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By Ashley Andujar - This image is from the FEMA Photo Library., Public Domain,

Effective Communication

By Alice Estey

May, 2014

Most everyone would agree that good communication is key to any organization functioning effectively. And yet, good communication is harder to accomplish than we think. Here are three common communication errors and some quick fixes to consider:

Error #1: “Sure, I understand.”

More often than not, we have no real idea whether we accurately understand or have been understood.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand.”

We are all familiar with these phrases and occasionally the second statement might be true. However, in my conflict work, when I ask my clients, “What is it that you think you have understood?” the message received is rarely the message that was being sent.

Try it yourself. Next time you are trying to communicate something important to someone, ask them to repeat back to you what they think they heard you say. If they missed your message, it’s no problem because you now have an opportunity to clarify. Everyone wins.

NOTE: Avoid using the phrase, “You weren’t listening.” It’s a guaranteed listening killer!

Error #2: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”

Too many words will kill the message.

Making an excellent point and then emphasizing it by repeating it five different ways doesn’t make for a better point. It usually has the opposite effect and causes people to stop listening. A typical human capacity for absorbing a clear message is about five to six sentences. Beyond five sentences, people’s attention strays or the message begins to get muddled.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. A message delivered ONCE in a concise and simple manner is quite sufficient. Two or three sentences are more effective than a paragraph or two. And, it takes way less time!

Error #3: “I’ve talked myself blue and nothing changes.”

A common communication mistake is to complain to the wrong party.

Just because you feel strongly about something and have possibly complained to your friends about it, doesn’t mean you have communicated it to the right people. This mistake is easy to make because taking a problem to the source can often feel scary. We may justify our avoidance by saying, “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings,” or, “I don’t want to risk making someone angry at me,” or, “Nothing will be done about it anyway.”

These things might or might not be true, but one thing is certain: if we don’t address the problem directly, it’s pretty much guaranteed to remain a problem.


Alice Estey is a mediator and conflict management specialist. She also serves as an Alternate Dispute Resolution Advisor for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is deployed throughout the country to assist in conflict management at FEMA disaster sites.

For upcoming sessions of Opportunity in Conflict, see Open Courses.