Insights on Effective Communication: Some "Sabbatical" Observations

By Ralph, Edwin G. | Education, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Insights on Effective Communication: Some "Sabbatical" Observations


Ralph, Edwin G., Education


This report summarizes the author's observations of the communication effectiveness of 426 individuals whom he encountered in a variety of situations during a recent 6-month sabbatical leave. He conducted unobtrusive assessments of the quality of the communication of these subjects, when he met them within the daily routines of regular interpersonal interactions.

Employing an ethnographic approach, the author noted key feature(s) that impressed him either positively or negatively about each communicative event. Results generally confirmed what the pertinent research literature identifies as characteristics of effective communicators.

Purpose

   Post-secondary educational institutions typically grant sabbatical leaves
   to faculty-members in order to: ... provide a means by which employees
   increase their knowledge, further their research, stimulate intellectual
   interests, strengthen their contacts with the ... community of scholars,
   thus enhancing their contribution to the University on their return.
   (University of Saskatchewan, 1995, p. 66)

For me to fulfill these obligations to my institution, I recently completed my first sabbatical leave pursuing my interests in instructional development and the improvement of teaching, K-16. Because the process of communication is fundamental to the teaching/learning enterprise, I decided to concentrate my efforts on systematically examining: the communication effectiveness of not only the educators I would meet during my leave--but also of all the people I would encounter on my itinerary.

The purpose of this report was to synthesize my observations of the communication effectiveness of these individuals and to compare these findings with what some of the related research-literature has identified as characteristics of effective communication.

Background

Essentially, all interpersonal communication involves the transactional exchange of two types of messages: the content and the relational. The former focuses on a particular function, subject, topic, or goal; while the latter includes the affective dimension--the emotional element that touches on personal and social feelings, values, beliefs, and impressions (Adler, 19911; Burton & Dimbleby, 1990). Communication scholars and psychologists have shown: that in the communication act human feelings are as important as the intellectual processes involved; that individuals' responses in interactions are determined not only by what is communicated, but how it is interpreted by the receiver; and that one's whole being is involved--cognition, emotion, and physical aspects (DeVito, 1988; Dimbleby & Burton, 1985).

Thus, effective communicators are adept at what Burbules (1993) identifies as both the techne (i.e., the mechanical or technical skills) and the praxis (i.e., the interactive and actual practice of an art) dimensions of human activity, where the former is viewed in terms of a set of basic competencies applied to present clear meanings, and the latter refers more to the creative, spontaneous nature of communication.

Some of the technical skills of proficient communicators are: (a) the use of one's voice (e.g., variations in projection, tone, inflection, pausing, pitch, and rhythm/pacing); (b) kinesics (e.g., body posture and space); (c) chronemics (i.e., periods of silence); (d) oculescis (i.e., eye contact); (e) haptics (i.e., physical contact); (f) clarity/pronunciation/enunciation/articulation of speech; (g) modeling correct language (e.g., avoiding patterns of fillers, such as: "like", "uhm", "ah", "like", or "yuh know"); (h) using persuasive arguments; (i) giving/receiving interpersonal feedback; and (j) projecting acceptance and/or approval (Andres, 1993; "Firms with attractive workers," 1997).

The effect of this technical or task-oriented dimension of communication is determined in large part by the human-relational context that is created during the interchange. …

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