Four Elements of Successful Communication

I’ve written many times about communicating effectively, including here, here, and here. That’s all useful information which you may want to review.

Now I’d like to take a different tack and talk about four key considerations that will help you improve your ability to communicate effectively, getting your messages across and reaching the agreements you seek.

You can focus on these four elements individually, or you can keep them all in mind at once as you communicate, whichever makes more sense to you. The point is to cover all of this territory as you talk, negotiate, and collaborate with other people.

The net effect of paying attention to these considerations is to help ensure that all parties start on the same page, and from there can more readily move toward mutually compatible objectives.

These four elements of successful communication are:

What You Already Know

This element is centered on facts, actions, results, and plans. The goal is to agree on what actually has happened, is happening, and/or is likely to happen in the future.

For example, a truckload of goods actually reached its destination, or did not. A contract was signed, or was not. A building burned down, or did not. An acquisition will be made, or will not. And so forth.

There may be interpretations of what these facts, actions, results, and plans may mean, or portend. But before you ever get into the quagmire of differing interpretations, it’s extremely helpful to recognize objective conditions in the field, and agree on what they are.

Once the relevant facts, actions, results, and plans are laid out for everyone’s understanding and acceptance, it becomes possible to identify and categorize the information contained therein: the Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why that is verified and incontrovertible.

Itemizing this information in detail allows all the parties to the communication to feel more comfortable in their subsequent talks, negotiations, and collaborations because they are all acknowledging the same reality.

What You’d Like to Know

A second element that improves communication effectiveness is a focus on what remains to be learned or verified. In any pattern of facts, actions, results, and plans, there is often a great deal that is presently uncertain.

While you may not be able to nail down a particular fact, all parties to the communication can agree on what additional details would be valuable and important to determine. This creates a certain unity of mind with regard to the best ways to begin moving forward.

When you’re asking the same questions, all parties to the communication can more easily concentrate their effort and attention on gathering information that will help them determine best choices and next steps.


This element is centered not on objective reality, but on subjective reactions to the reality already agreed upon. Here, it’s not important for everyone to have the same feelings, or to agree on whether particular feelings are justified or appropriate.

Instead, the goal is simply for all parties involved in the communications process to hear and understand the other parties’ feelings, not just their own.

This is important not only because different feelings may create conflict, but also because feelings can subtly cloud and even distort judgments and thought processes. In addition, communications will be more effective when all parties accept that others’ feelings exist, and deserve consideration.


Another focus that boosts the effectiveness of your communications is the perceptions of each party involved.

Since perceptions are another subjective element, it’s not important that all parties to the communication share the same insights and sensitivities. It’s only important that everyone is aware of their own, and recognizes the differences between their own and others’ perceptions.

Too often, people engaged in challenging talks, negotiations, and collaborations focus on driving forward their own points of view, and give short shrift to unseen obstacles that impede clear communications. That’s sometimes unavoidable. But focusing on perceptions tends to ease the way forward by helping all parties to hear, and to feel heard.  

These four elements of communication exist, but are too often ignored or undervalued in your work and your life. By paying sufficient attention to them, you lay the groundwork for heart-to-heart sharing of ideas and information, points of view and value systems, suggestions and possibilities that can build bridges and strengthen ties between the parties. These are nearly always critically important foundations of successful communications.

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