Letter of Advice: Interpersonal Communication, Research Paper Example
Words: 2615Research Paper
I am pleased that you value your relationship to the extent that you are seeking ways to improve it, and enhance your chances of enjoying a healthy, long-term commitment. This desire on your part also informs me of a vital element in any such efforts; that is, you both understand the importance of active participation in achieving this result. In plain terms, interpersonal relationships may be as challenged by issues as unique as the individuals involved, and no such relationship thrives without a genuine commitment from both partners. There is, of course, no magic formula which will guarantee a successful, happy relationship, if only because the variables of each are incalculable. Nonetheless, key understandings and strategies may be of great help in achieving this goal. To that end, I would like to share with you a number of these I believe most essential to promoting the relationship you both clearly wish to share.
Active, Critical, and Empathic Listening
To begin with, and as is widely accepted, communication is an inestimable foundation for the healthy relationship. This then creates two fields of import: generating the communicating and taking it in, and there can be no overstatement of the importance of the first. What we say and how we say it, verbally and nonverbally, has immense influence in shaping the actual and evolving relationship. At the same time, there can be no strict dichotomy between the two elements, as each relies on the other throughout the process of communicating. Moreover, it is arguable that listening, seemingly the more passive component, is in fact the stronger force because it provides the foundation for all that is shared. Put another way, a mistake or poor choice in expression is tangible, and may be openly addressed and altered; the listening, however, is far more an internal process within the individual, and how it serves to interpret renders it the basis for the tangible reaction and expression furthering, or obstructing, the communication. This being the case, Bill and Joan, I think we should discuss the key types.
It is important here to understand that we all employ forms of selective attention or listening, in that we consciously and subconsciously choose what commands our interest. This is plainly seen in the example of hearing a loud call made in our direction; our name may not be used, but the focus and volume arrests our attention because we perceive it is likely that it is wanted, so we attach personal relevance to it (Sole, 2011, p. 79). What is essential here is that this process is very much within our control, at least to an influential extent. That is to say, by focusing on what it is that typically calls for our attention, we may expand our awareness of all stimuli and discover what usually fails to do so. This in turn goes to critical listening; we are all to some degree conditioned to sift what is of meaning to us. The critical is then within the sphere of active listening, which encompasses hearing, interpreting, understanding, and evaluating.
With empathic listening, the person discards as much as possible their own role in the communication scenario and seeks to identify as nearly as they can with the speaker’s state of mind and feelings. It is different from active listening because of this conscious effort to disengage the self, which translate to listening in a way removed from judging (Collins, 2008, p. 11). As an example, if you, Bill, come home to find Joan distressed, you may inquire as to why and actively listen to determine just what has upset her. You may discover through your active listening that no specific thing is in fact wrong, and this may induce you to refute her feelings, dismiss her distress as unfounded, and/or decide that her conduct is inexplicable. If, however, you more deeply listen and “hear” in a way more attuned to her emotional state, you may be surprised to discover just how valid her distress is. You may hear of a seemingly meaningless incident that should not account for her state, but the deeper listening will inform you that it has triggered in Joan a disturbance based on past experiences. To some extent, empathic listening must be active, for it is clues we are seeking. At the same time, it demands that you set aside immediate and judging response, and be open to all possibilities pertinent to Joan’s reality at the time.
Empathic listening requires the techniques of the active and critical, as all listening is a process evolving based on what is revealed and perceived; consequently, the empathic perception of underlying issues should trigger the active response of asking more relevant questions (Collins, 2008, p. 11). Nonetheless, and for the process to truly work, Bill, you must set aside your likely impulse to assess or judge. In plain terms, and for both of you, the best strategy to employ is to focus on empathic listening in any case wherein meaning is unclear, and simply because you can trust that your more pragmatic skills of active and critical listening will play their roles as needed. What is critical here is the removal of the self as much as possible, to better comprehend what the other’s truth is in the communicating.
Perceptions, Emotions, and Nonverbal Communicating
If there is any one thing I want you to understand, Bill and Joan, it is that all the components within interpersonal relationships are inextricably linked. This you likely know; how you feel at a given time, Joan, is influenced by your perceptions, and your emotions then are presented to Bill, which in turn shape his perceptions. Much of this, moreover, is nonverbal. We seek to communicate through language, but we nonetheless reveal incalculable amounts of information through how we stand, move, physically react, and employ distance with our partners. It is in fact generally true that nonverbal communicating is more reliable than verbal, simply because it occurs outside of our conscious control and consequently represent our true feelings, no matter how we consciously seek to adjust or otherwise represent them (Sole, 2011, p. 126).
A variety of models exist to help clarify how these components work within relationships, and many are based on efforts to isolate them as specific agents subject to modification. In my view, you are best served by transactional models, simply because only these acknowledge how exponentially relationships are conducted. The Barnlund model, I feel, offers the most realistic strategy because it embraces this inherent complexity. Its six principles are that communication is complex, continuous, dynamic, circular, unrepeatable, and irreversible, and these emphasize the “living” nature of the relationship. Employing this model then translates to awareness more than anything else. Each of you must accept that your own emotions generate opportunities for perception to the other, and that a great deal of this is then expressed nonverbally. This awareness in place, however, you are not consigned to an arena in which nothing may be known or relied upon; rather, you open up your relationship to limitless possibilities of new understanding and depth, because you comprehend how these factors very much go to expressing the totality of your relationship as it exists. Above all, Joan and Bill, respect how perception and emotion shape what you are to one another.
I do not doubt that each of you comprehends the importance of self-disclosure as essential to your relationship. It is in fact an instrument or process that creates the personal relationship, as information shared generates the intimate connection. Then, it is vital in developing and maintaining the union throughout its existence (Hargie, 2006, p. 230). As may be obvious, too, self-disclosure is far larger a process than the mere revealing of pragmatic information. In plain terms, as the self is complex, so too is the disclosure expression of all forms of the complexity. It may be highly specific, as when you, Bill, seek to know all you can about Joan’s romantic past, or when Joan wants to learn everything you did while away on business. At the same time, self-disclosure may be compared to fire; it is an enormously valuable asset but, employed without discretion, it can destroy.
As the two of you have probably already experienced, there is a natural impulse, particularly when a relationship is new, to disclose a great deal. I personally feel this to be healthy, as it reflects the growing commitment to more intimately engage with the other through revelation. Just as we are eager to impart what we feel are the important facets of ourselves to the other, so too are we driven to know as much as we can about our partner’s past, ideas, ambitions, and most personal feelings. It is in fact a means of establishing “ownership” of one another and, as noted, completely healthy. That said, you must also understand that, without consideration or discretion, self-disclosure may go to levels creating great damage. In plain terms, each of you is responsible for maintaining an active awareness of what is appropriate to disclose, and this can only occur when the needs and feelings of the other are consistently taken into account. Sharing may be reckless, and it is outright unkind when it is expressed with no regard for the possibilities of the other’s reaction. Each of you, Bill and Joan, must accept the innate responsibility of self-disclosure as positive only when it is exercised with a full sense of the other. This is as true of the case wherein Joan’s admission of being attracted to another man causes Bill anguish, as it is when Bill casually discloses to Joan that he dislikes a good friend of hers. The strategy is basic but crucial; reveal, but reveal with the presence of your partner always in mind.
It would be very unusual, Joan and Bill, if the two of you did not occasionally experience conflict. It would also, in fact, be unhealthy. No matter the bond of affection, it is inevitable that human beings will clash over any number of issues or incidents. Moreover, conflict promotes development and, when managed correctly, tends to improve relationships. This being the case, my first advice in this regard is accept the likelihood of it. This is not easy; conflict is unpleasant and usually gives rise to fears and insecurities. It will nonetheless occur, however, and only in accepting this reality can you both direct your energies to turning it to your advantage.
Different couples, of course, approach conflict in their own ways, and there is no “right” way. Some believe that aggressively expressing their individual concerns, or “fighting it out,” is the healthiest course; others devote themselves to extreme analysis of individual motives and the dynamic of the dyad. A common strategy, conducted in couples therapy or by the partners alone, involves the active reconstruction of prior relationships as a means of identifying patterns. In this affective reconstruction, the partners examine how conflict experienced at the time reflects behaviors long in place, and seeks to trace underlying causal agents (Harvey, Wenzel, 2001, p. 262). There is, in fact, no shortage of theories and approaches. What typically fails, however, is avoidance. Some element of withdrawal from conflict may be beneficial; as I am sure you each have experienced, there are times when you feel the need to step away, if only in order to more calmly reflect over time and distanced from the clash. When withdrawal is sustained, however, there can be no resolution, because the core of the conflict is never addressed (Sole, 2011, p. 327).
Allow me then to relate how my own experience may provide a working strategy for you. It is not particularly novel, but it is based on a realistic awareness of the living dynamic created by conflict. To begin, I believe it is essential to note the progress of the conflict as it occurs, and identify when withdrawal is warranted. Most conflicts within relationships escalate, and there is usually a point when continuing the argument becomes damaging. This is, moreover, no mysterious element; you know and feel when you are both losing control over the issue, and it is essential here that you each accept the need to evince respect for one another by acknowledging respect for the issue itself as requiring greater consideration than you may give it at the time. This is not surrender to the conflict; rather, it is a mature response appreciating the totality of the situation. Only when mutual withdrawal occurs, then, can a new and refreshed approach be taken. Some couples find it helpful to set timing parameters on this, but what is critical is that neither of you addresses the issue until both of you are prepared to again do so, and with an open perspective. Only in this manner may the threat of conflict be translated into an agent for new awareness, further intimacy, and a stronger bond.
Impacts of Gender and Culture
The more I consider how to best advise you, Bill and Joan, the more I find that two elements dominate my thinking: respect and awareness. With regard to the latter, and for the good of your relationship, this translates to more than the awareness of each other’s needs; it relates as well to accepting how gender and culture must affect the structure of your relationship. Much of this is necessarily obtuse, as both gender roles and cultural influences are mutable properties. At the same time, however, the force of each remains intact, and only awareness of it can allow you to prevent either from exercising undue or damaging influence. For example, Bill may behave differently to you, Joan, when in the presence of his male friends. Here, both gender and cultural factors embedded in his past may result in his being more overtly dominant to you, and it is important that both of you appreciate what is occurring, and that it is no more than a reflex of conditioning.
Similarly, you, Joan, may be so influenced by current cultural ideologies that you assume Bill is masking his feelings when, in fact, he is not. Here, and again, both gender and culture interact to generate in you expectations of male behavior, as it is widely asserted today that men repress feelings. To be a true partner to Bill, then, you may consider this possibility, but never permit it to eclipse your own knowledge of Bill as who he is. In plain terms, gender beliefs and culture create in us strong notions of expectation. Know this, address what in it that is relevant to your relationship, but maintain the awareness always that influence exists outside of your relationship.
In closing, allow me to reiterate to you a point made earlier, in that there will be issues within your relationship. The lack, in fact, would indicate an unhealthy and stagnant union, so you must embrace the challenges as they come. Through them, you then have the opportunity to expand yourself as both individuals and as a loving, committed couple. All that is required is that you honor the intent of the commitment, for that will generate the mutual respect which must form the basis for the successful relationship. Listen to one another as deeply as you can, treat conflict as the serious and simultaneously advantageous agent it is, share with an active awareness of the other’s being, and you are equipped to develop as happy and fulfilling union as you like.
Collins, S. D. (2008). Module 5: Interpersonal Communication Listening and Responding. Belmont: Cengage Learning.
Hargie, O. (2006). The Handbook of Communication Skills. New York: Routledge.
Harvey, J.H., & Wenzel, A. (2001). A Clinician’s Guide to Maintaining and Enhancing Close Relationships. New York: Routledge.
Sole, K. (2011). Making Connections: Understanding Interpersonal Communication. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
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