I spent years specialising in ‘behaviour‘, first as an advisory teacher and then as an educational psychologist. Working with this focus the first task in any consultation, assessment, intervention, report or project was to unpack the word behaviour. At least nInety nine times out of a hundred what people, usually parents, carers and/or school staff, actually meant was ‘difficult behaviour’ or ‘unwanted behaviour’. Once we had clarified our terms it was always much easier to plan, take and evaluate action and so produce some positive change but none of this was possible unless we had good communication and that always had to start within and between individuals.

I’ve come to the conclusion that virtually all difficulties between people can be ameliorated if not solved if the communication between them is good. By communication I mean the exchange of thoughts, words, written, symbolised or spoken and/or information. This definition embraces verbal, non-verbal and behavioural aspects and also the emotional and ideological climate in which the communication happens, some of which is in the hands of each person involved and some of which is more due to the wider political and cultural context.

The word communication comes from an early 15th century French word ‘comunicacion’ and directly from the Latin ‘’communicationem’ meaning ‘making common’, imparting, communicating. It also stems from the active noun from the past participle stem of ‘communicare’, i.e. ‘to share, divide out, communicate, impart, inform, join, unite, participate in or literally ‘to make common’, public and/or general. All of this bodes well as a basis for making individual choices about behaviour so it makes me wonder why is communication often so poor and why does it often go wrong?

Maybe the answer to this can also be found in dictionary definitions?Here you will find that the word communication linked with massive media, news and print organisations, professions such as journalism advertising, broadcasting, new technology, the armed forces and their operations, and within the academic fields of science, including psychology and linguistics. So there are huge corporate, national and global interests at play and it might seem as though communication between individuals is relatively unimportant. Indeed, within my own field of psychology this is often referred to as ‘interpersonal communication’, which suggests a certain down-grading or lack of status as an area of interest.

This colonisation by industry, commerce and government of individual and personal aspects of being human such as communication is, of course, nothing new. We are encouraged to think of big companies and authorities as caring, sharing and cuddly phenomena every time we switch on the TV or radio or read a paper and government has never before entered the emotional and mental space of individuals in quite the way it has done this last year or so. However, being aware and questioning of these trends and choosing to focus on and improve one’s own communication is, I believe, probably one of the best things you can do for your own wellbeing and mental health.

With all of this in mind I created this acronym for the elements of what in my experience, supports effective communication:

C larity about the who when where why what and how aspects
O pen yourself to hearing different views and perspectives and really listen
M odel communication you would like to receive; kind and courteous
M ake your personal values clear and place respect and authenticity as central
U unhelpful communication styles include placating, blaming, over-rationalising and distracting
N egativity blocks real communication so if you have nothing positive to communicate stay quiet
I gnoring, blanking and stonewalling are cruel, dishonest and inhuman communication strategies so make a rule not to use these
C are for others’ feelings the way you want them to care for yours
A ttention to others and really listening is an act of acceptance, respect and love for the person regardless of what they say
T iming of your communication must feel right and must be judged with care
I mpatience is unhelpful but sometimes inevitable – just preface it with a simple explanation
O pen up and be emotionally congruent as much as is possible and/or expedient
N obody needs to be top in any dialogue – real communication is always shared, reciprocal and not a performance or power play

I am fascinated in effective communication and am always trying to develop my own but I recognise it is a work in progress so if anyone has any recommendations or experiences to share I would like to hear about them. If you’re interested in reading a little more on my perspectives on this topic you might like to read my book ‘The Psychology of Parenting Teenagers’ (Icon Books, 2021); Chapter 10 in particular.

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