Can you name a learned skill you depend on more than "communicating" to manage your daily life? If you say "thinking," I propose that's "internal communication."

If this is the interpersonal skill you rely on most to fill your daily needs, where did you learn to do it? Your parents and teachers, your friends, hero/ines, television and movie characters? Who taught *them*?

I've studied and taught communication basics and skills for over 40 years. My observation is, our parents, teachers, and society were never trained to communicate *effectively," so we weren't either.

Try saying your definition of "effective (vs. 'open and honest') communication" out loud. Then compare it to this idea:

Communication exists among all life forms to fill current needs - i.e. to reduce local discomforts. So *effective* communication occurs when each person involved...

1) fills their current needs "well enough," in their opinion;

2) in a way that leaves them feeling good enough about themselves, each other, and the process between them.

Does that fit for you? Think of a recent conversation you had that felt "satisfying." Did it meet these two criteria? Now think of an unsatisfying interchange with some adult or child, and use the criteria. What do you notice?

If this definition works for you, then you might ask "How can I consistently meet these criteria?" I propose that your odds for communicating effectively go way up if you commit to learning and practicing a set of seven interrelated skills:

1) AWARENESS - (a) noticing objectively what you and your communiucation partner/s are each feeling + thinking + needing + doing moment by moment, and (b) what R(espect) message you each are receiving right now - 1-up, 1-down, or =/= (mutual respect). (See my article on R-messages for more on this).

Fluency with this core ability is key to all six other skills.: There are dozens of communication variables to watch for. Can you name ten of them?

2) METATALK - talking about *how* you're communicating. This skill is learning to observe and describe your awarnesses using a special vocabulary. It p;rovides the input to solving communication problems (Skill 7). Professional communicators use this language all the time. You can too!

3) CLEAR THINKING - this is intentionally learning to (a) avoid vague terms (it, this thing, them, work through,... etc); (b) be alert for "hand grenade" (emotionally explosive) words and labels, like rape, bigot, abuse, idiotic, stupid, weak, wimp, failure, dumb; (c) stay focused on one thing, until everyone feels "done" with it;, etc.; The popular alternative is fuzzy, unfocused thinking, which degrades health and relationships.

4) DIGGING DOWN - this simple, powerful technique uses awareness and metatalk to help you to unearth your and your partner's primary needs that are causing local discomforts ("problems"). Did your parents and teachers explain and model this skill for you? Are you doing so for YOUR kids?

5) RESPECTFUL ASSERTION, vs. submission or aggression. The American Management Association has defined "assertion" as the ability to say something in a way your partner/s can clearly hear (understand, not necessarily agree with) you. How effective an asserter are you with the adults and kids who matter the most to you?

6) EMPATHIC LISTENING - Stephen Covey gets the credit for coining
this descriptive term, which has gtraditionally been called "mirroring," and "active (and reflective) listening," Covey says this poswerful skill is "hearing with your heart." Do you use this skill - specially in conflicts and negotiations?

And finally...

7) PROBLEM SOLVING - this learnable ability uses all six other skills to (a) identify what each communicating partner needs now, and then to (b) brainstorm solutions to fill each person's needs "well enough."

Pause and reflect - have you ever been taught this suite of powerful communication skills? If you couldn't name all seven before reading this, you probably haven't been using them - or teaching them to your kids. Who else will?

How high does "communicate effectively" rank in your current life priorities? If it's not in the top five, you're probably used to getting far fewer daily social needs met than you could.

Using these skills compassionately is a powerful tool for preventing, analyzing, and resolving most relationship problems - yet very few people have studied all seven of them. Does this match your experience?

Lesson 2 in my nonprofit, educational Web site ( is devoted to communication basics and these powerful skills. So is the related guidebook "Satisfactions" (, 2002).

Try imagining other people admiring you as a "highly effective communicator." Even if they do already, you and they probably don't know what's possible if you grew fluency with these skills!

Notice your reaction now - are you motivated to learn more about the skills and what they can accomplish in your life and relationships?

What's more important than learning to communicate effectively?

Author's Bio: 

I maintained a private family-systems therapy practice from 1981 to 2007. Well over a thousand average adults and kids have taught me about communication "problems" and how to solve them. I have benefitted from over 30 wise mentors over the years (e.g. Dr. Milton Erickson, Jay Haley, Virginia Satir, and Paul Watzlawic) who taught me the basics I now want to pass on to you.