How to Foster Positive Communication: 9 Effective Techniques

Positive CommunicationCan you recall a really good conversation you’ve had?
What was memorable about it?
Was it the topic, the words, or just a feeling it left you with?

Maya Angelou said,

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Gallo, 2014

This quote describes the essence of positive communication. Besides leaving an impression on the listener, positive communication provides health and wellness benefits for the speaker (Pitts & Socha, 2013).

Positive communication also “yields the potential to inspire people to achieve higher moments, greater good, and to act selflessly” (Pitts & Socha, 2013, p. 3).

Let’s take a closer look at positive communication.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free. These science-based tools will help you and those you work with build better social skills and better connect with others.

What Is Positive Communication?

Dale Carnegie (1998, p. 137) stated, “if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart.”

Positive communication “is not defined as the absence of negative verbal and nonverbal communication, but rather the presence of positive, enhancing, and facilitative talk and gestures” (Pitts & Socha, 2013, p. 1).

“Positive communication is unique in its ability to generate physical, social, and psychological health and wellness” (Pitts & Socha, 2013, p. 3). It is conceptualized as “relational communication facilitative of happiness, health, and wellness” (Pitts & Socha, 2013, p. 1).

Positive communication incorporates many of the concepts associated with positive psychology. Three of these concepts help create the structure from which to build the study of positive communication (Pitts & Socha, 2013):

1. Positive emotions

This includes emotions such as contentment, wellbeing, and satisfaction about past experiences; flow, ecstasy, and happiness in the present; and hope and optimism about the future.

2. Positive traits

This domain offers information on the individual strengths and virtues and extends to talents and natural abilities.

Traits such as resilience, forgiveness, optimism, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and hope contribute to the individual’s wholeness bank, formulating a well from which to cull the resources needed to build healthy communication skills. These traits offer strength in tough times and various situations.

3. Positive institutions

The final lens through which we analyze positive communication is through the study of positive institutions and communities. This includes places of work and leisure but also encompasses abstract entities such as family, democracy, and free press.

Woven together, these concepts provide a foundation for the art of positive communication.

The potential for positive communication to foster relational wellbeing is palpable through transformational interactions such as forgiveness and listening (Pitts & Socha, 2013).

Why Is Good Communication Important?

Good communicationWhen we interact with a person who makes us feel loved or supported, oxytocin is released.

Building trust and creating social bonds also release oxytocin (Breuning, 2012).

This may explain why people are willing to work hard on communication, even when it’s difficult. When done skillfully, we are rewarded with a flood of happy hormones.

Speaking and listening are basic communication skills used daily that build connections with others. These skills help us process language so that we can interact with people.

“When we use these tools well, they help us create wonderful, growing, lasting relationships” (Leal, 2017, p. 15).

Bolton (1986, p. 7) calls our ability to communicate well a matter of life or death: “Our personality development and mental and physical health are linked to the caliber of our communication.”

Conversely, both Leal and Bolton lend their perspectives on the outcomes of poor communication skills.

Leal (2017) discusses the painful consequences the lack of communication skills produces, such as fractured marriages, familial alienation, and workplace chaos.

Bolton (1986, p. 7) goes deeper, discussing how the lack of communication skills or frequent exposure to poor communication techniques “diminishes one’s selfhood both emotionally and physically.” He states that “low-level communication leads to loneliness and distance from friends, lovers, spouses, and children–as well as ineffectiveness at work” (Bolton, 1986, p. 13).

Positive communication “allows for a focus on what makes people feel good, what drives people to invest in good health behaviors, and what motivates people to live fully within the parameters of their personal health and life stories” (Pitts & Socha, 2013, p. 3).

People in large networks and close relationships tend to be healthier, happier, and live longer than those in isolation or with negative relationships (Pitts & Socha, 2013).

Having provided a robust foundation for the importance of good communication, let’s move forward to investigate specific skills.

Positive Communication Skills: 3 Examples

Below are both verbal and nonverbal examples of positive communication that can enhance closeness and generate health and wellbeing.

Verbal positive communication

Listening

It’s not just about listening, but listening deeply and fully. According to Newberg and Waldman (2012, p. 142) you must “train your mind to stay focused on the person who is speaking: their words, tone, gestures, facial cues–everything.”

Further, being fully listened to and understood is the most commonly cited communication value signifying depth in a relationship.

Pitts and Socha (2013) suggest that most people don’t have someone who will listen to them without judging them. They discuss a level of listening they call ‘listening between the lines,’ which is intuitive listening that includes listening for feelings, energy level, and tone of voice.

The next tool is closely related to listening.

Empathy

Empathy is essential when engaging in positive communication. Being able to demonstrate empathy appropriately is vital – relationship gold.

Skills that enhance empathic listening include (Leal, 2017):

  1. Quiet your mind to focus on the person speaking.
  2. Listen to them fully and openly.
  3. Listen through the words.
  4. Avoid interrupting them when they’re speaking.
  5. Use your own words to reflect back what you heard them say, including the emotional content of the message.

Nonverbal positive communication

Positive communication is identified by “the presence of positive, enhancing, and facilitative talk and gestures” (Pitts & Socha, 2013, p. 1).

When in conversation, it’s often easy to detect the commitment and interest someone has through nonverbal involvement behaviors, which are actions indicating our interest and excitement (Remland, 2009). This can be shown through eye contact, body and facial orientation, leaning toward, close distance, open body positions, and touch.

Other nonverbal cues that show involvement include facial and vocal expressiveness and relaxed laughter. Relaxation of the voice and posture and absence of nervous mannerisms can be included in this cluster of behaviors (Remland, 2009).

These nonverbal cues, along with positive reinforcers such as head nodding and smiling, high vocal energy, speech fluidity, and illustrative gestures (Remland, 2009) signal to the speaker that we are committed and interested in what they have to say.

9 Techniques to Foster Positive Communication

Empathic listeningOne approach used to teach positive communication skills is the relationship enhancement (RE) approach, which focuses on conversation sharing, conflict resolution skills, and effective self- and other-changing techniques for enriching relationships (Pitts & Socha, 2013).

The method can be used to help clients express themselves, respond to the attitudes and needs of others, manage interpersonal issues skillfully, and solve problems promptly (Pitts & Socha, 2013).

In order to accomplish these relational milestones, the RE approach (Pitts & Socha, 2013, pp. 150–151) encourages the study and practice of skills, such as:

  1. Empathic (listening)
  2. Expressive (speaking)
  3. Discussion–negotiation (conversing)
  4. Problem–conflict resolution
  5. Self-change
  6. Helping others change
  7. Teaching or facilitation
  8. Generalization
  9. Maintenance skills

Although all these skills are important to the practical application of positive communication, we discuss only a few here:

Empathic listening

When listening, it’s paramount to focus all your attention on the other person and demonstrate appropriate nonverbal mannerisms. This is also a good time to focus on emotions, perceptions, needs, or wants (Pitts & Socha, 2013).

Leal (2017) believes preparation for empathic listening starts with empathic awareness:

  • Recognize the inherent value and dignity of yourself and the other person.
  • Foster a desire to want to listen and relate to the other person.
  • Think of the other person in a positive light.

Humility resides in these components.

Expressive speaking

Pitts and Socha (2013) recommend responding empathically to the other person before expressing your own wants, needs, or feelings. Further, using assertive statements when sharing your own perceptions, needs, wants, or feelings enables communication transparency and builds trust.

Newberg and Waldman (2012, p. 123) discuss compassionate communication and list strategies they believe should be adhered to consistently. They include:

  • Express appreciation.
  • Speak warmly.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Speak briefly.
  • Listen deeply.

Discussion–negotiation conversation

Again, it’s important to express empathy first, take turns in the conversation, and view each other as conversational partners.

Problem–conflict resolution

Use the conversational skills previously detailed to discuss interpersonal needs and issues in order to arrive at an equitable, agreed-upon plan.

Best Strategies for Workplace Communication

According to Pitts and Socha (2013, p. 208), “employee wellbeing is in the best interest of the employer.” Further, one of the main contributors to the wellbeing of employees is their capacity for effective communication.

Many organizations require interpersonal and team communication for organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

Goleman (1998) provides solid strategies for positive workplace communication using the context of emotional intelligence skills.

Employees with the following skills provide unique value in the workplace.

  • Emotional awareness
    This person knows what they’re feeling and can explain why they are experiencing the emotion. They are also aware of their goals and values.
  • Self-control
    Self-controlled employees are able to manage their inappropriate impulses. They stay composed and can think clearly under pressure, which is invaluable when crucial incidents occur.
  • Trustworthiness
    This team member is steady and above reproach. Trustworthiness is one of the most important factors for building bonds and effective teams.
  • Understanding others
    This interpersonal skill is essential for positive communication. Individuals with this skill are adept at reading nonverbal cues, sensitive to others, and good listeners. They can understand what others are feeling and need.
  • Communication
    This person handles difficult conversation straightforwardly. They seek mutual understanding and foster open communication. This role is essential for great teams.
  • Conflict management
    The employee who is adept at conflict management uses diplomacy in difficult times, encourages open discussion, and seeks mutually satisfying agreements.
  • Building bonds
    The person able to build bonds on a team is skilled in creating rapport and keeping people in the loop.
  • Collaboration and cooperation
    This employee can balance working on a task while focusing on relationships. They are friendly and cooperative and dispense needed information and resources.
  • Team capabilities
    This coworker exhibits team qualities such as respect and cooperation. They are able to motivate and generate enthusiasm among team members. They help build team identity.

3 Useful Activities and Worksheets

Positive communication at work

1. Consider Your Intentions

How we approach interactions with others can determine relationship success or failure.

This Consider Your Intentions worksheet invites clients to prepare for successful communication by considering their intentions before they begin the interaction. The worksheet was originally designed for family interactions but can be generalized to fit any crucial communication setting.

Clients are first prompted to consider their objective for the interaction. Does the client truly want to connect with the other or do they want to get their own way? Although these questions can seem brazen, it provides an excellent self-reflection opportunity.

If the intention is to connect with the other, the client is prompted to continue. They are then asked to consider what they are seeking in the relationship and what successful interactions would entail.

However, if the client is only seeking to get their own way, they are not prepared to connect with the other person. At this point, they may want to delve deeper into the relationship dynamics and consider their best options going forward.

2. Active Constructive Responding

The Active Constructive Responding worksheet reviews four types of responses we give when hearing the good news of others.

The four styles are passive-destructive, passive-constructive, active-destructive, and active-constructive. Examples of each of the styles are provided. Clients are asked to review the styles and reflect on which style they use in different relationships.

Responding to the other person’s good news using the active-constructive response style represents the ideal and shows components of positive communication outlined in this article.

3. Active Listening Reflection

The Active Listening Reflection Worksheet begins by teaching appropriate active listening and responding skills such as encouraging, reflecting, and paraphrasing. This is followed by an explanation of the four golden rules of communication.

The worksheet moves on to a reflection exercise asking participants to review which skills they used, which worked well, and which did not. In the follow-up, participants are asked to consider which unused skill they can incorporate in their next conversation.

Finally, participants are asked to decide if they met conversational objectives, such as effective silence or being nonjudgmental when listening.

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

Assertive communication

Assertive communication is one of the most efficient and clear ways to communicate in a way that benefits both parties. The Assertive Communication worksheet helps clients find the balance between passive, aggressive, and assertive communication.

The worksheet has two parts. Part one provides examples of aggressive, assertive, and passive communication.

Part two provides a scenario that some people would find difficult to respond to. Participants are asked to provide an assertive response and describe the feelings associated with the situation.

Wants Into Words

The Wants Into Words exercise simplifies the skills needed for assertive communication. Participants are able to prepare a situation when they will need to express a direct need or want to another person.

The worksheet breaks the assertive statement into specific components of a want or need and then participants weave together each of the separate components for a whole and concise assertive statement.

Practicing Empathic Listening

The following group exercise is available as part of a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit© which has over 400 tools, exercises, and worksheets.

Being a skilled, empathic listener is crucial to positive communication. One goal of empathic listening is ensuring the speaker feels and understands they are being heard. The Practicing Empathic Listening exercise emphasizes three components to this skill: pausing, paraphrasing, and reflecting feelings.

The exercise begins with an overview of the key ingredients of empathic listening. Participants are then divided into roles. Each participant is asked to take a turn being each of three roles: interviewer, speaker, and observer. Each role has a specific duty. Participants are able to practice pausing, paraphrasing, and reflecting feelings.

Once each participant has walked through the roles, they are asked to provide feedback for the larger group. This exercise can take between 30 and 60 minutes to complete in a group.

17 Positive communication exercises

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others communicate better, check out this collection of 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

Dale Carnegie (1998, p. 52), once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Connecting with others is crucial for health and wellbeing. Great relationships through great conversation provide physical and mental benefits and leave us feeling good through the release of happy chemicals. This leaves an impression – the kind Maya Angelou spoke of.

Each of us has the potential to become great communicators, connecting deeply with others and enhancing our own wellbeing.

We can be the person another always remembers fondly because of the way we made them feel.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free.

References

  • Bolton, R. (1986). People skills. Touchstone.
  • Breuning, L. G. (2012). Meet your happy chemicals: Dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin. System Integrity Press.
  • Carnegie, D. (1998). How to win friends and influence people. Gallery Books.
  • Gallo, C. (2014, May 31). The Maya Angelou Quote that will radically improve your business. Forbes.com. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2014/05/31/the-maya-angelou-quote-that-will-radically-improve-your-business/
  • Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. Bantam Books.
  • Leal, B. C. (2017). 4 Essential keys to effective communication in love, life, work—anywhere! Including the 12-day communication challenge! Author.
  • Newberg, A. B., & Waldman, M. R. (2012). Words can change your brain: 12 Conversation strategies to build trust, resolve conflict, and increase intimacy. Hudson Street Press.
  • Pitts, M. J., & Socha, T. J. (Eds.). (2013). Positive communication in health and wellness. Peter Lang.
  • Remland, M. S. (2009). Nonverbal communication in everyday life. Pearson AandB.

Comments

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  1. liz escobar

    I guess your free pdf is not really free huh!

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    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Liz,

      Our apologies for the confusion! If you check your inbox, the three free PDFs will be there. If you cannot find them, be sure to also check your spam/promotions folder.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
    • Chris Wilson

      Thank you for reading the article.

      Reply

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