The purpose of this blog post is to highlight the lessons I learned while taking Interpersonal Communication (COM 2206). This class, in short focuses on why we communicate, while also breaking down the how, and provides information on the dynamics of the many forms of communication we use. While attending this course I learned quite a lot about myself in terms of how I communicate, positive and negative, either way the lessons I learned will stick with me long after the conclusion of this course. Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication was the text for the class, reading the text didn’t feel like just reading just any old book for school, it peaked my interest with each chapter, it was more than just reading for school purposes, it was reading for life purposes.
One of the (if not the) most important lessons I learned that I shared with others around me was how many characteristics nonverbal communication possessed. Prior to this course I thought nonverbal communication was simply body language, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While body language IS a part of it, there are other things as well, the one that shocked me the most was voice. I thought to myself, obviously voice couldn’t be a part of nonverbal communication could it? Its verbal…right? Well it’s more complicated than that, see voice is broken down into 6 parts: rate (fast or slow), tempo (emphasis or pauses), volume (quiet or loud), pitch (high and low), tone (sweet or stern) and accent (regional or international), which means it isn’t about what you say, but how you say it. I’d guess most of us have had someone say to us (or we’ve said to them), “why did you say it like that?,” this was something I was completely aware of, I’ve heard and said that statement so many times, but the way the text broke it down it as nonverbal communication really resonated with me. I realized how quickly a statement like, “wow…now that’s something,” could completely transform depending on what nonverbal cues used with the statement. Another way we verbally communicate turned is one of the ways we talk the most these days, text messages, text can be ambiguous hence why we have so many problems communicating through text only, but there are ways to convey our emotions, punctuation is one, but even more than that…emojis, which express the emotion of the message. I started to wonder what emotions my nonverbal communication gave off to those around me. I can be quite sarcastic it’s just my humor, but this lesson made me wonder for the first time if everyone understood it that way, short answer is probably not. Every person communicates in their own way, this could be for a variety of reasons, where they come from, their cultural background, what environment they are in. This chapter made me think of my relationship with my 10 year old son, he is an empath, if you are feeling something so is he, there’s so many times I have not realized that I’m showing emotion through my nonverbal communication until he points it out. Knowing that how my nonverbal behavior affects him has really made me more aware of my behavior and now it’s something I’m actively working on.
Our chapter on listening really stood out to me as well, to me listening used to mean, paying attention to what the other person is saying. Listening goes beyond that, as Adler et al. defined it, “listening — at least the interpersonal type — as the process of receiving and responding to others’ messages,” (page, 197). This was another thing that made complete sense once I’d read it, but I had never thought of it that way before, I didn’t think of listening as also responding. I learned that there are listening styles: task-oriented (focused on the task only), relational (focused on emotion), analytical (focused on the full message without judgement) and critical (focused on listening for consistency). The exercise where I was able to evaluate my own listening skills really opened my eyes. I am mainly a task-oriented listener, which can leave the speaker feeling as if I may not care about their emotions, if the relationship I share with them is a personal one, but this listening style works quite well in a work setting. I had a few very close friends evaluate their listening styles, luckily for me we all scored high in similar listening styles which made me feel better as I hoped I’d never made them feel as if I did not care about their message on an emotional level. The section on understanding in this chapter was a highlight for me, understanding comes across as a simple concept yet many of us are unable to do it in a way that satisfies the speaker, which brings back around the fact that every person communicates differently. You could hang onto every word someone speaks, but that does not mean that you understand them. The concept of listening fidelity was introduced to me in this section, listening fidelity as cited from Powers & Witt by Adler et al. is, “the degree of congruence between what a listener understands and what the message sender was attempting to communicate,” the listener and the speaker both want the same thing, to be understood, not to necessarily be agreed with. In my friendships, kinships, and relationships, I have often wished to be understood, I want the listener to understand my position, I don’t mind them disagreeing with it, as long as they have taken the time to put themselves in my shoes.
While I learned and enjoyed the previous lessons, another important topic for me was conflict management. This is a sensitive area for many, a lot of people think there is only one way to approach conflict in my personal experience. I like to listen to the individual and reason with them if they are upset, I thought this was the best way to calm them down and allow for conversation, but that is not always the case. Recently I was attempting to mediate a tense situation, I kept calm, I attempted to calm the others down, but no matter what I did, it didn’t work. As a result, I myself became silently upset with myself because I thought what I tried to do wasn’t good enough, because surely if I took control of the situation it would be settled right? Wrong. I took responsibility in something that didn’t involve me just because I wanted to help loved ones settle a conflict. There are five conflict styles: avoidance (lose-lose), accommodation (lose-win), competition (win-lose), compromise (middle ground) and collaboration (win-win). In this particular instance I was a part of, avoidance was used, neither side said what they felt toward the other, but made it abundantly clear there was an issue to a third party (me). This caused for resentment between the two parties and emotions to rise to the point of no return. Avoidance, “occurs when people choose not to confront an issue directly,” (Adler et al., page 328). Both parties thought negatively of the interaction before it even happened, so it was avoided, but once conflict sits and festers, the emotions about a situation become worse than the situation itself. Thanks to this lesson in class I was able to share with both parties what I had learned from observing their interaction and while they are not back to where they once were friendship wise, they are at least cordial with one another, and that was thanks to this lesson.
In the end, this course has helped me understand human communication in a way that I will cherish forever, this course goes beyond just academic purposes, it’s a way of life, it IS our life to attempt to understand others and maintain our relationships with them. The course was a way of understanding other humans and a way of understanding myself. Human interaction is something that will remain a subject of study and wonder as long as we exist, we will use communication the rest of our lives, thankfully this course opened up my eyes to communications importance, so that from now on, a conversation will never simply be…just a conversation, but an observation of an exchange.
Thank you for reading,
Adler, Ronald B., Proctor, Russel F., Rosenfeld, Lawrence B. Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.