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Communication plays a major role in all facets of an individual's life. Everyday interactions with family, friends and colleagues will either benefit from effective communication or will be difficult from unsuccessful communication. Skills commonly associated with effectively communicating can be learned by understanding the principles and misconceptions in effective interpersonal communications and knowing the barriers to effective interpersonal interactions. Also, one must be able to assess their personal communications and improve their communication competencies. By accomplishing these tasks and constantly searching for ways to improve one can become an effective communicator.
To understand interpersonal communication it is imperative to understand that it is constantly changing and should be adjusted for the audience. In effective interpersonal communication a sender and receiver in a given setting must relay messages through different channels while attempting to minimize noise. Thusly, to be an effective communicator one must understand the principles and misconceptions associated with interpersonal communication (Weaver, 2007, p 14).
One on one communication is the most basic form of interpersonal communication. It can be a conversation between friends or it can be an interview for a job. In this form, noise or interference that keeps a message from being understood is at its lowest because the sender can see if the receiver is distracted. Also, the opportunity for feedback is at its highest provided there are little distractions or noise(Weaver, 2007, p15).
A humorous approach to the difficulty of communicating was established by Osmo Wiio (Wiio, 1978, p 4):
"If communication can fail, it will. If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which does the most harm. There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message. The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed."
In actuality, by constantly improving one's communication skills, this Murphy's Law to communication can be avoided. When establishing beneficial principles for effective interpersonal communication one should consider strategic flexibility. This is the idea of expanding one's communication repertoire in order to use the best skill or behavior available for a particular situation (Weaver, 2007, p132). Strategic flexibility follows six steps: anticipate, assess, evaluate, select, apply and reassess and reevaluate. Anticipation is being preparing one's self for any scenario which may arise. Keeping in mind that interpersonal communication can occur in any place or at any time. The next step is to assess the situations in which one finds themselves in. In this, one is required to consider the factors, elements and conditions. After completing this step it is imperative to evaluate the factors and decide the impact that they will have on the speaker's skills and abilities. Once the determination has been made one must select the skills that will have the best impact on the current situation. Now that the skills have been selected they must be applied. Lastly, the reassess and reevaluate stage requires interpreting the effectiveness of the utilized skills in the scenario. This gives the opportunity to look at the good as well as the bad to determine if the best case scenario occurred or if adjustments need to be made.
Two people misunderstanding each other is not uncommon. Time and again, individuals fall victim to misconceptions about how to effectively communicate with one another. These misconceptions create barriers to engaging in effective exchange and genuine conversation. By understanding these fallacies one can begin to participate in more meaningful communication. One common misconception is thinking that if something is said it will be understood. This is not entirely true because the meaning of a message is decided by the receiver, so saying one thing can mean something different to another person. To overcome this misconception one must use feedback to ensure the message was understood as intended. Another misconception would be to believe that more communication is better. If a person feel misunderstood they may feel talking more or louder is the best alternative. Naturally, this can lead to even more misunderstanding instead of clarification. One must attempt different ways of expressing themselves and remember that an important skill of effective communication is to know when to keep quite. Sometimes individuals fall victim to the fallacy of attempting to solve any problem at any time through communicating. This in fact can exacerbate a problem especially when emotions like anger, jealousy and resentment are present. It is important to take time for self reflection or cool down time to gain perspective on an issue. Lastly, but one of the most dangerous misconceptions is thinking the ability to communicate is a natural ability that some have and some do not. The ability to effectively communicate is not an innate ability but can be learned and refined. Believing this misconception encourages individuals not to strive to improve themselves. While all of these misconceptions are dangerous if accepted they are not true. Through understanding the principles of effective communication and the misconceptions they can be avoided (Adler, 2006, p 57).
Many people think that communicating is easy. After all, people begin communicating from the time they are born. While this simplistic view has some truth to it. Alone, communicating is straightforward. It is the barriers in the way that make it complex, difficult and even frustrating at times. Some barriers that occur are physical, perceptual, emotional, cultural, language and gender barriers (Hogan, 2003, p 95).
Physical barriers can be anything from closed doors to closed countries. In either instance interpersonal communication is difficult because individuals feel dissuaded because of the physical barriers that exist. This may be the simplest barrier to overcome because all that is needed is to remove the physical barrier. Whether it is opening a door or a leader removing travel restrictions to their country the barrier can be hurdled (Hill, 2007, p 119).
Everyone in the world is different and because of this perceptual barriers exist. No two people can agree on everything and sometimes the differences in views can be so great that they create communication barriers. It is important to remember that even though a person's view may differ we can still gain valuable insight from them.
A difficult barrier to overcome is the emotional barrier. When people feel insecure, uncertain or cannot trust others they find it difficult to communicate. Past experiences of betrayal or embarrassment are a constant reminder of the risk associated with opening up and communicating. Only through conquering these negative feelings can one become an effective communicator and form relationships.
Effective communication with people of different cultures is especially challenging. Cultures provide people with ways of thinking--ways of seeing, hearing, and interpreting the world. Thus the same words can mean different things to people from different cultures, even when speaking the same language. When the languages are different, and translation has to be used to communicate, the potential for misunderstandings increases. Stella Ting-Toomey describes three ways in which culture interferes with effective cross-cultural understanding. First is what she calls cognitive constraints. These are the frames of reference or world views that provide a backdrop that all new information is compared to or inserted into. Second are behavior constraints. Each culture has its own rules about proper behavior which affect verbal and nonverbal communication. Whether one looks the other person in the eye-or not; whether one says what one means overtly or talks around the issue; how close the people stand to each other when they are talking; all of these and many more are rules of politeness which differ from culture to culture. Ting-Toomey's third factor is emotional constraints. Different cultures regulate the display of emotion differently. Some cultures get very emotional when they are debating an issue. They yell, they cry, they exhibit their anger, fear, frustration, and other feelings openly. Other cultures try to keep their emotions hidden, exhibiting or sharing only the "rational" or factual aspects of the situation. All of these differences tend to lead to communication problems. If the people involved are not aware of the potential for such problems, they are even more likely to fall victim to them, although it takes more than awareness to overcome these problems and communicate effectively across cultures (Kockelman, 2010, p 33).
The language barrier exists not only to different languages but because of expressions and buzz-words that are often used in interpersonal communication. Along with misunderstanding, this barrier when coupled with emotional barriers can lead to anger or aggression. For example, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev saying to the Americans at the United Nations, "We will bury you!" At the time it was believed he meant nuclear annihilation. Nevertheless, Khruschev's words more accurately translated would be, "We will overtake you!" which suggest economic superiority. American fear and suspicion towards the Soviet Union at the time, not the language, led to the interpretation. To rise above language barriers it is important to ensure that one is not speaking abstractly but directly to the point. One must realize that expressions used in their community may not have the same meaning in another (Hogan, 2003, p 107).
Lastly, there are distinct differences between the speech patterns in a man and those in a woman creating gender differences. While a woman speaks between 22,000 and 25,000 words a day a man speaks between 7,000 and 10,000. During childhood females typically begin speaking before males and by the age of three young women have vocabularies twice the size of males. The reason for this lies in the wiring of a man's and woman's brains. When a man talks, his speech is located in the left side of the brain but in no specific area. When a woman talks, the speech is located in both hemispheres and in two specific locations. This means that a man talks in a linear, logical and compartmentalized way, features of left-brain thinking; whereas a woman talks more freely mixing logic and emotion, features of both sides of the brain. It also explains why women talk for much longer than men each day (Hogan, 2003, p 130).
There are distinct barriers to interpersonal communication that individuals create. These barriers are withdraw, rituals, pastimes, working activities, games and closeness. Interpersonal contact cannot exist if one withdrawals themselves. Withdraw is the refusal to be in touch and puts a person into solitude. Some rituals can be meaningless, repetitive routines make it impossible for real contact. These types of rituals can be a result of withdraw. When a person participates in social but superficial pastimes they are denying themselves meaningful contact. While working activities are those tasks which follow the rules and procedures of contact but no more. This barrier is also a result of an individual engaging in contact other than what may be expected. One may also participate in games to push others away or keep them at bay. They are restrained, calculated interactions which are about winning and losing. At times, closeness, the aim of interpersonal contact where there is a high level of honesty and acceptance of one's self and others, is intimidating. Individuals will constantly attempt to distance themselves by hiding behind another barrier. To overcome these barriers one must change not only their behavior, but the feelings, thoughts and insecurities leading to this behavior. This as with all things takes time and practice but the benefits of effective interpersonal communication are undoubtedly worth it( Hogan, 2003, p 153).
While assessing one's personal communications there are important questions that need to be asked. In their text, Communicating Effectively, Hybels and Weaver present several questions to ask. First ask which communication skills am I most likely to need? While one should strive to improve communication on all levels, individuals according to their needs and desires will be required to improve certain skills more. For example, an international banker may be required to be skilled at intrapersonal communication, interpersonal communication, small-group, intercultural, computer-mediated, and public communication. The need arises exist because they would constantly be interacting on every medium. Whereas, a mechanic in a small town would not be challenged everyday to participate in intercultural communication, but that is not to say that the need would never occur. After this is established one must ask, which communication skills am I most lacking? This question encourages individuals to consider where they need to improve. If the mechanic decides to begin an online auto parts store he must consider that improving his computer-mediated and intercultural communication need to be improved. Individuals should constantly assess their skills and see where they are lacking. Now that it is understood where improvement is needed one must find how to get communication practice. If the mechanic decides to join an online forum for international entrepreneurs he would be seeking practice for improving the skills of where he realizes a need for improvement. There are several ways through formal schooling, internet and even practicing at the mall to improve communication skills. If one needs extra practice they must find where to get help. This question goes hand and hand with seeking practice. When engaging people during practice, if one explains that they need help, they will find it. Through networking the possibility exist to engage in new forms of communication but also to ask for advice. Once all of these questions have been answered a realistic time table should be set. It is an outline to follow for improvement. The outline provides practical guidance for improvement even though one must consider improvement can only be attained through practice and improving communication skills never stops (Weaver, 2007, p 22).
In conclusion, everyday individuals communicate with one another. Whether it is verbal or non-verbal it is taking place. Because communication plays such a large role in our life it is imperative improve the skills that make it effective. Only through understanding the principles and misconceptions in effective interpersonal communications and knowing the barriers to effective interpersonal interactions. Along with the ability to assess one's personal communications and improve their communication competencies; can we greatly increase our ability to effectively communicate. Even with these skills it is important to remember that learning and improvement is continues. We must use every day, every interaction as an opportunity to practice. In turn, this will stimulate happiness, effectiveness and satisfaction in our personal and professional life.