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Michelle Maraffio

Interpersonal Communication - COMM 2110-504


Submitted to: Sarah Billington
Date Submitted: 11/30/18

Overview
Through this course I set a goal for Personal Change. This paper will outline the progress and
struggles that I experienced. The goal I set for myself was to work on my non-verbal perception
and communication skills. Through this process I applied the strategies I learned from the
Interpersonal Communication text, by Beebe, Beebe and Redmond.
Unwanted Communication Pattern
I set a goal to improve my non-verbal communication skills. I had a habit of ​“Drawing
conclusions I make, based upon observations.” Through the process of evaluation, I learned a lot
more about how I perceive the world around me and make assumptions based on those
observations. I also learned that many of the misunderstandings that I experience in my day to
day life, are based upon my poor ability to discern what people were saying with their non-verbal
skills. Through a journaling practice, I was able to dissect encounters with both verbal and
non-verbal interactions and discover new ways of handling difficult situations.
Here are two examples
● I had a coworker who seemed not to like me at all. Every time she saw me her facial
expressions seemed to change. Her attitude seemed to sour and her tone of voice became
flat. I am sure she didn't like me. At the time I was confused, I didn't know what I had
done to cause this conflict. I thought for sure that I had done something to upset her.
These type of interactions with her went on for months. Since it was obvious that she
didn't want to engage with me, I didn't push her.
● Another example of a conflict was when I had a misunderstanding with my husband over
a bill. Each of us had our own viewpoint of the situation. I was upset because he had
thrown an envelope away with a postmark. My husband was upset, because I kept asking
if maybe he had put it somewhere else. I thought maybe we were charged incorrectly, so I
wanted to make sure I had that postmark to show that the bill wasn’t our fault for being
late. I think my husband was frustrated because he had thrown it away and I was making
him feel worse for not thinking of that when he opened it. He was visibly upset, as was I.
In my frustration I didn't read his posture, tone of voice or facial expressions effectively
and the situation escalated. We ended up having a heated exchange over something pretty
benign, simply because we were both too upset to see one another clearly.
Each of these examples shows how I misunderstood what I was seeing. I was internalizing and
considering my own perspectives instead of thinking about how the other must feel. In the first
instance, I was perceiving the situation as though I had done something wrong, and was taking it
personally that she didn't like me. In the second instance, I was so concerned with my own
feelings and perceptions I didn't take time to see how my significant other was feeling.
Strategies
To begin with, I decided that I needed to change the way I initially perceive things. I wanted to
get better at reading nonverbal communication, as well as improve upon my actions in response.
I formulated a plan to help with this process. I aspired to understand how the other person I was
interacting with was feeling and respond in an appropriate way. I chose a four step strategy
process to improve upon this communication barrier.
My strategy was to improve my ability to perceive how others may be feeling by “Being
Other-Oriented.” This involves a two step process. First, by “​Consciously thinking about
another’s thoughts and feelings and then empathising to what they may be feeling” and “Seek to
understand what others actually think and feel.” (Beebe, 77-79) This attitude shift is crucial in
the process of the bad habit I have of misinterpreting the information that I am seeing, hearing
and feeling from my nonverbal interactions with others. When I draw conclusions about what
others may be feeling or thinking, I am often times very wrong. I have been taking time to really
think about how they might feel and recognizing that they may be going through something that I
know nothing about, that has nothing to do with me. This has allowed me the opportunity to give
them benefit of doubt and compassion. For instance, this strategy would have been the most
helpful in the interaction with my husband. I was so concerned with my own perspective, if I had
remembered to use other-orientation in the conflict we had, I might have had a better idea that he
was struggling with his own feelings about the issue. “A final barrier to effective
other-orientation occurs when your perspective and your feelings are so strong that they prevent
you from accurately recognizing your partner’s perspective and feelings.” (Beebe, 326)
“Being Mindful”, is essential to the success of good communication and another important part
of my communication strategy. To be mindful, is essentially to be conscious of what I am
feeling, thinking, sensing and doing at any given moment. “A way to increase perceptual
accuracy is to make an effort to be less on “automatic pilot” when making judgements of others
and more aware of conclusions that you draw.” )Beebe, 78) As much as possible, I have tried to
notice more details to gain information. Also, I have made an effort to not make assumptions and
draw conclusions, but instead trying to take note of what is happening. As much as possible, I am
trying to remember to be mindful, if it is notable that one is straying from the path. I ask
questions to myself like, “Is what I am seeing actually true and am I being objective? What do I
notice of the situation?” I am making great efforts to be in a positive frame of mind and not
dwell on the negatives.
Another crucial part in this process is to “Be aware of limitations when interpreting nonverbal
messages.” This involves having a clear understanding that nonverbal messages can be
unreliable. “Nonverbal messages can be ambiguous, they can be repetitive and continuous, and
we may be getting several messages at once and sometimes those messages can contradict”
(Beebe, 203) While this concept coincides with “Being Mindful” and “Being Other-Oriented”, it
is an important step in the process. I have been checking my perceptions and trying to remember
that what I am interpreting could still be wrong.
Using effectictive strategies is helping me to avoid the previous pitfall of misinterpretation. This
is the last step in my process. This strategy suggests looking at all parts of the whole. Instead of
looking at just one part of the process, I am looking at all sides. I have been thinking about the
other person’s behaviour and thinking about what I know of their past experiences. I have tried
to compare what I am expecting to see versus what I am actually seeing. This method has
required me to be a lot more self aware and challenge my own perceptions. The focus has been
how can I be more supportive and understanding to the person I am having conflict with, as well
as sympathetic to how they might be feeling or what they are going through. If I need to change
my attitude, behavior or beliefs, I am willing to.
Constraints
While I have been making headway in shifting my patterns, I still have some constraints. In spite
of having a plan and clear outline of how to react or not react, I struggled with implementation.
Especially in the beginning. For instance, in the situation with my husband, I jumped to
conclusions with him and ultimately caused a much bigger issue because I was so fixated on my
own beliefs. I let my emotions get the better of me and I forgot to use other-orientation, so we
both ended up feeling miserable for a while. I felt hurt that he wouldn't listen to me and my
perspective and got defensive. He was hurt and defensive, because I ultimately made him feel
stupid with my accusations.
In the instance with my co-worker, I experienced a significant period of time where she simply
gave me no opportunities to speak with her. She gave me dirty looks, if she spoke to me it was in
a nasty tone and sometimes she would ignore me altogether and talk to those around me. It made
me feel insecure, unsure, and defensive. I wanted to remain other-oriented in this situation, but
the hostility I felt coming from her made me feel afraid.
Implementation
In regards to the situation with my husband, we both took some time to cool off. “Going to the
balcony” is a metaphor for taking a time out. Take a moment to excuse yourself to cool off when
someone pushes your buttons. Staying on the “main stage” to keep banging out a solution may
be counterproductive.(Beebe, 235) After I had a chance to calm down, I realized the error and
immediately began the steps to fix the issue. When I began to use other-orientation to the
situation, I realized that he was feeling just as bad as I was about throwing the bill away, and that
he was defensive because I basically made him feel stupid for calling him out on the mistake. I
realize what his nonverbal communication was telling me as well. His posture was stiff, tense
and frustrated. I didn't see this initially because I was too focused on how I felt. My emotions
were a barrier to effective communication. So the time to cool off and reflect gave me some
much needed perspective. After I realized all of this and sincerely apologized right away. I knew
that the way I handled things was wrong, and I am hopeful that he could tell I was remorseful.
“The words we use can hurt others. We can also use words to repair the damage we have done by
offering an apology expressing that we were wrong (not simply sorry), we are sincerely
remorseful, we want to do something to repair the damage, and we understand how much we
may have hurt our communication partner. (Beebe, 173) At this point I utilized all the steps in
my strategy and we found a common ground. Through mindfulness, I saw through his body
language that he was genuinely sorry as well. He felt terrible that he threw the bill away, as well
as from the fight that ensued. I thought about how I had reacted as well and then utilized the
effective communication strategies. I looked at the situation as a whole, both how he
communicates and how I expected him to be. I realized that I assumed he would help me look for
the bill. But what I didn't know was that he had already taken the garbage out. So my
assumptions proved wrong and that was part of why things escalated. I also recognized that my
emotions were getting in the way. I was only thinking of my own perspective and this caused a
communication barrier that I wasn't able to overcome until I had reflected upon it.
In the situation with the coworker, things were also challenging, though in a much different way.
The lack of actual communication between us caused a lot of confusion, hurt feelings and a
borderline hostile work environment. I tried multiple times to talk with her, create a rapport, ask
polite conversational questions, but the unpleasant nonverbal cues continued. Even on those
moments when she did reply to me, her tone of voice was annoyed, flat or even angry. When I
realized that things were not improving with her, I spoke with my boss. He listened carefully and
then asked me to write up an email, expressing the events and how the made me feel. “Besides
needing to address issues of harassment, supervisors also have a responsibility to eliminate
another dark side of interpersonal communication: the hostile environment.” (Beebe, 356)
Because the conflict was mostly nonverbal, it was challenging to describe and explain. I tried to
focus on facts, dates and times in my email, for proper documentation. In spite of the challenges,
I managed to maintain other-orientation and mindfulness with her. I used the “Stop, Look and
Listen” (Beebe, 338) method and then applied “self talk”, (Beebe, 129) to remind myself that I
didn't know what was going on with her, whenever she gave me a dirty look or said something in
a nasty tone. This helped me to realize that it really wasn’t about me. The best thing that I could
do for her and for myself was to not take this situation personally and give her the benefit of the
doubt. Later on I overheard her yelling at another coworker, then my boss in her office. I believe
that she was struggling to find her place in our office and was having issues with more than just
me.
Results
Throughout this process I noticed a lot more self awareness. I was also paying closer attention to
my interactions with others than I used to. To this effect, I have had a lot more thoughtful and
mindful responses to my interactions, as I am intentionally communicating with others, instead
of instinctually and reactively communicating with them. I have been able to achieve this by
using a practice called “Mindfulness.’ “Mindfulness is the ability to think consciously about
what you are doing and experiencing, rather than responding out of habit or intuition.” (Beebe,
32) The goals that I set for myself, while not always successful in the short term have served to
teach me valuable lessons about my communication style, where I can improve and how to be a
lot more “Other-Oriented”. I will continue use the strategies I have explored in this class and
more. I am happy with my progress with being more“Other-oriented” and “Managing
Emotions”. (Beebe, 229) I feel as though my “emotional intelligence” has improved by leaps and
bounds. “Emotional intelligence helps to accurately perceive messages” (Beebe, 133)
Recommendations
This class has helped me to think critically about the way I communicate, and I plan to continue
using the strategies I have learned. While I have only been applying these strategies for a short
time, I have seen some significant improvements. Particularly in the workplace. I would like to
expand on these ideas and apply myself to new goals. One specific area that I would like to make
improvements is with my teenage son. I know that we can do better. The strategies outlined in
Chapter 8, regarding “Conflict Management” will specifically be useful in this goal. As stated
before, I have been working on “Managing Emotions”, but the strategy goes much deeper into
how to handle conflict. Such as, “Make a conscious decision whether to express anger, select a
time to discuss the conflict, plan the message, breathe, monitor nonverbals, avoid personal
attacks, take time to establish a rapport and use self talk.” (Beebe, 228-231)The book goes even
further stating that we should be mindful of how we “Manage Information”. This means that we
must really be self aware when we are having a talk and be very clear, respectful and empathetic.
(Beebe, 232-233) This important work will be so helpful to begin improving the relationship
with my son. Perhaps modeling this behavior with him will improve his communication as well.

Works Cited
Beebe, Steven A.; Beebe, Susan J.; Redmond, Mark V.. Interpersonal Communication: Relating
to Others Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.