Topics in Communication Skills

Student listening in lecture.
... Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The ability to communicate complex ideas is one of the biggest reasons human beings are more advanced than other mammals . While the foundation for human communication skills is put in place at an early age, effective communication can be mastered at any stage of life -- as long as you're willing to learn and practice. Most people are unaware of the nonverbal ways they communicate every day, much less the impact nonverbal communication has on the average person's life.

1 Barriers to Effective Communication

There are seven potential barriers to effective communication, some of which are unintentional or unconscious: source, message, encoding, channel, decoding, receiver and feedback. Communication can break down at each stage of this process. As the source of the message, you must be clear with your meaning and intent. If not, the dialogue partner is unable to understand your meaning and thus respond appropriately. Encoding refers to entering the message into a mode of communication. Encoding errors can occur, for example, when you type the wrong word in an e-mail and alter its intended message. Channel refers to the mode of the message, and can break down if the channel itself shuts down, like when the post office shuts down. Decoding errors can arise from a lack of knowledge or cognitive capability, thus making the original message a wasted effort. Feedback is the second step of communication, and can be ascertained by observing nonverbal and verbal language. If a supposed listener is not engaged or listening to your words, and shows signs of inattention, the feedback loop -- and thus two-way communication -- is shut down. A message's receivers can vary in knowledge, listening skill, cognitive capability and bias. Effectively communicating to many people at once is challenging given these differences, as it's likely not all will receive the intended message.

2 Verbal Communication

Effective communication means making brief and concise statements. The best way to get your point across to the largest audience is through language free of jargon and unnecessary verbiage. Effective dialogue is an exchange of ideas in which listening is just as important as talking. A good listener is someone who hears what the speaker is saying and psychologically participates in silence by attempting to decode and understand the messages while also formulating questions and statements to build the conversation. Good listening takes concentration. Verbal communication can break down if the speaker sees that the listener is not paying attention.

3 Paraverbal Messaging

Paraverbal messaging refers to the pitch, flow and tone of the voice. It's estimated that close to 40 percent of a verbal message is communicated paraverbally; meaning can change dramatically based on how a message is conveyed. Listeners can differentiate emotions and intentions depending on the pace and tone of the deliverer. Effective communication can mean including emotion in the speech, depending on what kind of message you're attempting to convey. Monotone communication can mask underlying emotions.

4 Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication includes gestures, facial expressions, space, touch, eye contact and posture. While most people are not conscious of it, the human mind calculates these characteristics in real-time and sends feedback, instilling the listener with instant impressions of the speaker. Good nonverbal communication skills include standing tall and erect, making good eye contact, using occasional and culturally acceptable gestures and touching, and also maintaining culturally acceptable space between communication partners. There are myriad communication contexts, and to be an effective communicator you must follow the subtle rules of each one.

Greg Ruland began writing professionally in 1978. His work has been published most recently in "Sedona Red Rock News," "Cottonwood Journal Extra," "Lifestyles of Sedona" and the Sedona Red Rock News Website. Ruland holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Oregon School of Law.