Ever felt frustrated that your message isn't understood? Ever felt nervous about speaking up?

Basic Principles of Effective Communication

Many definitions describe communication as a transfer of information, thoughts or ideas to create shared understanding between a sender and a receiver. The information may be written or spoken, professional or social, personal or impersonal to name a few possibilities. Basically, the communication process involves a sender, receiver, message, channel and feedback. However, this simplistic description significantly under-represents what can actually be a very complex process. Click here for a brief overview of the communication process.

Essential issues to be aware of in any communication situation are:

  • Content refers to the actual words or symbols of the message that are known as language - the spoken and written words combined into phrases that make grammatical sense. Importantly, we all use and interpret the meanings of words differently, so even simple messages can be misunderstood. And many words have different meanings to confuse the issue even more.
  • Process refers to the way the message is delivered - the nonverbal elements in speech such as the tone of voice, the look in the sender’s eyes, body language, hand gestures and state of emotions (anger, fear, uncertainty, confidence, etc.) that can be detected. The non-verbals that we use often cause messages to be misunderstood as we tend to believe what we see more than what we hear. Indeed, we often trust the accuracy of nonverbal behaviors more than verbal behaviors. A well-known UCLA study found that only around 7% of the meaning of spoken communication came from words alone, 55% came from facial expression and 38% came from the way the words were said.
  • Context refers to the situation or environment in which your message is delivered. Important contextual factors that can subtly influence the effectiveness of a message include the physical environment (eg. a patient’s bedside, ward office, quiet room etc.), cultural factors (eg. international cultures, organisational cultures and so on) and developmental factors (eg. first, second or third year student, experience in similar clinical settings, stage of the practicum etc.).

The goal of communication between a sender and a receiver is understanding of the message being sent. Anything that interferes with this can be referred to as ‘noise’. Communication noise can influence our interpretation of messages and significantly affect our perception of interactions with others. Read more about some examples of noise.


Excessive use of complex vocabulary, jargon and/or abbreviations; incorrect pronunciation of words; too much/too little information; unclear messages; speaking too quickly; conflicting information


Lack of eye contact; non-supportive or disinterested facial expressions; lack of/excessive eye contact; inappropriate gestures and/or body posture


Busy, noisy environments; stereotypical assumptions; prejudices; expectations that are implicit rather than explicit; emotional or attitudinal issues which impact on communication

However, there are a number of strategies that can help to help minimise communication noise and maximise communication efficiency. Read more about these strategies.


  • create a climate of trust and confidence
  • express ideas clearly and concisely
  • be explicit about expectations
  • strive for a balance between too much/too little information
  • be aware of the non-verbal elements of your message - remember that people tend to believe what they see more than they hear
  • give the receiver time to process your message


  • pay attention to what is being communicated
  • clarify anything you are unsure about
  • confirm your understanding of the message
  • be aware of your non-verbal behaviours - remember that people tend to believe what they see more than they hear

Developing competence in communication, particularly in the professional context, requires ongoing practice and reflection on practice. Watch these Videos for practical suggestions from students and staff for enhancing communication in the workplace. While you’re watching the videos, think about your own communication skills and what you can learn from the information in this section that will help you communicate even more effectively.