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The psychology of effective communication

JandeJonge Our guest blogger for February 2015 is Jan de Jonge.  It’s taken a while to drag him from his client work to share his  (current) top tips for communication.  Jan is a business psychologist and founder of People Business Psychology Ltd., a UK-based consultancy specialised in the assessment and development of people and the organisations they work in.  As a chartered member of  CIPD Jan is the chair of Swindon and North Wiltshire special interest group.  Follow Jan on Twitter: @JDJUK


I often muse about what constitutes effective communication. Or should I use simpler words? ‘I keep thinking about how to get my message across clearly’. Does that sound better?

There are some hard, well-accepted ‘rules’ to increase our chances of communicating more clearly, more effectively and more persuasively. Effective communication, in turn, enables us to psychologically connect better with others, win people over, negotiate better and establish better alignment – both in our privately lives and, especially, professionally, where contact and new relationships need to be forged and maintained, under pressure of limited time that attention that is available from the intended audience.
Some of these rules are very basic, but still, they’re often overlooked or ignored.

These are my Top 5 Tips for effective communication. Mind you, my top tips are subject to change. Just like communication: that is also very much subject to ‘change’..

1) Make sure people know your full name. Assume the habit to express the idea that you have a first name, and a surname! I often see, for instance, receptionists and welcome-desk people, wearing name badges that only carry a first name. It often makes me feel a little uneasy. Let alone those badges that have such small fonts it’s hard to read the person’s name. And they (the person and their name badge) move around!

Another thing about names is that it can be hard to remember names. Try to repeat your name. Help people to remember it and ask help to remember theirs. Find ways of making it easier to remember someone’s name, for instance by using a mnemonic, like repeating the name ‘in your head’ or creating silent associations that link a name to an image or a ‘mental story’.

2) Eye contact. I used to struggle with this when I was younger (- perhaps I still do, sometimes..!). Maintaining eye contact with someone you’re talking too can be hard. It’s often easier (I find) to look the person you’re listening to in the eye – it is much harder, it seems, to look the person in the eye when talking to him or her. The eye is the portal to the soul; it can be quite an intimate thing. It is said that eye contact can be a sign of someone’s status and dominance. High status people look more while talking than listening. There is a lot to say about eye contact; it is culturally defined, and a signal of many emotions, such as love and hate. The eyes ‘give it away’. In a sense, it is part of the subject of non-verbal signals. I recommend Dr Jeremy Dean’s PsyBlog, and his blogpost that discusses this fascinating topic.

3) Written communication. I love the written word. The way words are chosen to convey a message, their placing on a page, the fonts used, their sound, cadence. The frequency with which the words are used in a language (see this for example; we computed quite a bit around the 1820s without having any computers). This all influences how we perceive the message. An important aspect (here we go..!) is also the spelling of words. It amazes me how it can be that it’s (as in: it is) so difficult to see its value. For an excellent treatise on the English language, I urge you to browse through Gwynne’s Grammar. And it’s a beautiful, bound object to hold in your hands, too. And I feel it can be OK to start a sentence with ‘And’.

4) Confirm you have received a message. Whether it is an email, a spoken message, a letter, an invoice… It reminds me of working in the police, where one of the practical skills police cadets learn, is to confirm that they have heard a message sent by their colleague by radio. It helps the flow of a conversation, that could otherwise be stilted and ineffective. This tip relates to such communication skills as ‘mirroring’, ‘paraphrasing’, and showing empathy in verbal communication – not to mention etiquette.

5) Listen more, talk (or write) less. Less is indeed less; and often better than more.

We love sharing a guest blog each month on this site.  If you have a burning wish to share your thoughts on any aspect of communication please contact me to book a space.

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