Whether you are a national leader navigating through a global pandemic, a marketer trying to establish a positive working environment with a challenging client, or an individual reeling from a change in a relationship with a loved one, communication can have a powerful impact on your personal physical and mental health.

With the seriousness of such issues becoming more prevalent in today’s society, a former University of Central Missouri president has collaborated with two other researchers and writers on a new book with information they hope readers will take to heart. Their timely new publication, “Keys to Healthy Communication: Authenticity, Empathy and Empowerment,” provides a literary tool-kit that applies to personal, interpersonal, business and political situations, while offering practical guidance for the effective use of three essential communication concepts that could help people transform their lives.

A longtime educator with decades of experience in communication research and writing, Bobby R. Patton, Ph.D., began working on this project more than six years ago. The former UCM leader (1999 to 2005) collaborated on the 204-page book project with Rusalyn H. Andrews, Ph.D., professor emeritus of communication and theatre at Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, and Jennifer P. Daily, M.D., a Board-Certified Family Medicine Physician and associate professor at the University of Louisville Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine in Kentucky.

Patton said the impetus for the book began with a discussion among its three authors about longevity in the United States and many reasons why individuals in this country are dying at an earlier age. This is despite modern medicines and treatments that can actually help prolong life.

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“We found out the United States has so many deaths that are early by comparison of what the average age should be expected for people by virtue of economic status and the money being spent (for healthcare),” Patton said. He added that numbers related to a shorter lifespan overall are influenced greatly by factors such as suicides, accidental drug overdoses and even gun violence, which is greater in the U.S. than in many other countries.

“We started trying to find the variables, and we found that there are certain behaviors that are controllable by people, but for whatever reason, people are not exercising control,” Patton said.

While individuals can change behaviors that may improve their physical well-being such as exercising regularly or quitting smoking, the authors, through research, learned that communication behaviors that induce stress and anxiety are having a significant impact on individuals’ emotional and physical well-being. While their book cites many examples, the writers note this has been particularly apparent during COVID-19, which is put into context within the book. Many individuals have suffered from issues such as the loneliness of isolation.

At the same time, they have often wrestled with conflicting communications through media and other sources which not only cause anxiety about how they protect themselves and their health, but in many cases have resulted in family members at odds with each other due to conflicting opinions about how to respond to the pandemic.

“We started writing this before COVID, and we were thinking it might help people. Then, when COVID hit, we started to incorporate what was going on with the pandemic to illustrate our points,” Patton said. “We found direct correlations with so many things which are based upon your communication behaviors. We tried to find out which communication behaviors seem to make a major difference, and the more we sorted through our research, we were able to classify them into what we call the three keys: empathy, empowerment, and authenticity.” He added that “all of these variables are teachable and learnable” so that people can develop more effective communication responses that will contribute to healthier lives.

One of the “Keys to Healthy Communication” is authenticity, or in other words, the need for individuals to develop self-awareness. They must be realistic and not “put on an act” or fear that others see them for who they are. Appropriate self-disclosure is not only a sign of good mental health, but can result in higher levels of competency, adaptability and trust, according to the authors. The absence of authenticity can harm all facets of an individual’s life, leading to manipulation, game-playing, deception, disappointments, and even abuse.

Empathy is an essential component of a healthy relationship, impacting both physical and mental health. It is the ability to understand thoughts and feelings of another individual, and helps ensure the needs of both communicators are met. The book states that in order for a healthy society to exist, it is important that individuals use empathy to take on experiences of people and cultures in which they may not identify or be in agreement. Learning how to listen to what others have to say, despite differences that may exist between individuals, leads to development of an understanding that can contribute to better decision making.
Rounding out the three keys, the authors state it is important for individuals to realize they have the ability to control their own lives and their destinies by accepting and utilizing their own inherent power in all situations. The act of empowerment involves people questioning their self-imposed limits, refusing to let external forces determine their actions, and using their own ability to self-regulate.

Patton said the book is filled with illustrations and many examples of how the three keys to communication can be implemented. It even dives into some conspiracy theories about various issues that could potentially impact levels of anxiety in today’s society and other threats to individuals’ health and emotional well-being.

The book is available on amaazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Many reviews on these sites also provide a glimpse at what readers may expect.

As one reviewer noted, “Relationships matter greatly to our personal and societal health especially in these times of dramatic polarization in our country. This well-researched book provides the reader with the keys to help unlock the essence of relationship-building...communicating effectively by first listening deeply and then acting with authenticity and empathy to better understand each other.”
Another reviewer called the book an “Excellent Guide!” and added, “This is a great book which teaches how to have healthy communications in great detail, and in many situations…individual, group or larger entity."

Patton currently resides in Lawrence, Kansas. His long career as an educator included serving approximately 22 years at the University of Kansas (1966-1987), the last 16 of which were as Chair of the Department of Communication and Theatre. He also served for seven years (1987-1994) as Dean of the School of Arts and Letters at California State University-Los Angeles, and five years (1994-1999) as Vice President for Academic Affairs at Wichita State University in Kanas. Throughout his career, he has co-authored or edited at least 22 communication textbooks.