Effective Communication

Effective Communication

Knowledge transfer and exchange with colleagues and clients is extremely important for achieving desired health outcomes for the women we serve.  By ensuring that we are communicating and listening effectively we can promote and convey understanding, which is necessary for building and maintaining rapport and respect.

In order to make the most of the trusting relationships we have with our clients, it is important to be confident in our communication skills including the ‘art’ of active listening. Active listening involves four essential listening skills:

  • Preparation skills
  • Attending skills
  • Maintenance skills
  • Reflecting skills

By practicing these skills, we can become better listeners. When we demonstrate to others that we care about them, and what they are saying, people are likely to respond in a positive manner.

What is active listening?

Have you ever engaged in a conversation with someone where you are speaking about something important to you and noticed that the person you are speaking with no longer has their eyes focused on you? If this person is distracted by something else, it sends the message that they are disinterested in what you are saying, or caught up in their own world.  How willing would you be to tell this person about your important issue? Or how would you feel about giving this person your time and attention to talk about something they wanted to discuss?

Many aspects of our lives are influenced by our ability to listen effectively. We must actively listen, instead of just hearing what a person says. This involves understanding the person, showing your understanding (verbally and nonverbally) and if necessary clarifying your understanding.

Preparation skills

Before interacting with others, we must prepare ourselves to be good listeners.

  • Attitude of respect and acceptance –Listening is never effective if you are judging or finding fault in the speaker. Respect their viewpoint and listen openly.
  • Availability as a listener –Our busy lifestyles and many distractions may make unavailable as a listener. Make sure to put other issues aside, so the speaker does not feel neglected.
  • Understanding listening blocks–All of us use listening blocks at sometime. This can include things like rehearsing what we are going to say next in our mind, trying to read the mind of the speaker, jumping into problem solving too quickly, or interrogating the speaker. If we know what blocks us from communicating effectively, we can have more conscious control over how and when these blocks are used in future interactions.

Attending skills

Attending skills refer to the use of nonverbal cues that demonstrate interest and attention. Up to 70-80% of our daily communication is nonverbal. It is important to use nonverbal cues as rewards for the speaker to continue speaking. It is also important for our non verbal cues to match our verbal ones. People are more likely to trust the nonverbal cues that we are giving over what is being said.

  • Facial expression—friendly and relaxed. Adjust facial expression to match what the speaker is saying.
  • Gestures –a simple head nod can indicate attention and interest. Small head nods show continued interest, and large head nods demonstrate agreement.
  • Posture –Maintain an open position (arms and legs uncrossed), lean slightly forward to communicate attention and face the other person squarely.
  • Proximity –Don’t be positioned too close or too far away from the speaker. How close you are depends on the relationship with the person and may vary for different cultures.
  • Gaze and eye contact –Maintaining eye contact with the speaker demonstrates interest and allows the listener to collect facial information. The meaning of eye contact may also vary depending on culture.
  • Avoid distractions –Actively move away from distractions so that the other person has your full attention.

Maintenance skills

Maintenance skills are used to encourage the speaker to continue and to assume control over the direction of the interaction. Two specific maintenance skills that foster effective listening are door openers and minimal encouragers.

  • Door openers –A door opener is a non-coercive invitation to talk.  This may be something like “you look as though something is troubling you” or “I’ve got time to talk if you need to talk”, or maintaining silence to give the person time to collect their thoughts. For close relationships where frequent disclosure has occurred in the past, door openers may be more concise like “what’s up?”
  • Minimal encouragers –Minimal encouragers allow the listener to stay active in the process while still giving the speaker the freedom to direct and control the interaction. They should primarily show the speaker that he or she is being heard and that the listener is willing to continue attending. Most common are things like “mm-hmmm”, “Right”, “And?” or “Go on”.

Reflecting skills

Effective reflecting skills will show the speaker that you understand what they are saying. Three important skills are involved in reflecting:

  • Reflecting content (paraphrasing)—Paraphrasing involves the listener making a clear and concise summary in your own words about what the speaker has just said. If you have paraphrased effectively the speaker will usually say something like “yes, that’s right”. If you haven’t, it gives the speaker an opportunity to correct you. This allows conversations to flow better and achieve complete understanding of the other person’s point of view.
  • Reflecting feeling (using empathy) -- Empathy is our ability to ‘put ourselves in their shoes”. This involves responding to the speaker’s emotions, not just their words. When focused on feelings think about the strength of the feeling, and the existence of mixed feelings.  Your ability to use empathy relies heavily on your ability to reflect feelings accurately.  There are five features of effective reflecting:
    • Focus on the main feeling
    • Use simple concise words and phrases
    • Reflect the feelings in your own voice and body messages
    • Reflect upon on the feelings if appropriate
    • Check for understanding


The next conversation you have with another person, focus intently on what they are saying and then instead of responding by asking a question or giving your opinion, reflect back what they are talking about. 


  • Asking Questions –Questions are essential when communicating with people. It is important to understand what kind of responses a question will likely elicit
    • Open questions allow a person to speak in more detail about a particular problem. They are helpful in the beginning of conversations because they give an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings about an issue.
    • Closed questions usually restrict answers to a simple yes or no. They are more commonly used at the end of a conversation.