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Webucator's Free Working with Difficult People Tutorial

Lesson: Communication

Welcome to our free Working with Difficult People tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Working with Difficult People course.

In this lesson, you will learn about the different forms of communication.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn about the communication loop.
  • Learn about different forms of communication.
  • Learn how to give constructive feedback.
  • Learn to use feedback and communication tools.

The Communication Loop

There are six components of communication that we will review.

  1. The sender.
  2. The receiver.
  3. The message.
  4. Feedback.
  5. Noise.
  6. Filters.

The Sender

The sender is the originator of the message.

The Receiver

The receiver is the person intended to receive the message.

The Message

The message is the information that the sender wants to give to the receiver. Messages relay information. If the information does not get delivered appropriately, it is simply meaningless data. All messages should be meaningful.

The intent of the message is to do one of three things:

  1. Inform.
  2. Persuade.
  3. Entertain.

Good communication is important even in entertaining messages. After all, little is worse than telling a joke and having someone take it seriously.


Feedback tells the original sender:

  1. The message was received.
  2. The message was received correctly.

Feedback can range from a grunt or an "OK" to a full paraphrasing of what was received.

Communication requires a complete loop, including feedback, unless the message is a broadcast intended to simply distribute information. In good communication, the message-feedback loop is repeated until both participants are satisfied that communication has taken place.


Noise, as it relates to communication, is not exclusive to sound. There are many kinds of noise, including:

  1. Projects.
  2. Children.
  3. Work.
  4. TV.
  5. Daily activities.
  6. Distractions.
  7. Lack of interest.
  8. Any other external disturbance that may interfere with accurate delivery of the message.

In most situations, there will be noise. It is both the sender's and receiver's responsibility to be aware of the noise in their environment and to do what is necessary to overcome that noise. This may mean:

  1. Moving into another room.
  2. Turning off or turning down the TV or music.
  3. Pausing a project.
  4. Speaking louder.
  5. Focusing the attention on the conversation and speaker.


Filters modify the formation of the message and distort the reception of the message. Filters include:

  1. Personal biases.
  2. Traditions.
  3. Values.
  4. Preferences.
  5. Self-centeredness.
  6. Denial.
  7. Negative emotions.
  8. Defensiveness.
  9. Selective hearing.
  10. Other feelings, attitudes, and beliefs.

Filters are not all bad. Filters are what help us discern between right and wrong, and are a part of our evaluation process that we build through experiences and education. The key to good communication is to understand filters and manage our own filters intentionally.

The best communication takes place when both parties listen and speak intentionally, but even if one person takes the lead, the exchange improves tremendously. A wise communicator will:

  1. Be aware of his or her personal biases.
  2. Consider how his or her values and preferences affect the delivery or interpretation of a message.
  3. Control the emotional impact and defensiveness triggered by filters.
  4. Respect the other person's perspective, whether or not he or she agrees with it.

The Communication Loop

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about the communication loop.

  1. List the six components of communication.

  2. Match the following:
    1. Terms
      1. Feedback
      2. Filters
      3. Noise
      4. Message
    2. Definitions
      1. Distracts, and may cause messages to be received incorrectly.
      2. Informs, persuades, or entertains.
      3. Modifies the way messages are delivered or interpreted.
      4. Tells the sender a message has been received correctly.



  1. The six components of communication are:
    1. The sender
    2. The receiver
    3. The message
    4. Feedback
    5. Noise
    6. Filters

  2. The following are the correct matches of terms and definitions:
    1. i. Feedback and iv. Tells the sender a message has been received correctly.
    2. ii. Filters and iii. Modifies the way messages are delivered or interpreted.
    3. iii. Noise and i. Distracts, and may cause messages to be received incorrectly.
    4. iv. Message and ii. Informs, persuades, or entertains.

Personal Application for the Communication Loop

Duration: 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will consider the following questions.

  1. Consider a recent situation in which you experienced poor communication.
    1. What was the environment? Was there noise? Did the sender or receiver have filters that blocked the communication? Was the message clearly stated and was feedback given?
    2. List all the factors that contributed to that poor communication.
    3. Write down what you will do to help improve the communication process the next time a situation like that presents itself.
  2. What new habits can you develop to improve the way you respond to words that trigger your emotions?


  1. What is important for this question is that you apply what you've learned to fully consider the situation you choose. Poor communication may be caused by several factors. Think through how it can be prevented or fixed in future.
  2. For example, you may want to make a new habit of reminding yourself that others also have personal biases and that those can explain others' behaviors as well as your own. By understanding why something is happening you're in a better position to handle it effectively.

Different Forms of Communication

There are many ways to communicate, the majority of which do not involve words. According to Mele Koneya and Alton Barbour, authors of Louder than Words: Nonverbal Communication (Interpersonal Communication series. Columbus, OH: Merrill), oral communication is:

  1. 7 percent words.
  2. 38 percent intonation.
  3. 55 percent physical movements.

Because written language does not include intonation or body language, it becomes all the more important to express one's self carefully.

The following are various forms of communication and how they present themselves.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is the choice of words being used, whether written or oral. Verbal communication is affected by:

  1. Poor language skills.
  2. Poor writing skills.
  3. The arrangement of words.
  4. Pronunciation.

Voice Intonation

Voice intonation is a form of nonverbal communication that affects how we present our words. It includes:

  1. Speed
  2. Volume
  3. Rhythm
  4. Inflection
  5. Emphasis

The inflection is the pitch of the voice. Inflection tells a listener whether the person is making a statement or posing a question. It also communicates urgency. Notice how the inflection in the following sentences is distinctly different:

  1. "You're going to the mall?"
  2. "You're going to the mall!"

Emphasis is used to communicate the most important part of the sentence. Read the following sentences, placing the emphasis on a different word each time, and notice how the message changes:

  1. I cut my finger and it hurt!
  2. I cut my finger and it hurt!
  3. I cut my finger and it hurt!
  4. I cut my finger and it hurt!

Facial Expression

Facial expressions are the strongest form of physical nonverbal communication because listeners are usually looking at the speaker's face. Facial expressions include, but are not limited to:

  1. Eye contact.
  2. Directing the eyes up, down, or to the side.
  3. Raising and lowering eyebrows.
  4. Smiling or frowning.
  5. Shaking or nodding the head.
  6. Tipping the head up or to the side.
  7. Tensing or relaxing facial muscles.

Physical Stance and Movement

Physical stance is the position a person is in when they are talking to another person. It often communicates emotional status."

For example, when a person desires distance from the other person, he or she will:

  1. Cross arms.
  2. Cross legs.
  3. Lean backward.
  4. Stand further away from the other person.
  5. Check his or her watch often.

When a person is feeling threatened or angry, he or she is likely to:

  1. Clench fists.
  2. Raise shoulders.
  3. Put his or her hands on hips.
  4. Breathe heavily.

A person who wants more intimacy with another will:

  1. Lean forward.
  2. Touch the other person.
  3. Sit or stand close to the other person.

Culture and Physical Behavior

Cultural norms will confuse nonverbal communications. For example:

  1. People from some cultures stand closer together or father apart than in Western cultures.
  2. Physical touch is expected in some cultures, and considered taboo in others.

To the best of one's ability, one should always consider the other person's cultural background before making assumptions about their communication.

Different Forms of Communication

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about the different forms of communication.

  1. If a person is scowling and clenching fists, he or she probably is:
    1. Happy
    2. Afraid
    3. Angry
    4. Depressed
    5. Tired

  2. If a person is smiling and standing close to another person and touching the other person's shoulder, he or she probably is:
    1. Confused about the other person's words.
    2. Familiar with the other person.
    3. Trying to get a raise.
    4. Trying to be distant from the other person.

  3. A person is probably sorrowful if you see him or her:
    1. Look down.
    2. Raise his or her voice.
    3. Squint his or her eyes at another person.
    4. Cross his or her arms.
    5. Drop his or her shoulders.
    6. Sigh.



  1. C. Angry

  2. B. Familiar with the other person.

  3. A. Look down, E. Drop his or her shoulders, and F. Sigh.

Personal Application for Different Forms of Communication

Duration: 15 minutes.

For this exercise, please do the following:

  1. Do a web search for "body language" and select three different images.
    1. What positions are the people in?
    2. What are they communicating with those positions?

  2. Do a web search for "Facial language" and select three different images.
    1. Specifically, what facial positions do you see and what messages do they send?


  1. Use what you have learned to determine from the images you select what the people in the images are communicating by the physical positions they are in. For example, is the person's fists clenched? If so, he or she may be angry.
  2. For example, is the person smiling or frowning? Tippng his or her head up or to the side, etc? Some facial expressions are easier to translate than others.

Constructive Feedback

Unless a message is a broadcast to distribute information or sent for entertainment purposes, one should always provide feedback to let the sender know that the message was received and the message was understood. Feedback may be:

  1. A simple, "Okay."
  2. A request for more information.
  3. An answer to the initial message.
  4. A rephrasing of the message.
  5. A summary of the conversation.

Restating the Message

When a sender is explaining something to the receiver and there could be doubt whether the message was received clearly, it can help if the receiver parrots (repeats) or paraphrases (rephrases) what the sender said. The sender can then acknowledge that the message was received correctly or restate the message to make it clearer.

Offering Criticism

When giving an opinion on the value or quality of something, a message can sometimes be received as hurtful.

For example, when a supervisor is commenting on the need for an employee to improve an area of his or her work, the employee may become defensive or offended by the statement.

To prevent this, use the sandwich approach to "sandwich" constructive criticism between two compliments. In this technique, the sender will:

  1. Give a compliment.
  2. State the criticism.
  3. Offer another compliment.

Using the sandwich approach, the supervisor may say, "I appreciate your attention to detail and the quality of your work. I would like to you get the work done in a more timely manner, though, so please submit the report by its due date tomorrow at noon. I know you've done a lot of research, so I'm really looking forward to reading your insightful report!"

This is likely to be more easily accepted than if the supervisor said, "You're always late with your work. You need to get tomorrow's report done on time."

Using 'I' statements keeps the criticism from being focused directly on a person. In the previous message, we can see how the use of the words, "you" and "I" made a difference in the presentation.

Communicating Goals

The goal of critiquing is not to demean someone's work, but to present the issue and offer support and ideas for improvement. For this reason, it is very helpful to illustrate what the expected outcomes are.

This may be in the form of:

  1. A diagram.
  2. An example.
  3. A defined objective.

Objectives should always be clearly stated, and include:

  1. Specific expectations.
  2. A timeline.
  3. Measurements.

Making something measurable provides the recipients with an understanding of the goal for which they are striving.

Constructive Feedback

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about constructive feedback.

  1. Which of the following is false:
    1. Parroting tells the speaker the words that were heard.
    2. Paraphrasing tells the speaker the words were understood.
    3. Parroting is better than paraphrasing.
    4. A person can parrot a speaker but not understand the original message.

  2. If an employee is not getting work done on time, which of the following sentences would be received the best and give the best constructive criticism?
    1. What's wrong with you?
    2. You do great work. Would it be possible to meet the deadlines? I know can do it.
    3. You do great work. What do you need to help you meet the deadlines? I know you want to.
    4. You're too slow.



  1. C. "Parroting is better than Paraphrasing." is false.

  2. C. You do great work. What do you need to help you meet the deadlines? I know you want to.

Personal Application for Constructive Feedback

Duration: 20 minutes.

In this exercise, consider the following questions.

  1. Do a web search for S.M.A.R.T. goals/objectives.
    1. What does each of the acronyms mean?
    2. Write a SMART objective for an employee, a co-worker, or for for yourself in a way that will be well received.


  1. In your search, you should have found that SMART means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
  2. Answers will vary but your objectives should answer the criteria associated with SMART goals. For example, is your objective specific, is it realistic, is it timely, etc.?

Feedback and Communication Tools

A few feedback techniques were discussed in the last section. These included 'I' statements, paraphrasing and parroting. We will now look at some more skills and tools that can be used to improve communication.


Good communicators will take time to understand other people's perspectives and hear the people when they are speaking. A good communicator knows communication done right the first time saves a lot of time in the long run, even if it takes more time initially.

People with little patience will:

  1. Be more concerned with their own words and ideas than the other person's.
  2. Stifle two-way communication.


The value of listening cannot be underestimated. When we listen, we put ourselves into the receiver's position, rather than the sender's. We allow the speaker to state what is on his or her mind, and we take responsibility for giving feedback.

Active listening is the process of listening and responding with paraphrases and questions that ensure that the message from the speaker is being received.

Some active listening traits include:

  1. Observing body language.
  2. Observe feelings.
  3. Listening for intent.
  4. Paraphrasing.
  5. Presenting an attitude of cooperation and collaboration.

Avoiding Assumptions

Assumptions are very dangerous. An assumption is something taken for granted, and has the end effect of one person trying to read the mind of another person.

A sender should be cautious about assuming the receiver understood the message as intended. The receiver should seek clarification if there is any doubt about what was received.

Phrasing and Rephrasing

A communicator who confuses sentence structure when speaking confuses the listener. Every language has its own structure, and people are conditioned to follow that structure when they are listening.

Good communicators will:

  1. Begin with an introduction.
  2. Include background information as necessary.
  3. Progress through the body of the message, either chronologically or procedurally.
  4. End their statement with a conclusion or request.

For example, a good communicator might construct his or her communication with a co-worker as follows:

  1. Jerry, I'd like to talk to you about the Baker project. (Introduction)
  2. We are having issues with the outcomes, so we looked into the specs and found some incongruities. (Background information)
  3. We would like to meet with your team to work out the kinks and put a plan in place to close the gaps to prevent future issues. (Body)
  4. Can you give me a day and time when we can set a meeting to address this issue? (Request)

If we are not sure the another person received our statement correctly, we should ask them to paraphrase it.

We have all heard parents ask their children, "What did I just say?" When we hear this, we know the parent is checking to make certain the child really heard what was said.

In the same way we can ask other people to paraphrase us. We can ask, "I hope what I said made sense. Do you mind rephrasing what I just said so that I know that I communicated correctly? (Notice the use of I statements, and the explanation for wanting the reiteration.)

If they did not get the concept we intended to communicate, do not repeat the sentence verbatim. Instead, say the same thing using different words. There might be something in the way we structured our original sentence or in the way they are receiving it that is not working. By rephrasing the sentence, we give the same information but in a way that they will understand.

Visual Aids

A picture is worth 1000 words. We have heard this said many times before, and it is very true. Some people are verbal learners and can form a visual image in their mind from spoken or written words. Others are visual learners who do better with a visual model.

Visual aids may include:

  1. Diagrams.
  2. Charts.
  3. Outlines.
  4. Models.
  5. Pictures.
  6. Examples.

When communicating important information, you may if appropriate and possible want to include a visual aid to communicate your point more effectively. If, for example, your boss is sharing how much higher sales numbers are this quarter, he or she may want to include a simple chart showing the dramatic difference. A simple graph can easily communicate the information more quickly than writing it out in sentences. Similarly, when you look at a picture or a chart or a diagram or other visual aid, it may take you several sentences to describe the information in the visual aid and/or convey the same message.

Feedback and Communication Tools

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about constructive feedback.

  1. Which of the following rephrases this sentence best: "The complicated process needs to be changed, but to change it we need to go through the proper process."
    1. The process is complicated and needs to be changed.
    2. There's a process for processes.
    3. We have to go through the proper channels to make the needed changes to the process.
    4. There is a proper process to change processes.

  2. Observing body language and listening for intent are two characteristics of:
    1. Active listening
    2. Rephrasing
    3. Patience
    4. The Communication loop



  1. C . We have to go through the proper channels to make the needed changes to the process.

  2. A. Active listening

Personal Application for Feedback and Communication Tools

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will...

  1. Look at a picture on the wall, in a book, or just look out the window.
    1. Describe the image that you see. Pay attention to how many words you are using.


  1. The idea here is that no matter the image you choose to look at it you will likely find it takes several sentences to convey the message of what you are seeing. For example, if you looked out your window and saw a building across the street, you may want to describe what the building looks like. Is it a home or a commercial building? Are there any signs conveying additional messages? Even if you chose to look at a simple picture of a flower for example, it may take a long description to describe the colors, the shape, the lighting, etc. that you see in the picture.