Communication is the process by which we share and understand information. This can be achieved verbally, visually, non-verbally, and through writing. Communication is considered effective when the message is received and understood in the way it was intended.
In today's hectic world, we rely heavily on the sharing of information, resulting in greater emphasis being placed on having good communication skills. Good verbal and written communication skills are essential in order to deliver and receive information quickly and accurately. In contrast, poor communication skills can have a negative impact on all aspects of a person’s life. A poorly delivered message may result in misunderstanding, frustration and in some cases disaster. How well information can be transmitted and received is a measure of how good our communication skills are.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say but how you say it that counts. To communicate well is to understand, and be understood.
Methods of communication
Communication is multi-faceted:
Verbal communication is delivered and received face to face, by phone, radio, computer, television and other media.
Non-verbal communication is delivered and received through body language, eye contact, gestures, and how we dress or behave.
Visual communication is delivered and received via charts, maps, images and graphs.
Written communication is delivered and received through printed or digital media such as letters, e-mails, books, magazines, and the internet.
Speech and Language therapists work with children and adults who experience difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication.
When we communicate verbally, it involves not only speaking, but also requires non-verbal communication skills – listening, eye contact, body language, and turn-taking (if it is a conversation). Children and adults need to be able to formulate sounds, words and sentences well, in order to maximize their listener’s chances of fully understanding their message. Mispronunciations, a stutter, insufficient language skills, or a word-finding difficulty can greatly hamper a person’s ability to get their message across.
Also, delivering too much information can be as counter-productive as delivering too little. How we communicate is dependent on the context of the situation too. This could involve considering the audience’s age, gender and their existing knowledge levels. A different approach is needed for different situations in order for the information to be meaningful to the listener.
Body language needs to be in line with the verbal content. When used effectively, facial expressions, gestures and posture can greatly improve the listener’s understanding of the verbal information being presented. It can also add interest, and help to maintain the listener’s concentration.
Eye contact between speaker and listener is important too. If a speaker actively seeks out eye contact when talking, he or she is judged to be more believable, confident and competent. However, too much eye contact can make the listener feel uncomfortable, or think the speaker rude, hostile and condescending; and too little eye contact can make the listener think that the speaker is uneasy, unsure or insincere.
The “right” amount of eye contact results in a sense of mutual likeability and trust, and a strong connection. How much eye contact is considered appropriate though will always depend on the situation, the setting, cultural expectations, gender, and personality types!
Being able to effectively listen is an important communication skill as well. It is easily overlooked, as people tend to focus more on what they want to say, rather than actively listening to the other person’s comments.
Turn-taking is important in any good conversation. Knowing when to pause and allow the listener an opportunity to respond is a skill well learned. It conveys respect, and a willingness to hear the other person’s point of view. Conversation is the swapping of thoughts and information.
Most people seek opportunities to communicate with others, to share their thoughts, and to grow as individuals through these interactions.
An essential life skill
The importance of having good communication skills cannot be stressed enough. It is the key to a person’s happiness and success both as a child and ultimately as an adult. The ability to communicate well is not only an essential life skill, but arguably the most important one.
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding,
intimacy and mutual valuing”
- Rollo May (1909 –1994), existential psychologist and author
By Sara Spurr
Speech & Language Therapist
Adv.Dip.Tchg, Higher Dip.Tchg, Dip.Tchg end. Sp.Th., Dip.Clin.Hyp., Dip.ESSTN