Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills: Ten Best Tips for Better Understanding

Talking to foreigners can seem tricky. You don’t speak the same language. Tradition has it that English speakers try to make themselves understood by shouting, while people from continental Europe use their hands to get their point across.

It’s not just the foreign words that confuse. The truth is, we’re not always too good at using our own language. There’s a great deal more to understanding each other than just a common vocabulary.


I remember when I was a child, listening to my mother and her friends talking. They seemed to me to be talking so fast, using such long words and interrupting each other so often. How could they keep track of their conversation?

Have you ever found it hard to understand a colleague? Or asked your child to do something, only to have them seem to ignore you? Or, maybe you get into arguments with your partner, when she just doesn’t seem to listen.

Ten golden communication rules.
Try these tips when you talk to your children, family, friends and colleagues. Use them all the time and notice your relationships improve.


• Speak more slowly. Your listener’s brain has to remember your sentences, then decode the words and grammar before he can understand your message. It takes time. Talk too fast and you’ll be misunderstood.

 
• Pause between phrases and sentences. Give your listener a chance to catch up and to react.

 
• Use short sentences. There’s a theory that you can only hold seven things in your memory at one time. If you pack your sentences full, your listener will miss something. Say important things as simply as possible.

 
• Match your body language to your meaning. How often do you say, “I’m listening” to your child, while your eyes slide away to your computer screen or TV? Do you ever say “yes,” while your expression says “no”? Avoid giving mixed messages.

 
• Make eye contact with your listener. She finds it easier to listen to you and you make a connection: after all, the eyes aren’t called “the windows to the soul” for nothing.

 
• Check your tone of voice. Sound impatient and that’s all your listener hears. He won’t notices your words: we all know now that most messages come from our non-verbal language.

 
• Listen to the other person. It’s so easy to plan your next sentences, forgetting to listen to the answer. Watch TV interviewers and see how often they ask a question that’s already been answered, because they forgot to listen.

 
• Watch for the other person’s body language. Notice crossed arms or leaning away from you, showing that he’s feeling defensive. Watch when his body language mirrors yours, showing he feels empathy with you.

 
• Give a context to what you say. Don’t launch straight in to a set of instructions or questions, but set the scene first. Your listener needs time to adjust to the new topic. Phrases such as “can we talk about arrangements for the weekend,” help her start thinking and make it easier for her to understand.

 
• Take turns. Let the other person finish what they have to say and avoid interrupting. This matters even more in a tricky situation, when an interruption signals that you are not prepared to consider another’s point of view.

Here are some more SpeechContacts posts on communication skills.

How to Make a Good Impression

How to Learn to Speak the Same Language

The Secret of Using All Your Five Senses

How to See Things From His Point of View

How to Avoid the Unscrupulous Salesman’s Language Traps

How to Banish Guilt Through Positive Thinking

How to Get Agreement with Communication Skills

I write this Communication Blog

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Frances Evesham: on the run around Europe for years, with only a husband, three children and a succession of opinionated cats to keep me out of trouble. Somerset stopped me in my tracks. Now I walk in the country and breathe sea air. I will get around to cleaning the house soon.

I've been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper. I sometimes work in the criminal courts to uphold fair questioning of people with special needs.

I smell the roses, lavender and rosemary as I cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. Writing historical romances and books on communication leaves enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns and wish I’d kept on with the piano lessons.