We are sent, we receive, and we interpret messages from other people. We then formulate responses, and then send them back. A dialogue can happen with words, and with nonverbals. In any given segment of a conversation, there are at least 6 spots where messages can be missed or become misunderstood. So how can we keep communication on track?

Attend to the message

Making sure that we are attending is a key to picking up someone’s message in the first place. This does not have to mean hypervigilantly staring at someone with eyes wide open, but it does mean setting distractions aside and being sure that you can hear (or see) the full message that is being transmitted. Imagine listening to five radio stations at once; you’ve got to turn off the other four if you have any hope of fully attending to the one.


Receive the message

Once you are tuned in, it can be good to acknowledge that you are receiving the message. Sometimes, this involves a head nod, or an “uh-huh,” or simply restating what you think you just heard.


Understand the message

Restating messages can be important, not only to make sure you heard the message, but to make sure that the other person (and yourself) accurately understand the message being sent.


Send your message

Formulating your response in a manner that remembers all these stages, can help you avoid misunderstandings. For instance, you might say, “I’m sorry I was distracted but now you have my full attention… it seems like you were trying to tell me that you are _______?”

Watch nonverbals

As you speak, watch the other person’s nonverbals. Are they making eye contact? Do their facial gestures emotionally match what you are discussing. Imagine how you might feel, in hearing the same message you are delivering. Notice what might be missed or might need clarification.


It’s cliché but true, we have one mouth and two ears for a reason. Good communication often happens by becoming a better listener (not by becoming a better talker). Sit back, pause, and really listen for whatever is coming next. Forget about your own agenda and be present moment. And you will likely feel more listened to in return.

Published in Montana’s Healthy Living