Communication is Easy and Difficult: An Exercise

I'm developing this exercise for possible use in the new edition of Human Communication and I thought it might be of interest more generally for just about any course in speech communication or interpersonal communication. The ten items I have below can be changed and probably should be changed to better reflect the specific students in the class. 

The Exercise

This exercise is designed to explore the differences in difficulty of various communication interactions: what makes for a difficult communication experience, what individual differences influence what constitutes difficult communication, and the skills needed to make difficult communication easier.

To Know
Communication theorists and researchers often argue over whether communication is easy or difficult. Of course, if you think about the various communication interactions you engage in everyday, you’d have to conclude that communication is both easy and difficult.
Some communication interactions are simple, easy, and are performed almost automatically. Nodding to a colleague when passing each other, asking a salesperson where a particular item is, or arranging to meet a friend after class—most people would agree—are relatively easy interactions. This is not to say that even these simple activities cannot be improved by the application of communication skills; surely they can. But still they’re relatively easy to perform.
Other communication interactions, however, are difficult. For example, apologizing to a life partner for infidelity, leading a group to solve a workplace problem, or constructing a persuasive speech are relatively difficult tasks.
Clearly, then, communication exists on a continuum from easy at one end to difficult at the other end. One way to look at the goal of a communication course or textbook is to provide you with the skills you need to move “difficult” communication situations closer to the “easy” side.

Easy ___________________________________________ Difficult

To Do
Here are ten communication experiences. Individually or in small groups of five or six, place these along the continuum from easy to difficult by using the numbers from 1 (easiest) to 10 (most difficult).
a.     Tweeting about a favorite celebrity’s concert.
b.     Talking with a recruiter at a job fair.
c.      Asking a terminally ill patient if he or she has made a will.
d.     E-mailing a textbook author to express your opinion of the book.
e.      Telling a friend of his or her spouse’s infidelity.
f.       Apologizing to your life partner for a brief (a few months) romantic affair.
g.     Giving a toast at a friend’s wedding.
h.     Asking the most attractive person at your school for a date.
i.       Breaking up a long-term (three or four year) relationship; you’ve fallen in love with someone else.
j.       Making small talk on an elevator with people you’ve never seen before.

To Discuss
1.     What makes for difficult communication? What makes for easy communication? How would you define “difficult communication” and “easy communication”?
2.     In what specific ways does your own personality influence how you arranged these experiences and how you view “difficult” and “easy” communication?
3.     For which of these situations do you feel you have the requisite skills for effective communication? For which situations do you feel you need more skills and experience?


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