Effective Communication Skills

The Art of Communication

And it is an art. Develop effective communication skills to improve the outcome from every intereaction. As with any skill, they can be learnt and developed with practice. An effective communicator has developed the following skills:

  • The skill of active listening
  • The skill of asking questions that helps both parties reach a common understanding
  • The skill of verbal communication to articulate the message to minimise misunderstandings
  • The skill of using non verbal communication appropriately and being able to respond to non verbal communication appropriately
  • The skill or paraphrasing and summarising to clarify understanding and ensure both parties are in agreement as to what has been discussed.

Many people foget that listening is a key part of communication. The communication processs highlights the importance of listening to ensure that each party understands (this does not mean you have to agree with) the other parties input. Failing to actively listen means that you are really only understanding your input and the reasons for your input i.e. your perceptions of the situation. This can be linked to your frame of reference.

Ask yourself, are you really listening to understand the other person's point of view, their concerns, their objections or resistance and their feelings? Or is your main focus on telling the other person what you want to tell them and hoping/expecting that they will agree with you or come on board?

Active listening is a real skill. It is a skill that must be developed if you want to develop effective communication skills. Active listening means being silent and listening to understand rather than assuming, jumping to conclusions, finding fault or just waiting for your opportunity to speak. If you are listening actively you should be able to:

  1. Reflect back their words to them
  2. Reflect back their meaning to them
  3. Reflect back their feelings
  4. Ask questions to probe for more information

The following communication tips will help to develop your active listening skills:

  • Focus totally on the speaker
  • Repeat, rephrase, reflect back your understanding of the speaker's meaning and feelings
  • Probe to understand more about the situation
  • Be aware of your non verbal communication, body language, facial expressions, voice tone. It should say, I am interested, concerned, open, supportive etc.
  • Listen to and respons constructively to the non verbal communication of the speaker
  • Allow silences. This allows both parties to reflect about has been said and think about how to articulate what they want to say or ask.

Verbal Communication

t is very easy for messages to be interpreted differently than the sender intends. Therefore, to minimise this take the time to think about the message or information that you want to deliver. Make sure that you understand the message and to whom you are communicating it to.

  1. What is your objective or purpose? What do you want to achieve? What is the overall purpose of the communication? If this isn't clear to you it is more difficult to convey it to other people.
  2. Think about the receiver: how might they filter and interpret the information; how can you express your point of view or message through words, examples, questions to minimise misunderstandings and possible defensiveness.
  3. Plan questions that you can ask to gather information from the other person. For example, What are your thoughts on? What do you like about? What do you dislike about? Be prepared to ask questions to clarify your understand. For example "How do you mean? "What else?"

The page on workplace communication covers common barriers to communication which gives some tips on how to avoid common errors here. The page on Assertive Communication will also give some pointers for developing and using verbal commuication effectively to develop effective communication skills.


Non Verbal Communication

To develop effective communication skills you also need to consider the huge role that non verbal communication plays. We are always communicating something to others, even when silent. It is important to be aware of what your body langauage and facial expressions are conveying to others and to yourself.

Your non verbal communication will convey to others interest/disinterest; agreement/disagreement; approval/disapproval; confidence/no confidence; concern, belief in you/product/information etc. Therefore, your listeners or receivers of information are creating their meaning from a combination of what you say, how you say it, the tone of voice and your body language.

When you are listening to others your body language is also communicating as above. Poor body labguage here can break the communication down.

Non verbal communication tips:

  1. Be aware of what messages you may be giving to others through your tone of voice, body labguage, facial expressions. Are these messages helping or hindering the interaction?
  2. Use non verbal communication e.g. nodding, facial expressions to convey interest, eye contact, to help active listening.
  3. Be aware of other people's body language. It is feedback to you. Respond to the body language constructively. For example, if their body language seems to imply that they are not happy with the information ask them about their concerns. "You seem uncomfortable with what I am suggesting. What are your concerns." This way you move the conversation forward constructively.
  4. Be constructive, not destructive in your responses, as above. If you react negatively e.g. "I don't like your attitude" or "you're not open to new ideas" you may create defensiveness and will not learn about the person's genuine concerns.

Paraphrasing and Summarising

Paraphrasing and summarising are great communication skills to develop. They help gain a clear picture of where both parties are in the communication and what has been agreed.

Paraphrasing is a concise response to the speaker which restates the essence of their content in your own words. If you have paraphrased correctly the speaker will usually acknowledge by nodding their head or say "yes, that's rright". If the paraphrase is incorrect the speaker will usually correct you - if they feel safe to do so. For examples "So, you're saying that your concern with ......is ......." If they say "yes" then you can move the discussion on; "If, we can address that, how do you feel about the idea?" By doing this you are really creating good two-way communication, sharing information to create a common understanding.

It is also important to reflect back feelings, not just content. For example, "You are disappointed because....." It is very difficult to reflect back content and feelings if you are not practicing active listening!

At the end of the discussion, or at certain times during longer discussions, you can summarise what has been said covering the main themes and feelings. This acts as a check for both parties and helps to clarify any further misunderstandings and to keep the discussion on track.


In summary, effective communication skills include active listening, verbal communication including asking questions, non verbal communication, paraphrasing and summarising.

Clarify the message/information you want to communicate in your own head first. Know what and how you are going to say it. Otherwise it is impossible to send it accurately and confidently.

Plan and prepare the information taking into account your objective and the receivers of the information.

Articulare the message using appropriate language. Keep the message focused.

Listen actively and openly to the feedback received. Focus on what they are telling you - not on your own thoughts. Allow others to express their points and feelings. Don't interrupt and jump in.

Ask questions to understand the listener's concerns, frame of reference, beliefs and so on.

Paraphrase to check understanding.

Summarise

Use approapriate body language and voice tone.

Accept responsibility for the communication and the outcome.

Effective communication is a process and fraught with difficulties. Build your awareness and understanding to develop your skills further by reading more on the subject and or attending a communication skills training programme.

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Communication in the workplace

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