Communication skills are a bulwark to effective relationships and successful living. Effective communications are not innate attributes; they are acquired skills that can be honed to achieve not only successful dialogues, but meaningful connections between people. For the purposes of this paper, I have chosen to focus on the topic of communication in interpersonal relationships. I will then explain the principles and misconceptions in effective interpersonal communications, discuss the impact of gender and culture on interpersonal communications, and describe the process by which self-concept is developed and maintained.
"Communication" may be defined as "any process in which people share information, ideas, and feelings" that incorporates both the written and spoken word as well as "body language, personal mannerisms, and style" (Hybels & Weaver, 2007, pg. 8). While the communication process is made up of various elements (i.e. sender-receivers, messages, channels, noise, feedback, and setting) it is important to remember that communications are transactional endeavors that require continuous participative efforts and simultaneous engagements to remain effective (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). Further, communication may hinge on the communication "participants."
To better understand the nuisances of communication modalities, a review of some of the more prominent modalities may be in order. "Intrapersonal communications" involving only the individual self as both sender and receiver is a type of "self-talk;" a continuous thought-emotion dialogue that can dictate our communications and actions with others in the world. "Interpersonal communications," on the other hand, involve two participants or perhaps a few participants during informal communications (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
"Small group communications" permit a group of people to gather for some purpose, and are contingent upon the opportunity for each group participant to participate in the group dialogue (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
A recent addition to the gamut of communication modalities is the so called "Computer-Mediated Communication" whereby "a wide range of technologies that facilitate both human communication and the interactive sharing of information through computer networks, including e-mail, discussion groups, newsgroups, chat, instant messages, and Web pages" (Barnes, 2003, p. 4). These computer generated communications are becoming increasingly more frequent in our technological society. Hybels & Weaver (2007) note two distinctly important and unique attributes to Computer-Mediated Communication; it is both asynchronous and provides a type of social leveling that allows all individuals an equal position because social status cues are not apparent. Examples of Computer-Mediated Communication include communicating via text messages, through email, or social networking internet sites such as Facebook or MySpace.
While "Public communication" allows the sender to convey a message to multiple, perhaps many, recipients, the ability to check for understanding is limited; however, the communication signals a given audience might send back to the sender can be effective; a crowd full of yawning and sleeping members sends a distinctly different message than an audience giving a standing ovation or laughing at appropriate moments.
"Intercultural communication" involves the types of communications "whenever two or more people from different cultures interact" (Hybels & Weaver, 2007, pg. 19). Intercultural communication, like computer-mediated communications, is becoming ever more important in our increasingly diverse society and with our globally-based economy. Hybels & Weaver (2007, pg. 20) note the importance of intercultural communications because people from diverse backgrounds may have "different systems of knowledge, values, beliefs, customs, and behaviors." In other words, intended meanings and received messages can differ significantly because of cultural differences. Whatever form or modality communication efforts take, there are a myriad of factors that can affect effective communication strategies.
During communication, certain specific and assumptive roles identify communicating participants. However, the effects that our individual and collective communication efforts have on others can be highly influenced by individual and collective factors, some intrinsic, some external. For example, our individual self-concept and self-esteem levels, gender differences, and differing cultural expectations all affect how we communicate, both in "our heads" and with the rest of the outside world. Therefore, it is important to discuss how these factors can influence, both positively and negatively, our communication efforts. As stated, this research paper will focus on interpersonal relationships and describe the process by which self-concept is developed and maintained, explain the principles and misconceptions in effective interpersonal communications, as well as discuss the impact of gender and culture on interpersonal communications.
As human beings, we are necessarily social beings. While there may be differing degrees to which an individual is social or "not social," people are primarily dependent upon one another for comfort, love, support and friendship. Campbell et al. (1977) found that most respondents believe it more important to have good friends and a good family life than to have financial security. Clearly our connections with others are important. Why, then, if social and emotional connections are so important, do we sometimes struggle for understanding, support and affection from others?
Development and maintenance of self-concept
All communications begin with the self. Hybels & Weaver (2007, p. 35) write that "the way you see yourself is self-perception ... But is made of so many variablesincluding physical, social, intellectual, spiritual elements, religious feelings, principals and convictions, desires, morals, political feelings, personal freedoms, social controls, and oppression." Hence, the perception of self largely dictates how communications fare. Hybels & Weaver (2007, pg. 30) note that "self and perception are foundations for effective communication." While self-concept refers to what an individual thinks and feels about their own self, the perception of the self affects how an individual regards other people and the external world. There is a symbiotic relationship, then, between self-concept and perception; how I perceive the world depends on what I think of myself, and what I think of myself influences how I perceive the world (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). Hence, my self-concept has a profound effect on the social interactions I have with others; a type of "world view" is manifested by my own perceptions. Significantly, though, "self-perception depends on the phase of your development, which is constantly changing as one ages, one becomes more open to the ideas of others, okay with being wrong, less attached to particular outcomes, and better listeners" (Hybels & Weaver, 2007, p. 35)
Forney et al. (2005, pg. 209) write that "the cognitive assessments that individuals make of their competence in specific areas form their self-concept." This suggests that I can have a strong self-concept, a high regard, in one facet of myself, but have a low regard in another facet. Again, these cognitive assessments of worth directly influence perceptions of all that is external to the self. Hybels & Weaver (2007, pg. 32) identify three attributes of self-concept: "reflected appraisals, social comparisons, and self-perception."
Principles and misconceptions in effective interpersonal communications
Interpersonal communications can be both rewarding and demanding. Hybels & Weaver (2007) suggest that interpersonal communications allow people to not only connect with others and develop an empathy response, but also to bolster mental and physical health. Effective communications in interpersonal relationships are contingent on some foundational principles, some of which have been misunderstood and misapplied; others seem counter-intuitive and not easily achieved. Some tenants for effective interpersonal communications might include proclamations to "treat each other with respect," "don't interrupt," and to "actively listen" to other's; to be an active participant in the communication process.
Forney et al. (2005, pgs. 209-10) write that "reflected appraisal is an individual's judgment of what others think of him or her" and that a "social comparison is made when an individual lacks objective information about himself or herself and forms self-judgment based on comparisons with others." Further, there is a "self-verification" process that people use in social situations to maintain their self-concept that derives from a self-confirmatory feedback loop gained in social interactions (Swann, 1983).
The impact of gender and culture on interpersonal communications.
Interpersonal communications do not exist in a vacuum; they are highly influenced on contextual and situational factors. Barriers to effective interpersonal interactions are significant. To overcome the potential for communication failure, it is important to recognize factors that can inhibit effective communication in interpersonal interactions. Among the more prominent barriers to effective interpersonal interactions are gender-based and cultural differences.
Because interpersonal communications are, by necessity, dependent on subjective evaluations, gender-based and cultural considerations are essential. Hybels & Weaver (2007) observe that the process of listening can be affected by culture because of the potential for misunderstandings. Cultural differences do not necessitate language differences; people who speak the same language can often misinterpret intended meanings solely based on cultural expectations and customs. The potential for adversity is rife given the possible misinterpretations in communicating with culturally different people. To mitigate these potential misgivings, Hybels & Weaver (2007) correctly observe that "adjustments in vocabulary, grammar, or informality may need to be made" when communicating with culturally divergent individuals. Further, in an effort to facilitate effective communication between culturally different people, and perhaps even avoid potentially embarrassing, insulting, and wounding situations, effective communicators are well advised to have an empathetic response, an open mind and an accepting attitude toward those of other cultures (Hybels & Weaver,…