Basics Of Developing Your Communication Skills

by Philip Holder, PhD
Copyright 2015

couple fightSince no two people think or feel exactly the same, the ability to convey your thoughts and feelings clearly, listen effectively, argue productively, resolve conflicts, stay on topic and achieve common goals are essential in interpersonal relationships. Having the tools to better, manage anger and frustration, empathize and to effectively negotiate, can stop differences of opinion from escalating into full blown arguments.

Personal differences make life interesting, but can also cause conflict. Destructive arguments leave scars that are difficult to repair. Communication and listening skills are essential. Even though discussions are generally more productive than arguments, even arguments can be constructive and help you to better understand your spouse, friend, family member, coworkers etc., if you follow a few simple rules. You can gain the ability to manage anger and frustration, empathize and to effectively negotiate, by following a few simple guidelines.


It’s important to listen, not just to hear. Too often when one person is speaking, the other has stopped listening because he or she is already deciding what they want to say in rebuttal. Do your best to listen to what is actually said, completely and without filtering or translating that message into what you think they meant rather than what the person actually said. It’s important that you help to make the other person feel heard.

Defensive Reactions

Avoid becoming defensive. Usually when someone becomes defensive, their mouth opens and their ears close. It is totally unproductive to interpret a different opinion or viewpoint as a personal attack. It is important to acknowledge that others may have as much conviction in their beliefs as you do in yours.


Often time people will put an inaccurate spin on the other person’s statements in order to make the other person sound less credible. This is dishonest and destructive to the process of communication. For Example.: Person “A”says: I think what you did was stupid. Person “B” replies: So you’re saying I’m stupid. Although they sound similar they are two totally different statements. When a person mischaracterizes a statement in this way, or takes a statement out of the original context, the focus shifts from the real issue at hand to addressing the inaccurate statement. If you truly believe in your position, you should never have to put a slanted spin or in any way distort what the other person said to make your position sound more valid. If you find yourself doing that you might want to reevaluate the validity of your own position.

But, It’s Because, But That’s Different

Avoid the But/Because trap. Many people seem to think that when something happens to them it’s somehow “Different” than when it applies to others. Strangely, certain criteria apply to the rest of the world, but there’s a subtle exemption when the same similar criteria is applied to them personally. That’s where the personal Inner Lie begins.

Look For Solutions For A Great Future Rather Than Problems From The Past.

Think about it… How frequently do we hear people say, “The Problem Is”… Wherever we focus our thoughts and energy, that is what we will give power to. It is important, therefore, to have the mindset of looking forward for solutions rather that backwards for problems.


Like the parable of “THE ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN”, your reality is not necessarily universal reality…

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.” They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right…

The point is, what you think and or feel is “true reality”, is only your or anyone’s OPINION about what is real. Be open to other viewpoints. Don’t use your perception as a litmus test for truth.

Old Japanese Saying

Fix The Problem Not The Blame!

Ask Yourself, Would You Rather Be Happy Or Right?

If There Is A Difference Of Opinion, Decide… Would you rather be happy or right. Often, a short way into an argument, people can’t even remember what the original argument was about. The participants become so focused on proving their point (Winning) that the priority becomes proving that they are right, rather than solving the problem. Keep in mind as well that if you “Win” you have just made the other person a LOSER. That could be especially destructive when it involves a friend, spouse etc. No matter how right you think you are in that moment, always entertain the possibility that you could be wrong. Realistically… The actual truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

What effect will this have on the overall outcome of my life?

Most differences of opinion are really about petty issues.”In the big scheme of things, how significant is the issue at hand? Probably not very significant most of the time.

Parents… What would you tell your child to do about a similar communications problem in a similar situation?

We (parents) usually find it easy to give our children our wizened advice. Perhaps we could use a dose of our own advice from time to time.

Look For Common Ground

If you look for a place that you can agree…
You will likely find a productive place to start developing a solution.