Everyone communicates in one way or another, but very few people have mastered the skill of truly effective communication. Breakdowns in communication occur all too often and usually lead to a wide range of social problems, from hurt feelings and anger to divorce and even violence.

Communication is both an expressive, message-sending, and a receptive, message-receiving, process. Failure to communicate effectively can be due to a problem on either or both ends of the process.

Effective expressive communication can usually be achieved by sticking to a few important guidelines:

• Make sure you have the attention of the person you wish to communicate with by establishing and maintaining eye contact.

• Try to send clear messages that are congruent in both verbal and nonverbal dimensions.

To be congruent, make sure the tone and volume you use agrees with the content of the message you send: if you are pleased, look happy and sound happy; if you are angry, look annoyed and sound annoyed (but don't yell! ).

• Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be direct and honest; don't dance around the issue or play games.

• Ask for feedback to ensure the message you sent was accurately received.

Effective receptive communication is based on good listening skills:

• Face the message sender and maintain eye contact.

• Nod, smile, or occasionally make affirmative vocalizations or other responses that tell the sender you're paying attention.

• Wait for the person to complete a thought without interrupting to express your own ideas.

• If you're not sure you understand the message, ask questions and seek clarification.

• Paraphrase what you heard so the sender can be sure you got the right idea.

By following these simple guidelines, you can improve your communication skills greatly, promote better understanding in your relationships, and enhance the quality of your life.

Remember:  Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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