How to Communicate Better in Recovery

How to Communicate Better in Recovery
image from


A recurring theme on this website is the encouragement to enhance your communication skills. This applies to various scenarios, be it in meetings, interactions with other AA members, or the world at large. When your intended message is accurately perceived, everyone benefits. This principle applies to both spoken and written communication.

The Challenge in Effective Communication

Communicating with clarity can be a challenging task requiring consistent effort. Often, speakers aren't completely sure about what they're trying to convey, and talking it out becomes part of the process to refine their thoughts. This is quite normal. Shares at meetings frequently exhibit this partially-developed quality. AA members, for the most part, should not necessarily strive to become professional speakers.

The Need for Improvement

What I want to emphasize in this post is the need for AA members to be cognizant of their communication styles and make the necessary changes. The objective is to avoid alienating people due to an uninformed communication approach. We aim to support, not deter newcomers with our words.

Resistance to Change

Unsurprisingly, some veterans may dismiss this conversation about language refinement as excessive. They might argue, "Who cares! When I got sober, they told me this and that! I needed that bluntness!" They justify their blunt, sometimes harsh delivery. You can expect such individuals to conclude with a comment like, "Well, in that case, if you drink, you might as well call Shakespeare!"

Understanding Loaded Terminology and Perspectives

Being aware of potentially divisive terms and concepts is the first step towards becoming a more inclusive communicator of AA principles that assist newcomers in maintaining sobriety. Words like God, Higher Power, spirituality, prescription medicine, religion, rehabs, therapy, and non-alcohol related problems can all evoke strong reactions. The list could quickly grow, and many terms carry emotional baggage. For example, the term "meditation" today means something entirely different than when it was defined in 1939.

The Danger of Dogmatism

Using these charged terms with an air of dogmatism can deter someone from attending their first meeting. This isn't an appealing approach. An AA member dictating to a newcomer "exactly what they need to do," either based on "personal experience" or citing "page XX of the big book," can be off-putting to someone genuinely seeking help. Bear in mind, many of these newcomers are vulnerable. What they need is empathy and thoughtful, personalized support.

Challenging Traditional Attitudes

Again, some old-timers might argue, "the program is the program, people need to hear it raw! Otherwise, they may never discover the truth that can liberate them!" To this, one might sarcastically add, "And why not end with 'F them!'?" That's the underlying attitude.

Addressing Ego and 'Big-Shot-ism'

But isn't this attitude reminiscent of the 'Big-Shot-ism' that Bill W. warned against? To quote my mother, "who died and made you king?" Who anointed you the absolute authority in AA? I can tell you who – your ego. Such a position doesn't exist. And as we've discussed before, for alcoholics, in most cases, ego is not your friend.

Effective Communication Techniques

So, if you wish to enhance your effectiveness in delivering a persuasive AA message in meetings, one-on-one, or in conversations, I encourage you to adopt these established communication techniques:

  1. Think before you speak.
  2. Speak in complete sentences.
  3. Stay focused on your main point.
  4. Avoid over-sharing.
  5. Describe rather than prescribe.
  6. Refrain from speaking for others using "we" or "you".
  7. Provide brief examples to illustrate your points.
  8. Limit and soften the use of loaded terms.
  9. Prioritize empathy, compassion