Effective Interactive Communication


Effective Interactive Communication* is transmitting and receiving information clearly and communicating actively with others in a manner that is effective and consistent with the organizational objectives.

*This competency excludes written communication such as notes or e-mail exchanges. Exceptions may be made for employees with disabilities, on a case-by-case basis.

Core Motivation: To ensure that the message is received and understood as intended.

It's about:

While the communication could be facilitated at any level by the use of visual aids (such as Powerpoint presentations, graphs or pictures), it is the verbal communication that the competency focuses on.

Effective Interactive Communication - What it means and does not mean
Effective Interactive Communication means... Effective Interactive Communication does not mean...
  • Recognizing underlying concerns or feelings that may not be openly expressed
  • Actively listening and allowing others an opportunity to fully express themselves
  • Thinking about how people will respond before you verbally communicate your thoughts
  • Customizing responses to reflect audience differences
  • Checking understanding in ways that are appropriate to the audience
  • Listening to the words without trying to understand their meaning
  • Interrupting when someone is starting to express their concerns
  • Expressing your thoughts without considering your audience
  • Delivering the message in the same manner regardless of the audience
  • Simply asking "do you understand?" when it is not necessary
  • Translating in the language of the audience

Purpose of this competency for CRA

Effective Interactive Communication is key to ensuring effective interactive verbal exchanges with others and is essential to meeting the CRA’s business objectives. It requires active listening, understanding others’ points of view, and being able to respond verbally in an appropriate manner.

Progression of scale - Degree of sensitivity or complexity of the message being communicated

The Progression of the scale works together with the underlying notions, so it is important to consider this information as it indicates how the behaviours progress as you move from level 1 to level 4. The behaviours generally build on each other.

Effective Interactive Communication progression of scale
Relates to the potential difference in the understanding, interpretation, or perception that could impact  on the comprehension of the message and on its expected result

Degree of sensitivity of the message
because of the emotional reactions of the audience it may cause.

As the scale increases, you need to choose your words and approach more carefully to achieve understanding of the message being communicated.

Example: Explaining to a term employee why their contract is not extended could be a sensitive message to convey. Or telling a taxpayer that they owe CRA $10,000 considering their personal situation, could be something that is sensitive and requires care on how it is communicated. The sensitivity may impact how the other person understands, interprets, or perceives what is being conveyed.

Degree of complexity of the message
because of the variety of interrelated aspects of the message.

As the scale increases, the message becomes increasingly difficult to communicate because the audience may not have the same technical background or level of experience, or does not have the same knowledge of the subject matter.

Example: If a nuclear scientist is talking to another nuclear scientist, the subject matter is complex but their communication may be straightforward. The communication becomes complex if the nuclear scientist is talking to someone who does not have the same level of knowledge in this field. The complexity of the message affects how the information is delivered in order to take into consideration the other person’s level of understanding or perspective regarding the subject of the message being communicated.

Effective Interactive Communication level 1
Underlying Notion Behaviours could include, but are not limited to:

Paying attention to the communication of others

  • Actively listens in order to fully understand the message.
  • Responds appropriately by delivering information and facts in a logical, clear, and coherent manner.
  • Conveys and receives straightforward messages.

In other words, you:

At this level, the message or content of your verbal communication is fairly straightforward. The conversation flows back and forth in a clear manner with little potential for misunderstanding as the message you are delivering and receiving is not very sensitive or complex. Many typical conversations fall into level 1.


A taxpayer called in and was confused about the notice of balance owing on his account. The telephone service agent reviewed the account and explained that the amount was larger than the taxpayer expected due to a late payment and interest. Although the taxpayer was not happy, he understood the explanation provided.

Effective Interactive Communication level 2
Underlying Notion Behaviours could include, but are not limited to:

Checking understanding of the message

  • Takes steps to verify that the message is understood by the other party or to verify own understanding.
  • Recognizes non-verbal cues and uses them to identify unspoken thoughts or concerns in order to respond appropriately.
  • Uses appropriate communication techniques in order to clarify the message to achieve understanding.

In other words, you may:

At this level, you are verbally checking that you understand the message the other person is delivering to you or that the other person understands the message you delivered as there is a greater degree of sensitivity or complexity to the message. You can use different means to check the understanding of a verbal communication, as mentioned above. What is important at this level is what prompted you to check for understanding, how you checked (What did you say?) and how the other party responded (What did they say?).

Understanding the message is more than checking if someone understands a written letter or particular piece of written legislation for instance. It involves checking if the other person has understood a specific message that you have just verbally relayed to them.


A Resource Officer was discussing a file with a new Collection Agent. They had a long conversation and many questions were brought forward both by the Resource Officer and the Agent to understand the measures to be taken. The Resource Officer thought the agent might be confused at the end and asked the Agent to summarize his understanding of the measures required. The Agent used his own words regarding what he had to do with the file. Since the Resource Officer believed it was important to take the appropriate measures with that unusual file, he double-checked by asking the Agent what he thought the main issue was. The Resource Officer was satisfied with the answer provided and believed they were both on the same wavelength.

Effective Interactive Communication level 3
Underlying Notion Behaviours could include, but are not limited to:

Adapting communication

  • Tailors language and style of communication according to the situation and the individual or audience, while delivering the same message.
  • Adapts the way the message is being communicated when difficulties in understanding occur.
  • Anticipates and tries to understand the perception of the message and adjusts the way it is communicated accordingly.

In other words, you may:

At this level, the message is significantly complex or sensitive so you must tailor the words you are using to transmit your message otherwise the individual(s) you are speaking with may not understand what you said. The way you adapt your communication will depend on the complexity or sensitivity of the message, and the audience’s frame of reference in order to increase your ability to get your message across.

In some situations, you may prepare ahead of time to make these adaptations because you already know this particular audience may have different interpretations regarding their understanding of the message. You might ask yourself: What do I know about this person or audience that might help me give them a better illustration of the message to be conveyed? In other situations, it might be during the conversation that you realize the person or audience does not understand your message and you adapt your communication to relay the same message that you have just conveyed to them but taking a different verbal approach. In both situations, you need to verbally check to make sure that the individuals understood your message, as there is the possibility that your adaptation was not as effective as you anticipated.

Be careful - "adapting communication" is not about:

Remember that the message stays the same but is conveyed in a different way, by:


An auditor was dealing with an elderly couple who had a small store on a huge property. The couple wanted to keep their store but were thinking of subdividing the property and selling some lots. However, they did not know about the fiscal impact and how the capital gains would be calculated. The auditor provided them with an explanation of how the legislation and process worked. He could tell that the couple did not understand how they would have to pay capital gains on each separate lot. He thought he would use a framework that they were familiar with and compared selling the lots to how they sold bottles of pop separately and made a profit on each even though they had purchased the pop together as a case. When he asked if this made it clear, the couple confirmed this helped them understand how capital gains would apply when subdividing the property.

Effective Interactive Communication level 4
Underlying Notion Behaviours could include, but are not limited to:

Communicating for maximum results

  • Considers factors such as the purpose of the communication, target audience, and potential impact of the message when deciding what to communicate and how to deliver the message to achieve the desired results.
  • Understands the underlying needs and motivation of the audience as well as their interests and issues when formulating a communication strategy.
  • Anticipates and prepares for possible breakdowns in communication.

In other words, you may:

At this level, the communication is strategic and deliberate, as the complexity or sensitivity of the message is very high. The potential impacts on the organization may be wider, and usually the audience is larger than one person.


Sue was a member of the team of union representatives that was negotiating a contract agreement with management. In preparation for the meeting, she undertook many consultations with employees and other union members to ensure she gathered and understood their interests and concerns.

Sue also prepared for the meeting by considering management’s issues and interests. She planned how to adapt her communication to put her message into a frame of reference they could relate to. She used her in-depth knowledge of the interests of both sides to develop her communication strategy for the negotiations. She decided exactly what to communicate, how to deliver her messages, and what the potential impacts might be.

During the negotiations, she listened carefully to what others had to say. She asked questions to check her understanding of what they said, and she adapted her communication according to the situation. Due in large part to her effective communication, the contract agreement was successfully negotiated in a relatively short period of time.

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