Everyone has their own style of communication, but very few people have mastered effective communication. Breakdowns in communication occur all the time, with consequences ranging from social problems, hurt feelings and anger to divorce and even violence. Understanding the psychology behind what good communication consists of can help us to develop new habits, to get our message across more effectively.
Effective communication can usually be achieved by sticking to a few important guidelines:
1. Establish and maintain eye contact
Eye contact plays a crucial role in communication. Looking at another person is a way of getting feedback on particular points. It is also used as a synchronizing signal. People tend to look up at the end of their sentences, looking for feedback and giving their partner a chance to take over the conversation. There is often eye contact during attempted interruptions, laughing, and when answering short questions. We also look up at the end of grammatical breaks. Hitchhikers, salespeople, charity-tin shakers, and other maximize eye contact to increase attention.
A lack of eye contact, on the other hand, signals embarrassment (we look away to break the conversation), punishment of bad behavior or a lack of fluidity in our thought process. People look at each other 75% of the time when talking but only 40% of the time when listening. One looks to get, and keep, the attention of others. The socially dominant, the bright, and the extroverts look more when speaking than the socially awkward. These are just a few examples, but there is a whole lot of literature out there on the importance of eye contact and it’s meaning .
2. Try to send a clear message
There is a huge difference between just saying something, and saying something with intention. Say words which are meaningful and will drive the point home. Keep the goal in mind – whether you are in a job interview, business meeting or having a conversation with your partner. When you know where you’re going with your words, it is much more likely that your message will come across crystal clear.
3. Be receptive to what others say
Many of us go into conversations with a clear agenda of what we want. While it is good to start speaking and listening with a clear goal, remember to be flexible. If they don’t say exactly what you’re expecting to hear – adapt. While they’re speaking; nod, smile or make affirmative verbal noises (mmhmm, yes, I agree). It helps to be an active listener, and to not tune out when the conversation isn’t going your way. Even trying to understand what the other is trying to say or what they feel – no matter if your interpretation is correct – is enough to increase partner satisfaction .
4. Wait for the other person to finish
We all know someone who likes to talk without listening; who seems to think that what they have to say is as fascinating to everyone else around them; who doesn’t seem to understand that listening is an important part of communicating and connecting with others.
The best communicators know that there is a kind of give and take between talking and listening, a sharing of who is speaker and who is listener based on mutual respect and caring about each other’s feelings. Some people talk about themselves because they genuinely think they’re more interesting than anyone else they know. But many people are overwhelmed by their own feelings and push them away. Either way, monologs send the wrong message to your listener, while a two-way conversation brings people closer.
Never underestimate the power of good communication. Often, people in management or with power – a politician, doctor, or a strict mother – are excellent communicators. Listen to your speaking partner, give them signals that you are engaged, and speak with a clear message. You will see the difference.
 Kleinke, C. (1986) Gaze and eye contact: A research review. Psychologiccal Bulletin, Vol 100(1). 78-100 doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.100.1.78
 Cohen, S., Schulz, M., Weiss, E., Waldinger, R. (2012) Eye of the beholder: the individual and dyadic contributions of empathic accuracy and perceived empathic effort to relationship satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology 26, 236-245.