clear verbal communication

(A similar topic is discussed in French in the article Communication claire : parler pour être compris.)

No matter your audience, your message must be clear.

For verbal communication, keep the following points in mind:

Listen actively

Give the speaker your undivided attention.

  • Make eye contact and lean toward the speaker to show that you are interested in what he or she is saying.
  • Avoid looking at your agenda or watch, and don’t doodle.
  • Pay attention to body language.
  • Take notes if necessary.

Be patient and listen attentively.

  • Don’t interrupt or answer too quickly.
  • Be aware that people who have low literacy skills or who are unfamiliar with administrative language may have trouble telling you exactly what they want.

Help the speaker organize his or her thoughts.

  • Ask open-ended questions (they generally start with who, what, when, where, why or how).
  • Paraphrase the speaker’s answers to show that you are listening and can provide the information he or she needs.

Check that you have understood what the speaker wants.

  • Paraphrase the speaker’s questions (e.g. “If I understand correctly, you want to know why your application was denied.”).

Communicate clearly

Don’t use jargon or in-house vocabulary.

  • Use familiar, concrete words (e.g. “person who receives money” instead of “claimant”).
  • Avoid unfamiliar acronyms.
  • Use comparisons to explain complex ideas. For example, say “A registered education savings plan is like a savings account to help pay for your child’s education after high school.”

Be professional, polite and non-judgmental.

  • Use a friendly tone.
  • Pronounce your words clearly.
  • Speak slowly at a steady pace of 140 to 160 words per minute. Adjust your speed if necessary; a person who speaks slowly likely expects to be spoken to at a similar pace.
  • Don’t use inappropriate or condescending language.

Check for understanding and recap the information

Check if the listener has understood.

  • Avoid questions like “Do you understand?” People with low literacy tend to think they have understood even when they have not, or they may not want to admit that they need clarification. Unless they are prompted, they may not ask questions.

Ask the listener to recap what you have said if you think he or she may not have understood.

  • Bring backup: checklists, illustrations or related documents in plain language.
  • Give out contact information for yourself or other resource persons in case the listener thinks of a question later on.

Paraphrase the information if the listener has not understood.

  • Don’t just repeat the same words or speak more loudly or slowly.
  • Be clear and concise: stick to three or four main points (people can absorb only a certain amount of information at a time).

Recap what the listener has to do, providing step-by-step instructions.

  • Be aware that certain people, such as seniors, people with low literacy and people with visual impairments may have trouble taking notes. Give them more time to write when they do take notes.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Research shows that 48% of Canadians find it difficult to understand administrative language. Speak in plain language: people have the right to understand!

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© His Majesty the King in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Services and Procurement
A tool created and made available online by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada

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