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Excerpt from the communicative competence model Lecture

The PsyTech Group

January 16th 2012

Communications is the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information through language. It is any activity performed by one organism that changes or has the potential to change the behaviour of other organisms. In context one can carefully make the distinction between language and communication, and though one is closely correlated to the other, it can be said that language (in the contest of its complexity) is purely human. It is one of the distinctive qualities of mind that are, so far as we know, unique to man and that are inseparable from any critical phase of human existence, personal or social.

The consequences of our communications with others are life-long. In a complex organizational system, like modern society; our ability to communicate successfully can and most often does have a profound effect on our lives. Personally, we can all think of at least one instance, when failing to deliver a message properly has had a negative impact on an interaction or set of interaction. – In fact, as you read this, you’ve already thought of one.

Macrocosmically, we can currently observe the results of unresolved negotiations between groups of human beings. Gerald I. Nierenberg, of The Negotiations Institute Inc. points to Mid-east conflicts as a direct result of our inability to resolve negotiating situations over the centuries. One can go as far as asserting that war, in part, has been the result of our inability to maintain and conclude intelligent discourse and dialectic. And without the abundant arrogance with which I tend to comport myself, I could entertain the arguments about human corruption, greed and ideology amongst other of the better virtues inherent in man, as the cause of most conflicts: however, that will hopefully be material for other lectures.

As a historical testament to the imperative nature of proper communication we have the great speakers and philosophers of ancient Greece. Plato’s dialogue on rhetoric, for one; The Phaedrus and its dialogue’s erotic imagery was a scandal to earlier scholarship, yet is now considered a great resource for addressing the relation of rhetoric to knowledge. Furthermore, it is true that the connection between style and substance is absolute: in the words of Stephen Fry when honoring Christopher Hitchens “…a true thing expressed badly, is a lie.”  Dialectic syllogism is technique developed by Socrates as mean to pursue the truth; he believed that facts could be extracted from any individual by asking the right questions in the right context. The Socratic method, as it was known and taught in contemporaneous schools of thought, was later adopted and employed by the most prominent politicians of Greek democracy. The nobility of the Socratic method lays in its pursuit of absolute truth, however, politicians and public orators understood that the most technical approach to rhetoric should have an emphasis on persuasion, rather than uncovering the truth. Dialectic syllogism is also one of our earliest glances at the psychology of communication as it directly delves into the understanding that we can affect the outcome of behavioural expectations through communication and properly structured language, or rhetoric.

Modern speakers and orators, along with marketers and con artists are experts in the science of manipulation, they have in essence, mastered the weapons of influence – a set of innate psychological principles, which when applied correctly, can make us act in ways we didn’t think we could or wanted to. Think here of that charming sales person who knew exactly what to say and how to say it to make you purchase that extra set of whatever he was offering, after you had refused several times. At the core of this set of principles is communication, the ability to elicit the correct emotional response from another individual by delivering a specific word or sentence at the right time. Proponents and practitioners of N.L.P (neuro-linguistic programming) and other psychotherapeutic sciences claim to be able to make considerable changes to the psychological state of an individual, and to even cognitive errors. The extent to which some of these practitioners are accomplishing their claims is open to debate; however, there is much empirical and scientific evidence supporting the fact that properly structured conversation can and does have a profound impact on the psyche.

To briefly return to ancient Greece, the birthplace of discourse and dialectic, let’s look at Corax of Syracuse as the founder of rhetoric as a science. His development of rhetoric as an art and then as a science, established it as an artful skill in persuasion. This theory and practice of eloquence is not limited to speech but also applicable to writing. Rhetorical artistic methodology allows a person to express him or herself in an emotional manner, rather than only through facts.

(Protagoras and the Sophists)

(The art of persuasion and the transformation of truth)

Today a large number of studies have and are currently being conducted on human communication and the psychology behind it. Professor Albert Mehrabian (currently professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA – is best known for his work on the inconsistencies of messages between feelings and attitudes. In his work he discovered the 7% – 38% – 55% ratio of words, intonation, and body language respectively. (Explain ambiguity and linking if necessary)

(Whilst the exact numbers may be challenged, the important points can easily be lost in the debate about how valid or not his work was. Useful extensions to this understanding are:

  1. It’s not just words: a lot is communication comes through non-verbal communication.
  2. Without seeing and hearing non-verbals, it is easier to misunderstand the words.
  3. When we are unsure about what the words mean, we pay more attention to the non-verbals
The work of Dr. Paul Ekman is also worth mentioning when on the topic of communication. Dr. Ekman was instrumental in the discovery and systematic organizing of facial expression and the muscular actions from which they result called AU’s or action units. Ekman’s work focused on the universality of facial and body responses to emotional loads.

This work was later adapted to deception detection and training. It has also given way to many arguments and discussions about emotional intelligence and enhancing the understanding of emotional communication.

“When truth and justice fail through inefficient advocates, the skilled rhetorician will set this right”  —  Sinclair xxxv