How to Develop More Effective Communication Skills

Posted on October 20, 2016 by Liz Ferron, MSW, LICSW

Updated June 18, 2020


Effective Communication is Important

Effective communication is important in all areas of your life. It allows you to build healthy relationships and prevents misperceptions of your intent by those with whom you live and work. Improving your communication skills can start a ripple effect positively impacting your career, care team relationships, patient outcomes and personal relationships with friends and family.

Communication for Physicians & Providers

While an effort is underway to help medical students keep effective communication practices top of mind, most present day physicians and providers report little emphasis on this in their training. Even the best communicators struggle when under tension and facing a myriad of demands and distractions.

Webster’s Dictionary defines communication as “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.” It is important to consider that communication is not just verbal in form. While spoken words contain the crucial content, meaning is influenced by the style of delivery, which includes body language, facial expressions, inflection, eye contact and gestures. Critical information is often transmitted via handwritten notes, e-mails, or text messages, however, which can easily be misinterpreted and lead to serious consequences.[1]

Whether you are a skilled communicator or you find effective communications challenging, there is always room for improvement. Reviewing skills and best practices for effective communication is a way to ensure what you intend to convey is the message people actually received.

Tips for Effective Communication

Pause before responding. Sometimes just that tiny break, giving you time to think, is what you need to really understand what someone else has said or to formulate the thoughts you want to convey.

Be trustworthy and honest. When you're honest, communication becomes less complicated. You don't have to worry about what you might say wrong when you don’t have anything to hide.

Don't rush communication. When you're rushing and trying to get through your communication quickly — that's when things can go wrong.

Adapt your ideas to others. If you want your ideas to be heard, you have to work with the person to whom you're speaking and find a way to communicate your idea in a way they will understand.

Stay in the moment. If you want to communicate your thoughts effectively, you have to stay in the present moment and be there when you're speaking and listening.

Pay attention to your own non-verbal cues. This is essential when it comes to effective communication.

Intend to understand. This idea from Stephen Covey focuses on the concept of listening to actually understand what is being said, rather than listening just to respond with what you want to say.

Be patient and open-minded. Recognize you might not be communicating as effectively as you'd like. There is a way to communicate in any situation. Be patient and be open to new ideas to communicate.

Follow up after communicating. Don’t assume your message was heard and understood the way you intended it. If you're communicating with someone, make sure you follow up to ensure they understood. No matter how obvious your message might seem, it never hurts to confirm!

Ask for feedback from others. One of the best ways to learn to communicate more effectively is to ask for feedback. Take time to speak to those with whom you communicate frequently to find out how you can improve your communication with them. It's not always easy to ask for feedback, but it's worth it!

Focus on Listening. Keep in mind listening is an essential component of effective communication. Here are some ideas to improve your listening.[2]Banquet coffee break at conference meeting, people talking, young woman and man shaking

  • Focus fully on the speaker, his or her body language, tone of voice and other nonverbal cues.
  • Favor your right ear.
  • Avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation.
  • Show your interest in what’s being said.
  • Try to set aside judgment.

Avoid communication barriers. It’s also important to be aware of barriers to positive communication and try to reduce their impact. Here are some potential barriers to consider.[3]

  • The use of jargon — over-complicated, unfamiliar and/or technical terms.
  • Lack of attention, interest, distractions or irrelevance to the receiver.
  • Differences in perception and viewpoint.
  • Physical disabilities such as hearing problems or speech difficulties.
  • Physical barriers to non-verbal communication/ not being able to see non-verbal cues.
  • Language differences and difficulty understanding unfamiliar accents.
  • Expectations and prejudices which may lead to false assumptions or stereotyping
  • Cultural differences

We Can Help

If you find you are often misunderstood or would like help to refine or improve your communication skills, we can help. At VITAL WorkLife we have a variety of resources available to help with developing communication skills, including unlimited in-the-moment telephonic support, face-to-face or virtual counseling sessions, peer coaching and more.

Physician Well Resources members: contact VITAL WorkLife at 877.731.3949 or through the VITAL WorkLife App to access your resources today. 


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