If you’re looking for a resource that’s rich with ideas, tips, and exercises that will help you become a better communicator and improve your relationships with your family, friends, and coworkers, you’ve come to the right place!
Read on to learn about how important communication is in a relationship and how you can work on improving your communication skills.
If you wish to learn more, our Positive Relationships Masterclass© is a complete, science-based training template for practitioners and coaches that contains all the materials you’ll need to help your clients improve their communication skills and enhance not only their personal and professional relationships but also their mental wellbeing.
This article contains:
- What are Communication Activities, Exercises, and Games?
- The Role of Communication in a Relationship
- How Can We Develop Better Communication Skills?
- 18 Communication Games and Activities for Adults
- 17 Exercises to Help Improve Communication in a Relationship
- The Importance of Communication in the Family Unit
- 14 Family Therapy Activities for Communication
- A Take-Home Message
What are Communication Activities, Exercises, and Games?
The resources in this piece include tips, techniques, exercises, games, and other activities that give you the opportunity to learn more about effective communication, help guide your interactions with others, and improve your communication skills.
Some might feel like a chore you need to cross off your to-do list while others may make you forget you’re not just having fun with your family, but actually boosting vital life skills; however, they all have one thing in common: they will help you become a better, more effective, and more positive communicator with those who mean the most to you.
But what’s the deal with these activities, exercises, and games? Are they really that important or impactful? Do we really need to work on communicating when it seems like we’re pretty good at it already?
The Role of Communication in a Relationship
The answer is a resounding yes! Check out this quote from Stephen R. Covey and take a minute to think about how vital communication really is.
The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human relations techniques rather than from our own inner core, others will sense that duplicity. We simply won’t be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence.
Stephen R. Covey
As Covey notes, communication is the foundation of all of our relationships, forming the basis of our interactions and feelings about one another.
According to Australia’s Better Health Channel, communication is “the transfer of information from one place to another” and within relationships, it “allows you to explain to someone else what you are experiencing and what your needs are” (Victoria Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.).
When communication is good, we feel good about our relationships. Dr. Susan Heitler (2010) puts it this way:
When people say, ‘We have a great relationship,’ what they often mean is how they feel when they talk with one another. They mean, ‘I feel positive toward that person when we interact. I send and I receive positive vibes with them.’
Besides making our relationships easier, there are also relationship-boosting benefits to good communication:
- Effective communication shows respect and value of the other person.
- It helps us to better understand each other; not all communication is about understanding—some are intended to fight, dismiss, invalidate, undermine, etc.—but it should be!
- It makes us feel more comfortable with each other and encourages even more healthy and effective communication (Abass, n.d.).
How Can We Develop Better Communication Skills?
Fortunately, all it takes to develop better communication skills is a commitment to do so and a little bit of effort.
These tips from Australia’s Better Health Channel can help guide you toward better communication with your partner or spouse (these tips can also apply to any other relationship in your life with a little tweaking):
- Set aside time to talk without interruption from other people or distractions like phones, computers or television.
- Think about what you want to say.
- Be clear about what you want to communicate.
- Make your message clear, so that your partner hears it accurately and understands what you mean.
- Talk about what is happening and how it affects you.
- Talk about what you want, need and feel – use ‘I’ statements such as ‘I need’, ‘I want’ and ‘I feel’.
- Accept responsibility for your own feelings.
- Listen to your partner. Put aside your own thoughts for the time being and try to understand their intentions, feelings, needs and wants (this is called empathy).
- Share positive feelings with your partner, such as what you appreciate and admire about them, and how important they are to you.
- Be aware of your tone of voice.
- Negotiate and remember that you don’t have to be right all the time. If the issue you are having is not that important, sometimes let the issue go, or agree to disagree (Victoria Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.).
If you’re experiencing high levels of conflict in your relationship(s), the Better Health Channel has some specific recommendations for you:
- Avoid using the silent treatment.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Find out all the facts rather than guessing at motives.
- Discuss what actually happened. Don’t judge.
- Learn to understand each other, not to defeat each other.
- Talk using the future and present tense, not the past tense.
- Concentrate on the major problem, and don’t get distracted by other minor problems.
- Talk about the problems that hurt your or your partner’s feelings, then move on to problems about differences in opinions.
- Use ‘I feel’ statements, not ‘You are’ statements (Victoria Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.).
8 Tips on How to Teach Communication Skills
Before you teach communication skills, it’s helpful to build a framework for your students.
This useful framework comes from Alice Stott at Edutopia (2018):
- Physical: How a speaker uses their body language, facial expressions, and voice.
- Linguistic: The speaker’s use of language, including their understanding of formality and rhetorical devices.
- Cognitive: The content of what a speaker says and their ability to build on, challenge, question, and summarize others’ ideas.
- Social and emotional: How well a speaker listens, includes others, and responds to their audience (Stott, 2018).
Once you have a good framework for understanding communication, try these 8 ways to foster effective communication in your children or students:
- Teach your kids empathy so they can get a sense of what the other person is thinking and feeling.
- Teach your kids conversation skills with techniques like puppets and video modeling, which they can then apply in exercises and activities.
- Establish listening and speaking procedures in the classroom or at home (e.g., Dr. Allen Mendler’s SLANT strategy: Sit up straight, Listen, Answer and ask questions, Nod to show interest, Track the speaker; Mendler, 2013).
- Teach respectful vocabulary and remind students that being “cold” (passive) or “hot” (angry) will probably result in less understanding and more conflict.
- Teach the power of pausing (e.g., encourage them to pause, think, and ask questions like “What do you mean by that?” and “Why?”).
- Have your kids practice speaking and listening in natural settings (e.g., outside of the home and classroom).
- Encourage introspection in your children; it will help them understand themselves better as well as those around them.
- Practice taking turns with a talking stick or a ball, teaching your children that they can speak when they have the object but they are expected to listen when others are talking (Stanfield, 2017).
18 Communication Games and Activities for Adults
If you’re looking for some concrete ways to build communication skills in adults, you’ve come to the right place. Below are 18 games, activities, and exercises that you can use to help adults develop more effective listening and communication skills.
5 Communication Activities for Adults
To get started improving your (or your team’s, or your student’s) communication skills, give these 5 activities a try.
1. Card Pieces
This exercise from the team at MindTools is a good way to help participants develop more empathy, consider other perspectives, build their communication and negotiation skills.
First, make sure you have enough people for at least three teams of two, enough playing cards to give out between 4 and 6 cards to each person, and 15 minutes to spare.
Here’s how the activity works:
- Cut each playing card into half diagonally, then in half diagonally again, so you have four triangular pieces for each card.
- Mix all the pieces together and put equal numbers of cards into as many envelopes as you have teams.
- Divide people up into teams of three or four. You need at least three teams. If you’re short of people, teams of two will work just as well.
- Give each team an envelope of playing card pieces.
- Each team has three minutes to sort its pieces, determine which ones it needs to make complete cards, and develop a bargaining strategy.
- After three minutes, allow the teams to start bartering for pieces. People can barter on their own or collectively with their team. Give the teams eight minutes to barter.
- When the time is up, count each team’s completed cards. Whichever team has the most cards wins the round.
Afterward, you can use these questions to guide discussion on the exercise:
- Which negotiation strategies worked? Which didn’t?
- What could they have done better?
- What other skills, such as active listening or empathy, did they need to use?
2. Listen and Draw
This game is easy to play but not so easy to “win.” It requires participants’ full attention and active listening.
Gather your group of participants together and hand out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil to each player. Tell them you will give them verbal instructions on drawing an object, one step at a time.
For example, you might give them instructions like:
- Draw a square, measuring 5 inches on each side.
- Draw a circle within the square, such that it fits exactly in the middle of the square.
- Intersect 2 lines through the circle, dividing the circle into 4 equal parts.
As the exercise continues, it will get progressively harder; one misstep could mean that every following instruction is misinterpreted or misapplied. Participants will need to listen carefully to ensure their drawing comes out accurately. Once the instructions have all been read, compare drawings and decide who won.
For added engagement, decide in advance on what the finished product is supposed to represent (e.g., a spiderweb, a tree).
3. Communication Origami
This is a great exercise to help people understand that we all hear and interpret things differently, even if we are given the exact same information.
Here’s how it works:
- Give one sheet of standard-sized paper (8.5 x 11 inches) to each participant.
- Tell your participants that you will be giving them step-by-step instructions on how to fold their piece of paper into an origami shape.
- Inform your participants that they must keep their eyes and mouths closed as they follow instructions; they are not allowed to look at the paper or ask any clarifying questions.
- Give the group your instructions on how to fold the paper into the origami shape of your choice.
- Once the instructions have all been given, have everyone open their eyes and compare their shape with the intended shape.
You will likely find that each shape is a little bit different! To hit the point home, refer to these discussion points and questions:
- Make the point that each paper looks different even though you have given the same instructions to everybody. What does this mean?
- Ask the group if you think the results would have been better if they kept their eyes open or were allowed to ask questions.
- Communicating clearly is not easy, we all interpret the information we get differently that’s why it’s very important to ask questions and confirm understanding to ensure the communicated message is not distorted.
4. Guess the Emotion
Another useful exercise from the Training Course Material website is called “Guess the Emotion.” As you might expect, it involves acting out and guessing emotions. This helps all participants practice empathy and better understand their coworkers or group members’ reactions.
Follow these instructions to play this engaging game:
- Divide the group into two teams.
- Place on a table (or put in a box) a packet of cards, each of which has a particular emotion typed on it.
- Have a participant from Group A take the top card from the table and act out (pantomime) the emotion for his/her group. This is to be done in a fixed time limit (such as a minute or two).
- If the emotion is guessed correctly by Group A, they receive ten points.
- Now have a participant from Group B act out an emotion; award points as appropriate.
- Rotate the acting opportunities between the two groups.
- After 20 to 30 minutes of acting and guessing, call time and announce the winning team based on its point total.
If you have a particularly competitive group, consider giving a prize to the winning team!
5. The Guessing Game
Finally, another fun and engaging game that can boost communication skills: “The Guessing Game.” You will probably recognize this game, as it’s similar to what many people know as “Twenty Questions,” except there is no hard limit on the number of questions you can ask.
To start, separate the group into two teams of equal (or roughly equal) size. Instruct one player from each team to leave the room for one minute and come up with a common object that can be found in most offices (e.g., a stapler, a printer, a whiteboard).
When this person returns, their teammates will try to guess what the object is by asking only “Yes or No” questions (i.e., questions that can only be answered with “yes” or “no”). The team can ask as many questions as they need to figure it out, but remind them that they’re in competition with the other team. If there’s time, you can have multiple rounds for added competition between the teams.
Take the last 10 minutes or so to discuss and debrief. Use the following points and questions to guide it:
- Tell the group that obviously it took a long time and effort for us to find out the object in each round, but what if we didn’t have time and only had one question to ask to find out the object, what would that question be?
- The question would be “What is the object?” which is an open-ended question.
- Open-ended questions are an excellent way to save time and energy and help you get to the information you need fast, however, closed questions can also be very useful in some instances to confirm your understanding or to help you control the conversation with an overly talkative person/customer.
5 Listening Activities for Adults
If you’re intent on improving listening skills, in particular, you have lots of options; give these 5 activities a try.
1. Telephone Exercise
This classic exercise from Becky Norman (2018) at Sift’s Training Zone illustrates why listening is such an important skill, and why we shouldn’t ignore any opportunities to improve it.
Split your group into two even lines. At opposite ends of each line, whisper a phrase or short sentence to the person on the end and tell them to pass it on using only whispers, one person at a time. They can only repeat the phrase or sentence once.
While participants are busy passing the message along to the next person in line, play music or engage them in conversation to create some white noise. This will make it a bit more difficult but it will mimic real-life conditions, where distractions abound.
When the messages have made it to the end of each line, have the last person to receive the message in each line report out on what they heard. Next, have the first person to receive the message in each line report the original message and compare it to the final message received.
2. Stop Listening Exercise
This exercise, also from Becky Norman’s piece (2018), will show participants the emotional consequences of not listening and—hopefully—encourage them to practice better listening skills.
Split your group into two smaller groups of equal size and take one group outside the room. Tell them that they are instructed to stop listening to their partner after about 30 seconds, and to be open in showing their disinterest. Tell the other group to think of something that they are passionate about and be prepared to tell their soon-to-be partner a meaningful or personally relevant story about this topic.
Bring the other group back in, put all the participants into pairs, and tell them to get started. Observe the behavior from the listeners and the reactions from the speakers until you’re sure each speaker has picked up on what’s happening. Stop the conversations at this point and explain the instructions that were given to each group.
Facilitate a group discussion on the importance of listening, how to use active listening, and what indicates that someone is truly listening.
3. Listener and Talker Activity
The “Listener and Talker” activity is another good activity for showing the importance of active listening and giving participants a chance to practice their skills.
Divide your group into pairs, with one partner assigned to the talker role and the other assigned to the listener role. The talker’s job is to describe what he or she wants from a vacation without specifying a destination. The listener’s job is to listen attentively to what is being said (and what is not being said) and to demonstrate their listening through their behavior.
After a few minutes of active listening, the listener should summarize the three or main criteria the talker is considering when it comes to enjoying their vacation. Finally, the listener should try to sell the talker on a destination for their vacation. After a quick debrief on how well the listener listened, the two should switch roles and try the exercise again.
This exercise gives each participant a chance to practice talking about their wants and needs, as well as an opportunity to engage in active listening and use the knowledge they gained to understand and relate to the speaker.
4. Memory Test Activity
This great activity from TrainingCourseMaterial.com is called the “Memory Test” activity.
Here’s how it works:
- Tell participants that you are going to read them a list of words to test their memory.
- Instruct them to listen carefully, as they cannot write down any of the words. Tell them you will test them later to see how many of the words they can remember.
- Repeat each of the following words slowly, pausing briefly between each word:
- When you finish reading the list of words, distract your participants by talking about something else for at least one full minute.
- Once you have finished talking, have each participant write down as many words as they can remember from the list.
You (and your participants) will find that it’s pretty difficult to remember a list of somewhat-random words, especially when there is a break in time and another discussion in between hearing them and recalling them! Relate this to real-life listening by emphasizing the importance of paying attention to people when they are speaking to you, especially if it’s an important conversation.
5. Just Listen Activity
This activity comes from the folks at MindTools.com and offers participants a chance to communicate their feelings and provide a recap or rephrasing of another person’s feelings on a subject.
To get started, you will need an even number of people to pair off (or prepare to partner with one yourself) and eight index cards per pair. These index cards should have one topic written on each card; try to make sure the topics are interesting but not too controversial, as you don’t want listeners to dislike the speakers if they disagree with their viewpoint (e.g., you should probably avoid politics and religion).
Use these instructions to conduct the activity:
- Have the team members sit down in their pairs.
- Give each pair eight of the index cards.
- Instruct one partner to choose a random card and then speak for three minutes on how he or she feels about the topic.
- Instruct the other partner to stay quiet while the first partner talks, just listening instead of speaking.
- After the three minutes is up, the listener has one minute to recap what the speaker said (not agree, disagree, or debate, just recap).
- Have each pair switch roles and repeat the exercise so both partners get a chance to speak and to listen.
After each participant has played both roles, end the activity and guide a discussion with the following questions:
- How did speakers feel about their partners’ ability to listen with an open mind? Did their partners’ body language communicate how they felt about what was being said?
- How did listeners feel about not being able to speak about their own views on the topic? How well were they able to keep an open mind? How well did they listen?
- How well did the listening partners summarize the speakers’ opinions? Did they get better as the exercise progressed?
- How can they use the lessons from this exercise at work?
You will find this activity at this link, exercise #4.
6 Nonverbal Communication Activities for Adults
Nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication, if not more so! Use these 6 activities to practice reading and “speaking” effective nonverbal messages.
1. Power of Body Language
This activity from TrainingCourseMaterial.com will help your participants work on their body language skills.
Here’s how it works:
- Tell the participants that you are going to give them a series of instructions and you want them to follow them as fast as they can.
- State the following actions as you engage in them:
- Put your hand to your nose.
- Clap your hands.
- Stand up.
- Touch your shoulder.
- Sit down.
- Stamp your foot.
- Cross your arms.
- Put your hand to your mouth (but while saying this one, put your hand to your nose).
- Observe how many participants copied what you did instead of what you said.
Share this observation with your group and lead a discussion on how body language can influence our understanding and our reactions. It can reinforce what we hear or it can interfere with the verbal communication we receive. The more aware we are of this possibility, the better communicators we become. It’s vital to keep your own body language in mind, just as it’s vital to notice and understand others’ body language.
2. Clap and Follow
The “Clap and Follow” activity is a great way to practice using your body in conjunction with verbal communication.
It works like this:
- Tell your group that this is a game that requires their full concentration.
- Share these instructions with them:
- When they hear one clap from the leader (you), tell them this means they should stand up.
- When they hear two claps from the leader, they should hop once in place.
- When they hear three claps, they should rub their belly.
- When they hear four claps, they should do a 360-degree turn on the spot.
- When they hear five claps, they should pat their head.
- Begin the activity! Start with one clap, then two claps, and so on until you have given the group each instruction once.
- Now, mix it up! Switch between the five different instructions and begin to pick up the pace. This is when the eliminations begin.
- Each time a participant engages in the wrong activity, eliminate them from the game. Continue until there is one clear winner.
If you have a competitive group, you may want to bring a prize to ensure active engagement with the exercise. It will give participants a chance to practice nonverbal communication in a fun context.
3. Wordless Acting
This activity from Grace Fleming (2018) at ThoughtCo will show your participants how much we “speak” with our body language and facial expressions.
Here are the instructions:
- Separate your group into pairs.
- Assign one participant in each pair to be Partner A and the other to be Partner B.
- Give each participant a copy of the script (copied below).
- Instruct Participant A to read his or her lines out loud, but instruct Participant B to communicate his or her lines in a nonverbal way.
- Provide Participant B with a secret emotional distraction written on a piece of paper (e.g., Participant B is in a rush, is really bored, or is feeling guilty).
- Have each pair work through the script.
- After each pair has finished working through the script, have the “A” participants guess what emotion their partner was feeling.
This is the script you will give each participant:
A: Have you seen my book? I can’t remember where I put it.
B: Which one?
A: The murder mystery. The one you borrowed.
B: Is this it?
A: No. It’s the one you borrowed.
B: I did not!
A: Maybe it’s under the chair. Can you look?
B: Okay—just give me a minute.
A: How long are you going to be?
B: Geez, why so impatient? I hate when you get bossy.
A: Forget it. I’ll find it myself.
B: Wait—I found it!
After the activity, guide a discussion on how much information we can pick up from nonverbal communication and how important it is to regulate our bodies and our facial expressions when communicating, even if we’re also using verbal communication.
4. We Have to Move Now!
Another great exercise from Grace Fleming (2018) is called “We Have to Move Now!” and it will help your participants learn how to express and detect several different emotions.
These are the instructions for this activity:
- Cut several strips of paper.
- On each strip of paper, write down a mood, feeling, or disposition, like guilty, happy, suspicious, paranoid, insulted, or insecure.
- Fold the strips of paper so you can’t see what is written on it and place them in a bowl or jar. These are your prompts.
- Have each participant take a prompt from the bowl or jar and read the exact same sentence to the class, but with the emotion the prompt specifies.
- The sentence everybody will read is: “We all need to gather our possessions and move to another building as soon as possible.”
- Have the participants guess the emotion of each reader by writing down what they think the speaker is feeling (or what they are supposed to be feeling).
After each participant has had a chance to read the sentence based on one of the prompts, run through the emotions displayed and see how many each participant guessed correctly. Finally, lead a debriefing discussion on how things like tone and body language can impact the way a message is received.
5. Stack the Deck
All you’ll need for this exercise is a deck of playing cards, a blindfold for each participant, and some space to move around.
Here’s how “Stack the Deck” works:
- Shuffle the deck of cards and hand one out to each participant.
- Instruct the participants to keep their cards a secret; no one should see the suit or color of another participant’s card.
- Tell the participants that they will not be allowed to talk at all during this exercise.
- Instruct your participants to assemble into four groups according to their suit (hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades), but using only nonverbal communication.
- If you have the time and your participants have the inclination, try blindfolding each participant and giving the same instructions—it makes it much more difficult and more time-consuming!
- Once participants have all gathered into one of the four groups, have them line up according to their rank (Ace is the lowest, King is the highest); again, they cannot speak or show their cards to anyone during this part of the exercise.
- The group that lines up in the right order first wins!
As always, you can offer a prize to the winning team to motivate your participants.
This exercise will show how difficult it is to communicate without words, but it will also show your participants that it is not only possible, it gets easier as they start to pick up on one another’s nonverbal cues.
You can find this exercise at this link (Activity #3).
6. Silent Movie
Finally, facilitate this activity to really drive home the importance of effective nonverbal communication.
Divide your participants into two groups. For the first half of the activity, one group will be screenwriters and the other group will be actors. In the second half, the two groups will switch roles.
Instruct the screenwriters to write a silent movie, but to keep these things in mind:
- Silent movies tell a story without words. It’s important to start the scene with the actor doing an obvious task, like cleaning the house or rowing a boat.
- The scene must be interrupted when a second actor (or several actors) enter the scene, and their arrival should have a big impact. The character(s) could be anyone (or anything), including burglars, salesmen, children, or even animals.
- A physical commotion must occur.
- The problem that is caused by the commotion must be resolved by the end of the scene.
Give the screenwriters time to write out their script, then have the actors perform the script. Once the scene is finished, have the groups switch roles.
2 Communication Group Activities
Other great activities for group communication include the “Square Talk” and “Follow All Instructions” activities.
1. Square Talk Activity
For this activity, you will need one blindfold for each participant, one long piece of rope for each team (teams should be composed of around 5 participants each), and 25 minutes.
Follow these steps to give this activity a try:
- Divide your group of participants into groups of about 5 each.
- Clear the room so you have as much space as possible.
- Blindfold each participant and tell them their objective: to make a square from a rope (i.e., stand in the shape of a square with their team).
- Disorientate each participant by moving them a bit, spinning them around, etc.
- Give each participant one piece of information—and only one—from this list:
- All team members are blindfolded and must remain so for the duration of the activity.
- The rope you are holding is approximately ___ feet in length.
- The role you are holding is knotted together to form a circle; it must not be undone.
- You must not let go of the rope.
- You will be told when you have 5 minutes remaining.
- Allow the teams to work on the activity and inform them when they have 5 minutes left.
Once the teams have given this activity their best shot, use these 5 discussion questions to review the importance of good group communication:
- Do you feel as a group you communicated effectively?
- During the Activity, what communication skills did you use effectively?
- During the activity, what communication skills could you have used to improve performance?
- How important is communication in the workplace? Why?
- What key points have you learned about communication from this activity, that you wish to apply in the workplace?
2. Follow All Instructions Activity
This activity from TrainingCourseMaterial.com is a great one for young people, but it can be used with participants of all ages. All you’ll need is a set of instructions for each participant.
Here are the instructions:
- Write all of your teams initials at the top right-hand corner of this sheet.
- Write your first name on your sheet of paper.
- Write the total of 3 + 16 + 32 + 64 here: __________________
- Underline instruction 1 above.
- Check the time by your watch with that of one of your neighbor’s.
- Write down the difference in time between the two watches at the foot of this page.
- Draw three circles in the left-hand margin.
- Put a tick in each of the circles mentioned in 6.
- Sign your signature at the foot of the page.
- On the back of the page, divide 50 by 12.5.
- When you get to this point in the test, stand up, then sit down and continue with the next item.
- If you have carefully followed all these instructions, call out ‘I have’.
- On the reverse of this page, draw quickly what you think an upright bicycle looks like from overhead.
- Check your answer to Item 9, multiply it by 5 and write the result in the left-hand margin opposite this item.
- Write the 5th, 10th, 9th and 20th letters of the alphabet here: ___________________
- Punch three holes with your pen here: o o o
- If you think you are the first person to get this far, call out ‘I’m in the lead’.
- Underline all the even digits on the left-hand side of the page.
- Draw triangles around the holes you punched in Item 15.
- Now you’ve finished reading all the instructions, obey only 1, 2, 20 & 21.
- Stand up and say, “We’re the greatest team in the World!”
As you can see, the instructions include lots of silly directives (e.g., “When you get to this point in the test, stand up, then sit down and continue with the next item.”) that will identify who is following the directions and who is not—but the person that stands is actually the one not following directions!
The first and only verbal instruction you will give participants is to read all the written instructions first before engaging in any of the directives. The first person to complete the list will be declared the winner of the activity. You can offer a prize to the winner if you think the group would be motivated by it.
This exercise is a fun way to see who is paying attention and who is skipping the most vital instruction—to read everything before acting.
17 Exercises to Help Improve Communication in a Relationship
If you’re specifically looking for ways to improve your communication in a romantic relationship, these 17 exercises are a great place to start!
7 Communication Games for Couples
Defeating Divorce shares the following three games aimed at improving communication in a romantic relationship.
This game is goal-directed, meaning the couple is working towards a common goal, and that goal requires effective communication.
Here’s how it works:
- The couple sits back to back with an identical set of building blocks in front of each of them.
- One partner uses their blocks to create some sort of building or structure.
- The builder partner then relays a series of instructions to the other partner to help him or her build the exact same structure.
- The listener partner must try to build the same structure based on the speaker partner’s instructions.
This game takes some serious teamwork and good communication, and it can be repeated as needed to help a couple build their skills.
“Minefield” is a physical game that will not only get both partners up and moving, but it will also require a great deal of trust and communication to complete the challenge.
You will need a blindfold for one partner, some space to navigate, and some objects with which you can create a minefield or obstacle course. Once the course is ready to go, blindfold one partner and bring them into the room.
The challenge here is for the non-blindfolded partner to guide the blindfolded partner through the obstacle course using only verbal communication. The couple will only succeed if the blindfolded partner has trust in their partner and the non-blindfolded partner is an effective verbal communicator. Feelings of frustration are common in this game, but it can be a great way to highlight issues in communication or, alternately, highlight the couple’s communication strengths.
3. Give Me a Hand
This game is another one that can be frustrating for the couple but ultimately provides a great opportunity to build effective communication skills and unite the two in a common goal.
In this game, the couple will be given a seemingly easy task to complete, such as buttoning a shirt or tying a shoe, but with a catch—each partner will have one arm tied behind their back. The couple will find that the lack of one arm makes the task much more difficult than they might expect!
To complete the task, the couple will need to communicate effectively and coordinate their movements. It will be tough, but immensely satisfying to successfully complete this challenge!
Find more communication games here.
4. Twenty Questions Times Two
If you remember the game “Twenty Questions”, you’ll recognize this game. It can be used to help couples communicate, share important details, and strengthen their connection.
- The couple should schedule some time alone, without distractions.
- Before playing the game, each partner should come up with a list of 20 detailed personal questions to ask the other partner. The couple should feel free to get creative here!
- Both partners take turns asking each other one question at a time.
- When they’ve finished asking each other their questions, they should reverse them! Instead of asking questions like, “What is your favorite color?” each partner will ask, “What is my favorite color?”
This fun twist on a familiar game will result in greater knowledge and understanding of your spouse and, hopefully, better communication skills.
This game is a good way for couples to work on communicating and improving their connection, and all you need is your eyes!
Here’s how to do it:
- The couple sits facing each other, close enough to hold hands.
- Each partner looks directly into the other partner’s eyes.
- Each partner should take a minute to notice the feelings they are experiencing at this point.
- One partner begins talking about something simple and easy to discuss, like what happened that day, what they had for lunch, or something they are grateful for.
- The other partner reciprocates with a similar conversation, all while holding eye contact.
- The couple continues sharing things one at a time until each partner has shared at least three or four times.
- The couple discusses what the experience was like.
Many people find this game uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it can greatly enhance your sense of intimacy with your partner.
6. The Top Three
Similar to the “three good things” exercise, this game’s aim is to boost a couple’s gratitude for one another and give them both a chance to practice expressing it. Couples should schedule a time for this game every day, but the good news is that it doesn’t take long—just a few minutes will do.
To play “The Top Three”, couples should follow these instructions:
- At the end of each day, take some time to reflect on your day. Think about what your partner has done for you today.
- Take turns sharing those three things with your partner and tell them what each thing meant to you.
- Don’t forget to say “thank you” or otherwise verbally express your gratitude to your partner!
This game gets couples to practice vocalizing their appreciation and expressing gratitude, two things that are not necessarily in everyone’s daily communications but can have a big impact on a relationship.
7. Make a Play Date
Play dates are not just for kids or puppies—they are a great idea for couples as well! A play date is not your average, regularly scheduled programming sort of date, but something that is different, spontaneous, unique, and/or just plain fun!
Here are the three ground rules for the play date:
- It has to be something for just the couple to do and they cannot include the kids or discuss mundane things like chores or bills.
- It has to be something that requires both partners to be present in the moment; think sailing, rock climbing, or dance lessons rather than seeing a movie or going out to dinner.
- The couple should take turns picking the activity and try to surprise their partner with something new.
Planning this date will not only make it easier to feel connected and closer to one another, but it also provides couples with an opportunity to communicate their love for one another through their actions. Depending on the date activity, it can also provide some much-needed time for the couple to talk.
5 Exercises and Activities for Married Couples
These exercises, also from Defeating Divorce, are not just for married couples, but for anyone in a committed relationship.
1. Fireside Chats
This communication exercise is based on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” in which he addressed the American people with the intention of making it feel as if he was speaking directly into their living room, carrying on a calm and rational discussion of important issues.
The intention of this exercise for couples is similar: to make the couple feel more connected, more aware of what is going on in each other’s lives, and to maintain a pulse on how the relationship is going.
The two partners should schedule a 15 to 30-minute “fireside chat” each week to practice their ability to speak calmly, respectfully, and effectively about important and relevant issues. They should minimize the chances of distraction (turn off the TV, put their phones on silent, etc.) and focus only on one another for these chats.
What the couple discusses is up to them, but if there are salient relationship issues, this is a good time to talk about them. If the issues are very serious, it may be a good idea to start out this exercise talking about less intense, less emotional topics before moving on to the problem areas.
2. High-Low Activity
The high-low activity also aims to help couples feel more connected and in touch with one another, which requires measured and thoughtful communication. Engaging in this exercise daily will give the couple a chance to practice their communication skills on a regular basis, as well as their active listening skills.
Here’s how the exercise works:
- Wait until the end of the day (e.g., at the end of dinner, around bedtime) to put it into practice.
- The couple will then “check in” with each other about the other’s day.
- Each partner will ask the other to share their “high” of the day or the best part of their day.
- Next, each partner will ask the other to share their “low” of the day or the worst or most disappointing part of their day.
- As one partner is sharing, the other should practice active listening techniques, conveying their empathy and understanding to their partner.
This simple activity will result in a more intimate and understanding relationship between the two partners, all for just a few minutes a day.
3. Listening Without Words
If a couple wants to practice both their verbal and nonverbal communication, this is a great way to do it. The “Listening Without Words” activity allows each partner to apply both verbal and nonverbal communication skills, as it involves switching between only speaking and only listening.
This is how to practice it:
- The couple will schedule some time for themselves without kids, work, or other responsibilities interrupting them.
- They set a timer for somewhere between 3 to 5 minutes.
- Until the timer goes off, one partner acts as the speaker and the other acts as the listener. The speaker will talk about any subject they’d like to talk about.
- While the speaker talks, the listener will attempt to show the speaker compassion, empathy, and understanding through nonverbal communication only (e.g., smiling, nodding, taking their partner’s hand).
- When the timer goes off, the partners will have a chance to process what they experienced and discuss any thoughts or feelings that came up.
- Finally, the partners switch roles and repeat the exercise.
This exercise is a great way to boost your bond and your skills at the same time.
4. Eye See You
Similar to a previous exercise (“Eye-to-Eye”), this exercise relies heavily on eye contact; however, unlike the previous exercise, this one does not allow talking until the end.
Here’s how to give it a try:
- The couple should be in a quiet and relaxing environment, with as few distractions as possible.
- They sit in two chairs facing one another, near to one another but not touching.
- The couple sets a timer for five minutes and settles in their respective seats, making and holding eye contact with one another. They will hold eye contact but refrain from speaking or touching until the timer goes off.
- Both partners should be encouraged to note any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that come bubbling up during these five minutes.
- Once the timer goes off, the two should try to guess what the other person was thinking and feeling during the five minutes. Once they have a chance to guess, they should discuss these things that bubbled to the surface as they maintained eye contact.
It might surprise some people to hear what their partner was thinking and feeling during the activity, but a strong relationship depends on understanding and empathizing with one another, making communication like this a necessity.
5. Send Me a Postcard
Although we’ve mostly focused on verbal communication and communications via body language, facial expressions, and touch, there is another form that we haven’t mentioned: written communication. This activity guides the couple in developing more effective written communication skills.
Both partners should have two blank postcards and something to write with for this exercise. On one postcard, each partner will write down a message to the other partner communicating a frustration, a feeling, or a desire. They should take a few minutes to create a thoughtful message to their partner.
Once they have their postcard ready to “mail” each partner will deliver their message to their partner without any verbal communication. They will both read their partner’s message and take a few moments to process. When they feel ready, they will use their remaining blank postcard to craft a response to their partner’s message.
When both partners have finished writing their response, they will deliver those messages to one another as well. After they have both read the response postcards, the couple can debrief and discuss their messages to one another.
5 Communication Exercises for Couples Therapy
If you’re hungry for more couples’ communication exercises, maybe these five exercises will hit the spot!
1. Active Listening
Active listening is not the easiest skill to master, but it is an important one to develop. This exercise from marriage counseling expert Racheal Tasker will give you a chance to practice it with the person closest to you.
The next time you and your partner are talking about something important or sensitive, put these tips and techniques into practice:
- The speaker should remain focused on a single thought or idea.
- The listener should listen attentively to the speaker, concentrating on understanding their perspective and attempting to gain new insights into their thoughts and feelings.
- The speaker and listener should switch roles after a while to allow each to practice both types of communication.
- Both partners should practice speaking and listening with patience and love, allowing their feelings for their partner to guide them toward true understanding rather than just reacting (Tasker, n.d.).
2. Sharing Emotions Freely
It can be tough to be truly open with our emotions, but it’s vital for effective communication and a healthy relationship. Try this exercise to work on this skill.
The couple should agree to try this exercise together and follow these instructions:
- Decide on a specific time and place to put this exercise into practice.
- Let your partner know what you need to feel safe sharing your feelings, and listen to what your partner needs to feel safe sharing his or her feelings.
- Be sure to also ask your partner what would make him or her feel more comfortable as you share your feelings, as it can be just as difficult to hear as it is to share.
- Share with your partner! If it helps, use a timer to limit how much sharing can occur and to ensure equal time to share feelings.
- Listen to what your partner tells you and discuss what, if any, concrete steps you can take based on the information you’ve both shared. Commit to using the information you gained to improve your communication skills and your relationship in general (Tasker, n.d.).
3. Use Positive Language
Another great exercise from Racheal Tasker is focused on using positive language with one another. It can be surprisingly easy to slide into a pattern of mostly neutral or even negative language with your partner, but you can use this exercise to counter that tendency.
Here’s what to do:
- Commit to using positive language when you communicate with your partner.
- Ask your partner to make the same commitment to positive language.
- Avoid being overly critical or negative when communicating with your partner.
- Use a positive and encouraging tone when you speak to your partner.
- Keep an eye on the words you use; try to incorporate words like “love”, “feel”, “appreciate”, and ditch words like “fault”, “never”, and “hate” (e.g., “I hate it when you do X!”).
As partners continue to practice this exercise on a regular basis, they will find that their communication style grows more positive with less effort, and their relationship will flourish (Tasker, n.d.).
4. Take a Trip Together
There’s nothing like traveling with someone to work on your communication skills! Making a trip successful requires tons of communication, coordination, and clear expectations, but it can also open you up to fun new experiences and relaxation. To practice communicating with your partner, try planning and taking a trip together.
Plan your trip with a focus on doing things you both like, going to a place you’d both like to visit, and trying new food, activities, and other experiences together. Getting out of your routine and into a novel environment can do wonders for your communication—not to mention your overall mood.
Use some of the other tips and techniques mentioned in this article when you are planning your trip and while you are enjoying your trip; you’re sure to see some improvements to your communication with your partner (Tasker, n.d.).
You can find this exercise at this link, second exercise from the bottom.
5. I Feel (Blank)
The final exercise from Tasker is called “I Feel _____” and it’s a simple one.
We often have trouble sharing our feelings, even (or especially) with those we are closest to. A great way to work on communicating your feelings more often—and more effectively—is to practice saying “I feel (blank).”
The next time you are experiencing strong emotions or discussing a sensitive or difficult subject with your partner, try beginning your sentences with “I feel…” and continue from there. So, if you’re upset with your partner for forgetting about an important appointment or canceling plans at the last minute, instead of saying “You don’t respect my time,” try “I feel like you don’t respect my time.”
Framing your discussion in this manner—as a statement of your feelings rather than a personal attack or blaming session—is not only conducive to greater understanding, it also shows your partner that you care about having a constructive conversation and that your intentions are not to hurt them but to help them see from your perspective.
The Importance of Communication in the Family Unit
Communication within the family is vital for the same reasons as in any other context—it forms the foundation of the relationship, allows the family members to share their thoughts with each other, and provides opportunities for the family to problem-solve, build stronger bonds, and grow closer.
According to researchers Peterson and Green (2009), family communication is so important because:
“…it enables members to express their needs, wants, and concerns to each other. Open and honest communication creates an atmosphere that allows family members to express their differences as well as love and admiration for one another.”
The benefits of high-quality communication make spending time on improving the way family members relate to one another a task that is well worth the time spent on it. If you’re interested in working on your communication skills as a family, give the following activities and exercises a try.
14 Family Therapy Activities for Communication
These 14 activities are great tools to use in family therapy, but you can also try them at home.
4 Group Exercises for the Family
These four group exercises are a great introduction to communication skill-building as a family. They’re fun, engaging, and good for all ages!
1. What If?
The best time to work on communication skills is when families take the time to just sit and relax together. This simple game is a great way to do that, allowing families to improve how they communicate with one another while laughing together and putting their imagination to good use.
You will need strips of paper, a pencil or pen for each family member, and two bowls.
Here’s how the exercise works:
- Get two slips of paper and something to write with for each family member.
- On the first slip, have each family member write a question off the top of his or her head; it can be silly, serious, or anywhere in between. Put all the questions in one of the bowls and give them a good mix.
- On the second slip of paper, have each family member write an answer to the question they came up with. Place these slips in the second bowl and mix them up.
- Pass each bowl around the room and have each family member take one question slip and one answer slip.
- Have each family member read the question and the answer that they have in their hand. The questions and answers might fit well together or they may result in absurd combinations!
- Continue the game with two more slips of blank paper. It may take a few rounds for everyone to get the hang of the game, but family members will get more comfortable with the game and enjoy it more as they go along.
Use the following questions to guide your discussion as a family:
- Did the activity spark your imagination?
- Why did the questions and answers get funnier after several rounds?
You can find this exercise in the Helping Youth Succeed PDF from Thomas R. Lee and Tami Pyfer at the Utah State University Extension.
2. Expressing Individuality
Although families usually share values, norms, and beliefs, that doesn’t mean all family members will see things the same way. It can be hard for some family members to communicate their thoughts and feelings when they feel like the odd one out or a “black sheep” in the family.
To make sure your family is a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts and feelings, give the “Expressing Individuality” activity a try. It will help each family member understand that they are a valuable part of the family and that they are always free to share their unique perspective.
You’ll need about an hour for this activity, 15 minutes to make the dough and 45 minutes for the activity itself. Use one of the recipes below to make your own play dough as a family.
If you want to make reusable play dough, mix together:
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water (add food coloring to water if you want colored clay)
- ½ cup salt
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 tablespoon oil
After mixing these ingredients together, put over low heat and stir slowly. When the dough has formed into a small ball, remove it from the heat and knead while still warm. Store the clay in a sealed container.
If you plan on baking your designs at the end of this activity to preserve them, mix together:
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup salt
- ½ cup water
- Food coloring (if desired—you can also paint the figures after you bake them)
Follow these instructions to encourage each family member to express their individuality:
- Using various colors of clay dough, each family member should use their creativity and imagination to create a design or structure that represents who they are as an individual. The creation could represent a personal characteristic, a goal, a hobby, an accomplishment, or a value that is personally meaningful.
- If you’re not sure what to create, here are some examples from the activity description:
- If you love Boy Scouts, you may want to mold the image of a person sitting on a log by a campfire.
- If you received an award as the “Employee of the Month,” you may want to mold the image of something that represents hard work, or dependability.
- If friendliness is a personal characteristic that you value, you may want to mold a face with a pleasant smile, or if you have a great love for animals, you may want to mold several of your favorite animals.
- If you’re not sure what to create, here are some examples from the activity description:
- After creating your unique design, you can preserve it by placing it on a cookie sheet and baking it in the oven on warm for several hours (until hard). This will harden the clay hard so that it maintains its shape. If you did not use food coloring to color the clay, or if you like to paint, you could paint the hardened figure. Once everyone has completed a mold, display these molds in the home.
To continue working on communicating your individuality as a family, ask these questions and discuss your answers together:
- Why did you choose to make what you did?
- What does it mean to you?
If the idea of creating a figure out of play dough doesn’t appeal to you, you can also try these two alternatives:
- You could draw pictures using plain white paper and colored pencils/crayons. Drawing may allow you to express more ideas than if you use clay. Make sure that you do not place an emphasis on artistic abilities. It is okay to draw simple stick figures that represent people or other objects.
- You could cut pictures out of old magazines and paste them on a poster board. After each person has completed a mold, picture, or collage, allow each family member to explain how their collage, picture or mold represents them.
This activity can also be found in the PDF mentioned above.
3. Hints of Anger
Anger is a normal human emotion, and we will all get angry at some point. Instead of trying to avoid or deny anger, it’s vital that families learn how to manage their anger and communicate it to others in a healthy way. This activity will help family members identify their anger cues (the signs that indicate they are getting angry) and help them regulate their emotions to ensure they don’t say or do something they will regret.
Here’s how to do this activity as a family:
- Tell family members to think about a time when they were angry or upset, and consider how they felt.
- Have family members come up with answers to the following questions and any others they might think of in relation to how they felt when angry.
- Were your hands relaxed or clenched in a fist?
- Was your heart rate normal or beating fast?
- Were your muscles relaxed or tight with tension?
- What kind of thoughts was going through your head?
- As a family, discuss any discrepancies between what you think about your anger cues and what other family members think.
- Next, have each family member think of a time when they were relaxed and having a good time and discuss these questions:
- How did your body feel during this period of time?
- In which scenario did you feel more comfortable, angry, or happy?
- Discuss the importance of knowing when you are getting upset and might need to take a break and think.
After the activity, discuss these questions as a family:
- Why is it important to recognize the signs that you are angry?
- Why is it important to control your anger?
- What do you feel like specifically, when you are upset?
- What are the things you are going to do to manage your anger so it does not hurt your family relationships?
- Can recognizing anger cues help in managing your anger?
4. Family Meetings
Family meetings are a good idea for a lot of reasons, but yet another benefit of these get-togethers is the potential for building and developing better communication skills as a family. Regular family meetings can help family members learn how to:
- Make joint decisions
- Plan together
- Accept responsibility
- Show concern for others
- Spend some quality time together
Pick one night of the week when your family can consistently get together for a weekly family meeting that lasts 30 to 60 minutes, and make sure it’s scheduled on everyone’s calendar.
Here’s how to conduct good family meetings:
- Set a regular time. Setting a regular time and place gives the family council a position of importance and results in it becoming a permanent part of family operations. If everyone knows that the family is meeting together regularly, they find that most problems can wait a few days to be discussed. For this reason, some families like weekly meetings.
- Use an agenda. Post a paper during the week where family members can list concerns they want brought up (possibly, the message center). Discuss things in the order listed. This also reduces problems between meetings when parents can say, “List it on the agenda and we’ll discuss it at the meeting.”
- Attendance is voluntary. All members of the family are invited to attend — but attendance is voluntary. However, if a member is not present, he/she is still expected to abide by any decisions made by the family council.
- Each person has an equal voice. Everyone should be encouraged to contribute ideas and suggestions. All members must be treated the same, regardless of age. Using the steps of negotiation to (1) introduce the problem, (2) discuss solutions, and (3) vote on a solution. This gives everyone a chance to be involved. Councils do not always run smoothly. Teenagers are often suspicious that the new program is just another way for parents to gain compliance with their demands. In the first council meetings, rebelliousness may be exhibited to deliberately test whether parents are sincere about including them in family decision-making.
- Use rules of order. If participation is to be equal, then some type of order must be maintained. If a person has the right to express himself, then he also has the right to be heard — which implies that others have the obligation to listen. Rules of order help this situation.
- Rotate chairmanship. If the same person conducts all meetings, that person eventually begins to assume an air of superiority. To help maintain a feeling of equality, family members should take turns conducting the councils. This allows each person to experience the privileges and the responsibilities of this position.
- Accentuate solutions. Family council should not be “just a gripe session” — a time to get together and complain. In order to prevent this, you may decide that the person presenting a problem must also suggest one possible solution. Family members could then discuss alternate solutions or modify the one presented.
In practice, some solutions do not work as well as anticipated. As family members begin to live with a decision, they may decide it needs to be changed. This change, however, must wait until the next regular meeting. Children soon recognize a need for better solutions and they learn by experience to make wiser choices. When family council is held regularly, each member learns to project ahead and anticipate problems. When this occurs, the emphasis at council meetings shifts from problem-solving to problem prevention and planning. Family council can also be a time to plan fun things like vacations or family outings. Families can talk about different places to visit and how they want to spend the time available.
- Decide on the authority level. The family council can be the final authority for the family, or a family can have a modified version of decision making. For it to be effective, however, most decisions made by the council need to be binding. If parents always overrule the council, children will soon lose interest.
- Keep a record. There sometimes develops a difference of opinions as to who conducted the last meeting, what matters were discussed, and what plans were agreed upon. For this reason, a secretary to record minutes is most helpful. The secretary can rotate with each meeting.
After your first family meeting, discuss these questions as a family:
- How did your first family meeting go?
- What about the meeting was good? What was bad?
- What do you want to incorporate in future meetings?
See this exercise in the Helping Youth Succeed PDF.
4 Active Listening Exercises
Active listening is a vital part of communication and can greatly improve relationships between family members. These four active listening exercises are a great way to boost your skills.
1. Precision Communication
Another activity from the Helping Youth Succeed PDF that can help your family build and continue to develop good communication skills is called “Precision Communication.” It’s focused on active listening, which is a vital part of communication and conducive to better understanding and stronger, healthier relationships.
Here’s how to put this activity into practice:
- Set up a maze in your home using furniture, such as kitchen chairs or other pieces of furniture that can act as a barrier.
- Tie string or yarn between the furniture to create a clear path through the maze.
- Select a family member that will try to walk through the maze blindfolded. This person must not see the maze prior to being blindfolded.
- Have someone give voice instructions so the family member can be directed through the maze.
This activity’s aim is to see if the family member giving instructions can help the blindfolded family member get through the maze without bumping into the furniture, walls, or string. This means that not only must the speaking family member communicate clear and detailed instructions, but the blindfolded family member must also use their active listening skills to receive the instructions and implement them effectively.
Use these discussion questions to debrief and maximize this learning opportunity:
- Why was clear detailed communication necessary for this exercise?
- How important was it to listen carefully to the one giving instructions? Why?
- What were some of the difficulties associated with helping a family member complete this exercise?
- Using some of the ideas from this exercise, how can you, as a family, improve your communication skills?
If you want more from this activity, try this follow-up:
Draw a simple picture or pattern on a piece of paper. Without letting family members see the diagram, tell them what they need to do to make a copy of your picture that matches as closely as possible. After giving detailed instructions, see how accurately the pictures match up.
2. End of the Word—Beginning of the Next
This is a fun game on the Encourage Play website that can keep your kids actively engaged in building their listening skills.
Here’s how to play:
- One person (probably an adult) starts the game by giving out one word—it can be any word, it just needs to be one that every family member knows how to spell.
- The next family member must listen to the word the previous person said, then come up with a word that starts with the letter the last word ended with.
- For example, the game might go through a set of words like this:
This is an easy game to play since you don’t need any materials, just a few minutes and the ability to hear one another! That makes it a great game for car rides, waiting in restaurants, or standing in a long line. To make it more challenging, give it a bit of complexity by limiting the words to a category, like animals or cities.
3. Red Light Green Light
Another exercise from the Encourage Play website is a familiar one. It’s based on the classic “Red Light, Green Light” game in which the leader gives instructions by color: saying “red light” means stop and saying “green light” means go.
To make the game a bit more challenging and really emphasize the importance of active listening, incorporate these three variations to the game:
- Different colors refer to different types of movement; for example, yellow light could mean skipping, purple light could mean crab walking, and blue light could mean hopping.
- Pretend to be a different animal for different colors (yellow = lion, green = bunny, purple = frog, etc.).
- Use words that rhyme with red or green to see if the players catch the difference (e.g., “Bread Light! Teen Light!”).
4. Tell a Group Story
Group stories are a great way to practice active listening with the whole family. It also gives kids a chance to be creative and silly, which helps to keep them engaged in the activity.
Here’s how it works:
- The first person (probably an adult) starts a story with just one sentence (e.g., “Once upon a time, there was a very curious brown bunny”).
- The next person adds onto the story with just one sentence as well (e.g., “This bunny lived with her mother and father in a cozy little burrow under a willow tree”).
- The story continues until everyone has contributed at least a couple of sentences to the story.
This activity boosts active listening skills because it requires careful and attentive listening to what has already been said in order to make a good contribution to the story.
3 Assertive Communication Exercises
One of the best skills to teach your kids is how to be assertive instead of aggressive or passive (or passive-aggressive). Use these three exercises to help them learn this important skill.
1. Assertive Communication Worksheet
This worksheet is a great way to help older kids understand the difference between types of communication and to learn how to communicate assertively.
The worksheet first provides a good working definition of assertive communication:
“A communication style in which a person stands up for their own needs and wants, while also taking into consideration the needs and wants of others, without behaving passively or aggressively.”
It also outlines the traits of people who are assertive communicators, including:
- Clearly state needs and wants
- Eye contact
- Listens to others without interruption
- Appropriate speaking volume
- Steady tone of voice
- Confident body language
Next, it shares four tips on communicating assertively:
- Respect yourself—your wants and needs are as important as everyone else’s.
- Express your thought and feelings calmly rather than using the silent treatment or yelling and threatening.
- Plan out what you’re going to say before you say it.
- Say “no” when you need to, say it clearly, and do it without lying.
After some examples of assertive communication, we get to the active part of the worksheet. It’s geared toward adults, but the scenarios can be tweaked to fit kids as well.
There are four situations presented and space to write out your own assertive response to each. These situations are:
- Your partner says, “I know you have plans for the weekend, but I really need you to watch the kids. I have a friend coming to town, and we made plans.”
- Situation: You’ve just received your food at a restaurant, and it was prepared incorrectly. Your sandwich seems to have extra mayo, instead of no mayo.
- Your friend says, “Hey, can I borrow some money? I want to buy these shoes, but I left my wallet at home. I’ll pay you back soon, I swear. It won’t be like last time.”
- Situation: Your neighbor is adding an expansion to their house, and the crew starts working, very loudly, at 5 am. It has woken you up every day for a week.
Working through these scenarios as a family can help your kids see what healthy assertive communication looks like and show them that it’s okay to say “no” sometimes.
2. The Aggressive Alligator
The Aggressive Alligator is a great tool from Kristina Marcelli-Sargent, for teaching assertiveness over aggressiveness or passiveness. It makes what can be a dry and boring subject more interesting and engaging.
Start by giving simple definitions to the terms “passive,” “aggressive,” and “assertive.” Next, show them a list of animals or a bin of small stuffed animals and allow them to choose an animal that they feel represents each definition. The aggressive animal doesn’t need to be an alligator, it can be anything that makes sense to your children.
After your kids have chosen an animal for each term, describe some social situations and instruct your kids to act them out with their animals. Each animal should act according to the definition it represents (e.g., the aggressive alligator should act aggressively, the passive panda should act passively, and the assertive anteater should act assertively).
Once all scenarios have been acted out, talk to your kids about how the outcomes differed between the three animals. Point out which one(s) resulted in a positive outcome and which one(s) should probably be avoided. In the future, you can refer back to the assertive anteater to remind your kids to be assertive instead of passive or aggressive (Sargent, 2015).
3. Keeping Cool
A great lesson for kids to learn is that assertive communication is about being firm and direct without being angry or upset. This activity will help you teach healthy assertiveness to your kids or students.
Here’s how to go about it:
- First, ask your kids how people might feel when they are bullied. If they have trouble coming up with answers, talk about how people might feel angry, scared, sad, upset, embarrassed, or confused.
- Next, ask your kids what kinds of things people want to do when they feel this way. If they can’t think of things people might do when they feel upset, angry, or sad, mention that they might yell, throw something, hit something, hide, cry, or do something else to make another person feel as bad as they feel.
- Ask your kids if they think these are good or helpful things to do. Explain how everyone has strong, negative feelings like this sometimes, and that it’s okay to feel them. These feelings have a purpose; they tell us that something is wrong or that something needs to be fixed, but they can also encourage us to do the wrong thing unless we learn how to keep a cool head.
- Ask your kids to describe things they can do to keep calm and assertive when they are feeling angry, fearful, or upset. Once they come up with a few possibilities, have your kids act them out. They might come up with things like:
- Close your eyes and take several slow deep breaths
- Count to ten
- Stand tall
- Relax the muscles in your face and body
- Talk silently to yourself and repeat a soothing phrase, such as “Keep calm” or “I control my feelings”
- Get a drink of water
- Go sit by a person you trust
Discuss these options with the whole group and decide together on what the best techniques are, then practice using them together.
Click here to read about this exercise from the Education Development Center’s Bullying Prevention program.
3 Nonverbal Communication Exercises
Finally, although verbal communication is generally the focus of skill-building exercises and activities, nonverbal communication is also a vital skill to develop.
Use these 3 exercises to help your kids build their nonverbal skills.
1. Understanding Non-Verbal Communication
Things like tone of voice, facial expressions, body posture, and hand gestures are all non-verbal, but they are hugely important in our communication with others. If we say one thing with our words and another with our face or body, we can end up giving mixed messages and confusing others. To make sure we are saying what we want to say with our words and our face, body, and tone, help your kids learn how to understand and “speak” non-verbal communications.
Here’s how the folks at Utah State University Extension’s Helping Youth Succeed series describe this activity:
“As a family, make a list of different non-verbal actions. For example, folding your arms, snorting, frowning, etc… Select a TV program or a segment of a video. Watch about 5 to 7 minutes of the program with the volume off. While watching the program without volume, identify the different non-verbal messages, especially the feelings that are expressed. After 5 to 7 minutes, turn off the TV and discuss what you observed. You could even carry on the discussion as the program continues.”
To get the discussion started, use questions like:
- What were the non-verbal messages that you observed?
- How important do you think the non-verbal messages are in helping you to enjoy the movie and understand what was going on in the movie?
- Did you observe any confusing non-verbal messages?
- What feelings were expressed through non-verbal communication?
- What were some of the difficulties of this activity?
- What can you do to be more aware of non-verbal messages?
- Did everyone think the non-verbal message meant the same thing?
- Are non-verbal messages always obvious in real life?
If you want more from this exercise, try this follow-up activity. Seat two family members away from each other and have them carry on a conversation about giving directions to somewhere or explaining how to do something. As they talk, they should focus on trying to understand the other person’s feelings. After doing this for a few minutes, the two should turn around, face each other, and continue the discussion—they will likely find it much easier!
Use the following questions to guide your discussion after the follow-up:
- When you had your backs to each other, did a lack of non-verbal communication affect your ability to communicate with the other person? If so, how?
- What feelings did you experience as you communicated with your back to the other person?
- When you spoke to the other person face-to-face, did this improve your ability to communicate and understand the other person’s feelings? If so, how?
- Did face-to-face communication improve your ability to understand the other person’s feelings?
- How can you increase your awareness of non-verbal messages you do not mean to be sending?
- How can you be aware of how we may misinterpret someone else’s non-verbal messages?”
Charades is a popular game with kids since it’s fun, easy to play, and can result in some seriously silly situations.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Write down the names of animals and/or scenarios that are easily acted out. If you’re not sure where to begin, give these a try:
- Animals: Monkey, dog, cat, rabbit, kangaroo, snake
- Activities: brushing teeth, playing cards, shining a flashlight, fishing, playing frisbee
- Emotions: scared, sad, bored, angry, happy, wary, proud
Acting out these prompts will give kids an opportunity to practice communicating non-verbally, a skill that they can easily build over time (Simmons, n.d.).
This nonverbal communication activity is available from Sue Simmons at Equinox Family Consulting.
3. Silent Snack
Finally, another activity from Sue Simmons is called “Silent Snack” and it gives young children a chance to have fun while building their nonverbal communication skills.
Follow these instructions to give it a try:
- Put out a few different snacks in individual bowls.
- Tell everyone it’s “Silent Snack Time,” meaning there’s no talking allowed!
- Offer each person a taste of each snack.
- Each player should take turns sharing their opinion on each snack. They can use indicators like thumbs up and thumbs down or facial expressions to communicate their opinions.
It’s a simple activity, but an effective one! Give it a try at your next snack time.
Take Home Message
I hope you leave this piece with a treasure trove of new resources you can use to improve your own life or the lives of your clients.
Communication skills are one of the most important skills a person can have, making it well worth your while to devote some time and energy to develop them.
What are your favorite ways to work on communicating with your spouse? Do you schedule a time to talk about how your relationship is doing or do you just let it flow naturally? What do you think are the best ways to build, enhance, and maintain your communication skills? Let us know in the comments section.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you wish to learn more, don’t forget to check out our Positive Relationships Masterclass©.
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