Social skills… (listening, explaining, self-disclosure)

I have finished Hargie’s book. I don’t have a lot of stuff to say about the book which I haven’t already said, aside perhaps from the fact that the book actually, partly on account of its high page count, does have a lot of stuff which I feel tempted to cover here. I should note that I feel tempted to cover it here not only because it’s interesting, but also to a significant extent because I know this is one of those books I’ll never open/touch/whatever again, so the stuff I decide not to blog is stuff which I’m sure will be forgot. The first two posts dealt with roughly the first 200 pages, so there’s still a lot of stuff left to talk about. You can expect me to post at least one or two more posts about the stuff covered in the book in the days to come.

In this post I’ve covered material from the chapters on the skill of listening, the skill of explaining (very little, this was a bad chapter), and the skill of self-disclosure.

“One recurring problem is that we often listen with the goal of responding, rather than listening with the goal of understanding […] our main concern is with our own point of view rather than with gaining a deeper insight into the other person’s perspective.”

“In interpersonal interaction a constant stream of feedback impinges upon us, both from the stimuli received from other people and from the physical environment. Not all of this feedback is consciously perceived, since there is simply too much information for the person to cope with adequately. As a result, a selective perception filter […] is operative, and its main function is to filter only a limited amount of information into the conscious, while some of the remainder may be stored at a subconscious level. […] Unfortunately, in interpersonal interaction, vital information can be filtered out, in that we may be insensitive to the social signals emitted by others. Where this occurs, effective listening skills are not displayed. […] As we talk, at the same time we also scan for feedback to see how our messages are being received. When we listen, we evaluate what is being said, plan our response, rehearse this and then execute it. While the processes of evaluation, planning and rehearsal usually occur subconsciously, they are important because they can interfere with the pure listening activity. Thus, we may have decided what we are going to say before the other person has stopped speaking, and as a result may not be listening effectively. It is therefore important to ensure that those activities that mediate between listening and speaking do not interfere with the listening process itself.”

“We evaluate others based on their appearance, initial statements or what they said during previous encounters. These influence the way the speaker is heard, in that statements may be screened so that only those aspects that fit with specific expectations are perceived.”

“Those with a wider vocabulary are better listeners, since they can more readily understand and assimilate a greater range of concepts. […] A listener who is highly motivated will remember more of the information presented. […] Listening ability deteriorates as fatigue increases. Thus, someone who is extremely tired is less capable of displaying prolonged listening. […] Introverts are usually better listeners than extraverts, since they are content to sit back and let the other person be the centre of attention. Furthermore, highly anxious individuals do not usually make good listeners since they tend to be too worried about factors apart from the speaker to listen carefully to what is being said.”

“The differential between speech and thought rate gives the listener an opportunity to assimilate, organise, retain and covertly respond to the speaker. However, this differential may also encourage the listener to fill up the spare time with other unrelated mental processes (such as daydreaming). Listening can be improved by using this spare thought time positively by, for example, asking covert questions such as:
• ‘What are the main points being made?’
• ‘What reasons are being given?’
• ‘In what frame of reference should this be viewed?’
• ‘What further information is necessary?’
Where a speaker exceeds 300 words per minute, listening can be problematic. It is difficult to listen effectively for an extended period to a very rapid speaker, since we cannot handle the volume of information being received. […] The clarity, fluency and audibility of the speaker all have an influence on listener comprehension.”

“If the speaker displays high levels of emotion, the listener may be distracted by this and cease to listen accurately to the content of the verbal message. In situations where individuals are in extreme emotional states, their communication is inevitably highly charged. […] When faced with a person experiencing extreme emotions […] it is often not advisable either to reinforce positively or to rebuke the individual for this behaviour, since such reactions may well be counterproductive. […] A more reasoned response is to react in a calm fashion, demonstrating an interest in, without overtly reinforcing, the emotional person, but also showing a willingness to listen and attempt to understand what exactly has caused this to occur. Only when strong emotional feelings begin to decrease can a more rational discussion take place.”

“If the speaker is regarded as an important person, or a recognised authority on a topic, listening comprehension is increased as more credence will be attached to what is being said. Also, more attention tends to be paid if the speaker is in a position of superiority. Attention is therefore greater if the listener has admiration and respect for a speaker of high credibility. […] when the message conveys similar values, attitudes or viewpoints to our own, listening is facilitated […] Effective listening is facilitated by paying attention to only one person at a time, and by manipulating the environment in order to ensure that extraneous distractions are minimised […] If someone is expected to listen for a prolonged period, […] comfortable seating has been shown to be an important factor for listening effectiveness […] In group contexts, a compact seating arrangement is more effective than a scattered one. People pay more attention and recall more when they are brought close together physically, as opposed to when they are spread out around the room.”

“Someone who is self-conscious, and concerned with the personal impression being conveyed, is unlikely to be listening closely to others. In terms of research into memory, two identified problems relate to the process of inhibition […]. Proactive inhibition occurs when something that has already been learned interferes with attempts to learn new material. A parallel problem is retroactive inhibition, which is where material that has already been learned is impaired as a result of the impact of, and interference from, recent material. In interpersonal encounters inhibition also occurs. Retroactive listening inhibition is where the individual is still pondering over the ramifications of something that happened in the recent past, at the expense of listening to the speaker in the present interaction. Proactive listening inhibition takes place when someone has an important engagement looming, and a preoccupation with this militates against listening in the present. The main mental focus then tends to be more about how to handle the future encounter than about what the speaker is currently saying.”

“Research has shown that speakers want listeners to respond appropriately to what they are saying rather than to ‘just listen’ […]. In other words, they desire active listening in the form of both verbal and nonverbal behaviours. Active listening requires concerted effort and attention […], as it involves showing that we have both heard and understood what the other person has communicated […] When the listener shows warmth and enthusiasm for what we are saying, this attitude influences us and so we are likely to become more expressive and expansive. By contrast, when the listener is cold and formal, we are more likely to provide basic, factual responses. Although verbal responses are the main indicators of successful listening, if accompanying nonverbal behaviours are not displayed it is usually assumed that an individual is not paying attention, and ipso facto not listening. Thus, while these nonverbal signs may not be crucial to the assimilation of verbal messages, they are expected by others.”

“[One] aspect of reinforcement that is a potent indicator of effective listening is reference to past statements. This can range from simply remembering someone’s name to remembering other details about facts, feelings or ideas they may have expressed in the past. This shows a willingness to pay attention to what was previously discussed and in turn is likely to encourage the person to participate more fully in the present interaction.”

“[Some] nonverbal cues have been identified as signs of inattentiveness or lack of listening […] The most common of these are: • inappropriate facial expressions • lack of eye contact • poor use of paralanguage (e.g. flat tone of voice, no emphasis) • slouched or shifting posture • absence of head nods • the use of distracting behaviours (e.g. rubbing the eyes, yawning, writing or reading while the speaker is talking). […] These nonverbal signals can of course be deceiving, in that someone who is assimilating the verbal message may not appear to be listening. […] Conversely, people may engage in pretend listening, or pseudo-listening, where they show all of the overt signs of attending but are not actually listening at all […] both the verbal and nonverbal determinants of active listening play a key role in social interaction. In fact, these signs are integrated in such a fashion that, in most cases, if either channel signals lack of attention this is taken as an overall indication of poor listening. […] It is important to realise that listening is not something that just happens, but rather is an active process in which the listener decides to pay careful attention to the speaker.”

“An explanation may be triggered by a direct request from someone who needs or wants to know something. Alternatively it may be the explainer who initiates the exchange. In the latter case, an important first step may be to create a ‘felt need’ on the part of recipients. They should have a sense that listening to what is about to be said will be worthwhile […] An explanation that carries more detail than is necessary is just as defective as one that does not carry enough – a key feature of effective explanations is that they are succinct […] One of the causes of punctuating speech with sounds such as ‘eh’ or ‘mm’ is trying to put too many ideas or facts across in one sentence. It is better to use reasonably short crisp sentences, with pauses in between, than long rambling ones full of subordinate clauses. This will generally tend to eliminate speech hesitancies. Another cause of dysfluency is lack of adequate planning and forethought. […] Pausing briefly to collect and organise thought processes before embarking on an explanation can […] facilitate fluent speech patterns. Added to that, planned pausing can help to increase understanding of the explanation.”

“When two people meet for the first time, it is more likely that they will focus upon factual disclosures (name, occupation, place of residence) while keeping any feeling disclosures at a fairly superficial level (‘I hate crowded parties’, ‘I like rock music’). This is largely because the expression of personal feelings involves greater risk and places the discloser in a more vulnerable position. […] A gradual progression from low to high levels of self-disclosure leads to better relationship development. […] Factual and feeling disclosures at a deeper level can be regarded as a sign of commitment to a relationship.”

“A self-disclosure can be about one’s own personal experience, or it can be about one’s personal reaction to the experiences being related by another […] If the objective is to give concerted attention to an individual and encourage full disclosure, then concentrating upon one’s reactions to the feelings or thoughts of the other person would be most appropriate. If, however, the intention is to demonstrate that the person’s feelings are not unusual, then the use of a parallel self-disclosure relating one’s own experience would be more apposite.”

“[Valence] is the degree to which the disclosure is positive or negative for both discloser and listener. In the early stages of relationship development, disclosures are mainly positive, and negative self-disclosures usually only emerge once a relationship has been established. […] Negative self-disclosures have been shown to be marked by paralinguistic cues such as stuttering, stammering, repetition, mumbling and low ‘feeble’ voice quality, whereas positive disclosures tend to be characterised by rapid, flowing, melodious speech […] we expect others to make positive self-disclosures and so we become more alert upon receiving a negative disclosure. […] negative information is attributed as possessing greater relevance than positive information (Yoo, 2009). Thus, the comparative rarity of negative disclosures, and their greater inferential power, mean that we need to use them with caution. […] the use of negative disclosures tends to lead to more negative evaluations of the discloser. […] While the continuous and indiscriminant use of negative self-disclosure is dysfunctional, the judicious application of such disclosures can actually facilitate relational development. […] negative emotions should be expressed to those with whom one has a relationship, the depth of disclosed emotional state should be concomitant with the level of friendship, and the intensity of the disclosure should reflect the degree of emotional need. Given these parameters, Graham et al. showed that the disclosure of appropriate negative emotions increased ratings of likability, elicited offers of help and increased the level of relational intimacy.”

“Where there is a high degree of asymmetry in status, disclosure tends to be in one direction […] workers may disclose personal problems to their supervisors, but the reverse does not usually happen. This is because for a supervisor to disclose personal information to a subordinate would cause a loss of face, which would affect the status relationship. Research findings tend to suggest that self-disclosures are most often employed between people of equal status […] There would seem to be a relationship between psychological adjustment and self-disclosure in that individuals who are extremely high or low disclosers are regarded as less socially skilled.”

“Often, before we make a deep disclosure, there is a strategic process of testing […] or advance pre-testing […], whereby we ‘trail’ the topic with potential confidants and observe their reactions. If these are favourable, then we continue with the revelations; if not, we move on to a new topic. However, the initial dangers of self-disclosure are such that we expect an equal commitment to this process from people with whom we may wish to develop a relationship […]. For this reason, reciprocation is expected in the early stages of everyday interaction. […] a person’s disclosure increases the likelihood that the other party will also disclose. In everyday interaction, reciprocation of self-disclosures is the norm. […] It is interesting to note that when people are not able to utilise interpersonal channels for disclosure, they often use substitutes such as keeping a personal diary, talking to a pet or conversing with God. Indeed, this need can be observed at an early stage in young children who often disclose to a teddy bear or doll.”

“People who do not have access to a good listener may not only be denied the opportunity to heighten their self-awareness, but they are also denied valuable feedback as to the validity and acceptability of their inner thoughts and feelings. By discussing these with others, we receive feedback as to whether these are experiences which others have as well, or whether they are less common. Furthermore, by gauging the reactions to our self-disclosures we learn what types are acceptable or unacceptable with particular people and in specific situations. […] The appropriate use of self-disclosure is crucial to the development and maintenance of long-term relationships […]. Those who disclose either too much or too little tend to have problems in establishing and sustaining relationships.”

“In their metaanalysis of research studies into gender differences in adults’ language use, Leaper and Ayres (2007) found that women used more self-disclosures than men. Dindia (2000b), in an earlier meta-analytical study, also found that females disclosed more than males, but this was moderated by the gender of the recipient, so that:
• females do not disclose to males any more than males do to males
• females disclose more to females than males do to males
• females disclose more to females than males do to females
• females disclose more to males than males do to females.”

“Personality variables have been shown to relate to disclosure level […]. Shy, introverted types, those with low self-esteem and individuals with a high need for social approval disclose less, and social desirability is negatively related to depth of disclosure. Also those with an external locus of control […] disclose less than those with an internal locus of control […]. Lonely individuals have also been found to disclose less […] Accepting/empathic people receive more disclosures. […] ‘We like people who self-disclose to us, we disclose more to people we like, and we like others as a result of having disclosed to them’ […] more self-disclosures tend to be made to individuals who are perceived as being similar (in attitudes, values, beliefs, etc.)”

“Solano and Dunnam (1985) showed that self-disclosure was greater in dyads than in triads, which in turn was greater than in a four-person group. They further found that this reduction applied regardless of the gender of the interactors and concluded that there may well be a linear decrease in self-disclosure as group size increases.”


August 14, 2014 - Posted by | Books, Psychology

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