Interpersonal Relations

In his book, Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong not only suggests that oral communication unites people in groups, but he also states that communication is intersubjective, “I have to be somehow inside the mind of the other in advance in order to enter with my message, and he or she must be inside my mind.” He then continues, “This is the paradox of human communication.”  In addition, he adds, “Our age of secondary orality, because of its orality, makes us yearn for interpersonal relationships.” Ong’s insights show the interaction between orality and literacy, and how one can handle interpersonal relations by using them together. For instance, in order to communicate effectively, people should adopt certain behaviors from the oral culture, such as: sharing a close, empathetic, communal association, using observation to learn about the other person, and focusing on discussing knowledge known by the other person. Some of the behaviors people should adopt from the literate culture are: being more analytic, when necessary, to help one better understand information, including abstract concepts to better express thoughts, feelings and experiences, and being more conscious of self and others.

Donnell King’s Four Principles of Interpersonal Communication supports Ong’s insights. King states that interpersonal communication is complicated, “No form of communication is simple. Because of the number of variables involved, even simple requests are extremely complex. Theorists note that whenever we communicate there are really at least six “people” involved: 1) who you think you are; 2) who you think the other person is; 3) who you think the other person thinks you are; 4) who the other person thinks s/he is; 5) who the other person thinks you are; and 6) who the other person thinks you think s/he is.” He also states that interpersonal communication is contextual, that it does not happen in isolation. There are the following contexts to keep in mind during communication: psychological, relational, situational, environmental, and cultural.

Considering how complex communication is, people will succeed in improving their interpersonal relations by adopting all the beneficial techniques, from both the oral and literate cultures. For instance, Jahna and Bobbie, who are old friends, are having a conversation. Jahna has a desire to discuss Bobbie’s belief in spirituality, but is concerned because she doesn’t want to make Bobbie uncomfortable. Jahna is also at Bobbie’s house during this conversation, so she wants to ensure that she doesn’t offend her. To include some background information, it’s late at night, and Jahna not only has jet lag, but she only had about four hours of sleep the night prior. Jahna is also half Asian, so she comes from a culture where strong eye contact is avoided when discussing sensitive topics.

Bobbie, on the other hand, is also interested in discussing this topic with her friend Jahna, but is concerned about her reaction since Bobbie is aware that Jahna values religion. Bobbie doesn’t want to make Jahna uncomfortable since she’s a guest at her home. Bobbie is aware that Jahna is tired, although Jahna says she’s not. The conversation initially begins with other topics that are comfortable for both of them. However, when the sensitive topic comes up, Bobbie notices the immediate changes in Jahna’s body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and lack of eye contact. Bobbie’s extra sensitive to nonverbal cues due to her personal and professional background. Bobbie’s also on the defensive mode because she’s hoping that Jahna won’t try and convert her to her religion like many others tried to throughout her life. She also fears that Jahna may think differently of her because of this topic. Instead of just getting clarification from Jahna about her change in behavior, Bobbie confronts Jahna by asking her, “Are you judging me?” A heated argument begins and then ends when they both decide to discuss the misunderstanding. Bobbie being on the defensive prevents her from being reasonable. She realizes that Jahna’s change in verbal and nonverbal communication stems from her own awkwardness with the topic and sleep deprivation.

Luckily, for Jahna and Bobbie, they are both willing to analyze their communication in order to have a better understanding of one another and the situation. It also helps them both to be more aware of one another personalities, the contexts involved in communication, and how then can effectively communicate in the future. This same conversation would not be successful if only the techniques from one culture were used. Additionally, if the conversation occurred via the techniques of secondary orality (i.e. telephone, e-mail, or a chat system) it would not create the same emotional and spiritual bonding between two friends.


~ by Bobbie on December 12, 2011.

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