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Why do we laugh ? (Humor)

Why do we laugh?(Humor)

From: Communication World | Date: 10/1/1998 | Author: Fatt, James P.T.

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Humor is multidimensional and exists for different reasons. There are three main categories of humor, namely, verbal, visual and physical. Verbal humor involves the use of words, as in jokes and puns. Visual humor relies on images, as exemplified by cartoons and personal appearance. Finally, physical humor uses actions, such as in slapstick comedy. Explanations for humor include allowing a person to feel superior by degrading another. Another sort of humor occurs when incongruous things which do not usually come together are juxtaposed. A third explanation points out that humor provides release of tension. However, these explanations are not in themselves enough to make something funny. Aside from superiority, incongruity or tension release, humor requires a particular atmosphere provided by verbal, visual or physical elements.
It's healthy to laugh. By laughing we discharge built-up energy that can't be used because of socially imposed inhibitions. But why do we laugh at times and at other times remain sombre?
Types of Humour
Humour can be categorised into three basic types: verbal, visual and physical. Verbal humour uses words such as puns and jokes. Visual humour uses images as in cartoons and in the physical appearance of some comedians. Physical humour uses actions, as in "slapstick" comedy that includes pie fights or chase scenes. In humour, verbal, visual or physical things alone are not funny. Other conditions contribute to the verbal, visual or physical stimuli that make humour possible. To understand what is involved in humour and why some things are funny and others are not, we will to turn to how some psychologists and sociologists explain humour.
Explaining Humour
Humour can be explained in three ways:
1. Things are humorous when they make a person feel superior.
2. Things become humorous when there is incongruity, or the juxtaposition of things not normally associated with one another.
3. Humour occurs when tension is released.
For humour to be effective, it must also stimulate laughter.
The first explanation that humour relates to feelings of superiority has existed since ancient times. Plato, for example, believed that all humour could be explained in this way. People laugh whenever something or someone is degraded, thus making them superior. Most often, the feelings of superiority and degradation work hand-in-hand. Thus, this type of humour consists of giving "yourself a sense of superiority by deriding lesser mortals," according to Peter Marsh in "Raising a Smile" from The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Personal Relationships: Human Behaviour.
Examples of verbal humour involve derision and include ethnic jokes and "put-downs". These give people the opportunity to assert their superiority over others. A derisive form of visual humour can be found in caricatures that emphasise the unusual features of people. Sometimes, even when the visual image is of someone we respect, we laugh because the caricature makes him or her look comical or ugly.
A derisive form of physical humour can be found, for example, in the antics of the Three Stooges, an early U.S. comedy team. In this type of humour, people laugh when they see the misfortunes of three men who are obviously inferior to them. When a person in a slapstick comedy slips on a banana peel, or is otherwise hurt, people laugh because they identify with their superiority over the situation.
However, despite these various examples of derisive humour, the explanation that humour relates to feelings of superiority is not always enough to explain why people laugh.
For example, sometimes we do not laugh, but rather feel pity for someone's inferiority and suffering. The second explanation of humour is that people laugh when they see incongruity, that is, two things side-by-side that normally do not belong together. Incongruity also can relate to humour that sets up a person to expect one type of outcome, and is surprised by a completely different outcome.
Many humour experts believe that incongruity is the key to explaining humour. For example, Marsh claims that for humour to exist, there must be an essential incongruity such as an unexpected conflict or inconsistency between two ideas that is resolved as a joke. Nico Frijda, author of "The Emotions: Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction," also sees the main element of humour to be the presentation of some opposition, contradiction, or difficulty that is subsequently resolved.
An example of verbal incongruity can be a joke where the person is expecting to hear one outcome, but is surprised by a different one, thus, verbal incongruity occurs when the punch line bears an unexpected relationship to the opening part of the story. Incongruity can be found in visual humour as well. For example, Laurel and Hardy made people laugh simply because one of them was very fat and the other was very thin. Similarly, in Singapore, comedians Wang Sa and Yeh Fong are well-received by the audience partly because one is short and fat and the other is tall and thin. It is funny for people to think that two people who are so completely different from one another would ever become friends. Marsh believes that visual forms of incongruity are among the most humorous. Thus, cartoons without any captions are often the most humorous of all, because they rely on visual puns or unusual juxtapositions.
An example of incongruity in physical humour can be seen in the famous play and television series known as "The Odd Couple." People automatically laugh at this situation that shows two men forced to live as roommates with one another - one of them being obsessively neat and the other being a total slob. In addition, people laugh at the physical actions and reactions that come from these two characters with opposing personalities. As with Laurel and Hardy, one of the keys to incongruous humour in "The Odd Couple" is the fact that the two characters are completely opposite from one another. It seems that the more extreme the incongruity is, the funnier it is. As with Marsh and Frijda, A. J. Chapman, who wrote in Humour., The Encyclopedia Dictionary of Psychology, agrees that incongruity is important in explaining why some things are funny and others are not, but stresses that incongruity alone is not enough to explain humour in all cases. The perception of something unexpected might lead to laughter but, if there is no playful mood, it may lead instead to fear, curiosity, problem-solving or concept learning. Thus, funny things are sometimes incongruous; however, incongruous things are not necessarily funny.
The third explanation of humour is that humour helps to release pent-up tensions. People laugh when something is so unexpected or taboo that it shocks their senses. The experience of being shocked in this way can cause tension to be released in the form of laughter. Sigmund Freud was a great proponent of this explanation. According to Freud's view, laughter is "an outlet for discharging psychic energy," says Chapman. Freud considered laughter as a way of releasing nervous energy because it provides relief and self-gratification, and renders potentially damaging conflicts harmless.
Verbal humour involving tension release can be seen when a comedian tells a joke to an audience by making fun of stereotypes. By this, the comedian helps relieve the feelings of tension that people normally have regarding the topic. An example of visual humour that relieves tension can be seen in a cartoon image that's so strange in appearance that it shocks the senses. An example of tension release in physical humour can be found in slapstick comedies that show people performing violent or impossible acts. The violence or absurdity of the actions creates a shock for the viewing audience, and thereby provides a release of pent-up tensions.
Studies show that the link between laughter and the release of tension can be traced to infancy. For example, actions that normally would be terrifying to a young child, such as a sudden appearance, poking, bouncing and tickling, can cause laughter, according to Frijda. Specifically, laughter will occur when these actions are in the context of play with a parent or other caring adult. An infant certainly does not laugh because of a perception of superiority or incongruity. However, it is also apparent that release of tension is not enough to explain humour in all cases. In the case of tickling, for example, children laugh when tickled by their parents. However, they will not laugh, and may even cry, when this is done by strangers, according to Ziv Avner, author of "Expressing Your Personality" in The Cavendish Encyclopedia of Personal Relationships: Human Behaviour. Thus, as in the case of the superiority and the incongruity explanations, the release of tension alone is not enough to explain why some things are funny.
In addition to superiority, incongruity or tension release, a mysterious mood is also necessary to create humour. In this regard, humour requires a particular context to be funny. The verbal, visual or physical elements that make up the humour provide this essential context. In addition, humour requires a playful mood to cause people to laugh. This playfulness occurs when people feel that they are able to detach themselves from their problems. Thus, "laughter involves an annulment of seriousness," writes Frijda. To create something humorous, one needs to use derision, incongruity and tension release - or a combination of these components - within a specific verbal, visual or physical context. Furthermore, that context must be provided within an atmosphere of humour. When these elements are combined in the right way, the sum is bigger than its parts, and the result is laughter.
Humour is a complex and ambiguous thing that cannot be easily defined by any single theory. Degradation, incongruity and tension release all help to partially explain humour. However, none of these explanations alone can explain it completely. Humour is multi-dimensional and, depending on content and social context, may cause multiple and diverse effects amongst the initiators and recipients.
James P.T. Fatt is a lecturer at the school of accountancy and business, Nanyang Technology University, Singapore.
COPYRIGHT 1998 International Association of Business Communicators
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.
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Merubah Mood dengan Sekejap

Merubah Mood dengan Sekejap

Oleh: Hingdranata Nikolay
Hidup kita diwarnai dengan berbagai perasaan, emosi, sensasi, atau persepsi mengenai realita di sekitar kita. Yang perlu diingat, bahwa kitalah yang memilih warna tersebut! Apabila Anda selama ini tidak merasa bisa mengontrol diri Anda, maka sudah seharusnya Anda sadar, bahwa orang lain yang telah memilihkan warnanya untuk Anda!
Kecenderungan proses persepsi kesenangan, kesusahan, kecemasan, depresi, optimisme, pesimisme, dan lain-lainnya, dalam pikiran kita adalah dalam bentuk dua hal: kata-kata dan gambar. Coba hentikan sejenak apapun yang Anda lakukan dan fokus pada apa yang Anda katakan atau gambarkan di pikiran Anda saat Anda sedang marah, senang, cemas, optimis, dan lain-lain. Anda akan mengetahui bahwa banyak sekali kata-kata atau gambar yang Anda buat dalam pikiran Anda. Dan apabila Anda semakin fokus dan menyadari lebih dalam lagi, Anda akan tahu bahwa kata-kata atau gambar itu pula yang berperan untuk meningkatkan atau menurunkan intensitas perasaan Anda!
Di NLP, ini disebut sebagai submodality. Dengan memperkaya kata-kata atau gambar di pikiran Anda, Anda bisa membuatnya bertambah nyata dan perasaan Anda pun akan mengikutinya.
Coba ikuti tip berikut dari I2.
Untuk mengurangi perasaan cemas, takut, gugup, stress, kecewa, dan sejenisnya, gunakan metoda berikut.
Pertama, apabila pikiran Anda penuh dengan gejolak kata-kata, seperti "I don't want to think about" atau "Saya tidak boleh memikirkannya" atau sejenisnya, segera ganti! Ganti dengan "What I want to think about is......." atau "Saya lebih suka memikirkan ..." Penyebab Anda terus-menerus memikirkan sesuatu yang tidak ingin Anda pikirkan adalah karena setelah menyebutkan 'kata' yang berasosiasi dengan yang tidak ingin Anda pikirkan tersebut, pikiran Anda akan secara otomatis membuat proyeksi image-nya, sehingga malah akan memenuhi pikiran Anda! Dan semakin Anda berulang-ulang mengatakannya, malah akan semakin kuat image tersebut! So now you know!
Kedua, apabila image tersebut sudah menempel erat di pikiran Anda - misalnya Anda akan segera masuk ke ruangan untuk bertemu bos Anda yang galak, atau Anda membayangkan audiens yang tidak ramah saat nanti Anda akan presentasi, dll., tenang saja. Ada metoda untuk menanganinya. Bayangkan saja image tersebut dengan tenang dengan sikap 'it's okay'. Sekarang, coba fokus pada image tersebut. Sadari bagaimana bentuk image tersebut, apakah bentuknya seperti sebuah foto, atau bergerak seperti film. Perhatikan setiap kejadian atau detil di gambar tersebut, dan perhatikan warnanya. Nah, setelah Anda berhasil menangkap semuanya itu, yang perlu Anda lakukan adalah mengurangai warna dari gambar tersebut di pikiran Anda. Buatlah lebih buram, sedikit demi sedikit. Setelah gambarnya mulai buram, secara perlahan pula, kecilkan ukurannya. Teruskan, sampai gambarnya sama sekali buram dan sulit untuk Anda lihat lagi. Setelah gambarnya sulit untuk Anda lihat, biasanya, Anda akan berkali-kali lipat lebih tenang! Tidak percaya? Coba lakukan sekarang!
Apabila Anda ingin memperkuat sebuah keyakinan, agar tambah PD, ikuti metoda berikut. Fokus pada gambar di pikiran Anda mengenai apa yang Anda harapkan terjadi. Sadari ukuran gambarnya, warnanya, dan juga suara-suara yang mungkin Anda dengar di gambar tersebut. Now, setelah mendapat gambaran utuh, lakukan yang berlawanan dengan di atas. Tambahkan warnanya. Tajamkan gambarnya seolah Anda ingin membuat berbagai detilnya bertambah nyata! Apabila Anda hanya samar-samar mendengar suaranya, naikan volume-nya selayaknya Anda menaikkan volume stereo set Anda! Setelah itu, tambahkan ukuran gambarnya, perbesar. Setelah itu, pertajam lagi warna dan kontrasnya! Anda akan terkejut betapa telah bertambah nikmatnya perasaan Anda sekarang!

Bagaimana tips ini menurut Anda?
Apakah ada usulan menampilkan tips tertentu?
Sampaikan feedback Anda ke: feedback@inspirasiindonesia.com

Humor Improves Communication

Humor Improves Communication

Paul McGhee, PhD, www.LaughterRemedy.com
"Have I reached the person to whom I am speaking?" (Lily Tomlin, as Ernestine)
[Adapted from P. McGhee, Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training. Call 800-228-0810 to order.]
No matter what kind of job you have, communication will always be an important aspect of your work, whether it’s in meetings, phone conversations with clients or discussions between managers and other employees. Many professional organizations (e.g., the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) now emphasize the development of good "people skills," and communication skills are generally at the top of the list. Unfortunately, good communication is often complicated by the fact that people are stressed out and overloaded with work. You have to earn attention and interest, both in your written and oral communications.
A recent poll reported by Newsweek indicated that the biggest work-related complaint that employees had was poor communication with management, with 64% claiming that this impeded their work.1 Part of the value of humor on the job lies in its ability to lubricate the channels of communication, assuring that it occurs more smoothly and effectively. In the next few months, we'll look at some of the ways humor contributes to effective communication on the job.
Removal of Barriers between Management and Non-Management Staff
As long as distinctions are made between management and non-management employees, there will always be barriers to good communication. Some managers have a style which discourages open communication. When a manager uses humor (especially occasional self-directed humor), however, it says to everyone on the team that s/he’s a regular person—s/he’s one of us. To function as a team, you need openness and comfort in bringing up difficult issues, and shared positive humor is a powerful means of achieving that. Any organization that wants or needs the full commitment of its employees to work as a team needs to establish a relaxed and open work atmosphere. A manager who shows that s/he has a good sense of humor goes a long way in establishing this atmosphere.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (a federal utility) improved communication within the company by having executives come to work in costumes, stage talk show sketches, and hold charity water balloon fights.2
In many organizations, people with opposing views don’t express them, out of fear of reprisal. But it’s essential that employees are comfortable expressing concerns and doubts about any decision that’s made--especially in the midst of change. Humor creates an environment in which opposing views are more likely to be expressed.
Trust is important here. There’s always an element of risk in proposing new ideas, which could either succeed or fail, if implemented. They also could be rejected or ridiculed. A history of shared positive humor helps create a sense of trust which enables employees to open up and express ideas freely without fear of ridicule or rejection.Emotional Tone of Communication
Our daily communications on the job consist of much more than the information we give and receive. Their emotional tone is just as important. Think back to conversations you’ve had with people you’ve met in the past. Chances are you remember your emotional reaction to that person and the general feeling of the conversation much better than you remember what was said. Shared amusement and laughter help assure that both participants in the conversation will remember the good feeling they had long after the content is forgotten.
If you’re talking, you’re communicating.
This is especially important in situations where the initial mood of the conversation is hostile or confrontational. Research has shown that humor in this situation helps reduce hostile feelings among co-workers. The better mood that shared laughter provides, puts you in a better position to resolve the conflict and get on with your job.3 It is the fact that humor and laughter are incompatible with anger and other negative emotions that makes humor such a great tool for conflict management. Since conflict and stress are so common in the workplace these days, the savvy manager will cultivate appropriately-timed humor as a means of keeping tensions, frustration and upset from escalating.
Awkward Communications
A lighter approach is also an effective tool for easing into sensitive or awkward topics. Like sticking your toe in the water before jumping in, the reaction of the other person tells you whether it’s safe to proceed with a more serious statement about the sensitive issue.
"If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you." (George Bernard Shaw)
Humor can be used to get a negative message across in an inoffensive way. Instead of complaining about a less than full glass of orange juice you’re served at a restaurant, you might say to the manager, "You know, I can help you sell 30% more orange juice than you’re now selling." When the manger says, "Great, how?" you say, "Just fill up the glass." You will have made your point without attacking the manager—and you may even get more orange juice the next time!
Using Humor in Meetings
A young and an older mid-level corporate manager have offices right across from each other. Each one spends about half of his time each day in meetings. At the end of the day, the older manager always looks fresh and alert, while the young manager is always exhausted and emotionally drained. Finally, one day following four consecutive meetings, the young guy says to the older, "I don’t get it. How do you manage to get through all these meetings and still look energetic at the end of the day? These meetings just wipe me out." The older manager says, "So who listens?"
An employee at a major photocopy company told me that 2/3 of the meetings he attends are ineffective. We’ve all been in meetings like this. They drain our energy, or bore us to tears. Using humor at appropriate times keeps people engaged and helps assure the success of the meeting.
It’s no coincidence that Toastmasters International clubs always have humorous speech contests. They recognize that humor is one of the most important skills to master in delivering any kind of speech. But I remember seeing many speakers when I was a member of Toastmasters years ago delivering a fine speech in a style that looked perfectly natural—until the humor came. The jokes or funny stories seemed tacked on, because the speaker hadn't cultivated a humorous style of presentation.
[Note: If you click on "Improving Your Humor Skills" in this web site, you'll find a series of articles on how to improve your humor skills. By going through the 8-Step Humor Skills program discussed there, and presented in Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training, you’ll discover your own style. Any joke, story or funny action that you insert into your talk will flow more naturally, because it will be a natural part of who you are. If you’re specifically interested in the use of jokes and stories in meetings, read the basic list of do’s and don’ts in connection with joke/story telling. In addition to that list, make it a point to follow these two general rules in using humor in talks or meetings.]
Basic Rules for Using Humor in Talks and Meetings
1) Be sure the humor is relevant to the point you need to make.
We’ve all seen people in meetings tell jokes or anecdotes that have no bearing on the issue at hand. We’re left trying to figure out the point of the joke, which assures we’ll miss any important information provided during that time. Irrelevant humor is distracting, and may even be annoying.
2) Remember the sandwich approach.
Make your point, then illustrate it with humor, and then remake the point again. The final reminder of the point is not always necessary, but helps assure that your audience doesn’t go away remembering only the joke.
I once provided a program for a company which builds and operates large senior living communities. Residents paid a set fee for their meals, and were allowed to eat as much as they wanted—but were not allowed to take food from the dining room to their apartments. Despite the rules, food theft had become commonplace.
In the context of encouraging employees to see the funny side of the extremes to which residents would go to sneak out fruit and other food for evening snacks, I walked onto the stage in a suit that had large inner pockets full of things like bananas, apples, carrot and celery sticks, rolls, a potato masher, a plastic turkey baster, and even a bottle of Pepsi. I went through 15-20 minutes of my talk before I got to the point where I was discussing this issue. As I encouraged the audience to find the funny side of the situation instead of getting angry at residents, I pulled these items out—one at a time—from my suit pockets, pants pockets, my socks, and even inside my shirt. (The big items were tucked in my shirt behind my back.) There were howls of laughter as I went on and on pulling items out. The audience left with an entirely different outlook on the theft problem.
If you’re often in the position of leading meetings or speaking to groups, make a list of the key points or issues you generally discuss. Be on the lookout for cartoons, jokes, or personal incidents that illustrate or connect with these points in some way. (The Internet is a great course of jokes and stories.) When you find a joke or cartoon you think is funny, ask yourself, "What kind of point could this be used to illustrate?" Then simply put it in a file labeled by a key word. When your next meeting rolls around, you’ll have quick access to humor that relates to the issues you’ll be discussing.
If you’re looking for a funny way to start a meeting you know no one wants to attend, try opening it by saying, "After many requests, this staff meeting is being held anyway." At least part of the annoyance people feel in having to attend will melt away, increasing the chances of having a productive meeting.
One woman who was promoted suddenly found herself as the boss of people who had previously been her peers. She knew this would be a sensitive issue, so she opened up her first meeting in her new position, by saying "Don’t think of me as your boss. Think of me as a friend . . . a friend who’s always right!" Everyone had a good laugh, and she was then able to proceed to a more relaxed discussion of how things would work from that point on.
If you’re issuing some kind of criticism or bad news in a meeting, people tend to stiffen up, react emotionally, and not hear what you want them to hear. Shared laughter helps take the sting out of these situations. It shows that you’re not really upset at the employee, but that some changes do need to be made. This is especially effective when the manager confesses a similar mistake s/he him/herself has made in the past.
The accelerating pace of business in recent years has created the need for rapid decisions. This increases the chances of making a mistake, since you may not be able to obtain all the information you need before making a decision. One manager who had made a mistake in judgment was preparing for a meeting designed to determine how to deal with the mistake, and move on. He walked in wearing a bull’s eye on a T-shirt. The T-shirt playfully acknowledged that the blunder was his responsibility, and allowed other employees to vent their upset through laughter before the meeting even got started. This helped assure a more productive meeting.4
Another manager made a mistake, and knew he would have to justify his actions in the meeting that was about to take place. After presenting his defense as well as he could, he said, "That concludes my prepared evasion. I will now evade questions from the audience." This melted some of the negative feelings in the room, and allowed everyone to focus more clearly on how to best deal with the circumstances they were now in. Once a mistake is made, it is important to acknowledge the error and move on. The ability to laugh at your mistake helps reduce the tension resulting from it and focus on moving forward.
Another manager was planning a meeting in which the team had to deal with a problem they had been putting off. Prior to the meeting he hung a sign on the wall containing a quote from W.C. Fields: "There comes a time in the affairs of men when we must take the bull by the tail and face the situation." This triggered laughter as people walked into the room, and made the point that the team had not committed themselves to coming to grips with the problem—which helped create a climate for doing so at the meeting.
Research examining the dynamics of humor in task-oriented meetings suggests that it can play the pivotal role in moving the group toward a consensual solution to a problem. One study examined 26 hours of videotaped meetings held by six different management groups.5 The meetings generally opened up with "a stiff, serious tone and a communication process that was sometimes complaining and sometimes adversarial." Humor during this phase (whose average length was 30 minutes) was infrequent. When it did occur, it evoked laughter from only one or two participants, partly because it focused on discontent with others’ point of view.
It was after this initial serious phase that—for a period of a few minutes—the pattern of joking changed into humor that caused the entire group to laugh. While the early joking emphasized the differences between people at the meeting (and was sometimes disparaging), this mid-meeting humor drew people together and led to smoother interactions as differences were discussed.
This mid-meeting humor "appeared to allow them to continue by creating a more freely flowing pattern of communication, which led to the eventual resolution of their differences." It "seemed to facilitate a transition from a feeling of tension and defensiveness to a realization of relative safety and playfulness . . . This apparently shared comic vision seemed to create a working bond, overcoming previous estrangement . . . it cultivated a climate in which creative, playful, unconventional problem-solving could mature." (p. 290-291) Following the laughter, the "groups seemed to progress much more rapidly through the remaining stages of the decision making process."
If you’ve been in many meetings, you’ve probably seen this impact of humor in action. You may want to plan ways of building positive humor into your meetings once differences of opinion have been clearly expressed, in order to speed up movement to a consensual solution. Anything you do to momentarily establish a playful atmosphere in the room helps create a non-judgmental frame of mind in dealing with differences of opinion. The shared laughter helps the meeting move more quickly toward the resolution phase, which means everyone can get back to their desks more quickly.
1. Levy, S. Working in Dilbert’s world. Newsweek, August 12, 1996.
2. Malec, W.F. A funny thing happened on the way to quality. Public Utilities Fortnightly, April 1, 1992.
3. Baron, R. Reducing organizational conflict: An incompatible response approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 1984, 69, 272-279.
4. Kushner, M. The Light Touch. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.
5. Consalvo, C.M. Humor in management: No laughing matter. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 1989, 2, 285-297.


Communication & Leadership

Communication & Leadership

No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others. - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Many of the problems that occur in a organization are the direct result of people failing to communicate. Faulty communication causes the most problems. It leads to confusion and can cause a good plan to fail. Communication is the exchange and flow of information and ideas from one person to another. It involves a sender transmitting an idea to a receiver. Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or idea that the sender intended to transmit.
Studying the communication process is important because you coach, coordinate, counsel, evaluate, and supervise through this process. It is the chain of understanding that integrates the members of an organization from top to bottom, bottom to top, and side to side.
The Communication Process
That is what we try to do
Speak to those near us
• Thought: First, information exists in the mind of the sender. This can be a concept, idea, information, or feelings.
• Encoding: Next, a message is sent to a receiver in words or other symbols.
• Decoding: lastly, the receiver translates the words or symbols into a concept or information that he or she can understand.
During the transmitting of the message, two processes will be received by the receiver: content and context. Content is the actual words or symbols of the message which is known aslanguage - the spoken and written words combined into phrases that make grammatical and semantic sense. We all use and interpret the meanings of words differently, so even simple messages can be misunderstood. And many words have different meanings to confuse the issue even more.
Context is the way the message is delivered and is known as Paralanguage - it includes the tone of voice, the look in the sender's eye's, body language, hand gestures, and state of emotions (anger, fear, uncertainty, confidence, etc.) that can be detected. Although paralanguage or context often causes messages to be misunderstood as we believe what we see more than what we hear; they are powerful communicators that help us to understand each other. Indeed, we often trust the accuracy of nonverbal behaviors more than verbal behaviors.
Some leaders think they have communicated once they told someone to do something, "I don't know why it did not get done...I told Jim to it." More than likely, Jim misunderstood the message. A message has NOT been communicated unless it is understood by the receiver (decoded). How do you know it has been properly received? By two-way communication or feedback. This feedback tells the sender that the receiver understood the message, its level of importance, and what must be done with it. Communication is an exchange, not just a give, as all parties must participate to complete the information exchange.
Barriers to Communication
Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood. - Freeman Teague, Jr.
Anything that prevents understanding of the message is a barrier to communication. Many physical and psychological barriers exist:
• Culture, background, and bias - We allow our past experiences to change the meaning of the message. Our culture, background, and bias can be good as they allow us use our past experiences to understand something new, it is when they change the meaning of the message then they interfere with the communication process.
• Noise - Equipment or environmental noise impede clear communication. The sender and the receiver must both be able to concentrate on the messages being sent to each other.
• Ourselves - Focusing on ourselves, rather than the other person can lead to confusion and conflict. The "Me Generation" is out when it comes to effective communication. Some of the factors that cause this are defensiveness (we feel someone is attacking us), superiority (we feel we know more that the other), and ego (we feel we are the center of the activity).
• Perception - If we feel the person is talking too fast, not fluently, does not articulate clearly, etc., we may dismiss the person. Also our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen. We listen uncritically to persons of high status and dismiss those of low status.
• Message - Distractions happen when we focus on the facts rather than the idea. Our educational institutions reinforce this with tests and questions. Semantic distractions occur when a word is used differently than you prefer. For example, the word chairman instead of chairperson, may cause you to focus on the word and not the message.
• Environmental - Bright lights, an attractive person, unusual sights, or any other stimulus provides a potential distraction.
• Smothering - We take it for granted that the impulse to send useful information is automatic. Not true! Too often we believe that certain information has no value to others or they are already aware of the facts.
• Stress - People do not see things the same way when under stress. What we see and believe at a given moment is influenced by our psychological frames of references - our beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences, and goals.

These barriers can be thought of as filters, that is, the message leaves the sender, goes through the above filters, and is then heard by the receiver. These filters muffle the message. And the way to overcome filters is through active listening and feedback.
Active Listening
Hearing and listening are not the same thing. Hearing is the act of perceiving sound. It is involuntary and simply refers to the reception of aural stimuli. Listening is a selective activity which involves the reception and the interpretation of aural stimuli. It involves decoding the sound into meaning.
Listening is divided into two main categories: passive and active. Passive listening is little more that hearing. It occurs when the receiver or the message has little motivation to listen carefully, such as music, story telling, television, or being polite.
People speak at 100 to 175 words per minute, but they can listen intelligently at 600 to 800 words per minute (WPM). Since only a part of our mind is paying attention, it is easy to go into mind drift - thinking about other things while listening to someone. The cure for this is active listening - which involves listening with a purpose. It may be to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interest, see how another person feels, show support, etc. It requires that the listener attends to the words and the feelings of the sender for understanding. It takes the same amount or more energy than speaking. It requires the receiver to hear the various messages, understand the meaning, and then verify the meaning by offering feedback. The following are a few traits of active listeners:
• Spends more time listening than talking.
• Do not finish the sentence of others.
• Do not answer questions with questions.
• Are aware of biases. We all have them...we need to control them.
• Never daydreams or become preoccupied with their own thoughts when others talk.
• Lets the other speaker talk. Does not dominate the conversation.
• Plans responses after the other person has finished speaking...NOT while they are speaking.
• Provides feedback, but does not interrupt incessantly.
• Analyzes by looking at all the relevant factors and asking open-ended questions. Walks the person through your analysis (summarize).
• Keeps the conversation on what the speaker says...NOT on what interests them.
• Takes brief notes. This forces them to concentrate on what is being said.
When you know something, say what you know. When you don't know something, say that you don't know. That is knowledge. - Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius)
The purpose of feedback is to change and alter messages so the intention of the original communicator is understood by the second communicator. It includes verbal and nonverbal responses to another person's message.
Providing feedback is accomplished by paraphrasing the words of the sender. Restate the sender's feelings or ideas in your own words, rather than repeating their words. Your words should be saying, "This is what I understand your feelings to be, am I correct?" It not only includes verbal responses, but also nonverbal ones. Nodding your head or squeezing their hand to show agreement, dipping your eyebrows shows you don't quite understand the meaning of their last phrase, or sucking air in deeply and blowing it hard shows that you are also exasperated with the situation.
Carl Roger listed five main categories of feedback. They are listed in the order in which they occur most frequently in daily conversations. Notice that we make judgments more often than we try to understand:
• Evaluative: Making a judgment about the worth, goodness, or appropriateness of the other person's statement.
• Interpretive: Paraphrasing - attempting to explain what the other person's statement means.
• Supportive: Attempting to assist or bolster the other communicator.
• Probing: Attempting to gain additional information, continue the discussion, or clarify a point.
• Understanding: Attempting to discover completely what the other communicator means by her statements.
Imagine how much better daily communications would be if listeners tried to understand first, before they tried to evaluate what someone is saying.
Nonverbal Behaviors of Communication
Without knowing the force of words it is impossible to know men." - Confucius
To deliver the full impact of a message, use nonverbal behaviors to raise the channel of interpersonal communication:
• Eye contact: This helps to regulate the flow of communication. It signals interest in others and increases the speaker's credibility. People who make eye contact open the flow of communication and convey interest, concern, warmth, and credibility.
• Facial Expressions: Smiling is a powerful cue that transmits happiness, friendliness, warmth, and liking. So, if you smile frequently you will be perceived as more likable, friendly, warm and approachable. Smiling is often contagious and people will react favorably. They will be more comfortable around you and will want to listen more.
• Gestures: If you fail to gesture while speaking you may be perceived as boring and stiff. A lively speaking style captures the listener's attention, makes the conversation more interesting, and facilitates understanding.
• Posture and body orientation: You communicate numerous messages by the way you talk and move. Standing erect and leaning forward communicates to listeners that you are approachable, receptive and friendly. Interpersonal closeness results when you and the listener face each other. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling should be avoided as it communicates disinterest.
• Proximity: Cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for interaction with others. You should look for signals of discomfort caused by invading the other person's space. Some of these are: rocking, leg swinging, tapping, and gaze aversion.
• Vocal: Speaking can signal nonverbal communication when you include such vocal elements as: tone, pitch, rhythm, timbre, loudness, and inflection. For maximum teaching effectiveness, learn to vary these six elements of your voice. One of the major criticisms of many speakers is that they speak in a monotone voice. Listeners perceive this type of speaker as boring and dull.
Speaking Hints
Speak comfortable words!" - William Shakespeare
When speaking or trying to explain something, ask the listeners if they are following you. Ensure the receiver has a chance to comment or ask questions. Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes - Consider the feelings of the receiver. Be clear about what you say. Look at the receiver. Make sure your words match your tone and body language (Nonverbal Behaviors). Vary your tone and pace. Do not be vague, but on the other hand, Do not complicate what you are saying with too much detail. Do not ignore signs of confusion.
On Communication Per Se (a few random thoughts)
On Discussing Communication
Trying to speak of something as messy as communication in technical terms seems to be another form of the "math and science" argument, that is, math and science and technology are the answer to all of our problems. - Anonymous
But what forms of human behavior are not messy? Learning is not "antiseptic," yet it is discussed all the time -- we do not leave it to the academics, Bloom, Knowles, Dugan, or Rossett. Leadership and management topics seems to be even messier, yet we categorize it, build models of it, index it, chop it and slice it and dice it, build pyramids out of it, and generally have a good time discussing it. But when it comes to "communication," we call it too messy to play with and leave it up to Chomsky, Pinker, and others to write about so that we can read about it. Yet we all communicate almost every single day of our lives, which is much more than we will ever do with learning or leadership.
Paul Ekman
In the mid 1960s, Paul Ekman studied emotions and discovered six facial expressions that almost everyone recognizes world-wide: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. Although they were controversial at first, he was booed off the stage when he first presented it to a group of anthropologists and later called a fascist and a racist, they are now widely accepted. One of the controversies still lingering is the amount of context needed to interpret them. For example, if someone reports to me that they have this great ideal that they would like to implement, and I say that would be great, but I look on them with a frown, is it possible that I could be thinking about something else? The trouble with these extra signals is that we do not always have the full context. What if the person emailed me and I replied great (while frowning). Would it evoke the same response?

Trust your instincts. Most emotions are difficult to imitate. For example, when you are truly happy, the muscles used for smiling are controlled by the limbic system and others, which are not under voluntary control. When you force a smile, a different part of the brain is used -- the cerebral cortex (under voluntary control), hence different muscles are used. This is why a clerk, who might not have any real interest in you, has a "fake" look when he forces a smile.
Of course, some actors learn to control all of their face muscles, while others draw on a past emotional experience to produce the emotional state they want. But this is not an easy trick to pull off all the time. There is a good reason for this -- part of our emotions evolved to deal with other people and our empathic nature. If these emotions could easily be faked, they would do more harm than good (Pinker, 1997).
So our emotions not only guide our decisions, they can also communicated to others to help them in their decisions -- of course their emotions will be the ultimate guide, but the emotions they discover in others becomes part of their knowledge base.
Mehrabian and the 7%-38%-55% Myth
We often hear that the content of a message is composed of:
• 55% of the content from the visual component
• 38% from the auditory component
• 7% from language
However, the above percentages only apply in a very narrow context. A researcher named Mehrabian was interested in where people get information about a speaker's general attitude is positive, neutral, or negative, towards the person the speaker is addressing in situations where the facial expression, the tone, and the words might be sending conflicting signals.
Thus, he designed a couple of experiments. In one, Mehrabian and Ferris (1967) researched the interaction of speech, facial expressions, and tone. Three different speakers were instructed to say "maybe" with three different attitudes towards their listener (positive, neutral, or negative). Next, photographs of the faces of three female models were taken as they attempted to convey the emotions of like, neutrality, and dislike.
Test groups were then instructed to listen to the various renditions of the word "maybe," with the pictures of the models, and were asked to rate the attitude of the speaker. Note that the emotion and tone were often mixed, such as a facial expression showing dislike, with the word "maybe" spoken in a positive tone.
Significant effects of facial expression and tone were found in that the study suggested that the combined effect of simultaneous verbal, vocal and facial attitude communications is a weighted sum of their independent effects with the coefficients of .07, .38, and .55, respectively.
Mehrabian and Ferris also wrote about a deep limitation to their research: "These findings regarding the relative contribution of the tonal component of a verbal message can be safely extended only to communication situations in which no additional information about the communicator-addressee relationship is available." Thus, what can be concluded is that when people communicate, listeners derive information about the speaker's attitudes towards the listener from visual, tonal, and verbal cues; yet the percentage derived can vary greatly depending upon a number of other factors, such as actions, context of the communication, and how well they know that person.

[Tags: communication emotions ]
Butler, Gillian, Ph.D. and Hope, Tony, M.D. (1996). Managing Your Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mehrabian, Albert and Morton Wiener, 1967, "Decoding of inconsistent communications," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6:109-114
Mehrabian, Albert and Susan R. Ferris, 1967, "Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels," Journal of Consulting Psychology 31:248-252.
Pearson, J. (1983). Interpersonal Communication. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foreman and Company.

Pinker, Steven (1997). How the Mind Works. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Copyright 1997 by Donald Clark
Created May 11, 1997. Last update - July 17, 2005

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