Communication skills

Listening and questioning skills are important components of effective interpersonal communication.

Active listening skills – there are concrete indicators for active listening:

    *concentration on the topic of conversation
    *appropriate selection of main points (useful and non-useful information)
    * understanding of information
    *demonstration of interest, verbal and non-verbal reactions.

To improve learners concentration, you might advise them to:

    *concentrate on one thing at a time
    *work out exactly what they want to know – write it down in the form of questions
    *make their own notes
    *make time to go back and remind themselves of things that they have already learned
    *have a break – their subconscious mind will carry on sorting out what they have been concentrating on

The next step could be to ask learners to plan some activities for improving their listening and questioning skills.

Questioning skills

Questioning skills are important for good communication. However, many people (including learners) prefer not to ask questions or answer them (e.g. because of shyness or previous bad experience). So the first task for you as an adult educator is to motivate your learners to be more active in participating in discussions.

For effective communication we need to know the purposes of questioning (Why are we asking?), types of question for each situation and ways of questioning.

Usually people question to:

    *obtain, explore, probe and clarify information, opinions and proposals
    *encourage someone to talk
    *obtain reactions to concrete ideas
    *check accuracy or facts or agreement
    * identify problems, needs, and expectations
    *seek for solutions to the problems
    *test for understanding

If the purpose is to be achieved we need to use the appropriate type of question at an appropriate time and in a suitable sequence. There are different types of question:

    Open – they don’t suggest only one true answer (What do you think about x?, etc.)
    Closed – they suggest giving one of several listed answers, or simply “Yes” or “No”. (“Is every thing OK?”, etc.)
    Probing – they are open in nature, but are aimed to seek more information, to go deeper, to explore or clarify opinion (“Tell me more about why you think that..?”)
    Hypothetical – they are used for testing imagination, seeking solutions to problems and looking for agreement (” If you had your time again what would you do?”)

There are also the following types of questions which are not appropriate to a learning situation:

    Leading – they ‘lead’ the recipient into a particular answer – truthful or not (“Your health is good, isn’t it? Do you think I am right?”)
    Vague – they suppose multiple or additional precise answers (“Tell me all about computers”; “What do you think about life?”, etc.)
    Multiple – they are very long (in fact they contain more than one question), confused and difficult to remember and understand (“Tell me why it happened, what you did, what you are going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again and why didn’t you stop it anyway?”)
    Demeaning – they demean any answer and usually lead to feelings of bitterness and resentment (“Don’t you think it was unnecessary to ask that question?”)

When you are working with your learners on questioning skills it is useful to keep in mind the following recommendations for questioning and responding:

    *ensure that learners feel comfortable in a questioning environment
    *where possible use open questions, aimed at a higher level of thinking
    *use prompting questions to respond to silence or incorrect responses
    *do not use sarcastic or hostile responses with learners
    * give positive and supportive feedback

Negotiating skills and assertiveness

There are different approaches to negotiating

    *separating people from the problem(s)
    *focusing on interests, not on positions
    * thinking of options before making decisions
    *agreeing criteria against which to judge outcomes

When you are working on these approaches you could give the learners exercises (one for every approach), asking them to describe a real problem (of each group) and to discuss in the group how they would behave in each situation.

People could react in different situations in passive, aggressive, manipulative and assertive way. Explain to your learners that:

    *if they are passive others may feel powerful or frustrated
    *if they are aggressive others may feel angry or intimidated
    *if they are manipulative others may feel powerless or taken advantage of
    * if they are assertive others know where they stand and feel respected; it encourages them to be assertive

Assertive behaviour presupposes a clear understanding of what is permitted and what is not. It gives an opportunity to look for alternative decisions. Additionally people have to develop assertiveness techniques. You can organise with your learners an exercise, using the next record sheet.

Assertiveness techniques


After this exercise you can have a discussion with your learners about the level of their assertiveness. The result of the discussion could be planning measures for assertiveness improvement.

Nonverbal communication skills (body language)

There are two aspects of nonverbal communication:

    * to understand the messages given by body language
    *to be aware of your body language and the message it is communicating

To work effectively on nonverbal communication skills you have to teach your learners to distinguish body language indicators. Work by using interactive methods – role plays, case-study, simulations, ‘picture reading’, animations, etc. You can use connection tests as well.

Connection test
Please connect each indicator to the appropriate behavior reaction by using arrow.


Ask learners to comment on the final result of their work and to compare to correct answers.

Possible correct answers

    *Anxiety – clearing throat, licking lips, opening and closing hands, fidgeting, foot tapping
    *Defensive – swiveling towards the door, crossing arms or legs, leaning away, rubbing of eye or nose, avoiding eye contact
    *Confidence – keeping hands away from face, leaning back slightly, still, positive eye contact
    *Friendship and readiness for cooperation – openness of hands, body posture, nodding head, eye contact, smiling, moving closer
    *Overbearing (authoritarian) – finger wagging or pointing, standing while the other sits, staring, leaning too far forward

Mutual understanding as a result of effective communication

To reach mutual understanding in a study situation you have to have a good level of personal communication skills and to teach your learners about such skills. You have to have the right conditions for mutual understanding, that means:

    *to be ‘open minded’
    *to pay attention to language expressions
    *to allow time for communication
    * to use suitable tone
    * to be concise
    *to care about learners
    *to listen when the others are speaking and to observe them

For the purposes of learner motivation you have to show you are listening by:

    *asking additional questions
    *giving an opinion
    *using supportive language
    *repeating key words and phrases
    *summarizing what has been said
    *keeping an appropriate facial expression
    *maintaining eye contact
    *leaning forward
    *keeping an open pose

Inappropriate body language could include:

    *looking bored
    * looking at your watch
    * turning towards the door
    *staring out of the window or ‘”through’ the speaker to the ceiling or to the floor

Remember that your personal communication style can be a model for your learners in their efforts to develop their own communication skills.