Do’s and Don’t for Effective Communication

After writing my last post, I got to thinking about communication and how little we are taught about how to do it well. This can often be a key focus of my work with parents and teens; demonstrating and facilitating effective communication but despite this, I sometimes forget how to do it in my personal life. So, I thought I would share some ideas here. 

What I’ve learned thus far…

Wanting to avoid and run away from conflict or any such forms of communication is part of the human experience, but this varies for different  people. The desire to avoid is informed by fear. A fear that we will be hurt, threatened or intimidated. As a response to this we want to protect ourselves or as Brene Browne calls it Armour up.  This is a very normal and common human response (click here to read more about this). 

However, it becomes an issue when we fail to remove the Armour which can lead to becoming immobilized; resulting in complete fear and consequent ineptness to communicate with others. When we are in relationships we have a responsibility to remove the Armour to truly communicate, which can be scary for some. 

So what can be helpful? 

Processing and consequently owning your emotional experience is a natural place to begin. This can be done by talking to a friend or writing down your thoughts, playing some sad music etc.

This grants clarity leaving you sure of  what you need to communicate AKA  (identifying needs), which is important in a relational context. 

Trying to offer self-compassion is important, particularly if you’ve been triggered by your significant other. This is an ongoing struggle for many, myself included. Often, I find myself thinking ‘I wish I wasn’t so sensitive, this is my fault for being so sensitive’, and it’s important that I counteract that with self-compassion.

My take on self-compassion

For me, self-compassion is simply that I recognise that I am a human being with triggers and consequent emotions, doing my best and wanting the best for myself and others. This is much kinder than blaming myself for being ‘too sensitive’.

It’s important to remember here that self-compassion is not displacing responsibility and placing blame on others. When we feel hurt or scolded we blame, shame and insult the other person as a form of defence. I am talking about taking ownership of your ‘side of the bargain’ whilst also recognizing the communication needs of the other person (partner, child, parent, etc.)

In Dialogue 

Firstly, remember this; if you’re both angry you will not communicate effectively. Someone needs to walk away and recognize it’s not a good time to have a discussion.

Secondly, it is important to create a space for each other. In the aforementioned point, I talk about giving each other space, here I am talking about creating a time and space to connect with a view to discussing clearly whats bugging you. It’s important to not have interruptions but also to ‘hold space’ for each other. This simply means you listen, don’t interrupt and give one another sufficient opportunity to really express whats on your mind. 

Here are some do’s and don’ts!


  • Don’t shame and blame. Blame is unhelpful and unproductive in such encounters and will lead to further disconnect. 
  • Don’t try and control the behaviour of the other or control the outcome of the dialogue. You can’t control other people, you can only influence. This mainly pertains to parents, however, it can be seen as asking for what you need in the context of a romantic relationship. 
  • Don’t get on the escalator i.e. don’t escalate the situation by reacting with anger or high intensity emotion (click here to learn more about this). 
  • Don’t try to change what they’re saying.
  • Don’t try to fix it.
  • Don’t try to ‘look at the positives.’
  • Don’t tell them what to do.


  • Ask ‘What can I do differently?’
  • Accept and hear what they’re saying, even if you disagree.
  • De-escalate if necessary (by being clear and calm). 
  • Try and move away from problem-focused dialogue. I will say more about that below.
  • Share what your primary concern is – one thing at a time!
  • Share what they can do differently or what would be helpful for you moving forwards.
  • Share what’s working well so far and what you enjoy about your relationship with this person.

Often, when people have been dealing with an issue for a certain period of time, they can become attached to the problem. This means much of the dialogue focuses around the problem rather than a solution or compromise. It can feel like you’re going around in circles. It’s imperative to move away from problem-saturated dialogue. You can do this by simply exploring next steps or other options.  However, being aware of it in itself can be very useful.

It is important that both parties go away with a deeper understanding of the needs of the other.

It may seem like it is hard to find time to listen in this way. That is why I suggest creating a space or setting aside a time to do so.

Concluding thoughts

Again, like all of my posts this is just a brief overview of effective communication, but it is a useful place to start. If you feel you would benefit from couples therapy then I suggest revisiting my first post, which lists affordable therapy service in Dublin. If you are curious to learn more about couples therapy, check out Ester Perels podcast, entitled ‘Where Should We Begin? It’s very interesting and will give you a taste of what true communication can look like!


Effective Listening Skills: Six things to remember

What does it mean to really listen? Well, it’s a useful life skill which can have remarkable benefits for ourselves and others, but it’s not always  as easy as it sounds. In this day and age we tend to be very good at passive listening (i.e. ‘listening’ when we’re distracted, which is not really listening at all!)  and we tend to be not so good at active listening. And yes, I include myself in that!

As part of my role, I work with parents to enable them to learn how to listen to their children in a different way and to help them feel confident in doing so. Listening is a skill that we can learn with practice, but the busy lives we lead prevents us from having the time to do so.

So, I’ve put together some tips for listening below.

1. Pause and Slow Down

When our brains are actively engaging in thoughts and ideas, we are not able to listen. We are all guilty of this (myself included, despite being a ‘professional listener’!) . This can be anything from thinking about tomorrow’s to do list, to worrying about finances or planning for an event. Of course, we can be emotionally overwhelmed and stressed at times which can inhibit our capacity to listen.

However, once we are aware of that, we can take some time out to slow down and pause (see previous posts for tips on this), and calm the Central Nervous System so we can ‘hold space’ for another person. The goal is to go from doing mode into being mode. 

2. Remove all distractions i.e your phone!

If you’re distracted you are not fully present and are at the very best listening on a surface level. Put your phone away and avoid being distracted. This leads to what I like to call ‘fake listening’ or what I referred to earlier as ‘passive listening’. It is something we are all guilty of.  However, it’s not a good disguise and is often a deterrent for the speaker. 

3.Be curious not critical 

A useful tip I learned in my training was to adapt the mentality of  ‘curious not critical’. This is a useful stance to practice when listening to someone, particularly when you don’t agree with what they’re saying or believe it’s a good idea. Being judgmental is not helpful and can make the person less likely to open up again in the future.

4. Don’t interrupt

Allow the speaker to finish their sentences. Even if they’re meandering and you notice yourself becoming bored; accept that and allow them to complete what they’re saying.

5. Convey what you’ve heard by checking it out

A simple but effective technique is to ‘check out’ with the speaker, what you think they’ve said. Often we get this wrong, but that’s okay! It usually takes the form of a summary followed by a question, for example: ‘Okay, so I just want to check I’ve heard you correctly…(summarise).. Am I right? The speaker will correct you if you’re not right!

6. Identify the needs of the speaker

Often, people need us to listen not only to the narrative of what they are saying, but also the emotional content attached to it. Offering empathy and compassion is key here. Naming that this a difficult process for the speaker can be enough for them to feel heard, valued and understood. 

It can also be useful to consider:

What is this person trying to communicate to me right now? 

What is the purpose of this conversation?

What do they need from me?

Sometimes, we may need to be listened to, to meet a practical need. For example, if I need my partner to fix something on my laptop, I need him to listen to my request with clarity and understanding. The details of my request are important to listen to.

Other times, I need to be listened to so that my emotional needs are met. For example, when I’m feeling sad and I need to discuss it, I need someone to listen to the emotional content of my message. Compassion and empathy are what I require here. Often, this is more important than the details of the narrative. 

Most people will be able to read the emotional climate of a conversation. However, there are times when we miss this. Simply because we are human! That’s when it’s important to ask yourself the questions above and ask yourself ‘Am I in doing mode or being mode right now?’

Final thoughts…

As I say in most of my posts, the steps above are merely a guideline for effective listening. If you would like to become more skilled in active listening, volunteer helplines offer useful training in this area. However, even if this article just makes you start to become slightly more aware of how you listen then that’s a great place to begin and build from!