Communication Strategies: Metacommunication

Here's a brief explanation of metacommunication, surely not enough to do this important topic justice--but a start.
The prefix meta- can mean a variety of things (Give examples), but as used in communication, philosophy, and psychology, its meaning is best translated as about. Thus, metacommunication is communication about communication, metalanguage is language about language, and a metamessage is a message about a message.
Look at it this way. You can communicate about the world——about the desk you’re sitting at, the computer you’re using, or the passage you’re reading right now. This is called object communication; you’re talking about objects. And the language you’re using is called object language. But you’re not limited to talking about objects. You can also talk about your talk; you can communicate about your communication. And this is referred to as metacommunication. In the same way, you can use language (that is, metalanguage) to talk about language (that is, object language). And you can talk about your messages with metamessages.
Actually, you use this distinction every day, perhaps without realizing it. For example, when you send someone an e-mail with a seemingly sarcastic comment and then put a smiley at the end, the smiley communicates about your communication; it says something like “this message is not to be taken literally; I’m trying to be humorous.” The smiley is a metamessage; it’s a message about a message. When you say, in preface to some comment, “I’m not sure about this, but . . .,” you’re communicating a message about a message; you’re commenting on the message and asking that it be understood with the qualification that you may be wrong. When you conclude a comment with “I’m only kidding” you’re metacommunicating; you’re communicating about your communication. In relationship communication you often talk in metalanguage and say things like, “We really need to talk about the way we communicate when we’re out with company” or “You’re too critical” or “I love when you tell me how much you love me.”
And, of course, you can also use nonverbal messages to metacommunicate. You can wink at someone to indicate that you’re only kidding or sneer after saying “Yeah, that was great,” with the sneer contradicting the literal meaning of the verbal message.
Here are a few suggestions for increasing your metacommunication effectiveness:
< Explain the feelings that go with your thoughts.
< Give clear feedforward to help the other person get a general picture of the messages that will follow.
< Paraphrase your own complex messages so as to make your meaning extra clear. Similarly, check on your understanding of another’s message by paraphrasing what you think the other person means.
< Ask for clarification if you have doubts about another’s meaning.
< Use metacommunication when you want to clarify the communication patterns between yourself and another person: “I’d like to talk about the way you talk about me to our friends” or “I think we should talk about the way we talk about sex.”
< Be careful that you don’t substitute talk about talk for talk about the issues. It’s easy in an argument, say, to focus on the talk—for example, objecting to the terms the other person is using or the tone of voice—and avoiding talking about the infidelity or the gambling debts.


Cyberflirting etc

Here is a startling statistic from a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and reported in The Week magazine (December 17, 2010, p. 8): 20 percent of divorces filed involved cyber flirting and affairs arising from Facebook messages. I checked the website (www.aaml.org) and couldn’t find exactly that statistic but I did discover there a wealth of material on the role of cyber flirting and e-communication generally and their impact on interpersonal (mainly romantic) relationships.

Emotional Checker

Take a look at this website for an emotional message checker. Much like a spell checker alerts you to words that are not in the software’s dictionary and that therefore are probably spelled incorrectly, this tone-check reviews your e-mail messages for highly emotional words and alerts you to the possibility that the use of these words might violate the tone you want to use. It evaluates words for eight emotions (from the positive to the negative): affection, enjoyment, amusement, contentment, sadness, fear, anger, and humiliation. The site offers an excellent demo on its major functions.

New Communication Words

Here is a great article on new words introduced in 2010. The words in the communication section are: coffice, halfalogue, sofalize, mansplainer, and social graph. I won’t spoil the fun of guessing what these words mean by giving their definitions here. They’re given in the article.


Communication Strategies: Feedback

Throughout the communication process, you exchange feedback—messages sent back to the speaker concerning reactions to what is said. Feedback tells the speaker what effect she or he is having on listeners. On the basis of this feedback, the speaker may adjust, modify, strengthen, de-emphasize, or change the content or form of the messages.
Feedback may come from you or from others. When you send a message—say, in speaking to another person—you also hear yourself. As you type in an email or text message, you also see what you’ve typed. That is, you get feedback from your own messages: you hear what you say, you feel the way you move, and you see what you write.
In addition to this self-feedback, you get feedback from others. This feedback can take many forms. A frown or a smile, a yea or a nay, a pat on the back or a punch in the mouth are all types of feedback. Sometimes feedback is easy to identify, but sometimes it isn’t. Part of the art of effective communication is to discern feedback and adjust your messages on the basis of that feedback.
Each feedback opportunity presents you with choices along at least the following five dimensions: positive–negative, person focused–message focused, immediate–delayed, low monitored–high monitored, and supportive–critical. To use feedback effectively, you need to make educated choices along these dimensions.
< Positive–Negative. Feedback may be positive (you pay a compliment or pat someone on the back) or negative (you criticize someone or scowl). Positive feedback tells the speaker that he or she is on the right track and should continue communicating in essentially the same way. Negative feedback tells the speaker that something is wrong and that some adjustment should be made.
< Person Focused–Message Focused. Feedback may center on the person (“You’re sweet” or “You have a great smile”). Or it may center on the message (“Can you repeat that number?” or “Your argument is a good one”).
< Immediate–Delayed. In interpersonal situations, feedback is often sent immediately after the message is received; you smile or say something in response almost simultaneously with your receiving the message. In other communication situations, however, the feedback may be delayed. Instructor evaluation questionnaires completed at the end of a course provide feedback long after the class began.
< Low-Monitoring–High-Monitoring Feedback. Feedback varies from the spontaneous and totally honest reaction (low-monitored feedback) to the carefully constructed response designed to serve a specific purpose (high-monitored feedback). In most interpersonal situations, you probably give feedback spontaneously; you allow your responses to show without any monitoring. At other times, however, you may be more guarded, as when your boss asks you how you like your job.
< Supportive–Critical. Supportive feedback accepts the speaker and what the speaker says. It occurs, for example, when you console another, encourage him or her to talk, or otherwise confirm the person’s definition of self. Critical feedback, on the other hand, is evaluative; it’s judgmental. When you give critical feedback (whether positive or negative), you judge another’s performance—as in, for example, coaching someone learning a new skill.
Of course, these categories are not exclusive. Feedback does not have to be either critical or supportive; it can be both. For example, in talking with someone who is trying to become a more effective interviewer, you might critically evaluate a practice interview but also express support for the effort. Similarly, you might respond to a friend’s question immediately and then after a day or two elaborate on your response. Because each situation is unique, it’s difficult to offer specific suggestions for making your feedback more effective. But, with some adjustments for the specifics of the situation, the following guides might prove helpful:
< Focus on the behavior or the message rather than the motives behind the message or behavior. Say, for example, “You forgot my birthday” rather than “You don’t love me.”
< If your feedback is largely negative, try to begin with something positive. There are always positives if you look hard enough. The negatives will be much easier to take, after hearing some positives.
< Ask for feedback on your feedback, for example, say “Does this make sense?” “Do you understand what I want our relationship to be?”
< When you’re the recipient of feedback, be sure to show your interest in feedback. This is vital information that will help you improve whatever you’re doing. Encourage the feedback giver. Be open to hearing this feedback. Don’t argue; don’t be defensive.
< Check your perceptions. Do you understand the feedback? Ask questions. Not all feedback is easy to understand; after all, a wink, a backward head nod, or a smile can each signal a variety of different messages. When you don’t understand the meaning of the feedback, ask for clarification (nondefensively, of course). Paraphrase the feedback you’ve just received to make sure you both understand it: “You’d be comfortable taking over the added responsibilities if I went back to school?”