Good communication can inspire, lead, influence, enhance, and fundamentally alter the lives of those around us.
In its absence, beliefs, hopes, dreams, concerns, and passions can be lost to misunderstandings or washed away among the general hubbub of our daily lives.
Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.
And yet effective communication techniques can improve what and how we communicate.
This article discusses the background of communication techniques before introducing tools to help you deliver and understand the information that is important to us.
This article contains:
- What Are Communication Techniques?
- Brief Look at the Research
- 10 Basic Techniques
- 3 Real-Life Examples
- Therapeutic and Counseling Techniques
- Techniques for Relationship Counseling
- Effective Communication in Coaching
- 2 Useful Tools and PDFs
- 7 Strategies for Managers and Businesses
- Strategies for Successful Workplace Communication
- 3 Valuable Books on the Topic
- PositivePsychology.com Resources
- A Take-Home Message
What Are Communication Techniques?
Language is underpinned by systems of symbols and rules that have evolved to facilitate communication (Eysenck & Keane, 2015). While we are predisposed to acquire and use languages, they have to be learned, and like many other cognitive functions, their use improves with training and practice.
Speech is one of the most common forms of communication. While many factors influence the transfer of information between speaker and listener – including the knowledge stored within our brain and the environment in which transfer occurs – cooperation is vital (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).
According to the influential philosopher of language Herbert Paul Grice (1967), there are four maxims a speaker should heed for effective communication.
- Say things that are relevant to the situation;
- Be as informative as necessary;
- Be truthful; and
- Make our contribution easy to understand.
When communication (both delivery and receipt of ideas and thoughts) is performed well, we can immerse ourselves in the dialogue.
Indeed, in Co-Active Coaching, Kimsey-House, Kimsey-House, Sandahl, and Whitworth (2018) describe three levels of listening: internal listening, where awareness is on ourselves; focused listening, where attention is totally on the coachee; and finally, and most immersive, global listening, where we listen as though both coach and coachee are at the center of the universe.
The techniques we use to communicate should actively encourage the fullest communication possible and include active listening, attending, responding, paraphrasing, summarizing, and probing (Kabir, 2017).
Brief Look at the Research
The desire to improve communication continues to drive research in psychology and business with the overall goal of improving understanding, sharing knowledge, and reducing misunderstanding.
Active listening – giving full attention to the speaker and listening with all senses – has received considerable focus due to its ongoing success in occupational and therapeutic settings.
A 2014 study in the International Journal of Listening found that participants trained to respond with active listening were higher in conversational satisfaction and social attractiveness (Weger, Bell, Minei, & Robinson, 2014). Further studies within business found that active listening forms a deeper connection between speaker and listener (Spataro & Bloch, 2017).
Paraphrasing has also proved successful in improving communication. Indeed, comprehension skills increased in schools when students were trained to repeat back what was understood to have been said, using their own words (Hagaman, Casey, & Reid, 2015).
And probing – a “diligent and thorough inquiry or investigation” – using focused and appropriate questions has been shown to improve understanding during communication and facilitate knowledge acquisition (Selvalakshmi, 2012).
10 Basic Techniques
Effective communication does not have to be complicated. Indeed, the following list contains basic guidance available to us all in verbal and nonverbal situations:
- Maintain eye contact.
The speaker needs to know that the listener is attending to what is said, and the listener wants assurance that the speaker is engaged in what they are saying to their audience.
- Maintain appropriate body language.
Consider whether nonverbal techniques could confuse, promote, or negate the message. For example, head shaking, nodding, smiling, leaning forward, leaning back, and how you are sitting or standing while you talk may change the tone and even the content of the message.
- Use people’s names.
When a group is small enough, using someone’s name can begin and maintain rapport while reinforcing a sense of belonging.
- One person speaks at a time.
This can be supported by using a ‘talking stick’ (only the person in possession can talk) or reaching an agreement in advance not to interrupt or talk over one another.
- Use personal pronouns.
When feelings or beliefs are being discussed, try to use “I” and “we” to make those beliefs personal to the speaker.
- Address group issues early.
When a problem has arisen that may affect communication, address it as early as possible.
- First seek to understand, and then to be understood.
Listen to what is being said, and ask questions to remove uncertainty. Only then put forward your views or answers.
- Ask open-ended questions.
Use questions that probe and encourage the other person to open up and explain what they are trying to communicate.
- Be honest.
We are highly developed at detecting when someone is less than truthful; be open and honest in what you say.
- Use appropriate language.
Speak in a way that the listener can understand. Using technical jargon while speaking to someone with a different background will lead to confusion and detachment.
3 Real-Life Examples
Good communication is an art, and sometimes better learned through experience and examples.
The following are three real-life anecdotes where communication was crucial to success or failure:
In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and polluting the Gulf of Mexico with nearly 5 million oil barrels. An issue had been found earlier in the day, but a communication failure between BP and its contractors meant that no action was taken (Bryant, 2011). Incomplete or incorrect communication cost lives and had a catastrophic impact on the environment.
When KFC partnered with Oprah Winfrey to promote a new line of chicken using free coupons, they drastically misjudged the offer’s potential uptake. The poorly thought through communication led to KFC being unable to fulfill their promises, customer dissatisfaction, and bad press (Taylor, 2019).
The New York Times wrote a critical article regarding the negative impact Starbucks’s automated scheduling procedures had on the ability of Jannette Navarro, a barista and single mother, to work.
The next day, communication went out to all 130,000 workers to fix the problem through an improved scheduling process. Communication was timely and effective in correcting an underlying problem and restoring the company’s public image (Kantor, 2014).
The following two videos provide a light-hearted and fictional take on the challenges we face daily to communicate well:
It’s not about the nail.
This video explores the need to be heard.
Unspoken is a delightful short film highlighting the fragility of communication.
Therapeutic and Counseling Techniques
Counseling is based around a conversation between the client and the counselor – the clearer the communication, the more likely the insight leads to positive change.
However, the counselor’s challenge is to show their acceptance, empathy, and authenticity to the client while clarifying or nudging along the conversation.
Active listening can be used to significant effect to encourage the client to talk and feel understood and heard. The counselor must listen, often saying very little, to understand the meaning behind what is communicated, both verbally and nonverbally.
Some critical skills for active listening (modified from Kabir, 2017) include:
- Use of encouragers
Use short words and signals to flag listening and engagement, e.g., nodding the head, words like ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘uh-huh.’
- Open body language
To communicate openness, safety, and readiness to listen, sit with arms unfolded facing the client in an open posture.
- Repeat back
Repeat some of the keywords back to the client to prompt for more information.
Sum up, using your own words, the main ideas behind the discussion.
Repeat the last thought back to the speaker using your own words.
- Mirror the speaker
To a moderate degree and to make them feel at ease, adopt the speaker’s body language, language style, and vocal tone.
Pay attention to the speaker’s mood or feelings, and feed your interpretation back to them.
- Balance silence with questioning skills
Allow time for the client to think about what they are going to say and use appropriate questions to help the client open up.
The following four golden rules can implement a positive, open, and authentic environment for counseling (Kabir, 2017).
- Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.
- Be nonjudgmental.
- Give the speaker your undivided attention.
- Use silence effectively.
Techniques for Relationship Counseling
Couples therapy focuses on effective communication, building relationship skills, tackling difficult issues, and finding ways to grow more closely as a couple.
Many techniques can help a couple form a closer bond and be better able to share their concerns, needs, and love. The following three techniques are particularly useful in positive psychology relationship counseling:
The Building the 5 Rituals of Connection technique is geared to create meaningful rituals, agreed upon by both partners, to generate positive and relationship-strengthening behavior patterns that improve communication and closeness.
Positive Relationship Timeline
The Positive Relationship Timeline is appropriate when couples face challenges, where strength and positivity can be found in shared past experiences. Use this tool to promote communication through a familiar narrative.
Fostering Admiration in Couples helps overcome the loss of the ‘honeymoon’ phase of a relationship. It can be managed through fostering positivity over time and ensuring that the communication channels remain open.
Effective Communication in Coaching
In the excellent book Co-Active Coaching, Kimsey-House et al. (2018) outline five essential concepts for well-balanced and effective coaching through cohesive communication:
The first involves listening. The coach must listen for the meaning behind the story.
What is the theme? What are the coachee’s vision, values, and purpose?
What is it that is stopping them – causing resistance?
The next revolves around intuition. The coach must identify what is in the background, out of plain sight, and hidden by lack of trust.
What is our hunch? What do we intuit, beyond what is said?
Curiosity helps lead the process of discovery for both coach and client. Ask powerful questions to break down defenses and uncover well-hidden truths.
Fourth on the list is forward and deepen. For change to take place, action and learning must be combined. Action on its own is not sufficient; instead, combine it with understanding and learning.
Lastly, self-management. The communication and client–coach relationship should not be on two separate sides, but rather the same one. The coach must be over with the client, rather than ‘looking good’ on the other side of the table.
For the coach to be an agent of change, commitment and strong communication skills are required.
2 Useful Tools and PDFs
The following two PDFs are reflection exercises to review and improve past and future communication in any environment:
- Try out the Effective Communication Reflection Worksheet to revisit the 10 basic communication techniques discussed earlier and identify how they can be implemented.
- Work through the Active Listening Reflection Worksheet to ensure you listen with your whole body and give your full attention to what is being said.
7 Strategies for Managers and Businesses
Open, honest, and timely communication within an organization is crucial to maintaining staff morale and creating a thriving and innovative culture.
Try out some of the following strategies to improve communication:
- Be authentic.
Your message should be as truthful and complete as possible. Avoid jargon and be transparent.
- Be consistent.
Communication should be consistent across the business, in style, content, and impact.
- Communicate early.
Don’t wait until you have all the information. Clarify what is known and what updates will follow.
- Tailor your message.
Make the message appropriate to the audience. While sales and finance may want graphs and lots of numbers, other teams want the analysis and bottom line.
- Reinforce the message.
Communicate the same message across more than one channel. Emails, posters, and town halls can clarify and strengthen the message.
- Ask for feedback and mean it.
Ensure a channel is open for feedback, listen to it, and respond appropriately.
- Empower your managers.
Keep all management levels informed and empower them with knowledge so they can deliver consistent messages.
Strategies for Successful Workplace Communication
Clear and effective communication in the workplace creates the right environment for overcoming challenges and delivering success. Practical techniques can be implemented at all levels of the business to ensure goals are shared, needs are met, and relationships strengthened:
- Leaders need to convey a clear vision to the company.
- Teams need to share goals, challenges, and successes.
- Reporting lines need to communicate what it means to do a job well.
- Issues or problems need to be raised and acted upon quickly and effectively.
Many techniques can make communication more transparent, engaging, and effective, including:
- Adopting a positive, friendly, and engaging attitude to improve and increase communication flow.
- Managers need to be available when required by their staff.
- Be a good listener. This means don’t interrupt or try to answer before hearing what is being said.
- Consider nonverbal communication. Is your body or behavior saying something different from what your words or presentation are attempting to convey?
- Be clear as more communication is not necessarily better. Explain the background and the issue while focusing on what is relevant.
- Remain open-minded. Do not work on the response in your head and stop listening.
- Welcome feedback. Listen to and act upon criticism.
3 Valuable Books on the Topic
1. Co-Active Coaching: The Proven Framework for Transformative Conversations at Work and in Life – Henry Kimsey-House,
Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth
This book provides excellent guidance on how to introduce effective communication into professional coaching.
According to Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it is the “bible of coaching guides.”
Indeed, it successfully provides leaders and managers with the skills needed to drive greater workplace engagement.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever – Michael Bungay Stanier
Stanier (2016) draws on thousands of hours of training busy managers in practical everyday coaching skills.
As coaching now forms part of the day for many managers, this book provides the questions and approach to get to the heart of the challenges they and their team face.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High – Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
This is a hugely popular book that recognizes that dialogues and conversations shape who we are and the lives we lead and offers insightful techniques for improving both.
It is a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller that prepares the reader for high-stress situations, while teaching how to be “persuasive rather than abrasive.”
Find the book on Amazon.
It contains all the materials you’ll need to help your clients improve their personal and professional relationships, ultimately enhancing their mental wellbeing.
Our article, with a plethora of communication activities, exercises, and games, is a great resource for improving your communication.
On the flip side of the coin, effective communication also relies on effective conflict resolution, and this article shares a number of conflict resolution worksheets to assist with improving positive conflict resolution.
If you have a client who needs help being more assertive in their communication, this article on assertive communication is recommended.
17 Positive Communication Exercises – If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others communicate better, this collection contains 17 validated positive communication tools for practitioners. Use them to help others improve their communication skills and form deeper and more positive relationships.
A Take-Home Message
Strong communication positively impacts every aspect of our lives. Whether dealing with family members, staff, or clients, it is vital to building healthy relationships through common understanding and shared emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and worries.
The techniques described in this article help develop sincere and authentic communication in business, relationships, or in a coaching session.
After all, while the co-active coaching model describes three levels of listening – each more intense than the last – our communication, in the broader sense, is also likely to advance in stages of mastery.
Adopting useful techniques will progress the transfer of knowledge to a level where shared insights are commonplace and misunderstandings infrequent.
Such a degree of advanced communication takes time and commitment. Work on the techniques within this article with your clients, identify what works well and where there is room for improvement, and reach a deeper level of communication.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you wish to learn more, don’t forget to check out our Positive Relationships Masterclass©.
- Bryant, B. (2011). Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf oil spill – The key questions answered. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/20/deepwater-horizon-key-questions-answered.
- Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook. New York: Psychology Press.
- Grice, H. P. (1967). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Studies in syntax, vol III. New York: Seminar Press
- Hagaman, J. L., Casey, K. J., & Reid, R. (2015). Paraphrasing strategy instruction for struggling readers. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 60(1), 43–52.
- Kantor, J. (2014). Working anything but 9 to 5. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/starbucks-workers-scheduling-hours.html
- Kabir, S. M. (2017). Essentials of counseling. Dhaka: Abosar Prokashana Sangstha.
- Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., Sandahl, P., & Whitworth, L. (2018). Co-active coaching: The proven framework for transformative conversations at work and in life. Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
- Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2011). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high, 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
- Selvalakshmi, M. (2012). Probing: An effective tool of communication. The IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 6(3), 55–58.
- Spataro, S. E., & Bloch, J. (2017). “Can you repeat that?” Teaching active listening in management education. Journal of Management Education, 42(2), 168–198.
- Stanier, M. B. (2016). The coaching habit: Say less, ask more & change the way you lead forever. Toronto, ON: Box of Crayons Press.
- Taylor, M. (2019). 5 times a little mistake resulted in a PR nightmare. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.urbo.com/content/times-a-little-mistake-resulted-in-a-pr-nightmare/.
- Weger, H., Bell, G. C., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13–31.