- You communicate with others by listening, and through verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual cues.
- To improve communication, try tuning into emotions, actively listening, and using "I" statements.
- Clear, respectful communication can help you connect with others and maintain strong relationships.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
The nuances of conversation can make communication feel complicated at times. Yet increasing your awareness of conversational cues and practicing new ways to express yourself can help you communicate more thoughtfully, which can help strengthen all of your relationships.
Types of communication
You respond to thousands of communication cues every day, from facial expressions to tone of voice to text messages.
The five types of communication you might pick up on in your daily interactions include:
Of course, some communication signals are so subtle you might not always consciously recognize them. These 10 tips can help you learn to communicate more effectively.
1. Find your voice
Your voice can offer clues about a number of things, from where you were born to how you're currently feeling.
A strong, confident speaking voice can be just as important as the words you use, particularly since tone of voice might add another layer of meaning to what you say.
A few tips to keep in mind:
- Use a slow and steady voice to convey trustworthiness and importance.
- Maintain a consistent rhythm and tone to sound confident and knowledgeable.
- Enunciate clearly at an audible volume to boost the impact of your words by making them easier to understand.
2. Avoid filler words
You might fall prey to filler words such as "uh," "like," and "so" more often than you think. These words may feel natural, but according to 2015 research, fillers can distract others and imply low confidence.
Researchers analyzed 138 recorded interview videos from 69 Massachusetts Institute of Technology students speaking with career counselors. The results suggest that using fewer filler words and more unique words could increase your chance of landing a job after an interview.
3. Consider your body language
Intentional movements and body language play an essential role in nonverbal communication.
For instance, opening your arms in a sweeping gesture when telling your friend a story can show enthusiasm and excitement.
Some gestures often used in communication:
- Pointing at an object can imply its importance. Just note that pointing directly at a person could suggest negative feelings and hostility.
- Open hands with palms facing upward can suggest acceptance and trustworthiness.
- Shrugging your shoulders with palms facing upward can convey indecisiveness or confusion.
- Keeping your hand gestures in the area from the top of your chest to your lower waist implies confidence without arrogance.
4. Use "I" statements
When trying to communicate critical feedback or disagreement, use statements that start with "I". This can help you express your thoughts without sounding accusatory.
"[I] statements focus on your experience, as opposed to 'you' statements which place the focus on the other person in a critical way. 'I' statements also help you to take personal responsibility instead of blaming," says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, licensed clinical professional counselor at The Marriage Restoration Project.
For example, "I don't agree," may sound less confrontational than something like, "You're wrong."
Taking ownership of your reactions can help demonstrate responsibility and confidence in your communication.
5. Practice active listening
Effective communication isn't always about what you say or express — it's also about listening.
Active listening — when you focus fully on the current conversation as an active participant instead of flicking through apps on your phone or thinking about your evening plans — can help the other person feel heard and valued. This not only boosts respect and trust, it also makes the person more likely to consider what you have to say later on.
You can show your listening skills by contributing a valuable point to the other person's message. For instance, you might say, "I agree we should track time during our meetings. Have you thought about which program you'd like to try?"
6. Pay attention to facial expressions
Whether you're talking with family over FaceTime or meeting a client over Zoom, facial expressions can show emotional states faster than verbal cues. Reading facial expressions, then, could help you better understand a person's true intentions.
For example, your partner might verbally agree that a family vacation sounds fun, but their furrowed brow might suggest otherwise.
Try acknowledging the discrepancy by saying something like: "You agreed a trip to Disneyland could be fun, but you look a little stressed. How are you feeling about it now?"
7. Provide visual context
Visual context can have benefits in workplace and educational settings, since people have different learning styles. Visual communication might include:
- Charts or graphs
Just make sure your visuals are easy to understand. For example, if you show a chart with new data, explain what's happening in the visual and how it relates to your point.
Moreover, presenting graphs or images can help bring your words to life, which improves the chances of others committing your message to memory.
8. Learn to say "No"
It's not uncommon to hesitate before saying "No," even when you really don't want to do something. You might say yes because you think it's easier to go with the flow, or you don't want to hurt someone's feelings.
But saying "Yes" to a friend's last-minute request for a night out might leave you feeling exhausted the next day, which might build resentment toward your friend.
Instead, ask yourself when saying "No" to someone else might allow you to say "Yes" to yourself.
9. Check in with your emotions
Miscommunications and misunderstandings can lead to outbursts of anger and frustration, like yelling or crying. While it's natural to have these feelings — and express them — sometimes overwhelming emotions can get in the way of resolving the situation.
10. Make small changes
Practice healthy types of communication in low-risk situations to build confidence and find the style that works best for you.
For example, practice new skills, like active listening, with your partner or best friend before trying them out in a meeting with your boss or at a big family gathering.
Not only is this a low-risk situation, but your partner or friend can also help you evaluate your new skills and tweak your approach as needed. You can also take your time in these types of situations.
"Be willing to slow down when you communicate," says Samantha Kingma, licensed marriage and family therapist at Rest and Renew Therapy. Allowing yourself time to think before you speak will help you avoid falling into unhelpful communication patterns.
Learning to communicate effectively takes time and practice.
Gaining more insight into how you currently communicate is a great first step toward learning to share your ideas in a clear and respectful way.
"Slowing down to think before you communicate gives you the power to be intentional about what you are saying," says Kingma.