In his acclaimed book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie (2019, p. 32) hints at a key strategy involved in effective communication that involves focusing on others and their motivations:
“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness.”
But how do we put this strategy into action?
In this post, we’ll give you the tools to be a strategic and effective communicator, no matter your context, by walking you through a range of worksheets, digital activities, and resources to discover better communication.
This Article Contains:
- How to Improve Communication Skills
- 3 Examples of Good Communication Skills
- 3 Most Effective Worksheets and Tools
- 3 Games for Developing Communication Skills
- Assessing Your Client’s Skills: 3 Questionnaires & Scales
- Using Digital Tools to Improve Communication
- How to Use Quenza: 5 Benefits of Digital Platforms
- Communication Resources From PositivePsychology.com
- A Take-Home Message
How to Improve Communication Skills
Whether you’re delivering a presentation to a room full of conference attendees or hashing out a disagreement with your partner, many of the skills you need to achieve your goals in these different scenarios will be the same.
To improve your communication techniques, scholars recommend training in the following skills.
Defined as a cognitive attempt to consider another’s viewpoint (Longmire & Harrison, 2018), perspective taking enables us to communicate in a way that is likely to resonate with others in the way we intended.
Perspective taking is often referred to as putting yourself in another’s shoes.
For instance, when preparing a presentation, we can take the perspective of our audience by considering their background knowledge on the subject of our talk. By doing so, we can communicate in a way that will match the listeners’ level of background knowledge, rather than leaving them in the dust.
Likewise, we can be intentional about trying to take our partner’s perspective during a disagreement by imagining how our actions might make them feel or by imagining how we would feel if the roles in the conflict were reversed.
Usually, this involves showing empathy to the person you are speaking to and creating space for their emotions.
But why is this important?
According to organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich (Workforce.com, 2020), we can only be as good at influence or collaboration (and a range of other skills) as we are at self-awareness. That is to say, if we work to develop our self-awareness, it can have a ripple effect on our ability to communicate, engage, and empathize with others.
In the example of delivering a conference presentation, self-awareness may help us recognize that we appear withdrawn when speaking to a crowd. This awareness then enables us to amend our behavior and style of communication.
Likewise, in the example of the disagreement with a partner, self-awareness might help us recognize our tendency to grow defensive to perceived criticism in a particular area. Self-awareness can counter this, allowing us to remain open minded and curious in such discussions.
In sum, good communication involves balancing our own perspective with that of others to convey a message successfully and accept feedback.
3 Examples of Good Communication Skills
As noted, a key component of both perspective taking and self-awareness is empathy.
To empathize is to
“respond to another’s perceived emotional state by experiencing feelings of a similar sort.”
Chismar, 1988, p. 257
Showing empathy is another way to take the perspective of a conversation partner by acknowledging and validating their emotions in a situation.
No matter the situation, there’s usually a place for empathic communication. Let’s look at three scenarios. For each, see if you can identify the more empathic response out of the two response options.
A nasty bruise
- Scenario: You are having coffee with your sibling, and they hold out their arm to reveal a dark welt on their arm. “Check out this bruise from my fall down the stairs!” they say.
Which of the following is the more empathic response?
- Response A: You squint at the bruise. “That’s tiny,” you say. “Look at what I got when I was hit by a bike!”
- Response B: You wince. “Ouch! I can imagine that must have really hurt.”
Problems with Mom
- Scenario: You’re walking down the street in conversation with a friend. He’s been describing a recent conversation with his mother, in which he grew very frustrated. “When she shows up at my house without calling first, it’s stressful for me, but I can’t get her to listen to my point of view.”
Which of the following is the more empathic response?
- Response A: “I’m sure it’s just because she really wants to see you.”
- Response B: “I can imagine that must be really frustrating if you never know when she’s going to stop by.”
- Scenario: You and your friend are at the counter at a coffee shop. As your friend goes to pay, her card gets declined. “I can’t understand where all my money goes after I get paid,” she laments.
Which of the following is the more empathic response?
- Response A: “I reckon you should make a budget.”
- Response B: “Yeah, it’s annoying when money disappears like that.”
In each of the above scenarios, Response B is the more empathic option. In these responses, the speaker validates the other person’s emotions and reflects them back to the other person.
Response A reflects different forms of communication in each scenario: one-upping, explaining, and advising, respectively. These are just a few different styles of response that you can learn more about in our free Empathy Bingo worksheet.
3 Most Effective Worksheets and Tools
Let’s now look at three free worksheets and tools you can use to help develop your clients’ perspective taking, self-awareness, and empathy when communicating.
- Active Listening Reflection Worksheet
This worksheet provides a useful summary of the techniques involved in active listening. Once the techniques have been reviewed, clients can practice them in pairs or groups or reflect on a recent conversation with someone in their life to apply their learning.
- Trading Places Worksheet
The Trading Places worksheet takes your client through 10 steps to help them imagine a situation from another’s perspective. These steps can be especially useful when a client is struggling to move forward following a disagreement with someone in their life.
- How to Improve Communication in Relationships: 7 Essential Skills
This simple leaflet details seven approaches and frameworks to better understand how we communicate and develop our skills in relating to others.
3 Games for Developing Communication Skills
Improving your communication skills need not be tedious for you and your clients.
Check out these three games for both children and adults, designed to make strengthening communication with others fun:
- 500 Years Ago
In this free worksheet, players attempt to describe modern-day phenomena to their partner, who pretends they have no knowledge of the modern world because they are from long in the past. In each round, the speaker must practice empathic communication and perspective taking by tailoring their language to their old-timey listener.
In this game, five children race to occupy four positions at the corners of a square marked on the floor. As kids play rounds of rock–paper–scissors to resolve disputes, the game will introduce them to the basic principles of conflict and negotiation.
- Where Should We Begin? A Game of Stories
In this card game by leading psychotherapist Esther Perel, players take turns drawing cards to tell stories about themselves, their hopes, and their dreams. In doing so, participants can grow closer and share greater intimacy through the power of storytelling.
Assessing Your Client’s Skills: 3 Questionnaires & Scales
Want to assess your client’s communication skills? Look at these three useful questionnaires and scales:
- Effective Communication Styles Inventory
This test uses 15 forced-choice items to help individuals determine their preferred communication styles, including thinking, doing, collaborating, and creating.
- The Revised Self-Monitoring Scale
This scale by Lennox and Wolfe (1984) is a 13-item adaptation of Snyder’s (1974) 25-item Self-Monitoring Scale. This reconfigured scale is a useful way to help clients assess two facets of their communication: their ability to modify their self-presentation and their sensitivity to the expressions of others.
- The Communication Effectiveness Profile
This 84-item inventory provides a comprehensive assessment of seven factors contributing to good or bad communication, including empathizing and the ability to read nonverbal cues.
Using Digital Tools to Improve Communication
Many of the social skills that contribute to effective communication in face-to-face situations are equally important when communicating virtually.
Thankfully, many new tools, games, and approaches are emerging to help facilitate communication training and skill development through virtual channels.
3 Games for your videoconferencing sessions
If you’re looking to improve communication with a small group or work team, here are some fun games and digital interventions you can use to have fun, break the ice, and encourage open communication via video conferencing.
- Synonym challenge
Get everyone engaged, expand your vocabulary, and warm up your call participants with the synonym challenge.
Time: About one minute per round
How to play: Determine a turn order for each participant in the call. Begin by having the first player say a word. Participants must then proceed in sequence, saying synonyms for that original word without repeating a word already said. The first player to take longer than five seconds to say a word is eliminated from the next round.
- Virtual escape rooms
Emerging research has pointed to escape rooms as possible avenues for developing team capabilities and creative problem solving (Adams, Burger, Crawford, & Setter, 2018; Cohen et al., 2020). Why not try one out with your team?
Time: About one hour
How to play: With virtual escape rooms, players must work in teams to watch videos, track clues, and cooperate, all to escape a virtual environment or race another team to complete a series of puzzles.
See The Escape Game for a popular virtual escape room provider and more information.
- Virtual murder mystery
Break the ice and have fun with role-play at your next video call get-together by solving a quirky murder mystery.
Time: Typically one to two hours
How to play: Each participant in a call is assigned a character or role with background information about their motivations and why they might be a suspect in a central murder mystery. Participants must then chat with one another in character to deduce information about the possible murderer (or point the finger at someone else if they are the murderer).
Check out the whodunnit app for a popular virtual murder mystery provider.
A look at Quenza software
If you’re a counselor, therapist, or social worker looking for tools to help your clients improve their communication, be sure to check out the growing library of pre-programmed tools available via the platform Quenza.
We designed this platform in collaboration with the positive psychology community to put leading science-backed worksheets and tools directly into the hands of helping practitioners and their clients.
To illustrate, here are just a couple of communication tools available through the platform:
- Learning to Say No (available on Quenza)
Living in line with your values means you will sometimes need to make choices that disappoint others. This seven-part mini-lesson will give your clients guidelines and practical advice for respectfully saying no in the service of their personal values.
- Eight Steps to Forgiveness (available on Quenza)
When communication mishaps occur, forgiving others is easier said than done. This essential eight-step lesson is based on the teachings of forgiveness expert Dr. Robert Enright and will help your clients release themselves from the distress of betrayal and hurt feelings.
If you’re interested, you can check out Quenza’s growing bank of tools for yourself by taking advantage of the platform’s 30-day trial for just $1.
How to Use Quenza: 5 Benefits of Digital Platforms
If you’re curious about using digital interventions as part of your relationship counseling, coaching, or psychology practice, consider how these interventions might interact with other elements of your business.
In general, using digital platforms can streamline many aspects of your workflow while enabling clients to work within an organized digital environment, where all their information is in one place.
Benefits of using digital platforms to deliver care can include the following:
- Access to professional tools to develop digital activities, learning pathways, and lessons
- The ability to sort clients according to groups and initiate actions that affect all group members (e.g., sending homework materials)
- The creation of a centralized location to store clients’ contact information and documentation
- Access to modern security features (e.g., HIPAA/GDPR compliance)
- The ability to connect with other practitioners to share best practice learnings
Quenza offers all these benefits, and new features are always being added. Getting started with the platform takes only three steps:
- Sign up for a 30-day trial.
- View the brief quickstart video.
- Jump into the Activity Builder to begin preparing your first digital activity or browse the platform’s expansion library to select a pre-developed activity for your first client.
To learn more, take a look at the Quenza roadmap for a summary of existing and upcoming features.
Communication Resources From PositivePsychology.com
If you’re looking for more resources to teach communication skills, be sure to check out the Positive Psychology Toolkit©. Here, you will find a carefully curated bank of over 370 worksheets, readings, and exercises to help you better support your clients.
Here are just a few examples of materials that you can use when conducting therapy, coaching, or counseling with groups:
- Listening Without Trying to Solve
In this exercise, participants take turns in the role of storyteller, describing a current personal problem. The rest of the group or the other participant is then invited to listen, either trying to solve the problem or not. Storytellers will then provide feedback about how each approach made them feel.
- Mindful Speaking
In this exercise, speakers and listeners work in pairs to practice being deliberate and thoughtful in their communication. The result is that participants will learn how to speak from the heart and with intention.
- Practice Empathic Listening
In this exercise, clients will experiment with three components of empathic listening: pausing/wait time, paraphrasing, and reflecting feelings. In doing so, they will learn how to make others feel heard and better understood.
- 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
Whether you’re the quietest person at a table or a smooth-talking socialite, the ability to put yourself in the shoes of those with whom you speak is key to effective communication.
Likewise, understanding yourself in terms of your strengths and potential biases when communicating can only serve you as you connect with others. Be sure to check out the resources throughout this post to help you or your clients develop these skills today for better relationships tomorrow.
We hope you’ve found this post and the listed resources useful. Let us know in the comments: What’s one technique or skill you’ve used to improve your communication?
We’d love to hear from you!
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 personal and professional relationships, ultimately enhancing their mental wellbeing.
- Adams, V., Burger, S., Crawford, K., & Setter, R. (2018). Can you escape? Creating an escape room to facilitate active learning. Journal for Nurses in Professional Development, 34(2), E1–E5.
- Carnegie, D. (2019). How to win friends and influence people. Vermillion.
- Chismar, D. (1988). Empathy and sympathy: The important difference. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 22(4), 257–266.
- Cohen, T. N., Griggs, A. C., Keebler, J. R., Lazzara, E. H., Doherty, S. M., Kanji, F. F., & Gewertz, B. L. (2020). Using escape rooms for conducting team research: Understanding development, considerations, and challenges. Simulation & Gaming, 51(4), 443–460.
- Lennox, R. D., & Wolfe, R. N. (1984). Revision of the Self-Monitoring Scale. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(6), 1349–1364.
- Longmire, N. H., & Harrison, D. A. (2018). Seeing their side versus feeling their pain: Differential consequences of perspective-taking and empathy at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(8), 894–915.
- Snyder, M. (1974). Self-monitoring of expressive behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(4), 526-537.
- Workforce.com. (2020). Build self-awareness to develop influence [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/yQ7ZfODyafw