Communicating one to one

Scenes from life

Imagine a young man who is setting out on a long train journey. He doesn't travel much and is vaguely excited by the prospect of going to another city for the day (which he has to do for his job) and for a few hours' uninterrupted sitting in the train, reading and feeling slightly important. His head is even spinning slightly with the thought of meeting someone on the train - well, you never know. He finds an empty carriage and settles into a pleasant window seat.

After a few minutes, the door slides open and one of the most attractive women he has ever seen glides into the carriage. She is beautifully dressed and seems to him to be a fine mixture of elegance, sexiness and general desirability. He makes these judgements from small, slightly surreptitious glances up from his book as she moves across the carriage and sits opposite him in the other corner seat. He cannot believe his good fortune. As she crosses to her seat and sits down, she does not once glance at him and when she was sitting, she calmly rests her hands in her lap and closes her eyes. There is no possibility of him striking up a conversation with her. Throughout the entire journey, the only time she opens her eyes is to get up and leave the carriage for a few moments. She returns in the way that she first entered, not once looking at him, and immediately closes her eyes again.

Now picture a man who arrives home from work at the end of a long, arduous day. Many things have not gone well and his head seems to be bursting with the problems and complexities he has been trying to sort out throughout the day. He is looking forward to being at home, quietly, but feels very tense, wound up with the pressures that have beset him.

He goes in and gives his wife a kiss and greets his two young children, who barely acknowledge him because they are caught up in their game, which seems to consist of tearing from one room to the next making dino

saur noises. He sits down in the living-room, leans back and closes his eyes for a moment, wondering if he has the energy to look for something to take for the tension headache that he can feel beginning to creep up from his neck and shoulders.

He suddenly becomes aware that his wife has been asking him a question. He looks at her. 'Sorry. What did you say?' He vaguely notices a flicker of irritation cross her face, but it does not fully register with him. 'I said that I've had a really difficult day with the children; they seem to have the devil in them today.' 'Oh, have you?' he replies, his head aching more furiously and his mind still going to a conversation he had had just before leaving work. What did that man mean? 'Yes, I don't know what's got into them. And you know that good pair of trousers of mine, George rubbed Play-Do into them today. I don't know how I'm going to get it off.' He looks over at her, but seems to be seeing her through a gauze curtain. She sighs and goes back to the kitchen.

Picture a party, not an uproarious one, just a gentle gathering of people who are quietly standing around drinking and nibbling on some finger food. Music is playing quietly in the background and everyone is dressed fairly formally. It is a meeting arranged for visiting cultural groups from overseas for them to get to know one another and to meet the locals. It is all part of the town's aim to keep up cultural contacts, to be friendly and to be part of the modern world.

In the centre of the room, surrounded by a hum of gentle conversation, a rather swarthy-looking man from Italy is talking to the secretary of the group that has organised the party. They are talking easily enough, each with a drink in hand. But as they speak, so he takes half a step towards her. She drops her eyes and, slowly, in order not to give offence, moves away slightly. He seems not to notice this and after another minute of conversation moves slightly forward again. Once again, after a small pause and an averted gaze, she moves back. And so this goes on, with those around being quite unaware of it. During their 10 minutes or so of conversation, until she breaks away with 'Please excuse me, but I must just have a word with . . .', they have engaged in a curious dance in which he seems to have moved her backwards around the room.

► To not communicate is impossible

The importance of interpersonal communication cannot be exaggerated. Human interaction is about communication. Of course, the details of the communication between two people are crucial - how words are said, whether they are said at all, what is going on around and beneath the words, whether or not words are needed, who the interactants are, what they are wearing, whether or not they ^ know each other, what the purpose of the communication might be, and so on. o But even more basic than all of this is the necessity of communication.

If two people are in a shared space, then it is impossible for them not to com- >-municate. Take the example with which this chapter began. It might have seemed from the description that there was no communication between the two people 0 on the train. The young man sat there obviously hoping for more communica- 0 tion than there was and the woman apparently ignored him. There was no z obvious interaction. But to enter a railway carriage and then sit with eyes closed, i-to never look at the other occupant even when leaving the carriage briefly, is to 2 communicate a clear message. 'I do not wish to communicate.' This is, perhaps, the simplest, most sparing message that can be sent. To close one's eyes, to turn ^ away, to say nothing are all messages that 'I want no further communication for ^ the moment'. o

In other words, although it is possible not to communicate verbally, it is not ° possible completely to shut off non-verbal messages because this in itself is a non-verbal message. As will be seen later, there is an enormous amount that can be learned about another person and about the possibilities of interaction and any potential relationship from observing non-verbal behaviour.

Superficially, communication between two people may seem to be very straightforward but look a little more deeply and its complexities become obvious. Think of an argument developing between two members of a family. They know each well and they have been through the argument a number of times previously and they know when the other is attempting to hide his or her true feelings. But each of them also knows that the other knows and they both know that they both know. Now, in the midst of these various levels of 'knowing', what does any one utterance or even a single glance mean? There are so many different ways in which a single moment of interaction might be interpreted.

People can also be very tricky in their communications, even though they might be doing so unwittingly. Think, for example, of the mother who says to her son 'I want you to be less obedient, you always do exactly what you are told' or the father who says to his daughter 'I want you to be more spontaneous'. How can they win? If the son is less obedient, he is being obedient, and if he is more obedient, he is disobeying his mother's request. How can the daughter 'try' to be more spontaneous? And if she does and she succeeds, then she is obviously not being spontaneous because 'trying' and spontaneity are by definition incompatible. These are examples of paradoxical communications that give one of the interactants no possible way to behave other than to run away from the situation either by turning inwards or by leaving altogether.

Another way in which such communications have been described is as double binds. The person on the receiving end is bound whichever way he or she turns. Another example would come from the mother who asks her son or daughter to give her a kiss but shies away from or stiffens at the bodily contact. The child is being given one message verbally and another non-verbally. They are then in a double bind in that whatever they do is wrong.

Most paradoxical communications clearly lead to troublesome outcomes, but some are amusing to conjure with. Think about this. A school-teacher says to the class that they will be receiving a test one day next week but that the day on which it is held will be a surprise. If you think it through, this is impossible. Let's say it is Thursday and the test has not been held, then it must be on Friday, but then it wouldn't be a surprise. So that cuts out Friday. But then if it is Wednesday and the test has not been held, then it must be on Thursday, but then it would not be a surprise. And so on back through the week, thus proving that the teacher has made an impossibly paradoxical communication to begin with; or has s/he?

► How and why we communicate

We cannot not communicate; to communicate is integral to being human. Think of what it is like if you have not spoken to anyone else for days, or even hours. There is a strong drive just to hear another voice, to engage with another person. Singing, whistling and talking to oneself are just not the same. We are a social species and have many reasons for communicating with others. Partly it is to make reference to other things, things that we are doing, that have happened, that will happen. We communicate to express ourselves and to give opinions or to give information and we communicate in order to gain information about the world or about the opinions, attitudes, beliefs and feelings of others. And we communicate because we need to know where we stand in the world, particularly in the eyes of others.

The most obvious way in which we communicate is verbally. We say things to other people, we make reference to things and we try to express ourselves. Although what we say can be very subtle, it is only part of the story. Verbal communication is ringed around with non-verbal communication. What we express non-verbally can amplify, modify, distort, conflict with and generally contex-tualise what we say. Just think, for example, of the manner in which we might say something. It is perfectly possible to say 'No' in such a way that it means 'Yes' and to say 'Yes' in such a way that it means 'No'. The misinterpretations that follow these possibilities can cause extreme confusion, not to say embarrassment. Part of learning to communicate involves learning to be as accurate as possible in receiving as well as sending signals. It is also possible to communicate almost entirely non-verbally. Two lovers can sit together for hours communicating without words. The raised eyebrow of a parent may be sufficient to stop a child from doing something. The catching of someone's eye 'across a crowded room' can lead to all manner of mischief.

► Body language

Typically, although our parents teach us to speak and gradually improve our subtlety in the spoken language, they do not do much about our body language.

This is something that we pick up as we go along, gradually learning what ^ various expressions mean and how to use our body language. Mostly, this is not o conscious learning, although in some cases it can be. If a checkout operator is 0 told to smile more as well as asking customers how their day has been, their use |-of body language is being manipulated, albeit simply. A salesperson 'making a pitch' is making judicious use of body language to seem more plausible, more 0 genuine and sincere, more encouraging and persuasive.

The most basic form of body language involves touching another person. Even z observing from a distance, it is possible to work out a great deal about the rela- i-tionship between people by noting who touches whom, when, where and how 2 often.

Generally, the closer the relationship, the more frequent the touching. To ^ touch another person always means an increase in intimacy. Think of the first ^ touch between potential lovers, especially if they have been unsure; it is as 0 though a huge barrier has been crossed. Or think of the consternation that can ° be caused by a 'toucher', someone who tends to touch other people more than is socially comfortable.

Touching, then, is the closing of the physical distance between people, however temporarily, to zero. Its importance has long been recognised and so all cultures have developed various touching rituals that tend to occur at the start and finish of encounters. Handshakes, back slaps, social kisses and hugs are the obvious examples in Western culture. The physical distance between people when they interact is extremely important; if customary distances are changed, then discomfort results. In most social settings there is an ideal distance between people; too near or too far creates discomfort.

Go back to the party in one of the examples earlier. The visitor from Italy was moving the female organiser of the party backwards round the room. All that was happening here is that each of them was attempting to stand at his or her comfortable distance for a party. Typically, people in Italy stand closer than people in Northern Europe or the USA or the UK, for example. So he would take a slight step forward to increase his comfort level, she would become slightly disturbed by that and take a small step back, to regain her comfortable distance.

We carry round with us several distances that seem appropriate for the various social settings that we encounter. It is as though there were a series of bubbles around us that we use to gauge the 'right' distance. Think of what people do when they step into a crowded lift. Here the physical distance is much less than is comfortable. If the same dozen people were to go into an empty room, they would space themselves out; they wouldn't huddle at a 'lift' distance. Again, this is a matter of an increase in intimacy. So, typically, they do not look at one another; they keep their distance in this way. They studiously observe the lift numbers changing or gaze at the wall as though lost in lofty contemplation.

Interestingly, it is our eyes that are, perhaps, the most important vehicle of non-verbal behaviour. We obviously use our eyes (although the other senses come into play as well) to observe the other person's body language. However, our eyes are also used to express emotion and to give information. The most important thing that we do with the eyes when communicating with others is to look into their eyes. Eye gaze and eye contact, as they are called, fall into quite reliable patterns. As with touching and other decreases in physical distance, eye contact always means an increase in intimacy. Again, we have conventions about this in order to maximise what is comfortable. Think how awkward it is interacting with someone who seems never to look at you and with someone who looks at you too much. It is as though you want to get closer to the 'non-looker' and further away from the 'looker'.

One of the ways in which eye gaze is used in communication is to regulate the order of events. In a conversation, the person listening tends to look at the other person, usually at their eyes, or in the region of their eyes. Whereas the person speaking tends to look much less. Then when the speaker is about to stop, they tend to look at the listener as though to say 'I am finishing; the floor is yours'. The listener then usually looks away just before beginning to speak.

Nowhere is the heightening of intimacy more apparent than with eye contact. If someone holds your eye longer than is normal, then it will set you wondering about what it means. Is he or she wanting something of me? Is he or she suggesting that we move the relationship on a little? Is it aggressive? Is it challenging? It always seems to mean something.

There is even more. When we interact with someone else, we move our bodies, particularly our limbs. We gesture to amplify or modify what we say, but we also sit or stand in particular postures. We can seem relaxed or tense, we can mirror the other person's posture or we can work against it. We can sit or stand in a closed-off sort of manner or we can be open and expansive.

All of these aspects of body language tend to be maintained in a sort of balance. The description of what happens in a lift is an example of this. It is as though we have an unconscious mixture of what degree of body language expression we find comfortable and if it changes in one area, then we alter one of its other aspects to bring it back into balance. More interestingly, our body language alters if we attempt to engage in deception.

Every day we encounter situations when we judge that it is probably better not to display our true feelings, situations when we might be saying one thing but thinking and feeling another. At such times it is our body language that we bring under control, even if we might be doing so unconsciously. We control our tone of voice, and the way we sit or stand. We control our facial expression in order not to give too much away. We control our gestures and hand movements generally. Or sometimes we do and sometimes we do not. It is this that led to the development of the idea of non-verbal leakage by two psychologists, Ekman and Friesen (1969).

The idea is that the various areas of our body have varying potentials for sending non-verbal messages. The greatest potential is from the face, particularly the eyes. The next lies with the hands and arms and finally there are the feet and legs. When trying to determine what another person is thinking and feeling, we tend to pay attention to those areas in the same order; we look at the face more than the hands and the hands more than the feet. Accordingly, when we are attempting to control our body language, we do so in a similar way, paying most attention to the face and eyes, and so on. Because of this our true feelings 'leak out' in the reverse order. So we tend to give ourselves away more by wiggling our feet or having our leg jumping up and down under the table, or by fiddling with our hair or tearing up paper cups. The judicious observer can tell much about the other person from paying attention to these reactions; just do it carefully.

► Styles of communication

All these subtle and not so subtle aspects of communication do not occur in isolation. For each of us they cohere into what might be called our communication style. In everyday life we see some people as friendly and others as over-friendly or unfriendly. Others we might see as hostile or bombastic or pompous or overbearing or conciliatory or cold or warm or laid back or intense, and so on. On the one hand, these might be seen as personality characteristics (see Chapter 10), but on the other hand, they might also be seen as styles of communication. For example, the overly friendly person might stand slightly too close, touch slightly too often, and attempt to engage in mutual eye contact too intensely. The cold person might smile little, stand in a rigid way, either not look at all or with a fixed state. The laid-back person might appear constantly relaxed and biddable, easy to talk to, rarely interrupting, and so forth.

Such differences in communication style also exist between cultures. Thus, in some cultures (Pacific Island cultures, for example) it is regarded as impolite to look at the other person's eyes very much. Somebody from Western society meeting a person from one of these cultures and finding them looking at the ground rather than at their face would immediately see this as behaviour that needed accounting for. Do they have something to hide? Are they very shy? Is there something about me that they do not like? In fact, it is none of these things - they are merely behaving in the way appropriate to their culture.

If a person from Southern Europe or Latin America meets someone from Northern Europe or North America, then there is a constant shuffling of body language as each attempts to become comfortable. The Latin-based peoples tend to stand closer, touch more, look more and talk more than their 'Northern' counterparts. It pays, therefore, if one is meeting someone from a different culture to find out whatever one can about that culture's style of interpersonal communication. It can save considerable embarrassment and misunderstanding.

There are also cultural differences in the extent to which body language is openly displayed or, to put this another way, in the subtlety with which it is typically expressed. The obvious example comes when comparing the Orient and the Occident. Typically, to the Western eye, people from South-East Asia tend to have a relatively restricted range of body language, whereas, to the Oriental eye, presumably Westerners might seem overblown in their gestures, facial expressions and general non-verbal behaviour.

Added to this, of course, similar gestures have different meanings in different cultures and the same gesture might have various meanings in different cultures. Signs of disgust, contempt and annoyance, for example, vary from culture to culture. Even something as simple as a head-nod might not always mean agreement.

► Forming impressions

While we are communicating with another person, we are constantly engaged in forming impressions of them. What is she like, really? Does she like me or dislike me? Is he a person of integrity? Can I trust him? He seems pretty scruffy; will he be OK as a baby-sitter? She has red hair; will she be fiery? Such impressions are all part of the business of communication. She smiled at me. What does that mean? Was she just smiling, just being friendly? Or is she interested in me? Part of what we do when communicating with another person, even if this communication only involves looking at them as they sleep on a train, is that we make attributions to them. We don't come away from an encounter thinking that 'He didn't smile much or have much to say', but rather that 'He is an unfriendly or a cold person'.

Our general tendency is to attribute what we see in another person to them rather than to the environment. So, for example, if someone looks at us far more than would normally be the case and does so on more than one occasion and we see him doing the same to other people, then we are likely to attribute this to some aspect of his basic character. However, if we do not have access to all of this type of information, then we tend to take short-cuts in our thinking and to end with biases that are regularly repeated.

Probably the most common bias is the person bias, sometimes called the fundamental attribution error, because it is so commonplace, in which if somebody dresses a certain way or behaves a certain way, then we are far more likely to attribute this to their personality than to some outside influence. This bias is particularly evident if we are set to actually evaluate the person rather than that person's role, for example. And we frequently are set in this way in everyday life. So we see a nurse, or a teacher or a policeman or policewoman going about their business and tend to judge them as being particular types of people rather than as people being constrained by the roles that they are playing in their work.

Interestingly, given the cultural differences already discussed, there are also cultural differences in the person bias. It is more prevalent in Western than Eastern cultures. This may well be because Eastern cultures are less concerned with people being responsible for their own actions and more concerned with ideas of fate or karma or samsara.

A final bias that is worth mentioning comes about through beliefs about other people leading to self-fulfilling prophecies. For example, if one is told that someone that one is due to meet is, say, very emotionally switched on and a good communicator, then one is likely to behave towards that person as though this is the case and so help to bring about those very characteristics. A good example ^ of this came from a study in which teachers were falsely informed that some of o their children had performed better on some tests than they had. The teachers 0 subsequently behaved towards these children in such a way that their perfor- >-mance did improve far more than would have been expected.

What offirst impressions? Are they important or not? When we meet someone 0 for the first time and we look at the way they are dressed, their body shape, their hair colour, how close together their eyes might be, their skin colour and, parti- z cularly, how they communicate with us, what their communication style is, so i-we form an impression of them, their character, of what they are like. How sig- 2 nificant is this impression?

The general answer to this is that first impressions are extremely important. ^ How you behave towards someone on first meeting them, how you communi- ^ cate, how well you control your body language, can make a large difference to 0 the impression that they form of you. However, it is relatively easy to overcome ° the effect of first impressions by warning people of their danger. The problem is such warnings are not often given in everyday life. Moreover, they might not be appropriate in the sense that the first impression that we form of someone might well be as accurate as we will ever be, as long as the person, at the time, was behaving roughly as they normally would.

► Impression management and effective communication

For the most part, the subtleties of one-to-one communication happen automatically and unconsciously. Occasionally, in daily life we might seek to create a particular impression and so consciously control what we say, the way we speak, and the way we sit, stand, gesture, look, and so on. We might, for example, decide that it is best not to show much emotion in a particular setting and we certainly become used to communicating differently in different settings.

People in some occupations have to pay particular attention to their manner of communication and, indeed, have to undergo training in the various skills involved. For example, salespersons, passenger attendants on aircraft and people who serve customers all have to do so with attention to how they communicate. If all hotel managers behaved like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, not many people would stay in hotels.

The important point here is that although interpersonal communication often takes place unconsciously, it can also be seen as a skill or set of skills that can be learned. Or, to put it more dramatically, how we communicate can be used manipulatively. Manipulation is a harsh word to use within a social context, but most people do engage in it to some extent. It would be a rare person who has not set out to deceive at some time and an even rarer person who has not set out to create an impression from time to time. Impression management is ultimately concerned with communication.

Paul Ekman (1969) has written extensively about deception, his ideas deriving from the work already mentioned on non-verbal leakage. Interpersonal deception can become very complex depending on factors such as how important the deception is to the two or more people who are interacting. Some situations seem to demand more deception than others and some personalities are more prone than others to engage in deception. In some circumstances (the complexities of family life come to mind) it may be that both interactants are deceiving, or one may be deceiving and the other not, and either or both may be aware or not of the deceptions. It may also be that we develop implicit pacts about whether or not the deception should continue. All of these intricacies are played out in the subtleties of communication.

Either consciously or unconsciously, then, to some extent, we change our social behaviour and communication style in an attempt to influence what other people might think of us. Take the example of a job interview. A person might well want to appear to be relatively relaxed and calm while feeling very anxious or might want to give the appearance of not being too eager even though desperate for the job, or might want to give the appearance of extreme reliability when they know that their work habits leave much to be desired. All these impressions are managed by how we dress and how we behave when communicating.

Many years ago, Erving Goffman (1967) did much to further understanding of impression management by portraying human beings as actors who adopt various roles. This idea is convincing - we all know that we adopt different styles of communicating in different circumstances, but it does suggest that we all may pass through social life consciously manipulating others. It is entirely possible both to set out to create an impression and to be sincere in the belief that the impression is an accurate reflection of how one really is. To show one's best characteristics or to show them in the best light in our dealings with others is not necessarily acting a false role. It is simply that it is difficult to be at our best all of the time.

Another way of looking at this is that we all have something of the politician in us. In other words, we set out to create certain impressions because we want to bring about certain ends. So, for example, we want to communicate with others in such a way that they will like us or feel positive towards us simply in order to make life proceed smoothly and pleasantly. If we are successful in this and it is matched by a similar success in others, then life will proceed more smoothly and pleasantly than it otherwise would. Whether or not this can or should be described as manipulative and, if so, whether or not such manipulation is 'justifiable' are a matter for debate.

As already mentioned, first impressions are important and our intuitive knowledge of this makes it more likely that we will be concerned to impress new acquaintances than those who know us well. The obvious example of this comes with the difference between people who are dating and those who are married. When dating, in general, people are more concerned to create 'a good impression' than they are when married. In marriage (or at least successful marriages) partners are more concerned with having a true impression of each other than a necessarily favourable impression, although the two might not be incompatible.

There are strong personality and cultural differences in impression management. To take the obvious example, some people are shy and inhibited socially and spend so much of their time worrying about making a poor impression that they learn to avoid social contact. This is almost like a definition of shyness. Although shyness and social inhibition might be regarded as a basic aspect of personality, it is not set for life. If the intricacies of interpersonal communication are regarded as social skills, it is worth bearing in mind that skills can be learned. Some people might be naturally more adept socially than others, but everybody can improve their level of social skill.

One fundamental way in which people vary is with respect to how much they monitor their own social behaviour. For example, we all differ as to how much we pay attention to whether or not we are conforming with the expectations of others, how well we think we have 'carried off' a social occasion, or how much we are concerned with gaining the approval of others. There are some fairly obvious differences between those who are high and low at self-monitoring. For example, 'highs' tend to have more friends than 'lows' but their friendships are more superficial. 'Highs' tend to choose friends for their general attractiveness whereas 'lows' choose those who most readily reflect their own values.

As well as personality differences, there are also cultural differences in the general styles of interpersonal communication. The obvious and in some ways most interesting example of this comes in a comparison between Western and Eastern societies. Western society tends to encourage the individual and there is therefore a greater tendency to act similarly from one situation to the next, in other words, 'to be ourselves'. Eastern cultures are more collectivist in style, part of which is an expectation that behaviour will change according to the requirements or conventions of a particular group.

Leaving aside the matter of cultural differences, group pressure has a significant influence on impression management and communication. We might well behave as others do simply because we learn from them. We might well watch others for clues as to how to behave socially. For example, it is probably sensible to sit quietly when one first attends meetings in a new position, simply to learn what the communication conventions might be. But it is not just a matter of learning the conventions, groups also produce pressure to behave in particular ways simply because they are the group. They have norms to which most of us feel pressure to conform merely in order to be an accepted part of the group.

The famous laboratory studies on group conformity were carried out more than half a century ago by Solomon Asch (1956), but the results remain valid today. They involved participants sitting with a group of others simply carrying out the task of saying aloud to which of three lines a fourth line was equal in length. It was a very easy and obvious task in each case. During the testing, all but one member of the group had been instructed to start making a consistently wrong call, with the 'real' participant always being near the end of the list. Most subjects were swayed by this and themselves made the wrong judgement calls on a number of occasions. Remember, these judgements were obviously and clearly wrong, but, nevertheless, people were sufficiently pressured by the need to conform, to be part of the group, that they also made the wrong call.

When questioned afterwards, the participants who conformed in this way created elaborate rationalisations for why they had, saying, 'Eight people were more likely to be right than one', and so on. And this was just with respect to judging the length of a line. Compare this with the complexities of general interpersonal communication and social behaviour and the huge pressures to conform that might exist therein.

Conformity is part of impression management, as, of course, is nonconformity. Some people might want to create the impression of independence, standing alone, being of integrity and so forth by avidly not conforming to the group.

If you think back to the three examples at the start of this chapter - the young man in the train, the man coming home to his family and the woman at the party - you will see that each of the descriptions could be greatly expanded. They contain all the elements discussed in this chapter, it is just that some of those elements have been picked out and made more salient.

► Being socially skilled

Regarding all these facets of one-to-one communication as elements of social skills has already been mentioned. Viewing such communication as a matter of skilled performance leads to a particular way of thinking about it. For example, how would you go about getting another person to talk more, to open up? Breaking this down, you would do certain things such as: talking less yourself, asking the other person open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with a single word, talking about things you knew he or she to be interested in, and rewarding anything that they did say with smiles and nods, and so forth.

Timing, pace and rhythm are very important in interpersonal communication. If the timing and rhythm between two people do not match, then it is difficult for them to develop a good relationship. To take the simplest example of this, for a conversation to develop reasonably, then those involved have to speak in turn rather than all together. Think of situations in which everyone is talking at once. If communication has not already disappeared, it soon will. So, if you wish to have certain outcomes, then it is important to learn the skills involved in controlling the pace and timing of an interaction. For example, if your own natural pace is faster than the person with whom you are interacting and you want the interaction to go in a particular way, then you will need to slow yourself down and to be aware of the other person's manner of pausing and speaking.

To see interpersonal communication as a matter of social skill is also to try to analyse what is meant by establishing rapport. It is not only therapists who do this, but to some extent it is done by anyone who wants someone else to do something. Unless you are going to coerce or force them, then you have to ^ establish a reasonable relationship with them if you wish to change them in o some way, to make them do something from buying a new vacuum cleaner to 0 simply being more pleasant when you see them.

To establish rapport you need to have a clear way of communicating with the other person; there has to be some degree of mutual trust and acceptance - 0 without this there is no starting point; and you have to develop a smooth pattern of communication, pace and timing again being important. So, how do you do z this? By adopting a warm, friendly manner, by treating the other person as an i-equal, by establishing a smooth pattern of interaction, by finding common inter- 2 ests or experiences, by showing the other person a sympathetic interest and by meeting the other person on their own ground (e.g. by using their words and ^ ways of speaking). Overall, it is necessary to keep the other person in play by ^ finding ways in which it is pleasant or rewarding for him or her to be there. And q if all of this sounds manipulative, it is because it is manipulative. However, it is u only spelling out a process that to some extent we all learn and engage in, but usually not as consciously as this, unless our job happens to demand it.

■ One-to-one communication is integral to interpersonal life. One cannot not communicate; in other words, it is impossible to shut off non-verbally even if it might be possible not to speak.

■ Interpersonal communication is multi-layered, depending on the extent to which everyone involved is aware. It can even take the form of paradoxes that put us in double binds.

■ We communicate one to one in order both to express and to gain information, all of which reduces uncertainty and so makes social life easier.

■ A crucial part of interpersonal communication is body language or non-verbal communication, consisting of touching, physical separation and space, posture, gesture, facial expression and, in particular, eye gaze.

■ Non-verbal behaviours are in balance and if we try to mask them and so deceive others, then they tend to 'leak out' in ways of which we are unaware.

■ Each of us develops a personal style of interpersonal communication, although such styles fall into broad clusters and also reflect cultural differences.

■ Interpersonal communication tends to begin with impression formation based on initial observations.

■ An important aspect of impression formation is the fundamental attribution error which involves ascribing to personality whatever impressions people give, rather than ascribing them to some outside influence.

Clearly, first impressions are important.

A great deal of effort is put into impression management in Western society, not always consciously. It varies with both personality and culture and also gives many people a strong push towards conformity.

One-to-one communication can be seen as a question of learning social skills, something that is dependent on timing and rhythm and which leads to an analysis of such techniques as to how to establish rapport.

► Questions and possibilities

Do you agree that it is impossible not to communicate? Can you think of any examples of two people being in each other's presence without communicating?

Take a recent interaction between you and a close family member and write down a description of what occurred. Now write the description from the viewpoint of one of the other interactants. How much do you think that each of you knew what was going on? How do you think that you knew?

List all the ways that you can think of in which two people can communicate. Are there differences between the way in which adults and children communicate?

Go out and observe some non-verbal behaviour, particularly patterns of eye gaze. How important do you think that this body language is? How important is it in the workplace?

Think about some of the ways in which you have deceived other people or have been deceived by them or have watched others being deceptive. How do you know that deception was occurring? Do you think that it is wrong to deceive others interpersonally? Always? What are the differences between occasions in which social deception is acceptable and those when it is not?

Think of situations in which you have been very uncomfortable socially. Analyse them in order to pin down exactly what made you uncomfortable. Did you try to hide your discomfort? How did you do that and how successfully?

How important do you believe first impressions to be? Do you make snap judgements of others? What do you base such judgements on?

Imagine the people that you work with. When they behave in ways of which you strongly approve or strongly disapprove, do you tend to believe that this is part of their character or that it is because of external forces?

Do you manage the impression that you try to give? In what way? What are the differences between how you behave at work and at home? Do you communicate in the same way in both settings?

How strong or weak a conformist are you? Would you stand out against the judgements of others if they all disagreed with you? What do you think makes o some people into conformists and others into non-conformists? Is this an Q aspect of their character or due to some outside influence?

In what ways do you think that your own social skills could be improved? How would you go about making the improvements?

Do you know some people who are better than others at establishing rapport? How do they do it?

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