Effective Communication -Verbal Communication

Using verbal communication; the most frequently used method of communication.

CPD Assessments
Effective Communication - Verbal Communication

Effective Communication - Verbal Communication

Case Study

A student, Lily comes through to see the career practitioner, Sanele. Lily appears to be bothered by something. Sanele receives her warmly and asks her to have a seat in his office.

Sanele: Hello Lily, it’s a pleasure to meet you. What brings you in today?

Lily: Hello, well... I really have a battle with doing things for the impression that others will have of me or the approval that I will get from other people. So much so that I will very often override myself, so that I can gain the acceptance, I guess, of other people, whether friends or family. I will always go out of my way to gain acceptance and also minimise my own feelings so that there is no confrontation. So, I guess, I’m eager to please, wanting to make sure that all things are well and smooth and that I’m liked and accepted in every situation.

Sanele: As you’re saying that it really feels like a lot of hard work. A lot of hard work and pre-empting whatever it is that they would have expected of you. And then ‘sacrificing’, I guess, is a word that came up for me. Sacrificing your own wants and needs to be able to meet what you perceive is expected of you. Have I understood that correctly?

Lily: Yeah, the word ‘sacrifice’ really captures the feeling that comes up for me when I sort of reflect and look over that kind of situation. So often, I will sacrifice my own wants and my own desires to please others.

The case study above deals with verbal communication between a student and practitioner. Often verbal communication in counselling requires for the practitioner to be able to effectively listen and speak. 

Verbal communication

Verbal communication is the most frequently used method of communication. It is auditory communication with words and includes sounds, tone and volume. Similarly, we pay attention to the denotation (dictionary meaning of the word) and connotation (feelings associated with meaning of words). Therefore, choosing the right words according to the situation is important. The career development practitioner’s clarity of tone plays an important role. Much can also be detected from the clients’ tone of voice. The career development practitioner can easily pick up on the clients’ enthusiasm, frustration, etc. The practitioner can encourage the client to continue speaking and feel more comfortable to explore issues in greater depth by providing encouraging responses. Sanele made use of words to capture what he was hearing in Lily’s story. 

Career counselling sometimes coincides with unexpected and unpleasant life events, such as being retrenched or the loss of a loved one. Career practitioners need to convey sensitivity to all circumstances, while assessing emotions to offer practical advice that will help job seekers get on the path best suited to them and their abilities. Practitioners need to be aware that their choice of words can be empowering or harmful.

As mentioned above verbal communication is any communication that uses words to share information with others. These words may be both spoken and written. It is important to remember that effective verbal communication cannot be fully isolated from nonverbal communication, for example your body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.

Effective Speaking and Listening

Effective speaking involves three main areas: the words you choose, how you say them, and how you reinforce them with other non-verbal communication. All these affect the transmission of your message, and how it is received and understood by your audience. It is therefore important to choose words carefully. You will probably need to use different words in different situations.

How you speak includes your tone of voice and pace. We have already learned the value of effective listening and this is vital for good verbal communication.

Verbal communication skills are further enhanced when combined with empathic listening and caring.  
Effective communication requires that information is:
  • Clear  
  • Concise 
  • Correct 
  • Complete
Throughout the process of communication, it is essential to acknowledge that as practitioners we have our own agendas, beliefs and values that can affect the way in which we respond and act towards others. It should be conveyed to the client that they are important and that the aim is to help them. There are many ways to do this and the process should be infused with empathy and caring. Key characteristics of the process include:
  • Genuineness  
  • Empathy  
  • Acceptance  
  • Respect
  • Dignity  
  • Trust  
  • Caring  
  • Beliefs and values

Ways to enhance verbal communication skills

  • Be prepared to listen. Concentrate on the client and not on how you are going to reply.
  • Keep an open mind and avoid making judgements about the client.
  • Concentrate on the main direction of the client’s message. Try to understand broadly what they are trying to say overall, as well as the detail of the words that they are using.
  • Avoid distractions if at all possible. For example, if there is a lot of background noise, you might suggest that you go somewhere else to talk.
  • Be unbiased.
  • Do not dwell on one or two points at the expense of others. Try to use the overall picture and all the information that you have.
  • Do not stereotype the client. Try not to let prejudices associated with gender, ethnicity, accent, social class, appearance or dress interfere with what is being said.

Additionally, there are techniques that are used to improve the effectiveness of verbal communication. These include reinforcement, questioning, reflection and clarification.


Reinforcement refers to the use of encouraging words or gestures like nodding and smiling to facilitate conversation. Reinforcement helps to build rapport (refer to section 1.9) and is more likely to reinforce openness in others. The use of encouragement and positive reinforcement can:

  • Show warmth and openness.
  • Encourage others to participate in discussion (particularly in group work).
  • Show interest in what other people have to say.
  • Pave the way for development and maintenance of a relationship.
  • Dispel fears and give reassurance.
  • Reduce shyness in others.
Questioning is necessary to obtain information from clients. Questioning brings clarity to areas that are unclear. It proves to be a useful technique to start conversations, draw someone into a conversation or simply show interest. Effective questioning is therefore an indispensable component of verbal communication.

Closed Questions
Closed questions, as the name suggests, limits the scope of the conversation and tends to seek answers where the response is usually ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or a response that is one or two words, for example: “Do you like Science?”.

Open Questions
Open questions invite further discussion and explanation. It allows for a broader scope in conversation. Open questions often start with Who, Where, What, Why and When, for example: “What subjects do you enjoy at school?”.

Reflecting is the process of stating your understanding of what has been said, back to the client. 
It is a process of paraphrasing and restating both the feelings and words of the client. The reason why this is beneficial is because:
  • The practitioner allows the client to 'hear' their own thoughts and to focus on what they say and feel.
  • It shows the client that you are trying to perceive the world as they see it and that you are doing your best to understand their messages.
  • It encourages clients to continue talking.

Two Main Techniques of Reflecting
This is a simple form of reflecting that involves repeating almost exactly what the speaker says. 
Paraphrasing involves using your own words to reflect what the speaker has said.  Paraphrasing requires practice and is a little more complicated than “mirroring”. When utilising this skill, the practitioner will try to 'feed back' the essence of what the person has just said. This skill is very helpful when you want to:
  • Let the client know that you are listening and understand what they are saying.
  • Clarify confusing content.
  • Highlight issues by stating them more concisely. 
  • Check out the accuracy of your perceptions as the practitioner.

An example of paraphrasing:

Client: "I am very lost at the moment. I expect that the high school teachers will be able to assist me in choosing a career but there is little help and I don’t even know what is available to me.”

Practitioner: "You have not received the assistance you require to make a decision on a career path and this has left you feeling uncertain of the options available?"

This is an extension of reflecting and seeks to reassure the client that the practitioner is attempting to understand the messages they are expressing. Clarifying can involve asking questions or occasionally summarising what the speaker has said, for example: “Can you tell me more about what the school has provided in terms of information?”.

Closing Communication after a session
How we end a conversation is just as important as the whole session itself. Both verbal and nonverbal cues might be used to suggest the end of conversation.

Practitioners need to make sure that they remain present until the client has finished what they are saying, as closing a conversation too abruptly may not allow the other person to 'round off' what he or she is saying.  The closure is usually used to make the follow-up appointment for the next session or it can be a check out process of evaluating how they experienced the session, as well as a post check out in comparing and contrasting how they felt entering the session and seeing if this is different post-session. 

We can clearly see that verbal communication is a complex process and a delicate one. Practitioners need to be mindful of how they use this.

Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ZA) 

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Kindly attribute as follows:

Beukes, C. J., Mahadave, K., & Kanhai, K. (2022). Professional Development Portfolio for Career Development Practitioners (1st ed.)CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ZA, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/za/ 


Karuna Mahadave

Christopher John Beukes

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