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4 Key Lessons on Communications Skills I Learned From Ian Tuhovsky

I am a bibliophile who loves to read about new concepts and ideas. The next step almost always involves testing them out in real life.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

"Communication Is Key"

Communicating efficiently, clearly, and concisely is everyone's dream. Not all of us are blessed with it, though, and many of us struggle in our day-to-day lives with effective communication. Communication skills have deteriorated further with the "Goblin Mode" (sluggish, nihilistic, antisocial behavior) gaining prominence during COVID-19 lockdown.

We scream, hurt, verbally abuse others – all in the name of communication. The truth is, the most effective form of communication involves expressing yourself without altercations. A pause and silence can also be an integral part of a profound conversation.

Recently, I read a book on improving communication skills written by Ian Tuhovsky – a communication expert who has authored many books on the subject. His examples and stories were eye-openers. I learned quite a bit about the art of communication, including conversational techniques we could use with difficult or unpleasant people.

In this article, I cover four of Ian Tuhovsky's communication lessons that had the most impact on me.

Lesson 1: The Right Attitude Makes All the Difference

If we must learn to communicate effectively, we should first eye the world with a more compassionate lens.

Ian Tuhovsky quotes:

"Everyone has a different map of the world. We each get to know the world by our senses: eyes, ears, taste, touch, smell. Due to the constraints of our brain, we can process only a small part of all impulses our environment constantly sends us. Each bit of information is processed by different filters: culture, language, beliefs, values, experiences. Every human being has their own filters, which differ from person to person. That is the reason why every person sees reality individually. Everyone perceives the same situation differently and can interpret the same words divergently. We all live in our own, unique realities made by sensory impressions and individual experiences."

We need to accept a person for who they are. Each individual has their own set of experiences from the past and present that have shaped them into the person they are. When we understand this, empathy comes easy. We understand why a person behaves the way they do, what ticks them off, what engages or disturbs them. This knowledge can help us tactfully deal with any personality type, ultimately giving us an upper hand in the conversation. You can become a good communicator only if you are observant and open-minded to differing views.

Lesson 2: Angry? Take a Pause.

It is not easy to control our emotions when someone is nasty to us. Some people seem angry all the time. When they get angry, we tend to mirror their emotions and react the same way. This clash can be unfruitful, leading to unpleasant exchanges instead of solutions. Anger can be destructive and constructive. It's up to you to use it constructively.

Ian Tuhovsky quotes:

"The source of anger always lies in our thinking, beliefs, and attitude. Our needs, expectations, and judgments. If you feel anger, it very often means that some of your needs remain unfulfilled. When you choose yelling and accusations as a method of expressing this emotion, you’ll have unnecessary conflict instead of solution and your relationship with the other person will quite possibly get worse."

When you yell at someone, their natural response would not be, "Wow! This person is yelling. I should listen intently to what they are saying." Instead, in most probability, they would yell back or zone out from the situation. This kind of interaction is rarely fruitful and results in scarring conversations. Yet most of us are guilty of succumbing to our anger.

The most effective way to communicate when you're angry is to step away and allow yourself to calm down before talking. Introspect and find out the actual source of your anger. Is it loneliness? Fear? Jealousy? Sadness? Anger is considered a secondary emotion triggered by other emotions. When you detect your primary emotion, it becomes easier to communicate it effectively without using anger as a tool.

An outlet for your emotions (including anger) is much needed. This is where journaling comes in handy. When you write down what you feel, you are releasing your emotions instead of bottling them up. The plus: no one is getting negatively impacted.

Lesson 3: The Power of a Smile

A smile is contagious. It helps you feel better and allows your brain to function better. When you are agitated, try smiling for a minute (in private, if you have no intention of creeping others out). It can help you in calming down.

You can communicate a lot through your smile and the way you smile. Feeling sarcastic? That smirk says it all. Smiling out of politeness? Your eyes say it all (your smile doesn't reach your eyes if you're faking it).

Ian Tuhovsky says:

"If you want to know if someone laughs for real or artificially—look at the sides of their eyes. During artificial laughter, only their mouth laughs."

A genuine warm smile can put anyone at ease and help them open up. It is an intrinsic part of communication that many miss out on while holding a conversation.

Lesson 4: Being Aware of the Most Irritating Speaking Habit

Before we start with this particular point, please take a moment to vote.

The most voted answer was "Interrupting when someone else is talking."

An essential part of any conversation is listening. But many people do not listen and are always waiting for their turn to speak. No one enjoys talking to someone who's a poor listener. A good conversation involves a healthy amount of give-and-take.

One way to show interest is by asking engaging questions. When they talk to you, keep all thoughts out of mind, and be present. Do not cut the other person off when they are still speaking. Give your input or thoughts on the same topic. Attempt to change a topic only after a while, when you have exhausted your interest and question supply.

Ian Tuhovsky quotes:

"With these phrases, you can respond to anything anybody ever tells you when buying yourself time to think and regain composure. The phrases always start with, “That’s interesting,” and they are: “That’s interesting. Why would you say that?” “That’s interesting. Why would you do that?” “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” “That’s interesting. Why would you ask that?” There’s nothing that you can’t respond to using these phrases."


Ian Tuhovsky's book Communication Skills Training contains more advice and practical methods to build your communication skills effectively. It taught me to practice more empathy when dealing with different personalities.

Ian Tuhovsky also provides helpful tips to deal with people who tend to ramble away without giving you enough leeway to contribute to the conversation. Such techniques can help you hold your ground at home and work, with no damage done. When you develop excellent communication skills, there's (almost) nothing in life you can't accomplish.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Kalpana Iyer