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Communication: An Introduction

Communication is essential to the success of your program. To help facilitate communication, you must use communication systems that meet the diverse needs and preferences of the individuals in your program. This lesson will introduce you to the concept of communication and provide an overview of different communication methods and styles.

  • Define communication.
  • Describe why communication is important in your daily work.
  • Identify styles and methods of communication.



Think about a time when you communicated something and your message was misunderstood. How did the other person misunderstand your message? Was it your tone, how you said it, or when you said it? We have all been in difficult situations as a result of some sort of miscommunication. While we all communicate, we may not communicate in the same way. Culture and dis/abilities influence our communication styles and methods. A mismatch of communication styles can lead to miscommunication. In your role as a manager, learning how to communicate using different methods will strengthen your professional relationships. The ability to communicate clearly with families and staff will make the management of your program easier.

What is Communication?

According to the National Communication Association, communication is the “collaborative and ongoing message exchange between individuals, or an individual and a group of individuals, with the goal of understanding each other.” Communication is a two-way process. You send messages verbally and/or nonverbally. The receiver interprets the message and gives you feedback. You receive and interpret the response. The process repeats throughout your conversation or interaction. The basic sending and receiving of messages is the foundation of communication.

Effective communication skills are integral to children’s self-expression, development of social relationships, and learning. Teachers help children understand that language allows them to organize and express their views, options, and ask questions about the world, demonstrate their growing expertise, and communicate with other people (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2012).

Supervise & Support

According to researchers Robert Stillman and Ellin Siegel-Causey (1989), people communicate for different reasons:

  • To affect another person’s behavior
  • To offer information
  • To convey thoughts and feelings
  • For the purely social reason of engaging in an interaction with someone

As a manager, you communicate with various people each day for a variety of reasons. You utilize communication:

  1. To influence the behavior of staff by communicating program policies and expectations.
  2. To offer information to supervisors, families, staff, children, and other interested parties.
  3. To convey your thoughts and feelings about program operations and outcomes.
  4. To engage in interactions with everyone your program serves.

Communication: An Introduction

You are always communicating.

Methods of Communication

Communication involves the sending and receiving of messages, and we all send messages in a variety of ways every day. How are those messages sent?

  • Verbal communication: The most common type of communication is verbal communication, or the spoken word. Researchers have found that adults in the U.S. speak approximately 16,000 words per day (Mehl et al., 2007). Verbal communication can be formal (staff meetings) or informal (chatting in the hallway). It can be face-to-face, over the phone, or via technology like Skype or Zoom.
  • Nonverbal communication: Communication goes beyond words. Consider the infants and toddlers in your program: How do you know they are hungry, tired, or happy? They let you know through nonverbal communication. They cry a certain way, root for a bottle, rub their eyes, or smile and squeal. For adults, nonverbal communication is a critical part of how we convey meaning. It’s not just what we say but how we say it. For example, think about the different ways you might interpret a wink during a conversation: Is the speaker joking, encouraging, or flirting? Nonverbal communication is more than just body language. It also involves tone, volume, style, touch, distance, and eye contact.
  • Written communication: In many child-development and school-age programs, written communication is needed to connect with staff and families. Written communication can help clarify expectations or alert families of events. Simple notes, newsletters, emails, text messages, bulletin boards, and handbooks are all examples of written communication that serve important purposes.
  • Technology: Modern technology has changed the way many people communicate. Electronic newsletters, classroom blogs, family/school apps, program websites, emergency text messages, telephone calling trees, and other strategies are all common ways child-development and school-age programs use technology to communicate.


Context determines what is communicated, as well as why and how the information is shared. Understanding context is essential to communicating effectively. Here are a few key points to keep in mind when it comes to context and communication:

  • In an emergency, you must communicate the information verbally and immediately. You must be clear, concise, and calm. Emergencies are not the time for lengthy conversations as time is of the essence.
  • If you are communicating important health information, such as an outbreak of a communicable disease, it should be done immediately and in writing. Avoid jargon as much as possible and use bullet points to convey action steps.
  • If you are communicating a new policy or procedure, it should be done both verbally and in writing. Change can be difficult, so providing detailed, thorough information that can be easily referenced is essential. Developing a plan that details what is to be communicated, whom it needs to be communicated to, and how it will be communicated limits miscommunication and forgetting something. Remember: You will need to communicate important messages in multiple ways and at multiple times. For example, if drop-off procedures have changed for families, you might post the information on the program’s website, hang a flyer on the family communication board, send a note home with children, and stand in the parking lot to communicate with families as they drop-off.

If you are communicating to collaborate, whether it is to solve a problem, select a continuous improvement goal for your program, or determine an action plan to accomplish a task, it helps to plan and secure time to do that verbally. Use written visuals during the conversations to collect everyone’s thoughts. During the verbal exchange, it is important that you convey your own thoughts and feelings and listen strongly to your partner or team. Establish a safe “brainstorming” zone, where new ideas can easily be shared. Consider how you ensure everyone who wishes to contribute is heard. Have someone record ideas and provide a follow-up summary or reminders. Provide a written summary of decisions or next steps when you finish so all parties know what to do next. This collaborative context is ideal for program manager and T&CS meetings, or when engaging in shared decision-making with staff teams.

Communication Styles

Each person has their own communication style which is hugely influenced by culture and impacts relationships with others. Understanding different communication styles can help you adapt your own style to communicate more effectively with others.

In addition to culture, personality type has a great influence on an individual’s communication style. Perhaps one of the best known ways of thinking about communication styles is based on the theories of Carl Jung and is represented in the Myers-Briggs personality type indicators. The Myers-Briggs personality type indicator (MBTI) was developed by a mother-daughter team, Isabel Briggs Myers, and Isabel’s mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, during World War II. Myers and Briggs wanted to make Jung's theories more applicable to help non-military civilians select jobs during wartime that were better matched to their general inclinations and personality types. They felt this understanding would enable people to be more satisfied and productive at work. Carl Jung’s theory suggested that each individual falls along a continuum on four preferences:


Myers-Briggs then added four additional preferences:


What do these preferences mean? They are simply ways individuals tend to build their energy, gather information, or make decisions. Let’s consider each of the preference pairs and how they might affect your communication with others:

Introverts and Extroverts:

These concepts relate to how people build and spend their energy or “recharge their batteries.” Extroverts get their energy through action and interaction. Quiet time can be draining for extroverts. Extroverts need conversation, stimulation, and activity. Introverts, on the other hand, build their energy during quiet time. Periods of high activity and interaction can be draining. Introverts need time to think, reflect, and process events. Jung’s concepts of introversion and extroversion have little to do with having a shy or outgoing personality, so it’s not unusual to see an introvert appear to be very outgoing in a work-place environment.

To support introverts:

  • Provide time for quiet reflection.
  • Use multiple methods of communication that don’t require face-to-face interactions: email or written notes can provide introverts the time they need to formulate messages.

To support extroverts:

  • Provide opportunities for collaboration and brainstorming.
  • Consider ways to help extroverts build connections with others.

Judgers and Perceivers:

Judgers and perceivers like to use information from the outside world differently. Judgers prefer to get things decided and perceivers prefer staying open to new information and options. Judgers like orderliness and systematic methods, they value efficiency and advance preparation. They do not like surprises and get comfort from the closure that happens when they make decisions. Perceivers like to take things as they come and can go with the flow when the unexpected happens. They prefer to keep options open by delaying firm decisions as long as they can.

To support judgers:

  • Acknowledge their preference for orderliness and systematic methods at work.
  • Acknowledge that you value their efficiency and advance preparation when they finish tasks.
  • Provide a consistent schedule and clear timelines for tasks.
  • Allow opportunities for them to experience flexibility when things do not turn out as expected. For example, you may want to help them understand that, in some cases, there is value in leaving options open.

To support perceivers:

  • Encourage and value their flexibility.
  • Understand that while they prefer to keep options open, they also need a frame of reference for some level of organization and closure.
  • Understand they may put off timelines until the last minute.
  • Provide opportunities for them to work on a variety of tasks, with deadlines they can help set.
  • Work with them to bring order to the many ideas they generate.

Sensors and Intuitives:

Sensors and intuitives like different types of information and learn about the world in different ways. Sensors prefer hard data, concrete facts, and information that can be confirmed with the five senses. They tend to focus on the present. Intuitives are more comfortable with concepts or theories, and they are good at making connections between ideas or previous experiences. Intuitives often look toward the future.

To support sensors:

  • Acknowledge their preference for detail and order.
  • Provide them with the evidence that supports decisions.
  • Provide a consistent schedule and clear timelines for tasks.
  • Praise the completion of projects: focus on the present rather than constantly focusing on the future.
  • Allow opportunities for leadership roles that draw on their strengths in organization and detailed thinking.
  • Give specific responsibilities.

To support intuitives:

  • Encourage and value their creativity in discussions.
  • Present big ideas rather than details.
  • Motivate them to envision the future and to set strategic goals.
  • Allow them to design their own goals.
  • Group them with people who will value their skills.

Thinkers and Feelers:

Thinkers and feelers use different strategies to make decisions. Thinkers like to weigh evidence and come to what they consider the most logical decision. They like rules, patterns, and consistency. Feelers make decisions based on empathy, relationships, or emotional connections to the evidence. They tend to value social connections, harmony, and the good of the group. While thinkers tend to look for the “right” answer, feelers tend to look for the answer that is best for the group and the current situation.

To help thinkers:

  • Praise the thoroughness and detail in their work, give them the time they need to make decisions, and help them find tasks that benefit from their attention to detail.
  • Give them time to assimilate new ideas.
  • Keep your messages short and simple. Stick to the facts.
  • Provide data and other sources of information to help them make decisions.

To help feelers:

  • Making time for social interactions before and during program events.
  • Building consensus and focusing on agreements rather than disagreements.
  • Practicing empathy and remaining aware of your body language and tone during conversations.
  • Encouraging them to use their creativity to help solve common issues in the program.

What does this mean for you?

You will work with individuals who represent all the combinations of introversion, extroversion, thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting. You also fall somewhere on each of these dimensions, and this influences how you prefer to communicate. Thinking about your own preferred style and the styles of others can help you match your communication to the needs of others. If you know your own style preferences, you can self-reflect on communication barriers. For example, if you relate to the sensor style, you might get frustrated by the way an intuitive ignores details. You may have to work harder to communicate effectively with this individual. You will have a chance to think more deeply about your own communication style in the Explore section. This helps you go beyond what is known as the “Golden Rule” of doing for others what you would like done for you. It helps you live by what is known as the “Platinum Rule” (Alessandra, 2014): Communicate not in your own preferred manner but in the manner preferred by your communication partner. Make a point of providing thorough information to staff. The more information you can provide, the less opportunity there is for people to feel uninformed. Also keep in mind the value of reminders; everyone is busy, so having a system in place to follow up helps ensure that you reach goals in a timely manner.

Modes of Communication

Your ability to communicate effectively with others is an important part of your role. The way that you communicate with members of your team and encourage your staff to communicate with each other influences the level of collaboration and satisfaction that your staff experiences. Discussion, dialogue, and debate are three different modes of communication-- there is space for each of these modes of communication in your program, but intentionality is important. You are likely to engage in each of these communication types, but it’s important to understand the purpose behind those different forms of communication. Discussion tends to be aimed at sharing information, presenting ideas and seeking answers and solutions. Debate focuses on opposing arguments or ideas and dialogue focuses on building community, shared meaning and understanding. While you may use each of these forms of communication, dialogue tends to be the most supportive of an inclusive environment where collaboration is valued and encouraged. When you engage in dialogue with staff and encourage staff to dialogue with each other, you create a space where individuals are open to other’s perspectives, honor each other’s opinions and experiences, and actively seek out places of agreement—all critical elements in fostering a strong team. Learn more about the differences between these three modes of communication in the Explore section of this lesson.


You will learn in the Family Engagement course that building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships is at the heart of your work as a manager. Relationships require time and work to develop. Though they are not always easy to maintain, relationships are essential to the success of your program. Here are a few key points to keep in mind when it comes to relationships and communication:

  • The effectiveness of your communication influences your relationships.
  • Relationships follow a cycle and each cycle requires different communication strategies. A model discussed in the Family Engagement course is the cycle of forming, storming, norming and performing. For example, when you are getting to know someone (forming) your communication may be more guarded; if you know someone well (performing) your communication may be more casual.
  • Open and respectful communication is the best way to achieve positive relationships with everyone at your program.
  • Sharing confidential information inappropriately with others will damage trust and derail relationships at your program.

Communication forms the foundation of all relationships in your program, but the communication between you and the T&CS in your program is critical to form a cohesive team. Within this professional partnership you are equal partners who each bear responsibility for the success of the program. Consider the forms and systems of communication that support a well-functioning partnership between you and the T&CS. What should you know and understand about each other’s communication styles and preferences? How can you secure time to support a collaborative partnership? Many program managers and T&CSs find having a standard weekly meeting helpful for their partnership. It may help to have a “standard agenda” for those meetings as this can offer a structured reminder on what needs shared and discussed during your meeting. This agenda can include both short-term tasks and longer-term projects and might include items such as training needs, child and youth enrollment, staff hiring and schedules, accreditation, and celebrations. When starting a new professional partnership, program managers and T&CSs can benefit from deciding together what their standard agenda should include and what their meeting schedule will be. It is important to reflect on these formal, or structured ways, as well as the informal ways you keep open and cooperative communication happening withing your partnership. Decide together what are the critical incidents or issues you commit to sharing immediately, or that day, so that you can best support staff and families. Also consider the brief, more informal connections you will maintain with each other throughout the week to support one another. Is it okay to “pop in” when the T&CS is not in a meeting? Are there more optimal times of day for a quick one-on-one touch base? Asking these questions directly demonstrates your respect for the T&CS’s time and their perspective of the program.

In Summary

As a manager, the ability to communicate effectively affects the success of your program. In many ways, being a manager of a child and youth program is similar to being a diplomat. You are communicating with diverse individuals with competing needs and priorities. Effective communication can strengthen your interpersonal relationships and realign your expectations, which in turn helps you achieve your program’s goals and enjoy yourself in the process.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Management Communication & Language Development Course Guide

To support the professional development of the direct care staff members or family child care providers you oversee, you can access their corresponding Course Guides:

  • Infant & Toddler Communication & Language Development Course Guide
  • Preschool Communication & Language Development Course Guide
  • School-Age Communication & Language Development Course Guide
  • Family Child Care Communication & Language Development Course Guide


Communication is an important skill and it helps to be aware of your communication strengths and needs. This section provides an opportunity for you to think about communication. In the Reflection Activity follow the prompts to self-reflect on your own communication style and the communication styles of others. Learning to see things from others’ perspectives can help strengthen our relationships, especially the difficult ones.

As a program manager, it’s important to reflect on the ways that you communicate with staff and also to ask staff members to reflect on the ways they communicate with each other. Use the Exploring Communication Differences handout to examine the different goals behind discussion, debate and dialogue.


The Birthday Line Up activity is a great teambuilding exercise that can provide you with valuable insights about your team. At your next staff meeting, take an opportunity to apply what you have learned from this course. Answer the questions in the activity and share your observations with your team. The activity also includes additional questions you may want to consider asking to guide their reflection.


True or false? Your staff members play a key role as communicators within your program; your role as a communicator is minimal.
You have noticed that Renie, a preschool staff member, often waits to give her thoughts on new program policies and issues. You find this frustrating at times and wish she would give her opinion sooner rather than later. How can you communicate with Renie so that neither of you become frustrated?
Finish this statement: Your ability to communicate effectively as a manager…
References & Resources

Alessandra, T. (2014). The Platinum Rule. Retrieved from:

Encyclopedia of Small Business. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Vol. 2. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2007. p759-760.

Leigh, G. How Judgers and Perceivers Can Accept, Respect, and Embrace Human Differences. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Ramirez-Esparza, N., Slatcher, R. B., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2007). Are Women Really More Talkative than Men? Science, 317, 82.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Retrieved from Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2012). Early Childhood Generalist Standards for teachers of ages 3-8 (3rd ed.).

National Communication Association (2014). What is Communication? Retrieved from

Parlakian, R. (2001). Look, Listen, and Learn: Reflective supervision and relationship-based work. Washington, D.C: Zero to Three.

Quenk, N. L. (2009). Essentials of myers-briggs type indicator assessment. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Stillman, R., & Siegel-Causey, E. (1989). Introduction to Nonsymbolic Communication. In E. Siegel-Causey & D. Guess (Eds.), Enhancing nonsymbolic communication interactions among learners with severe disabilities (pp. 1-13). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental Sequence in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(384):99.