How to Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is important for every aspect of life.

Even self-employed people must interact with clients, suppliers, and customers.

In life, the quality of our relationships often depends upon effective communication.

Here are two communication techniques I’ve learned that have proven to be exceptionally useful.

Effective Communication Technique #1: Reflective Listening

The first technique for communicating effectively is reflective listening.

This method was introduced to me during Techstars for getting soft-commitments from investors.

Wikipedia offers a concise definition:

  • “Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker's idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly.”

In a dialogue between two people, you first summarize what was said by the other person, and repeat it back to them.

  • Person A states an idea.

  • Person B rephrases that idea, and repeats it back to Person A.

  • Person A confirms or revises that idea.

A typical example of Person B's reflection is “so what I’m hearing is that ________, ________ and ________”.

This accomplishes a few things.

First, it forces you to digest an idea and reformulate it yourself, which helps your retention.

Second, it allows Person A to either a) confirm things, b) correct you, or c) correct what they said and be more precise.

Third, it buys you some time to think through the idea or statement and formulate a response.

In the end, the intent of the idea is much clearer, and miscommunications are avoided.

The technique is just as valuable for investor meetings as communication with your spouse.

I highly encourage you to spend some time consciously practicing reflective listening.  It will eventually become second nature, but initially requires some practice.

Effective Communication Technique #2: Send - Confirm - Acknowledge

I learned this technique for communicating effectively during my time with the Coast Guard (the best summer job).

The technique is designed to minimize miscommunications, and is often used for radio communications on the water, which are known to be challenging.

The basic breakdown of the technique is as follows:

  • Person A sends a communication.

  • Person B confirms the communication by repeating the communication (note the similarity with reflective listening).

  • Person A acknowledges receipt of correct message, or corrects Person B.

It’s easy to see how this is similar to reflective listening.

However, I find this technique more useful when using non-verbal forms of communication (think email, text, etc.).

A good example is setting a meeting:

I email someone asking for a meeting with time/time zone/date/duration:

  • “Would a Skype call on Tuesday, July 3 at 1400 ET work for you?”

They confirm that time/time zone/date/duration:

  • “That sounds good to me!”

I acknowledge receipt and repeat message:

  • “Great, I will send you a calendar invite with a Skype link for Tuesday, July 3 at 1400 ET.  Talk to you then!”

Note: in this example, the other person should repeat the message instead, but not everyone knows the technique!

Doing this forces me to make sure I’ve communicated the message properly, picked the correct time and date, and been specific with details (how many times have you scheduled a call only to realize you don’t have their phone number!).

In Summary

Effective Communication Technique #1: Reflective Listening

  • Person A listens to a speaker’s idea/communication.

  • Person B repeats a summary back to them to confirm understanding.

  • Person A confirms the message, or revises.

Effective Communication Technique #2: Send - Confirm - Acknowledge

  • Person A sends communication.

  • Person B confirms communication by repeating it back.

  • Person A acknowledges receipt of correct message.

Try out the two techniques, and let me know what situations you apply them to!