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By Susan Klopfer, MBA Author of Profit From Diversity; Getting Along With Others Publication Date, Nov. 30, 2010 (New diversity management business book targets inexperienced supervisors, managers. Profit From Diversity: Getting Along With Others, emphasize story-telling, includes unique glossary with down-to-earth definitions of diversity-related key words.)
"You're kidding me. I can't graduate unless I take a speech class? But my major is engineering." Sue isn't happy after learning about this added requirement. "It is going to cost me time and money - something I am almost out of since you keep increasing my class requirements and my tuition keeps going up," she complains to her academic advisor. "Is this speech class really necessary?" Like Sue, many students are not happy about taking a speech class, especially if they in an "unrelated" field. Besides time and money, fear can be one more factor. (So, who among us can say they were not scared stiff to give their first public speech?) Yet, with increased globalization and diversity, the need to learn as much as possible about communication and cross-cultural communication before taking a first job, and throughout one's professional career, is becoming more and more apparent. If Sue's academic counselor is at all communication savvy, she will point out three immediate reasons why a speech class is required for all students: first, communication is critical for functioning in society. Second, oral tradition is a keystone to the democratic process, and third, globalization and expanding information technologies making our world smaller, putting us in contact more and more with people who communicate differently than the members of the dominant U.S. culture. As these three reasons expand due to global economic change, there becomes even more need for people to be better communicators. Communication skills are essential in today's globalized society, so much that most junior colleges, colleges and universities - and even organizations and businesses - offer students and employees courses in effective communication. In one manufacturing company where I worked, the company set up and supported a Toastmaster's Club to help us become better communicators. Schools and organizations take such steps knowing that learning about communication helps students and employees think more critically, solve problems, increase personal credibility, adapt to change, develop selfconfidence and communicate interculturally. Without communication skills we are unable to share thoughts and feelings with each other; further we are unable to share our cultures. Communication is a core part of our daily lives. Arguments can be made that every hour we are awake involves communication. When not directly communicating with others, we are engaged in a host of intrapersonal communication activities such as sending e-mail, listening to music on iPods, reading magazine ads, or even deciding whether to go to work or class.
Acts of communicating vary from anything as seemingly unimportant as saying hello to a casual acquaintance to calling 911 to report an emergency. Because communication is a social activity, it can be changed - people can increase and improve their communication skills. The requirement to do so has grown as the U.S. moves from a manufacturing to a knowledgebased economy. Diversity in the workforce and globalization require increased competence in communication with people from a variety of cultures. Once Sue takes the "dreaded' speech class, she will learn that speech is only one aspect of the entire communication process. A speaker is mostly engaged in communication whenever he or she consciously or unconsciously affects the behavior of others. Upon entering the work force as an engineer, Sue will immediately recognize that people ask and answer questions every day, participate in conversations, exchange ideas in team meetings and deliver presentations - formally and informally. Factors such as culture, credibility, motivation, listening skills, feedback will all come into play as these and related events occur. For instance, as a person speaks in a team meeting, the other team members send messages back to the speaker with their smiles, yawns, blank gazes, squirming in their chairs, twirling their pens, sending text messages from their cell phones - all conveying their individual nonverbal reactions to the speaker. How Sue communicates on the job will depend on her understanding of the communication process. While the definition of communication takes many forms, most introductory speech students learn it is the process of one person sending a message that creates meaning in another person. The key word "process," implies an interaction that consists of parts or components. Most critical is the sender, the individual or group originating the message. In public speaking, the sender is someone who wants to communicate with others. To do so, the speaker prepares and transmits a message to receivers that contains information the sender wants others to understand; this can be verbal or nonverbal. Messages are transmitted through a channel to the receiver. The channel can be direct or "mediated" through a cell phone, webinar on the Internet, radio, or other such means such as a video camera or photograph. The receiver is the intended recipient of the message and the one who interprets the message. It is the receiver who assigns meaning, and this may or may not be what the sender wanted to communicate if the first place. Communication is often said to be receiver based. If Sue tells an audience that the webinar starts at 5 o'clock, most employees will think she means in the late afternoon, near the end of the work day. But an employee, especially if they were physically isolated from the others, might interpret this to be an early morning Internet meeting. Receivers, after interpreting the message and assigning meaning, put together a response, or an action they take as a result of the meaning they've assign to the message - such as trying to log into an early morning webinar rather than doing so in the late afternoon. Another part of the communication process is feedback or what allows the speaker to determine if the message is effective. A nod or smile may be something different from a frown. What does a "bobbing" head mean? Or lack of eye contact? These forms of feedback vary from culture to culture, as most speech and communication students are taught. Communication takes place in both a physical and a social environment - the actual place where the communication takes place and the social environment, which is more abstract. People change their communication styles in response to both the physical and social environments.If Sue meets with her academic advisor for a beer at the local bar, their communication style is different than what occurs when they meet in her advisor's campus office. The final aspect of communication involves noise or the types of distractions that occur during a communication event. Physical noise takes many forms, such as loud talk outside of a classroom or the Internet cutting out during a webinar.
Intrinsic noise can also occur. This happens, for example, when a student is thinking about something other than the topic being presented by a classmate in a speech; perhaps the receiver knows her or she is "up next" to give a speech and this worry would be considered as noise. Being sleepy or hungry during a webinar contributes to intrinsic noise, or hearing a dog bark or a baby cry while composing an important e-mail message. Intercultural communication is affected by a type of noise that produces conflict or misunderstanding. When people use a common language, and some of the participants involved must use a non-native language to participate, noise occurs. Few have complete fluency in a second language and as a result, it is easy for an accent or misused word to make understanding more difficult. This type of noise is described as semantic noise and includes jargon, slang, and even technical or professional terms (West and Turner, 2004). When taken together, these eight parts of the communication process give an overview of what enables and influence communication, whether or not it is interpersonal or public speaking. Sue listens to her academic advisor intently as she explains why taking a speech class is so important to this young engineer's future - the message, in fact, is coming through loud and clear. She gets it, Sue tells her advisor, and promises to sign up for the speech communication class ¡pronto! -END-