Establishing and Managing Communication

There are some basic skills that are fundamental to establishing and maintaining relationships whatever the context.

These skills can be summarised as:

  • Listening to others
  • Observing others
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-expression


It is very rare for anyone to be able to devote all his/her attention to listening.  Most of us are doing a number of things when we appear to be listening.  Some of these things include:

  • Thinking about the implications of what the person is saying
  • Speculating about what the person is driving at
  • Disagreeing with the content of what the person is saying
  • Rehearsing how I am going to reply
  • Imagining what is behind the person’s statement or question
  • Anticipating what the person will say next
  • Agreeing with the person no matter what
  • Feeling affection, hatred, tension, scared, pain etc.
  • Wanting to do something else
  • Hurrying on to the next thing
  • Observing the speaker or something else
  • Listening to someone/something else
  • Withdrawing by simply going ‘blank’
  • Interrupting before the person has finished speaking
  • Internal Dialogue talking to yourself inside your head

Attending to any of the above activities obviously impedes listening.  In some ways being unaware that you are not listening is a bigger problem than simply not listening. For you end up believing that you have all the available information when in fact you do not.


Much of our communication is based on our observation of others, whether we are talking or listening.  As much as three-quarters of the information available to us in the communication process stems from non-verbal behaviour e.g. tone of voice, facial expressions etc.  The skill of observation is obviously crucial.

One skill in observing is that of recognising signals where body language, voice and words do not match.  It is very common in relationships of all kinds

Particular areas where a mismatch in signals is likely to surface are:

  • Breathing irregularities, sighing, puffing, blowing, caught breath etc.
  • Eyes ‘clouding’, narrowing, moistening, reddening, avoiding eye- contact etc.
  • Feet tapping, held at sharp angle, rotating etc.
  • Fingers tapping, stroking, picking, scratching etc.

There is no sense in which it is possible directly to translate these as indicators of particular hidden feelings or thoughts concerning the relationship, but it is helpful to recognise them as possible indicators that something is being held back.


More recently psychologists have increasingly taken the view that the workings of the ‘unconscious’ are not buried in an inaccessible recess of the mind, but rather can be brought out into the open by an increase in self-awareness.

In this sense, awareness involves giving attention to the mental, emotional and physical experiences we have from moment to moment.  The rationale for doing this assumes that our experience of ourselves will provide us with important information concerning our relationships.  It is taken for granted that at most times our contact with the world is coloured with some emotional perspective, and that this too will, if discovered, provide important insights concerning our contact with others.

Clearly, if I know what I am doing and my impact on the other person I can take full responsibility for my behaviour and feelings.


Very often it is felt impolite or unacceptable to state how we feel or what we are thinking. Sometimes we hold back when we should calming express ourselves during our conversation. When self-expression is contained we can become frustrated, misunderstood and even resentful of situations.

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