The exchange of one’s thoughts, feelings and opinions with those of others is a basic human need, most commonly known as communication. A human being relies on several aspects of communication such as spoken words, body language, expression of emotions and behavior in order to understand messages being conveyed by others. However, communication is not entirely related to simple sensory perceptions such as sound and vision. A person’s personal views, beliefs and state of mind also have a great impact on how he or she conveys and comprehends messages. Communication is used by people in all walks of life, in their personal, professional as well as social interactions and plays a crucial role in problem solving and conflict resolution. It is a highly complex concept that has warranted years of research to further understand considering its importance to individuals and society at large.
For decades, scholars have been attempting to comprehensively define communication, and have arrived at the following options: a) get in touch, b) participation, c) derive information, d) connect, and e) message. However, communication is such a broad concept that factors being included in its definition have varied, although the notion of exchange of messages has been constant. Hund described it as transmitting or exchanging information through messages, forming a part of individual behavior as emotions and codes are also exchanged (Hund). The elements of cultural exchange and conveying demands were also included. It has also been noted that human use communication as a means of establishing, building and continuing relationships.
Schematic Representation of Communication
The effectiveness of communication relies greatly on the sender and receiver of the message. A set of skills, knowledge and characteristics have been assigned to each for communication to be successful. Scholars such as Mellor, Baguley, Burnes, Libani, and Sarris have proposed the following traits for the efficient transmission of messages: a) good command of the language in which the message is to be conveyed, b) ability to weave written and spoken words, c) being knowledgeable of the policies and acceptable terms of communication, d) knowledge of psychological and sociological norms, e) understanding the culture, beliefs and environment of the receiver, f) selection and use of a means of communication best suited for the message to be conveyed, g) conveying messages in a concise, simple and clear manner, h) ability to keep the receiver interested in the information being conveyed, i) ability to listen to and comprehend the reaction of the receiver to the message, j) respond with a counter message to promote a positive feedback from the receiver, and k) generating trust and building a relationship (Mellor; Baguley; Burnes; Libani; Sarris).
How well a person receives, understands and responds to a message also depends of several variables that have been discussed by Sarris and Friedrich (Sarris; Friedrich). These variables are: a) self-knowledge and perception, b) self-esteem and self-worth, c) one-sided or skewed view of reality, d) the emotions the receiver perceives from the sender or transmitter, e) emotional and physical state of the receiver when the message is received, f) environmental influence, and g) cultural factors.
Considering the complexity of communicating effectively, it is important that both, the sender as well as the receiver, show most of the communicating skills that are required to transmit a message clearly, leaving no scope for misunderstandings and conflicts. However, individuals face several communication barriers that may prevent them from conveying information accurately. These barriers can be classified into: a) Psychological, b) Physical, and c) Organizational. Psychological barrier are those that arise from the individual characteristics and natures of the communicators. These include level of trust, negativity, rigidity, prejudice, indifference, defensiveness, insensitivity, fear and resentment. Physical barriers are those that arise from the physical environment in which a message is sent and received. These include sensory impairments such as deafness or blindness, poor verbal behavior or body language, the distance over which the message is being conveyed, noise levels and other disturbances, and motor disability. Finally, organizational barriers are those that arise from company rules, regulations, tasks and roles.
Barriers to Communication
The interplay of sender and receiver communication abilities as well as the presence of barriers dictates the effectiveness of communication.
COMMUNICATION, PERSUASION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
“What I say is that the most important good is the ability to persuade everybody: the judges in the court, the members of the parliament, the citizens in a public meeting and anyone who takes part in a gathering”. In his statement to Socrates, Gorgias the Thinker effectively sums up the importance of communication in influencing minds and persuading people to understand, and even agree to, your views. Persuasion, in turn, can play a pivotal role in solving problems. Hence, the scope for using communication to resolve conflicts is endless.
As Howard notes, communication can enable the creation of an environment that promotes ‘peace, dignity, justice, disarmament and solving universal problems’ (Howard). Researchers such as Parsons, Fiedler, Guest, Katz and Kahn and Goleman have noted that focused and knowledgeable communication among individuals develops an environment of psychological and social positivity among businesses and organizations through: a) extended human reach, b) identification of problems, c) resolution of problems and crisis, d) decreased levels of conflict within groups, e) facilitated collective thinking, f) enhanced support and effectiveness, g) improved acceptance, behavior, cooperation and interpersonal understanding, h) accurate exchange of messages, information and ideas (Parsons; Fiedler; Guest; Katz and Kahn; Goleman).
As mentioned earlier, the interaction between the sender, receiver and the barriers to communication decides the effectiveness of communication. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, disruptions in interpersonal relationships, errors in performing tasks and overall reduction in the efficiency of an institution or group. As the age old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Communicating correctly can allow the sender or transmitter of a message to avoid conflicts from arising in the first place. In order to become an efficient communicator, it is not sufficient that one has good language skills. Good communication begins with good listening and observation skills as this allows a person to know and understand those that they will be interacting with. Once a person knows the nature, culture, and environment of the receiver, it is easier to select an appropriate method of communication.
Steps in Individual Communication
Table 1 highlights a 5 step communication process that is aimed at enabling a sender to effectively communicate in order to prevent miscommunication and conflicts (Cyr).However, it is not always possible to follow the tenets of effective communication to the hilt and conflicts are bound to arise. Never the less, communication can be used to resolve conflicts and solve problems quickly. The resolution of conflicts at any level, whether it within a family, in institutions or in a corporate scenario, requires the interaction of individuals belonging to different groups, each having their own perceptions, views and mindsets. As such, arriving at a common consensus is not easy and differences abound at any given time. Hence, effectively resolving a conflict or solving a problem itself requires a systemized approach that can be followed so that the path to resolution is not haphazard. Figure 3 illustrates the steps that may form a basic conflict resolution plan.
As can be seen that, at every step of the conflict resolution process, communication is essential. Whether it is to agree that a problem exists, to identify the problem itself, selecting members who will be addressing the issue, developing a resolution plan, assigning responsibilities and tracking progress, effective communication between individuals can fuel a speedy, argument and conflict free solution of issues and solving of problems. Learning how to communicate effectively and practicing these principles in day to day life can allow conflict free human interaction not only in organizations but at all social levels, including families.
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