Principles of Effective Communication for Business and Personal Success

by Scott Jeffrey

OVERVIEW: We don’t learn the principles of effective communication by accident. Living by these principles takes conscious effort, but they are a defining characteristic of people who achieve long-term success in business and personal relationships.


Human interactions are complicated. We each have different temperaments, opinions, limitations, beliefs, worldviews, and childhood conditioning.

If you consider it, it’s amazing two or more people can communicate at all.

And the truth is we rarely do communicate well at work or home.

We can mitigate most interpersonal conflicts by applying self-awareness to our style of communication.

Let’s see what how this works …

How to Approach Effective Communication

I don’t think he actually said this, but Plato is often quoted saying:

Be kind. Everyone you meet is fightin a difficult battle.

Regardless of the quote’s origins, if you keep this principle in mind, you’ll massively improve your communication skills.

Start by looking within yourself. Take note of all your internal tensions, angsts, grievances, and frustrations. We often try to shut these feelings out, but that’s part of why most people are poor communicators.

You don’t need to sit with these darker feelings, but if you know them inside of you, you’ll immediately better understand others. Why? Because we all have this stuff.

Those who truly master the principles of effective communication are intimate with their shadows. By knowing darker parts of themselves, and learning to self-regulate these thoughts and feelings, they are more adept at communicating with others.

How to Be Gracious

The next principle of effective communication is graciousness.

The fastest way to achieve graciousness is highlighted above: remember that the person you’re communicating with has inner tensions just like you.

They experience negative emotions like fear, anger, and guilt just like you. They have uncertainty about the future just like you.

Life is often challenging. Most of us have inner and outer turmoil. We can call it the human dilemma.

So if you want to be a person of influence and an effective communicator, focus on others instead of yourself.

Is it easy? Not usually, but you can train yourself to be more gracious. Then your relationships transform.

Principles of Effective Communication from Carnegie

Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People provides many principles to help you communicate by focusing on others instead of yourself.

Here are principles of effective communication inspired by Carnegie:

Begin in a friendly way.

Whenever possible, start your conversations with praise and honest communication. Smile. A genuine smile helps people relax. (It will elevate your mood too.)

Be inviting and open instead of serious and demanding. To accomplish this, we must first be friendly toward ourselves.

I’m not talking about feeling pride in our achievements. Instead, to be kind toward yourself means accepting yourself as you are (including your “lesser” qualities).

Give honest and sincere appreciation.

How often do you offer genuine appreciation to your colleagues versus the times you criticize and condemn them (even if you don’t say it out loud)?

It takes training to show appreciation. Research reveals that our brains have a bias towards negativity.1Negativity bias correlations It reacts more strongly to negative stimuli than it does to positive stimuli. We tend to look at what’s wrong with people, ideas, and situations.

Appreciation requires that we cultivate gratitude instead of criticism.

Keep a gratitude journal for the next month. It can make a measurable increase in your overall level of happiness.2Harvard Health And it will also help you to focus on what you can appreciate about others.

Become genuinely interested in others.

Interest starts with curiosity. If we’re all self-interested, how can you be curious about others? Realize that everyone you meet is a reflection of yourself. We are mirrors for each other.

Learn to ask thoughtful questions that will show you interest in others. Conversations often stay on the surface. How’s it going? What do you do?

Instead, go deeper. For example, ask people what’s most important to them? This question underlies a person’s core values.

Ask them what they to create in the future. Discussing a person’s vision shows you’re interested in them.

I remember the first time I spoke with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He posed the question, “What are you passionate about?”

Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.

Operate by this principle: you gain more influence by raising people up rather climbing over their backs. World class CEOs are masters at this.

Jim Collins’ research on what he calls Level 5 Leaders reveals that humility is one of the two defining qualities of outperforming leaders (personal will is the other).

Because these leaders have humility, they don’t need to elevate themselves. Instead, they invest in their people and guide them to become the best versions of themselves.

Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement.

Acknowledging improvement at the moment is also one of the principles of effective feedback.

Masterful coaches in athletics, music, and every other field are skilled at building on small improvements. By bringing these improvements to a person’s awareness, you elevate them and help them build positive momentum.

It’s easy to see what’s wrong—everybody can do that. We all have a well-developed Devil’s Advocate and inner critic.

A skilled communicator, however, seeks out the bright spots in a person’s behaviors and abilities. They aren’t blindly optimistic, but they understand positive change comes from highlighting the positive.

Talk about the other person’s interests.

This principle is related to the one above. If you want to communicate effectively, talk about what’s in it for the recipient.

Remember, everyone is self-interested. Your job isn’t to change this, but to use it to your advantage in gaining influence in a benign, supportive way.

Becoming a Compassionate Communicator

Compassionate communicators care. They care about what you’re saying; they care about who you are; they care about what they are saying to you.

I know, it’s not sexy. And we could say it’s hardly a secret, except that few people seem to truly understand this compassion principle.

Readers of Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People are introduced to over thirty principles on how to be a better communicator, but almost every principle points to having compassion for the other person:

  • Try honestly to see things from the other person’s viewpoint.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Use encouragement. Make the fault easy to correct.
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  • Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  • Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  • Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  • Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  • Smile.

Do you see the pattern here? All of Carnegie’s suggestions point to one main idea: concern about the other person.

Because our egos so easily get enraptured in their own concerns, we need constant reminders of the value of holding compassion for others.

If you care about another person, often times, the Five Levels of Communication take care of themselves as that person intuits your intention and willingness to serve.

Practicing the Principles of Effective Communication Develops Skill

None of these principles are mind-blowing or radically new.

But they are rarely practiced consistently. It takes skill to live by these principles of effective communication.

The more attention you give this area of development, the more your communication will flourish.

Reading List

How To Win Friends and Influence People
by Dale Carnegie
Print | Kindle | Audio

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
by Kerry Patterson, et al.
Paperback | Kindle | Audio

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