What are the Elements of Effective Communication?

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People tend to respect, value, admire and listen to compelling communicators. But good communication does not come naturally to all. It requires a particular skill set that, unfortunately, most people don't learn in school. Effective communication means being able to speak and listen purposefully. Taking the time to learn proper communication skills, like listening and asking questions, is a worthwhile investment that can grow and nourish your interpersonal relationships.

Planning Your Words and Delivery

Planning how you communicate does not necessarily mean sitting down with a pen and paper and writing a speech. It entails carefully thinking about the intended message and reaction you hope to get from your friend or family member. Identify and address any of your negative feelings before speaking to avoid speaking out of anger or frustration. The healthiest communicators know how to take responsibility for their negative feelings by using "I statements" containing a feeling and need, rather than blaming the other person or making blanket statements. For example, say, "I feel angry because I need more appreciation from you," rather than, "I'm pissed off because you never show any appreciation for me."

Using Therapist-Worthy Listening Skills

Therapists have a common trick up their sleeves, and it does not require a Ph.D.; they all know how to actively listen. Active listening requires being completely present with the person who is speaking without thinking about what you will say in response. It consists of withholding premature judgments before getting all the facts. It entails empathy -- truly feeling what the other is feeling -- and mirroring and paraphrasing their feelings and needs back to them to ensure you are understanding them. For example, after you have listened to your wife, you might say: "You're feeling frustrated because you need me to help you more with the baby." These skills will make the person to whom you are speaking feel valued, respected and truly heard.

Asking Questions

According to Anthony Alessandra, Ph.D. and Phillip Hunsaker, Ph.D., people ask questions for several different reasons in communication: to obtain information, fuel conversation, acquire another's opinion, ascertain agreement, establish rapport and trust and verify information. Want someone to have a favorable opinion of you? Ask them questions! People love talking about themselves. Use the funnel technique: Start with broad questions and then get to more specific ones. Just be sure to avoid offensive, leading or manipulative questions in your communication.

Avoiding Communication No-No's

Try to avoid the following mistakes in interpersonal communication: • Labeling ("you are an incredibly lazy person"), name-calling ("you're so stupid") and criticism ("why can't you do anything right?") • Prematurely giving advice before encouraging or allowing others to express feelings • Giving unwarranted advice with, "you should…," (especially true with teenagers!) • Using "always" or "never" in a negative way, unless it is really true, i.e., "You NEVER do the dishes." This puts the other person on the offensive. • Making false threats or promises you cannot fulfill. This makes your word less worthy in the future.