Characteristics of Effective Communication

Great communicators capture our attention, rouse our emotions, or compel us to take action. In a previous post, we suggested all great communicators are perceived as clear, concise, confident, credible and compelling when delivering their message. In this post, we highlight five characteristics of effective communication.

Five Characteristics of Effective Communication

Actively Listen

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus

Communication is always a two-way street. Sending messages is only half of the communication equation. The other half is receiving—listening. Dr. Ralph G. Nichols—often called the “Father of Listening”— said, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

Eliminate Verbal Viruses

Shakespeare reminds us, “Mend your speech a little, lest it may mar your fortunes.”

Eliminate unnecessary fillers known as verbal viruses—“ah”s, “um”s, “you know”, “I mean” or “like.” Verbal viruses usually happen when we are buying time while figuring out what they are going to say next. The best way to eliminate verbal viruses is to slow your pace and allow yourself the time to fully form an answer before speaking.

Effective Gestures

As Hamlet says to his players, “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” That is: don’t preplan your gestures or they will look phony.

Gestures, often called “the silent language,” help communicate your message’s words and ideas. Gestures are either effective or ineffective. Effective gestures support your intention and appear spontaneous, arising out of the emotions of the moment (what actors call their inner life).

With the exception of Japan, most audiences appreciate and gravitate toward people who use more expansive and varied gestures. Expansive gestures—those that use more space—are generally more interesting than constrictive gestures.

Ineffective gestures are unnatural, stiff, lazy or fidgety, or appear planned. They communicate nervousness, lack of confidence, and insecurity. As a rule, avoid gestures below the waist, as they are generally perceived as weak. And pointing with one finger at a person (versus an object) is almost always seen as rude or offensive.

Strong Eye Contact

We all know eye contact is important in communication. But how important? Researchers Laurence Conty, Nathalie George, and Jari K. Hietanen explain in Psychology Today, “Direct gaze has the power to enhance the experience that the information present in the situation is strongly related to one’s own person.” They believe that the self-referential information processing brought about by feeling looked at “acts as an associative ‘glue’ for perception, memory, and decision-making.”

According to Katherine Schreiber and Heather Hausenblas, Ph.D., “Eye contact can have a memory-boosting, prosocial, and stimulating effect, provided it’s wanted by the person being looked at. If you’re trying to use eye contact to your advantage, pay attention to the cues coming from the person you’re staring at: If they’re returning your gaze, lighting up, becoming more talkative, or straightening their posture or relaxing as you look into their eyes, you’re doing great. But if they’re shying away, acting nervous, looking annoyed, or they keep trying to turn their attention back toward the book you just distracted them from reading, it’s probably a good idea to look (and possibly, go) away.”

Intention and objective

As a communicator, you must have a specific objective in mind—something you need to accomplish—if you hope to impact and move your audience. Then you must select a strong and specific intention – one word verb (captivate, persuade, motivate, etc.)to pursue that objective. Once activated, intention and objective will inform all aspects of how you deliver your message. In the end, without a particular intention behind your delivery—and one that is specifically in line with your objective—the best your message will be is ambiguous.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Effective communication requires we actively listen to understand. It requires we speak with clarity so our message is understood. We must gesture effectively to ensure our message is congruent. We should maintain strong eye contact to ensure we connect. And we must have an objective to achieve and use a strong intention to achieve it when we communicate so our audience knows what we expect from them and how to proceed.

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