Communication is one of the commonest things people do. It is like eating and breathing. Everyone can do it, and everyone does it – the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the young and the old – and all with reasonable success.
Naturally, people take for granted their ability to communicate well. When there is a serious misunderstanding, the communicator generally blames the communicatee. “He’s so dumb.” “She was perhaps daydreaming.”
As communication is a dynamic and collaborative process, both communicators and communicatees invariably contribute to any breakdown or slowdown in it.
We can think of communication as a journey where no one has the luxury of zipping through the communication highway. There are several invisible roadblocks that slow us down or even force us to take a deviation. Let’s take a closer look at the seven major ones.
Roadblock 1: Differences in perspective
About sixty years ago Bronis Malinowski narrated his encounter with an old cannibal. They happened to talk about the Second World War raging in Europe. The cannibal wanted to know how the Europeans managed to eat the huge quantities of human flesh produced by massive killings. In a rather self-righteous fashion, Malinowski told the old cannibal that Europeans never ate the flesh of the enemies they killed. The cannibal was shocked. “What kind of barbarians are you,” he asked in horror, “to kill people without any real object?”
Both Malinowski and the cannibal were looking at the same event but from widely different perspectives. Each was right. Each felt the other was wrong. Each felt superior to the other. Differences in perspectives are probably the most treacherous of all communication roadblocks because they are the most difficult to detect.
Roadblock 2: Differences in knowledge levels
The stars that an astrologer speaks of are not quite the same as the stars that astronomers speak of. Likewise, an allopathic doctor’s explanation of a disease is different from an ayurvedic doctor’s. Their knowledge systems or categories determine their understanding of reality.
Similarly, the workers and the frontline personnel may have a certain practical or operational knowledge that is missing at the top just as people at the lower levels may not be articulate enough to present their practical knowledge in a way that enables senior managers to understand, appreciate and make use of it. It may thus be dismissed as irrelevant or useless.
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Roadblock 3: Lack of a common language
If you speak to me in Chinese, most of what you try to communicate will not reach me, especially if there are few reliable, non-verbal symbols accompanying your speech. For instance, when an American talks about the trunk, the Indian listener will have difficulty identifying the part. The only trunk he knows is the old-fashioned metal box people used to carry their clothes in while traveling.
Even when we genuinely want to communicate with people who don’t belong to our group, we are prone to using words that may not make sense to them. Examples include not just technical terms but also acronyms, euphemisms, and private short forms. The communicatees may not be able to ask for clarification.
Roadblock 4: Tendency to stereotype and jump to conclusions
A man in a suit stops you at an airport, gives you an elegant business card that shows a posh New Delhi address and says that his briefcase stolen. His air ticket, diary and important documents are all gone. You are likely to buy him a ticket. You might even invite him to your place. You believe his story because your stereotype of well-dressed, polished, and educated people is that they can be trusted. Once you discover that you have been cheated, you change this stereotype.
Our tendency to jump to conclusions is a related roadblock. The reconstruction of a message may be seriously flawed if the inference is too steep.
Roadblock 5: Strong emotions
We may mouth or jot down the right words, but the non-verbal symbols that reflect our emotions may contradict them. Emotions are central to our being. There is no need to repudiate emotions and adopt a purely rational approach to life or to fellow humans. What needs to be recognized is the clouding of inner vision that strong emotions can bring about.
Roadblock 6: Self-centeredness
It is not uncommon for newly-wed couples (and their parents) to impose their wedding videos with full running commentaries on their guests. For the guests there is little to distinguish one wedding video from another. It is a routine, repetitive affair. There is no story, no suspense. Plain boring stuff from start to finish. But for the main players of a wedding it is a record of one of their most enjoyable, most memorable experiences. When one is too self-centered, it is difficult to perceive this simple truth.
People who play their holiday videos and show photographs to their friends, relations and acquaintances without being asked may also be living in a fool’s paradise.
Self-centredness makes us so myopic that we often fail to see beyond our noses. On the other hand, some of us can see the speck in other people’s eyes but not the beam in our own eyes. Even if we escape such pathological dimensions, varying degrees of self-centredness can seriously weaken our roles as communicators and communicatees.
Roadblock 7: Plain laziness
To be a communicator is hard work. To be a good communicator is very, very hard work. Haven’t we sat through presentations which no one but a small minority in the audience could make sense of? Haven’t we come across chief guests at school annual days haranguing parents who have just come to see their children perform? The mismatch comes from the communicator’s failure to find out what is needed and what will work.
We tend to allow all sorts of distractions while reading and listening to others. As a result, we do not reconstruct the messages sent by the communicators or reconstruct them very badly.
(Matthukutty M. Monippally is the author of Business Communication Strategies, which is published by Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Ltd.)
The Basic Communication Model
Deciding on the message
Selecting the right words.
Understanding the other person.
Check your objectives.
What will the other person want from the message?
What will the emotional impact of the message?
Selecting the right medium.
Sending the message.
Giving non-verbal signals.
Not more than 7 ideas to transmit.
Are words and non-verbal signals consistent?
Is the language suitable?
Coping with distortion.
Dealing with distortions.
Avoid interruptions and noise.
Is the seating right?
Perceiving the message.
What phrases, facts and inferences am I looking for?
How can I test my understanding of the message?
Making sense of the message.
Understanding the other person.
What do they mean?
What is the hidden agenda?
How will I handle it if does not fit in with my beliefs?
Deciding on the response.
Starting the next message.
To keep the communication going: nod, smile, and agreeâ€¦.
To stop the communication look uninterested, stop eye contact.
Barriers to Listening
1. Listener Himself
The first set of barriers is raised by the listener himself. The listener’s attitude, interest / pre-occupation, and ability or training to concentrate on sound, play an important role.
If a person thinks he knows everything before the speaker even completes a sentence, he is not really likely to listen.
If the listener does not like the speaker or the subject, he will be pre disposed to interpret the words other than the way they were meant by the speaker. Often such a predisposition is noticed in the discussion and negotiations between management and union representatives.
If something is worrying the person, like say the sudden death of a near and dear one, the person may not be in the frame of mind to receive any message other than the ones related to his preoccupation.
2.By the Speaker
The second set of the Barriers is put up by the speaker himself.
He is more concerned with himself than his audience.
He talks too fast or too slow.
He has too many or too few pauses.
He is too high-pitched or too low pitched.
He is too loud or too soft.
He is too active or too inactive with his mannerism.
He talks down or above the heads of the audience.
He uses the medium, which is unfamiliar to the listener or uses a medium, which attracts more attention than what is being said.
3. Inability to interrupt the non-verbal cues.
The third set of Barriers is posed by the lack of attention paid to and inability to interrupt the non-verbal cues. This set is common to both listeners and speakers. Often attention is paid only to the conscious or deliberate nonverbal cues. But unconscious nonverbal cues go completely unobserved for lack of training. Moreover, even conscious nonverbal cues are often likely to be miss interpreted for lack of knowledge of the culture from which the nonverbal cues are originating. Therefore, the subtle nuances added to or deleted from the meaning are completely missed by both listeners and speakers.
Finally, the fourth set of Barriers consists of physical elements. Distractions, like the sound system being faulty, someone next to the listener going on chattering, some other sound coming from outside the room, a more pleasant vista outside the room, or the uncomfortableness of the room temperature turns off the listener.
Why do the Barrier succeed?
1. There is a gap between the speed with which we speak and the rate at which our brain process information. Usually we speak at the rate of about 125 words per minutes, but when we listen, our brain processes information at 500 words per minute or more. Consequently the brain has idle capacity to wander away.
2. Listening requires much less physical activity than speaking, writing, or reading. As a result the whole body of the listener becomes conducive to wander away or even sleep.
3. Finally, the emphasis given to reading in schools and college train the person to concentrates more on reading and speaking. No body trains the child in listening skills.
Attitudes that help one to become a better listener.
“I am responsible for my actions, feelings and behavior.”
“People are fine just the way they are.”
“I don’t have the power to change others, only myself.”
“Refraining from judging others will assist me in listening to them.”
“I take joy in people and value their uniqueness.”
“I allow others to be on an equal level with myself.”
Non Verbal Communication
How People Communicate
When we talk to each other we use language, that is, spoken words and phases.
WE also use another language: the language of our body “Speaks” as what we talk is the combination of gestures, expression and movements which forms the other type of communication called the body language.
One of the features of body language is that most people are quite conscious of what they are doing with postures and gestures. This means the body language can provide us with clues to the attitudes and feelings of the persons that may or may not be revealed by their spoken words.
Body language is not universal and its interpretation can be very different in different cultures.
Body language is not an exact language and need to be interpreted with care in order to avoid making some unfounded or even foolish judgments.
The three main areas of the body to consider are: face, hands and general body postures.
Key to our visual language are our eyes and how and where we direct them. People who are confident look straight at the person they are talking to.
We also stare hard at those with whom we are angry.
Looking past or beyond someone may indicate an attitude of superiority or disinterest in the other person.
When people look down they may be uncomfortable with the situation because they are nervous or unsure of what they are saying. It may also indicate shyness.
Smiling or looking pleased or displeased enables us to communicate without speech. As we listen we can use our faces to show we agree or disagree, to encourage someone to continue or to warn them to stop.
Our hands are very expressive of our mood and we use them desperately as we communicate with people
The handshake is often the first physical contact we have with another person, especially in business. In western society it is a part of the ritual of greeting, a form of embrace and to avoid shaking hands would be an insult.
The standard handshake where two people just shake hands with equal pressure is of no significance, other than a sign of conventional politeness.
If one person puts their hand on top of the hands being shaken, that person is extending the embrace to show a closer tie. This may be further extended by touching the arm or even the shoulder with the hand. This may be regarded as over familiar by recipients, especially in a business situation but in some cultures this more effusive greeting is common.
Hands and fingers are used as baton signals to reinforce or amplify what we are saying by beating time with our words for emphasis.
we may chop the air with the whole hand to show we are cutting through a problem
Or we may do a form of chopping scissors movement with both hands to show we are rejecting a point. We may do this in a less obvious way when someone else is speaking to signify that we disagree.
Pointing forward with a forefinger can emphasize a particular point. If the finger is jabbing it can be a sign of assertion or domination.
A raised forefinger can be a warning of action. It can be a form of threat. Saying ‘look, if you don’t stop I will..’
HANDS AND ARMS
When arms held open with palms slightly up it might be a sign that we are imploring someone to accept what we are saying.
With palms down the message is to reduce the importance of an issue and perhaps calm the listener.
Palms held up facing towards the listener is a sign of rejection or of pushing away an idea or request.
Palms held towards the speaker is a sign that he wants the listener to embrace an idea
When One hand is held to the side with the palm vertical
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