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Understand Yourself Before Communicating

Importance of Self-Understanding in Communication

Intrapersonal skills are fundamental to any form of communication. This is because you can only communicate to the degree you understand your own perspective. Your perspective is further affected by your level of awareness, that is, your ability to grasp various stimuli and events realistically or to a certain extent. In other terms, the things you remember or not remember and how you remember them depend heavily on your level of awareness. For example, how your grasp the information given in this paragraph may vary depending upon your perspective. To test this concept, ask three people to read a piece of information and then ask them to explain it in their own words.

Notice the difference in how they explain the same thing.  Thus, recognizing the way your perspective affects your thought patterns is fundamental to understanding yourself. It is also the key to improve your communication skills, both oral as well as written.

In addition to perception, other environmental and societal factors also affect the way you communicate. These factors are the attitudes, beliefs and values learned by interacting with those surrounding you.

Attitude – Attitude refers to a person’s temperament and it affects his or her reaction towards any given object or idea. A person’s attitude is likely to change very often and easily.

Belief – Belief refers to the way a person feels or the level of acceptance or non-acceptance towards a particular idea. Beliefs are usually based on a person’s previous experiences but do not always make sense and may be completely biased, without any logic or evidence. Beliefs are often the basis of how a person interprets his surroundings or experiences.

Values – Values are the standards by which a person decides the significance of any object or idea in life. Values also influence a person’s attitude and beliefs, and are often hard to shake. A person usually changes his values only if he or she goes through a massive life changing experience.

Self – Concept and Dimensions of Self

Self-Concept – Self-concept refers to the way a person perceives himself or herself. The way you perceive yourself may change over time, depending upon the kind of experiences and relationships (both personal and professional) come across with in life.

The perception of self also defines one’s behavior, unique attributes and self-proclaimed abilities and talents. In a broad sense, it is the mental picture where you define yourself as a person in a certain way. For instance, if asked, ‘what do you think about yourself?’ what would your answer be? Someone may answer, ‘I am a very kind person’ and someone else may say, ‘I get angry very easily’.

Self-concept is usually considered impressionable, especially when a person is young and is still discovering himself or herself to create a unique identity of his or her own. However, the self-concept becomes more rigid with age, as they identify what is or is not important to them.
In its most fundamental sense, self-concept incorporates the answer to ‘Who are you?’ In addition to this, it not only defines your set of beliefs and personality traits as an individual, but also defines your collective self in personal and social relationships.

Domains of Self-Concept

There are six domains of self-concept:

  • Physical: The way a person feels about his or her appearance, looks, health etc.
  • Social: The way a person feels about interacting with others.
  • Family: The way a personal functions within his or her family setting.
  • Academic: The way a person performs in activities related to learning.
  • Competence: The way a person approaches to meet his or her needs and desires.
  • Affect: The extent to which a person is aware about his or her emotional state.

Further, self-concept heavily influences a person’s communication skills. To elaborate, what you think about yourself puts a great impact on what you think about others and how you treat them. Thus, self-concept is critical to both intra and inter-personal communication.

Dimensions of Self

  • Self-image: It refers to the way a person sees himself or herself in terms of personality, physical attributes and social roles. It does not always confirm with reality. For instance, it is common for people to exaggerate their abilities or flaws while others may not perceive them in the same manner.
  • Self-esteem: It refers to how much valuable a person thinks he or she is. Various factors throughout life can affect self-esteem. The most influential factors include comparison to others and the way other people react to your actions. For example, if you compare a certain aspect of yourself to others and believe that the other person is doing better while you constantly struggle to get it right or people respond negatively to your actions, it can negatively affect your self-esteem. On the other hand, a positive response to your action may boost your self-esteem.
  • Ideal Self: It refers to the self-image a person wishes to achieve. For instance, you may not like a certain aspect of yourself and would wish to change. It could be the way you look, walk, talk, work, or anything.
  • Looking-glass self: It refers to the way a person perceives himself or herself by comparing to the way others treat him or her. It includes looking at what and how others say to you to gain insight into your own identity. For instance, you may ask yourself, ‘why did my teacher praise my friend but not me?’ So, you compare and evaluate yourself to your friends and acquaintances in terms of similar situation, qualities, attributes and status.
  • Self-reflection: It refers to the act of introspecting oneself. It allows you to analyze your perception and improve in order to adjust to your environment, and to be more open to changing or accepting certain views and ideas.
  • Internal Monologue: It refers to intrapersonal communication. For instance, you may find yourself giving a pep-talk to yourself to improve or change or do something. It can be both logical and illogical.  Internal monologue may sometimes become a running monologue. It means a person may keep self-talking in his or her mind. When this happens, it creates lack of focus and a block for effective communication with others. Alfred Korzybski, a Polish philosopher, said that it is critical to be in control of your internal monologue in order to become truly conscious. Thus, he suggested practicing to attain inner quietness. It also includes letting others complete their sentences before putting forward your own response. It is very common for people to only partially listening to what others have to say and jumping to their own conclusions, which is the pathway to poor communication. The same stands true for group communication; all interactions are active and dynamic, so it is important to learn to control your intrapersonal communication effectively.

The Johari Window

The Johari Window is a concept developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram. It allows people to better comprehend their intra, inter and social relationships.

Quick Overview of Common Terms

  • Intrapersonal communication: Interaction with self.
  • Interpersonal communication: Interaction with another person.
  • Group communication: Interaction with two or more people.

A list of adjectives is given to the main subject. The subject is asked to pick the adjectives that describe his or her personality according to him. Then that list is given to his or her friends and they are asked to pick the adjectives they feel describe the subject’s personality. All of these adjectives are then placed into a cell containing four quadrants:

  • Open or Arena – Open or Arena contains the attributes that both the subject and his or her friends choose. Thus, these are the traits that everyone recognizes.
  • Blind Spot – Blind Spot contains the attributes that the subject’s friends choose but the subject does not. This represents the traits that the subject’s friends recognize but he or she is not aware of.
  • Hidden – The Hidden quadrant contains the adjectives that subject recognizes but none of his or friends do. This represents the traits that the subject either hides from his or friends. These traits may also be falsely claims or believes.
  • Unknown – The Unknown quadrant contains the adjectives that neither the subject nor his or friends choose. This represents the traits that either do not apply for the subject or nobody, including the subject, is aware of.

The Johari window can help a person in self-reflection, thus allowing him to evaluate his situation and learn, improve and adjust to his or environment accordingly. It also helps one come to terms with the fact that the self-concept may be flawed in itself, which further opens the path to taking responsibility for self-improvement.

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect is the concept that states that a person’s performance can be profoundly influenced by other’s expectations. This concept is also sometimes referred to as the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ where a person starts mirroring what others expect him to do or not do. For example, if you keep telling a person that he can achieve a target, he or she start doing the work to achieve it, whereas if you keep telling him or her that he or she does not have the potential to achieve the target, he or she may start believing the same and stop putting the required effort.

There are four features of the expectation-performance relationship in the Pygmalion Effect:

  • Everybody holds some expectations from other people and events.
  • People signal their expectations in several verbal and non-verbal ways.
  • People respond to the recognized expectations by adapting their actions and behavior in a certain way.
  • The end result is that the expectation becomes reality.

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