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Collaborative problem solving for community safety
Collaborative problem solving for community safety

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1.1 Communication skills

You looked at Neil Thompson’s work on learning from experience in Week 1. Here he points out that it is not just what people say that counts; it is how people say it too. Maybe you noted this in your examples?

So, if someone seems to talk rather quickly, this may be because they are excited, angry or worried. If someone speaks slowly, this may be because they are tired. Or it may indicate a lack of confidence in what they have to say. Similar comments may be made about the pitch of a voice. Neil Thompson suggests that:

flat, unmodulated pitch can reflect a depressed mood, while high or fluctuating pitch can signal … anger, fear or excitement.

(Thompson, 1996, pp. 83–84)

Thompson suggests that quiet speech can indicate a lack of confidence, fear or anxiety, whereas loud speech can suggest aggression or a lack of sensitivity. Loud speech may also be used by someone who is fearful or anxious, so we have to be careful not to make assumptions.

Body language, the non-verbal communication everyone makes through expressions, posture and movement, can be simple, but once you start thinking about it, you realise how complex it can be. For example, how much eye contact should we make? Too much direct eye contact can be seen as challenging or threatening and too little eye contact can be interpreted as indicating untrustworthiness. It is important to note that these interpretations can vary from one culture to another, as some see it as polite to avoid eye contact as much as possible.

One Open University student, Karen, reflected the following about her developing communication skills:

An important aspect of developing your communication skills then is conveying what you say in a manner appropriate to the circumstances. This may mean quickening or slowing your speech, projecting or calming your voice, and using gesture and body language appropriately. This will help you gain the confidence of the listener in what you say.