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Ombuds Office

Effective Communication

Some Effective Communication Techniques

Communication is effective only when you understand the other person the way they meant to be understood. It can be a complex challenge as there are several moving parts to communication--the sender, receiver, the verbal and nonverbal aspects of the message, emotions, the setting, and often, multiple cultural perspectives.

You can ask clarifying questions to check out whether you've understood your conversation partner. You can give and ask for feedback. You can practice being comfortable with silence so there's space in the discussion for all the necessary thoughts to emerge. What else can you do?

The following has been generously shared by its author, Linda Wilcox, the seasoned ombudsperson at Harvard Medical School.

1. Prepare by asking yourself:

Why am I choosing to do, or say, this?

Am I confusing my personal feelings with my objectivity?

Would I like to be treated this way?

Would I want everyone to be treated this way?

If this were to become public, would I be comfortable with my actions?

2. Listen effectively.

Avoid jumping to conclusions, making premature judgments, agreements, comparisons, or criticisms.

Seek the reasons behind the comments or statements of those with whom you are speaking. Ask, "Why?"

Remember you are hearing only one side of a story. Ask for permission if you wish to speak with others.

Emphasize facts. Gather objective information. Do not try to solve a problem until facts on all sides are available.

Early on, it is better to understand the point of view of other people than it is to agree or disagree with it.

Be consistent.

3. Ask yourself: "What kind of data would make me change my mind?"

Ask for help from knowledgeable people. See back panel for a list of resources.

Familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures that apply.

4. Be respectful.

Don't embarrass others, especially in public.

Don't misdirect your anger.

5. Act thoughtfully and carefully — don't react.

You usually do not have to agree to any course of action on the spot. It may be wiser, and safer, to wait.

Keep a record of the conversation.

Behave professionally, no matter what the other person says or how you feel. Your own behavior can change the focus of the discussion and decision making from the issue at hand.