Wednesday, January 20, 2021

How to be better at communication

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When we talk about poor communication, we need to realise that there is never just one person to blame. This is because every single person involved in the act of communicating is contributing, whether in a positive or negative way. On the road to effective communication, there are many hurdles that must first be jumped over. But before you can start jumping over any, it is also important to realise that communication comes in many different forms.

As a message travels from one individual to another, it is affected by language barriers (through choice of words and phrases used), attitudes of those involved (the tone of voice, and gestures), and emotional barriers (where anxieties and emotions being expressed are not appreciated). Another very important aspect is the personality of the parties involved. Did you know that two individuals can understand the same message differently?

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Importance of intent

Intention, impact and meaning can differ from individual to individual. For example, what was intended as a joke, might go astray if the receiver of is not in the mood to enjoy it. More recently we had an example in the media of a practical joke that got completely out of hand. What was intended to be a harmless 2Day FM radio show prank, led to the death of the nurse who received it.

READ ALSO: The lost art of communication

Some general rules to improve communication

As a speaker you have to state what you want clearly and precisely. It is also your duty as the speaker to make sure that the person receiving your message has received it the way you meant it. Don?t assume the listener knows your intent. No one is a ?mind-reader?. When the communication is based on assumptions that are not clarified, there is a higher chance it will be misheard. As a listener you have to make sure you have understood what is being said to you. It is your duty to ask for clarification when you are not clear about the message. Again, do not make any inferences or assumptions or guess what the speaker might have meant.

As was mentioned earlier, there are many ?filters? on both sides that affect the true nature of communication. The most important thing to note, is that the biases that occur are because of these filters, which can be corrected by good feedback.


Feedback is a process that helps to clarify and help each other to make sure you have understood what was intended. It is also useful, because it gives information back to the other person. This of course, requires the correct timing and tact. For example, an important piece of information may need to be communicated calmly and when both have time to clarify doubts. It cannot be given and received correctly if done hurriedly or at an inappropriate time.

Communication is a two-way street

Communication is not static. It is a process and it changes constantly depending on the interaction. It is a two-way process, with all parties involved doing both listening and responding. And many of the factors that were mentioned earlier, such as the personality of those involved, influences the quality of the communication.

How to listen

The most fundamental skill in good communication is listening. Listening is not just hearing, because it requires that you focus on what is being said. This means observing any expression of emotions being conveyed, and being sensitive to hesitations. Sometimes you may have to invite the speaker to expand and tell you more, if you feel they are holding back something. This allows the other person to feel comfortable about elaborating on what they are saying. You also have to allow ample time for the speaker to complete what they are trying to tell you, without any interruptions. It is quite easy to digress by talking about your own similar experience, which interrupts the other speaker. Completing other people’s sentences is another big no no. You’ll only frustrate the other person, and damage your relationship.

READ ALSO: Benefits of mindfulness meditation

When you are not listening, make sure that you ask appropriate questions or make unsuitable comments that show that you were not listening, rather than watching the TV out of the corner of your eye, or continuing to playing with your mobile. Even if you’re speaking over the phone, it’s very easy to spot someone who is distracted by something else.

To be an active listener means that you first have to actually care about what the other person is saying. You’ll then need to give them ‘air space’, which is the freedom to say whatever is on their mind. Developing good listening skills is the first and foremost step in effective communication. You might want to try out your new listening skills today.

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Dr Saroja Srinivasan
Dr. Srinivasan is a western trained clinical psychologist by profession; has been living in Sydney for over 40 years; interested in wisdom traditions in particular Indian philosophy and how it can inform us to lead a happy life; in her columns she has tried to synthesise her personal and professional experiences in dealing with everyday situations

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