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Understanding Communication

Perhaps no hard or soft skill gets as much blame when social situations break down as communication. It’s pretty common to hear disagreements end with “You’re just not communicating well,” or “It must have been a miscommunication.”

Often understood to be verbal, communication can take on many forms. For instance, I (the author) am communicating with you (the reader). There are many important types and forms of communication.

Types of Communication

Communication is a two-way street. This means that both the person communicating and the person being communicated to have to participate. Communication happens when information is shared between two people. Miscommunication has often been the cause of hurt feelings, incomplete tasks, and relationship frustration. However, with the right set of skills, you can learn to communicate clearly and efficiently. Here are six key communication components that will help you connect with your audience effectively.

Communication is one of many soft skills, to learn more about how these soft skills such as attitude and critical thinking improve our chance of success in life, check out our Soft Skills page.


Forms of Communication – Listening

This may come as a surprise, but often times listening is the most important part of communicating. Listening is not the same as simply hearing. When you listen to someone speak, you are engaged with them, and making an effort to understand exactly what they are trying to say. Listening is a crucial skill in the workplace. When people don’t listen to each other, the entire communication process breaks down. In order to be an effective communicator you must first learn to be a good listener.

It is important to note that there is a difference between simply hearing and listening. We use our sense of hearing every day. When people speak to us, we hear them talking. We hear music on the radio, and we hear the birds chirping when we walk outside. So then, what does it mean to listen? Here are five tips to ensure you’re receiving the message loud and clear.

  • Focus on the person speaking: Avoid distraction by making eye contact with the speaker. If your mind begins to wander, force your attention back to the present moment.
  • Make sure you understand: Sometimes, no matter how well you listen, you just can’t quite understand what is said. In this situation, be sure to ask follow- up questions for clarification.
  • Wait for your turn to speak: Avoid interrupting, or cutting others off when you have something to say. If a thought pops into your head, write it down for later so you can return your attention to the person speaking.
  • Show interest: When you fail to show interest while listening, it is distracting to the person speaking. Instead of focusing on what they want to say, they will wonder whether or not you’re paying attention.
  • Repeat what was said in your own words: Repeating it in your own words forces you to put thought into what was said. This will help you to better understand the message and will help make it stick in your mind. It also gives the speaker a chance to correct you if you heard wrong or didn’t quite understand the message.

Forms of Communication – Verbal Communication

If verbal communication was really as simple as just “talking”, there wouldn’t be nearly as many arguments in the workplace. That’s because a lot of arguments happen as a result of misunderstandings, originally caused by poor communication. For example, maybe a word you used offended a customer, but you didn’t even realize you offended the person. If you had chosen your words more carefully, the misunderstanding might not have happened.

If you’ve never thought about verbal communication skills before now, it will take some time and practice to learn. Start by focusing on these five verbal communication skills:

  • Speak clearly: Speak loud enough for others to hear, and enunciate your words. Focus on sounding out each syllable so that the person you’re talking to can understand you easily.
  • Choose your words carefully: The words you use should be appropriate by anyone’s standards. If you ever find yourself wondering whether or not a word is appropriate for the workplace, it’s probably best not to use it. Practice using words that show your intelligence and professionalism.
  • Use the appropriate tone: Your tone, or sound of your voice, says a lot about what you’re saying and how you feel. Make sure the tone of your voice matches the words and the sentiment you are expressing.
  • Consider your audience: Sometimes you might want to change your communication style or how you communicate, depending on who you are talking with. How you speak to your five-year-old niece is not the same way you should speak to your boss.
  • Respond appropriately: Responding appropriately requires that you think before you speak. When you respond automatically, you risk saying something you don’t mean and possibly offending the other person

Forms of Communication – Nonverbal Communication

“The most important part of communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker

Although verbal communication is important, spoken words make up only a small part of communication. The majority of communication is nonverbal. In fact, some research has shown that up to 93% of communication is nonverbal! The amount of communication that is nonverbal shows why it is so important to pay close attention to people’s actions as well as their words.

So how do people communicate non-verbally? Nonverbal communication is made up primarily of facial expressions and body language. Understanding these nonverbal cues helps to fully understand what the speaker is saying. Mastering nonverbal communication will enable you to be a better communicator as you get a better understanding of the nonverbal cues you and the people you communicate with are sending. If you don’t understand nonverbal communication, you will miss out on part of the message. Nonverbal cues can tell you how people feel, if they are telling the truth, and whether or not they are paying attention.

So what are nonverbal cues and how can you identify them? Here is a list of common nonverbal cues that can tell you a lot about what a person is saying:

  • Eye contact
  • Pace or speed of speech
  • Crossed arms or legs
  • Posture or body position
  • Facial Expressions

Now that you know some nonverbal cues to watch for, you can start looking at what they might mean. When reading nonverbal communication, pay attention to differences between what the people are saying and what they are doing. It is also important that you are aware of your own nonverbal cues. When your words don’t match up with your facial expressions, body language, and posture, people will notice. While they might not actually think, “This person’s nonverbal communication doesn’t match their words,” they will experience feelings of mistrust, uncertainty, and confusion when talking to you.

Forms of Communication – Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness in communication is often misunderstood and seldom if ever discussed or taught.

Feelings play a big role in communication. Emotional awareness, or the ability to understand feelings, will help you succeed when communicating with other people. If you are emotionally aware, you will communicate better. You will notice the emotions of other people, and how the way they are feeling influences the way they communicate. You will also better understand what others are communicating to you and why. Sometimes, understanding how a person is communicating with you is more important than what is actually being said.

Have you ever tried to hide your feelings? It’s pretty hard for most of us to do. That’s because emotions don’t lie. Instead of trying to hide or ignore your feelings, focus on becoming aware of your feelings and the feelings of those around you in order to be a better communicator.

You can improve your emotional awareness by focusing on these five skills:

  • Consider other people’s feelings: One day, a coworker might tell you something personal that doesn’t seem important for you to know, or a supervisor might seem angry with you for no reason. To figure out why, think about what the other person is feeling. Consider any situations that may be affecting their emotions and how that might in turn affect what they say to you.
  • Consider your own feelings: Just as other people’s’ feelings can affect the message they’re trying to send, your own feelings can get in the way of your communication as well. When you feel a strong emotion or feeling, pay attention to that emotion and try not to let it get in the way of your message. Both positive emotions, like happiness, and negative emotions, like anger, can get in the way of communication.
  • Have empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of someone else. Once you’ve learned to recognize another person’s feelings, you can go one step further and actually relate to those feelings.
  • Operate on trust: Good communication requires you to build trust between yourself and the person with whom you’re communicating. You can earn the trust of others by sending nonverbal cues that match your words.
  • Recognize misunderstandings: A misunderstanding happens when two people think they are on the same page about something, but in reality they are thinking two different things. Misunderstandings happen all the time, but emotional awareness can help you to avoid misunderstandings.

Forms of Communication – Written Communication

Writing is another form of communication, and it’s one that you will use often in the workplace. Just like verbal and nonverbal communication, written communication has its own set of rules. Whether you’re writing a simple email or an important report, you should try to write professionally by using proper grammar and punctuation. It is very difficult to show and read emotions in writing, but you have to be careful because things like sarcasm often don’t translate well via written communication and can be interpreted incorrectly. As the sender of the message however, it is up to YOU to make sure that your message gets communicated clearly. The responsibility for the clarity of the message is yours. Written communication must be clear and concise to properly convey the message.

Forms of Communication – Communicating in Difficult Situations

Difficult situations can make communication feel impossible, or at least secondary to survival and protecting your self-interest. Both stress and uncertainty can team up to evoke your fight or flight response in personal and professional settings. Mastering communication in difficult situations is a lifelong process, but every time you do it (…and maybe fail a bit), you learn something that can teach you about how to do it better the next time.

Soft Skills Training

If you’re ready to reach a larger audience, send a stronger message, and have a deeper understanding of those around you, sign up for our free soft skills webinar today! This webinar focuses on many things you need to be successful, one of which is communication. You’ll also get a free copy of our communication ebook for attending, and our team of experts will show you how to develop critical skills that will increase the effectiveness of how you talk, how you listen, and how you present yourself to the world. There are limited spots available in this session, so be sure to sign up before they’re gone.