7322AHS Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Companioning Process Workbook
Firstly, what is the ‘companioning process’ all about?
A significant portion of this course is dedicated to the exploration of practical skills of communication. A chief objective of the course is to increase your competence in applying micro-skills of communication in the context of an individual’s daily interactions with others. In light of this, it is crucial that you are able to practice such skills in a supportive environment where you are able to receive feedback. To facilitate this skills practice it is a requirement of the course that you find an individual who is willing to work with you as a companion.
Your companion should be someone you know, who you feel comfortable with and who has a developed capacity to communicate with others. While it is not mandatory that they have an exposure to the human services, it may certainly be advantageous. A companion working in the field of human services may be able to offer insights and feedback that someone working in a different field of employment may not. You will need to meet with your companion for a minimum of one hour per week in order to work through all the companioning exercises. Therefore, it is also important that you find someone who is available to help you on a weekly basis. When approaching a potential companion, it is important that you give them a clear understanding concerning what is expected of the process, as well as the level of commitment involved. It is also necessary that you organise a companion as soon as you begin the course. If you have any problems in finding a suitable companion, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Finally, while the course is organised according to a weekly schedule, you may need to exercise flexibility when organising times to meet with your companion – it may be appropriate, for example, to complete companioning tasks from two of the weeks of study in one sitting in order to best accommodate the commitments of your chosen companion and yourself. In some instances, a companion may begin working with a student only to discover that involvement in the process is more than they are able to commit to. As a result they might choose to prematurely exit the process at some stage in the journey. If this occurs in your situation please contact me and we can discuss options for an alternative companion to work with.
A word of caution… It is critically important that you exercise sensitivity when facilitating the companioning process. Particular sensitivity to your and your companion’s prior experiences needs to be exercised at all times. There may be occasions where it might be appropriate to avoid exploring situations that involve intense feelings of sadness, loss or grief on the part of your companion. Some of the hypotheticals formulated to facilitate role-play may be too close to your or your companion’s real-life experience. Before commencing any of the companioning experiences involving the exploration of strong feelings or emotions, it is advised that you check with your companion to ensure that the suggested activity is one they would feel comfortable engaging in. The same rule applies to yourself. If there is a concern with the content of any of the hypotheticals, simply adapt them to suit your situation. Finally, while engaging in role-play experiences, individuals involved in the process can sometimes experience or take on some of the feelings or emotions associated with the characters involved. It is often useful to debrief the activity immediately following the role-play to ensure that you and your companion are feeling okay. It may even be helpful to focus on a positive experience beyond the role-play that you could discuss together to ‘move you beyond’ the role-play situation. It is also helpful to sometimes verbally state that you are not the person in the hypothetical and your experiences are different to the characters’ as a means of disassociating with the character you or your companion have been acting out.
Why the need for a Workbook?
This workbook includes only the activities from the course that recommend or require completion with the assistance of your companion. There are many other suggested activities throughout each module, which you can complete along with your course content and course readings. Not all topics require a companion activity, and therefore not all topics are represented in this workbook.
This workbook has been compiled for easy printing so that you can refer to and complete activities when meeting with your companion.
Where you see this picture (left), it is suggested you take notes for reflection later and to assist you with discussion board participation and assignment preparation.
Module 1: Receiving/Listening Skills
Effective receivers of information have a developed capacity to observe the sender’s responses. This observation process can assist the receiver to determine and clarify the sender’s message. It can also raise the receiver’s awareness regarding some of the rich dynamics inherent in the exchange between the receiver and sender during the exchange process. Within the communication process, it is important for the receiver to be mindful that there is a definite distinction between ‘observation’ and ‘interpretation’. It is important to recognise that our beliefs and assumptions affect our perceptions of the world. This in turn influences our behaviour. We need to be aware that such influences may affect our interpretation of the information we receive during the process of communication.
When receiving information the individual can observe the following:
- physical appearance;
- tone of voice;
- body language;
- the sender’s ‘pace’ in communication;
- pauses in communication;
- spacing of words;
- emphasis of particular words, ideas or themes;
- the sender’s breathing;
- the rise and fall of the sender’s speech (intonation);
- any shifts in the sender’s energy (enthusiasm, despondency, frustration or anger);
- specific mannerisms;
- the sender’s cognitive abilities and;
- forms of expression (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and intuitive expression).
Through the receiver’s observation of such dynamics, they are able to develop richer insight into the sender’s world, including their experiences of and responses to the presenting information. When observing the sender’s responses the receiver can also pick up on some potential discrepancies between the sender’s verbal and non-verbal behaviours. For example, a sender may tell the receiver that they are feeling okay about a particular situation, but their body language may communicate a very different message. Again, it is important that we are judicious about interpreting the sender’s verbal and non-verbal expression, but we must also be aware of potential inconsistencies in the sender’s communication. This can be a rich source of information that could significantly inform the approach we take to the process of receiving.
Facilitate a 10-minute conversation with your companion. Invite them to discuss a story or experience that they feel passionate about. Explain to the companion that you will be observing them as they speak and will be writing down some of your observations during the 10-minute period. Following the conversation, share with your companion what you observed about their communication and how your observations helped you better comprehend the experience your companion was disclosing to you. Consider also some of the interpretations you made throughout the course of the activity (e.g. intensity of the companion’s emotions, some of the companion’s thoughts associated with the experience). Check with your companion to determine the accuracy of these interpretations. Finally, consider how well you observed your companion and the depth at which you were able to make observations.
What can the receiver do to make you feel really heard?
Think of an interaction where you felt really listened to by the other person. Think about their actual behaviour. What sorts of things did they do? Make some brief notes about the situation and the listener’s behaviour in the space provided. Perhaps there is a session with your companion that you can reflect on below.
What was the
How did he/she behave?
Consequences? For you, him/her, the relationship?
Minimal Responses (Encouragers)
Minimal responses are used to communicate to the sender that the receiver is actively engaged in the process of communication. Minimal responses, or encouragers, are commonly used in our everyday communication. They can be both verbal and non-verbal. Some examples of verbal minimal responses include: ‘yes’; ‘I see’; ‘aha’; ‘mmm’; ‘right’; ‘okay’; ‘sure’ etc. A non-verbal form of minimal response could be a gesture such as a nod of the head or raised eyebrows. Verbal and non-verbal responses are often used in combination with each other.
While this skill can be used effectively to encourage the speaker to continue, the receiver needs to be mindful of avoiding excessive use of specific minimal encouragers. For example, a receiver might use the expression ‘okay’ excessively during a conversation. This could irritate or distract the sender. This type of habit may be operating at an unconscious level, therefore the sender’s feedback is particularly important. We often only become aware of such habits through the feedback of others.
Initiate a conversation with your companion over a 20-minute period. Focus on your use of minimal responses for the purpose of gaining feedback. Invite your companion to be honest, particularly in relation to any habits you may have not yet identified that could impede your capacity to effectively communicate with others. Your companion may wish to complete the ‘Attending Behaviour Feedback Sheet’ (available in the resources section of the course site, see ‘microskills feedback sheets’). This will enable them to provide important feedback to you regarding your skills development. When in the role of observer, remember to be as specific as you can with your feedback.
Reflection of Feelings
During the communication process the receiver can act as a mirror to reflect the sender’s feelings. Reflecting feelings enables the receiver to join with the sender in the process of exploring and appreciating the sender’s world. Further, greater understanding of the sender’s situation and experience can be gained. This understanding can facilitate rapport, which is integral to the process of deepening relationships.
Reflection of feeling involves three skills:
- Recognising the feeling being expressed;
- Interpreting the intensity of the sender’s feelings and;
- Appropriately reflecting the feeling.
Reflection of feeling can be achieved through different forms:
- Questioning – clarifying the expressed feeling through a question e.g. ‘It sounds like you were feeling angry – would that be right?’
- Statements – a direct statement that reflects the sender’s feelings e.g. ‘So you feel confined by your situation’.
- Context – reflecting the feeling by referring to the context in which the feeling is experienced e.g. ‘So you feel angry when you are at work’.
- Non-verbal – reflecting feeling through non-verbal forms of expression e.g. a frown, a sigh, an enthusiastic expression on the face.
- Personifying the sender’s experience – reflecting feelings as though the receiver is the sender. The receiver might say ‘I feel so desperate – nothing’s going to change’ as if they were speaking as the sender.
Invite your companion to talk about a situation where they experienced strong emotions. Throughout the discussion aim to, where possible, reflect back the feelings expressed. (Note: Be sensitive to your companion’s experiences. It may be appropriate to avoid exploring a situation that involved overly intense feelings of sadness, loss or grief. Remember to also incorporate skills learned from week one and two where possible).
Reflection of Content
As part of the communication process it is important that the receiver accurately perceive what the sender is communicating. The most common and generally the most effective method of clarifying what the sender is saying is through use of paraphrasing or reflection of content. By using this skill the receiver is able to reflect back to the sender what has been communicated.
In reflecting content the receiver does not merely parrot or repeat the exact words of the sender – the receiver paraphrases the sender’s messages to clarify the content being communicated. A paraphrase is concise, rewords what a person is saying and usually retains key words communicated eg. ‘it sounds like’, ‘it would seem that…have I got that right?’. Paraphrases communicate the receiver’s understanding of the sender’s situation and encourage the sender to continue. A paraphrase is not a word-for-word recount. Instead, it reflects the essence of what is being said and is a particularly effective tool for communicating empathy.
The use of key words on their own can also be helpful for encouraging further responses from the sender. Key words, or restatements, encourage the sender to continue talking and elaborate on the content already disclosed. The receiver should be aware that their own interests and biases might influence their choice of restatements or key words used. This could dictate the focus of the sender’s ensuing conversation – in this way a sender’s personal agenda may impede the communication process.
Facilitate another discussion with your companion, but this time only respond with a paraphrase. Aim to vary the ways you reflect the content of the speaker e.g. key words, short phrases, whole sentences etc. Invite your companion to feed back your effectiveness in using skills of reflection.
Reflection: Did you find it easier to reflect feelings or content? Why do you think this is so? Take some time to think about this, as it will be useful to have a good understanding of reflection of feeling and content before you move on.
Summarising is similar to paraphrasing. When the receiver summarises, they are reflecting back to the sender what has been communicated. However, a summary extends a paraphrase to include a series of statements that provide an overview of what the sender has shared. A summary encapsulates the main points communicated in the sender’s conversation and may also take into account the feelings the sender has described.
A summary does not repeat word-for-word what was communicated during the communication process but salient points disclosed by the sender. A summary enables the receiver to provide an overview to the sender of what has been said and organises the information so that the sender can develop a clear picture of the situation/problem. In summarising, the receiver highlights the major affective and cognitive themes.
A summary can be used effectively at various points during a conversation, but is commonly used part way through a conversation, at a conversation’s conclusion or during the first part of a subsequent meeting. Summarising is beneficial when both the receiver and sender participate, correcting and/or agreeing with the proposed summary so that clarity of thought is achieved for both parties. A summary also provides an opportunity for the receiver to encourage the sender to give feedback about the conversation.
Now facilitate another discussion with your companion, combining the reflection skills with a summary. Allow the companion opportunity to discuss with you their thoughts/impressions regarding your use of the skills.
The skills of attending and reflection can be used powerfully to either strengthen or impede the communication process. Receivers must be judicious when attending to the sender and exercise discretion in their use of reflection to ensure that they are always acting in the sender’s best interest. In this way they can assist in facilitating a dynamic that fosters effective communication.
Practicing empathic reflection
It’s time to put into practice the reflection of feeling and content. You have had some experience in framing and delivering empathic responses – now you will have the opportunity to expand on your experience in face-to-face interactions.
With your companion take turns to adopt the roles of sender and receiver.
Discuss any topic you are comfortable with (a list of potential topics is supplied for those who can never think of anything to talk about) and when in the listening role, concentrate on attending, following, and reflecting feelings and content. Following the activity work through the feedback sheet ‘Attending, Following and Reflecting Feelings and Content’ (appropriate link) so you can provide feedback for yourself.
It will be necessary to conduct a debriefing process after each mini discussion. In order to do this, it may be useful to follow these steps:
the ‘sender’ offers their feelings and thoughts to the receiver about being in the role
the ‘receiver’ discusses their experience in the role
the ‘receiver’ clarifies the feedback where necessary – until full understanding is reached.
As this is a very important exercise, and involves practicing a skill that can improve your communication style, be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time on it.
It is important that you begin to feel somewhat comfortable with your ability to accurately and empathically reflect feelings and content.
List of potential topics to help you on your way:
Your first part-time job
Your favourite pet
Where you would like to be in 5 years
Your dream job
An unexpected surprise you once had
In an ideal world …
A recent holiday
Something that makes you angry
Module 2: Sending Information
Being an effective sender of messages can have several important functions. These include the opportunity to express yourself to others and to influence how others respond to you. In some helping situations you may be able to assist others to explore and reveal themselves. Perhaps most importantly, you reduce the chances of misunderstanding and increase the chances of working through genuine differences. We have looked at the 1st perceptual position as useful to adopt when wanting to get in touch with your own thoughts and feelings and express them to another person. Take some time to work through the following activity, which will assist you in experiencing ‘the 1st position’.
Experiencing the 1st position
Organise your surroundings so you are comfortable. Focus on a time when you told another person about how you were feeling or what you were thinking. It may have been with a close friend. Or perhaps it was a stranger. Where were you at the time? What were your surroundings like? Visualise the scene. Imagine you are there now. What can you see around you? Notice the shapes and forms. What colours and shades do you see? Attend to what you can hear, what sounds there are, how loud, what frequency. Take your time.
Keep your attention on you. What parts of your body can you see, what movement is there? What sounds can you hear that you are making? What can you feel? The pressure of your feet on the floor? Which parts are touching, where is the greatest, least pressure? Where are your hands and arms resting? Where can you feel them touch? Is your head resting on anything? What is taking the weight of your head? What can you smell? What taste is in your mouth? What internal emotions do you feel? What intensity do these feelings have? What is their location? What are the characteristics of the feelings?
What did you say? What were the actual words? How did you say it? How was your tone of voice? What were your non-verbals like? How were you standing when you said it? Your facial expression? Your eye contact? Adapted from Sue Knight (2009). NLP at Work.
Experiencing self-awareness, as you did in the previous activity, is 1st position thinking. You may be concerned that taking the 1st position could lead you to become dismissive of other people’s thoughts and feelings. Indeed, excessive use of 1st position can have such undesirable results. However, it is possible to maintain a balance between seeing things from your perspective and recognising the rights of others. In fact, developing your ability to experience 1st position can facilitate you in moving from non-assertive to assertive behaviour that recognises your rights as well as the rights of others.
Assertive, Aggressive, and Submissive Behaviour
We have just identified some of the dimensions for you to consider in deciding whether it is appropriate to disclose or send information to another person. Let’s assume you have made the decision (i.e. you have considered the context) and you do intend to send that information.
What is the best way to go about that? What sort of words will you use (content) and how will you deliver the information (process). We have already mentioned the value of getting into the first position when sending a message. Now we are going to examine three types of behaviour – assertive, aggressive, and submissive – that can be adopted when sending information to another person.
Difference between assertive, aggressive and submissive behaviours?
Complete the table that follows. First, jot down words that you associate with assertive behaviour in the spaces provided. It may help the process to think about a person that you consider behaves assertively and imagine the non-verbal and verbal characteristics you associate with that person. Consider non-verbals such as eye contact, body posture, facial expression, and interaction distance. Non-verbals also include volume, pitch and tone of voice. Verbal behaviours are likely to include the types of words and phrases used.
Next, think about a person who you have noticed displays submissive behaviour and imagine the characteristics you associate with that person. Jot down the verbal and nonverbal behaviours.
Now, do the same for aggressive behaviour. Once again, it may help to think about a particular aggressive individual you have seen. Write down the non-verbal and verbal characteristics displayed by that person. Share these thoughts with your companion.
Submissive, Assertive and Aggressive Behaviours
Listed below are some non-verbal and verbal components that are frequently associated with submissive, assertive, and aggressive behaviours. The listed behaviours are indicators only and should not be used as a means of labelling behaviour.
Compare the information in this table with the notes you made in the previous activity.
to appease others and avoid conflict at any cost
to give and receive respect, to be fair, and to compromise
to dominate and win
violates one’s own rights by failing to express oneself, lack of respect for one’s own needs
standing up for personal rights and needs in a way which recognises and respects another persons rights and needs
directly standing up for personal rights and needs in a way that violates the rights and needs of the other person
internalise feelings and tensions, fear, anxiety, guilt, depression, nervousness
aware of feelings and deals with them, tension managed constructively
tension turned outward, anger, rage, hate, hostility
“shrinking” non-verbals, moving away, downcast eyes, shifting of weight, whining hesitant voice, wringing of hands
“appropriate” non-verbals, comfortable distance, good eye contact, standing comfortably on two feet, strong steady tone of voice, hands loosely at sides
“big” non-verbals, “in your face”, glaring eyes, leaning forward, loud raised tone of voice, pointing finger
maybe, I guess, I wonder, don’t you think, um, uh, don’t bother, it doesn’t really matter
I think, I feel, why don’t we, what do you think, how do you feel
you’d better, should, ought, you’re kidding, and using sexist or racist terms
Now that you are clear on the differences between assertive, aggressive, and submissive behaviours, take a few minutes to complete the following activity.
Unless you are able to fully understand and clearly distinguish these different types of behaviours it will be difficult to plan and practice engaging in assertive behaviour.
Are these submissive, assertive or aggressive responses?
Read the situations below and indicate whether the responses are assertive, aggressive, or submissive.
|Situation/context||Verbal response||Response type|
|A meeting time is being arranged. The time is convenient for other people but not for you. The times that are set will make it next to impossible for you to attend regularly.||When asked about the time, you say,
“Well I guess it’s O.K. I’m not going to be able to attend very much but it fits everyone else’s schedule”.
|A client consistently tells you that you are not helping her enough, despite your best efforts to keep her updated on the progress of her case.||You say,
“Whilst I understand your frustration, I can assure you that I am doing everything within my power to achieve a good outcome for you”.
|You are having trouble writing an assignment and don’t know what further information you need.||You say,
“I really must be dumb but I don’t know where to begin on this paper”.
|You’re walking to the photocopy machine when a fellow worker, who always asks you to do his copying, asks you where you’re going.||You respond,
“I’m going to the movies… Where does it look like I’m going?”
|At a meeting one person often interrupts you when you’re speaking.||You say,
“Excuse me. I would like to finish my statement”.
|Your partner is about to leave for work and tells you that a friend of his needs a ride that afternoon and he has volunteered your services.
“You’ve got a nerve committing me without asking first! There’s no way I’m going to the airport today. Let him take a cab like everybody else does”.
When you have completed the exercise, reflect on your rationale for categorising each response as assertive, aggressive, or submissive. Share these reflections with your companion. Some questions you might like to ask yourself are: Why did you consider that to be an assertive/aggressive/submissive statement? What non-verbals did you visualise when considering that response? Perhaps you imagined that the statement had been made in a particular volume or tone of voice. How did you think the person was standing when making the response? What was the interaction distance like – e.g. was the person in another room? Or up close? What history did you imagine – e.g. did the flatmate have a habit of offering your services? Or was this the first time it had occurred?
Remember that what is most important is to be able to rationalise, or give reasons for, your decisions rather than judging them to be right or wrong. That is, it is important to discover the source of the decision.
Now that you have explored these three behaviours in more depth, how would you answer the question – ‘is it better to adopt an assertive, submissive or aggressive approach?’ Of course, your answer to this question is not likely to be straightforward. Rather, you are more likely to respond by saying something along the lines of – ‘it depends on the context’. Indeed, there are some instances where it may be more appropriate to act aggressively (eg. to protect yourself or a loved one) or submissively (eg. when a police officer asks you move away from the scene of an accident) than assertively. For this reason it is important to have the skills associated with each of the three types of behaviour in your repertoire.
The Power of Words
You are probably aware of the impact of using technical jargon or slang with individuals who aren’t familiar with such dialogue. Therefore it is obviously best to match the language used by the receiver of your message if they are to accurately understand you. Furthermore, it is probably best to avoid the use of loaded words – those words which carry strong connotations within a particular culture or region. Words such as abortion, prejudice, racist, and almost every word that is used as an insult (e.g. dumb, spastic) are considered loaded. The emotional component of the connotation is triggered when the word is used, creating a change in the receiver’s focus of attention from the sender to the receiver’s thoughts, feelings, values and experiences. As a result the receiver may not gain an accurate understanding of your thoughts, feelings, values and experiences.
Some writers (e.g. Satir, 1995; Westra, 1996) have identified a range of words in the English language that we need to pay close attention to when interacting with others (either verbally or in writing – so these guidelines may be useful to consider when writing your assignments). Earlier we mentioned the importance of using ‘I’ rather than substituting the words ‘you’, ‘they’ or ‘it’ for expressing your ideas or feelings. Indeed, the inclusion of words such as these usually implies blame, demand or defensiveness and thus tends to produce undesirable communication results. Here are a few more words for you to consider.
But: ‘But’ is often a way of saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or conveying a ‘positive’ and a ‘negative’ in the same sentence. For instance, ‘I love you but I wish you would change your underwear more often.’ Try substituting the word ‘and’ for ‘but’. Thus, the previous example would become: ‘I love you and I wish you would change your underwear more often’.
Yes/No: ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are very helpful when stated clearly and when they are related to a current issue rather than values. ‘No’ is a word that we all need to be able to use when it fits. Often when people feel ‘no’, they say ‘maybe’ or ‘yes’ to avoid meeting the issue. This behaviour is justified in some circumstances (e.g. threat to safety of self or other). However, usually it is a form of lying and therefore usually invites distrust. Therefore, when it is appropriate, it is important that you are assertive and say what you really think or feel.
Always/Never: ‘Always’ and ‘never’ are positive and negative forms of over-generalisations respectively. The literal meaning of these words is seldom accurate and applicable to life situations. There are few cases in relation to human behaviour where something is always or never. Often the use of these words is a way to make an emotional emphasis, like…’You always make me mad’. However, it is probably more accurate and appropriate to say something like…’I am now very mad at you’.
Ought/Should: ’Ought’ and ‘should’ are other trap words from which it is easy to imply that there is something wrong with someone or their behaviour. Although these words are usually used when offering some ‘friendly advice’, they tend to make the sender’s message come across as being prescriptive. It may be more realistic to use words such as ‘need’ or ‘want’. For example, ‘I think that you may need to study for the test’ is more realistic and less prescriptive than, ‘You should study for the test’.
Can’t: Consider these two statements: ‘I can’t dance’ versus ‘I don’t want to dance’. The first statement, although quite a common way of expressing oneself, is not only passive, it is inaccurate. That is, the person claims to have some type of disability by stating that she can’t dance. In contrast, the speaker in the second statement takes responsibility for making an active choice not to participate. She says she doesn’t want to, which reflects the exercise of her will rather than some force over which she has no control. Other active words include will, choose, decide, and feel.
A point of caution: An even greater problem than using these words yourself would be to point out to others their usage of these words. Therefore, we suggest that you avoid doing so at all costs.
Take some time now to complete the following activity which will give you the opportunity to practice re-wording statements to avoid or minimise the problems involved in using, or not using, these words. When completing the following activity remember to use the skills covered earlier in the module.
Power of Words
In this activity you are provided with six situations where the sender has used ineffective or problematic words. Transform the ineffective statements into direct assertive messages that are specific, concrete, responsible, and do not contain loaded words.
In order to role-play the situations assume the role of sender, and invite your companion to take on the role of receiver. Following the role play experience allow your companion to provide feedback regarding the content of your messages as well as the process of delivering the messages (e.g. their non-verbal behaviour).
- During a recent team meeting one member said to another, “Your suggestion will never work!”
- A computer technician attempting to rectify an employee’s e-mail problems asks, “Are you sure that you have correctly installed your TCP/IP and SMTP settings?”
- During a discussion about whether or not they should attend next year’s conference, the supervisor says to her subordinate, “Well, yes, maybe we can go to the conference next May”.
- Whilst sitting at the dinner table you complain loudly, “I can’t do this stupid assignment!”
- When your older son upsets your young niece you say, “What were you thinking? You should have known better!”.
Now that you have had the opportunity of constructing and delivering a message, discuss the following questions with your companion:
- How did the context alter the way in which you constructed your messages?
- How easy or difficult was it to construct assertive direct messages?
- Discuss the sender’s non-verbal messages. Were the sender’s non-verbal messages assertive?
- How often have you heard yourself or others use loaded words in your daily interactions?
You have just completed the material on how to construct the content of a message. Completing this mini-quiz will give you a chance to test your learning in relation to the material.
What is the ‘relevant information’ that needs to be conveyed in direct, concrete and specific statements?
What is the advantage of using ‘I’ messages in your communication?
What are some of the words that you will consider excluding when communicating with others (either verbally or in writing)?
Congruence Between Verbal and Non-Verbal Messages
In the module so far we have looked separately at both the content and process elements of sending messages. The content of your message is what you actually say or the words you use. We have looked at constructing direct assertive messages using ‘I’ statements that were specific and concrete without using loaded words. The content of your message may have also included the verbal expression of feelings or emotions. The process on the other hand is how you choose to deliver your message. We have focussed on delivering assertive messages as well as expressing our feelings and emotions. Let’s now move onto combining both the content and process of a message, and examine the importance of sending congruent verbal and non-verbal messages. To effectively send information to others we need to communicate our information clearly and congruently using both verbal and non-verbal channels.
Congruency in Sending Messages
Messages are communicated through verbal and non-verbal processes. It must be emphasised that congruency is needed between your verbal and non-verbal processes to ensure that you are communicating clearly and effectively. For instance, if you wish to communicate warmth to someone, then what you say, your facial expressions, your voice tone and posture must all express warmth. As identified in Module 1 – Receiving Information, non-verbal processes are a powerful way to communicate messages. However non-verbal messages can be more ambiguous than verbal messages and are sometimes very difficult to interpret accurately. If your verbal and non-verbal messages are incongruent then the receiver will become confused and may be unsure as to which message is genuine. Indeed, it is probably worth noting that research suggests that in such instances we tend to pay more attention to the non-verbal channel of information than the verbal channel in interpreting the messages people send.
Many communication difficulties arise in relationships when people send incongruent messages by expressing one kind of message verbally and another non-verbally. Consider for a moment a situation where someone is verbally claiming that there is nothing wrong with them. However, their non-verbal messages (such as frowning, silence, crossed arms and legs) suggest that the person is upset or annoyed. The receiver of this message would be unsure which component of the message to believe. Do they listen to what the sender is actually saying or do they focus on the sender’s process? If the receiver is to understand and believe that the messages and feelings you are expressing are real and genuine, then you need to ensure that your verbal and non-verbal processes are congruent and therefore sending the same message. Source: DeVito (1996), Johnson (1997).
The purpose of the following activity is to give you the chance of assertively expressing yourself congruently using both verbal and non-verbal expressions. Remember that a person behaving assertively takes their time while deciding what to say. They are also aware of their feelings and are usually able to manage their tensions in order to keep them within a constructive range. Also remember that if you are verbally making an assertive statement then your non-verbals need to be assertive.
Sending congruent messages
The purpose of this activity is to practice assertively expressing your feelings using congruent verbal and non-verbal messages. Remember the skills you learnt earlier in the module on constructing the content of your message.
Roles: You need to adopt the role of the sender or the expresser of the emotion, whilst your companion fills the role of the receiver. During the role-play you both should observe what is going on in terms of the interaction. When observing each role-play carefully observe your verbal and non-verbal messages for congruency. An observation and feedback sheet can be obtained using the appropriate link to prompt you on some of the key skills that the sender can be expected to display. Please keep in mind the guidelines for giving feedback.
- You have become bored with the discussion occurring in your staff meeting. Express your feelings to the group.
- You are feeling very annoyed with your partner’s sister and yet you are keen to build a better relationship with her. Express your feelings to her.
- You are excited to find out that a colleague of yours at work has just been given a long overdue promotion. Express your feelings to him.
- An acquaintance has by chance said or done something to hurt your feelings deeply. Express your feelings to her.
- Your colleague has been a terrific support to you while you have been studying. Express your feelings to him.
- Recently whilst at a party you were annoyed to hear a close friend of yours discussing your business with another person. Express your feelings to him.
- Your boss has passed you over for a long awaited pay rise. Express your feelings to her.
Following the role-play activity discuss the experience with your companion. The following questions may be useful prompts to get you started.
- Share your feelings and reactions to the activity.
- Did your companion’s feedback tell you anything about the congruency between your verbal and non-verbal expression of emotions?
- Discuss the impact of context (situation, type of relationship, issues at hand) on how you choose to express your emotions in different situations.
Choosing Your Behaviour
When choosing whether or not to act assertively it may be wise to consider the potential consequences of your assertive acts. Indeed, there may be some shortcomings and hazards inherent in personal assertiveness. On some occasions it may be desirable to have submissive and aggressive behaviours in your repertoire.
People may choose to communicate aggressively only under certain conditions or in certain situations. De Vito (1996) refers to this choice as ‘situational aggressiveness’. An individual may become aggressive with those who are attempting to exert unfair control or after being taken advantage of over a long period of time. For example, it may be appropriate for a person being physically attacked to respond with equally aggressive behaviour.
In the same way that people may choose to be aggressive in certain situations, an individual may also choose to be submissive under certain circumstances. ‘Situational submissiveness’ refers to a lack of assertiveness in certain kinds of situations. Submissive behaviour is very appropriate in some situations, particularly those that create a good deal of anxiety. For example, a female victim of domestic violence is likely to put herself in grave physical danger if she chooses to act assertively toward the perpetrator.
If you know how to act assertively, you can choose whether or not you will. You may decide not to do so in a given instance. However, the most important thing is to be able to make the choice and for you to consider the consequences of each option in making your choice.
Your behaviour, your choice
With your companion role-play the following scenarios. The role-plays will focus on providing congruent verbal (content) and non-verbal (process) messages to express yourself. As the sender you will be verbally and non-verbally sending a message to the receiver. As the receiver your companion will be receiving, and responding to, your message.
Sender: When in the role of sender get into the 1st position, consider and analyse the situation. Remember the importance of experiencing and perhaps managing your emotions before expressing them. Consider the type of relationship and the context in which the interaction is occurring. Think about your choice of behaviour. Is this a situation that requires an assertive, submissive or aggressive message? Perhaps if you have trouble making a decision, it may be worth trying out a few strategies to explore their relative outcomes. Hopefully, reflecting on this type of information will better inform you about your future choices. Remember the skills for constructing your message. Finally, remember to maintain congruence between your verbal and non-verbal messages.
Receiver: When in the role of receiver, respond to the sender’s message.
Observer/feedback provider: Remember the importance of giving and receiving feedback effectively. You may like to review your process notes on giving and receiving feedback before participating in the role-play. The feedback sheet for this activity can be accessed via the appropriate link.
- It’s TV ratings time again, and as usual there are two movies on at the same time that you really want to see. After much cursing you finally figure out how to get the video player to record one station, while you watch another. You are part way through watching one movie while taping the other when the phone rings, calling you away from the room. When you return you discover that you partner has since entered the room and removed your tape from the video player so she can watch a re-run of her favourite soapie.
- The recent change in the computer system has caused lengthy delays in the processing of your work. Your backlog of outgoing correspondence just seems to get longer and longer. Most of your clients, although annoyed with the delays, have been courteous to you. However, one woman phones you and decides to vent her frustration and anger towards you.
- You are driving your young child to school before going to work. You notice in the rear vision mirror that there is a car being driven erratically not far behind you. You become concerned and are preparing to take evasive action in order to avoid a collision. When you pull into the school car park the car you have been observing stops next to you so the driver may deliver a child to school.
- A bouncer at your local nightclub refuses you entry because he claims that you do not meet the dress standard required for the club. You look over his shoulder and find that other patrons are dressed similarly to you. When you question him about this finding, he physically pushes you toward the exit.
- Whilst on your daily walk in the park across the road from where you live you are confronted by a young man who asks if he can walk with you. You smile politely and briefly tell him you prefer to walk alone. He grabs you by the wrist and becomes insistent about keeping you company. You see a group of people approximately two hundred metres ahead.
When you have completed the role-plays, discuss the following questions with your companion:
- What was it like being in the role of sender and receiver? For instance, what was it like sending or receiving an assertive, aggressive or submissive response?
- As the sender how did you decide whether to provide an assertive, aggressive or submissive response?
- When observing the role-plays what consequences did you observe or experience in relation to the sender’s and receiver’s choices of behaviour?
- Did you both feel that the sender’s choice of behaviour was appropriate? Why?
- Given your experiences with this activity, what guidelines could you offer yourself and others in future for choosing when to act assertively, aggressively or submissively?
Throughout the module I have referred to the interaction of context, content and process when sending information. Along the way you have practiced constructing and delivering direct assertive messages. What happens when that ‘effectively framed’ and ‘competently delivered’ message is ‘not heard’ by the receiver? What do you do when you are finding it difficult to get the other person to listen to your direct assertive message? What if you are dealing with a complex issue that a simple direct statement will not address? The following section on escalating assertion may assist you in answering these questions.
Escalation is an assertion skill that is considered to be an extension to minimal assertive responses. Therefore, it is used when dealing with more complex issues. Escalation is appropriate in situations that may initially appear simple but then become more complicated as the receiver fails to respond to your initial assertive messages. When using escalation you construct and deliver progressively escalating assertive messages, sending your messages without threat, blame or demand. It is critical to remember here that an assertive person is mindful of their rights as well as the rights of others.
When escalating you may become increasingly firm with your verbal and non-verbal processes. However, do not become aggressive. Using aggressive verbal and non-verbal behaviour is defensive and will encourage defensiveness in the receiver. Remember that aggression is not assertive behaviour as it violates the rights of others and it is also unlikely to produce constructive outcomes. Therefore an awareness and management of your arousal level and emotional state is clearly very important for situations where you may choose to use escalating assertion. Remember when sending any type of message to first consider and analyse the context and relationship. Ask yourself whether this is a situation that requires the use of escalating assertion. As we have mentioned previously assertion is about choice. You may choose to use escalating assertion or you may choose not to. The choice is yours!
In this activity you are the sender and your companion should take on the receiver role.
Sender: Your role is to send your message to the receiver using escalating assertion. Your relationship with the receiver is an important one for you. Keep in mind the escalation criteria and convey your message assertively without threat, blame or demand. Also remember that verbal directness is important in being assertive – so try to be specific, concrete, use ‘I’ statements and avoid the use of loaded or powerful words when framing your messages.
Receiver: Your relationship with the sender is an important one for you. So that the sender may actually practice escalation, believe at first that the sender’s requests are not important. However, when it becomes clear to you that the issue is of greater importance, begin to co-operate.
Observer/feedback provider: Both you and your companion are to observe the interaction. Monitor both verbal and non-verbal processes. At the completion of the role-play you will then debrief and discuss the exercise.
It is the busy late night Christmas shopping period. You have arrived at work (a large national department store) to take over the next shift on the register. Your colleague is preparing to leave work and is busy collecting her belongings. You notice that the area under the counter is particularly untidy and ask your colleague to help you tidy up before she leaves (you know that evening trading is going to be very hectic). She acknowledges you, but continues collecting her things.
Due to your university commitments you have had to alter your shift at work, which means that you will no longer be home at the necessary time to take out the garbage and re-cycling bins. You discuss the situation with your flat mate and come to the arrangement that he will put the bins out; you will still ensure that the rubbish and re-cycling is placed into the outside bins and will bring the bins in when you arrive home from work. On bin day you remind your flat mate of the time that the garbage and re-cycling collectors arrive and then leave for uni and work. When you arrive home later that evening you notice that the bins weren’t put out for collection.
You and your partner are flying interstate. You will be working for the first couple of days, finalising a consultancy, and will then be on vacation. Your partner is on vacation for the whole trip. You decided to take the opportunity during the flight to finalise the draft of your consultancy report. However, your partner’s incessant chatter to the person sitting next to him is interrupting your thoughts.
When you have completed the role-plays, discuss what it was like for you using escalation. The following prompt questions are suggested to assist with your discussion and debrief:
- Did you use assertive verbal and non-verbal processes?
- Did your initial statements leave room for escalation? Give an example.
- Was threat, blame or demand present in your statements?
- Did your companion become defensive? If so, why did that happen?
Sending Information to Others
Imagine the following situation:
It is 15 minutes after the scheduled commencement time for a meeting. One of the team members has not arrived. That same colleague missed the last meeting and was extremely late for the two meetings you held prior to that. You have a rising caseload that you need to get under control before you go on annual leave in three weeks time, and a number of errands to run on the way home. Another 10 minutes pass and finally the “latecomer” arrives. You say, “………………………………….…”
The following step-by-step process is designed to assist you in developing and delivering an assertive message to the ‘latecomer’ in the scenario you have just read. At times, during this exercise, members of the workshop may have some concern about the appropriateness of a particular response. If this happens, stop the process, and assess if the response fits the criteria for assertive behaviour.
Step 1. Working individually, ask yourself the following questions:
What is your goal for this situation?
What personal rights do you think you have in this situation?
What personal rights does the other person have in this situation?
What makes it hard for you to behave assertively in this or a similar situation?
How would you usually respond in this kind of situation?
What would you like to say to this person?
How would you like this person to respond?
What assertive statement could you make that would achieve your goals?
Discuss your responses to the above questions with your companion. Be careful to clarify and discriminate between assertive, aggressive and submissive responses.
Step 2. When you have prepared your assertive statement check with your companion to see if it meets the following content, or verbal, criteria:
Is the statement direct, specific and concrete?
Is the statement firm but not hostile?
Does the statement show some consideration, respect, or recognition of the other person?
Does the statement accurately reflect the sender’s goals?
Does the statement leave room for escalation?
Does the statement include sarcasm, pleading, or whining?
Does the statement blame the other person for the speaker’s feelings?
Does the statement take responsibility by including “I” statements?
Does the statement use co-operative words?
Does the statement avoid using powerful or loaded words such as “maybe”, “don’t bother”, “should”, and “ought”?
Step 3. When you are satisfied that the statement you have prepared meets the verbal criteria for an assertive response, invite your companion to provide feedback on the delivery of your prepared responses:
Is eye contact present?
Is the sender’s voice level appropriately loud?
Is the statement filled with pauses?
Does the sender look confident or are nervous gestures or inappropriate laughter present?
Is the sender standing comfortably?
Does there appear to be a comfortable distance between the sender and the receiver?
What are the sender’s hand movements like?
Is the statement flat or expressive?