COMMUNICATION SKILLS COMMUNICATION SKILLS CONTENTS Introduction Communication Theory The Development of Language in Humans Evolutionary psychology Empathy Which theory? 2 2 3 3 3 4 Reading body language Five guidelines for reading body language: 1 Focus attention on the most helpful cues 2 Read non–verbals in context. 3 Note discrepancies. 4 Be aware of your own feelings and bodily reactions. 5 Reflect your understanding back to the other part for confirmation. 4 6 6 7 7 7 7 Listening Skills
Active Listening A model of Listening Skills Attending Skills An involving body posture Appropriate gestures Eye contact An environment free of distractions Following Skills Openers Little encouragements Use just a few questions Silence 15 Reflecting Skills Speaker problems Listener problems The Paraphrase Reflection of feelings Reflection of meanings Summarized reflections References and Further Reading 8 8 9 10 10 11 11 12 12 12 14 14 16 16 16 17 17 18 19 19 1 COMMUNICATION SKILLS INTRODUCTION This session describes the communication process.
In our model for this course, we concentrate on individual communication, but the principles and theories remain the same, regardless of whether we communicate with individuals or groups, or with society at large. In this section, we will look at communication theory, reading body language and listening skills. 1 COMMUNICATION THEORY The theory shown in Figure 1 is general for all kinds of communication, including conversation, body language, data networks, and so on. It works as follows: Transmitter Encoding Noise Decoding Receiver Feedback
Figure 1 — A general theory of communication. 1 A person, or source has a message to send. This message has to be encoded e. g coded into English. At this point, a decision has been made about the target audience — they understand English. Not only that, the coding can go deeper: what flavour of English does the audience understand? Cockney rhyming slang? Computer geek jargon? Businessese? What about body language? Threatening? Appeasing? Powerful? Loving? 2 Having encoded the message, it is sent through the appropriate channel e. g. mail, conversation, newsletter, presentation, telephone. At this point, another problem occurs: noise in the channel can scramble the message. This is easily recognisable as a crossed line on a telephone or using a mobile in a noisy street, or even having2/3 people speaking to you at the same time. In any case, the message can be damaged. 3 Once the message has been despatched, it needs to be decoded by the receiver. Again, there are problems. I can think of occasions when I have received abrupt emails, and taken offence.
The fault is mine, perhaps, or maybe of the original encoding, but it damages the communication and reduces understanding. 1 For more information, access Wikipedia using Communication as a search term 2 COMMUNICATION SKILLS 4 Having received the message, decoded it and digested it, the receiver should provide feedback to the transmitter to enable the transmitter to learn whether the communication was successful. If it did not succeed, the transmitter can try again, receive feedback, and so on, sometimes indefinitely. Note: text books describe this model without giving a reference.
If you want to read more on the subject (and it is complex! ) go to Wikipedia and enter communication models as a search term. THE DEVELOPMENT OF LANGUAGE IN HUMANS There appear to be two main schools of thought concerning the development of language in human beings. Evolutionary psychology The human race originated in Africa and started their migration to the rest of the world around 100,000 years ago. Other forms of human–like species — such as Neanderthal man — lived alongside Home sapiens and then died out. The reason for their disappearance is not known, but Neanderthal man died out in Britain around 35,000 years ago.
Now, since the whole of the human race has a language capacity, it seems reasonable to suppose that it was already developed by the time that the migration from Africa began. Indeed, anatomical studies show that the larynx moved to its current position around 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. The lower larynx allows humans to generate a wider range of sounds, but it comes at a price: it brings a higher risk of choking. However, the larynx only provides the capacity for language: it doesn’t mean that humans actually used it — but it does seem reasonable to suppose that they did.
The next point concerns why humans needed such a sophisticated system as language. The British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, challenged the prevailing assumption that language was needed for efficient hunting. He suggested that language was needed to exchange information about the social environment. His view was based on the observation that humans started to live in much larger groups of about 150, around the time that they developed the larynx. Groups are held together by alliances, networks, altruism — all subjects that we will examine later in the course.
Humans needed to gossip, to obtain the valuable social information about who you can trust — they didn’t want to be cheated and so learn the hard way that someone is a cheat. This may explain our present–day fascination with gossip! This theory is criticized by Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University. He claims that the brain is much too complex to be pre–programmed in this way. Empathy Various animal species, including humans, can learn to do something by watching others. Research in the early 1990s by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues at the University of 3 COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Parma discovered neural activity in a particular site in the brain when a monkey was performing a task, and also when the monkey was watching someone perform the task. The researchers named the cells found at this brain site mirror neurons. Other researchers then set out to discover whether humans had similar mechanisms in their brains. Vilayanur Ramachandran and colleagues at the University of San Diego have apparently shown, using brain imaging techniques, that the neurons do exist in humans. Rizzolatti proposed that mirror neurons could be the link between action and communication.
Interestingly, human evolution took the ‘Great Leap Forward’ somewhere between 45,000 and 75,000 years ago. This is the period when symbolic art appeared (pictures appeared around 30,000–40,000 years ago), followed by a significant jump in the complexity of tools and weapons and the invention of rituals such as burying the dead with beads and flowers. Ramachandran thinks that mirror neurons may be responsible for this. These cultural advances ‘stuck’ in the minds and memories of the population because it had the capability to imitate and understand the actions of others.
Ramachandran has performed studies on autistic children that show that they do not seem to have the same functioning mirror neurons as the rest of the population. This implies that we use mirror neurons to empathise with others in order to understand their emotional state. Which theory? There is clearly a disparity of dates between the two theories described here. Indeed, writing only appeared around 5,000–6,000 years ago. Research continues, but the approach we will take in this course is as follows: n The concept of mirror neurons will be used to explain individual processes such as body language. The idea of communication being important for gossip will be used to explain political and group processes. READING BODY LANGUAGE Human beings have only had a language faculty for a relatively short period in their history. This does not mean, however, that Homo sapiens did not communicate before then. The studies described in the previous section suggested that early forms of communication were based upon mimicry and empathy. It seems that early man, in order to understand what another was saying, mimicked their body movements, then felt what those movements meant? . e. s/he used empathy. We have already seen that studies of how the brain works have revealed the existence of mirror neurons. These neurons can translate actions that we observe into feelings. So, if I observe a boxer taking a hard punch, I can feel it, and wince automatically. 4 COMMUNICATION SKILLS The implications of this are enormous. It means that people are speaking to us all the time using body language. It also means that we may be deceitful and lie using words, but we cannot lie with our body language.
This explains why body language is so important, and why we must attend to it. Indeed, an old colleague of mine used to say “Always tell the truth — it’s easier to remember. ” How can we use this in practice? A recent TV programme (Spring 2004) sought to help viewers read the body language of important people. They proposed that there were three useful categories of body language: Transitions: this is where a person moves out of or into their comfort zone. Their body language displays this transition.
For example, Prince Charles alights from his official car and immediately starts fiddling with his tie, cuff–links, jacket, and so on. He feels comfortable in his official car, and will shortly adjust to his new environment, but in the intervening period, you will see him fiddling. Prince William has an even more pronounced habit. When he leaves his comfort zone, he rubs the top of his head. When he re–enters it, he does the same. There is a clear physical separation of these two zones. Leakages: this is the term given to those displays of body language that betray our real feelings.
George W Bush, for example, bites his cheek when he is uncomfortable. This is quite extraordinary because his body language is so consistent, strutting almost. When challenged on this apparently arrogant manner of his, he replied: “In Texas, we call it ‘walking’”. Power displays: this is the big one. These are the displays that let the other person know that you are more powerful than they are. George W Bush is very, very impressive in this regard. The main way of doing this is by physically touching the other person, grasping their arm and propelling them where you want them to go.
For example, Tony Blair greets the US President at the front door of No. 10. Traditionally, the host invites the guest inside and the guest precedes the host. However, this simple action at another level implies that the person entering last is the most powerful. So Bush immediately extends a hand, touches and guides Tony before him through the door. Bush is in charge. A few years ago, President Clinton invited Yasser Arafat and the Israeli leader to peace talks at his holiday retreat in America.
A newsreel recorded the antics of the two middle–eastern leaders when invited inside after a photocall. There was an astonishing scene where Arafat and the Israeli physically wrestled with each other to avoid being first through the door after Clinton. It was important for each of them to demonstrate their superior power over the other. Bush can achieve this superiority with all the major leaders of the world, demonstrating his greater power physically as well as politically. However, he can’t cope with our Royal family.
The Queen and Prince Philip are so sure of their power and position that they don’t play the game. Bush doesn’t know what to do in their company, and so displays great discomfort (through “leakage” signs). 5 COMMUNICATION SKILLS Incidentally, this action of touching to demonstrate power over the other person could explain the problems caused by men touching women in public. There are great issues of power and control between men and women, almost always below the surface, so if touching implies power, then women do not want to be touched by men.
FIVE GUIDELINES FOR READING BODY LANGUAGE: 1 2 3 4 5 1 Focus attention on the most helpful cues. Read non–verbals in context. Note discrepancies. Be aware of your own feelings and bodily reactions. Reflect your understanding back to the other party for confirmation. Focus attention on the most helpful cues Look out for: Facial expression n n The eyes give away the most information. As a person grows older, his/her most consistent emotional state seems to be permanently etched on his/her face. Vocal clues The following voice characteristics are likely to have the following meanings Characteristic Monotone voice Slow speed, low pitch High voice, emphatic pitch Ascending tone Abrupt speech Terse speed, loud tone High pitch, drawn–out speech Posture, gestures and “actions” A person’s posture and body movements can speak volumes about his/her feelings, self– image and energy level. The movements of the head, arms, hands, legs and feet can be very 6 Probable meaning Boredom Depression Enthusiasm Astonishment Defensiveness Anger Disbelief COMMUNICATION SKILLS revealing.
A person wishing to terminate a conversation, for instance, may stretch her legs, waggle her foot, straighten the papers on her desk, close her briefcase, and/or sit in an upright position in preparation for leaving. A group will often adopt a body language consensus. The leader needs to read that consensus and respond to it. The posture may suggest low energy levels, indicating the leader should terminate proceedings or energize the group. 2 Read non–verbals in context. No single motion ever stands alone. It is part of a pattern and its meaning is best understood in context.
For example, a wrinkling of the nose can mean something unpleasant, such as a smell, or a sign of affection. 3 Note discrepancies. When there is a discrepancy between words and body language, both messages are important. It probably means that the person is experiencing some conflict and may not be admitting his/her own feelings to him/herself. 4 Be aware of your own feelings and bodily reactions. Knowing that the gestures and bodily movements of a person are a clue to that person’s emotional state, match those postures and gestures with your own body. You will find that