HomeVolume 1Issue 3 10 tips for effective communication

LIZ KINGSNORTH, Director of the Heartful Communication program, shares 10 tips we can apply to improve our relationships with others at home, at work and with friends, all by improving the way we communicate. 



1. Keep an intention for connection.

Nurture your intention: that you want to create and sustain, a respectful and compassionate quality of connection—whatever happens! Trust that this intention for connection is more important and more nourishing than “winning” or “being right,” or even just “having your say.” Connecting heartfully with others is one of the deepest of human needs.

Having a quality of connection means that you bring yourself fully present and try to keep your heart open to what is going on for the other person—however they might express themselves—plus you keep an awareness of what is alive within yourself in each moment. In this way you can be in touch with what matters to the other and to yourself.  

To achieve this, learning to pause often is invaluable!

When the connection is sustained, there is a strong possibility that both of you will be able to express yourselves, plus be heard and understood. .


2. Listen twice as much as you speak!   

You have two ears and one mouth—an effective reminder! Listening, truly listening, is one key to a healthy relationship. You may only be half listening, just waiting for your chance to speak, wanting to make your point, disagree, or tell your story. When your attention is with your own thoughts, you are not listening. Listening means to sense into the world of the other person, to intend to understand their perspective and needs, even if you disagree with what they are saying.


3. Understand the other person first.

“Seek first to understand before you are understood,” said Stephen Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When the other person feels you are understanding them, they are far more likely to be open to understanding you. Being willing to understand the other person first involves acceptance, generosity, respect, self-control, patience, and being curious instead of furious about how they are different from you!

When someone receives respect and empathy, then a wish to cooperate and contribute is free to emerge. In this approach, we believe that generosity, and a desire to cooperate and contribute, are natural human states. Not habitual, but natural. When people don’t receive attention and empathy, they may continue struggling to be heard and understood, becoming increasingly insistent or aggressive. Alternatively, they may shut down, feeling resentful and unwilling to interact further. Remember, empathy is not agreement—you can empathize with someone with whom you profoundly disagree, if you are willing!


4. Develop awareness of underlying needs and values.

One way of understanding human behavior is to be aware that everything people say and do is an expression of underlying needs, longings, or values. We can learn to tune in, identify, and “hear” these needs, even when they are not directly expressed. Because all human beings share these needs, they are our magic key to unlocking mutual understanding. 

For example, if someone says, “You are so selfish, you never do anything to help at home,” they are indirectly expressing a longing for consideration and support, but it comes out as blame and judgment. If you can empathize rather than react, you might say, “Are you upset and angry because you really need consideration and support?” This type of response will connect, and the person will start to feel understood.


5. Begin with empathy.

Refrain from:

  • Immediately telling your own similar story, 
  • Interrogating with a lot of data-type questions, 
  • Interpreting the other’s experience, 
  • Giving advice, 
  • One-upmanship, e.g., “If you think that’s bad wait till you hear about what happened to me!”  
  • Dismissing the person’s feelings, e.g., “Oh, don’t be angry,” 
  • Compensating and minimizing the person’s experience, e.g. “At least…” and     
  • Telling the person that this experience is actually good for them!

Generally people appreciate receiving empathy before anything else. The above responses may have their place later on in a conversation—it is often a matter of being sensitive to when!


6. Link your feelings to your needs or values, and take responsibility for them.

What someone else says or does is not the cause for how you feel, it is the trigger. Your feelings are linked to underlying needs or values that are stimulated by what’s happening. For example, you might get angry that someone does not do what they say they are going to do, so you tell them, “You make me so angry, you are so unreliable!” This inflammatory accusation could be rephrased by owning that your anger comes from your own unfulfilled wish or value, e.g., “I feel really frustrated because it’s important to me that we keep to agreements that we’ve made.”


7. Make requests that are doable, specific, and positive, linked to your need.

Having expressed what is important to you (your need or value), you can make a request that would go one step toward fulfilling that need. Making specific requests allows you to move out of just complaining. It’s a gateway to something changing. You may be asking things of others that are simply too vague, too big, or are expressed as a request to stop doing something, rather than a request about what you would positively like to happen. For example, “Stop making so much noise,” or “Please be more considerate,” are not clear, and could be interpreted in various ways. In contrast, “When you are playing video games, please would you use headphones?” is specific and doable.


8. Describe what’s happened in observation language    

When you are upset, angry, scared, or worried, you may lapse into descriptions of what is triggering you, in language full of judgment, blame, or interpretation, for example, “You are always attacking me,” “He doesn’t care at all about us,” “You’re too lazy,” etc.
If you can describe what you are seeing and hearing in a neutral, factual way, free of judgments (as a video camera would record), there’s a good chance the other person can agree with this initial description. Then the interaction can move to aspects that will make the difference, such as sharing of feelings, needs, and requests. “That’s a really stupid idea,” might be rephrased as, “When you suggest that we all go to a movie that finishes at midnight (observation language), I’m worried (feeling) because it’s important that the kids get a full night’s sleep (need). How about we go to the 2 p.m. show instead (specific request)?”


9. Be willing to hear “No!”

Even these guidelines are not a magic wand. Your carefully expressed requests might still elicit a “No” from the other person. If this upsets you, it is useful to reflect if your request was actually a demand that the person should fulfill! You have a choice about how you hear that “No.” You could hear it simply as an expression that something else is important to the other person, i.e., they have a different need or value alive in this moment. If you take time to find this out, you may realize that their “No” is actually a request for something else to happen. And then you are into the dance of negotiation!  “No” may not be as threatening as you might imagine!


10. Remember how much you are communicating without words.

What is in your heart and mind, your inner condition and attitude, the energies being expressed through your body, your facial expressions, the tone of your voice… all these elements are communicating in ways that are intuitively picked up and understood by others. Are your words in alignment with these subtler elements? You are manifesting your consciousness at every moment. If you want connection, understanding, and harmony in your relationships, you can work on nourishing those aspects deeply within ourselves.

Then our communication may become truly communion.

Useful references:

Heartful Communication: https://heartfulness.org/hc/
Nonviolent Communication™ – a Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg

Illustrations by LAKSHMI GADDAM



Liz Kingsnorth

Liz Kingsnorth

Liz is a happy human being living in Kanha Shanti Vanam. She is blessed with a son and daughter and four beloved grandchildren in Australia. She is the global Director of Heartful Communication and has been a cer... Read More