Relating thru Communication
Relating with Others thru Proper Communication
By Dr. Maria. Cecilia Madroñal-Genove, Dean, College of Mass Communication
Communication and relationships are intertwined processes. It is not merely speaking into empty space as communication is speaking into relationships, whether you are speaking to your best friend about something personal, standing in attention while singing the national anthem, or presenting a talk to an audience of complete strangers. Furthermore, communication is not simply messages sent from one person to another. It does more than this. It causes a result, creates an atmosphere, manages an identity and, for example, reveals your age, gender, race, or culture.
Any type of communication you ever participate in both has a relationship assumed underneath it and does or achieves something for you as a result, thus, communication creates a world of meaning. Such themes – that communication is based on the relationships of everyday life and that it creates more than it appears to – are the guiding principles in this chapter. It should be emphasized that communication is relational, and the constant guide in understanding everyday communication are the relationships that we have with other people. It will likewise interconnect with our everyday experience of relating to and with other people.
Communication is not as simple as it looks or seems to be in any communicative activity. Examples of these are giving a speech, acing an interview, making a toast at a wedding, persuading a friend or a fellow worker to do you a favor, or simply making someone feel comfortable talking with you. Moreover, it is because of communication or the lack of it that will make us lose a friend in times of relational conflict, that is, if we are not able to handle the situation effectively and with sensitivity.
Most of the time, we communicate without thinking, and it is not usually awkward. But if communicating is so easy, why do we have misunderstandings, conflicts, arguments, disputes, and disagreements? Why do we get embarrassed because we have said something thoughtless and tactless? Why are we misunderstood and why do we misunderstand others? If communication is simple, how do we know when people are lying if all that matters is listening to their words as a straightforward representation of a situation? Why would anyone be agitated or anxious about giving a public talk if talk is just saying what you think? Why are co-workers often a problem for many people, and what is it about their communication that makes them “difficult”?
In everyday communication, for example, in the workplace relationships create worlds of meaning for us through communication, not just through emotional connections; and, communication produces the same result for us through relationships. For example, group decision making is not accomplished just by the logic of arguments, agenda setting, and solution evaluations, but also by group members’ relationships with one another outside the group setting.
Groups that meet to make decisions almost never come from nowhere, communicate, make a decision, and then go home. The members know one another, talk informally outside the group setting, and have personal likes and dislikes for one another that will affect their discussions about certain matters. Many decisions that appear to be made during an open discussion are actually sometimes tied up before the communication begins.
Take, for example, what generally happens in the legislature, either in Congress or in the Senate. The legislators often know how the vote will go before the debate actually happens. In other words, relationships have been well established and displayed in advance of any discussion. In the same manner, this example may be equated with other similar situations in our lives. How does influence, for one, work in your family? Is everyone equal? What about interactions with friends and enemies? Do you believe them equally, as if they are independent and pure sources of truthful messages? How about TV shows and news channels? Does it make a difference whether you like the newscaster or not, or do you trust them all equally?
Paul Watzlawick and his colleagues (Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 2007) put it a little differently, suggesting that whenever you communicate with anyone, you also relate to them at the same time. All communication contains both a content message or level and a relational level, which means that, as well as conveying information, every message indicates how the speaker and listener are socially and personally related.
In many countries, for example, and even in the Philippines, you say, “Excuse me, sir . . .” when addressing a stranger rather than say, “Hey, you . . .” But there are other, less obvious relational cues in speech about who is the boss and who is the employee, who is a professor and who is the student, who is the parent and who is the child, or who is the server and who is the customer. For example, “Come into my office! Now!” indicates a status difference just through the style of the communication. Because the relationships between people most often are not openly expressed, but subtly indicated or taken for granted in most communication in any particular culture, the content and relational components of messages are not always easy to separate.
To state this idea more technically, communication not only describes the world, but also sets it up in a particular way, makes interactions happen in a particular form, and directs how we deal with other people. Part of this creative element of communication shows up as a way of establishing the relationship between you and the other person, but the same formative and relational messages are conveyed in all interactions. The way you speak to someone tells him or her and everyone else whether the two of you are close; whether you are strangers; whether you are equals; which one of you is respectful, anxious, or shy; who commands a relationship; or, who is rude.
Three Parameters of Communication
Communication often takes many things for granted and is affected by context, relationships, and culture. Communication likewise creates worlds of meaning. In everyday life, people use the term communicationby anchoring it on three parameters, but often without realizing the importance of the differences between the uses of each parameter. Each usage assumes something different about how communication works and whether or not it has even really happened. The following are the three parameters of communication:
Communication as Action
If you see communication as action, you see it as a sender sending messages whether or not they are received. Communication as action occurs when someone leaves a message on your voice mail, posts a message on your desk, or puts a message in a bottle in the ocean – that is, when someone transmits information through words or gestures and their accompanying meaning. So, if somebody sends an e-mail to you, communication has occurred. But, what if you have not read your e-mail? Has communication truly occurred? According to the definition of communication as action, the answer is yes, but really, there has been an attempt to communicate.
Communication as Interaction
Another way of looking at communication is when you count something as communication only if there is an exchange of information between two or more individuals. Using the previous example, communication exists between Friend A and Friend B if the former sends the latter e-mail and the latter replies. This exchange represents a much more typical perception of communication. In fact, people tend to use the term communication for communication as both action and interaction, but the two are actually very different.
Communication as Transaction
A more sophisticated way to see communication is communicationastransaction, or the construction of shared meanings or understandings between two or more individuals. For example, communication exists between Friend A and Friend B if, through their e-mail messages, they both arrive at the shared realization that they understand/love/know/need each other or their communication results in a particular deal. In other words, the interaction results in more than the exchange of literal messages. They get more out of it, and extra meanings (e.g., about the relationships between the people) are communicated above and beyond the content of the messages exchanged.
Such messages as “Please get some paper” and “Ok” also produce a result. Someone gets some paper because both participants realize that was the transaction’s intended result. The communication, then, is interesting not because simple messages were exchanged but because something concrete resulted out of it, and sometimes, even more.
Two people speak and trust is built (transacted); two people touch one another and love is realized (transacted); two people argue and power is exerted (transacted); someone calls another person names with racial undertones and racial bigotry is transacted; a man holds the door open for a woman and either sexist stereotyping or politeness is transacted, depending on one’s assumptions. In all cases, the communication message (the actual words, gestures, or actions) transacts or constitutes something above and beyond the words, gestures, or actions.
Although it is possible to see communication as action, interaction, or transaction, our relational perspective makes transaction the most interesting, and it draws our attention to the fact that communication creates more than reports, especially in everyday communication between people who know one another, like in the workplace. This constitutive approach to communication pays close attention to the fact that communication can create or bring into existence, or constitute, something that has not been there before. From the transactional point of view, in all communication, we go beyond what is happening in the talk itself to create something new.
Given what many experts have studied about the vast world of communication and basing them on everyday experiences of a myriad of individuals, we can reflect on a suggestion made by Laura Guerrero and Kory Floyd (2006) that there are really four types of communication:
- Successful communication: sent intentionally and interpreted accurately, that is, in the way the sender intended.
- Miscommunication: sent intentionally, but interpreted inaccurately, that is, not as the sender intended.
- Accidental communication: sent without intent but interpreted accurately as meaning something that the sender was truly feeling (e.g., employees’ constant fear that they will be caught yawning during a board of directors’ presentation).
- Attempted communication: messages sent intentionally but not received (e.g., an e-mail was sent to you by the Human Resource and Development Office manager of the company you applied in, telling you that your reply is expected by them within five days receipt of the e-mail, otherwise you will lose your chance of being shortlisted for the position you were being considered; however, you failed to check your e-mail at the appointed time).
It would be well to mention at this point a fifth type of communication, too, but one that is dangerous, especially in relationships, where a message is sent unintentionally and interpreted inaccurately. For example, a female employee smiles to herself at a casual thought passing through her mind, but a male employee sitting across her table and who sees her smiling thinks that her smile was directed at him, and takes it as a “come on.”
Transacting a Self in Interactions with Others
In keeping with this chapter’s theme, you cannot have a self without also having relationships with other people – both the personalrelationships you choose and the social relationships you reject. More than that, it is impossible for a person to have a concept of self unless he or she can reflect on identity via the views of these other people with whom he or she has social or personal relationships. Your identity is transacted or constituted in part from two things. First, you take into yourself – or are reinforced for taking into yourself — the beliefs and prevailing norms of the society in which you live. Second, you are held to account for the identity that you project by those people you hang out with. For example, you would lose face if, during a product presentation, you cannot answer what the objectives of your organization are. It is the same thing if, for example, you were asked about some important details about the president of your company that almost anyone would expect you to know being an employee, and you are in the dark about what it is.
Furthermore, because individuals acquire individuality through the social practices in which they exist and carry out their lives, they encounter powerful forces of society that are actually enforced on the ground by society and relationships with other people that affect the identities of people. Your “self” is structured and enacted in relation to those people who have power over you in formal ways, like your immediate supervisor or boss, but most often you encounter the institutions within a society through its local leaders and opinion makers. These are those who express in public their opinions — people you know who express opinions about moral issues of the day and give you their judgments. You, too, are one of society’s opinion makers, guiding what other people do and thinking just as they do.
Again, your identity is a complex result of your own thinking, history, and experience and of your interaction with other people and their influence on you, both as an individual and as one of society’s opinion makers. Behind all those things that you think of as simply abstract social structures, like the law and public order, individuals are acting in relation to one another (for example, an ordinary citizen and a police officer). These social relations get internalized into yourself, and you slow down at speed-limit signs not because you want to, but because you saw the traffic officer and you do not want to be issued a ticket.
It is important to note how the routine banality of everyday life-talk with friends who share the same values and talk about them day by day actually does something for society and helps make you who you are. Such routines reinforce people’s perspectives and put events in the same sorts of predictable and routine frameworks of meaning through trivial and pedestrian communication with one another in everyday life (Wood & Duck, 2006).
Corollary to this, you expose your identity in front of the audiences, and they might evaluate and comment on whether you are doing it right. The same kinds of processes are going on in interaction when you profess your undying allegiance to one team or organization, and your supposed displeasure of the opposing team or organization. The people around you do not resent it, but actually encourage you and reinforce your expression of that identity. They share it and support it, thus, reinforcing your actuations.
Transactions in the Workplace
We have seen that identity is molded by the ways in which the surrounding culture influences its expression, the way that you do your identity and are recognized as having one. Once you recognize that your identity is not just an internal structure but also a practical performance, the relevant communication involved in “being yourself” is affected by the social norms that are in place to guide behavior in a given society. People judge your identity performance and expect you to know about the same practical world and explain or account for yourself.
Your identity is done in a material world that affects who you are. For example, the fact that you can communicate with other people more or less instantaneously across huge distances by mobile telephone materially affects your sense of connection to other people. This practical self – and how the ability to do practical things affects your sense of self – is illustrated by the importance to many young people and young urban professionals (the so-called yuppies) of learning to drive a car. When you can drive, not only do you go through the transformation of self as “now a grown-up,” but you can actually do lots of things when you have a car that you cannot do when you do not have one, thus, your sense of identity expands.
Part of your performance of self is connected to the practical artifacts, accompaniments, and stuff that you use in your performance. If you have the right stuff (business suit, attaché case, accessories, the latest gadgets, a car, and others), the self that you project is different from the self you perform when those things are not influencing your performance. An important element of doing an identity in front of an audience is that you become an accountable self, which essentially allows your identity to be morally judged by other people. What you do can be assessed by other people as right or wrong according to existing habits of society. Any practical way of performing identity turns identity itself into a moral action, that is, identity as a way of living based on choices made about actions that a person sees as available or relevant, but that others will judge and hold to account. This point moves the discussion about social construction of identity on from interaction with other people through the force of society and its value systems. Society as a whole encourages you to take certain actions beneficial to humankind (e.g., dispose of your garbage properly; reuse and recycle; uphold the rights of persons with disabilities; protect the elderly, the weak, and the marginalized; act justly and do what is right).
Moral accountability is a lofty way of saying that society as a whole makes judgments about your actions and choices, and then holds you to account for the actions and choices that you make. It also forcefully encourages you to act in particular ways and to see specific types of identity as good. For example, loyalty to a company is good, badmouthing your boss is bad; honesty in the workplace is good, stealing from the company is bad; cooperation is good, apathy is bad; a cheerful disposition is good, a dour-faced fellow worker is bad; positive vibes is good, a crab mentality is bad.
The identity that you thought of as your own personality, then, is not made up of your own desires and impulses but is formed, performed, and expressed within a set of social patterns and judgments built up by values and practices in a community or culture through the relationships that people have with one another (Duck & McMahan, 2009).
For all of these reasons that relate to the workplace, especially as they connect to problem solving and decision making, it makes sense to see a person’s identity as a complex and compound concept that is partly based on history, memory, experiences, and interpretations by the individual. It is also partly evoked by momentary aspects of how you speak, its context, the people you are with, your stage in life, and your goals at that time. It may also be partly a social creation directed by other people, society and its categories, and one’s relationship needs and objectives.
Your performance of the self is guided by your relationships with other people, as well as your social goals. Even your embodiment of this knowledge or your sense of self is shaped by your social practices with other people and your sense of their valuing your physical being. Your self-consciousness in their presence and the ways you deal with it also influence the presentation of yourself to other people. Although a sense of self-identity is experienced in your practical interactions with other people, you get trapped by language into reporting it abstractly as some sort of disembodied identity, a symbolic representation of the practices and styles of behavior that you actually experience in your daily interactions with other people (Duck & McMahan, 2009).