COMM 2110

Austin Osborn

COMM2110: Interpersonal Communication

Communiqué of Character Change

Date: April 19th, 2017

Submitted to Professor Sarah Billington

 

This manuscript serves to illustrate my project for personal progression to remove—or at least to improve upon—an unwanted communication habit. In the case of yours truly, I wished to use more empathy (Beebe, p.111-112) in my daily interactions with others. With such a broad concept, I had to approach my project differently than just drawing from a few strategies before the day began. Instead I took any memorable conversation, applied any relevant concept from Interpersonal Communication: Relating To Others and then unintentionally made a few determinations:  If I was being other-oriented; if I was asking enough social decentering (Beebe, p.111, 136) questions; and if I was being mindful (Beebe, p.80,108) here. On top of empathy (Beebe, p.111-112) being a broad concept to improve upon, other constraints I ran into involved lack of consistency in methods to deliver empathy (Beebe, p.111-112) as well as a lack of consistency in those I conversed with. I ended this project with a mixed bag of good chats and bad dialogues, compounded with me failing to achieve my goal of using empathy (Beebe, p.111-112) in 80% of my interactions. Going forward, I’m giving myself more margin for error with 70% exactitude for empathy (Beebe, p.111-112) use rather than 80%, and will as well try to use new techniques to evolve my emotions and accommodate the pathos of others.

Crummy Communication Quirk (Unwanted Communication Pattern)

I have the nasty habit of being negligently rude or outright cruel; I often forget to use empathy (Beebe, p.111-112) when I oftentimes should. There have been scenarios where my conversation partner would be on the verge of outrage—profanity, yelling, and the like included—and my oblivious self would instinctually be as blunt as a baseball bat with whatever my next statement was going to be. Needless to say I’d immediately regret that statement and as we humans often do, would then forget that short-lived lesson within a couple of months. Sooner or later, I’d then proceed to stomp on the next social—and more often than not similar—landmine of disregarding another’s emotions all over again. On top of my weak verbal filter, I tend to either misread or ignore entirely the non-verbal communication (Beebe, p.188) that others may use with me.

Time to paint the picture with a story or two:

-Last Christmas Eve, my family and I went out for a fancy steak dinner to celebrate the holiday. One subject that happened to creep up on the table was the lines of study my siblings and I were pursuing. When it came to my older sister Vivian, my insensible hide blatantly slandered her major (Recreational Therapy). I referred to it as a “joke” despite Vivian being on constant academic probation with a C- average. While she has long since graduated, my statement alongside her academic record implied to everyone that she’s a moron. It took around an hour and a half to make amends with Vivian—prying her out of her defensive mindset—and get everyone into the Christmas spirit! It didn’t take long after the initial offending statements to realize that some truths need not be said, but boy did it take a long enough time to realize I may have been the Grinch who ruined last Christmas by forgetting my sister’s feelings.

-Back in my freshman year of college, I was having a nice conversation with my roommate and his friends about this and that when the topic of the latest viral meme popped up (I think it was the Left Shark from the 2015 Super bowl Half-time show). Being the meme-loving introvert I am and my conversation partners being illiterate and ignorant of meme culture, I popped out the exclamation: “How do you not know about Left Shark? Where’ve you been? France?” I was met with immediate dead silence and soon afterwards ostracism any time later I tried to interact with some of those from that night. What I had forgotten about were the Charlie Hebdo shootings that happened just weeks before and that my ill-fated and coincidental sarcasm painted me in the light of being the next Hitler. Despite trying to make amends with those that I could, it didn’t take long to get around campus that—for those that knew me—I was the next antichrist in the most extreme illustrations of the tale.

My lack of empathy (Beebe, p.111-112) in both instances has bitten in me in the behind, each leaving their own nasty scar (s). Being insensitive towards my sister Vivian left a sour taste in both our mouths that night and left a small grudge in her lap that lasted until February. Until then, she would approach communicating with me as though she had to down a gallon of salt. And in the second scenario, as soon as those words left my mouth I might as well have said good-bye to my chances at getting a date the rest of my freshman year.

Approaches for Advancement (Strategies)

Being a logos-oriented person, I took an approach towards most of my exchanges that I was not aware I even did or have been aware much of since. I inadvertently determined whether or not I was using other-orientation (Beebe, p. 2) via applying any somewhat-relevant concept from Interpersonal Communication: Relating To Others. Regardless of whether a conversation ended in angry tears or an ecstatic tone, I judged if my capacity for empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) grew or shriveled in a number of different ways. The most basic grading metric I used was how an interaction went. In other sampled discussions, I unwittingly made judgments of my other-orientation (Beebe, p. 2) based on my use of extended “I” language (Beebe, p. 175). There were even a few instances where I based my criteria of other-orientation (Beebe, p. 2) on the positive/negative non-verbal communication (Beebe, p. 188) that was or was not (and should have been) used.

Only now do I realize that half of the time I was also subconsciously using the process of social-decentering (Beebe, p.111,136) just by caving into my inquisitive nature during or after a conversation (“What kind of suffering did she go through to feel this miserable?”, “How did he grow up into such an angry man?”, etc.). If I answered “first-stage” social decentering (Beebe, p.111, 136) questions, the “second-stage” and “third-stage” social decentering (Beebe, p.111, 136) questions that popped up—when combined with expectancy violation theory (Beebe, p.209)—taught me quite a bit about those I had more than one or two interactions with, such as how they felt about something, why they felt that emotion, and so on. Had I not violated expectations in my freshman year of college and remembered to socially decenter (Beebe, p.111, 136) myself prior to meme-discourse, I probably would’ve had a lot more friends going forward that semester. I wish I had remembered the words of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

As much as the concept empathy (Beebe, p.111, 136) is about others, you can’t subtract yourself from the equation.  I couldn’t subtract myself either and since I enjoy questions, the one question I found myself asking—albeit paraphrased (Beebe, p.142) dozens of different wayshappened to be, “Was I being mindful (Beebe, p.80,108) here?” Was I aware of what I was doing, thinking, and being in this instance or that scenario? Forgetting to be mindful (Beebe, p.80,108) is the heedless mistake I so often made during this project and continue to make because it is so easy to just let the mind wander off since being mindful (Beebe, p.80, 108) oftentimes takes extra energy which as humans we instinctually want to save. In the holiday spirit, I had tossed my cautious vernacular to the wind and let my mouth run like a river, not paying attention to where the verbal flow can go. The negative verbal flow crashed upon and dampened my sister’s sweet heart making her feel as though she was scum and I regret it still.

Communication Conflicts (Constraints)

As with any form of progress, there are always road bumps. The first I found was that I had to put my—in my opinion narrow—thesis (my Personal Change Proposal) on the back-burner and work from scratch      . At the outset, I had a few basic methods on how I wanted to practice my pathos capacity. I had three basic strategies in mind. First—when it was my turn to speak—I wanted to describe feelings and avoid evaluating behavior (Beebe, p.174-175), to talk about what is being felt rather what is or is not being done. Next, I wanted to present myself as an equal rather than superior (Beebe, p.177), as people can more easily approach those they see as a friend rather than a demigod. Finally, I wanted to constantly check my perceptions (Beebe, p. 81, 211-212) just to make sure I didn’t say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or that a different situation is good/bad/etc. because of something I did or said. I realized I had to go much further than the three listed strategies above. While these concepts are relevant towards empathy (Beebe, p.111-112), they could only cover so much since empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) is an enormously broad topic that can be written about in over one thousand different ways.

From one road bump to a steep cliff, the next dilemma was in my goal itself; improving one’s empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) is about broad a concept as the Pacific Ocean is to a tuna fish. I could express empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) in as many methods as there are cards in a poker deck that would only be multiplied by the lengthy list of emotions each method is delivered. I could convey that I was a shoulder for someone to lean on through my use of relational listening (Beebe, p.175) or that I was someone that could share another’s joy through my use of extended “I” language (Beebe, p. 175) when providing a confirming response (Beebe, p. 148) through questioning or providing relevant information to enhance my conversation partner’s delight.

Now it’s time to jump off the steep cliff into the great unknown, as life often tends to be full of mysteries high and low. With existence being as entropic as it is, no one can ever guarantee 100% of the time who is going to say what. In the case of my empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) project, I can’t guarantee that I’ll always say something appropriate to a situation. On top of my short-comings, I can’t always guarantee what another says, feels, or does. No matter how many times one uses perception checking (Beebe, p. 211) to reduce uncertainty—as uncertainty reduction theory (Beebe, p. 69,337) suggests we humans instinctually do—with any of those we continue to repeatedly interact with, there’s bound to be at least a few holes in everyone’s worldview (Beebe, p. 94,162). Despite anyone’s certainty or lack thereof in regards to how an event or idea is supposed to be, interactions of any kind are chaotic by nature and predictions more often than not are defied. This defiance of human expectation—at least when it comes to expectancy violation theory (Beebe, p. 209—is what allows us to change our worldviews (Beebe, p. 94,162) when said expectations are violated, circumstances depending.

Carrying Out Concepts (Implementation)

When tackling the Kraken that empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) tends to be, you first have to handle the tentacles before attacking the head. The first tentacle was the smallest and most technical. I just had rearrange how I approached my interactions from using only a few strategies to an entire textbook’s worth and see what I could learn about my pathos progress as well as where I got said emotional knowledge from. The next tentacle of empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) is somewhat intertwined—as well as being somewhat larger—than the previous appendage of emotional technicalities. Since the ways empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) can be expressed are almost as vast as the Milky Way Galaxy itself. The only solution to this conundrum I found was awfully similar to the first: look in every nook and cranny—at least when it came to my interactions—to see where empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) can fit and stick it in there like a piece to a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. The final tentacle of empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) is truly an immense extremity. The only mitigation against the entropy of interaction I found, at least when it comes to the human-communication sort, was to apply what I knew of communication accommodation theory (Beebe, p. 112). I often found myself, whether aware of it or not, predictively and reactively adapting (Beebe, p. 112) in almost all of my interactions.
My initial reason for this goal was to improve my capacity as a customer service representative at an inbound call center. Having since quit that job of being yelled at by both customer and superior alike, my end-game for this project has become simpler as it no longer has an effect on my paycheck.  All I want to do with the emotional intelligence (Beebe, p. 140) this project and course has given me is to just be less of a jerk by keeping a closer watch on both what I say and how I say it. I couldn’t promise perfection—even if I wanted to—but I could at least give it a good shot at pathos progression for not only my sake but for the sake of those I care dearly about: my family.

It’s hard to strike gold, let alone consistently but I was able to find at least one consistency when it came to empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112): context. Most of my emotional successes in demonstrating empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) were with those I love and care about: my family. I was better able to apply these concepts with them not only because I grew up with them, I’ve been emotionally invested in my family for years just because my parents and siblings don’t contain an inkling of ill-intent. I’ve been able to even grow all the closer with my family, my parents in particular just by practicing my empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) these past couple of months alone.

Let’s get to story-time, eh? A few months ago I got home from a long day at work and after beginning to unwind I begin to hear a loud wailing, from none other than my mother. I first had to predictively adapt (Beebe, p.112) to brace myself for bad news. I was mindful (Beebe, p.80,108) of my mother’s tears before I even got near her, aware that she needed help and I was prepared to be the shoulder she cried on, already having tossed the thought of my exhaustion and desire for rest out to the curb. I was fueled by the adrenaline stemming from the desire to alleviate sadness. All of these thoughts—viewed in hindsight the unwitting mindfulness (Beebe, p.80, 108) I felt by instinct alone—coursing through my head can be summarized with just a simple thought: My mommy needs me.

The poor soul had found out that her closest friend from her college days had passed away after a two year long battle with stage IV melanoma (skin cancer). Once my mom managed to eke out that disheartening news between tears, the best words I could use were none at all. I used non-verbal communication (Beebe, p.188) and simply embraced my weeping matriarch in my arms, only promising to let go once she emptied the reservoir of misery this death brought her. It goes without saying that she gladly returned this embrace and I was other-oriented (Beebe, p.2) with my determination to wipe away her tears that I gladly used relational listening (Beebe, p.123) as she blubbered on whatever came to her distressed mind regardless of whether not said statements were even coherent.

Time to move from my mother to my father, and luckily this tale won’t be as sad. My father is the best man—the best person—I have ever known and probably will ever know. On top of his good nature, he has aged extremely well for a 64 year-old man and only in these past couple of years has his age started to catch up to him. His bones have started to become brittle, his voice softer and higher-pitched compared to his prime, and I foresee him being bound to hobbling around with his steel cane the rest of his life. As spring has rolled around this year—and with other-orientation (Beebe, p.2) towards my father in mind—these past few weeks I’ve been doing all sorts of housework, yard work, and other manual labor for my old man with nothing but praise for him flung from my lips. These past few years, I’ve always actively listened (Beebe, p.137) to whatever he had to say asking questions where there was room to enter another tangent in a discussion with my father. Yeah, I love my dad, but why do so much for him when all my other siblings refuse to do so?

Things haven’t always been so cheery between the old man and I. There were times I hated him growing up for one reason or another and he would return that hatred with disappointment I couldn’t be everything he wanted me to be. I wouldn’t trade that suffering and failed expectations for anything though, especially having long since thrown our differences aside with the most sincere apologies (Beebe, p.178) we each had to offer. Had I not been able to view my father under both the brightest and darkest of lights, I would have failed to do more than be able to use positive other-orientation (Beebe, p.2) with my dad. I also would’ve never been able to social decenter (Beebe, p.111, 136) myself by starting with a basic question in my mind: Why is my dad the way he is? Oddly enough, I simply used direct perception checking (Beebe, p. 81, 211-212) and asked him that exact inquiry. That question opened up a mountain spring of lengthy, meaningful, and deep chats with my father about the things he’s done, the mistakes he’s made and the suffering he’s had to endure. All I had to do was actively listen (Beebe, p. 137) every time we have had and continue to have one of these discussions.

Amalgamation of (an) Outcome(s)

While nothing is perfect at solving problems, this personal change project has failed to yield any negative consequences, aside from a lengthy paper to write. Relevantly speaking, I’ve received nothing but positive consequences from this endeavor of empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112). I’ve been able to get at the core of what it means to bridge the gap between the emotions and experiences of others and myself. In fact emotions—being as hard to pin down as a greased pig at white-trash rodeo—experience has taught me that more often than not the best way to bridge that pathos gap (especially in times of distress) is to toss the Appraisal Theory of Emotion (Beebe, p. 42-43) into the trash, unless your instinct is arguably as bad as that of the Dodo. Instead, let whatever non-verbal communication (Beebe, p.188) fly freely in civil discourse and let intuition guide your path.

I’ve also got myself a shiny new habit that ought to serve me well: social-decentering (Beebe, p. 111, 136). While I’ve always been one to ask questions, this project taught me which to ask, when to ask them, and how to ask them. When I (loudly) ask about a rather discreetly-wrapped object my friend received from a coworker and said friend happened to act rather embarrassed to even possess the object, I can almost guarantee we wouldn’t be friends long. Instead, I should ask myself: “What could be so embarrassing under those wrappings to have him /her acting so aloof and shy?” and other such suspicions. If was being more other-oriented (Beebe, p. 2) as well, I’d leave it at “It’s a secret,” or “None of your business,” and understand from those unsatisfying to leave the sleeping bear alone.

Now on to the nitty-gritty: I failed the goal I set out in my initial proposal of 80% empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) usage but I’m perfectly okay with that. I’m happier that I learned life-changing information rather than going through the motions and passing or failing my own trial. I was at around 56% or so but I’ll aim for 65-70% in the future, something more feasible. There were a few reasons my empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) usage failed to meet the mark aside from the all too common mistake of simply forgetting to use it. Sometimes my interactions didn’t warrant empathy as they were more formal or business-transaction oriented (Buying Dinner at McDonald’s for example) but I counted them towards my tally anyways. There were also other times where my empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) was not wanted (explicitly or implicitly) and after an initial attempt or two to use empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112), I stopped trying taking whatever messages were sent my way.

You Got To Try It! (Recommendations)

I have found a fair chunk of emotional information through this project and this course as a whole that I would be hard-pressed to stop so easily. I plan on continuing to use social decentering (Beebe, p. 111, 136) in the future to save myself future embarrassments as well as preserve and strengthen the relationships I have and can continue to make. I also plan to keep my other-oriented (Beebe, p. 2) mindset for those I care about and for those I wish to know more and care more about. Finally to make sure I stay a good noodle in adhering to these concepts—and any others that may increase my capacity for empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112)—I plan to do something different than just continuing to write it all down. I’m just going to keep in mind the one universal law I doubt I ever forget and will continue to harp on until the day I die: the law of reciprocity (Jensen, 2013). If I expect to receive empathy (Beebe, p. 111-112) from others, to receive enough concern from for anyone to ask social-decentering (Beebe, p. 111, 136) questions to them about my wellbeing, and finally for these very same folk and others to ask other-oriented (Beebe, p. 2) questions to help me solve a problem I must always remember: “What comes around, goes around [for good or bad].”

Works Cited:

            -Beebe, S. A., Beebe, S. J., & Redmond, M. V. (2014). Interpersonal Communication: Relating To Others (7th ed.). London: Pearson.

-Jensen, D. (2013) The Law of Reciprocity; Retrieved from www.sciencemag.org (April 21, 2017).


Self-Reflection

As the semester draws to a close, it is time to ask myself some questions about the “shining crown” of my assignments in this course; namely if I learned something useful, what that useful something is, and if this particular course (or the knowledge therein) is relevant in both my future coursework as well as future career. I’d be hard-pressed to say I didn’t learn anything useful. Since humans are social creatures that tend to wither in isolation, the answer to my first query is that I did learn something useful. Out of all the concepts this course has taught me, the most useful of which was that of social-decentering (Beebe, p. 111, 136). In the simplest of descriptions, social-decentering (Beebe, p. 111, 136) is just asking oneself why someone else is this way or that way, and putting yourself in that other person’s shoes.

With this knowledge, I ought to be able to better work in a team when next I face, for example, a group presentation on a psychological theory in some psych course. In fact, I wish I had the knowledge of social-decentering (Beebe, p. 111, 136) when I took COMM 1010 the fall before last. The curriculum involved building a tower in class, then co-authoring it with several other students. I was somewhat bullheaded in my approach to the paper, demanding complete control over the work whenever I could. I didn’t ask my fellow students what they thought, if they had any good ideas, why they thought this about that, or even how their days were. I failed to learn teamwork then, and consequently, ended the course with a C+. I wish I was able to socially decenter (Beebe, p. 111, 136) myself then to learn the concept of teamwork I was supposed to learn then, but only do just now in hindsight.