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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What creates effective communication? First, communication is relational.

Updated: Aug 24, 2023


Young adults in a group conversation

The answer to this question: “What creates effective communication?” is fundamental for anyone seeking to improve their communication knowledge and skills.


This post is the first of an 8-part series designed to answer this question employing 8 key principles from the book Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide. The answers will apply to not only nutrition communication but to all types of communication.


Let’s begin with a definition of effective or successful communication versus what it is not, and then begin our exploration of what is needed to create effective communication.


What is effective communication?

The first section of Communicating Nutrition (p 46) describes it this way:

“Successful communication creates a sharing of ideas and feelings, resulting in an audience that attends to, engages with, and takes action on the message communicated in the manner intended by the communicator.”


Often the focus of what makes communication effective is the message itself. Is it clever? Clear? Creative? Compelling? Concise? All important characteristics but not the most important.


Communication is more than sending messages.

Communication is much more than simply sending messages. It is a relationship between the communicator and the audience. It requires knowing the audience and meeting their needs. When the communicator and audience truly connect, they can effectively communicate and achieve their desired outcomes.


To be an average communicator... simply send messages.


To be an amazing communicator, who effectively communicates... know your audience, connect with them, engage with them, and communicate to meet their needs.


The key principle to know is this…


Communication is a relational activity. It begins and ends with people.

The quote at the bottom of this post is one of my favorites. It serves as a reminder that communication is a relationship between a communicator and one or more audience members.


Even if the communication is not face-to-face, the communicator will only be effective to the extent that they are cognizant of their audience, their needs, their values, their barriers, and more. The better the audience is known and understood, the more effective the communication will be.


What are the steps to creating a relationship that leads to effective communication?

These steps are not entirely linear and often circle back and forth as the communicator and audience build a stronger relationship.

  1. Identify the audience; commit to learning what communication they want and need.

  2. Connect with the audience in ways that are accessible and comfortable.

  3. Engage the audience in determining their needs, desired outcomes, and preferred approaches to communication delivery. Design communication with the audience.

  4. Deliver communication while maintaining connection and engagement.

  5. Follow-through to evaluate communication effectiveness, gaining valuable feedback throughout the communication process.

The greater the involvement of the audience from start to finish, the more effective the communication. It results in tailored and targeted communication that meets the audience’s needs.


What does this look like in real life?

Let’s consider an example of creating effective communication by building a relationship with the audience and involving them fully in the design and delivery of the communication.


When I received a Team Nutrition grant to create a series of workshops for childcare programs to implement the US Dietary Guidelines, my first step was to complete a needs assessment. I reached out via survey to the childcare food service directors who would be taking part in the workshops, followed by more in-depth interviews and focus groups.


They told me what they wanted and needed as well as what they did not want or need. Assumptions our planning team had made were both confirmed and destroyed by our findings. We were able to determine what content was most needed and not waste time or resources on what was not.


As portions of the workshop were developed, a pilot testing group helped provide needed feedback to make sure we were on target and provide additional ideas and suggestions. Not only did this result in better workshops, but it also created valuable buy-in with the audience. They had ownership.


It is not surprising that the workshops were an astounding success. We connected, we engaged, and we delivered what they wanted and as a result, we achieved the desired results.


What creates effective communication? First principle – communication is relational. Everything else is extra. Communication that works is a relationship.


“Communication is a human activity. It begins and ends with people. Everything that comes between merely facilitates – or hinders – the process.” ~ The Communicator’s Handbook, 2000


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