How To Communicate More Effectively In Today’s World

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The day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969 marked the end of an incredible journey of collective brainpower, hard work and scientific discovery. Most importantly though, the project was underpinned by effective communication.

Throughout the 1960s, US president John F. Kennedy used his exemplary communication skills to spark the imagination of thousands of NASA employees — employees who would, in the same decade, turn the dream of space travel into a reality. And it wasn’t just NASA workers — Kennedy inspired the entire country to get behind the mission to put a man on the moon. His speeches on space travel inspired so many Americans into action. No two ways about it, Kennedy was a master communicator.

Today we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to communicate meaningfully.

The purpose of this article is to share with you ideas and practical tips that will teach you how to communicate more effectively in today’s world— thereby positively affecting every important aspect of your life — relationships, work, and personal matters.

When you understand others and they understand you, you can avoid many challenges, and the world becomes easier to navigate.

Types Of Conversation:

There are different levels of conversation, and some require more finesse than others. Most people engage in all these daily. Although, for some people, sharing personal feelings and thoughts may be difficult.

The level of conversation we engage in is usually influenced by our relationship with the person and context.

Our conversational style is related to our personality and temperament.

Some people are more outgoing than others. There are people who wouldn’t dare strike up a conversation with a stranger on the bus and others who’d talk to anyone who’ll listen.

Levels Of Conversation



  • Personal relationship: “Hi honey — how was your day?” “Long.”
  • Acquaintance: “Hi — how are you?” “Good, you?” “Fine, thanks. How are the wife and kids?”
  • Work: “Good morning. How was your weekend?” “Fantastic! Did you see the game on Saturday?”
  • Stranger: “I am still in shock about the game on Saturday.” “I hear you — I imagine a lot of people are recovering from that one.”



  • Personal relationship: “Did you know that so-and-so is running for sheriff?” “No — didn’t he run before and lose?” “Yes, and there were rumors of misdeeds in the campaign.”
  • Acquaintance: “Sounds like we may have a new candidate for sheriff.” “I have never heard of him, but we just moved here.”
  • Work: “Does anyone have details on the new candidate for sheriff?” “Only that he ran before and lost to so-and-so.”
  • Stranger: “We have another choice for sheriff now.” “I heard that — it should make things interesting.”



  • Personal relationship: “I am voting for Hillary — we need a woman president.” “Are you kidding — her husband would be running the country — not the female if she actually wins.”
  • Acquaintance: “I hear the election is very close this year. I hope we get someone in there who can cooperate with Congress.” “I don’t know who that would be — certainly none of the candidates on this ticket.”
  • Work: “Have you been to vote yet? The crusaders are out in full force!” “I am not voting this year — none of them are any good.”
  • Stranger: “It sounds like the election will be close this year.” “Probably — everyone wants a change, so maybe they will actually make it to the polls.”



  • Personal relationship: “I am really sad to hear that Mary’s mother died. She was such a strong influence in our lives as kids.” “I know it must be hard for you to lose her — you’ve always loved her so much.”
  • Acquaintance: “I heard that Mary’s mother died. Your family must be shocked by the news.” “Yes, my wife was very close to her when she was growing up.”
  • Work: “I need to take a day off to attend the funeral of a family friend on Friday.” “I am sorry for your loss. All you need to do is send the form to HR — it should be fine.”
  • Stranger: “Did you know so-and-so well?” “My wife knew her — they lived in the same neighborhood.”

Notice that we may have more conversations with people we know less personally — like work relationships.

It’s easy to be “talked out” by the time we get home to our loved ones.

Knowing this, we can make a special effort to talk to each other.

Unwritten Rules About Communication:

What Is A Boundary?

We hear about boundaries a lot, but most people don’t really understand what that means or how to follow those boundaries. Complicating the matter further, different people have different boundaries and they vary based on the type of relationship.

Think of boundaries as personal space — physical, social, and emotional.

And remember the different levels of conversation from the previous section? There are different boundaries in every situation.

As a general rule, keep your personal business out of the workplace and vice versa. Don’t tell acquaintances or strangers your deepest fears and secrets.

Save the personal stuff for people you know and trust,

and don’t trust everyone who’s nice to you. People have to show us consistently over time who they are before we can know them. This is very important to remember.

Body Language

To understand boundaries, you need to be good at reading body language. Not everyone is bold enough to speak up and say they don’t want a hug or like to be touched.

But their body will say it if you pay attention.

Those who don’t welcome physical touch often stand with their arms crossed. You may notice that they move away slightly if you lean in toward them. Their facial expression will likely be one of confusion, fear, or dread — not a wide grin with open arms.

The rule of thumb is to stand at arm’s length from others,

especially if you don’t know them well. People who “get in your space” are often perceived as trying to intimidate or “come on” to you. This may be unnerving to those with a strong need for personal space or strong boundaries.

Someone who’s open to your closeness, if the underlying intention is good, will have a more open posture and welcoming expression. Still, unless you have a personal relationship and are accustomed to being physical with each other, it’s a good idea to ask, “Is it okay if I give you a hug?”

Physical Boundaries

Recognizing physical boundaries is usually the easiest, but it varies depending on context. Some people feel crowded or even intimidated when people get too close to them physically. Others are wide open and want to shake hands, hug, or slap you on the back. Neither is right or wrong — just different.

As a rule,

it’s a good idea to ask someone before you hug them,

especially if you don’t know them well.

Some people find this offensive and may even feel claustrophobic. People who have anxiety or past trauma often feel very uncomfortable in these situations.

Pay attention and stay within arm’s reach unless invited to cross that boundary.

It may be an imaginary line, but it’s real.

In work situations or with acquaintances, shaking hands may be expected or normal. Some people aren’t okay with any kind of physical touch. If you extend your hand and get a nod in response, accept it and move on.

Emotional Boundaries

Understanding emotional boundaries is much more complex. We often assume that everyone is like us. They’re not.

People have different needs and levels of comfort about sharing their thoughts and feelings. Again, those who’ve been emotionally hurt or have little experience with close relationships may be uncomfortable with those who over-share or try to get too close, too soon.

How do you know about someone’s emotional boundaries?

Try these strategies:

  • Take it slow.
  • Get acquainted with safe, neutral conversations.
  • Avoid asking personal questions until you have a solid foundation.
  • Always ask permission and give people choices, such as, “Is it okay to ask you something personal?” or, “Feel free to only answer if you’re comfortable with it.”
  • Then, respect their boundary — whatever it is.

What you consider personal and what someone else considers personal may differ.

For example, most of the time, asking someone on a first date about their sexual history isn’t a good idea. If someone asks you how much money you make soon after meeting you, you may not want to answer their question.

When you don’t want to answer, you can say something like:

  • “That isn’t something I want to talk about.”
  • “I don’t know you well enough to share that information.”

Don’t worry about what they think. It’s up to you to let others know how far is too far. Unless you do, they may keep pushing until you finally have to stop them.

You set your boundaries and you must enforce them.

If you let someone cross your boundaries once, they assume that it’s okay to do it again. Mixed messages often lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

Talking And Listening In Today’s World:

In most communication training you learn about assertiveness skills, the I-message formula, and ways to paraphrase, also known as active listening. I find that people are reluctant to use these skills because they seem unnatural. It’s not the way most people talk to each other in the real world.

The good news is that you can talk and listen in a way that achieves the same goals without sounding canned.

Using your natural language, you can strengthen your relationships at home and at work with better communication.

Talking So People Will Hear What You Say

Have you ever heard the phrase, “I can’t hear what you’re saying because of how you’re saying it?” This happens a lot when people are arguing or want to make a point but are doing it ineffectively because of how they communicate.


When a person in a position of authority raises their voice or speaks in a condescending tone, I tend to freeze in terror or shut them out. It stirs up rebellion or creates fear within me. This style doesn’t work with me!

If you want to make a point and get me to do something, ask me, rather than demand. Tell me what you want and why, without the over-the-top intimidation tactics. When possible, give me choices about when, how, or where to do it.

Showing Support

Think about what you would say to show support without the canned response of “I can understand your feelings, and I support you in that.”

Maybe you would say something like:

  • “I get it — I would be mad, too.”
  • “Of course, you’re mad — you have every right to be.”
  • “If I had to go through that, I have no idea how I would handle it.”
  • “Oh man — that is messed up! I would be furious!”

Asking For Help

It can be hard to ask for help. Some people feel vulnerable when they need to rely on someone else. Others may find it demeaning or embarrassing.

So, how can you have this conversation without losing your dignity or feeling like a loser?

It helps to think about what you want to say before you start the conversation. Also, remember to keep it brief and offer to answer questions instead of getting nervous and going on and on about it.

Consider saying something like:

  • “This is hard for me to ask, so bear with me…”
  • “I find myself in the uncomfortable place of needing help…”
  • “I can’t believe I am doing this, but…”
  • “I need your help…”
  • “I hate to ask, but…”
  • “I want to talk to you about something without being too direct (or vague).”

Unless there’s ill will, hurt feelings, or a long pattern of constantly needing help, many people like to help. It gives them an opportunity to be a good person or do a good deed. Avoid assuming the worst.

Disagreeing Without Hard Feelings

One of the most difficult situations is when you have differing thoughts or opinions. This is especially true if you get tongue-tied, angry, or scared when sharing your thoughts. It helps to think about ways to state your opinion without defending it unless it’s necessary.

Getting louder doesn’t make your point — it causes people to stop listening.

It’s important to be smart, prepared, and calm.

Start your comments by saying:

  • “I would like to talk about xyz, and ask that you let me finish what I have to say before responding,”
  • “I want to make a point, and it would be great if you would hold your comments until I am finished.”
  • “This opinion may not be popular, but I think…”
  • “I find myself on the other side of this argument/issue/discussion — I think…”
  • “I have a different opinion about that…”

And, be willing to listen without interrupting when others speak their truth.

Notice that most of these statements begin with “I.” There’s a reason for that. When you speak from the position of “I” you speak about yourself — your thoughts, feelings, and opinions. You aren’t blaming, shaming, or attacking, which is what it sounds like if your statements begin with “you.”


Avoid the words should, must, and ought — whether speaking to/about yourself or someone else — to avoid blaming, shaming, or “shoulding” on yourself or others.

I Hear You:

Active listening is about “actively” participating when you’re the listener in a conversation.

Taking an active role as listener requires attention, interest, and a response.

Active listening is important, but many people don’t use the skills because it sounds canned. A lot of people think that only therapists speak this way.

Contrary to popular belief, therapists don’t sit around all day saying, “How do you feel about that?”

The active part of listening is about tuning in and letting the person know you’re interested in what they have to say.

This happens when we make eye contact, nod in agreement, or lean in to connect to the message and the person.

You notice that all of these are non-verbal, yet active. These are ways to let the person know you’re with them and understanding what they’re saying.

The other part of active listening is clarifying what you hear to ensure you got it right. This is where we lose people.

Paraphrasing 101

Paraphrasing is repeating what you heard in your own words. It allows the person to clarify if you misunderstood something or they misspoke.

Think about going to a drive-thru:

  • You: “I want a cheeseburger, fries, and a Diet Coke.”
  • Speaker: “Alright — that’s a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke.”
  • You: “No — cheeseburger, fries, and a Diet Coke.”
  • Speaker: “Oh right — got it — cheeseburger, fries, and a Diet Coke.”
  • You: “Yes — correct.”

How To Do It

So, you’re having a conversation. Someone else is talking. You’re actively listening — giving and receiving non-verbals.

At some point you say:

  • “Wow — really? So, xyz really happened?”
  • “Oh man — you really did xyz?”
  • “So, you’re telling me…?”
  • “Let me see if I got all that…”
  • “Okay — I want to ensure that I am following you…”

If it’s an ongoing story — clarify and move on:

  • “So, you (got stopped by the cops)? What happened next?”
  • “Oh no! Tell me more about (getting stopped).”

Want to know more about how they are/were feeling?

  • “Getting stopped by the cops must have scared you to death!”
  • “Oh my — how did you feel when that was happening?”
  • “What’s it like to talk about it now?”

When You Mess Things Up:

Unfortunately, being human and all, we’ll make mistakes and mess things up at times.

The best way to deal with that is to take responsibility and try to fix things.

Sometimes things can’t be fixed. In that case, apologizing may be the best you can do.

There are also times when bringing it up to make yourself feel better will cause pain to someone else. In those situations, you may just have to live with it, forgive yourself, and avoid that mistake or misdeed in the future.

When you mess things up in a personal relationship, you might say:

  • “I did something wrong and want to tell you about it. Hear me out before you respond/yell/ask questions.”
  • “I really screwed up — brace yourself.”
  • “I am embarrassed to tell you this, but…”
  • “I can’t believe I did this, but…”

Then add “What can I do to make it up to you/ correct it/make it right?”

If you’re in a work situation, you may say:

  • “I made a mistake on my report — I want to make it right, if possible.”
  • “I am late with payroll. It’s my mistake, not the guys in the shop. How can I fix it, so they don’t suffer for my mistake?”
  • “I really blew it on the presentation today. How can I make that right?”

Notice that all these statements begin with “I.” That’s usually necessary when taking responsibility.

There are times when prefacing is a good idea, so that may sound like:

  • “Are you sitting down? I did something really lame that I want to tell you about.”
  • “You’re not going to believe what I did today!”
  • “You may not want to hear this, but I really screwed up…”

Points To Remember:

  • Use the level of communication that’s right for the setting and type of relationship.
  • Physical boundaries vary from person to person. Ask before you touch others, even if in the most unassuming way.
  • Body language speaks volumes. Pay attention to how people stand, their facial expressions, and eye contact.
  • Emotional boundaries are individual responses and may be very different even in close relationships.
  • Follow the lead of the other person when deciding what information is enough or too much.
  • Be aware of how you present information. Speak in a way that others can hear your message. Avoid overwhelming them with your actions.
  • Using the word “you” when speaking to someone can put them on the defensive. It may sound like blaming or shaming.
  • Talk about yourself — your thoughts, ideas, and feelings — without assuming or assigning blame.
  • Listening happens on many levels: verbally, non-verbally, and emotionally. Listen with your eyes, ears, heart, and mind.
  • Stay focused on the person speaking. Show them that what they have to say matters to you.
  • Repeat what you hear to ensure you get it right.
  • When you mess up — and you will — take responsibility for what you did and fix it when you can.
  • If you’ve done something that’ll cause harm if you bring it up, sometimes you have to live with it. Forgive yourself and avoid that behavior in the future.

Learning how to communicate effectively, positively affects every aspect of your life — relationships, work, and personal matters. When you understand others and they understand you, you can avoid many challenges, and the world becomes easier to navigate.

Take these practical tips to heart.

You’ll be glad you did!

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