5 Signs of a Good Communication Partner

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There is a famous line from the 1967 cult classic film “Cool Hand Luke” that is perhaps more famous than the film itself. The line goes, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” It’s spoken by the prison warden character as part of a tough-talk speech delivered to people who don’t appreciate the violent circumstances within the film. The line has been paraphrased and parodied in subsequent films and TV shows, even by the same actor, for decades.

Nobody really has to explain why communication breakdowns are bad. Even pop-culture understands that when communication is broken, then everything else goes along with it. What we can do is focus on the things that promote communication in order to become better communication partners.

1) Being present in the interaction. It is not reasonable to expect a language learner to engage in communication if we ourselves are unengaged in our interactions. Distracted or broken speech on the communication partner’s part is going to add difficulty to the entire exchange. Not every obstacle can be eliminated, but we can mitigate many of them, such as multitasking, in order to provide the simple support of merely being fully engaged and present.

2) Active listening. Many disciplines and fields of study emphasize active listening. This not only makes it a fairly well-known and commonly understood term, but underscores its essential part in being a good communication partner. Simply put, we need to be keenly observing every verbal and nonverbal cue given by the language learner and factoring them into our responses. “Autopilot” responses are a no-go from the get-go.

3) Reading nonverbal communication. While this dove-tails with the previous point somewhat, its importance cannot be overstated. Remember that not all body language will accompany speech. This means nonverbal communication can be recognized before any verbal interaction begins and may be continued to be recognized after verbal speech ends. The good communication partner will be situationally aware at all times.

4) Summarizing and restating. This is another cousin to active listening, but it deserves separate consideration because summarizing and restating is not always just for the language learner’s direct benefit. Being a good communication partner requires verification of our own understanding before going forward in a conversation rather than just assuming a possible meaning.

5) Giving Feedback. Correction is one thing, but feedback is another. Feedback may be provided even if no correction is needed. There may be a better way to phrase something even if syntax is correct. There may be a more accurate word choice with better connotations than the one chosen. It may simply be that the language learner deserves praise for a solid attempt. No matter what form the feedback takes, it is nevertheless a necessary function of a good communication partner.

By keeping in mind these points, we can model language use, promote language development, and help prevent failures to communicate. That’s what being a good communication partner is all about. If you have any other points or suggestions, feel free to contact us!

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