Effective Communication

Effective Communication

Being an effective communicator is a key capability for the workplaces of the future. This page introduces this theme and demonstrates different directions it can be taken in. New for Autumn 2020 are a series of lesson ideas that tackle the additional obstacles students might face in the context of everything 2020 has thrown at us. All topics clearly state learning objectives and multiple themes targetted helpful for curriculum planning.

Developing the course with students

 INTRODUCING EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: Individual, pair, group work and real world relevance

Effective Communicators in 2020
Julian Treasure's Ted Talk from 2013: How to talk so people will listen.

This is an interesting talk to use to introduce students to the idea of effective communication and listening. It can easily be divided into three talks: the mistakes people make, the system you should use and how to use your voice.

'The human voice: It's the instrument we all play. It's the most powerful sound in the world, probably. It's the only one that can start a war or say "I love you." And yet many people have the experience that when they speak, people don't listen to them. And why is that? How can we speak powerfully to make change in the world?'

 Step 1. Personal reflection on communication habits

Where do I stand? Consider Julian Treasure's words paraphrased below about the 7 bad habits that make people hard to listen to. Which aspects do you most associate with yourself? Assess each one and then choose four you think might play any role in the way you communicate.
'First, gossip. Speaking ill of somebody who's not present. Not a nice habit ...

Second, judging .... it's very hard to listen to somebody if you know that you're being judged and found wanting at the same time. 

Third, negativity ...

Complaining [which] is a viral misery. It's not spreading sunshine and lightness in the world.

Blamethrowing .... [the people who] pass it on to everybody else and don't take responsibility for their actions ...

Exaggeration. It demeans our language, actually, sometimes ... this exaggeration becomes lying, and we don't want to listen to people we know are lying to us. 

And Dogmatism. The confusion of facts with opinions. When those two things get conflated, somebody is bombarding you with their opinions as if they were true. It's difficult to listen to that'. 

Step 2: Discuss the four foundations of the HAIL system below which Julian Treasure sees as essential to be an effective communicator: Place Honesty, Authenticity, Integrity and Love in order, starting with most important. As a class which aspect do you rate as most important?

The H, honesty, of course, being true in what you say, being straight and clear. The A is authenticity, just being yourself. A friend of mine described it as standing in your own truth, which I think is a lovely way to put it. The I is integrity, being your word, actually doing what you say, and being somebody people can trust. And the L is love. I don't mean romantic love, but I do mean wishing people well, for two reasons. First of all, I think absolute honesty may not be what we want. I mean, my goodness, you look ugly this morning. Perhaps that's not necessary. Tempered with love, of course, honesty is a great thing. But also, if you're really wishing somebody well, it's very hard to judge them at the same time. I'm not even sure you can do those two things simultaneously. So hail.

  Step 3: Register, Timbre, Prosodity, Pace, Pitch, Volume ...

Consider Barrack Obama's keynote speech to 3 minutes 10 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004; widely seen as fundamental in shaping his future as the President of the United States.
a) What do you notice about the way he speaks? Look at the definitions of Register, Timbre, Prosodity, Pace, Pitch and Volume and reflect on how he used these to deliver his speech. 
b) Watch from 3 minutes 10. What else does Obama use to be an effective speaker?


Definitions of key words associated with speech
RegisterA vocal register is a range of tones in the human voice produced by a particular vibratory pattern of the vocal folds. eg falsetto, baritone
TimbreThe quality of a sound made by a particular voice or musical instrument
Prosoditythe rhythm and melody of the voice, including intonation, stress, and pauses. Prosody can provide cues to lexical meaning.
PaceThe speed at which someone speaks, eg the speed of response in an argument
PitchThe relative highness or lowness of a tone as perceived by the ear
VolumeThe perceived loudness of the speaker. Loudness is what the audience actually perceives and it correlates with the physical strength (amplitude)
Approaching conversations about Effective Communication

Students find it hard to analyse their own communication habits and find it especially hard to be positive about them. For these early discussions it could be wise to look to other people for good communication habits - they do not have to look too far and consider teachers who they feel communicate particularly well. The exercises on this page gradually build from self reflection, assessment to peer assessment as often our perceptions of ourselves do not match others' perceptions of us and can be very enlightening.

Discussions here might also be given further depth by considering Empathy. In Intercultural Understanding this is explored in more detail but it might be a timely place to consider how we communicate warmth and understanding.  A summary of the page is included here.

What is Empathy? Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference;  that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position. Developing empathetic skills enables us to understand different cultures.

How do we show empathy?

E - Eye gaze. Do we seek or avoid eye contact?
M - Muscles of facial expression. Are we conscious of the facial expressions we use or how we respond to the facial expressions we use or how we respond to the facial expressions we are faced with?
P - Posture. Notice the other person's posture - is it open or closed? How do you respond to that?
A - Affect - expressed emotion. Try labeling the other person's expressed emotions - are they upset, happy, sad...?
T - Tone of voice. Listen to their tone of voice... what does this tell you?
H - Hearing the whole person; understanding the context in which others live. Do not judge and take things at face value.
Y - Your response - what you express is likely to reciprocated. How can we express empathy by reflecting their E.M.P.A.T.H...?

Lesson plan: Introducing Effective Communication

Aim: To analyse and understand what makes an effective communicator through self and peer assessment
Step 1. Forcefield Analysis to make future targets for being an effective communicator. Using the information and reflections you gatherered from your discussions on what makes an effective communicator, it's time to make a target to help you develop as a communicator.

Use the Forcefield analysis template to work through changes you would like to make and consider what is stopping or helping you.

Reflection: What did you learn from using the forcefield analysis tool as a decision making tool?
Teacher's notes on activity

This exercise is as much about Effective Communication as it is about Thinking Processes.

Work through an example of the force field analysis together, projecting the worksheet onto a whiteboard. It might be that you want to introduce SMART targets to shape the students' proposal to start with to make sure it is achievable. However, encourage students to be specific about particular changes they want to make or aim for in the way they communicate; they might consider particular subjects where their performance is not as effective as others, they may want to slow down/speed up the way they present work, they may want to work on a personal target based on what they conceive is a 'bad habit'. When considering the For and Against, it is a good idea to start with against on the right hand side as then the student returns to a more positive mindset when they consider the left hand side last - it becomes more about what they CAN do. Encourage responses based on particular aspects of speech, particular types of communicating, work and communication habits as well as the consideration of culture. Encourage students to consider whether when they are writing down factors against (in particular) they are considering just their perception and perhaps consider what other people make of their judgement.

Full instructions on FORCE FIELD ANALYSIS

This is a handy decision-making tool that you can use individually as well as in groups.  In this situation:
1. Identify something that you would like to change in the way you communicate and write this down as your proposal.
2. Then write down the factors in the right-hand column working against you that might stop you making that change
3. Then write down the factors in the left-hand column working for you that might help you make that change.
4. Then rank each of the factors on both sides with a score of 1 to 5 indicating the strength with which it will help you achieve your goal or work against you.
(eg 1= very little effect and 5= very strong effect).
5. Add up your score on either side.

What does it mean?  
If …  the score supporting your proposal on the left-hand side is greater than the right then your proposal is worth pursuing.
If … you find the reverse is true and the right-hand side outweighs the right, then you might want to adjust your proposal to make it more manageable.
If … the scores are even then review your forces for and against change, making modifications as you go (eg. maybe the 5 you gave a factor on the right is not stopping you as much as you think?). DO this until you reach a decision.

Step 2: Creative thinking and Communication:  Think, Pair, Share and Projecting Across Time
Consider the topic: 'Effective Communication in Personal and Professional Settings'.

1. Individually, map what you think or already know. What do you know about the topic?
2. Discuss your ideas in a pair and complete the following stages
3. Reach back in time. How has the topic played out in different forms / contexts / places over the last 10 years?
The last 100 years? The last 1000 years?  
4. Reach forward in time. How do you think the topic will play out 10 years into the future? 100 years? 1000 years?
5. Map how your thinking about the topic has changed. How do you view the topic now?

Create a visual presentation in your pair and share your ideas with the rest of the class.

Teacher notes

The activity itself combines three HARVARD Project Zero routines for developing complexities and understanding of a topic (e.g. ideas, phenomena, problems) across a broad span of time reaching backward into the past, and forward into the future.
Projecting across Space
Projecting across Time
It deliberately moves students from individual to collaborative work as well as broadening out in the global context as well as consider the past and future creatively.
It may be that you want to focus students' attention on one aspect in particular rather than both Space and Time.

Giving feedback: Assess each other's presentations using what you have discovered about effective communication from Julian Treasure's suggestions.

Use a ladder of feedback for each group such as:

Step 1: Clarify
Ask clarifying questions for anything you did not understand in the presentation. Be careful not to be criticising.
Step 2: Value
Say what you liked about their presentation. Spend time on this.
Step 3: State concerns
If you want to state concerns, start sentences with qualified terms: “I wonder if . . .” “It seems to me . . .” Keep it general and not personal. Clarify what they think before moving onto suggestions.
Step 4: Suggest
Make suggestions about how to improve things.

  Further Teacher notes on setting up feedback

A nice touch before proceeding with presentations is to do two things:
1) decide as a class the aspects of your study on effective communication they are going to focus on and whether their individual targets from the forcefield analysis will play a role (it might not directly but this is fine).
2) before each group presents, ask them for any particular focus they would like feedback on. This gives the individual a greater stake and ownership in the feedback they get and makes them feel a little less exposed to judgement. Good to do early on in a course.

Quick ideas: Plenaries and reflections

Plenaries and reflections can be utilised at any time through a lesson for all sorts of reasons from considering the work that has just been done, making plans for the future or even changing the dynamic of a class that has got rather heated from a debate. It is all part of letting PPS take you in directions that really inspire, challenge and motivate students. As ever, educators often find activities of this type can be anything from 5 minute distractions to a full series of lessons.
Active or Affective Listening

To really use a new skill across all areas of the course, work and personal relationships, you have to explicitly put it into practice and reflect on how it felt to utilise it and the possible impact it might have in the future.

Are you listening?
a) In pairs, take turns to tell each other an experience you had when you found yourself in an argument or conflct with someone. Then discuss how did you show you were listening to each other?
b) Look at the following table which gives examples of active listening techniques. Do you need any clarification on any of the terms? Which ones do you think you used?
c) Now try part a) again and this time try and use two specific techniques explicitly.
d) Discuss with your partner what impact you feel this had.

Teacher notes with expanded definitions 

The following information has been adapted from an article in Psychology Today

Affective Listening Skills Overview – Psychology Today .com 

Emotional labeling: By identifying a person’s emotions, they feel validated and  heard, not minimized. People often act with emotions rather than from a more  cognitive perspective. By labeling and acknowledging emotions, it helps to restore  balance.  

Para-phrasing: Includes repeating what a person has said in your own words in a  much shorter format while also making sure not to minimize what the person has  experienced.  

Reflecting and mirroring: When someone is finished speaking, reflecting and  mirroring is shorter option compared to paraphrasing. It includes repeating the last  words the person said. For example, If the person ends a conversation by saying,  “…and this really made me angry,” you could say, “It really made you angry.”  

Effective pauses and silence: Part of listening includes pausing or being silent  before taking your turn to speak. Also known as dynamic inactivity, silence allows the  other person to continue speaking while also pausing prior to help calm a situation.  Calming the situation is essential as it can move the person from reacting based on  emotion to a more rational, cognitive space.  

“I” messages: Counteract statements made by the person that serve as obstacles  to collaboration. Active listening (AL) statements include: “I feel___ when you ___  because ___.” AL provides a “timeout” by letting the other person know you are  trying to work together. It is important to be mindful of your tone to ensure that is not  perceived as aggressive or argumentative.  

Open-ended questions: Asking open-ended questions provides opportunities for  the person to speak longer and thus can help diffuse tension and provide valuable  information, insight and perspective of the situation.  

Minimal encouragers: Simple verbal actions such as “mmm,” “okay,” and “I see,”  and nonverbal gestures such as head nodding establish the building of rapport with  the person by subtly inviting the person to continue speaking.  

Summarize: An extended version of paraphrasing, summarizing identifies  everything the person has said including the elements important to the person. It  acknowledges the person’s emotions. Summarizing provides validation for the  person who has now been heard and understood. It is important to summarize as it  can bring a sense of relief and reduce reactions that are dictated by emotions. 

  Active Listening Skills

 Why active listening is important, and how to do it. Posted Jun2,  2020

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time." —M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled.

 Active listening is a way of listening that involves full attention to what is being said for the primary purpose of   
  understanding the speaker. It is an important skill set for many different circumstances, ranging from the therapist’s
  office to the business world. If we are not listening actively, we are likely to miss the real message.

I   In my experience as a clinician, the ability to use active listening is essential for the long-term happiness of most 
   couples. Attachment Theory has helped us understand that the most basic emotional needs of human beings include 
  the need to be heard and the need to feel important to our partners (Johnson, 2008). One of the most common
  complaints that I hear during couples counseling sessions is one partner saying to the other: “You never listen to me!”

  Social science research also evidences the crucial importance of active listening. Psychologist Willard Harley identified   
  the 10 most common emotional needs of individuals in partner relationships (Harley, 2001). Among these top 10 was the
  need for “intimate conversation.” He described this need as being met by having discussions to inform or ask questions, 
  discussing topics of mutual interest, and the willingness to listen to each other. More to the point, intimate conversation
   required giving and receiving undivided attention.

   How to be an active listener

.1.  Listen without making judgments or taking a position on an issue. Gain an understanding of the situation from the other’s point of view.

  2. Allow the speaker to finish thoughts without interruption. This usually includes brief periods of silence, such as a few seconds. It may take some practice before being able to know how long to wait before making some type of response. If unsure, it is always better to wait too long rather than speak too soon and interrupt the speaker’s thoughts.

  3. Show that your attention is focused. Make eye contact, lean in towards the speaker when your interest peaks, and share any humor with a smile or other natural response.

  4. Repeat what you have heard to check for accuracy. Use the speaker’s exact words when in doubt that you have heard accurately; more often, it is better to paraphrase what was said.

  5. Ask questions as needed when you don’t understand what the speaker is trying to communicate, particularly when you’re trying to grasp the main point of their statement.

   6. Give a short summary to indicate that you have heard and understood what was said.

   7. Optional: As the final step, but not sooner, you may choose to share similar situations that you’ve experienced or your own views about the issue. You may even share a completely different opinion than that expressed, as long as that sharing is done after you have understood what was communicated to you.

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey, author   
  of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

   What to avoid during active listening

11. Interrupting a sentence. Even if there is a long pause, one should first encourage the completion of the thought by the speaker.

  2. Failing to make eye contact. Breaks from eye contact are normal and expected, but a total lack of eye contact communicates a lack of attention.

  3. Rushing the speaker. This can be a challenge, particularly when the speaker goes into excessive or unrelated details to tell their story. Do your best to politely encourage them to move along with the point.

  4. Getting distracted by other thoughts, or events nearby, and losing focus. Daydreaming while pretending to listen is probably only going to frustrate the speaker.

  5. Over focus upon certain details, or asking about minor details that distract from the speaker’s point.

  6. Changing the subject abruptly. This includes interjecting an account of “something similar that happened to me.”

  7. Making jokes or sarcastic comments which distract from the points being made. Save the humor for later in the conversation.

  8. Listening to decide what your reply should be. This is a common risk when the speaker is expressing a complaint and the listener begins to feel defensive. The natural tendency would be to shift focus to “how will I defend myself from this accusation?” or “how will I prove them wrong?” If you have actively listened, you may learn that you don’t need to defend yourself. Your partner may not be blaming you for anything. If blame has been thrown at you, you will have your chance to speak your own thoughts after you’ve listened to the complaint.

Reflect, in your journal, on your own performance using the criteria you used for others and on the following Learning Outcome:
                 LO2: Demonstrate the ability to apply thinking processes to personal and professional situations

Reflect, in your journal, on the attributes of the learner profile and how they apply to showing effective communication. Focus in one one in particular that you feel is the most important.

Teacher notes

Encourage students to consider their performance and understanding on an individual level as well as a class. They might glean a lot from placing their perceptions of their communication skills next to how others might perceive them. This lesson can be sensitive for some students dealing with all sorts of contextual factors so it is down to the teacher's discretion how to navigate it with sensitivity eg. it might be that the focus is changes to more individual work and presenting ideas to one other person if it seems the right thing to do. As ever, teacher's judgement on what will place students within a zone of risk-taking without it being perceived as dangerous.


Approaches to Teaching and Learning

Approaches to learning

The lesson plans and activities on this page can be delivered to include explicit and implicit reference to a range of Approaches to Teaching and Learning. The IB's suggestions for ATL skills in the 5 key areas are not exhaustive and you are encouraged to contextualise and add to these as appropriate. The key to students being able to identify skills and use them in a range of situations is to teach the skill explicitly before incorporating it implicitly in a range of contexts. Here we focus on a key ATL skill, that can directly relate not only to the reflective project criteria but also to the following PPS learning outcome.

 LO2: Demonstrate the ability to apply thinking processes to personal and professional situations

ATL Skills area
Social and Communication Skills
Thinking Skills

Specific ATL skills explored
- Use a range of speaking and listening techniques to communicate with a variety of audiences

- using visible thinking routines to generate new ideas
- apply pre-existing knowledge to generate new ideas and processes

Link to the reflective project
Criterion D: present a structured and coherent project, use appropriate terminology accurately and consistently, and communicate ideas and concepts clearly[1] but also clear communication is implicit in all the criteria, especially B and C. eg Criterion B 'analyse different perspectives'.
Making the links: Further teacher notes

Where next?

The particular focus here is on the ability to 'Use a range of speaking and listening techniques to communicate with a variety of audiences'* as part of Social and Communication skills which directly relates to the students exploring and evaluating the implications of their ethical dilemma on different stakeholders in their reflective project. However this might be just a starting off point for you.

Clear explicit focus on speaking and listening techniques can be focused and reflected upon in the section on active listening here. However it might be that the Harvard Project Zero routines sends students in a Thinking Skills direction as they consider the potential impact of particular thinking and communication techniques in a professional setting using the routine 'Think, Pair, Share and Projecting Across Time'. You could pick a number of Thinking Skills to focus on but this routine very much recognises students' existing knowledge and them building upon them so you might consider 'using visible thinking routines to generate new ideas'*  or 'apply pre-existing knowledge to generate new ideas and processes'*.

Further links with the reflective project: as stated above, this skill is directly assessed in Criterion D: Communication in the reflective project but clear communication is a skill needed throughout the reflective project, especially when it comes to critical thinking. The focus here on both speaking and listening techniques is with the learner profile attribute of 'balanced' in mind as well as 'communicator. Clear application of speaking and listening techniques gives students the ability to assess and present information fairly. This also sets the tone for being open to multiple perspectives and opinions which is needed for real success in evaluating an ethical dilemma. 

*this is not a direct quote from the ATL site but paraphrased and adapted, and/or amalgamated with other subskills based on the ATL publications.

Top Tip: Remember that 'less is more' when making the links to ATL.

It can be a temptation to draw students' attention to the sheer number of ATL skills that they are accessing at any particular time. You know within PPS that a topic will be exploring any one of the five themes even if your introduction is through explicit focus on one; the same applies to ATL. Try isolating a specific skill and then:

Make explicit reference to it and establish prior learning and experience
Make it useful with ways to practice it so students can experience how it works
Make it transferrable by having moments to consider where they have used this skill before, how they are developing it and where it might be useful in the future.
Make it visible by have the students record and reflect upon the processes they have used.


  1. ^ IBO, The Reflective Project Guide (for first use 2016), p28
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