Thursday, October 28, 2010

Communication competence builds on competence

Having taught speech communication for thirty years, one question students raised on a continuing basis was “What is communication competence?”  A related question was “How do I know if I am a competent communicator?”  You see, most people already think they are competent communicators; thus, the underlying purpose of such questions is “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why don’t I measure up?” 

The most important reason that competent communication is important is because it has been proven to aid in gaining success in a wide range of social and occupational situations.  It is a process through which interpersonal impressions are shaped and satisfactory outcomes are derived from an interaction.  So, the real question becomes, how often do you offer others the impression you intend and derive the outcome you want? 

In this essay, I will define the characteristics perceived to comprise competent communication.  There are five. 

Low anxiety is the first one.  To be competent, communicators should not reveal excessive perspiration, shakiness, a rigid posture, vocal tremors, or a minimal response to others.  Being fearful, scared, or excessively worried about a job interview, a speech, or a forthcoming confrontation can produce anxiety.  Some anxiety is expected, of course.  As-a-matter-of-fact, some anxiety is valuable because it can drive an animated, passionate, vibrancy that may not occur otherwise.  In my experience I have found the tingle of anxiety both energizing and motivational. 

The second characteristic of competent communicators is immediacy.  Those who practice immediacy show interest in other people.  They are attentive and engage in the positive reinforcement of others and their ideas. 

You have probably been in the presence of another person who gives you their full and undivided attention when you talk with them.  When my wife and I were shopping for a foyer ceiling fan, we visited a store that specialized in them.  Upon entering, I noticed the sales clerk approach and stand before my wife, asking her if there was anything she could do for her.  The signs of immediacy were obvious.  She stood physically close to her.  She had an open and direct body posture.  She revealed positive reinforcers such as smiling, nodding, and eye contact.  And when my wife explained what she was looking for, all the sales clerk’s gestures were strong, effective, and animated. 

The third area of competent behaviors is expressiveness.  People who reveal expressiveness are perceived to be involved and animated in both their use of words and in their nonverbal behaviors.  Ask yourself, what is it about a communicator that holds your attention, that embeds the essential message in your consciousness, and that causes you to be convinced by the message?  Often, it is expressiveness. 

When I conducted an informal survey of students, I found out that teachers who demonstrated appropriate emotion and volume, who laughed and smiled, who used appropriate gestures, postures, and facial expressions, but did not know their subject well, were more desired as instructors, than those who knew their subject extremely well but could not (or did not) deliver the material as effectively.  These informal results revealed to me that students preferred expressiveness (effectiveness in delivery) over competence in subject matter.   

These informal results make sense when you consider that students cannot really judge subject competence, but they are not only effective judges of expressiveness, they require strong and effective expressiveness to hold their attention and to make a subject interesting.     

The fourth characteristic of competent communicators is interaction management.  The effective management of communication requires order.  The obvious question is, “What do two individuals who are trying to create order in their interactions do?”  Each is trying to gain the desired response from the other person; thus, each needs to solicit the cooperation of the other person in obtaining the goal—a goal that cannot be attained alone. 

Those who manage their interactions are interested in maintaining some control over their communication.  First, they see the relationship between communication and rewards (getting what they want).  Second, they monitor their communication in relation to the goals they seek.  Third, as they gain new information about how the other person responds to what they say and do, they adjust their communication.  At the same time interaction managers are respectful of others and enable them to achieve their goals, too, where possible, and allow room for their expressive behavior. 

Sometimes interaction management is easy.  Conversing is comfortable, interruptions feel natural, there are few awkward pauses, and the indications of when to speak are clear.  Sometimes, however, it is difficult; conversing is uncomfortable, there are unnatural interruptions, numerous awkward pauses, and you find yourself stepping on the other’s lines. 

The final characteristic of communication competence is other orientation.  Other orientation is the complete antithesis of a “me orientation” where everything revolves entirely around the communicator alone.  When you are in the presence of people who possess a strong other orientation, they will adapt to your needs, express empathy and concern for your feelings, listen well, and provide relevant feedback to you during the conversation. 

These five characteristics provide a fairly broad foundation; however, if you consider them overall goals to be achieved, you will find the important perception, listening, feedback, language, and nonverbal skills necessary for moving closer to achieving them on a regular basis.  The nice thing is that awareness of these five characteristics that can establish a solid and inter-personally competent foundation and as you gain more experience — especially positive, supportive, and rewarding results — you will have constructive, practical, and productive personal examples that you can use to build an even more competent future.  That is why it can be said that competence helps build greater competence. 


The title on the page reads, “Communication Competence: The Essence of Aligning Action,” and in the short essay there by Richard D. Rowley,  you will find five characteristics discussed: 1) commitment and good faith, 2) empathy, 3) flexibility, 4) sensitivity to consequences, and 5) adeptness.  It is an informative little essay with a useful chart explaining the interrelationship of the parts. 

At the NCLRC (The National Capital Language Resource Center), there is an essay entitled, “Teaching Goals and Methods — Goal: Communicative Competence.”  It is a short essay that discusses: “Communicative competence [as] made up of four competence areas: linguistic, sociolinguistic, discourse, and strategic.” 


Copyright October, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC

1 comment:

  1. I would look straight at you to communicate this message with more immediacy but obviously that isn't the easiest thing to do via the internet.


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