Effective Communication

By Rachel Finan

As activists, we all come to the table with our own ideas of how to best advocate for the animals. As humans, we come to conversations with our own life experience, personality, trauma and communication style. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that we have conflicts however if we all modify our communication style, conflicts will be minimized.

The first element of effective communication is LISTENING. It’s no secret that humans are generally far more interested in speaking than listening as we have so many ideas to share but almost all conflicts can be resolved if more listening is done.

Active listening involves hearing and understanding what a person is saying to you. Unless you understand clearly what a person is telling you, you can’t respond appropriately. Gain clarification by asking questions or rephrase what you’re being told, so that you’re sure you fully understand the message that’s being conveyed to you. For example, you could say “So, what you’re saying is…”

The words we choose make up just 7% of the message being conveyed, which makes NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION all the more important. Body language is an important communication tool. Your body language should help convey your words. Other factors you should consider are things like the tone of your voice, your hand gestures, and ensuring eye contact.

A person is going to be encouraged to speak openly with you if you are relaxed and have a friendly tone. Adopt an open stance position, with relaxed legs and open arms. It is important that you make eye contact with the person you are communicating with, but be careful that you do not stare at them, as this is just uncomfortable. It is just as important that you recognise the non-verbal signals being displayed by the other person. These signals will give you an insight into how that person is feeling.

Convey your message using as few words as possible. Whether in person, via telephone, or email, convey your message CLEARLY, CONCISELY and be DIRECT. If you are excessive with your words, the listener will either lose focus or just be unsure as to what it is that you want. Before speaking give some thought as to the message you want to convey. This will prevent you rambling and causing confusion.

When communicating face to face with someone, use a FRIENDLY tone with a simple smile, and ask a personal question. These things encourage the other person to engage in honest, open communication. When using written communication (e.g. email), you can achieve this by adding a simple personal message, for example, “How was your weekend?” or a “:)” at the end of the email.

CONFIDENCE/ASSERTIVENESS underpins all effective communication. Other people will believe you will do as you say if you sound confident. Making eye contact, using a firm but friendly tone (never aggressive), are all ways you can exude confidence. Remember to always be listening to the other person and looking out for those nonverbal clues.

Assertive communication is a skill we should all hone as it really is the key to better relationships across the board. The main key to assertive communication is actually VULNERABILITY. That may sound surprising to you but think of the times you resolved a conflict in the most kind, efficient way. What was the main element of that conversation? I would guess that it was because both parties were communicating in an assertive manner.

Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. It recognises our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions without judging or blaming other people.

FYI there are four different forms of communication: passive, assertive, passive-aggressive and aggressive.

  1. Passive is when we don’t speak up for ourselves, and let others lead the way.
  2. Aggressive is when we push our will onto others, without offering consideration to their position or needs.
  3. Passive-aggressive is when we let others lead the way, and while we don’t express our own feelings and needs about it, we do make it known that we disagree with some aspect of what is happening.
  4. Assertive communication is when we outwardly state our feelings and needs about the particular situation.

Assertive communication is the healthiest style of communication, although it is often the most difficult. The great news is that, with practice, it can become effortless.

Consistently assertive communication requires you to be vulnerable with others, because you are clearly sharing your feelings and your needs, which are the things that are missing from every other style.

In truth, most people aren’t used to exploring their feelings and needs in this way, which is why this type of communication is rare, unless it is intentionally practiced.

The Importance of Vulnerability

Many studies have shown just how important vulnerability is in order to feel meaningful connections with others. Vulnerability means that you are willing to share, but also willing to accept feedback from those that you choose to do life with.

Vulnerability & Assertiveness

Putting these things together - recognizing and naming your feelings, and then communicating what those are along with what your needs are - are the keys to deepening your relationships with others.

It doesn’t mean that you eliminate the conflicts along the way, but it does reduce the part that miscommunication can play in those conflicts.


Empathy is the skill of being able to understand and share the feelings of another person.

Even if you don't agree with the person you’re communicating with, it’s very important that you understand and respect their view. Simply saying to that person “I understand what you’re saying”, will let them know that you have been listening to them, and that you respect their point of view.

Always Have An Open Mind

Being an effective communicator requires that every conversation is approached with a flexible, open mind. This isn’t always easy to achieve, but is very important to communicating effectively. Always engage in active listening, and be sure to demonstrate empathy by acknowledging you understand what the other person’s point of view is. Adopting this approach will always ensure honest, productive communication.

Convey Respect

Other people will be more likely to engage in communication with you if you respect them and their ideas. Simply addressing another person using their name, will make them feel appreciated. If communicating via telephone, always keep focused on the conversation and avoid being distracted in any way. When communicating through email, take time to construct and edit your message, taking care to address the recipient by name.

Give and Receive Feedback

Giving and receiving appropriate feedback is an essential communication skill, particularly for those of us whose roles include managing other people. Providing constructive feedback, as well as giving someone praise, can greatly increase motivation and build morale.

It is just as important that you accept and encourage feedback from others. Always listen to feedback and act positively on it. If you’re unsure about any aspect of the feedback, simply ask a question to gain clarification from the other person.

Consider The Best Medium for The Job!

Know the best form of communication to use. Being mindful of using the best form of communication will result in your response being a positive one. Consider things such as, who it is you’re trying to communicate with, how important the topic is, and how busy that person might be.

Type up a response then DELETE it. Practice a conversation with your friend.

Further Reading

Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom
Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication