Some lessons in life come from unexpected sources. My most recent lesson on the basic requirements for effective communication came from two 5-year olds, a tiger and a lobster.

Let me explain.

Recently, my 5-year old was telling me about his day at school. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “What was the best part of today?”

5-year old: “The calm corner”

Me: “What’s the calm corner?”

5-year old: “It’s where we solve problems”

Me: “Did you have a problem you needed to solve?”

5-year old: “My friend Joe (not his real name!) threw a block at me and I told him to stop and he didn’t so the teacher told us to go to the calm corner. That’s where Talking Tiger and Listening Lobster live.”


I’m definitely curious at this point. So I probe further!


Me: “Then what happened?”

5-year old: “When I was talking tiger, I told Joe I didn’t like him throwing his blocks at me and to stop. When I was listening lobster, he told me that he didn’t want to stop”

Me: “How did that make you feel?”

5-year old: (shrugs shoulders….) “It was fine, we just wanted to go back to playing so we did!”


Not exactly earth-shattering problem solving through profound listening and learning!  

However, I did take note of what did happen. Both communicated their perspective. Both listened to each other. By each taking a turn talking and listening, it freed them up to move on and get back to what they did best: Playing! 

It was a disruption in their pattern. Forced to pause, they listen to each other. They didn’t need to agree on one perspective, they just needed to share and listen. 

Why can’t we make it that easy in our adult lives? 

What if all it took was to step out of our pattern of behavior, acknowledge that there might be a different perspective on an issue, and learn to move forward with that knowledge?

Often, we make our interpersonal conflicts so complicated that we can’t see a way out. What if it were as easy as just two basic requirements for effective communication?

Resolving disagreements and bridging the gap between opposing perspectives can literally be as easy as listening and talking. But, not at the same time of course.

Here are tips for mastering effective communication through the two basic requirements: listening and talking. (For a step by step guide to this process, click here for a free guide)


Tips to Really Listen:

Tip #1: Set an Intention for listening 

Setting an intention for listening will help you focus to ensure you truly understand what the other person is saying. Follow through on this intention and you will find that you are not distracted by thinking about your response while the other person is talking!

An excellent intention for listening is to listen with the purpose of learning, understanding or connecting.  To explain this further, in Alan Alda’s book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, he describes the importance of listening to get your mind changed. 

What if we enter every conversation with the intention of changing our minds? Naturally, it would certainly change our approach.


Tip #2: Listen to the words and to what is not being said 

If we are in a heated dialogue, there is likely a fear driving unproductive conversation. So, train yourself to notice the fear behind what is not being said to really get to the heart of the disagreement. By doing this, you can acknowledge your own fear and connect on a deeper level. 


Tip #3: Get curious

We must consistently test our own assumptions. If there is something that your colleague is saying that you don’t agree with, replace defensiveness or dismissal with curiosity. This is the best way to ensure you really hear your colleague and clear are in their intentions and perspective. Therefore, you can ask things like: “I’m hearing you say X, am I understanding that correctly? Can you help me understand how you came to this conclusion?”

Implementing the above tips is only half of the equation. What about the opposite end of the effective communication requirement? 

How do you speak so that your message can be heard, especially if it is a heated conversation? 


Tips to communicate so your message can be heard: 

Tip #4 Go In, before you Go Out

Before you say a word, examine your internal dialogue. Think about your version of the situation and what feelings it is bringing up for you. Lastly, think about your personal contribution to any outcome, good or bad. Did you help create an unpleasant situation through some behavior or even a judgment? 

We need to clear our biases and assumptions before we can speak clearly and authentically. 


Tip #5: Step into the shoes of the other person before you have the conversation. 

Take a guess at your colleague’s version of the situation and what they might be feeling. Also, take a guess at what their personal contribution might be. Walkthrough the same internal inquiry as defined above from your colleague’s perspective. This will allow you to get into an empathetic state of mind before any exchange happens. (Here is a guide to help you do that).


Tip #6: Begin with the possibility before you state a problem. 

So often we focus on the negative behaviors of others, pointing them out whenever we witness them. What we really need to be doing is the opposite. Point out the positive behaviors and the possibility for a better future within the interpersonal dynamic.  

By doing so we reinforce what we want and not what we don’t want!


Try implementing these tips and let me know how it goes! And remember: Change is easiest when people feel heard and understood. Most resistance stems from the innate fear of being overlooked and undervalued. 

By implementing the basic requirements of effective communication, really listening and talking so your message can be heard, we can ease our experience with conflict and change. 


What if you had an easy-to-follow checklist to help you overcome the three most common leadership challenges? Simply put in your name and email below and I will deliver the free checklist to your inbox! (p.s. I will never share your email, no one likes spam including me.)

leadership checklist

Carrie Koh is an Interpersonal Efficiency Leadership coach, consultant, and former healthcare administrator with a passion for enhancing the way we connect to one another in healthcare to ensure efficient and innovative results and greater fulfillment along the way. She would love to connect at

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