Friday, July 01, 2011

Interpersonal Communication: Listening and Nonverbal Communication

This is the last post in a series.  Please look below and at the archive for the preceding parts.

4. Listening.  The text has a good discussion of listening, so I will only add a few points here.  The primary barriers to good listening, beyond the ones the textbook notes, are
·         Not believing it’s all that important, and
  • The overwhelming number of distractions in our environment.  There are simply too many voices, sounds, media, and messages.
   Nothing anybody can say can convince you that listening is important if you don’t figure that out by experience, but poor listening is as much motivationally-based as it is lack-of-skills-based. If you’ve ever made a doctor’s appointment for one day and time, showed up, and been told you got the wrong time or the wrong office, you know that listening is important. 
   Multi-tasking is a fiction.  You can only pay attention and truly listen to one source at a time.  Yes, it is possible to switch back and forth quickly, but the switching will diminish the quality of your listening. You’d be much better off to answer your email, then make the phone calls, then deal with your Blackberry or your day-planner, then go to the meeting you need to, with your cell phone turned off and your day-planner out of sight.  However, weaning oneself from gadgets and turning them off to focus on one task at a time takes as much determination and discipline as learning to use them did for workers ten or fifteen years ago.  Giving full attention to one thing at a time will ultimately make you more efficient and will impress your coworkers because you are paying attention to them.  The one thing we all love is to know we are being listened to. 
        Gadgetry is always trendy; being a good listener never is.  The gadgets and their appeal will diminish in importance, but being able to fully engage with other humans in a meeting will not.

Listening doesn’t mean awareness that another person is talking.  It inherently means response.  Pseudo-listening is a term for doing behaviors that look like you’re listening but aren’t, such as nodding or saying “uh-huh” as a habit.  The person to whom you are listening should know that you understanding by your specific responses.  They can empathetic, paraphrases of what they have said, or probing questions for more details. 
Listening is best learned by doing, so be prepared to do some listening activities in class.

5 Nonverbal communication.

 We learn first about nonverbal communication, which is any message sent without actual words (and therefore a huge category for discussion) in order to control and eliminate any behaviors that would send a contradictory, negative, or offensive message, especially unknowingly.  Then we can learn to control them so that we can enhance our meanings.  This process is relevant to public speaking, where we first try to get to the point where no unintended message is sent by our tense hands, lack of eye contact, or nonfluencies.  Then we learn to modulate our voice for more energy and effect, balance gestures. Chapter 2 discusses the basics of nonverbal communication; here are some additional points.

General principles.  When nonverbal and verbal contradict, we believe the nonverbal, whether we should or not.  Women are somewhat more intuitive and sensitive to nonverbal communication.  Nonverbal is significantly more weighted than verbal in face-to-face communication.  Written forms have their own form of nonverbal communication, related to layout and elegance of documents. Nonverbal communication does not just contradict, add to, or substitute your verbal communication; it controls the flow of other people’s talk; for example, looking away from someone who is talking will probably make them stop what they are saying.  Nonverbal communication, especially the categories of kinesics (posture), time, and space, send clear messages about status.  People of higher status are allowed to flaunt the rules about timeliness; they are more relaxed in terms of posture and kinesics; they are given more space. 

Categories and meanings.  Be prepared to give examples and discuss these various categories of nonverbal communication.

Vocalics.  The meaning that a voice gives to words through volume, pitch (tone), quality, rate, and dialectical properties (Southerners elongate vowel sounds) is called paralanguage.  It is unfortunate, but our voice carries a great deal of our credibility.  While you cannot change the innate pitch and quality of your voice, you can control the volume, rate, dialectical properties, and vocal variety/energy.  Elimination of "us” and other hesitations should be your first step.  Pausing, talking slower, and using silence are effective substitutes, because uhs really draw attention to themselves.  Monotone and monorate (essentially the same thing) are the next killers of effective vocal patterns. 
Haptics.  Touch. When in doubt, don’t.  Practice your handshake to get it right. 
Proxemics.  Space.  Physical distance and barriers create mental barriers.  Minimize distance the smaller the audience, without getting closer than a yard for business distance.
Oculesics.  Eye behavior.  In a team meeting, everyone should be able to see everyone equally.  Board room tables are about status, and also make seeing everyone difficult.  Avoid for small groups. 
Kinesics.  Body language, from the neck down.  Gestures are necessary in any kind of speaking. Posture is an immediate point of judgment. 
Objectics.  The supervisor/employer wins this one. You have to give up your freedom of expression when it comes to objectics in the workplace.
Chronemics. Time, both duration and clock time.  This behavior is very norm-based, so that each group makes its own rules, but generally, long periods of talk are reserved for people in planned public speaking situations; in group/team discussions, orating is not acceptable and contributions are to be short.  European-American cultures are obsessed with clock time, in comparison to much of the rest of the world.
Silence, physical appearance, and facial expression are other powerful modes.   

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Boardroom Tables

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