Communication Part 1: What's It All About and How to Enhance It

How to be mindful while in communication with others and how to be better listeners.

Communication is a means by which we exchange information. For example, it helps us relay our needs, express our feelings, and share ideas. We accomplish this by verbal, nonverbal, and paraverbal efforts. Our verbal messages are what we actually say. This includes the particular words we choose to share as well as how we arrange them. Our body language, which can be communicated from the entire body, comprises our nonverbal messages. They way you sit, stand, how you might be turned directionally, your arms or legs being crossed, the expression on your face, the tilt of your head, these examples and more also help us to communicate information to the receiving party. Paraverbal messages are expressed through tone of voice, how quickly or slowly we speak, and the volume by which we share our chosen words. Knowing these components of communication can help us be more mindful in how we exchange information within our interpersonal relationships.

When we are in conversation with another person, for example, we can be confident that we pay attention to their verbal, nonverbal, and paraverbal expressions because we rely on these forms of communication to help interpret the message they send. But, how much do we pay attention to our own? Think back to a recent conversation you may have had wherein the other person felt hurt by the tone with which you spoke to them, or the words you chose, or the positioning of your body. Was it intentional? If not, how could that conversation have been different had you been more aware of these parts of your communication? By being more aware of ourselves, we can enhance our ability to communicate with others to ensure we are doing so effectively.

Other ways to enhance communication is through active listening skills. When we engage in active listening, we are making a conscious effort to listen to hear what the other person is saying rather than listening to respond. When we use this skill, our focus is on the other person to fully hear and understand what they are communicating to us. We can confirm we understand them correctly by reflecting back what we heard. Sometimes this can come across as parroting so the distinction is to paraphrase instead of repeating. Another important note for active listening is to refrain from interrupting and take a nonjudgmental approach to hearing the other person. Remember: listen to hear, not to respond.

“Remember: listen to hear, not to respond.”

You might be wondering what this looks like in real life. Sounds good in theory, but how does it work, right? Well, let’s say you are talking with a friend who is about to move out of state. This friend shares, “I’m so excited for this opportunity! I think it’s going to work out really well for me.” Your friend verbally sounds excited, nonverbally appears excited by the way they lean towards you with a beaming smile, and the tilt of their voice increases to a slightly higher volume. You reply, “You are really thrilled about this new adventure! I am so happy for you!” Your words and tone convey a verbal and paraverbal message of reflected (cue active listening) excitement, but it doesn’t quite translate to your facial expression (nonverbal). Your friend responds with a questioning laugh, “Are you sure? Because your eyes are telling a different story.”

In this exchange, we can see how the verbal, nonverbal, and paraverbal messages are exchanged. When we are not consciously aware of how our messages are being shared, the other party can interpret something differently. After your friend acknowledges the difference between your words and your expression, you might laugh, drop your head downwards, and reply, “Oh, yes! I am very happy for you! Just sad for me because I’ll miss you!”

So far we’ve covered how to be mindful while in communication with others and how to be better listeners. In Part 2, we’ll cover how we can effectively communicate as the speaker. Communication is essential to any healthy relationship. If you are interested in learning how you can enhance your communication, whether solo or with a partner, reach out today. One of our therapists in your area can meet for individual or couple/family sessions. We would love to help you feel more knowledgeable, capable, and empowered in your communication skills!