Communication plays a vital role in our lives. We communicate based on five reasons which are “to influence people, to establish or maintain interpersonal relationships, to acquire different kinds of knowledge, to help people, and to play” (DeVito, 2001). With this in mind, communication can be considered a sophisticated activity and that is why misunderstandings and conflicts tend to arise. According to Bovée and Thill (2000), communication barriers are usually due to a number of factors such as differences in perception and language, poor listening, emotional interference, cultural differences and physical distraction.
Listening skills is an important aspect in effective communication. Listening is defined as “the acquisition of information in an interpersonal interaction” (Bostrom, 1996a; 1996b). Comprehending, retaining, and responding are the three elements of listening (Rothwell, 2004). There are however, some problems that contribute to the barriers to listening.
Based on the clip “Stephanie Explodes at Eric”, there are three barriers to listening that I observed. First is the competitive interrupting. Competitive interrupting occurs when we dominate the conversation by seizing the floor from others who are speaking. At 00:11 to 00:13, when Eric interrupted Stephanie, the conflict was further ignited. Eric failed to listen to Stephanie’s points. Eric’s actions prove that “men are more frequent competitive interrupters” (Mulac et al., 1988; Stewart et al., 1996).
Secondly, I observed ambushing. Ambushing occurs when we listen for weaknesses and ignore the strengths of a speaker’s message (Rothwell, 2004). At 00:38 to 00:50, Stephanie ambushed Eric by saying that he had an illegitimate child with Brooke, which is totally out of context. In the argument, Eric wants Stephanie to realize that her act of confronting Brooke in front of the media is wrong. However, Stephanie had selectively listened to Eric’s point of view and attack him by bringing up Brooke’s personal life story as Wood (2004) mentioned “Once a conflict begins, everything that has been stored up is thrown in”.
Last but not least, I observed content-only response. A content-only response focuses on the content of a message, but it ignores the emotional side of communication. As cited in 1:13 to 1:23 clip; Eric has long known that Stephanie has never agreed to the idea that Brooke works in their family-business company, Forrester Creations. When Stephanie finally thinks that it is the right time to fire Brooke, Eric failed to understand and acknowledge Stephanie’s feelings towards Brooke. He was too concern with the status of the company. Problems simply arise when we expect or assume the opposite sex should think, feel or act the way we do (Conner, 2000).
In enhancing listening skills, a competent communicator needs to take note of informational listening and critical listening. Informational listening expands our knowledge and understanding of our world whereas critical listening helps us sort through bad ideas to discover good ideas that will solve problems and help us make quality decisions that improve our lives (Rothwell, 2004). Both situations require emphatic listening. Emphatic listening requires us to take the perspective of the other person; to listen for what that person needs (Rothwell, 2004).
In the clip, both Eric and Stephanie could use emphatic listening to enhance their listening skills.
In 00:11 sec, when Stephanie mentioned that “I’m not as angry with Brooke as I am angry with you”, Eric could firstly, used the probing response to “seek more information from others by asking questions” (Rothwell, 2004). He could have asked “Why did you say that?” to understand the underlying causes of Stephanie’s statement.
Secondly, Eric could use supporting response which “acknowledges the feelings of the speaker and tries to boost the person’s confidence” (Rothwell, 2004). Instead of saying “this is not about you” in 1:37 sec, Eric could have said “I can see how much Forrester means to you.” The response will acknowledge Stephanie’s feelings thus calming her down.
Last but not least, in resolving conflict, Stephanie could use the understanding response which “requires a listener to check his or her comprehension of the speaker’s message by paraphrasing and perception checking” (Rothwell, 2004). In time code 1:37 to 1:55, rather than shouting “don’t you dare talking to me about any damn united front”, Stephanie could have responded “I understand you’re concerned about the future of Forrester, and you agree that Brooke’s behavior is unacceptable.”
Based on the clip, I perceived Eric to be in the right. The first attribution that I’ve made with regards to his behavior is based on internal attribution which is caused by internal factors such as “personality, characteristics and individual belief” (Dobkin-Pace, 2006). In the argument, Eric has consistently portrayed a strong characteristic as a businessman as he showed that he certainly knows what is best for the company and stood by it. The first cue is he tells Stephanie that the argument is not about her and that they should worked together to put up a united front so as to convince the media that the company is not falling apart. Secondly, although he has a personal relationship with Brooke, his argument with Stephanie has never been based on his feeling but for the interest of the company.
The second attribution I made is based on external attribution which is caused by “external forces such as the social situation or physical environment” (Dobkin-Pace, 2006). The main reason why the arguments between Eric and Stephanie started is because Stephanie made a rude remark towards Brooke in public which might jeopardize the future of the company. Because the remark was made in public, Eric had to react immediately to defend Brooke hence not able to control himself as he is overwhelmed with shock and anger. I made this attribution based on the words of Eric who reminded Stephanie that it is wrong to insult Brooke in front of her children, employees and media (cue 00:27 sec to 1.05 sec).
In making my attribution about Eric, there are two biases that I may have made. Firstly is the fundamental attribution error which is defined as “the overestimation of the degree to which other people’s behaviors are due to internal factors and underestimation of the significance of external forces” (Dobkin-Pace, 2006). I mentioned earlier that Eric’s defense toward Brooke is solely for the benefit of the company. However, I may have overestimated the behavior. It can be possible that Eric still have feelings towards Brooke whom he had children with. This in turn, explained his behavior towards Stephanie when she made a remark on Brooke.
Secondly is the attractiveness bias which means “we tend to think better of attractive than unattractive people and we tend to make positive attributions about their behavior” (Dobkin-Pace, 2006). From the start, I have paid more attention to Eric’s points rather than Stephanie due to the fact that as a women, I tend to be attracted to physical attractiveness of a male as compared to female which I believe affects my attributions.
It is natural for human beings to make perceptions toward others without finding the actual facts. Based on the study above, it is proven that these biased perceptions tend to cause grievances, misunderstanding and conflicts. Therefore, it is important to practice good communication in our everyday lives.
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