Interpersonal communication

Some salient factors

The following factors involved in IPC explain to us what IPC is and how it works.

  1. IPC involves a process of adjustment


IPC takes place to the extent the parties share the same system of signals. Eg. language. Your communication with another person will be hindered to the extent that your language systems differ. But no two persons share identical signal systems. People not only have different vocabularies, but also different meanings for the same terms. People may have differing non verbal communication systems.


          In effective communication we have to learn the other person’s signals, how they are used and what they mean. If you want to understand what another person means by a smile, a nod, argument or self-depreciating comments, you have to learn his/her system of signals.

          You have to share your own system of signals with others so that they can better understand you. We cannot expect others to decode our behaviors accurately without our help.

  1. Communications have content and relationship dimensions.


Communication usually refers to something external to both speaker and listener and at the same time they refer to the relationship between both. A message has both content and relationship aspect. Administrator tells a nurse, “ Meet me in the office”. If the nurse says the same thing, it may be out of place.

            In any communication, the content may be same, but relationship aspect may differ. Or content may differ, but relationship may remain the same. Eg. Administrator tells the nurse, “ You had better see me immediately.”, or “Could I see you as soon as possible”.(same content). In another case: A son to father, “ May I go out tonight”, or Can I take the car out” (same relationship).


          in a conflict situation this differentiation matters a lot. People failed to differentiate content and relationship dimensions in communication. eg. Two nurses argue on who should clean and keep an apparatus safely. At relationship level, they may be saying that one is boss and is to be obeyed and the other denying it.

  1. Relationship may be viewed as symmetrical or complimentary:


A relationship could be symmetrical or complementary. In complementary relationship two individual’s mirror each others behaviour. If one nags, the other too nags. If passive, jealous etc., the other too does the same. In complimentary relationship the two engage in different behaviors. One behaviour serve as stimulus for the complementary behaviour.. When one is active, other becomes passive; one strong, the other weak; one superior, the other inferior.


          in certain cases when both parties are aggressive, it can build up to a destructive degree. A marital relationship with both parties very aggressive can be consumed by the aggression. A complementary relationship can take very rigid forms and can be counter productive. An excessively over protective mother and dependent child.

  1. Communication is a series of punctuated events:


Communication events are continuous transactions without any clear-cut beginning or clear-cut-end. Eg. A couple at a party. Man flirts with other ladies and wife goes on drinking. For man the transaction is: drinking -> drinking—flirting—drinking—flirting. For the woman it is: flirting— drinking— flirting—drinking..

The tendency to divide communication transactions into sequences of stimuli and responses is called punctuation.


Understanding how other persons punctuates or interprets a situation is crucial in interpersonal understanding. In communication encounters and conflicts we need to see how the other person punctuates the situation.

  1. IPC is a transactional process:

Three elements: 1. It is a process. 2. Its elements are interdependent. 3. The participants act and react as whole beings.

A process:

IPC is an ongoing process.

It is a circular process in which each one alternates as speaker and listener, actor and reactor. It is a continuous process without a clear beginning or end.

Components are inter dependent:

Each pert is integrally related to one another. Source, receiver, feedback, message etc. Because of the interdependency, a change in one causes change in the others.

Communicators act as wholes:

In communication each person acts and reacts as a whole. We can’t react only with our head or emotion. Our reactions are not solely based on what is said or gestures, but on our entire being- experiences, knowledge, health etc.


          we cannot diagnose a beginning in IPC. Interaction depends on very many factors that began much earlier as expectations, needs and competencies. It is constantly occurring and its elements are always changing, always undergoing some transformation.

          Due to interdependency no action or reaction is exactly repeatable. IPC is unrepeatable. Hence don’t look for sameness. Look for mutual interaction among elements. See messages as derived from an integrated whole. Address messages not to isolated aspects of a person but to a composite of all the person’s characteristics.

  1. Communication is inevitable.

We cannot not communicate. Even silence communicates. Eg. If one winks at you and you do not respond actively, you are still reacting.


Seek to control as many aspects of your behaviour as possible; seek out non obvious messages and meanings.

  1. Communication is irreversible.

IPC is an irreversible process. We can never undo what has already been done. What has been communicated remains communicated. We can not uncommunicate. Though we may try to negate, qualify, or somehow reduce the effects of our message, the message itself cannot be reversed.


We need to be careful that we do not say things that we may wish to withdraw later. Commitment messages like “I love you” , “I will do it for you” must be monitored lest you commit yourself to a position you may be uncomfortable with later. Eg. Herod’s promise to Salome.

Perception in IPC

Perception is the process by which we become aware of objects, events, and people and their behaviors though our various senses. Our perceptions are connected only partly to the outside world. But to a large extent they are the function of our own experiences, our desires, needs and wants, loves and hatreds.

  1. 1.Stages of perception process

i. Sensory stimulation:

At first sense organs are stimulated. You hear a sound, you smell fry fish, you feel a sweaty palm as you shake hands. We indulge in selective perception rather than receive all stimuli. Eg. while day dreaming in the class you hear the teacher calling out your name. We also perceive stimuli that is greater in intensity and have novelty. E.g. TV ads. We perceive only a very small portion of what we could perceive.

ii. Sensory stimulation is organized:

The sensory stimulations are organized by the principles such as the principle of proximity and resemblance.

According to the principle of proximity you perceive as a group persons who are physically close together. You see them as having something in common. You perceive family members or members of an organization as similar in attitudes, values and beliefs.

By the principle of resemblance, you group people who are similar in appearance and distinguish them from those who are dissimilar. E.g. you perceive the members of the same race or people with similar dress as having similar attitudes and behaviors.

Beware: these principles need not give accurate information. They may serve as hypothesis or possibilities that need to be verified and not acted upon as true.

iii. Sensory stimulation is interpreted-evaluated.

The interpretation of stimuli is inevitably subjective. These interpretations are greatly influenced by your experiences, needs, wants, values, beliefs, your physical or emotional condition, expectations etc. The same stimuli can lead to different interpretations from person to person, or from one time to another for the same person.

  1. 2.Attribution:

Consider the following:

1. A nurse gave a wrong injection and the person died.

2. A woman is begging in the street

3. A father elopes with a woman abandoning his wife and children.

What do you think why they behave this way? Is it something within the person or within the situation that caused it? Your answers can be explained by attribution theory.

Attribution theory explains the process you go though in trying to understand your own and or other’s behaviors, particularly the reasons or motivations of these behaviors. Attribution helps you to make sense of what you perceive. It helps you to give order and logic to the perceived stimuli and better understand the possible causes of behaviors you observe. Attribution also helps to make predictions about what will happen, what others are likely to do.

Internal and external judgments:

To assess the behaviour of someone, the first step is to determine if the individual or some outside factor is responsible. We determine if the cause is internal (some personality trait) or external (some situational factor). Your assessment of someone’s behaviour as internally or externally motivated greatly influence your evaluation of them and, eventually, to like them. Eg. cooperation of a nurse as internally motivated (personality trait) or externally influenced (fear of the administrator).

Three principles in attributing external or internal motivations to behaviors

Consensus: By this principle we ask if other people behave the same way as the person in focus. In other words if the person acts in accordance with consensus. If no, we may attribute the behaviour to internal cause.

Low consensus— attribution to internal causes

High consensus—attribution more to external cause


Applying the principle of consistency, we ask if the persons repeatedly behave the same way in similar situations. If yes, there is higher consistency and we may attribute the behaviour to internal motivation. If low consistency is observed, external motivation is attributed.


The principle of distinctiveness looks for if the persons react in similar ways in different situations. If yes, there is low distinctiveness and we may attribute the behaviour to internal cause.

low consensus, high consistency, low distinctiveness – attribution to internal cause

High consensus, low consistency, high distinctiveness – attribution to external cause.

A student complains about marks in anatomy. On what basis do we conclude whether   this behaviour is externally or internally caused?

                     Internal if…

               External if… one else complained (low consensus)

2.student has complained before in this course (high consistency)

3.student has complained to other teachers in other courses (low distinctiveness)

  1. Many others have complained (H. Consensus)
  2. Student has never complained in this course before(low consist.)
  3. Student has never complained to other teachers (High distict.)

According to internal or external causes of behaviors we attribute responsibility of behaviour to the person.

Controllability and stability judgments

Other factors that affect Attribution are judgments regarding controllability and stability. Eg. Two late comes make the following excuses:

  1. I was reading this book which I could not just put down. I had to find out who the killer was.
  2. I was stuck in the traffic for two hours. There was a big accident on the way.

We may resent the first and accept the second excuse. The first excuse was controllable and you would hold your friend responsible while the second was beyond the control of the person.

If you consider that a behaviour is due to stable factors , those factors that would not change over time, you may not try to develop and remain with a defeatist attitude. If you judge your behaviour as result of unstable factors, you may try to improve yourself. Eg.

If you have done poorly in public speaking, you may take any of the following self evaluation

  1. You don’t have the ability for public speaking. It is not worth wasting time improving something you are not good at.
  2. Naturally the first attempt would not be excellent. Public speaking is an art which you need to improve by practice. With time and practice, you will surely become an excellent speaker.
  3. Beware: Be attentive to self serving bias in us. We usually take credit for the positive and deny responsibility for the negative. You are apt to attribute your negative behaviors to situational or external factors. But you may easily attribute your positive behaviors to internal factors. Thus self serving bias may distort attributions, though they may serve to protect your self-esteem.
  1. 3.Perceptual Process:


Several perceptual processes influence what you observe and what you fail to observe, what you infer or what you fail to infer about another person. These processes enable you to simplify and categorize the vast amount of information around you. But they can also present impediments to accurate perception and cause over simplification or distortion of information.

  1. Implicit personality theory:

Each of us has an implicit theory of personality, a system of implicit rules regarding characteristics of a person. Eg. choose from the brackets the suitable word for the individual.

          John is energetic , eager and .. (intelligent, stupid)

          Mary is bold, defiant, and … (extroverted, introverted)

          Joe is bright, lively and … (thin, fat)

          Jane is attractive, intelligent and .. (likable, unlikable)

          Susan is cheerful, positive and .. (attractive, unattractive)

       Certain words are chosen as right according to the rules in this implicit personality theory. This is called the ‘halo effect’ or ‘reverse halo effect’. It means that if you believe a person has positive qualities, you infer that she or he also possesses other positive qualities or vice versa.


You may perceive qualities in a person which they actually are not. Eg. the goodwill you see in charitable acts well may be an act of tax evasion.

You may ignore or distort qualities that do not conform your theory, but may be present in that person. Negative qualities of your friend is ignored, but see them in enemies.


  1. Self-fulfilling prophecy:

It occurs when you make a prediction that comes true because you act on it as if it were true. Four steps in it:

          You make a prediction or belief about a person eg. Pat is awkward in relationships

          You act as if your prediction were true. You act as if Pat is awkward

          Because you act as if it is true, it becomes true. Because of how you act towards Pat, he becomes tense and awkward.

          You observe your effect on him and gets strengthened in your beliefs. You observe Pat’s behaviour and gets confirmed in you belief.

If you expect people to act in a certain way of if you make prediction about a situation, your predictions will frequently come true because of self-fulfilling prophecy. Eg. those who join a group thinking that other members will dislike them, may be disliked because of their behaviour that may provoke negative response.


          You may influence another’s behaviour so that it conforms to your prophecy.

          You may tend to see what you predict rather than what is really there.

  1. Perceptual accentuation:

“Any port in a storm” is an adage that explains accentuation. Perceptual accentuation leads you to see what you expect and want to see. The people you like may appear as better looking than those you dislike. You magnify that which will satisfy your needs and wants. E.g. a thirsty person sees a mirage of water; a sexually deprived person sees a mirage of sexual satisfaction.

Beware: Due to perceptual accentuation, you may

          distort your perceptions of reality. You may perceive what you need or want to perceive.

          Filter our or distort information that might damage or threaten your self-image. It make your self-improvement very difficult.

          Perceive in others the negative qualities you have yourself by projection.

          Perceive and remember positive qualities more than negative ones (Pollyanna effect) in self or others.

          Perceive certain behaviors as indicative that someone likes you simply, because you want to be liked. E.g. friendliness used as a persuasive strategy of a salesman is seen as indications of a genuine personal liking. Sister is friend of contractor.

4. Primacy-Recency

      If what comes first exerts influence on your evaluation, primary effect is playing a role. If what comes last exerts most influence, it is recency effect. There is a tendency to use early information to get general idea about a person, and use later information to make this impression more specific. The first impression you make is likely to be the most important. It is through this that others will filter additional information in formulating a picture of how they perceive you.

Eg. Study by Solomon Ash (1946). He read descriptive adjectives to students and saw their effects. In the following list, the first was positively evaluated.

Intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, envious

Envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, intelligent..


          You may tend to formulate a total picture of an individual on the basis of initial impressions that may not be accurate. Eg. a person’s lack of ease may be due to apprehension of initial encounter.

          You may discount or distort subsequent perceptions so as not to disrupt your initial impression. Eg. You may fail to notice signs of deceit in someone you like because of early impressions.

5. Consistency:

It is the tendency to maintain balance among perceptions or attitudes. You expect certain things to go together and other things not to go together. Notice you response in the following sentence completion.

  1. I expect a person I like (to like, dislike) me.
  2. I expect a person I dislike (to like, dislike) me.
  3. I expect my friend to (like, dislike) my friend.
  4. I expect my enemy to (like, dislike) my friend.
  5. I expect my enemy to (like, dislike) my enemy.

You would expect some one you liked to possess qualities you liked or admired and your enemy not to have them. So also you would expect people you liked to lack unpleasant characteristics and those you disliked to have them.

Beware: You may

          distort or ignore your perceptions of behaviors that inconsistent with your picture of the whole person. Eg. misinterpret John’s unhappiness because of your image of John as “happy-controlled-contented).

          See certain behaviors as positive if other behaviors were interpreted positively (halo effect).

6. Stereotyping

Stereo type is a fixed impression of a group of people. We all have attitudinal stereo types of nationals, religious, sexual, religious groups and professions as teachers, plumbers or even prostitutes, criminals etc.

When we have these fixed impressions, when we meet a person from that group, we apply to that person all characteristics that we assign to that group. You will often see in that person’s behaviour manifestations of characteristics that you would not not see if you did not know that this person belonged to that group. Stereo types distort accurate perception.

Beware: – Perceive an individual as having those qualities that you believe is typical of his group and fail to see the multi faceted nature of the individual.

          Ignore each person’s unique characteristics.

How to increase accuracy in interpersonal perception

  1. Recognize your role in perception. Your emotional and physiological state will influence the meaning you give to perceptions. When you are hungry food may be enjoyable, but during stomach ache, it could be upsetting.
  2. On the basis of our observations of behaviors formulate hypothesis to test against additional information and evidence. Delay formulating conclusions until you have had chance to process many cues.
  3. Look for a variety of cues pointing in the same direction and same conclusion. Be alert to contradictory cues. It is often difficult to acknowledge contradictory evidence.
  4. Regardless of a number of observations and carefully examined hypothesis, you can only guess what is going on in the other’s mind. Motives are not open to outside inspection. We can only make assumptions based on overt behaviors. Hence avoid mind reading.
  5. Beware of your won biases. Eg. perceiving only the positive in people you like, or negative in the people you dislike etc.
  6. Seek validation for your perceptions. Compare your perceptions with those of others.
  7. Check your perceptions with the other person. Describe what you think is happening. “You seem to be angry”. Ask the other person for confirmation. “Are you”.,       “Did my plans upset you?”.

The more unbiased you are in your perception, the better you will understand others.



All of us spend a lot of time listening. Listening occupies more time than any other communication activity. Unlike hearing it is an active process which involves receiving stimuli that you process in some way and even retain the signals at least for sometime.

We listen to others for enjoyment, for information or to give help.


I.                   Real Listening and Pseudo Listening


Real Listening: when you really want to listen to someone for the following motives:

          to understand someone

          to enjoy someone

          learn something

          give help or solace

Pseudo listening: when you listen for the following motives:

  1. Making people think you are interested so that they will like you
  2. Being alert to see if you are in danger of getting rejected
  3. Listening for one specific piece of information and ignoring all else
  4. Buying time to prepare you next comment
  5. Half listening so someone will listen to you
  6. Listening to find someone’s vulnerabilities to take advantage.
  7. Looking for the weak points in an argument so you can always be right, listening to get ammunition for attack.
  8. Checking to see how people are reacting, making sure you produce the desired effect.
  9. Half listening because a good, kind or nice person would.
  10. Half listening because you don’t know how to get away without hurting someone.


  1. II.Obstacles to effective listening:


1. Preoccupation with self: The tendency to become preoccupied with yourself. Eg. you may focus on your won performance in the interaction or you rehearse your own response.

2. Preoccupation with external issues: You focus on matters that irrelevant to your interaction. Eg. You think what you did last day or your plan to go for a party etc.

3. Sharpening: One or two aspects of the message is highlighted and embellished. You may focus on some incidental remarks in the conversation.

4.Assimilation: It is the tendency to reconstruct messages so they reflect your own attitudes, prejudices and needs. Eg. You have certain negative attitude to an institution that supply some service. A neutral commend about their revision of production plan may be commended by you , “they are going to end up miserable”. Here you transmit your own negative evaluation to others.

5.The friend-or-foe factor. It can distort messages because of our attitude to another person. Eg. If you think Tom is stupid, it will require added effort to listen objectively to Tom’s messages.

6. Hearing what is expected: When we listen we often drift in and out of speakers messages. We may fail to hear the speaker’s messages and instead hear what we expect. You know that Teena often complains about others. When she began to say about her difficulty in the ward, you automatically hear her complaining again about others.

7. The law of least effort: It means that given a choice, we will take the part of least resistance. We listen to messages that requires very little effort to understand and interpret. Eg. we prefer TV to a lecture.

  1. III.Mechanisms of listening Blocks
  1. Comparing: You are on the look out who is better or smarter or who suffered more: you or other. “ I do better than that”.
  2. Mind reading: Here one tries to figure out what the other person is really thinking and feeling. “He thinks he can outshine all of us”. “She thinks I am stupid”.
  3. Rehearsing: You are preparing what you have to say. You have to look interested, but your mind is busy forming what you want to say.
  4. Filtering: You listen to something and not to others. You pay attention to see if someone is angry or unhappy, or if you are in emotional danger. Eg. a mother listens to her son just enough to find if he is fighting in the school. Relieved to hear he isn’t. she begins to think about the shopping list. Another filtering is in not hearing certain things especially anything threatening, negative, critical and unpleasant.
  5. Judging: If you prejudge someone as stupid or nuts, you don’t pay attention to what they say. You have written them off. Judgments have to be made only after you have heard the person.
  6. Dreaming: In half listening something the other says triggers a chain of private associations. When the other says he is scolded by boss, you think of the time you were scolded for reaching late. You were with a family that was suffering from a tragedy….. You may dream when you feel bored or anxious. But it says you don’t value what the other has to say.
  7. Identifying: You take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your own experience. A tooth ache. It reminds you of your oral surgery, You launch into your story.. Everything you hear reminds you of something you have felt, done or suffered.
  8. Advising: Specialization s great problem solver you are ready with your help and suggestions. You don’t have to hear more than a few sentences, before you begin searching for your solutions. While you are busy convincing the other “just try it”, you don’t hear the other’s feelings. You may fail to listen and be there.
  9. Sparring: You argue and debate and the other person may not feel heard because you are quick to disagree. Your focus is on finding things to disagree with. Put-down is a form of sparring. You use sarcastic language to dismiss the other persons point of view.” Which is the most undeveloped zone in the country?” “You brain”.

Discounting is another way of sparring. Discounting is for people who can’t stand   compliments. Oh, I did not do anything”. You don’t listen to his appreciation

The way to avoid sparring is to repeat back and acknowledge what you have heard. Look for one thing you agree with.

  1. Being Right: You go to any length (twist facts, shouting, bring excuses) to avoid being wrong.

Since you won’t acknowledge that your mistakes are mistakes, you just keep making them..

  1. Derailing: Sudden change of subject. You derail the train of conversation when you get bored or uncomfortable with the topic. Eg. joking it off.
  2. Placating: You want to be nice, pleasant and supportive. You agree with everything. So you say, “Right.. absolutely, I know, Of course you are..”. You are half listening   rather than tuning in and examining what is said.

What are the blocks that apply to you most. Find out some examples from life and share with a companion.

  1. IV.Effective Listening:


Listening effectively vary from situation to situations. The different modes of listening suit different communication situations. Four steps to effective Listening:

1. Active listening:

Listening is an active participation that requires your active participation. To understand the meaning of what is communicated, you have to ask questions and give fed back. It is in a give and take process that you get fuller appreciation of what is being communicated. Active listening includes the following aspects:

Paraphrasing: It is to state in your own words what you think the other person said. It keeps you trying to understand and know what the other means. Use lead-ins like:

          “What I hear you saying is …” or “ Do you mean….”

          “In other words” or “So basically how you felt was..”

Paraphrasing should be objective. It should express an understanding of the speaker’s feelings. Expressing feelings give the speaker an opportunity to view them more objectively.

Advantages of paraphrasing:

          People appreciate feeling heard

          It stops escalating anger and cools down crisis

          Stops miscommunication. false assumptions, errors, misinterpretation is corrected on the spot.

          Helps you remember what was said.

          When you paraphrase, it is difficult to judge, rehearse, spar, advise, derail etc.

Clarifying: It is asking questions until you get a better picture. If you want to understand what is being said, you have to ask for more information and back ground. It helps you to sharpen your listening focus. It lets the other person know that you are interested.

Feedback: In feed back you share in a nonjudgmental way what you thought, felt, or sensed. It is sharing what happened inside you. You send back To check perceptions, you transform what you saw and heard into a tentative description. “I want to understand your feeling? (give description)Is this the way you fell?”     or

Listening to what you said, I wonder if (your description) this is want is really happening in the situation”.

Feedback helps the other person understand the effect of his/her communication. It is another chance to correct errors or misconceptions. On the basis of feed back the speaker may or may not adjust, strengthen, emphasize or change the content of form of the messages.

Four qualities of effective feedback

Immediacy: as soon as you fully understand the communication. late feedback is less valuable.

Honesty: Your real reaction to the message. You don’t have to cut somebody up to give your reaction. In fact brutality is rarely honest. It should be honest and supportive. “I get the feeing that there is something you are not telling me”. Or “I think there is a real possibility that you have made a mistake”. Do not be ashamed or afraid to admit that you did not understand a message, and do not hesitate to disagree.

Appropriateness: appropriate to communication situation. Distinguish between feedback to the message and feedback to the speaker.

Clarity: It should be clear. It should reflect the message and not your mood or personal biases. It should also be clear in meaning. If it is in agreement or disagreement to speaker.

Effective Receiving of feedback

It takes more effort and ingenuity to respond well to feedback. Qualities:

Sensitivity: to perceive feedback in situations where it normally goes unnoticed. Eg. non verbal forms as puzzled face, wide smile.

Supportive: Support the person giving feedback in order to avoid or to suspend defensiveness. Defensiveness is taken as a sign to stop feedback. In that case you stand to lose a great deal of insight that you might have otherwise gained. We assume that the persons giving feedback does so with your betterment in mind.

Open-mindedness: Listen to feedback with an open mind. If feedback is negative and affects esteem, it is all the more difficult. Evaluate what is said, accept what seems reasonable and useful, and reject what seems unreasonable and useless. But make these decisions after you have fully listened and understood what is said.

Specificity: When listening to feedback, translate it into specific, preferably behavioral, terms. Think of what it can mean to your own behaviour.

  1. Listening with Openness:

It is difficult to listen when you judge and find fault with the other. Though judgments can be very gratifying, you have more to lose as:

          If your opinions are proven wrong, you are the last one to know.

          You don’t grow intellectually because you listen only to the view points already held.

          You dismiss otherwise worthwhile people because you disagree with their ideas.

          You turn people off because you spar and don’t listen.

          You miss important information.

We have trouble to listen openly. We don’t want to hear our sacred cow reduced to a hamburger. We don’t want to believe that an unlikable person has said something worth thinking about.

Fear of being can lead to many difficulties. We may equal being wrong with being stupid, bad or worthless. It is a great step forward if beliefs and opinions are seen as temporary hypothesis-held until disproved or modified.

In order to listen with openness you have to hear the whole statement before judging.

  1. Listening with Empathy


Listening with empathy means to understand the other person’s point of view and understand why he/she behaves so. Your ability to listen goes down when someone is angry, criticizes or wallows in self pity. As the following when you find empathy difficult.

          What need is the anger etc. coming from.

          What danger is this person experiencing?

          What is he/she asking for?

4. Listening with Awareness.


Two ways to grow in awareness:- 1. you may compare the message to your own knowledge of history, people etc. 2. to hear and observe congruence. Does a person’s voice, emphasis, facial expression and posture fit with the content for his communication.

Total listening: How to listen with full involvement

People want you to listen. Ways to communicate listening:

          good eye contact

          lean forward

          reinforce the speaker by nodding or paraphrasing.

          Ask for clarifications

          Actively move away from distractions

          Be committed, even if you are angry or upset, to understanding what is said.

Effective listening has rich dividends for your ministry. You get better cooperation and others enjoy working with you.


Expressing Messages

Suni. Do we have to go for the staff meeting today:

Sini. Why? Does it bother you?

Suni. Oh it is all just the same every time. I don’t know.

Sini. Did something happen last time?

Suni.   It is nothing. Sometime the meeting is interesting. But I don’t know. And today Sr. Anne is running the show.

Sini. You don’t like how Anne is animating the meeting?

Suni. She is alright. She is so.. organized. Forget it. Let us start, if we are going.

In this communication B is not sure what A is going through and B is not able to respond to the needs of A. We need to learn how to make clear and complete statements about your inner experience.

The Four kinds of expression:

There are four categories of communication. Expressing your observations, thoughts, feelings and needs. Each category needs different style and often a different vocabulary of expression.

1. Observations:

It is the language of the scientist, detective or repairman. It is reporting what your senses tell you. There are no speculations, inferences or conclusions. Everything is simple fact. Eg.

          I read in Outlook how the communal tension took the toll of 850 lives in Gujarat.

          I broke a glass this morning.

          It was a very hot day when I reached Delhi.

In the case of Suni if she was to talk about her observations, she would have said about the meetings running overtime, Annie is shouting at members for differences of opinion, not discussing about menu in the canteen etc.

2. Thoughts:

Thoughts are conclusions, inferences drawn from what you have observed, heard or read. they are attempts to synthesize your observations so that you can see what is going on and understand why and how events occur. They may also be value judgments, beliefs, opinions and theories etc. eg.

          Generosity is important for happy religious life (belief)

          I think humanity is in a continuous evolution into something never expected (theory)

          She must be afraid of the Director. She stands behind the group during meetings (theory)

          Coco cola is the best soft drink available (opinion)

          You are wrong to stop speaking to her (value judgment)

If Suni were to express her thoughts, she might say that Annie was bossy and dominating. She deliberately avoids facing the important issues.

3. Feelings:

It is the difficult part of communication. Some People don’t want to hear what you feel. How you feel is large part of what makes you unique and special. Shared feelings are building blocks of intimacy. If others know what angers, frightens, or pleases you, they have greater empathy and understanding and more willing to modify their behaviour to meet your needs. Eg.

          I missed Sr. Suja and felt a real loss when she left for North.

          I feel very anxious when I am alone at home.

          I feel so overwhelmed when I see you after so many years. I feel this incredible rush of affection.

          I feel stunned and a little angry when I saw many mistakes in your report.

Suni might say that she was bored at the meetings and felt angry to Annie. She might also say that she is worried and sad that the food issue is not taken for discussion.

4. Needs:

Only you know what you want. But you may expect your friends and family to know what you want. “If you loved me, you would know what is wrong”. Since you feel bad to ask for anything, your needs are often expressed with some anger or resentment. If you don’t express your needs in your relationship, it is like driving a car without a steering wheel. You can go fast, but you can’t change directions, avoid manholes. Relationships can accommodate, change or grow when both people can clearly and supportively express what they need. Eg.

          Can you be home before seven. I would like to go for a movie.

          I am tired. Will you do the cleaning today.

          Could you come over to my office for half an hour. We could prepare that list.

Suni might say, I want to take rest today. I am so exhausted .

Whole and contaminated messages:


Whole messages include all four kinds of expressions. Good relationships thrive on whole messages. Your friends can’t know the real you unless you share all your experiences. When you leave something out, it is called partial message. It creates confusion and distrust. They sense something is missing but don’t know what. Judgments untempered by your feelings and hopes turn them off. They resist hearing anger that does not include your story of frustration and hurt. They are suspicious of conclusions without supporting observations. They are uncomfortable with demands growing from unexpressed feelings and assumptions.. But every relationship does not require whole messages. Eg. with your Gardner.

            Contamination takes place when your messages are mixed or mislabeled. You may contaminate feelings, thoughts and needs when you say, You have time for visiting her”. Contaminated message can be confusing and alienating. Eg.

          while you are feeding the dog, my dinner got cold” (You care more about the dog than for me)

Rules for effective expression.

  1. Message should be direct. knowing when something needs to be said. Indirectness may cost you very emotionally. Sometimes people try to communicating by hinting, telling a third party hoping that the target person will eventually get the message.
  3. Message should be immediate: Delaying communication may make matters worse. Your anger may smolder and your frustrated need may become a       chronic irritant. Often it may take passive aggressive forms. Sometimes it may be gunny sacked to a point where a small event triggers violent reactions. A slight criticism may be answered with megatons of grips and resentments.
  5. Message should be clear: A clear message is a complete and accurate reflection of your thoughts, feelings, needs and observations. Some people are afraid to say what they mean. They speak in muddy, theoretical jargon. Some tips for staying clear.

          Don’t ask questions when you need to make a statement: Why do you bring these files at the counter”. Meaning. These files are to be handed over to the office.

          Keep your message congruent: The content, tone of voice and body language should fit together. While congratulating someone, your tone, face and words should reflect pleasure. It is incongruent if you thank you with a frown. Congruence promotes clarity and understanding.

          Avoid double message: It is like kicking the dog and petting at the same time. It occurs when you say two contradictory things at once. One message undercuts the other. Eg. Administrator to Nurse, “Go ahead and have good time with your friends, by the by, your ward is known for a number of irregularities.

          Be clear about your wants and feelings. Hinting about your feelings and needs may seem safer than stating them clearly. Eg. mother to daughter, ”I hope you visit grandma this week”. This may look straightforward, it covers the guilt and anxiety she feels about grandma’s loneliness. She worries about grandma’s health and without explaining any of this, makes her daughter to make frequent visits.

          Distinguish between observation and thoughts. Separate what you see and hear from your thoughts.

          Focus on one thing at a time. Stick with one topic at hand.


  1. Messages should be straight. In a straight message the stated purpose is the same as the real message. Hidden agendas destroy intimacy. Hidden agendas urged by feelings of inadequacy and poor self worth. To protect yourself you may create an image. Then the stated purpose is different from the hidden agenda. Eg. Discussing about middle east politics may have an agenda of       showing how knowledgeable you are.       Being straight means that you tell the truth by stating your needs and feelings. You lie to save your face, but end up alienated from even close friends.
  2. Messages should be supportive: You want the other to be able to hear you without getting blown away. If you want to hurt your listener, the following work well for you:

          Global labels. Stupid, selfish, evil, mean, lazy, worthless,


          Dragging up the past.

          Negative comparisons. Why aren’t you generous like your brother.

          Judgmental ‘you’ messages. You don’t love me anymore”.

          Threats. Eg. threat to move out, to quit.

Supportive communication avoid ‘win/lose’ and ’right /wrong’ games. The question is do I want to win or do I ant to communicate? Do I want to be right or do I want mutual understanding.


It is a skill that helps you get what you want from others without alienating them. It is a process whereby people with different or even opposing needs can arrive at a fair agreement. Though both sides want to win, their best interests are served by generating mutually acceptable option. Four stages:

Preparation: Before meeting the other you figure out what outcome you want most., what would be less satisfactory, but acceptable, not at all acceptable etc. In between the process too, you need to look for more information, planning your strategy and brain storm for creative proposals.

Discussion: Both parties describe the facts of the situation and how you feel and think about it. You ask for more information about the other’s side and elaborate on your side.

Proposal/counter proposal: You make an offer or a request and the other gives counter-offer. This cycle is repeated over and over and move as closer together as possible.

Agreement/Disagreement: Disagreement is a natural step in negotiation to try again. Eventually one comes to agree on a mutually acceptable option.

Tough guys in Conflict:

Opponents who have all the power: Figure out your best alternative to a negotiated decision.

Hardliners who won’t cooperate: Divert attacks on your position by welcoming criticism. behind their position for the underlying interests. Redefine personal attacks as attacks on the problem.

Opponents who play dirty: lies, deceptions, bribery, blackmail etc. Call process and negotiate for fair play. Talk about what is going on. Expose the dirty trick for what it is.

If it fails, call for a neutral mediator.