Saturday, July 09, 2011

Understanding Communication Process: Continuation of Series

See archives for previous posts on this topic. This is a series I wrote for a business communication class.

Axiom 3:  People communicate to define the nature of their relationships.  This explains the basic reason behind communication—not to exchange abstract information for the sake of abstract information, but in order to sit how we fit with everyone else around us.  This requires a stretch of the imagination for most of us, but without relationships of different sorts, the information has not context.

Axiom 4:  The nature of a relationship is dependent upon how the people punctuate the communicational sequences.  Say what?  Look at it this way.  If you are in the grocery store and hear part of a conversation between two people you don’t know, are you hearing the whole conversation?   From its very beginning?  So, who started it?  If there’s a disagreement, who’s the catalyst for the disagreement?  You don’t know.  When you are in the middle of a conversation, it’s still true, but you might think your partner “started” it.  She or he might think you did.  Who is right?  Each of you “punctuates” the interaction differently.  The point here is to not get caught up in blame, on dwelling in the past, but on a solution-orientation.

Axiom 5:  Human beings communicate both analogically (nonverbally, which has its limitations but largely sends messages about relationship) and digitally (verbally, linguistically, which is indirect in terms of relationship but is more capable of sending messages about content and ideas.

Axiom 6:  Interaction can be symmetrical, which is characterized by equality (of power, especially) and minimalization of difference, or complementary, which is characterized by maximization of difference and inequality of status or power.  The real world has both, and one is not good and the other bad.  A healthy relationship has times of symmetrical interaction and complementary interaction. 
For business communication, this means recognizing that the two types of interaction have their own rules.

1.3 Parts of the system
Therefore, when I discuss communication, I will be thinking of it in terms of a systemic process composed of seven elements.  Each of these elements exists but the impact of each one varies from time to time and encounter to encounter. 

  1. context.  There is a reason this one comes first. 
    1. historical.  What has happened in communicating with this person or group before?  Unfortunately, prior communication experiences still “speak” within the current one.  You can’t easily divorce this one encounter or conversation with previous ones.  That’s good in one way, because you have greater similarities of experience with people you’ve communicated with before (see diagram 1-7 on page 14).  You can use short-hand, you don’t have to explain everything, you have in-jokes, etc.  But it’s bad in a way.  If there has been any misinformation or disinformation (read: lying), if one person has a communication style that doesn’t respond to requests for change, if someone is constantly late, if there are other credibility/trust problems, that also becomes part of the context:  Point:  Keep short accounts on your communication behavior, realizing it doesn’t go away.  (Hint, if you’re married, bringing up history in arguments is not a good idea.)  Furthermore, if a new person joins a work group, don’t assume they know the history.  That’s really unfair.
    2. Cultural or co-cultural.  This could be anything from the United States, the Northwest Georgia culture, and the company’s culture (all organizations have a culture and an accompanying climate, discussed later). 
    3. Social.  This could be the number of people involved, the expectations (formal, informal), the overall purpose of the interaction (problem-solving group, sales presentation)
    4. Environmental.  This refers to the physical setting—typical board room, more relaxed, classroom, large auditorium, cubicle, private office.
  1. senders/receivers (interactants).  A systems view of communication does not emphasize the motivations, worldviews, frames of reference, and psychological ups and downs of the communicators.   Just remember that all the uniqueness and complexity that goes into who you are is equaled in every other person.  If you have a bad day, your supervisor can have a bad day, too

  1. meanings to be shared.  What are the sources of these meanings?  The first response would be the person, the “self.”  But the “self” however one defines that, is both a unique being and a product of lots of interactions, all the interactions really, that the “self” has had.  I don’t want to get too touchy feely here, since this is a course in business communication, but in studying interpersonal communication there is always a tension in discerning how much of communication truly originates from the person’s consciously made choices and originality, and how much of it is just “systemic”—learned, culturally or co-cultural. Of course, we are accountable for everything we say, but even in the business communication environment much of what we “say” or communicate is due to the larger system(s) that we find ourselves in—the department, the whole company, the region of the country, the United States.
Business communication is unique in the area of meanings in that the context of the system determines what is acceptable or appropriate for much of the meaning.  It will also then influence how the meaning is decoded in various ways.
            a.  how words are defined
b.    how messages are defined in terms of a relationship with the other interactant

media or channels used for sharing.  This subject will be an important part of our study this semester.  The media/channels for business communication are more varied than in the past, and each one has its own influence on the encoding and decoding processes.

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