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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Communication is learned, let’s teach it!

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

Educator page on Nutrition Communicator website

Have you ever heard the sentiment that someone skilled in something was a “born __________ (athlete, musician, teacher, speaker…)”? All of the training and hard work that went into their level of expertise is discounted.

Granted, an athlete may have the body build for pole vaulting or the pianist may have long fingers, but those attributes they are born with don’t guarantee success. Everyone who achieves success has invested in gaining knowledge and building their skills.

Communication skills - nature or nurture?

Because we have been uttering words from an early age, it’s often assumed we know all there is to know about communication. Would you agree we are often better at miscommunicating than at communicating well?!

Communication skills are critical to our success but most of us get minimal training in how to do it well. Can you think of any person or profession that doesn’t depend on communication skills for success?

The dietetics profession is no exception. In fact, much of our work as nutrition professionals depends on communicating well. We translate complex science and put it into meaningful context so our audiences, whether they are our peers or the public, can build their knowledge and take positive action.

Which is more important - subject-matter expertise or communication expertise?

A question I like to ask my colleagues, especially those in academia, is this: Which is more important to professional success: subject-matter expertise or communication expertise? How would you guess most answer?

If what we teach is any indication, it is hands down subject-matter expertise. There is no question that is essential. Without nutrition expertise we can be dangerous. However, without communication expertise we can be ignored or misunderstood.

Both are essential. With both we can have tremendous impact.

Achieve subject-matter and communication expertise to make a difference

A trait my students shared that carries over into our careers is a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. I believe that to do that successfully requires both knowledge of nutrition and knowledge of communication. Without communication skills we won’t be effective.

Dietetics educators and practitioners recognized a lack of resources in nutrition communication and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics responded by publishing Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide in 2020. A team of 57 authors volunteered to create this essential text for future and current nutrition professionals.

How to teach nutrition communication?

Now that the book is available, the next step is helping dietetics programs integrate its use. Unlike many courses found across academic programs, a course dedicated to nutrition communication is rare in undergraduate curriculums.

Therefore, one of our goals is to provide ideas and tools for integrating this essential topic in a variety of courses from freshman year through supervised practice and graduate school. We created an instructor resource kit to assist in using the book throughout the curriculum.

Many programs are researching creating a nutrition communication course, but in the meantime, and even once dedicated courses are established, students benefit from being introduced to nutrition communication early and often, promoting a continual building of knowledge and skills throughout their coursework.

Communication skills are learned best by doing, by going beyond book knowledge and putting into practice what is conveyed in the book; and the more opportunities for this practice the greater the skill achieved.

I invite any and all dietetics educators to visit my web page for educators. This page provides links to request a preview copy of the book and the free instructor kit. There are links to free resources and ways to connect with potential guest speakers.

Instructors can sign up for a free call to discuss their ideas and challenges in teaching nutrition communication. Check it out and share the link with others.

As we stated in the preface to the book:

“Nutrition professionals have a passion for going beyond acquiring knowledge of food and nutrition to sharing that knowledge with others – a passion for communicating nutrition. Achieving this desire requires expertise in the art and science of nutrition communication. Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide provides expert guidance – based on evidence and experience – to communicate effectively.”

“While humans make sounds with their mouths and occasionally look at each other, there is no solid evidence that they actually communicate with each other.” ~ Source Unknown

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