‘I’ll try’ or ‘I don’t want to’?

‘I’ll try’ implies ‘I don’t want to’. How often have you asked (or invited) someone to do something and they’ve said ‘I’ll try’, only to let you down?

‘I’ll try to do it today.’ ‘I’ll try to make it to the meeting.’ ‘I’ll try to help.’ How many people have been disappointed by ‘I’ll try’, thinking they’ve been given a promise?

People say they’ll try if they don’t want to, don’t think they can, haven’t really got time, or have no intention of following through.

Assertive people don’t say ‘I’ll try’ when they mean ‘I won’t’ or ‘I don’t want to’. It’s a feeble cop-out.  Far better to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t, I don’t want to or ‘It’s not convenient’ and say why (even if you have to soften it a little).

Beware: ‘I’ll try’ implies failure and deceit. It is deceptive and defeatist.  When someone tells you they’ll ‘try’, realise that it could be an excuse and don’t be too disappointed if you’re let down.  


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Assertiveness is self-empowerment in action

‘This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.’

 William Shakespeare

Your personal power is expressed primarily in your interactions with others. Remember, you always have the right to:

  • Express your feelings (but you must decide when it is appropriate to do so).
  • Stand up for your opinions.
  • Demand respect from others.
  • Make requests (but remember the other person has a right to refuse).
  • Refuse requests.
  • Change your mind.
  • Say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand’.
  • Choose not to explain your behaviour.

If you are not used to asserting yourself, you may feel uncomfortable the first few times, but don’t be put off. EVERYONE CAN LEARN TO BE ASSERTIVE. I did! The rewards include greater confidence, better relationships, fewer frustrations, and a more fulfilling and successful life.

Benefits of Assertiveness

  • Assertiveness enables you to deal more effectively with all situations, including difficult ones.
  • It prevents you being steamrollered into going along with something against your will.
  • It is good for your physical and emotional well-being. It lowers your stress levels.
  • Assertiveness ensures that relationships are built on genuine foundations and everyone concerned understands each other. Without it, people are not being themselves.

What Assertiveness Is

Assertiveness is often misunderstood. Many think it means being loud and pushy and acting selfishly, but nothing could be further from the truth. When you value yourself, you value others too. Real assertiveness acknowledges others’ needs, while being true to your own.

Assertive behaviour is:

  • Saying what you think, calmly and politely.
  • Making your point clearly and with conviction.
  • Being in touch with your inner feelings, trusting and valuing them.
  • Expressing your feelings with consideration for others.
  • Sticking to your point and, if necessary, repeating it the other has got your point too.
  • Being decisive. Indecisiveness invites an aggressive or derisive response.
  • Standing up for your rights without violating the basic rights of others.
  • Being clear on what you want and asking for it.

Passive behaviour – and how to recognise it

Which of these is your typical response when you feel angry or upset? Do you:

  1. Let people know in a roundabout way?
  2. Keep quiet?
  3. Try to say how you feel and be specific?
  4. Explode?

Passive behaviour is submissive. It is failing to express your needs, opinions and feelings for fear of upsetting other people. Passive people are preoccupied with trying to please and avoiding conflict. This rarely leaves you feeling fulfilled.

Passive behaviour can include:

  • Apologising excessively
  • Trying to justify yourself all the time
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to stand up for yourself
  • Understatement
  • Pretending to agree with others
  • Body language and/or tone of voice being incongruent with the spoken word

Passivity comes naturally to those who are taught from an early age to keep their feelings to themselves. As a result they may grow up burning with resentment (which can come out as sudden and ill-timed flashes of bad temper).

The irony is, far from being easy to get along with, passive people can be very exasperating. It’s hard to know how they really feel, and they often give the impression they don’t even know themselves.

Passivity mostly stems mainly from lack of confidence. Learning to be assertive helps you to be more confident, and working on your confidence and self-esteem will make you more assertive.

Passive people may say that they don’t want to be more assertive, because they don’t like loud, pushy behaviour. This is an excuse. Correcting submissive behaviours does not automatically mean becoming quarrelsome or overbearing.

Aggressive behaviour – and how to handle it

Aggressive behaviour is about getting your own way no matter what.  Aggressive people don’t mind taking advantage of others.

Direct aggression

They may be can be intimidating – this is ‘Direct Aggression’. Their behaviour carries an overt of covert threat. They may speak in a raised voice accompanied by glaring eyes, pointing, leaning forward and constant interrupting. Directly aggressive behaviour is often a sign of low self-esteem. Underneath the facade is someone who is insecure and who doesn’t believe they can get their own way by any other means.

Aggressive behaviour builds up bad feeling, hostility and resentment. Others feel defensive in their company and close up. And it often results in loss of friendships as others either avoid them, or find a way of getting their own back.

Indirect aggression

Aggression need not be loud. Put-downs, gossiping, manipulating and tricking people and using sarcasm are also aggressive. So are deliberately using silence, turning your back and ignoring people.

The main weapons which indirect aggressors employ are fear and guilt. When confronted, they usually deny their intentions. They say they were only joking or accuse you of being oversensitive. If you feel someone is using these tactics on you, the best strategy is to challenge them immediately. Remember, your power is always located in the present moment. Say, ‘You’re not trying to make me feel ….., are you?’ Normally, they will deny it. If they try it on again, keep challenging. They won’t like it, but sooner or later they will get the point.

I repeat – everyone can learn to be assertive. Learn the basic techniques, then practise, practise and practise and you WILL succeed.

©David Lawrence Preston, 16.6.2016

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Winning Conversation

As a shy young man I had to teach myself to converse with other people, and it is these experiences that enable me to help others today.

Good conversation is a great confidence builder. It’s vital in building relationships and mutual understanding. It’s how we get to know each other. Talk to anyone for ten minutes, even a complete stranger, and you already have a pretty good idea of that person’s world – whether it is happy or sad, filled with health or illness, peace, anxiety and so on. It’s the way they gain an impression of your world too!

The basis of good conversation is rapport. Establishing rapport is finding things you have in common and making the person comfortable with you.

Here’s ten rapport builders:

Ten things that people like in conversations

  1. To be uplifted

Few of us enjoy talking to someone who is negative, so if you can’t find something good to say, say nothing.

Some people try to make themselves appear superior by putting others down. It rarely works because other people usually want very little to do with them.  Moreover, they’re not really talking about the other person, but revealing what’s inside them.

Avoid sarcasm. William Shakespeare described it as ‘the lowest form of wit’ and ‘the last resort of a defeated mind.’ Although it can be funny, it is often misunderstood and can be cruel. Children, in particular, often fail to pick up the subtleties of tone and body language,

Uplifting conversation is attractive, but with one exception: if a person is obviously going through a hard time, you may lose rapport by being too positive so tone it down.

  1. Agreement

We all like someone who agrees with us, so look for something on which you can agree and let people know when you agree with them.

Don’t tell them when you disagree with them unless it is absolutely necessary (you’ll find it rarely is) and take care over how you phrase it. ‘What would you say to someone who said…..’ is a useful form of words.

There are times, of course, when you strongly disagree and have to decide how far to go to make your point, and whether it is important enough to risk jeopardising the relationship.

If another person is angry with you, try to take the heat out of the situation. Stay calm, talk slowly and lower your voice.  If this doesn’t work, raise your voice a little (until it almost as loud as theirs) then gradually quieten it. (This is a technique called ‘pacing and leading’). Eventually they’ll realise they’re the only one shouting and their anger will burn itself out.

  1. Descriptive language

Most people are primarily visual, so paint word pictures. Everyone loves an anecdote and a story told in an interesting way. Use words and phrases which stimulate the imagination and appeal to the emotions.

  1. Simple words

Use simple, familiar words – people hate pretentiousness and pomposity. You quickly lose other people’s attention if they can’t understand what you are saying.

  1. Self-disclosure

Sharing feelings is the essence of real communication. Nobody enjoys talking to people who reveal nothing about themselves. You don’t have to go into intimate detail, of course, and you want the other person to respect your privacy, just as you respect theirs. But how can you expect them to open up to you if you’re not willing to open up to them?

       6. I don’t know

Most people dislike a know-all. If they think you’re a person who has to be right all the time, you’ll scare them off. It is often better to say you don’t know, even if you think you do. (If the other person knows, he’ll be sure to tell you.)

You’ve probably used this tactic many times with small children. When you sense that a child asks you a question because he wants to impress you with the right answer, you let him – don’t you? Why not do the same with adults? The result is the same.

It takes a solid sense of self-worth to admit your mistakes, especially if you’ve hurt the other person’s feelings, but others usually admire you for it.

       7. Lighten up

A light touch builds bridges. You can always spot a person who takes himself too seriously – he spends a lot of time on his own!

8. Integrity

Integrity cannot be stressed highly enough. People with integrity are more popular and more effective as leaders. Their relationships tend to be more long lasting.

Be sincere. Always keep your word. Don’t make empty promises and never let people down. Avoid gossiping. People dislike gossips. At most, they tolerate them; sometimes they are amused by them, but they never respect them.

Anyone who will gossip to you will also gossip about you. Refuse to listen, change the subject and, if all else fails, walk away. And never tell a story you would have to interrupt from embarrassment if somebody else walked into the room.

  1. Own your feelings and opinions

When you express an opinion, it is yours. Own it. Use the first person when expressing your feelings and opinions – ‘I feel…,’ ‘In my opinion…,’ ‘I think…,’ and so on. When we use the pronoun ‘I’, it is like a statement of self-assertion, strength and integrity.

A woman who had been taken in by a con man told me, ‘You feel so useless. It makes you feel as if you want to run away and never come back.’ She was expressing how she felt, but she wasn’t owning it. What she meant was, ‘I did a stupid thing. I feel so useless. I want to run away and never come back.’

  1. Stop talking before your audience stops listening

If you don’t want to be remembered as a bit of a bore, be alert to the other’s signals and stop talking before your audience stops listening. When it is clear they have heard enough, politely bring the conversation to a close.

The basics of good conversation apply equally in business and in domestic and social situations. These techniques work if you practise them, and if you’re sincere. Take an interest in others. Accept them as they are. Be patient. Bring out – the best in them. Then you’ll be a good communicator – and a popular person!

©David Lawrence Preston, 15.6.2016

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Conversation Skills

As a naturally shy and socially clumsy young person, I had to teach myself to converse with others. Why was it so important? Because I realized that way we talk to others says a great deal about us and makes all the difference between them seeking out our company or not.

Here’s a few thing I learned that have served me well.

It’s not difficult to grasp the overriding principle: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The fact is, skilled communicators immediately put people at ease whatever the situation. And they know that one of the secrets is to encourage others talk about their favourite subject – themselves – and share insights and experiences that interest them.

Conversation comes naturally to some, especially those who had good role models when they were young. But even if you didn’t have this benefit and consider yourself shy, you can learn the basic techniques and practise them until they feel natural. It starts with attitude:

  • Do you like people?
  • Do you get irritated if the conversation doesn’t go your way?
  • Do you regard ‘small talk’ as a waste of time?
  • Do you regard strangers as friends you haven’t yet met?

Get these right, then you can develop your own style.

Good Conversation

Consider the people with whom you like to spend your time. What is it that draws you to them? What qualities and behaviours do they exhibit? How many of these qualities do you have?

  • The essence of good conversation is simple:
  • Attentive listening is foundation of good conversational skills. The more you pay attention, the more you understand and the better you respond.
  • Have something good to say! Make a point of remembering interesting facts and amusing stories. Keep yourself well informed and take a genuine interest in others so you draw on a rich source of experiences and knowledge.
  • Learn to express yourself well so you make your conversation interesting. Use descriptive language; extend and develop your vocabulary. You can always borrow other people’s: if someone else said it better than you could, why not quote them?
  • Appeal to your listeners emotions. Words without emotion have a hollow ring to them. Remember, the ‘head’ never hears until the ‘heart’ has listened. Logic alone rarely makes friends nor wins people over.

Initiating a conversation

The first few moments of any interaction set the tone. They may stay in another person’s memory a very long time, and it can take a long time to remedy a poor first impression.

To make a good first impression:

  • If you know you’re going to meet new people, find out about them and their interests in advance.
  • Good manners count. Be polite and show that you value other people.
  • Act confidently. Nervousness makes others feel uncomfortable. Smile and ignore the collywobbles in your stomach.
  • Non-verbals are important. To appear confident even if you’re not:
    • Keep your hands still and away from your face
    • Keep your head up to avoid looking submissive, but not too high – looking down your nose appears arrogant
    • Avoid jerky movements and unnecessary gesticulations
    • Avoid tilting or moving the head around a too much (unless you want to appear cute or flirtatious!)
    • Make eye contact with everyone in the group.
  • Pay compliments, but don’t be ‘cheesy’..
  • Before you come on too strongly with your own opinions, stop, listen, and ‘sense’ the people and the atmosphere. Then you’re more likely to create a good impression. No-one likes a know it all!

Getting to know you

When introducing yourself, concentrate on showing the other person you’re interested in them. Give them a warm, open smile and a little eye contact; this conveys goodwill.  Lean forward, but don’t get too close. Offer your hand – this is a gesture understood and welcomed everywhere.

Giving your name projects confidence. If you don’t know their name, ask and remember it. Their name is important to them!

Avoid controversial subjects until you know them better. If you are genuinely interested in people, you will always be able to find something to talk about.

Give them a ‘verbal handle’ to grab hold of, a ‘hook’ that gets them involved. Ask open-ended questions to get them talking and follow-up their comments to keep the momentum going. Be sensitive, though; you don’t want to make it an interrogation. For example:

  • Tell me more about…?
  • How do you feel about…?
  • How do you mean?
  • What do you think of…?
  • In what way?

Appeal to their need for approval

The need for approval is a powerful motivator. Appreciation and gratitude are always well received, providing they are genuine. Don’t be afraid comment on things you appreciate about the other person:

  • ‘I like the way you ….’
  • ‘Is it true you recently ….? (mention one of their achievements). How fascinating!’
  • ‘I love your accent. Where are you from?’
  • ‘I hear you’re successful at… What’s your secret?’
  • ‘I’ve always been interested in…. and I’ve heard it’s an interest of yours. Tell me more.’


When I first practised these techniques I must admit it felt false, but that was only because they were new to me and change always feels uncomfortable at first. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It really is. Good conversational skills are the basis of popularity, so make everyone you meet glad they met you and your life will be transformed!

©David Lawrence Preston, 5.6.2016

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Body language

Your body gives away a lot more than the words you speak – about eight times more.

The body uses an unspoken language that is incapable of lying. We continually telegraph our thoughts and feelings non-verbally. Much of this takes place at an unconscious level; often the person picking up non-verbal signals is not aware of what is happening.

Body language includes:

  • Posture – the way you hold and carry your body communicates confidence and personal magnetism. Dominant people have a way of making themselves appear more formidable. They stand tall in situations they wish to control.
  • Gestures – especially the hands.
  • Facial expression – the main way we express emotion.
  • Eye movements – can indicate pleasure, curiosity, enthusiasm, agitation etc. E.g. the pupils dilate when you are interested or excited.
  • Clothing – communicates roles and status etc. A uniform says a lot about the role and status of the wearer, e.g. ‘power dressing’.
  • Touch – can convey sincerity; may be used to greet, comfort, intimidate, guide, patronise, etc.

The body is capable of transmitting over half a million signals – your face alone can make over 100,000 different expressions. A shrug of the shoulders, for instance, or a dismissive wave of the hand can say much more than words alone.

Body language also contributes to charisma. It is the main reason why some people command attention the minute they walk into a room, while others are barely noticed.

Body language is not universal; every culture has its own gestures, and ignorance of this can result in unintended offence.

When one’s words seem to be contradicted by their voice quality and non-verbal, we assume the person is lying. Because when this happens they normally are!

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.4.2016

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Listening – the most essential communication skill

‘Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.’

 William Shakespeare

Listening is one way we show that we respect, appreciate and value others. It also shows that we are concerned for their well-being. It is the most important skill to develop if you want to improve your communication skills.

It’s often said that we have two ears and one mouth, and this is the correct ratio in which to use them. Not only will you become a special person for others, but you’ll be able to influence them, if you want to. But be careful – if you listen only to manipulate them, they’re unlikely to ever want anything to do with you again.

Why listen?

Why listen? There are a multitude of reasons, including:

  • To understand someone else’s views, attitudes and
  • To receive information or instructions.
  • To be entertained.
  • To discover what others really think of you.
  • To be able to to influence the course of events.

Don’t you like it when someone gives you their undivided attention? Isn’t this a special experience? Perhaps that’s why some people are willing to pay for an hour with a therapist – to have someone really listen!

Seek to understand before making yourself understood.

Dr Steven Covey

Three Levels of Listening

We listen on three levels, depending on how important we regard the exchange.

  1. Little or no attention

The mind is elsewhere, absorbed in our own thoughts. We nod and mutter in the right place, but we’re not really listening at all. Others are rarely fooled, of course – our body language and facial expression give us away. And it creates negative feelings. How do you feel when you’re not being listened to?

2. Pseudo-listening

Sometimes we only hear a small proportion of what is said because we’re not that interested. Examples include casual interchanges at social functions (i.e. ‘small talk’). We listen just carefully enough to respond to polite questions such as ‘How are you?’ or remarks about the weather.

Pseudo-listening includes allowing ourselves to be easily distracted, such as watching TV through the corner of an eye, looking at the clock and eavesdropping on other conversations nearby, or being distracted by the person’s physical make-up or clothing.

3. Perfect hearing

Perfect hearing only happens when we are genuinely interested and willing to give our full attention. It goes beyond listening to words; it uses all the senses, including the sixth sense, intuition. Perfect hearing means being fully involved, emotionally and intellectually.

Active Listening

A man went to see a counsellor about his marriage. The counsellor told him to go home and for two weeks listen to every word his wife said. He returned a fortnight later and reported that the situation was much improved.

‘Now go home,’ said the counsellor, ‘and listen to every word she’s not saying.’

This is indeed the art of listening – to hear the message behind the words, and then show that you’ve understood. Effective listening is not a passive activity: it’s not always easy to listen to everything that’s said, especially if:

  • You think the other person is waffling
  • You disagree with what they’re saying
  • They are expressing very strong feelings
  • You think they’re being aggressive
  • There are too many distractions
  • Your mind wanders off
  • You are busy rehearsing what you’re going to say.

Good listening does not mean indiscriminately accepting everything you hear or altering your own opinions without good cause – be flexible, but hold true to your own values.

Twelve rules of good listening

1. Be fully present

 Stop what you’re doing and focus your full attention on the other person. Look at their face, watch their eyes and observe their body language. Listen for the nuances in their tone of voice.

Emotions can get in the way of good communication. People who feel insecure, worried, suspicious, or hurt are simply not very receptive. Good listening requires energy. When you’re feeling low, you don’t feel as motivated to pay attention.

2. Take responsibility

If you find yourself getting emotional about the speaker has said, take a few deep breaths and calm and centre yourself.

The responsibility for making sure you understand the full message is yours. If you don’t hear, ask them to repeat it. If you don’t understand, ask. Take the initiative. Don’t leave it to the other person.

3. Make time

How often do we hear, ‘Sorry, too busy.’ ‘I’ve only got ten minutes. If you want more, you’ll have to make an appointment.’

Good listening takes time and patience, and the belief that others are worthy of your time.

4. Show that you are listening

Show that you are listening. Let them know they’ve been heard. Here’s a useful mnemonic: ‘SOFTEN’:

  • Smile and project your warmth
  • Adopt an Open posture (e.g. uncrossed arms/legs)
  • Lean Forward and Face them squarely
  • Use Touch (where appropriate)
  • Make Eye contact (but don’t stare)
  • Nod your head to show understanding and/or approval

Do these in a non-threatening manner. For example, touch can be a gesture of warmth and support, but it can also be misinterpreted. Similarly, prolonged eye contact can be disconcerting (3 to 4 seconds is quite sufficient). A useful tip is to gaze at the bridge of the nose rather than straight into the eyes – it’s less intimidating.

5. Don’t interrupt

Don’t interrupt unless seeking clarification. If you catch yourself interrupting, stop immediately, apologise, and invite them to continue. When the speaker has finished, count to three before replying. This way, you know they’re not just stopping to take a breath.

In some native North American cultures, in meetings only the person holding the ‘talking stick’ is allowed to speak. This way, they are listened to without interruption.

6. Observe body language

Reading body language is essential to pick up the message behind the words. Remember, there is eight times more information in a person’s nonverbal communication than in their words! For a real understanding of people, pay more attention to what they do than what they say – it’s very illuminating!

Here are some clues:

  • Eyes looking down or away – self-consciousness or guilt.
  • Pupils widen if they like what you are saying and narrow if they don’t.
  • Raised eyebrow – disbelief.
  • Rubbing the nose or pulling the ears – they don’t understand, even if they say they do.
  • Hand touching the mouth – anxious or trying to deceive.
  • Folded or crossed arms – nervous, shut off from you (or feeling cold!)
  • Tapping on a table or chair – nervousness or impatience.
  • Tremor in voice – nervousness.
  • Monotone voice – unemotional.
  • Shrugging the shoulders – indifference.
  • Facing you squarely, full height, smiling, head forward – confidence.

7. Focus on the content

Try to ignore extraneous factors, such as their appearance, accent, choice of words, grammar, etc. Their vocabulary may be limited, or you may not like their accent.

Feelings about the situation or environment in which the communication takes place can be barriers to understanding. For example, if you hate your job, it may easily colour every communication you have when at work. Unless we are aware, we tend to project our attitudes, beliefs and feelings onto other people, assuming they think, feel and respond as we do.

8. Check that you’ve heard correctly

This is a basic tenet of empathy. It reassures a person that you have been listening, and also paves the way further conversation. One way to do this is to try and put what you’ve heard into your own words and feed it back. There are several useful word patterns:

  • ‘You feel… because…’ (E.g. ‘You feel worried because you haven’t heard from your mother for several weeks.’)
  • ‘What I understand you to be saying is…’

Alternatively, reflect back what you heard in different words:

  • ‘So you don’t see much of a future in this job…’
  • ‘So you don’t think the scheme will work…’
  • ‘It seems to me you don’t think the relationship will last…’

(NB. Your choice of words should contain an element of the person’s thoughts and/or feelings and the events related to those feelings.)

If this is a new skill for you, use it sparingly at first. Practise with friends until you are confident you can do it without being obvious, and make sure your tone conveys an eagerness to understand – this is more important than ‘technical’ correctness.

9. If you’re still not clear, ask for clarification

If you’re still not clear, ask directly for clarification:’I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand. Could you please explain…’

10. Use thinking time effectively

Our brains can process information four times faster than our vocal chords can deliver it, creating spare thinking time during conversations. Stay focused. Shut out distractions and you are less likely to miss important points.

11. Ask open questions

Open questions are an excellent way of showing interest, initiating a conversation and keeping it going. Closed questions require a brief answer, normally ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ (e.g. ‘What time is it?’ or ‘Do you agree?’). Open questions encourage the other person to speak. For example:

  • Tell me more about…
  • How do you mean?
  • In what way?

 12. Learn to cope with silence

Silence can be uncomfortable. Good listeners don’t assume the other person has nothing more to say when they stopped talking. During moments of silence, their mind is still active; this is when moments of insight can take place. So be patient, even if it feels disconcerting.

Intuitive Listening

Finally, be aware that we also receive and transmit information intuitively. We often get strong feelings about another person without necessarily knowing why – nothing in their speech or nonverbals explains it.

Women are generally believed to be better at this than men. For example, married men are often puzzled by their wives’ ability to sense what they are up to! One of the reasons for this is that the left and right hemispheres of the female brain are more connected to each other. They exchange more information more rapidly than for males, which is why women often appear to ‘just know’, leaving their men folk baffled as to how they know.

Never discount intuition or telepathy. They are real, albeit it scientifically unexplained.

©David Lawrence Preston, 24.4.2016

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Barriers to Effective Communication

The basic rule in all verbal communication, whether you are speaking or listening, is to take responsibility for the outcome by making sure the other/s have grasped your exact meaning and that you fully understand what is said to you. But there are many barriers to accurate and effective communication. Only when these barriers are removed or surmounted does the best communication take place.

Physical barriers

Physical barriers can be as obvious as distance, noise interference (e.g. a car going by, loud music, crackles on the telephone line etc.), or any other external distraction. Lack of privacy can also inhibit communication.

Sometimes physical barriers are deliberately erected. A bank manager who positions himself in a high, leather bound chair behind a huge desk in order to intimidate a customer is doing just that.

A uniform or other role symbol (a ceremonial chain, for instance) can also create barriers. For example, a vicar recently told me he never takes his dog collar when he goes on holiday, because people behave differently when he is wearing it.

Perceptual barriers

Psychological barriers are more complicated and usually more subtle. Our interpretations are coloured by our perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. We have a tendency to hear only what we want or expect to hear, and to screen out anything which we consider unacceptable. The brain automatically ‘tunes out’ most incoming data – including some that would be useful to receive.

The meaning of words

Words are merely symbols of ideas. Words may conjure up a totally different mental image in the listener to that intended by the speaker. For example, in Britain, we drive on the ‘road’ and walk on the ‘pavement’. In the USA, they drive on the ‘pavement’ and walk on the ‘sidewalk’. Imagine the confusion that could ensue!

There are over half a million words in the English language, and five hundred of the most frequently used have over twenty meanings each. But the average person uses only two thousand, speaks in short, simple sentences and has difficulties following more than nine or ten words.

Bad Attitude

A good attitude is essential.. If both parties are interested, willing to listen and respectful, the interaction flows smoothly. But if either believes that the other person isn’t worth listening to, communication breaks down.

Allowing yourself to be distracted by the speaker’s personal mannerisms is another barrier.  (i.e. voice, gestures, body language etc.), or if you are speaking, by the listener’s personal mannerisms, is one of the main barriers to good communication.


Making judgements is a major dragon to be slayed to become a better communicator and a more caring person. We all have a tendency to pre-judge, e.g. ‘This person is well dressed – she must be talking sense,’ or ‘He looks shifty; I can trust him.’

Pre-judging can be a major problem if the parties are from different cultural, religious and/or racial groups, or have widely differing political opinions.

Everyone you meet has something to teach you, but you won’t find out what it is unless you’re prepared to listen.

Mental Activity

The average person speaks at around 100-150 words per minute but can think at 400-600 words per minute. This means that the brain has quite a bit of ‘spare time’ when listening. Poor listeners listen for a few seconds to establish what is being said and then allow their attention to wander while they rehearse their reply. When they return to the conversation, they may have missed a vital chunk of information.

If your mind wanders off, bring it back and make sure you have fully understood the point.

Emotional Barriers

Unless we are self-aware, we tend to project our attitudes, beliefs and feelings onto other people, assuming they think, feel and respond as we do.

If you find yourself getting emotional about the subject matter, the environment, or something the speaker has said, take a few deep breaths and calm and centre yourself.


Recognizing the barriers to communication is every situation is a big step forward in improving our communication skills at all levels!

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.3.2016

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