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Communication: An Introduction

Communication is critical for effective staff and teams. To help facilitate communication, you must be knowledgeable about the definition and characteristics of communication in diverse individuals. This lesson will introduce you to the concept of communication and provide an overview of different communication methods and styles.

  • Define communication.
  • Describe communication preferences and styles of communication.
  • Reflect on your own experiences as a communicator.


Think about someone you consider an excellent communicator. Perhaps it is a family member, coworker, friend, or spiritual leader. What characteristics make it easy to talk to that person? What makes communication a pleasant experience? Did any of the following concepts come to mind:

  • Confident?
  • Passionate?
  • Warm?
  • Connected?
  • Clear and articulate?
  • Humorous?
  • Knows how to make a point?
  • Has good body language and eye contact?

Now consider the following scenarios:

  • Jeff loves to talk. He is described as a “people person.” People enjoy being around him, but lately you have noticed a pattern. Whenever anyone tries to tell a story or open up to him, he responds with “That’s nothing—you should hear what happened to me.” He then regales the listener with a wild story.
  • Darcy sits quietly in all meetings. She usually agrees with the group or responds with a simple “Uh huh” or “I don’t know.” You have had a difficult time drawing her out even during your individual and room team meetings.
  • People describe Aubrey as “not having a filter.” During meetings and social events, she often says things that, while honest, are offensive or hurtful to the listener. She does not seem aware that what she is saying is hurtful, but coworkers are beginning to avoid her. Her room team have complained to you that she is difficult to work with.
  • Joan is the manager in your program. She prides herself on being a problem-solver. She often offers a solution before you are even finished describing the problem. Lately you haven’t felt heard or supported.

Have you worked, lived, or interacted with individuals like Jeff, Darcy, Aubrey, or Joan? Clearly, these individuals present communication challenges. You might find yourself avoiding these individuals or trying to make conversations as short as possible. The purpose of this course is to help you learn how to be an effective communicator and to have positive interactions with all the individuals you encounter. This lesson will introduce you to the concept of communication and set the stage for learning about how to be an effective communicator with children, families, and staff in the lessons that follow.

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 a message either verbally or nonverbally. The listener receives the message, interprets it, and gives you feedback. You listen and interpret the response. Then the process repeats throughout your conversation. The basic sending and receiving of messages is the foundation of communication.

Effective communication skills are integral to children’s self-expression, to their development of social relationships, and to their learning. Teachers help children understand that language allows them to organize and express their views and questions about the world, demonstrate their growing expertise, and communicate with other people” (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2012). As a trainer, you have the opportunity to help staff members nurture children’s growing ability to express themselves.

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

What does this mean for your work? You will help staff members develop their communication skills with one another, children, and families. In so doing, you will nurture children’s development, strengthen relationships with families, and help create a satisfying work environment for yourself and all staff members.

Methods of Communication

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

  • Oral communication: The most common type of communication is oral 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). Oral 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.
  • 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, though. It also involves tone, volume, style, touch, distance, and eye contact.
  • Written communication: In many child-development and school-age programs, written communication is essential for maintaining relationships with staff and families. Written communication can help clarify expectations or alert families of events. Simple notes, newsletters, memos, 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, 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.
  • If you are communicating important health information, such as working with management to communicate about 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 working with management to communicate a new policy or procedure, it should be done both orally 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 ensures that nothing is forgotten. Remember: You will need to communicate important messages in multiple ways and at multiple times. For example, your program might include written information in the employee handbook about turning in activity plans, and you might send an email reminder about lesson plan due dates and follow-up in person if you haven’t received a plan. For another example, if you notice issues with basic program practices like hand washing, you might address the issue by communicating in multiple ways. This might include posting signs in the staff area, highlighting the importance of hand washing in the staff newsletter, verbally reminding staff members in their classrooms or program areas, pointing out the hand washing posters, and modeling the procedures yourself each time you enter a new classroom or program area. You might describe your actions by saying something like, “It’s important for me to wash my hands, so I don’t spread germs from room to room.”

Styles of Communication

It can be fun and enlightening to think about your communication style and those of your coworkers. Understanding different communication styles can help you adapt your own style to communicate more effectively with others. There are a variety of tools available to help you, but we will focus on one in this course.

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. In other words, it’s about how people 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. Contrary to how the terms are used in popular culture, Jung’s concepts of introversion and extroversion have little to do with shyness or outgoingness. So it’s not unusual to see an introvert appear to be very outgoing in a work-place environment.

As a Training & Curriculum Specialist, you can support introverts by:

  • Providing time for quiet reflection.
  • Using 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, you can:

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

Judgers and Perceivers

Judgers and perceivers prefer acting on 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 derive comfort from the closure that happens when they make decisions. Perceivers like to take things as they come and can roll with the punches when the unexpected happens. They prefer to keep options open by delaying firm decisions as long as they can.

As a Training and Curriculum Specialist, you can support judgers when you:

  • Acknowledge their preference for orderliness and systematic methods at work.
  • Acknowledge that you value their efficiency and advance preparation when they accomplish 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, you can:

  • 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 deadlines until they approach.
  • 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 Intuitors

Sensors and intuitors prefer different ways of collecting information and learning about the world. Sensors prefer hard data, concrete facts, and information that can be confirmed with the five senses. They tend to focus on the present. Intuitors are more comfortable with concepts or theories, and they are good at making connections between ideas or previous experiences. Intuitors 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.

Intuitors can be better supported by:

  • Encouraging and valuing their creativity in discussions.
  • Presenting big ideas rather than details.
  • Motivating them to envision the future and to set strategic goals.
  • Allowing them to design their own goals.
  • Grouping 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 value connections and harmony.

To most effectively support thinkers:

  • Give them time to assimilate new ideas.
  • Keep your messages short and simple.
  • Provide data and other sources of information to help them make decisions.

To support feelers:

  • Make time for social interactions before and during meetings and events.
  • Build consensus and focus on agreements rather than disagreements.
  • Practice empathy and remain aware of your body language and tone during conversations.
  • Encourage 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 intuitor 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 members. 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.


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

  • The effectiveness of your communication can either make or break a relationship.
  • Open and respectful communication is the best way to achieve positive relationships with everyone at your program.
  • Sharing confidential information with others inappropriately will derail relationships. Maintain professionalism at all times, and make sure staff members feel safe to share information with you in confidence.

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 Training & Curriculum Specialist 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 a vital skill, but not everyone is aware of their communication strengths and needs. This section provides two opportunities for you to think about communication. First, you will self-reflect on your own communication style using the Reflecting on Communication activity. Then, you can complete an activity with staff members. This activity will provide a playful way for you to get to know staff members and their communication strategies. For the Back-to-Back Communication activity, follow the directions on the handout to use it as a fun and informative team builder. Then reflect with staff using the questions at the end of the activity.


It’s always helpful to have resources and ideas to spark communication among staff members. Read the Communication Activity Guide for ideas to use to help staff members reflect on their communication skills and strategies. Be sure to use the reflection questions with staff members about their experiences after completing each activity.


You support a toddler-teaching team that is having difficulty working together. You have noticed that one staff member likes to make decisions based on relationships and empathy. The other staff member prefers to make decisions based on clear-cut evidence. Which of the following communication preferences are these staff members using?
Finish this statement: Nonverbal communication is more than body language; it involves …
True or False? You should follow the “platinum rule”: strive to communicate with others the way you would like them to communicate with you.
References & Resources

Abrams, J. (2009). Having Hard Conversations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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

Arneson, S. (2011). Communicate and Motivate: The School Leader’s Guide to Effective Communication. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Cooper, P. J., & Simonds, C. (1999). Communication for the Classroom Teacher. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Diffily, D., & Morrison, K. (1996). Family Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Edwards, C. C., & Da Fonte, A. (2012). The 5-Point Plan: Fostering successful partnerships with families of students with disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44, 6-13.

Gawande, K. (2011). The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right. London: Picador.

Gilbert, M. B. (2004). Communicating Effectively: Tools for educational leaders. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education.

Hanft, B. E., Rush, D. D., & Sheldon, M. L. (2004). Coaching Families and Colleagues in Early Childhood. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Knight, J. (2011). What Good Coaches Do. Educational Leadership, 69, 18-22.

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 Foundation. (2003). MBTI Basics. Retrieved from

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2014). Family Engagement: Conducting a Family Survey. 

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2014). Principles of Effective Practice: Two Way Communication. Retrieved from

National 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

Nemeth, K. M. (2004). Conversation: The common thread in our work. Exchange, 179, 46-50.

Pigeon, Y., & Khan, O. (n.d.). Leadership Lesson: Tools for Effective Team Meetings. Association of American Medical Colleges. Retrieved from

Ramsey, R. D. (2009). How to Say the Right Thing Every Time: Communicating well with students, staff, parents, and the public. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Siegel-Causey, E., & Guess, D. (1989). Enhancing nonsymbolic communication interactions among learners with severe disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

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.