Skilled interpersonal communication (I)

“There are 14 main skill areas covered in this text, beginning with nonverbal communication (NVC) in Chapter 3. This aspect of interaction is the first to be examined, since all of the areas that follow contain nonverbal elements and so an understanding of the main facets of this channel facilitates the examination of all the other skills. Chapter 4 incorporates an analysis of reinforcement, while questioning is reviewed in Chapter 5. In Chapter 6, an alternative strategy to questioning, namely reflecting, is investigated. Reflection consists of concentrating on what another person is saying and reflecting back the central elements of that person’s statements.
The skill of listening is explored in Chapter 7, where the active nature of listening is emphasised, while explaining is focused upon in Chapter 8. In Chapter 9, self-disclosure is examined from two perspectives; first, the appropriateness of self-disclosure by the professional, and second, methods for promoting maximum self-disclosure from clients. Two important episodes in any action – the opening and closing sequences – are reviewed in Chapter 10. Techniques for protecting personal rights are discussed in Chapter 11 in terms of the skill of assertiveness. The skill area of influencing and persuading has attracted growing interest in recent years and this is covered in Chapter 12, and the related skill of negotiation is addressed in Chapter 13. Finally, in Chapter 14 the skills involved in interacting in and leading small group discussions are examined.”

I’m currently reading this book.

So far it seems like a pretty standard textbook. It’s pretty dense, in the sense that Hargie talks about a lot of things. On the other hand in other ways it is, not very dense; Hargie doesn’t spend any time on methodology and stuff like how to conduct research in this area (which seems curious to me, as I take this to be a first-year text). He does not seem to be particularly concerned about drawing conclusions from small studies from, say, the 70’es. On the plus side, in many cases you’re implicitly or explicitly made aware that these were small studies and/or that this result is only supported by a couple of studies. Unfortunately a few of the things Hargie writes about I take him to know a lot less about than I do – for example he’s obviously never read Aureli et al. – and one might well argue that his lack of knowledge is sort of a problem when you look at some specific parts of the coverage (perhaps more on account of topics not covered than on account of things actually covered, but there have been parts of the coverage where I noted in the margin that ‘we know a lot more about this kind of stuff than he lets on’, or ‘this would have been much more interesting if he’d also included the results of animal studies on related topics’). Most texts I read these days are written by multiple authors, and I do believe such books are in general of a higher quality than are single-author publications, in part because they’re much less likely to have blind spots like these. This book would probably (I can’t really say for sure at this point, as I’ve still yet to read most of it) have benefited from the inclusion of more biological research and less psychological research. But there are many interesting observations in this book, and most of the topics covered are both topics about which I don’t know much, and topics about which I’d probably benefit from knowing more. I have added some of the interesting observations from the book below.

“In the successful learning of new skills we move through the stages of unconscious incompetence (we are totally unaware of the fact that we are behaving in an incompetent manner), conscious incompetence (we know what we should be doing and we know we are not doing it very well), conscious competence (we know we are performing at a satisfactory level) and finally unconscious competence (we just do it without thinking about it and we succeed). This is also true of interpersonal skills. During free-flowing social encounters, less than 200 milliseconds typically elapses between the responses of speakers and rarely do conversational pauses reach three seconds. As a result, some elements, such as exact choice of words used and use of gestures, almost always occur without conscious reflection (Wilson et al., 2000). […] Skilled responses are hierarchically organised in such a way that large elements, like being interviewed, are comprised of smaller behavioural units such as looking at the interviewer and answering questions. The development of interpersonal skills can be facilitated by training the individual to acquire these smaller responses before combining them into larger repertoires. Indeed, this technique is also used in the learning of many motor skills. […] Skilled behaviour involves implementing behaviours at the most apposite juncture. Learning when to employ behaviours is just as crucial as learning what these behaviours are and how to use them.”

“It is widely agreed that relationships are shaped around two main dimensions that have to do with affiliation (or liking) and dominance, although a third concerning level of involvement or the intensity of the association also seems to be important […] Power is also an important factor in human relationships […]. When people with relatively little social power, occupying inferior status positions, interact with those enjoying power over them, the former have been shown […] to manifest their increased ‘accessibility’ by, among other things:

• initiating fewer topics for discussion
• being more hesitant in what they say
• being asked more questions
• providing more self-disclosures
• engaging in less eye contact while speaking
• using politer forms of address
• using more restrained touch.

Sets of expectations are constructed around these parameters. It is not only the case that people with little power behave in these ways; there are norms or implicit expectations that they should do so.”

“There is evidence that introverts tend to speak less, make more frequent use of pauses, engage in lower frequencies of gaze at their partners, are less accurate at encoding emotion and prefer to interact at greater interpersonal distances ( John et al., 2008; Knapp and Hall, 2010).”

“Given the inherent fluidity of interaction, Berger (1995: 149) argued persuasively that ‘reducing the actions necessary to reach social goals to a rigid, script-like formula may produce relatively ineffective social action’. […] Skilled communication must always be adaptively and reflexively responsive to the emotional needs of the other.”

“There is a reduced prospect of successful face-to-face interaction in situations where interactors have little appreciation of their own NVC [Non-Verbal Communication], or a lack of sensitivity to the other person’s body language. This is as applicable to work as it is to everyday social situations. […] the verbal medium has often been set as a benchmark for assessing the significance of the nonverbal. Consider a situation where a person is saying something but conveying an altogether different message through NVC. Which holds sway? What are the relative contributions of the two to the overall message received? In early research, still frequently cited, it was estimated that overall communication was made up of body language (55 per cent), paralanguage (the nonverbal aspects of speech) (38 per cent) and the verbal content (7 per cent) (Mehrabian, 1972). It may come as something of a surprise to learn that what we say may contribute a mere 7 per cent to the overall message received. These proportions, however, should not be regarded as absolute and seriously underrepresent the contribution of verbal communication in circumstances where information from all three channels is largely congruent. Guerrero and Floyd (2006) offered a more modest estimate of 60 to 65 per cent of meaning carried nonverbally during social exchanges. While likewise questioning the veracity of the Mehrabian figures, a review by Burgoon et al. (1996) nevertheless still identified a general trend favouring the primacy of meaning carried nonverbally, with a particular reliance upon visual cues. But qualifying conditions apply. The finding holds more for adults in situations of message incongruity and where the message has to do with emotional, relational or impression-forming outcomes.”

“Detailed analyses have revealed some of the strategies used to prevent over-talk, handle it when it occurs, and generally manage turn-taking […]. NVC is an important part of this process. Conversationalists are able to anticipate when they will have an opportunity to take the floor. Duncan and Fiske (1977) identified a number of nonverbal indices that offer a speaking turn to the other person. These include a rise or fall in pitch at the end of a clause, a drop in voice volume, termination of hand gestures and change in gaze pattern. In addition, they found that if a speaker persisted with a gesticulation even when not actually talking at that point, it essentially eliminated attempts by the listener to take over the turn.
Hence, someone […] coming to the end of a speech turn will typically introduce a downward vocal inflection (unless they have just asked a question), stop gesticulating and look at their partner […] NVC is a crucial source of information on how we feel, and how we feel about others. Furthermore, relating successfully depends upon competence in both encoding (sending) and decoding (interpreting) NVC […] Facial expressions represent an important emotional signalling system, although body movements and gestures are also implicated. […] six basic emotions consistently decodable are sadness, anger, disgust, fear, surprise and happiness, with contempt as a possible seventh. There is evidence that we may be specially attuned to process certain types of emotional information leading to the rapid recognition of anger and threat […] questions have been raised over the extent to which facial expressions can be thought of as the direct products of underlying biologically determined affective states […] An alternative way of viewing them is as a means of signalling behavioural intent.”

“Through largely nonverbal means, people establish, sustain, strengthen or indeed terminate a relational position. This can be done on an ongoing basis, as adjustments are made to ensure that levels of involvement are acceptable. Immediacy or psychological closeness is a feature of interaction that is regulated in part nonverbally, and indeed has been singled out as arguably the most important function of NVC […]. Immediacy has to do with warmth, depth of involvement or degree of intensity characterising an encounter. It is expressed through a range of indices including eye contact, interpersonal distance, smiling and touch, and must be appropriate to the encounter. Violating expectations in respect of these, for example by coming too close, gazing too much, leaning too far forward or orienting too directly, can lead to discomfort on the part of the recipient, compensatory shifts by that person and negative evaluations of the violator”

“according to communication accommodation theory […], interlocutors convey their attitudes about one another and indicate their relational aspirations by the extent to which they tailor aspects of their communicative performance to make these more compatible with those of the other. They may adjust their initial discrepant speech rate, for instance, to find a balanced compromise or alternatively accentuate difference if they find they have little desire to promote commonality, reduce social distance or seek approval. When individuals are actively managing personal relationships it would often be too disturbing to state openly that the other was not liked or thought to be inferior. Nonverbal cues can be exchanged about these states but without the message ever being made explicit.”

“Aspects of social power, dominance and affiliation are conveyed through nonverbal channels. Amount of talk (talk time), loudness of speech, seating location, posture, touch, gestures and proximity are instrumental in conveying who is controlling the situation as the dominant party in an interaction […] Powerful individuals, when interacting with subordinates, tend to indulge in more non-reciprocated touch […] Those displaying such behaviour also attract higher ratings of power and dominance than the recipients of that contact […] That said, Andersen (2008) concluded from his review of the evidence that touch had actually more to do with conveying immediacy and intimacy than with status and dominance. […] touch was one of the principal components of the expression of immediacy reviewed by Guerrero (2005). […] haptic communication seems to change across the lifespan. Younger men (under 30 years) and those in dating relationships (rather than being married) have been found to touch more than females […] marital status is also important in that unmarried men have more favourable reactions to touch than unmarried women, while for married males and females this pattern is reversed.”

“Posture is one of the cues used to make decisions about the relative status of those we observe and deal with […] The degree of relaxation exuded seems to be a telling feature […]. High-status individuals characteristically adopt a more relaxed position when they are seated (e.g. body tilting sideways; lying slumped in a chair) than low-status subjects who are more upright and rigid. When standing, people in a position of power and influence again appear more relaxed, often with arms crossed or hands in pockets, than those in subordinate positions who are generally ‘straighter’ and ‘stiffer’. Those with high status are also likely to take up more expansive postures, standing at their full height, chest expanded and with hands on hips (Argyle, 1988).”

“A seated person who leans forward towards the other is deemed to have a more positive attitude towards both the person and the topic under discussion than when leaning backwards […] most prolonged interactions are conducted with both participants either sitting or standing, rather than one standing, and the other sitting. Where this situation does occur, communication is usually cursory (e.g. information desks) or strained (e.g. interrogation sessions). Relative posture adopted is a significant marker of how interactors feel about each other and of the relationship between them. Postural congruence or mirroring occurs when similar or mirror-image postures are taken up, with ongoing adjustments to maintain synchrony. Common matched behaviours include leg positions, leaning forward, head propping, facial expressions and hand and arm movements. This form of ‘mimicry’, which is usually carried out subconsciously, is taken as a positive sign that the exchange is harmonious. Research findings show that ‘mimicry serves an important social function in that it facilitates the smoothness of interactions and increases liking between interaction partners’ […]. The evidence also indicates that we are more likely to mimic the verbal and nonverbal behaviour of people whom we like or are attracted to […]. This means that we are in turn more likely to be attracted to those who mirror our behaviours. Thus, therapists who use matching postures are perceived by clients to be affiliative and empathic, and this in turn encourages greater interviewee disclosure (Hess et al., 1999).”

“Gaze refers primarily to looking at another in the facial area. Mutual gaze happens when the other reciprocates. This is sometimes also referred to as eye contact when the eyes are the specific target, although just how accurately we can judge whether someone is looking us directly in the eye or merely in that region of the face is open to debate. Associated terms are gaze omission where gaze is absent and gaze avoidance where it is intentionally being withheld. When gaze becomes fixed and focused in an intrusive way that may infringe norms of politeness, it becomes a stare and is associated with a different set of social meanings and potential reactions.
Gazing during social interaction can serve a variety of purposes. In an early analysis, Kendon (1967) suggested these were primarily to do with expressing emotional information, regulating interaction, revealing cognitive activity and monitoring feedback from the other. More recent classifications […] are elaborate differentiations of these core functions, but add the further purpose of marking the relationship.”

“Catching someone’s eye is the necessary first step to opening up channels of communication and seeking contact with them. In a group discussion, patterns of gazing are used to orchestrate the flow of conversation, with members being brought into play at particular points. In dyads, a typical interactive sequence would be person A coming towards the end of an utterance looking at person B to signal that it is B’s turn to speak. B, in turn, looks away after a short period of mutual gaze to begin responding, especially if intending to speak for a long time, or if the message is difficult to formulate in words. Person A will continue to look reasonably consistently while B, as speaker, will have a more broken pattern of glances (Argyle, 1994). […] We tend to avoid gaze when processing difficult material in order to minimise distractions. Thus, there is a greater likelihood of gaze being avoided when attempting to answer more difficult questions […] speakers gaze periodically to obtain feedback and make judgements about how their message is being received and adjustments that may need to be made to their delivery. […] We make more and longer eye contact with people we regard positively and from whom we expect a positive reaction”


August 1, 2014 - Posted by | Books, Psychology

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