Among the many communication strategies are the competencies of interpersonal communication which I thought would make a neat sub-set of strategies to post. I owe these strategies to a wide variety of researchers and theorists—I’ll mention a few tho’ I’m sure I’m omitting many: Art Bochner, Michael Hecht, Brian Spitzberg, William Cupach, James McCroskey, and Gerald Miller stand out in my mind. I include the references to research in some of these mainly to acknowledge the contributions of these theorists/researchers as well. These dozen items are taken largely from my Interpersonal Communication Book. A great skill to begin with is mindfulness which kind of underlies all the others.
Mindfulness is a state of mental awareness; in a mindful state you’re conscious of your reasons for thinking or communicating in a particular way. And, especially important in interpersonal communication, you become aware of your choices. You act with an awareness of your available choices. Its opposite, mindlessness, is a lack of conscious awareness of your thinking or communicating (Langer, 1989). To apply interpersonal skills appropriately and effectively, you need to be mindful of the unique communication situation you’re in, of your available communication options or choices, and of the reasons why one option is likely to prove better than the others (Langer, 1989; Elmes & Gemmill, 1990; Burgoon, Berger, & Waldron, 2000). You can look at this textbook and this course in interpersonal communication as means of awakening your mindfulness about the way you engage in interpersonal communication. After you complete this course and this text, you should be much more mindful about all your interpersonal interactions, which will prove beneficial in all your interpersonal interactions (Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2004; Sagula & Rice, 2004).
Increasing Mindfulness. To increase mindfulness in general, try the following suggestions (Langer, 1989):
< Create and recreate categories. Learn to see objects, events, and people as belonging to a wide variety of categories. Try to see, for example, your prospective romantic partner in a variety of roles——child, parent, employee, neighbor, friend, financial contributor, and so on. Avoid storing in memory an image of a person with only one specific label; if you do, you’ll find it difficult to recategorize the person later.
< Be open to new information and points of view, even when these contradict your most firmly held stereotypes. New information forces you to reconsider what might be outmoded ways of thinking. New information can help you challenge long-held but now inappropriate beliefs and attitudes. Be willing to see your own and others’ behaviors from a variety of viewpoints, especially from the perspective of people very different from yourself.
< Beware of relying too heavily on first impressions (Chanowitz & Langer, 1981; Langer, 1989). Treat your first impressions as tentative——as hypotheses that need further investigation. Be prepared to revise, reject, or accept these initial impressions.
In addition, consider a few suggestions specific to communication. Ask yourself these questions
< Can the message be misinterpreted? What can you do to make sure it’s interpreted correctly? For example, you can paraphrase or restate the message in different ways or you can ask the person to paraphrase.
< When there’s a continuous communication pattern——as there is in an escalating conflict in which each person brings up past relationship injustices——ask yourself if this pattern is productive and, if not, what you can do to change it. For example, you can refuse to respond in kind and thereby break the cycle.
< Remind yourself of what you already know about a situation, recall that all communication situations are different, and ask yourself how you can best adapt your messages to this unique situation. For example, you may want to be especially positive to a friend who is depressed but not so positive to someone who betrayed a confidence.
< Think before you act. Especially in delicate situations (for example, when expressing anger or when conveying commitment messages), it’s wise to pause and think over the situation mindfully (DeVito, 2003b). In this way you’ll stand a better chance of acting and reacting appropriately.