Management is essentially working with and through people. Communication makes that possible. Effective interpersonal communication skills are as important to success in business as are effective written messages. Although all communication between and among humans is interpersonal in some ways, the term, interpersonal communication, typically refers to communication in which the relationship is more important than the specific business purpose of the message.
Most interpersonal communication is face-to-face and takes place in dyads (two persons) or small, informal groups. Although it is not face-to-face, a lot of telephone communicationand, more recently, emailis interpersonal in nature. For communication to be interpersonal, it must involve exploration and discovery of the psychology of the communicators. Using what is already known about a persons psychology to motivate him or her is not interpersonal communication. Interpersonal communication builds or maintains the relationship rather than directs behavior.
In addition to the way we listen, speak, and handle nonverbal messages, our interpersonal communication is influenced by the assumptions we make about ourselves and other people. Clearly the more we know about them, including their behavioral type and their metaprograms (see the material on metaprograms in Relationships and Rapport), the more effective we can be communicating with them. Human behavior is, of course, complex, and fortunately, we do not have to fully understand either our own behavior or that of others to be successful in communicating with them. In fact, if we were to understand othersor ourselvesfully, we would have no need to communicate. Our differences and our lack of knowledge about one another make communication necessary.
This lack of knowledge also makes the behavior of others often appear irrational and mysterious. We may fail to understand both the reason someone has acted in a particular way and the persons explanation of the action. You will be more successful in your interpersonal communication when you help compensate for that lack of knowledge by making the following five assumptions about human behavior:
A persons behavior is always meaningful in the sense that the person expects to receive some kind of pleasureor relief from painas a result. The gratification may not be fully conscious. In the foregoing example, the person probably knows that he or she is angry and that the anger was caused by events at the office. The person may not be aware, however, that the expression of anger toward the spouse and children is an inappropriate displacement.
The initial stage of interpersonal communication generally includes exchanges of demographic information, such as where and when the people were born, grew up, and went to school. The exchange of this information helps the participants make inferences about differences of opinion, other matters of potential conflict, and common interests and beliefs. Some self-disclosure at this stage helps ensure the continuation of the relationship, but excessive self-disclosure discourages a lasting relationship.
Several types of conflict may arise at this stage. One person, for example, may wish to be more intimate than the other; one may wish to control the other more than the other wishes to be controlled; or one may respond to situations in ways the other finds inappropriate. Differences in closely held beliefs and values may also create conflict.
Some relationships never reach true equilibrium. The participants behave as though they agree about matters of importance to the relationship, but in actuality they disagree. This happens when at least one of the participants does not engage in honest self-disclosure. The amount of self-disclosure can vary greatly in ongoing relationships, but the information must be accurate if the relationship is to continue. A relationship based on inaccurate information cannot last. This is true of any dyad, from a purely professional relationship in which a bare minimum of personal information is disclosed to the fully intimate relationship of lovers.
In mature dyadic relationships, each participant can judge with a reasonable degree of accuracy how the other will respond in any exchange between them. It is possible, however, for one participant to upset the equilibrium by altering an established conception of the relationship. Suppose, for example, that after 15 years of marriage and raising three children, a wife tells her husband that she wants to return to school and become a microbiologist. The husband liked things the way they were. When this sort of conflict occurs, the dyad returns to the formative stage, and the participants must work to reestablish equilibrium if the relationship is to continue.
If the dyad is important or valued, its generally worthwhile to change the equilibrium slowly rather than dramatically. (Its easier to climb stairs than to leap tall buildings in a single bound.) In the foregoing example, the wife could achieve her objective by letting her husband adjust first to her taking a few courses, then to her working toward a degree, and then to her completion of a graduate program. That way, her husband would have opportunity to adjust by increments rather than all at once.
This rate of change greatly increases the complexity of interpersonal communication. Some people respond to the uncertainty in the future of relationships by avoiding intimacy; others respond by trying to effect intimacy in all relationships. Any interpersonal relationship involves some risk, of course, and the more intimate the relationship, the greater the risk that ending the relationship will be painful.
The Communication Climate
Dyads tend to have either an open or closed communication climate. Some variation will occur from day to day, but most dyads are fairly consistent with respect to the amount and kind of communication that takes place. The people in a dyad usually reach an agreement about the way they will treat one another, though the agreement may not necessarily please both people.
When one person in an organizational dyad outranks the other, the person in the superior position usually has the greater influence on the communication climate. Those in higher ranks, from first-line supervisors to an organizations executives have the authorityboth real and perceivedto establish the communication climate. High social status functions the same way.
In an open communication climate, people perceive communication more accurately and are more willing to communicate honestly. People in such a climate are willing to listen as well as talk and attempt to see the other persons point of view. Open communication climates encourage participants to feel as though they are part of a problem-solving team.
Closed communication climates, on the other hand, discourage communication. They give people the feeling that they are being judged and criticized. In such climates, powerrather than communicationis used to control the relationship. In this type of communication climate, even the most innocuous piece of constructive criticism will probably be perceived as a threat. Further, people who habitually manipulate others in this way tend to assume that everyone does the same, and, in fact, manipulation fosters countermanipulation. When this goes on, everyone in the organization suffers.
The characteristics of open and closed communication climates are as follows:
|Clear objectives||Hidden agenda|
Harmonious, cooperative relationships are marked by open communication, whereas much of the communication in adversarial and hostile relationships is closed and contains hidden agenda. Because an organization requires the cooperation of its members for long-term survival, it is managements responsibility to encourage open communication. Long-term organizational success requires that all employees believe that they can express their observations and criticisms to others in the organization, regardless of rank.
In an open communication climate, employees believe that
A mature dyad has a fairly consistent degree of formality, which is established almost entirely by the participant who is higher in the organizational hierarchy or who has the higher social status. The main difference between formal and informal dyads is that the former discourages self-disclosure while the latter encourages it. Other aspects of communication are not necessarily influenced by the degree of formality. Generally speaking, however, long-lasting, valued relationships are less formal than relationships that the participants believe will be temporary or unimportant.
Dress and outward appearance do not indicate degrees of formality. Two executives in dark suits, white shirts, and conservative ties may be much less formal with each other than two construction workers wearing overalls, flannel shirts, and hard hats. The conventions of the executive dyad differ from those of construction-worker dyad, but formality is measured not by the conventions of behavior themselves but rather by whichor how manyconventions the participants ignore in their dealings with one another.
Although inappropriate informality in the initial or formative stages of a dyad might lead to an imbalanced relationship, informality in a mature relationship is a sign of trust. The participants in such a relationship have agreed that the absence of certain conventional forms of behavior does not endanger the relationship. Excessive formality, on the other hand, is a distancing element that may indicate a closed communication climate. For example, if one participant in the dyad tends to use written channels of communication rather than an oral channel for routine communication, he or she may be sending the message, Keep your distance.
The appropriate degree of formality can be established only by the two people in the dyad, but for the dyad to be successful, the participants must agree about how much formality is required.
In its simplest form, speaking is putting ideas into words, but speaking very rarely occurs in its simplest form. It is almost always accompanied by nonverbal behavior that supplements, contradicts, or reinforces the verbal message. You will recall from the section on nonverbal communication in Communication and Behavior, that when the nonverbal contradicts the verbal, we are more inclined to believe the nonverbal, which is more difficult to control consciously.
Nevertheless, talking effectively in a typical organizational setting requires well-developed language skills. People tend to judge one anothers abilities by the way they talk. When you hear someone described as having a good mind, what is almost always meant is that the person is good at talking, that he or she has a good vocabulary and knows how to use it.
In addition to a well-developed vocabulary and confidence in using Standard English, being good at talking, whether in informal hallway conversations or in more formal settings, requires sensitivity to the pace, tone, and pitch of oral delivery as well as to the nonverbal behavior of the listener or listeners. Matching the vocal qualities and sense-based vocabulary of others will help you establish rapport with them.
The Importance of Listening. Throughout school you receive special instruction in and learn more about reading every year, but you are generally expected to know everything you need to know about listening when you begin school. Yet studies of listening activity have shown that of the 70 percent of the waking day that most of us spend in communication activity, we spend more time listeningabout 45 percentthan reading, writing, or speaking. Studies have also shown that most of us listen with about 25 percent efficiency; that is, we remember only about 25 percent of what we hear, forgetting 75 percent almost immediately after hearing it.
Listening and Hearing. Listening is much more than hearing. Hearing is a physical, passive process; listening is an active mental communication process. We hear words, but we listen for meaning. We hear with our ears; we listen not only with our ears but also with our eyes and minds as well. As we listen, we also search for nonverbal signs of communication.
Although listening situations range from extremely informal to formal, listening tasks fall into two broad categories, public and interpersonal. Public listening situations are those in which listeners are attempting to learn what they can from a formal presentation or lecture whether delivered in person or by radio or television. In public listening situations, the opportunities for questions and other forms of feedback are limited. Interpersonal listening situations are those that encourage exchangequestions, answers, or discussionamong speakers and listeners.
In arranging an interview, at least one of the participants has a specific purpose in mind. The specific purposes of interviews usually fall into one of the following six categories:
Types of Questions
Because all interviews consist of a series of questions and answers, the success of an interview depends primarily on the kinds and quality of the questions asked. The serious nature of many interviews creates a potential threatening atmosphere for many people, so the interviewer must be especially careful to maintain an open communication climate if he or she wishes to elicit clear, accurate information. Certain kinds of questions help establish an open climate; other kinds of questions tend to cut communication off.
Open-climate questions include leading questions, direct questions, open questions, probes, mirror questions, and hypothetical questions.
|Interviewee:||...and then I discovered the problem with the Unix server...|
|Interviewer:||The problem with the Unix server?|
|Interviewee:||Yes, I discovered that it wasnt responding correctly to certain command sequences....|
Closed-climate questions include leading questions, direct questions, loaded questions, double-bind questions, forced-choice questions, and why-did/didnt-you questions.
Control of Interviews
The interviewer controls the direction and duration of the interview by asking questions, providing support, and responding to the interviewees questions and answers. Interviews may be tightly controlled, moderately controlled, or open.
Moderately Controlled. Moderately controlled interviews, consisting of some direct and some open questions, are fairly flexible. The great majority of interviews are moderately controlled interviews lasting 15 to 30 minutes. The time span is long enough to allow the interviewer to clarify important points and to allow the interviewee to ask and receive answers to some questions as well. Moderately controlled interviews are best when time is limited but the interviewer must explore the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of the interviewee.
Open. Open interviews, which include many open questions, are used primarily for problem solving and for many second (and subsequent) employment interviews. Open interviews are not uncontrolled. The interviewer has an objective and a plan, but the interviewee is allowed to do most of the talking in a way that allows him or her to develop extended answers in a clear, logical, and coherent fashion. This style of interviewing is best for discovering what someone is like, but it is time consuming. The importance of the interview purposeand its importance to the organizationmust make the investment of time worthwhile.
Most of the information in the foregoing discussion was from the interviewers perspective. While the interviewer has the principal responsibility for ensuring the success of the interview, the interviewee is also responsible for making a positive contribution to the outcome. Because you may not know in advance what your interviewer will be like, when you are the interviewee, prepare by doing the following:
|Interviewer:||Why didnt you tell me that John was taking computer supplies for use at home?|
|Interviewee:||John had told me that he was working on a special project and had been authorized to complete the work at home.|