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Communication Competence – what is it and how do I get some?  

Many companies used "time-based competition" in order to more effectively complete a job in less time.  View the video and discuss the "big ideas" that are part of this time-based competition.  How can this idea be applied to Corna/Kokosing as a self-performing general contractor

Exercise 6

A definition:  The ability to communicate in a personally effective and socially appropriate manner.

What do we need to do in order for others to think that we are communicatively competent?
Understand that competence is a matter of degree.  Competence isn’t an either or proposition.  Some people we work with are very successful public speakers, but have few friends with whom they can share personal details.  Some folks would rather walk on a hot bed of coals than be required to get up in front of a group of strangers and talk, but who are exceptionally gifted in a group meeting where it is important to gain everyone’s consensus.  Competent communicators may be great at social gatherings, weak in leadership positions in groups, and compelling in front of a group of business associates.  Any one of these situations can change by day or circumstance.  It is best to think about continuously trying to improve the situations in which our communication is deemed competent.

We- Not Me-Oriented.  This is the big one.  Because communication is transactional, communication competence is best determined in the context of others and the outcomes of communication transactions, than on how we work separately from others.  The focus on competent communication must be on the “we” – what makes communication relationships successful, not on the “me” – what makes me successful.  Successful companies are those that understand how the group understands.  Competent communicators, either in a public speaking situation or a boardroom, are those that know how to focus on the other participants in the situation as a prerequisite for determining how they should behave.  

Apply the lessons from the video to the we not me aspect of Competent Communication.

In a closeout meeting, an initial meeting with a client, a talk to new apprentices, competent communication is determined by the successful outcomes for all the people involved.  If the apprentices liked the talk, but didn’t know what it had to do with their job training, how could this be competent communication?  If the meeting was great for the contractor and terrible for the client’s needs, how can this be competent communication? 

Competent Communication is Effective.  How well you meet your goals is a common way to determining effectiveness.  For communication competence – effectiveness is about the relationships with others, not about your individual performance. 

In the context of competence, effectiveness is relational, not individualistic.  If the focus is on the WE, then all parties are involved in making a communicative exchange effective or ineffective.

It is certainly the case that a person can do all the right things to establish a We not Me orientation, but have a failed communication relationship.  Sometimes the chemistry is not right.  Sometimes the others in the relationship are on another wavelength, have other agendas than the one you have.

Competent Communication is Appropriate.  A competent communicator avoids “violating social or interpersonal norms, rules, or expiations (Spitzberg & Cupack, 1989).  She or he knows what to say at the right time at the right place for the right reason – appropriateness is not in the words, but in how the words and actions are used in the context of the communication.

Context is the environment in which communication occurs – who (sender or receiver), communicates what (message) to whom (receiver or sender), why a message is sent (purpose), where (setting) it is sent, and when (timing) and how (channel) it is transmitted.  The appropriateness of communication is determined by understanding all of these elements.  To be a competent communicator, we have to be able to take into consideration all these aspects of communication in order to understand its meanings and implications.

Communication contexts are governed by rules.

“A rule is a followable prescription that indicates what behavior is obligated, preferred, or prohibited in certain contexts” (Shimanoff, 1980)

A family is a rule-governed group.  So are employees of Corna Kokosing.  What rules do is to create expectations concerning what is appropriate behavior and what is not.

Some rules are explicitly stated (directly expressed, even written down in the company handbook), but most rules are merely implied (indirectly expressed) by patterns of behavior. 

A violation of an implicit rule often leads to an explicit statement of the rule. 

Supervisors when conducting a meeting take for granted that others wouldn’t interrupt the flow of a meeting by conversing with each other in a loud voice when they are giving their overview report. 

Sometimes, this implicit rule has to be made explicit to others who are more involved in talking to another team member, than they are to paying attention to the meeting report.  “Hey guys, hold off on the talking until it’s your turn, ok?”

Appropriateness of communication is determined by context, which is governed by rules.

·        Rules are not etched in stone. 

·        Rules are dynamic and many need to be modified.

·        When several people share the same small space for an extended period of time, rule modification is almost inevitable is communication is to remain competent. 

·        If one person is a neatnick and expects a spotlessly clean, orderly environment and the other person expects a more casual environment, difficulties are bound to occur.

·        When rules clash, a modification of the rules needs to be negotiated unless one person is willing to completely accept the other’s rules.

Examples of Corna/Kososing rules:

  • Meetings start five minutes before the appointed time

  • Filling out the paper work must be completed before you leave for the day

  • Telling someone about what to do regarding changes in schedules, equipment or personnel doesn’t count unless the paper work is also completed

Why aren’t these rules followed all the time everyday?

No matter how bizarre the rule may seem to outsiders, the appropriateness of our communication is maintained as long as those most affected abide by the rule.

Q & A answers to be teased out

  • Not worth the effort

  • I’ve got to make the call based on the circumstances – you can’t always follow all the rules.  That’s what a manger is for, to call the shots as best she sees it.

  • I’m too busy building buildings – that’s what they pay me for.

  • We’re so short handed and the demands for completion are so constant, something has to give – it’s the paper work every time.

  • I meant to do it but was way too tired.  Planned on filling it out first thing in the morning.

Elements of Communication Competence

Knowledge.  We cannot determine appropriate and effective communication without knowledge of the rule that creates behavioral expectations.  Knowledge is an understanding of what is required by the communication context.  Knowledge in any communication situation is critical.  New employees and new job teams have to determine what rules are operating and how they are negotiated.  If this doesn’t happen, then effective communication relationships can’t happen. 

Skills You must be able to apply your knowledge in actual situations.  A communication skill is “the successful performance of a communication behavior and the ability to repeat such a behavior” (Spitzberg and Hecht, 1984).  Some examples of communication skills include:  clarity, fluency, conciseness, eloquence, and confidence.  Knowledge about communication without communication skill will not produce competence.  You can read stack of books about building a house, but until you build one you have no skill.  The same is true with books about public speaking, running a meeting, handling a difficult employee, motivating workers to excellence – there is no substitute for skill gained by practice and experience in real situations that matter to the participants.  Conversely, skill without knowledge is equally unproductive.

Sensitivity has two meanings: 

  • Sensitivity means having your antenna extended to pick up signals coming from others.  These signals may indicate disharmony, conflict, frustration, anger, anxiety, and so forth.  Failure to recognize these signals can have severe repercussions for a relationship.

  • For the competent communicator, sensitivity means treating others, as you would have them treat you.  Don’t expect friendship from others if you are unprepared to be friendly.  Don’t think cooperation will come if you are not cooperative.  Loyalty, commitment to excellence, and concern are all two-way streets.

Commitment is a conscious decision to invest in another person in order to build and maintain a communication relationship.  The degree of investment in a relationship exhibits the level of commitment.  This is the tough one at most jobs.  We are almost always working with people that we didn’t choose – and sometimes we would never choose them if we had a choice. 

How do we commit to invest in a person we don’t like particularly? 

How do we invest time and energy in a relationship with someone who is so different from us that it takes enormous effort to communicate?  

Investing time, energy, feelings, thoughts, and effort in a relationship shows commitment.  Relationships with coworkers can become tense and contentious when energy is focused on completing mutual tasks with little energy given to the relationship itself.  Similarly, making a Corna/Kokosing Team successful requires commitment to the group.  When you put yourself first, ahead of the team, and invest little time, energy, thought and effort in the team, you diminish the effectiveness of the group.  Team accomplishments can be remarkable when all members work together at a high level of commitment.

Ethics.  Communication appropriateness inherently involves questions of right and wrong behavior and how we decide such issues.  Competent communicators must concern themselves with more than merely what works to achieve a personal or team goal.  A supervisor may be quite effective at accomplishing goals, but if these goals produce bad outcomes for others, their appropriateness must be questioned.  Ethics provides a set of standards for judging the moral correctness of communication behavior.

Human communication is so complex that a single list of standards for judging the ethics of communication, applied absolutely, is bound to run into problems.  Communication appropriateness is determined within a context, and judging right and wrong communication behavior is also contextual.  Never the less, we value certain types of behavior and are intolerant of some kinds of behavior.  Here are some standards for communication competence at C/K.  They’ll probably serve you well elsewhere.

  • Respect.  Treating others, as you would want to be treated is a central guiding ethical standard.  Respect shows concern for others (team orientation) not just a concern for self (me orientation).

  • Honesty.  Ethically responsible communicators try to avoid intentionally deceptive messages.  Honesty is a cultural expectation of the company.  It is one of the things we most value in the friends we have.  It is something we value in others.

  • Fairness.  Prejudice has no place in the communication context.  Racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism an all the other “isms” plague human communication. 

  • Choice.  Our communication should strive to allow people to make their own choices, free of coercion.  Coercion forces choice without permitting individuals to think or act for themselves.

A good way to understand our own competencies is to reflect on instances of communication when we were really good or really bad.  Exercises 7 and 8 are designed to do this.  Pay particular attention after you interview each other as to the context of communication?  What were the factors of time and place that influenced your being very good or very bad at communicating?

Safety, Productivity and Quality– the critical Corna/Kokosing message.

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