Expressiveness is the skill of communicating genuine involvement in the conversation; it entails, for example, taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, encouraging expressiveness or openness in others, and providing appropriate feedback. As you can easily appreciate, these are the qualities that make a conversation exciting and satisfying. Expressiveness includes both verbal and nonverbal messages and often involves revealing your emotions and your normally hidden self—bringing in a variety of interpersonal skills noted earlier.
same category), isn’t it time for the voters to demand that candidates running for political office at least know what’s in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and have some basic knowledge of United States and world history? How about a simple test—constructed by a bipartisan group of history and political science professors—that candidates would have to take? There need not be a pass or fail or even a grade assigned, but the questions and the candidates’ answers would be published for all to see. Don’t we as voters have a right to know what these candidates know and what they don’t know? We demand that accountants, doctors, police officers, lawyers, and a host of other professional people in this country take tests as part of their admission to their jobs. Why shouldn’t we expect that of politicians as well? Then, the voters—after reading their responses—can make up their own minds as to whether or not they wish to vote for them.
According to Andrea Rich “any language that, through a conscious or unconscious attempt by the user, places a particular racial or ethnic group in an inferior position is racist.” Racist language expresses racist attitudes. It also, however, contributes to the development of racist attitudes in those who use or hear the language. Even when racism is subtle, unintentional, or even unconscious, its effects are systematically damaging. Here is an all-too-brief consideration of some of the ways we might talk about race without offending others.
Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Zaydoon Jawadi on rating/evaluating speeches for RateSpeeches. The interview can be accessed with the above link. The press release can be found at:
Although non-sexist language is becoming the norm, it may help to review some of the major issues and guidelines involved in avoiding sexist talk. These may be especially helpful to those for whom English is a second language.
Apologies to all who I inadvertently asked to accept me on LinkedIn. I should have read the screen more carefully. In clicking “accept all”--or whatever it was--I thought I was simply accepting those who asked to link to me. Instead I was asking others (who LinkedIn said I knew but in many cases didn’t) to link to me. I apologize for this. Please just ignore my request and accept my apologies for this embarrassing error on my part. Next time I will read the screen more carefully.
Disclaimers are statements that aim to ensure that your messages will be understood as you wish it to be and will not reflect negatively on you. Some of the more popular disclaimers are these:
Effective listening can be viewed as a process of making choices among a variety of different perspectives which can be visualized as a series of choices along a scale of polar opposites. The most important of these are empathic-objective listening, nonjudgmental and critical listening, surface and depth listening, polite and impolite listening, and active and inactive listening.
Listening at the Receiving Stage
The first stage in the process of listening is receiving the message. At this stage you listen not only to what is said (verbally and nonverbally) but also to what is omitted. You receive, for example, your boss’s summary of your accomplishments as well as the omission of your shortcomings or, perhaps, vice versa. Effective reception, then, consists of receiving what is as well as what is not said. Here are just three suggestions for improving your listening reception:
1. Focus your attention on the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal messages, on what is said and on what isn’t said. Avoid focusing your attention on what you’ll say next; if you begin to rehearse your responses, you’re going to miss what the speaker says next.
2. Avoid distractions in the environment; if necessary, shut off the stereo or and turn off your cell phone. Put down the newspaper or magazine; close your laptop.
3. Maintain your role as listener and avoid interrupting. Avoid interrupting as much as possible. It will only prevent you from hearing what the speaker is saying. This is not to imply that you should give feedback cues—minimal verbal or nonverbal responses (“I see,” “you’re right,” head nodding, widening of your eyes)—that say, “I’m listening.”
Listening at the Understanding Stage
The second stage of listening is understanding the message. That is, after receiving the message, you process it; you extract the meaning from the message. You can improve your listening understanding in a variety of ways.
1. Avoid assuming you understand what the speaker is going to say before he or she actually says it. If you do make assumptions, these will likely prevent you from accurately listening to what the speaker wants to say.
2. See the speaker’s messages from the speaker’s point of view. Avoid judging the message until you fully understand it as the speaker intended it.
3. Ask questions for clarification, if necessary; ask for additional details or examples if they’re needed. This shows not only that you’re listening—which the speaker will appreciate—but also that you want to learn more. Material that is not clearly understood is likely to be easily forgotten.
4. Rephrase (paraphrase) the speaker’s ideas into your own words. This can be done silently or aloud. If done silently, it will help you rehearse and learn the material; if done aloud, it also helps you confirm your understanding of what the speaker is saying and gives the speaker an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings.
Listening at the Remembering Stage
The third stage of listening is remembering the message. It would help little if you received and understood the message but didn’t remember it. If you want to remember what someone says or the names of various people, this information needs to pass from your short-term memory (the memory you use, say, to remember a phone number just long enough to write it down) into long-term memory (or relatively permanent memory). Short-term memory is limited in capacity—you can hold only a small amount of information there. Long-term memory is unlimited. To facilitate the passage of information from short- to long-term memory, here are FOUR suggestions:
1. Focus your attention on the central ideas. Even in the most casual of conversations, there are central ideas. Fix these in your mind. Repeat these ideas to yourself as you continue to listen. Avoid focusing on minor details that often lead to detours in listening and in conversation.
2. Organize what you hear; summarize the message in a more easily retained form, but take care not to ignore crucial details or qualifications. If you chunk the material into categories, you’ll be able to remember more information. For example, if you want to remember 15 or 20 items to buy in the supermarket, you’ll remember more of them if you group them into chunks—say, produce, canned goods, and meats.
3. Unite the new with the old; relate new information to what you already know. Avoid treating new information as totally apart from all else you know. There’s probably some relationship and if you identify it, you’re more like to remember the new material.
4. Repeat names and key concepts to yourself or, if appropriate, aloud. By repeating the names or key concepts, you in effect rehearse these names and concepts, and as a result you’ll find them easier to learn and remember. If you’re introduced to Alice, you’ll stand a better chance of remembering her name if you say, “Hi, Alice” than if you say just “Hi.”
Listening at the Evaluating Stage.
Once you’ve received, understood, and have the message in memory, you need to evaluate it. After all, not all messages are equal—some are lies, some are truths; some are significant, some are trivial; some are constructive, some are destructive. In evaluating messages consider these suggestions.
1. Resist evaluation until you fully understand the speaker’s point of view. This is not always easy, but it’s always essential. If you put a label on what the speaker is saying (ultraconservative, bleeding-heart liberal), you’ll hear the remainder of the messages through these labels.
2. Distinguish facts from opinions and personal interpretations by the speaker. And, most important, fix these labels in mind with the information; for example, try to remember that Jesse thinks Pat did XYZ, not just that Pat did XYZ.
3. Identify any biases, self-interests, or prejudices that may lead the speaker to slant unfairly what is said. It’s often wise to ask if the material is being presented fairly or if this person is slanting it in some way.
4. Recognize fallacious forms of “reasoning” speakers may use. Some of the more popular ones are:
• Name-calling: applying a favorable or unfavorable label to color your perception—“democracy” and “soft on terrorism” are two currently popular examples.
• Testimonial: using positively or negatively viewed spokespersons to encourage your acceptance or rejection of something—such as a white-coated actor to sell toothpaste or a disgraced political figure associated with an idea the speaker wants rejected.
• Bandwagon: arguing that you should believe or do something because “everyone else does”.
Listening at the Responding Stage
After you evaluate the message, you’re likely to respond in some way. And, of course, a speaker expects a response. Here are just a few suggestions for improving your responding to another’s messages.
1. Support the speaker throughout the speaker’s conversation by using (and varying) listening cues, such as head nods and minimal responses such as “I see” or “mm-hmm.” Using the “like” icon, poking back, reposting, and commenting on another’s photos or posts will also prove supportive.
2. Own your responses. Take responsibility for what you say. Instead of saying, “Nobody will want to do that” say something like “I don’t want to do that.” Use the anonymity that most social networks allow with discretion.
3. Resist “responding to another’s feelings” with “solving the person’s problems” (as men are often accused of doing) unless, of course, you’re asked for advice. Oftentimes, people simply want to vent and just want you to hear what they have to say.
4. Focus on the other person. Avoid multitasking when you’re listening. Show the speaker that he or she is your primary focus. You can’t be a supportive listener, if you’re also listening to a CD, so take off the headphones; shut down the iPhone and the television; turn away from the computer screen. And, instead of looking around the room, look at the speaker; the speaker’s eyes should be your main focus.
5. Avoid being a thought-completing listener who listens a little and then finishes the speaker’s thought. This is especially inappropriate when listening to someone who might stutter or have word-finding difficulties. Instead, express respect (and a real willingness to listen) by giving the speaker time to complete his or her thoughts. Completing someone’s thoughts often communicates the message that nothing important is going to be said (“I already know it”).
Impression management is largely the result of the messages communicated. In the same way that you form impressions of others largely on the basis of how they communicate, verbally and nonverbally, they also form impressions of you based on what you say (your verbal messages) and how you act, dress, stand, sit, or move (your nonverbal messages). Communication messages, however, are not the only means for impression formation and management. For example, you also communicate your self-image and judge others by the people with whom they associate; if you associate with VIPs, then surely you must be a VIP yourself, the conventional wisdom goes. Or, you might form an impression of someone on the basis of that person’s age or gender or ethnic origin. Or, you might rely on what others have said about the person and from that form impressions. And, of course, they might well do the same in forming impressions of you.
Part of the art and skill of communication is to understand and be able to manage the impressions you give to others. Mastering the art of impression management will enable you to present yourself as you want others to see you—at least to some extent. The strategies you use to achieve this desired impression will depend on your specific goal. Here is a classification based on seven major communication goals and strategies. In addition to helping you communicate the impression you want to communicate, each of these strategies may backfire and communicate the opposite of your intended purpose.
To Be Liked
Affinity-Seeking, Politeness, and Immediacy Strategies. If you’re new at school or on the job and you want to be well liked, included in the activities of others, and thought of highly, you’d likely use affinity-seeking, politeness, and immediacy strategies.
Affinity-Seeking Strategies. Using the affinity-seeking strategies that follow is likely to increase your chances of being liked. Such strategies are especially important in initial interactions, and their use has even been found to increase student motivation when used by teachers.
• Present yourself as comfortable and relaxed.
• Follow the cultural rules for polite, cooperative, respectful conversation.
• Appear active, enthusiastic, and dynamic.
• Stimulate and encourage the other person to talk about himself or herself.
• Communicate interest in the other person.
• Appear optimistic and positive.
• Appear honest, reliable, and interesting.
• Communicate warmth, supportiveness, and empathy.
• Demonstrate shared attitudes and values.
Not surprisingly, plain old flattery also goes a long way toward making you liked. Flattery can increase your chances for success in a job interview, the tip a customer is likely to leave, and even the credibility you’re likely to be seen as having.
There is also, however, a potential negative effect that can result from the use of affinity-seeking strategies. Using affinity-seeking strategies too often or in ways that may appear insincere may lead people to see you as attempting to ingratiate yourself for your own advantage and not really meaning “to be nice.”
Politeness Strategies. Politeness strategies are another set of strategies often used to appear likeable. We can look at them in terms of negative and positive types. Both of these types of politeness are responsive to two needs that we each have:
1. positive face needs—the desire to be viewed positively by others, to be thought of favorably, and
2. negative face needs—the desire to be autonomous, to have the right to do as we wish.
Politeness in interpersonal communication, then, refers to behavior that allows others to maintain both positive and negative face and impoliteness refers to behaviors that attack either positive face (for example, you criticize someone) or negative face (for example, you make demands on someone).
To help another person maintain positive face, you speak respectfully to and about the person, you give the person your full attention, you say “excuse me” when appropriate. In short you treat the person as you would want to be treated. In this way you allow the person to maintain positive face through what is called positive politeness. You attack the person’s positive face when you speak disrespectfully about the person, ignore the person or the person’s comments, and fail to use the appropriate expressions of politeness such as “thank you” and “please.”
To help another person maintain negative face, you respect the person’s right to be autonomous and so you request rather than demand that they do something; you say, “Would you mind opening a window” rather than “Open that window, damn it!” You might also give the person an “out” when making a request, allowing the person to reject your request if that is what the person wants. And so you say, “If this is a bad time, please tell me, but I’m really strapped and could use a loan of $100” rather than “Loan me a $100” or “You have to lend me $100.” If you want a recommendation, you might say, “Would it be possible for you to write me a recommendation for graduate school” rather than “You have to write me a recommendation for graduate school.” In this way you enable the person to maintain negative face through what is called negative politeness.
Of course, we do this almost automatically and asking for a favor without any consideration for the person’s negative face needs would seems totally insensitive. In most situations, however, this type of attack on negative face often appears in more subtle forms. For example, your mother saying “Are you going to wear that?”—to use an example from Deborah Tannen—attacks negative face by criticizing or challenging your autonomy. This comment also attacks positive face by questioning your ability to dress properly.
Politeness too may have negative consequences. Over-politeness, for example, is likely to be seen as phoney and is likely to be resented, especially if it’s seen as a persuasive strategy.
Immediacy Strategies. Immediacy is the creation of closeness, a sense of togetherness, of oneness, between speaker and listener. When you communicate immediacy you convey a sense of interest and attention, a liking for and an attraction to the other person. You communicate immediacy with both verbal and nonverbal messages.
And, not surprisingly, people respond to communication that is immediate more favorably than to communication that is not. People like people who communicate immediacy. You can increase your interpersonal attractiveness, the degree to which others like you and respond positively toward you, by using immediacy behaviors. In addition there is considerable evidence to show that immediacy behaviors are also effective in workplace communication, especially between supervisors and subordinates. For example, when a supervisors uses immediacy behaviors, he or she is seen by subordinates as interested and concerned; subordinates are therefore likely to communicate more freely and honestly about issues that can benefit the supervisor and the organization. Also, workers with supervisors who communicate immediacy behaviors have higher job satisfaction and motivation.
Not all cultures or all people respond in the same way to immediacy messages. For example, in the United States immediacy behaviors are generally seen as friendly and appropriate. In other cultures, however, the same immediacy behaviors may be viewed as overly familiar——as presuming that a relationship is close when only acquaintanceship exists. Similarly, recognize that some people may take your immediacy behaviors as indicating a desire for increased intimacy in the relationship. So although you may be trying merely to signal a friendly closeness, the other person may perceive a romantic invitation. Also, recognize that because immediacy behaviors prolong and encourage in-depth communication, they may not be responded to favorably by persons who are fearful about communication and/or who want to get the interaction over with as soon as possible.
Here are a few suggestions for communicating immediacy verbally and nonverbally:
< Self-disclose; reveal something significant about yourself.
< Refer to the other person’s good qualities of, say, dependability, intelligence, or character——“you’re always so reliable.”
< Express your positive view of the other person and of your relationship——“I’m sure glad you’re my roommate; you know everyone.”
< Talk about commonalities, things you and the other person have done together or share.
< Demonstrate your responsiveness by giving feedback cues that indicate you want to listen more and that you’re interested——“And what else happened?”
< Express psychological closeness and openness by, for example, maintaining physical closeness and arranging your body to exclude third parties.
< Maintain appropriate eye contact and limit looking around at others.
< Smile and express your interest in the other person.
< Focus on the other person’s remarks. Make the speaker know that you heard and understood what was said, and give the speaker appropriate verbal and nonverbal feedback.
At the same time that you’ll want to demonstrate these immediacy messages, try also to avoid nonimmediacy messages such as speaking in a monotone, looking away from the person you’re talking to, frowning while talking, having a tense body posture, or avoiding gestures.
To Be Believed: Credibility Strategies.
If you were a politician and wanted people to vote for you, at least part of your strategy would involve attempts to establish your credibility (which consists of your competence, character, and charisma). For example, to establish your competence, you might mention your great educational background or the courses you took that qualify you as an expert. To establish that you’re of good character, you might mention your fairness and honesty, your commitment to enduring values, or your concern for those less fortunate. And to establish your charisma—your take-charge, positive personality—you might demonstrate enthusiasm, be emphatic, or focus on the positive while minimizing the negative.
If you stress your competence, character, and charisma too much, however, you risk being seen as someone who lacks the very qualities that you seem too eager to present to others. Generally, people who are truly competent need say little directly about their own competence; their actions and their success will reveal their competence.
To Excuse Failure: Self-Handicapping Strategies.
If you were about to tackle a difficult task and were concerned that you might fail, you might use what are called self-handicapping strategies. In the more extreme form of this strategy, you actually set up barriers or obstacles to make the task impossible. That way, when you fail, you won’t be blamed or thought ineffective—after all, the task was impossible. Let’s say you aren’t prepared for your human communication exam and you feel you’re going to fail. Using this self-handicapping strategy, you might stay out late at a party the night before so that when you do poorly in the exam, you can blame it on the party rather than on your intelligence or knowledge. In a less extreme form, you might manufacture excuses for failure and have them ready if you do fail. For example, you might prepare to blame a poorly cooked dinner on your defective stove.
On the negative side, using self-handicapping strategies too often may lead people to see you as generally incompetent or foolish. After all, a person who parties the night before an exam for which he or she is already unprepared is clearly demonstrating poor judgment.
To Secure Help: Self-Deprecating Strategies.
If you want to be taken care of and protected, or if you simply want someone to come to your aid, you might use self-deprecating strategies. Confessions of incompetence and inability often bring assistance from others. And so you might say, “I just can’t fix that drain and it drives me crazy; I just don’t know anything about plumbing” with the hope that the other person will offer help.
But, be careful: Your self-deprecating strategies may convince people that you are in fact just as incompetent as you say you are. Or, people may see you as someone who doesn’t want to do something and so pretends to be incompetent to get others to do it for you. This is not likely to benefit you in the long run.
To Hide Faults: Self-Monitoring Strategies.
Much impression management is devoted not merely to presenting a positive image, but to suppressing the negative, to self-monitoring strategies. Here you carefully monitor (self-censor) what you say or do. You avoid your normal slang to make your colleagues think more highly of you; you avoid chewing gum so you don’t look juvenile or unprofessional. While you readily disclose favorable parts of your experience, you actively hide the unfavorable parts.
But, if you self-monitor too often or too obviously, you risk being seen as someone unwilling to reveal himself or herself, and perhaps as not trusting enough of others to feel comfortable disclosing. In more extreme cases, you may be seen as dishonest, as hiding your true self or trying to fool other people.
To Be Followed: Influencing Strategies.
In many instances you’ll want to get people to see you as a leader. Here you can use a variety of influencing strategies. One set of such strategies are those normally grouped under power— your knowledge (information power), your expertise (expert power), your right to lead by virtue of your position as, say, a doctor or judge or accountant (legitimate power). Or, using leadership strategies, you might stress your prior experience, your broad knowledge, or your previous successes.
Influencing strategies can also backfire. If you try to influence someone and fail, you’ll be perceived to have less power than before your unsuccessful influence attempt. And, of course, if you’re seen as someone who is influencing others for self-gain, your influence attempts might be resented or rejected.
To Confirm Self-Image: Image Confirming Strategies.
You may sometimes use image-confirming strategies to reinforce your positive perceptions about yourself. If you see yourself as the life of the party, you’ll tell jokes and try to amuse people. This behavior confirms your own self-image and also lets others know that this is who you are and how you want to be seen. At the same time that you reveal aspects of yourself that confirm your desired image, you actively suppress revealing aspects of yourself that would disconfirm this image.
If you use image-confirming strategies too frequently, you risk being seen as too perfect to be genuine. If you try to project an exclusively positive image, it’s likely to turn people off—people want to see their friends and associates as real people with some faults and imperfections. Also recognize that image-confirming strategies invariably involve your focusing on yourself, and with that comes the risk of seeming self-absorbed.
Don’t be pushed. Although there may be certain legal or ethical reasons for disclosing, generally, if you don’t want to disclose, you don’t have to. Don’t be pushed into disclosing because others are doing it or because you’re asked to.
Be assertive in your refusal to disclose. Say, very directly, “I’d rather not talk about that now” or “Now is not the time for this type of discussion.
Delay a decision. If you don’t want to say no directly, but still don’t want to disclose, delay the decision. Say something like “That’s pretty personal; let me think about that before I make a fool of myself” or “This isn’t really a good time (or place) to talk about this; I’ll get back to you and we’ll talk.
Be indirect and move to another topic. Avoid the question and change the subject. This is a polite way of saying, “I’m not talking about it,” and may be the preferred choice in certain situations. Most often people will get the hint and understand your refusal to disclose.
One of the interpersonal communication situations that often creates difficulties is the introduction of one person to another person. Let’s say you’re with Jack and bump into Jill who stops to talk. Because they don’t know each other, it’s your job to introduce them. Generally, it’s best to do this simply but with enough detail to provide a context for further interaction. It might go something like this: “Jill Williams, this is Jack Smith, who works with me at ABC as marketing manager. I went to college with Jill and, if I’m not mistaken, she has just returned from Hawaii.”
With this introduction Jack and Jill can say something to each other based on the information provided in this brief (32-word) introduction. They can talk about working at ABC, what it’s like being a marketing manager, what Jill majored in, what Hawaii is like, what Jill did in Hawaii, and on and on. If you simply said: “Jack this is Jill; Jill, Jack” there would be virtually nothing for Jack and Jill to talk about.
Some introductions need special handling, for example:
• If you forget the person’s name, the best thing to do here is to admit it and say something like: “I don’t know why I keep thinking your name is Joe; I know it’s not. I’m blocking.” You’re not the only one who forgets names, and few people take great offense when this happens.
• If you don’t want to reveal what your relationship with the person you’re with is, don’t. Simple say, “This is Jack.” You don’t have to identify what your relationship to Jack is if you don’t want to. And, hopefully, the other person won’t ask. Of course, if you want to reveal your relationship, then do so. This is Jack, my lover, boyfriend, life partner, parole officer, or whatever term you want to use to define your relationship.
• In using names, it’s best to be consistent with the norms operating in your specific culture. So, if just first names are exchanged in the introduction, use just first names. If the norm is to use first and last names, follow that pattern. Also, be consistent with the two people you introduce. Use just the first name for both or first name plus last name for both.
• If the two people are of obviously different ranks, then the person of lower rank is introduced to the person of higher rank. Thus, you’d introduce the child to the adult, the junior executive to the senior executive, the student to the professor. Another commonly practiced rule is to introduce the man to the woman: Marie, this is Stephen. Or Marie, I’d like to introduce Stephen to you.
In the United States, the handshake is the most essential gesture of introduction (see “Dos and Don’ts” below”). In Muslim cultures people hug same-sex people but not the opposite sex. In Latin America, South America, and the Mediterranean, people are more likely to hug (and perhaps kiss on the cheek) than are Northern Europeans, Asians, and many from the United States. Asians are more reluctant to extend their hands and more often bow, with lower bows required when people of lower status meet someone of higher status, for example, an intern meeting a company executive or a Private meeting a General.
As you can imagine, such cultural differences may create intercultural difficulties and misunderstandings. For example, if you shake hands in a culture that hugs and kisses, you may appear standoffish and as unwilling to be close. And, if you hug and kiss in a culture that is used to shaking hands, you may seem presumptuous and overly friendly. The best advice here seems to be to watch what the people of the culture you’re in do and try to do likewise. And don’t get upset if members of other cultures “violate” your own culture’s rituals. After all, one ritual is no more logical or right than any other; they’re all arbitrary.
Here’s a brief summary of dos and don’ts of the handshake:
Make eye contact at the beginning and maintain it throughout the handshake.
Smile and otherwise signal positiveness.
Extend your entire right hand.
Grasp the other person’s hand firmly but without so much pressure that it would be uncomfortable.
Pump three times; a handshake in the United States lasts about three to four seconds. In other cultures, it might be shorter or, more often, longer.
Release grasp while still maintaining eye contact.
Look away from the person or down at the floor or at your shaking hand.
Appear static or negative.
Extend just your fingers or your left hand.
Grasp the other person’s fingers as if you really don’t want to shake hands but you’re making a gesture to be polite.
Give the person a “dead fish.” Be careful that the other person’s pumping doesn’t lead you to withdraw your own pumping. Pump much more than three times.
Hold grasp for an overly long time or release too early.
Practice the skills of effective and active listening.
Listen actively, listen politely, listen for different levels of meaning, listen with empathy, and listen with an open mind. Express an understanding of the speaker’s feelings in order to give the speaker the opportunity to see his or her feelings more objectively and through the eyes of another. Ask questions to ensure your own understanding and to signal your interest and attention.
Support and reinforce the discloser.
Try to refrain from evaluation, concentrating on understanding and empathizing. Make your supportiveness clear to the discloser through your verbal and nonverbal responses; for example, maintain eye contact, lean toward the speaker, ask relevant questions, and echo the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.
Be willing to reciprocate.
Your own disclosures (made in response to the other person’s disclosures), demonstrate your understanding of the other’s meanings and your willingness to communicate on a meaningful level.
Keep the disclosures confidential.
If you reveal disclosures to others, negative effects are inevitable. It’s interesting to note that one of the netiquette rules of e-mail is that you shouldn’t forward mail to third parties without the writer’s permission. This rule is useful for self-disclosure generally: Maintain confidentiality; don’t pass on disclosures made to you to others without the person’s permission.
Don’t use the disclosures against the person.
Many self-disclosures expose vulnerability or weakness. If you later turn around and use a disclosure against the person, you betray the confidence and trust invested in you. Regardless of how angry you may get, resist the temptation to use the disclosures of others as weapons.
n Consider the motivation for the self-disclosure. Self-disclosure should be motivated by a concern for the relationship, for the others involved, and for yourself.
n Consider the appropriateness of the self-disclosure. Self-disclosure should be appropriate to the context and to the relationship between you and your listener. Before making any significant self-disclosure, ask whether this is the right time (Do you both have the time to discuss this in the length it requires?) and place (Is the place private enough?). Ask, too, whether this self-disclosure is appropriate to the relationship. Generally, the more intimate the disclosure, the closer the relationship should be.
n Consider the disclosures of the other person. During your disclosures, give the other person a chance to reciprocate with his or her own disclosures. If the other person does not reciprocate, reassess your own self-disclosures. It may be that for this person at this time and in this context, your disclosures are not welcome or appropriate.
n Consider the possible burdens self-disclosure might entail. Carefully weigh the potential problems that you may incur as a result of your disclosure. Can you afford to lose your job if you disclose your prison record? Are you willing to risk relational difficulties if you disclose your infidelities (on the Jerry Springer Show, for example)? Also, ask yourself whether you’re placing burdens on the listener. For example, consider the person who swears his or her mother-in-law to secrecy and then discloses having an affair with a neighbor. This disclosure clearly places an unfair burden on the mother-in-law.
The more you reveal about yourself to others, the more areas of your life you expose to possible attack. Especially in the competitive context of work (or even romance), the more that others know about you, the more they’ll be able to use against you
Even in close and long-lasting relationships, self-disclosure can cause problems. Parents, normally the most supportive people in most individuals’ lives, frequently reject children who disclose their homosexuality, their plans to marry someone of a different race, or their belief in another faith. Your best friends—your closest intimates—may reject you for similar self-disclosures.
Sometimes self-disclosure may result in professional or material losses. Politicians who disclose that they have been in therapy may lose the support of their own political party and find that voters are unwilling to vote for them. Teachers who disclose disagreement with school administrators may find themselves being denied tenure, teaching undesirable schedules, and becoming victims of “budget cuts.” In the business world self-disclosures of alcoholism or drug addiction often result in dismissal, demotion, or social exclusion.
Remember too that self-disclosure, like any other communication, is irreversible. You cannot self-disclose and then take it back. Nor can you erase the conclusions and inferences listeners make on the basis of your disclosures. Remember, too, to examine the rewards and dangers of self-disclosure in terms of particular cultural rules. As with all cultural rules, following the rules about self-disclosure brings approval, and violating them brings disapproval.
Now two questions remain: First, why do the people of Brooklyn continue to elect Hikind who seems to think that colleges exist to further his personal political agenda? They don’t; they exist to further exploration on all issues—not just the issues you want them to and the issues that further your own closed-minded political agenda. Second, why does Brooklyn College have a provost who cares so little for academic freedom? They shouldn’t.
Analyze Impressions. Subject your perceptions to logical analysis, to critical thinking. Here are two suggestions.
• Recognize your own role in perception. Your emotional and physiological state will influence the meaning you give to your perceptions. A movie may seem hysterically funny when you’re in a good mood, but just plain stupid when you’re in a bad mood.
• Avoid early conclusions. Formulate hypotheses to test against additional information and evidence (rather than conclusions). Look for a variety of cues pointing in the same direction. The more cues that point to the same conclusion, the more likely your conclusion will be correct. Be especially alert to contradictory cues that seem to refute your initial hypotheses. At the same time, seek validation from others. Do others see things in the same way you do? If not, ask yourself if your perceptions may be distorted in some way.
Check Perceptions. Perception checking will help you lessen your chances of misinterpreting another’s feelings and will also give the other person an opportunity to elaborate on his or her thoughts and feelings. In its most basic form, perception checking consists of two steps.
• Describe what you see or hear. Try to do this as descriptively (not evaluatively) as you can. Sometimes you may wish to offer several possibilities, for example, “You’ve called me from work a lot this week. You seem concerned that everything is all right at home” or “You’ve not wanted to talk with me all week. You say that my work is fine but you don’t seem to want to give me the same responsibilities that other editorial assistants have.”
• Seek confirmation. Ask the other person if your description is accurate. Avoid mind reading. Don’t try to read the thoughts and feelings of another person just from observing their behaviors. Avoid phrasing your questions defensively, as in “You really don’t want to go out, do you? I knew you didn’t when you turned on the television.” Instead, ask supportively, for example, “Would you rather watch TV”? or “Are you worried about the kids?” or “Are you displeased with my work? Is there anything I can do to improve my job performance?”
Reduce Uncertainty. In every communication situation, there is some degree of ambiguity. There are a variety of uncertainty reduction strategies.
• Observe. Observing another person while he or she is engaged in an active task, preferably interacting with others in an informal social situation, will often reveal a great deal about the person, as people are less apt to monitor their behaviors and more likely to reveal their true selves in informal situations.
• Ask others. Learn about a person through asking others. You might inquire of a colleague if a third person finds you interesting and might like to have dinner with you.
• Interact with the individual. For example, you can ask questions: “Do you enjoy sports?” “What did you think of that computer science course?” “What would you do if you got fired?” You also gain knowledge of another by disclosing information about yourself. These disclosures help to create an environment that encourages disclosures from the person about whom you wish to learn more.
Increase Cultural Sensitivity. Recognizing and being sensitive to cultural differences will help increase your accuracy in perception. For example, Russian or Chinese artists such as ballet dancers will often applaud their audience by clapping. Americans seeing this may easily interpret this as egotistical. Similarly, a German man will enter a restaurant before the woman in order to see if the place is respectable enough for the woman to enter. This simple custom can easily be interpreted as rude when viewed by people from cultures in which it’s considered courteous for the woman to enter first.
Cultural sensitivity will help counteract the difficulty most people have in understanding the nonverbal messages of people from other cultures. For example, it’s easier to interpret the facial expressions of members of your own culture than those of members of other cultures. This “in-group advantage” will assist your perceptual accuracy for members of your own culture but may hinder your accuracy for members of other cultures.
Within every cultural group there are wide and important differences. As all Americans are not alike, neither are all Indonesians, Greeks, or Mexicans. When you make assumptions that all people of a certain culture are alike, you’re thinking in stereotypes. Recognizing differences between another culture and your own, and among members of the same culture, will help you perceive people and situations more accurately.
One way of looking at impolite questions is in terms of positive and negative face. So, an impolite question would be one that attacks a person’s positive and/or negative face needs. Questions attacking positive face needs—that is, the need for approval, for confirmation, for compliments—would include those that imply the person is not deserving of positive expressions (“Did you really try hard enough?” or to use Deborah Tannen’s book title, “Are you going to wear that?”). Questions attacking negative face needs—that is, the need to feel autonomous and in control of one’s own behaviors and not to be imposed upon—would include those that make demands on others, the questions implying “you should” and “you have to” (“Don’t you think you should call your mother more often?” “You ought to save more money, don’t you think?”).
Another way of looking at impolite questions and perhaps a much more intuitively satisfying approach is that they ask for disclosures that you normally don’t want to make. In terms of the Johari Window model—repeated in most if not all communication textbooks—impolite questions ask you to take information from your hidden self and move it to the open self, a move you may not be willing to make at this time or to this person. Often the information asked for is inappropriate for the relationship you have with the questioner; it may be too personal or too unpleasant to discuss serious health problems, for example, with a casual but nosey acquaintance.
Impolite questions are a major part of ineffective communication but have been little studied by communication researchers, at least as far as I can tell. So, I thought I’d start collecting impolite questions. Here are just a few:
1. How come you never had children? Or “How come you didn’t have another child?” [often accompanied by a well-intentioned but grossly impolite “I’m sure Janie would have loved a little brother.”]
2. You look like you lost weight. Were you ill? A question such as “How are you doing?” enables you to express your interest and also enables the other person to respond generally or specifically as he or she wishes. On the other hand, a question such as, “Have you lost more vision since we last met?” requires specific information about a specific ailment.
3. Where are you from? This is a tricky one and I read this in a letter to the editor column. At first, it seems a fair and not impolite question—when you expect an answer like “I’m from the Bronx.” But, this writer was Asian in appearance and a fifth generation American and resented the implication that the question implies that he somehow didn’t belong here, was from someplace else, was somewhat alien, an outsider (to the insider asking the question).
4. Financial questions are well-known to be impolite and yet they’re extremely common: “How much did you pay for your apartment?” “What do you pay for rent/maintenance/taxes?” “Was that expensive?” [A backhanded way of asking the price?”] “You earn a good salary, I assume” [with a rising inflection, waiting for the salary figures].
5. “How come you never married?” Or it’s variant: “How come you’re not married yet?” beautifully portrayed in the classic film Marty where the Bronx butcher is asked this by a customer with the added note that even his younger brother got married.
_____ 1. Generally, I feel I have to be successful in all things.
_____ 2. Several of my acquaintances are often critical or negative of what I do and how I think.
_____ 3. I often tackle projects that I know are impossible to complete to my satisfaction.
_____ 4. When I focus on the past, I focus more often on my failures than on my successes and on my negative rather than my positive qualities.
_____ 5. I make little effort to improve my personal and social skills.
”True” responses to the questions would generally suggest ways of thinking that can get in the way of building positive self-esteem. “False” responses would indicate that you are thinking much like a self-esteem coach would want you to think.
Attack Self-Destructive Beliefs. Challenge beliefs you have about yourself that are unproductive or that make it more difficult for you to achieve your goals. Here, for example, are some beliefs that are likely to prove self-destructive from Pamela Butler.
1. The belief that you have to be perfect; this causes you to try to perform at unrealistically high levels at work, school, and home; anything short of perfection is unacceptable.
2. The belief that you have to please others and that your worthiness depends on what others think of you.
3. The belief that you have to take on more responsibilities than any one person can be expected to handle.
Self-destructive beliefs set unrealistically high standards and therefore almost always lead to failure. As a result, you may develop a negative self-image, seeing yourself as someone who constantly fails. So replace these self-destructive beliefs with more productive ones, such as “I succeed in many things, but I don’t have to succeed in everything” and “It would be nice to be loved by everyone, but it isn’t necessary to my happiness.”
Seek Out Nourishing People. Psychologist Carl Rogers drew a distinction between noxious and nourishing people. Noxious people criticize and find fault with just about everything. Nourishing people, on the other hand, are positive and optimistic. Most important, nourishing people reward us, they stroke us, they make us feel good about ourselves. To enhance your self-esteem, seek out these people—and avoid noxious people, those who make you feel negatively about yourself. At the same time, seek to become more nourishing yourself so that you each build up the other’s self-esteem.
Identification with people similar to yourself also seems to increase self-esteem. For example, in one study deaf people who identified with the larger deaf community had greater self-esteem than those who didn’t so identify. Similarly, identification with your cultural group also seems helpful in developing positive self-esteem.
Work on Projects That Will Result in Success. Some people want to fail (or so it seems). Often, they select projects that will result in failure simply because these projects are impossible to complete. Avoid this trap; select projects that will result in success. Each success will help build self-esteem, and each success will make the next success a little easier. If a project does fail, recognize that this does not mean that you’re a failure. Everyone fails somewhere along the line. Failure is something that happens; it’s not necessarily something you’ve created. It’s not something inside you. Further, your failing once does not mean that you will fail the next time. So learn to put failure in perspective.
Remind Yourself of Your Successes. Some people have a tendency to focus, sometimes too much, on their failures, their missed opportunities, their social mistakes. If your objective is to correct what you did wrong or to identify the skills that you need to correct these failures, then focusing on failures can have some positive value. But if you focus on failure without thinking about plans for correction, then you’re probably just making life more difficult for yourself and limiting your self-esteem. To counteract the tendency to recall failures, remind yourself of your successes. Recall these successes both intellectually and emotionally. Realize why they were successes, and relive the emotional experience—the feelings you had when you sank that winning basketball or aced that test or helped that friend overcome a personal problem.
Secure Affirmation. An affirmation is simply a statement asserting that something is true. In discussions of self-concept and self-awareness, as noted in this chapter, the word affirmation is used to refer to positive statements about you, statements asserting that something good or positive is true of you. It’s frequently recommended that you remind yourself of your successes with self-affirmations—that you focus on your good deeds; on your positive qualities, strengths, and virtues; on your productive and meaningful relationships with friends, loved ones, and relatives.
Self-affirmations include statements such as “I’m a worthy person,” “I’m responsible and can be depended upon,” and “I’m capable of loving and being loved.” The idea behind this advice is that the way you talk to yourself will influence what you think of yourself. If you affirm yourself—if you tell yourself that you’re a success, that others like you, that you will succeed on the next test, and that you will be welcomed when asking for a date—you will soon come to feel more positive about yourself.
Some researchers, however, argue that self-affirmations—although extremely popular in self-help books—may not be very helpful. These critics contend that if you have low self-esteem, you’re not going to believe your self-affirmations, because you don’t have a high opinion of yourself to begin with. They propose that the alternative to self-affirmation is to secure affirmation from others. You’d do this by, for example, becoming more competent in communication and interacting with more positive people. In this way, you’d get more positive feedback from others—which, these researchers argue, is more helpful than self-talk in raising self-esteem.