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This document does not offer formal policy guidance from the Office of Special Education Programs at the United States Department of Education.
"We all use language to communicate, to express ourselves, to get our ideas across, and to connect with the person to whom we are speaking. When a relationship is working, the act of communicating seems to flow relatively effortlessly. When a relationship is deteriorating, the act of communicating can be as frustrating as climbing a hill of sand."
- Chip Rose, attorney and mediator
On a daily basis we work with people who have different opinions, values, beliefs, and needs than our own. Our ability to exchange ideas with others, understand others' perspectives, solve problems and successfully utilize the steps and processes presented in this training will depend significantly on how effectively we are able to communicate with others.
The act of communicating involves verbal, nonverbal, and paraverbal components. The verbal component refers to the content of our message‚ the choice and arrangement of our words. The nonverbal component refers to the message we send through our body language. The paraverbal component refers to how we say what we say - the tone, pacing and volume of our voices.
In order to communicate effectively, we must use all three components to do two things:
1. Send clear, concise messages.
2. Hear and correctly understand messages someone is sending to us.
Communication Involves Three Components:
1. Verbal Messages - the words we choose
2. Paraverbal Messages - how we say the words
3. Nonverbal Messages - our body language
1. Send Clear, Concise Messages
2. Receive and Correctly Understand Messages Sent to Us.
Our use of language has tremendous power in the type of atmosphere that is created at the problem-solving table. Words that are critical, blaming, judgmental or accusatory tend to create a resistant and defensive mindset that is not conducive to productive problem solving. On the other hand, we can choose words that normalize the issues and problems and reduce resistance. Phrases such as "in some districts, people may . . .", "it is not uncommon for . . ." and "for some folks in similar situations" are examples of this.
Sending effective messages requires that we state our point of view as briefly and succinctly as possible. Listening to a rambling, unorganized speaker is tedious and discouraging - why continue to listen when there is no interchange? Lengthy dissertations and circuitous explanations are confusing to the listener and the message loses its concreteness, relevance, and impact. This is your opportunity to help the listener understand YOUR perspective and point of view. Choose your words with the intent of making your message as clear as possible, avoiding jargon and unnecessary, tangential information.
Effective Verbal Messages:
1. Are brief, succinct, and organized
2. Are free of jargon
3. Do not create resistance in the listener
The power of nonverbal communication cannot be underestimated. In his book, Silent Messages, Professor Albert Mehrabian says the messages we send through our posture, gestures, facial expression, and spatial distance account for 55% of what is perceived and understood by others. In fact, through our body language we are always communicating, whether we want to or not!
You cannot not communicate.
Nonverbal messages are the primary way that we communicate emotions:
1. Account for about 55% of what is perceived and understood by others.
2. Are conveyed through our facial expressions as well as our postures and gestures.
Paraverbal communication refers to the messages that we transmit through the tone, pitch, and pacing of our voices. It is how we say something, not what we say. Professor Mehrabian states that the paraverbal message accounts for approximately 38% of what is communicated to someone. A sentence can convey entirely different meanings depending on the emphasis on words and the tone of voice. For example, the statement, "I didn't say you were stupid" has six different meanings, depending on which word is emphasized.
Some points to remember about our paraverbal communication:
1. Account for about 38% of what is perceived and understood by others.
2. Include the tone, pitch, and pacing of our voice
In all of our communications we want to strive to send consistent verbal, paraverbal and nonverbal messages. When our messages are inconsistent, the listener may become confused. Inconsistency can also create a lack of trust and undermine the chance to build a good working relationship.
When a person sends a message with conflicting verbal, paraverbal and nonverbal information, the nonverbal information tends to be believed. Consider the example of someone, through a clenched jaw, hard eyes, and steely voice, telling you they're not mad. Which are you likely to believe? What you see or what you hear?
The key to receiving messages effectively is listening. Listening is a combination of hearing what another person says and psychological involvement with the person who is talking. Listening requires more than hearing words. It requires a desire to understand another human being, an attitude of respect and acceptance, and a willingness to open one's mind to try and see things from another's point of view.
Listening requires a high level of concentration and energy. It demands that we set aside our own thoughts and agendas, put ourselves in another's shoes and try to see the world through that person's eyes. True listening requires that we suspend judgment, evaluation, and approval in an attempt to understand another is frame of reference, emotions, and attitudes. Listening to understand is, indeed, a difficult task!
Often, people worry that if they listen attentively and patiently to a person who is saying something they disagree with, they are inadvertently sending a message of agreement.
When we listen effectively we gain information that is valuable to understanding the problem as the other person sees it. We gain a greater understanding of the other person's perception. After all, the truth is subjective and a matter of perception. When we have a deeper understanding of another's perception, whether we agree with it or not, we hold the key to understanding that person's motivation, attitude, and behavior. We have a deeper understanding of the problem and the potential paths for reaching agreement.
1. Requires concentration and energy
2. Involves a psychological connection with the speaker
3. Includes a desire and willingness to try and see things from another's perspective
4. Requires that we suspend judgment and evaluation
"Listening in dialogue is listening more to meaning than to words . . .In true listening, we reach behind the words, see through them, to find the person who is being revealed. Listening is a search to find the treasure of the true person as revealed verbally and nonverbally. There is the semantic problem, of course. The words bear a different connotation for you than they do for me. Consequently, I can never tell you what you said, but only what I heard. I will have to rephrase what you have said, and check it out with you to make sure that what left your mind and heart arrived in my mind and heart intact and without distortion."
- John Powell, theologian
Learning to be an effective listener is a difficult task for many people. However, the specific skills of effective listening behavior can be learned. It is our ultimate goal to integrate these skills into a sensitive and unified way of listening.
Key Listening Skills:
Attending is the art and skill of giving full, physical attention to another person. In his book, People Skills, Robert Bolton, Ph.D., refers to it as "listening with the whole body".
Effective attending is a careful balance of alertness and relaxation that includes appropriate body movement, eye contact, and "posture of involvement". Fully attending says to the speaker, "What you are saying is very important. I am totally present and intent on understanding you". We create a posture of involvement by:
As psychiatrist Franklin Ernst, Jr. writes in his book, Who's Listening?".
"To listen is to move. To listen is to be moved by the talker - physically and psychologically . . . The non-moving, unblinking person can reliably be estimated to be a non-listener . . . When other visible moving has ceased and the eyeblink rate has fallen to less than once in six seconds, listening, for practical purposes, has stopped."
When we pay attention to a speaker's body language we gain insight into how that person is feeling as well as the intensity of the feeling. Through careful attention to body language and paraverbal messages, we are able to develop hunches about what the speaker (or listener) is communicating. We can then, through our reflective listening skills, check the accuracy of those hunches by expressing in our own words, our impression of what is being communicated.
In order to understand the total meaning of a message, we must be able to gain understanding about both the feeling and the content of the message. We are often more comfortable dealing with the content rather than the feelings (i.e., the relationship), particularly when the feelings are intense. Our tendency is to try and ignore the emotional aspect of the message/conflict and move directly to the substance of the issues.
This can lead to an escalation of intense emotions. It may be necessary to deal directly with the relationship problem by openly acknowledging and naming the feelings and having an honest discussion about them prior to moving into the substantive issues. If we leave the emotional aspect unaddressed, we risk missing important information about the problem as well as derailing the communication process.
Reflective listening or responding is the process of restating, in our words, the feeling and/or content that is being expressed and is part of the verbal component of sending and receiving messages. By reflecting back to the speaker what we believe we understand, we validate that person by giving them the experience of being heard and acknowledged. We also provide an opportunity for the speaker to give us feedback about the accuracy of our perceptions, thereby increasing the effectiveness of our overall communication.
Paraphrasing - This is a concise statement of the content of the speaker's message. A paraphrase should be brief, succinct, and focus on the facts or ideas of the message rather than the feeling. The paraphrase should be in the listener's own words rather than "parroting back", using the speaker's words.
Reflecting Feeling - The listener concentrates on the feeling words and asks herself, "How would I be feeling if I was having that experience?" She then restates or paraphrases the feeling of what she has heard in a manner that conveys understanding.
Summarizing - The listener pulls together the main ideas and feelings of the speaker to show understanding. This skill is used after a considerable amount of information sharing has gone on and shows that the listener grasps the total meaning of the message. It also helps the speaker gain an integrated picture of what she has been saying.
A number of other verbal tools encourage communication and facilitate the goal of gaining a more thorough understanding of another's perspective:
Questioning - the listener asks open ended questions (questions which can't be answered with a "yes" or a "no") to get information and clarification. This helps focus the speaker on the topic, encourages the speaker to talk, and provides the speaker the opportunity to give feedback.
Verbal Communication Tools
1. Paraphrasing - a brief, succinct statement reflecting the content of the speakerís message.
2. Reflecting Feeling - a statement, in a way that conveys understanding, of the feeling that the listener has heard.
3. Summarizing - a statement of the main ideas and feelings to show understanding.
4. Questioning - asking open questions to gain information, encourage the speaker to tell her story, and gain clarification.
"A barrier to communication is something that keeps meanings from meeting. Meaning barriers exist between all people, making communication much more difficult than most people seem to realize. It is false to assume that if one can talk he can communicate. Because so much of our education misleads people into thinking that communication is easier than it is, they become discouraged and give up when they run into difficulty. Because they do not understand the nature of the problem, they do not know what to do. The wonder is not that communicating is as difficult as it is, but that it occurs as much as it does."
- Reuel Howe, theologian and educator
When people are under stress, they are more apt to inject communication barriers into their conversation. These barriers can exist in any of the three components of communication (verbal, paraverbal, and nonverbal). According to Thomas Gordon, author of the Parent Effectiveness Training program, people use communication barriers 90% of the time in conflict situations. For this reason, it is worthwhile to describe some of the common responses that will, inevitably, have a negative effect on communications:
1. Attacking (interrogating, criticizing, blaming, shaming)
2. "You Messages" (moralizing, preaching, advising, diagnosing)
3. Showing Power (ordering, threatening, commanding, directing)
4. Other Verbal Barriers: shouting, name calling, refusing to speak.
1. Flashing or rolling eyes
2. Quick or slow movements
3. Arms crossed, legs crossed
4. Gestures made with exasperation
5. Slouching, hunching over
6. Poor personal care
8. Staring at people or avoiding eye contact
9. Excessive fidgeting with materials
All of these examples of barriers thwart communication, mutual understanding, respect, problem solving, and identifying solutions that will meet everyone's needs. They put a serious strain on relationships that ultimately need to be collaborative in order to most effectively meet the needs of our children. Use of these "communication errors" results in increased emotional distancing between the parties, escalation in the intensity of the conflict and a negative environment for everyone involved.
Effective Communication . . .
It is two way.
It involves active listening.
It reflects the accountability of speaker and listener.
It utilizes feedback.
It is free of stress.
It is clear.