Characteristics of Effective Communication
‘Good’ communication doesn’t just happen – we have to plan it and work at it. We have to practice the ‘dance’. Think about what you are trying to achieve with your conversation in advance. Trying to ‘wing it’ when it’s an important issue is very dangerous, as the conversation can get off the track and what you are trying to get across can be easily misunderstood. Developing a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you might go about it, is the foundation of good face-to-face communication.
Having developed your goal, when you’re actually talking with the other person, you need to keep coming back to it in your mind. Checking often that you are on track with your original plans helps to keep you focused on what you are trying to achieve.
A lot of what could have been good conversations are killed by the discussion becoming increasingly one sided – that’s when individuals just goes on and on and on, and the person they are trying to talk with just switches off or “tunes out”. If you want to be a good communicator, you should ideally stay focused and be clear and succinct with what you are saying. Although this may involve doing several things, perhaps most critically you should check often that the other person has understood what you’ve been saying. Perhaps even more importantly, focus on listening as well as speaking so that you remain fully engaged and are having a conversation – not talking at the other person and turning them off.
When we don’t listen to the other person, we are shutting them out. You can guarantee that you’re not listening by spending your time (when you are not talking) rehearsing what you will say next. In other words, trying to guess what the other person is going to say and then talking over them is another sure-fire way of limiting your ability to listen and thereby damage the conversation. People who have more extroverted preferences in particular can often appear not to be listening and to be only interested in their own agendas. The challenge for extroverts is therefore to make space for the other person and give them the opportunity to be heard. Having said this, even introverts can sabotage a conversation by getting “lost in thought” or thinking too much about when the next opportunity to speak may come next.
If we are to put the characteristics of effective communication into a list, the following (for both the sender and receiver) would be the most critical:
For the Conversation initiator (or main message sender)
- Plan carefully what you want your core message to be
- Consider the existing knowledge and interest of your intended audience/receiver and how your message should best be tailored and delivered.
- Be as clear, concrete and concise as you can when you make points (avoid waffling or lecturing)
- Leave time/space for responses from the receiver (an listen more than you talk)
- Respond to the receiver’s questions clearly and without getting side-tracked (and keep listening)
For the conversation responder (or message receiver)
- Listen to the full message that is being communicated (in words and between the lines)
- Avoid (as much as possible) looking bored, uninterested or judgmental; or avoiding eye contact; displaying distracting mannerisms (doodling, playing with paper clips etc).
- Demonstrate as much warmth and empathy as appropriate and ask questions to clarify your understanding wherever you need to.
- Paraphrase and summarize every so often to check that your understanding is on track.
- Ask the message sender to stay on track when you think the conversation is wandering.