Communication may be defined as "the exchange of messages" between two or more partners.
Our communication is based on the ability to perceive and articulate. Let us first look more closely at these fundamental requirements.
Via our sense organs (eyes, ears, fingers etc.) we perceive (or receive) the messages coming from our environment and transform them in our brains into images, noises etc.
A few simple examples will show that our perception is selective, superficial and fragmentary. Our brains fill in the gaps while processing the data and refer back to familiar (= previously perceived) structures - we interpret. The two examples alongside will illustrate this process.
We have to look several times carefully to discover what is unusual about the two illustrations.
Experts in communication tell us that we tend to perceive
- things we can understand (ability),
Speech provides us with a system of signs and rules which enables us to send information relatively clearly and, in most cases, unambiguously. However, we do not communicate only by what we say but also by the tone of our voice, our facial expressions, our gestures and our "body language", by glances, by our "aura" and, fnally, by our actions and behaviour.
3. Articulation and Perception in the Communication Model
In his book, "Miteinander reden - Storungen und Klarungen" (literally: "Talking with each other- disturbances and clarifications"), Friedemann Schulz von Thun, proposes a model of communication which differentiates between four dimensions of a message.
During the next few days, examine a few sentences you have spoken or heard! Try to pay attention to the four different aspects of the messages.
The reaction of the person who receives the message depends on which ear s/he is really listening with:
- the objective content ear
What sort of a person is that?
How does s/he think e/he's talking to me?
What does the objective content mean?
What am I to do, think, feel, as a result of hi s/her message?
Whenever a message is communicated it is useful to pay attention to the aspects of content and relationship:
-- > at the content level (subject level) messages are transmitted, information exchanged. The information should be attractive to the partner.
-- > at the relationship level (personal level) the social relationship is also set out - as discussion partners we prefer frank, pleasant, imaginative people.
· Communication is never limited only to the exchange of concrete information.
I always convey something about my person (characteristics, state of mind), too.
By my message I wish to influence my communication partner in some way (invitation/appeal).
Every communication takes place within a specific relationship which, in turn, can be modified by the present message (definition of a relationship).
· A message has a specific and often unpredictable effect on one's communication partner.
4. Communication Difficulties
a) Dialogue is more than a dual monologue - or listening is an essential condition for speech to make sense.
Monologue: You talk, I listen (or I am absorbed in my thoughts). No verification of the perception, no feedback, no further inquiry, no pauses.
Dual monologue: You and I speak alternately, listen (sometimes) but our thoughts are already in the starting blocks for our next reply. There is little perception verification, little feedback, little relating to the partner's arguments; but rather commendation of one's own ideas.
Dialogue: I speak, you listen attentively and vice versa. Feedback is created by repetition and check back questions. Brief pauses in the conversation do not disturb us.
b) Hasty judgements spoil the conversation
Many people tend to assess immediately everything they hear. "That's a good idea!", "I should have done that differently" they say.
Generally speaking, however, we are more prepared to discuss things when we realize that our partners are considering our arguments: "Aha! So that's the way you see it!" and they might ask, "What exactly do you mean?", thus listening in a sympathetic way to what we want to say. Whether our discussion partners approve of our opinion or even agree with it may become clear later in our conversation.
c) I have my own fixed ideas about the topic being discussed
When I am involved with something, I have a personal relationship with it. Now if I start talking to other people about this it helps to be quite clear about my relationship with the matter. So I can discuss it objectively and not get caught up with it from habit or because of personal feelings or interests.
d) I am stuck in my own role
A large part of inter-personal communication takes place within specific roles: woman counsellor - woman farmer, minister of agriculture - regional manager, superior - subordinate. In every discussion it is useful if we are clear about the roles we are playing and - if they are obstructing the conversation - try to remove ourselves from them. The roles we play depends very largely on the origin of our discussion partners (i.e. which group, institution, class, culture etc he or she comes from). The way the conversation begins is important if ideas about each others' roles are to be changed. Also our knowledge of the origin, the life history and the work status of the other person helps change our roles.
e) Language barriers
Different social groups speak different languages (upper classes - lower classes; agricultural engineers - farmers etc.). An agricultural engineer uses different words, or the same words differently, in his/her own special jargon than e.g. a sociologist or an ethnologist.
f) External conditions
The previous history of the discussion topic, the (un)desirable presence of other people, pressure of time or performance all influence a conversation.
5. Communication and the Media
The use of the media in group and large-scale counselling is common and usually also makes sense.
All the media channel communication in a certain direction:
towards monologue: radio, TV, films, video, (slide) lectures, posters etc. (hinders feedback)
towards dialogue: pictures explaining ideas, keywords/-pictures to "capture" (promotes feedback) a conversation or symbolize discussion topics
The use of media in rural populations must be tested carefully since the perception habits of different cultures and different social classes can vary considerably. Two examples shall serve to emphasize this fact:
a) Three bears
Unfamiliar activities are not easily recognized
The picture is from a series on the covered compost pit. A man is shown carbonizing a stake in a fire to protect it against termites.
However, farmers saw in this picture:
- a man planting a tree
Observation: The technique of blackening wood in fire is little known; thus, all the farmers' interpretations miss the intended message and instead refer to activities familiar to them.
Conclusion: Visual aids in extension must be checked to make sure their message is clearly understandable before they are used in training sessions.
The usefulness of media in training is proved by their contribution to higher recall of information by students (in European cultures):
Rule: the more passive the receiver, the lower the retaining rate (i.e. the less information the receiver will remember).
Burgi, A.; 1986: Kommunikationspsychologie (unpublished)
ICRE/IAC Wageningen (NL); Interpersonal Communication (Seminar document).
Hoffmann, V.; 1985: Beratungsbegriff und Beratungsphilosophie. In: Die Qualitat von Beratung fur Verbraucher.
Campus Forschung, Band 462, Frankfurt
Schulz von Thun, F.; 1981: Miteinander reden: Storungen und Klarungen. Rororo 7489, Hamburg
Mangen, J.; 1978: Cultural Conventions of pictorial representation, Iconic Literacy and Education. In: Educational
Communication and Technology.
Bimenyimana, B.; Goergen, R.; 1983: Perception et comprehension du materiel didactique par la population rurale au Rwanda. PAK Kibuve. Rwanda.
Fuglesang, A.; 1982: About understanding. Dag Hammerskjold Foundation, Sweden.
Casse, P.; 1987: Les outils de la communication efficace. Chotard, Paris.
Written and compiled by:
Ernst Bolliger, Tonino Zellweger
2.1 The Planning Team
Pointers to the GTZ - Manual
55 Basic concepts for extension
143 C3: Design of pictorial representation
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