from communicative situations when possible. They emphasize distinguishing CA from related concepts such as reticence and shyness. Reticence refers to ineffective communicators due to a lack of communication skills. At the same time, shyness is characterized by communicating less than usual, which could result from high CA, reluctance, or other factors. Individuals with high CA may exhibit reticence and shyness, but not all who are reticent or shy experience high CA.

The question arises: Can the anxiety experienced by highly apprehensive speakers be alleviated? Some argue that communication apprehension is a matter of inherent disposition rather than learned behavior. However, those who have successfully overcome their speech anxiety contend that it is possible to combat CA. Since CA is fundamentally psychological, individuals can reduce their CA with a genuine desire to overcome it. In today's globalized world, English teachers are expected to fulfill various roles: diagnosticians, counselors, communication skills experts, and soft skills trainers. As diagnosticians, they identify learners' communication challenges; as communication skills experts, they develop tailored strategies to enhance each learner's communication abilities; and soft skills trainers, they empower their target groups.

Given that a student with a high CA in one domain, such as writing, may not necessarily experience a high CA in public speaking or other areas, it is crucial to pinpoint the domains where a learner's CA is most pronounced. Training should then be personalized and focused on those particular areas.

In conclusion, this discussion highlights the necessity of obtaining students' accounts of their CA and implementing measures to help them overcome it. The three-stage process for assisting students in combating their CA has proven effective, as detailed in further research. This approach places significant demands on the teacher, who is no longer seen merely as an instructor of grammar and syntax but is expected to actively engage as a therapist, counselor, communication expert, and soft skills trainer, playing a crucial role in addressing and mitigating CA among students.


  1. Berger, McCroskey & Baldwin (1984). Reducing Communication Apprehension: Is There a Better Way? American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 48, Spring (1984) Retrieved from
  2. Karnik (2007) Retrieved from
  3. Miller, R. (1984). Some (moderately) have apprehensive thoughts about avoiding communication. In Avoiding communication: Shyness, reticence, and communication apprehension. Daly, J. A. & McCroskey, J. C. (Eds). London: Sage Publications. Pg. 237-246.
  4. P'Rayan, A. (2008:1) Assessing Communication Apprehension, Education Express, The New Indian Express, 11 Aug. p.2. P'Rayan, A. (2008: 2) Overcoming Communication Apprehension, Education Express, The New Indian Express, 18 Aug. p.2.
  5. Wallechinsky, D., Wallace, D. & Wallace, H. (1977). The book of lists. New York: Bantam Books.
  6. Warrier, S. (2007). Retrieved from
  7. Wilder, L. (1999). Seven steps to fearless speaking. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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