A Guide to Better Communication

Good communications skills can benefit many relationships in a person's life. Relationships with loved ones, bosses, co-workers, teachers, and friends are all affected by the way a person communicates. Clear, open, honest communication helps people to share important experiences and identify with other points of view. 

The Process

  • The communication process is the act of one person sharing an idea or thought with a listener as well as the listener's understanding.
  • There are different types of communication including verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication refers to the actual words a person is saying in the effort to explain their point of view, describe an image, or express an opinion. Alternatively, the non-verbal communication process involves eye contact, gestures, touching, and other types of body language.
  • The majority of communication is non-verbal. A person is continuously sending out non-verbal communications. For example, if a listener stands with their arms crossed they are communicating in a non-verbal way that they are not open to what is being said. Alternatively, if someone doesn't maintain eye contact with a speaker chances are they are not interested in what the person is saying. A person speaking in a low tone of voice is communicating that they want to keep their words private.

Communication Barriers

  • A person's choice of words can cause a barrier in communication with a listener. For instance, the speaker may use a word that the listener is unfamiliar with causing a lack of understanding between the two people. Furthermore, a particular phrase may conjure up a different image for the speaker and the listener. For example, a person complains to a friend about a long wait at his doctor's office. The speaker considers twenty minutes a long wait while his friend thinks of a long wait as an hour or more.
  • Defensiveness is another barrier to communication. If a listener feels they are being verbally attacked or accused of something they won't be receptive to what the speaker is saying.
  • Misinterpreted body language can be another communication barrier. A listener may suddenly cross their arms leading a speaker to believe that they aren't receptive to what is being communicated. The listener may actually be crossing their arms because they are cold.
  • External noise such as loud conversation in a room can prevent a listener from hearing all of what a speaker is saying causing a lack of understanding or misinterpretation.
  • A communication barrier can crop up when a listener makes assumptions about the motives of a speaker without hearing them out.
  • When two people from different cultural backgrounds are speaking, there is sometimes a communication barrier. This happens simply because they are looking at things from differing perspectives or points of view.
  • If a speaker or listener has a bias, it can act as a communication barrier. For instance, if a speaker is biased toward a particular political party they might lose their listeners' attention if the listener is loyal to a different party.
  • A communication barrier can come up when a conversation involves two people who speak different languages. A mistranslation can easily occur and change the meaning or tone of what one person is trying to say.

Nonverbal Communication

  • Visual signals are a big part of nonverbal communication. A person's facial expressions can indicate how they are receiving information from a speaker. In addition, a person who is waving their hands or jumping up and down as they speak is communicating the excitement they feel about what they are saying.
  • One example of tactile communication is a gentle pat on a person's shoulder to convey compassion. One person grabbing the arm of another communicates a desire to get a person's immediate attention. Tactile communication involves physical touch of the other person.
  • Vocal communication includes the tone a speaker uses with a listener. A speaker may emphasize a point with a tone of sarcasm or enthusiasm. Alternatively, a person may speak in a low tone to communicate a sense of secrecy to a listener.
  • Time, image, and space are also elements of nonverbal communication. The speaker has to keep in mind the important task on conveying a point in a succinct way using appropriate gestures to help the communication along. Alternatively, a listener must convey understanding of the speaker by asking questions and adding comments at appropriate times. In addition, a speaker has to consider how much physical space they are giving a listener and whether the listener is comfortable.

Nonverbal Cues

  • A speaker's nonverbal cues have the ability to repeat the message they are conveying to an audience. For example, if a speaker is telling a listener about a meaningful event in their life they will maintain eye contact.
  • A nonverbal cue also has the power to contradict the words that the speaker is communicating. A listener may question the validity of what a speaker is saying if they can't maintain eye contact.
  • A nonverbal cue can substitute for the words of a speaker. If a person begins crying as they explain an occurrence, the listener recognizes their feelings about the event without hearing the actual words.
  • A nonverbal cue has the ability to complement what a speaker is trying to communicate. A speaker who shakes hands warmly with a listener as they offer congratulations is complementing what they say with a nonverbal cue.
  • Certain nonverbal cues may accent the message of a speaker. For example, a speaker may shake their hands in front of their face as they describe a situation that made them angry.

Learning Listening Skills

  • An important part of being an effective listener is to put aside assumptions. Listening to someone with an open mind will allow for a fuller understanding of the message.
  • A listener who focuses on their opinions and feelings about a speaker is sure to miss what the person is saying. An effective listener puts their concentration on the speaker's words.
  • Large and small distractions can steal a listener's attention away from the message of a speaker. In today's world it takes focused concentration to block out everything but the words of a speaker.
  • A listener who pays attention to nonverbal cues will be able to determine whether the speaker believes in what they are saying.
  • There is little chance to learn in a one sided conversation. An effective listener pays sincere attention to what a speaker is saying and is not just waiting for their next opportunity to break in with a comment.
  • A person who is honest about what they are saying is more likely to be appreciated and remembered by the listener.
  • Maintaining eye contact with a speaker lets them know you are truly listening.
  • A reaction response of a nod or a word of agreement should be added at an appropriate time. When a listener is truly listening, they will react to the speaker to demonstrate their interest.


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