Getting your message across can be difficult.  Conversely, there are instances where receiving a message is the hard part- and we might not even be aware of our difficulty in receiving it!  Even though I don’t feel deficient in my communication skills, communication is still an area in which I’d like to improve my abilities.  On the advice of an expert who specializes in improving communication among medical professionals, as well as throughout hospitals for improved health care, I ordered a textbook.  Nerd Alert!  And it’s about as exciting as it sounds.  In my experience, you make it through textbook reading for one of two reasons: you hold an extreme fascination with something, or you’re after good grades and maybe accolades.  

This time I’m fascinated, and good thing- because to me text books have always read a little bit like furniture assembly manuals.  Also challenging, is finding a way to summarize all these definitions and concepts in a way that will keep you awake through this week’s Balanced Life post and hopefully allow you to walk away with something! Joseph A. Devito’s work comes highly recommended, however.  I’m not finding it too difficult to get through his Twelfth Edition of The Interpersonal Communication Book.  Working in my favor, perhaps, is my need to understand something on a deeper level in order to feel like I can apply it.  A very simple example: you can tell me an acronym and I may remember it if it forms a catchy word or phrase, but tell me the full name and what the group does and I won’t soon forget.  The bottom line is that I want to know what, how and why.

Professionally, there is much to be gained from being an effective communicator.  When considering MBA graduates (that’s Master of Business Administration for anyone else like me) recruiters rank “communication and interpersonal skills” at the top of the list of attributes they consider when making hiring decisions.  If that alone does not speak to the importance of building upon one’s communication skills, then let’s consider the effects communication can have on personal life and relationships.  “53 percent [of adults asked] felt that lack of effective communication was the major cause of marriage failure... (How Americans Communicate, 1999).”

I’d say that’s a big deal.  What can an introductory level college text possibly show us about something so serious? Well, I believe that having an understanding of the way we behave, both in general as people and as unique individuals,  combined with knowledge about the way communication works, will allow us to be more aware during our own interactions, let us use techniques that foster better communication and give us a launching point if we decide there’s an area we need to learn more about.  So there you have it- I’m searching for golden eggs among the already highlighted pages of a used college text.  

As I’ve slowly made my way through the first part of the text, all of four chapters, I’ve read and reread dozens of defined terms, been introduced to basic concepts and scrutinized what the previous owner scribbled in the margins.  So far, there has only been one concept that has, in a way, surprised me.  Though my ego would like me to tell you I’m the only adult who doesn’t do this, I had a huge “ah-ha!” moment when I read it and was immediately able to come up with grown-up examples of this concept in action.  For the sake of my ego, however, I’ll use an example involving children.  In my scenario,  a parent has just walked into a room and reprimanded two kids for arguing with each other.  The children respond like this:

“He called me a name!”

“She looked at me funny!”

“Yeah, ‘cause he broke my toy!”

And on and on they go, volleying back and forth to find who is at the root of the offensive behavior.  Each of them sees the past series of events and communication in his or her own way- each attributing his or her responses to different events.  This is my attempt at illustrating the concept of punctuation for you.  When we punctuate events we “break them down into a series of stimuli and responses.”  In my “ah-ha” moment, part of what I realized is that during the times  when I disagree with someone and when I’m offended, I punctuate events and focus on that in a way that might not be helpful.  And- surprise, surprise- we do tend to punctuate events in our favor, “protecting our image of ourselves” and our egos, to the extent that the other person is viewed as being wrong.  Getting back to the marriage example, “...among marrieds at least, the individuals regularly see their partner’s behavior as the cause of conflict (Schultz, 1999).”

Whoever said ignorance is bliss must have been feeling kind of lazy, because what that person surely knew is that when you gain knowledge you can take new action.  When you have a new awareness, you can make different choices.  Will knowing this one term from Communication 101 change how I interact with others? Not that likely.  It does bring new awareness though, and it may very well get me to reconsider my point of view in certain situations.

Relationships are a huge part of life and the quality of our relationships impacts our happiness.  To me it seems that even if one might feel that he or she communicates well enough, it would not hurt at all to explore the concept a little more.  My own investigation of communication does not stop here.  Initially I was also going to include some information about listening, but I have quite a bit to summarize.  That is my promise to you for next week and I also promise to take it beyond Introduction to Communication.  I am super excited to share something I read in an article that addressed listening in a way we don’t typically think about when we hear the word.  It really inspired me, so I’m going to share it with you next.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts on any of these topics, so please feel free to leave your comments.

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    Jennifer Loebel