No matter who you are or where you live, if you were to spin a globe and point to any arbitrary place, land or sea, you are guaranteed to have something in common with who/what may be native to that area. Whether one uses gestures to create nonverbal messages or can verbally express their ideas, they are contributing to the worldwide epidemic of communication. Communication is one of the most important factors of relationship building. Without two people being able to convey feelings and emotions to one another, the connection cannot prosper.
Thankfully, communicating with my best friend Sarah has always seemed like second nature. Sarah and I have been best friends for almost 5 years now. We met through a mutual friend during my freshman year of high school. When things got rough and I thought I was going to crumble under the pressure of tests, SATs, applying to colleges and keeping my GPA up, she was there to balance out my stress with many laughs. Still to this day she is the first person I run to for advice and guidance.
When I first met Sarah, I was a little shy because we appeared to be from two totally different worlds. I judged her based off of the group of people she hung out with. I figured she must be just like them and if that were the case, we’d never get along. “Perceptions of others strongly influence how we respond to and communicate about them” (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 27). This refers to the procedure of selection, organization, and interpretation of the information you collect through your senses. Selection can be affected by the features of a person you encountered.
Since Sarah, like her other friends, was wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt, I assumed they were going to have more in common than they actually did. Luckily, I was wrong and she turned out to be an awesome person with a great personality! Organization is broken into 2 categories: cognitive representation and categorization (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 28). Cognitive gives humans the capacity to make mental models of the world (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 28). It can be related to guidelines that allow people to recognize what to do in certain situations.
When I first saw Sarah and the type of people she hung out with, my initial thought was to walk away because these weren’t the type of people I usually associated myself with. Although I was uncomfortable with the change at first, I remembered how important it is to not judge a person off of appearance and I decided to stay and hang out for a while. People typically categorize one another into different groups and assign them a label (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 30). Although most of my friends were theatre dorks, like me, I never really hung out with a tomboy before, which Sarah is.
Again, I had to keep reminding myself not to be prejudice, or have a negative feeling toward someone because he/she belongs to a group, because I didn’t truly know her (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 45). While we hung out, I relied greatly on my interpersonal script, or a guide for how to act in certain situations (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 29). I have met many new people before meeting Sarah so I just went through the motions in my head, remembering what is and is not appropriate when coming in contact with someone for the very first time.
Usually when someone meets another person for the first time, they make an inference, or draw a conclusion based on the information around them (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 31). Since the first place where Sarah and I met was at a park, I assumed that she would be someone who I could share my love for the outdoors with. I was very happy to have made a new friend. I can relate this to external causes, something that is situational, because when people saw that I was smiling and laughing they would most likely believe that it was as a result of the person I was hanging out with (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 1).
I soon found out that Sarah and I were brought up in similar households and our ethics, or standards of what is right and wrong, were very similar (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 18). We were both raised with the mindset that is it proper to use manners and to always tell the truth. Truthfulness is a key part of ethical communication for two reasons. Primarily, other people expect what one might say to be the honest truth and also lying has its consequences (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 18). I know if Sarah or I were caught in a really nasty lie, our friendship would suffer greatly.
Therefore, we make it appoint to always be honest with one another. In fact, since I know she will always tell me the truth, she is the only friend that I will go jean shopping with. If I ask her “do these jeans make my butt look fat? ” I can guarantee that she will give me an honest and ethical response of healthy feedback. Our relationship is easy to keep ethical because, like Plato and Immanuel Kant, we both believe that there is a “rationally correct, moral standard that holds for everyone, everywhere, every time” and neither one of us want to corrupt that belief.
Together, we love to try out different activities and find potentially good hang out places for the times when we decide that our own houses just aren’t cutting it. The setting in which two, or more, people interact is a large component of communication. Informally, this can be referred to as the context (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 16). Depending on where people are, they tend to communicate differently with one another. No matter where Sarah and I make our hang out for that day, we bring our humor with us.
Many times people might argue in private but appear to be happy while they are in the eyes of the general public, but not us. We are happy all the time and hardly ever fight. I generally choose my friends based off of how they make me feel. For instance, if someone is constantly putting me down and making me feel worthless, there is a very small chance of me wanting to be friends with that person. A main reason for this is for something called reflected appraisal (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 36). In simpler terms, that the way a person thinks of him/her is directly affected by the way other people see them.
For example, if people are constantly telling you that you are smart, eventually you will think of yourself as being smart as well. This can also be referred to as the looking glass self, meaning your “self-image results from the images others reflect back to you” (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 36). Sarah has never purposely tried to put me down or harm my confidence. This is definitely a great quality to look for when picking your friends. She makes me feel better about myself and is regularly reminding me of the good features I possess.
In addition, I try my hardest to give to Sarah the same amount of kindness and respect that she provides to me. One way I do this is by using mindfulness. This means that I “have a clear focus on the activity” I am participating in and I pay very good attention to the event (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 46). I do this so that Sarah does not feel like she is being ignored or that something else is more important than hanging out with her. When we are together, I try not to use my phone very often because it makes her feel like other people are better to talk to.
When she speaks I focus on relevant aspects of the interaction (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 46). I concentrate on what she is saying in the moment so that I will not miss any important details of what she might have to say. If I have to constantly ask her to repeat herself, she will probably feel as though I was not interested and will not want to have serious conversations with me anymore. Also, it is important that I take into account my own physical responses and comments (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 7).
Although the things I might be saying sound encouraging and caring, my body language may be contradicting my words. In some situations, it can be challenging to have your body and verbal expressions agree, but I have never experienced this with her. Whenever she says something, I really am interested to know what she has to say. I use empathy, or my ability to understand another person’s experience from within their frame of reference and to do so without judgment (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 47).
I try to imagine each one of her situations so that I know the best way to respond and so that she feels as though I am a friend she can turn to. To be able to give Sarah positive feedback on something she has just said, however, I need to make sure that I am truly listening. This involves the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 102). It includes four critical steps: sensing, understanding, evaluating, and responding (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 02). It is important to do each and every one of these initial steps because that is the only way you will be able to effectively respond to your partner. Sensing, also known as hearing, is when the listener actually picks up the sound waves (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 102). Understanding is what I do when I interpret the message (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 102). Lastly, before responding, I evaluate, or access my reaction to the information (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 102).
Once I have done these three steps I can effectively respond, which lets the speaker, in my case Sarah, know that I listened thoroughly. It has been said, “the best strategies for being effective in interpersonal and group situations is to use supportive, rather than defensive language” (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 70). Defensive language is disconfirming communication, which “occurs when people make comments that reject or invalidate a self-image, positive or negative, of their conversational partners” (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 1). Supportive or confirming communication, however, “validates the positive self-image of others” (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 72). I believe that Sarah and I use a very effective form of communication because we support one another’s ideas and opinions. She makes me proud when she does well in school, because I know learning and understanding can be a challenge for her. When she tells me about a good grade, I congratulate her sincerely and join her in feeling good about her score.
It would be disconfirming for me to assume it was an easy assignment and that was why she did well. However, since this is neither Sarah nor my own style, I would never say that. Instead I tell her how well she did and that I knew she could do it. Furthermore, according to George Herbert Mead, Sarah would fall under the category of a particular other. He defines a particular other as “the important people in your life whose perceptions, opinions, and behavior influence the various aspects of your identity” (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 7). I would without a doubt consider Sarah an important person in my life, so she automatically falls into this group. However, there are so many more reasons she belongs here as well. When we first met, there were a number of situations that we had our own separate opinions about. For instance, I regularly go to church with my family, whereas, Sarah hadn’t been since she was very little. Somehow my opinions about religion and behaviors have transformed her tremendously.
Today, she attends mass with me on weekly bases and is working to receive her confirmation in the Catholic Church. This is just one instance of how I could be proven to be her particular other as well. In conclusion, using effective communication skills can only benefit a person’s everyday life. I never realized how important good communication is until I reflected upon this relationship. By comparing this bond to those I share with other friends, I have realized that good communication is important because it keeps friends honest and feelings from getting hurt.
Not only does it help to develop and maintain relationships, but it also can have additional advantages as well. The authors of the book Communication Fundamentals claim that “better listening skills can lead to improved cognition, improved academic performance… enhance personal performance, and even better health” (Alberts, Martin & Nakayama, 2011, p. 102). Although every relationship has room for improvement, I am thankful to have someone like Sarah in my life to be able to effectively communicate my thoughts and ideas.
To improve our means of communication, I think we should talk things out immediately, before they brew up into something more serious in our minds. Once we get it out and talk about it, the conversations run smoothly and we are able to settle things rather quickly. If I were not a successful communicator, my life would not be as fulfilling as it is today. Therefore, it is important to learn efficient means of communication so that one may live their life to the fullest and not be held back by a lack of proficient communication skills.
Courtney from Study Moose
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