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I have promised to publish a column every Thursday, however, tomorrow I’m going to be wrapped up all day, so in order to best keep my promise I’ll be publishing this weeks post today.
I started a series on Communication in my blog many months ago, I decided that I would continue that series as a part of this column instead. My previous posts Why We Communicate: Vain Brain and Why We Communicate: The Complexities of Face-to-Face Talk are available by clicking the title or at my blog.
"Instead of asking, “What's wrong with this person?" Ask, "Where does this person come from?”"
Communication is exceptionally complicated and most of us take the act of-, for granted, we don’t consciously think about what we’re actually communicating, why, or (and maybe most importantly) how. And we definitely don’t consider how our means of communication are actually formed.
The way that we talk, as well as the way that we behave are developed through cultural values and norms. We are taught, both directly and indirectly, what is socially acceptable and to read and follow social cues that guide us through our personal interactions.
This is called this Socialization.
These cultural and social cues have become so commonplace and familiar that we don’t notice them until we interact with people with different cultural norms, and when we are introduced to cues that are different from our own we almost always start with a form of judgment; cultural learning is never neutral. We are taught that there are acceptable ways to behave and to talk, that there are “right” ways of communicating; cues that fit our traditional cultural understandings because they illustrate how the majority of the people within our culture both think and behave, generally.
It’s the form of judgment when we find ourselves questioning the traditions and behaviors of (most recognizably—lately): Middle Eastern cultures. Although there are some that we are familiar with, although unaccustomed to and equally, though not equally criticized, judgmental of such as Asian, and most distinctly, Japanese culture.
Western cultures are considerably more individualist than the collectivist Japanese cultural norms, we have built our society on the foundations of individual achievement and that echos how we communicate with one another, while the Japanese are very much a collectivist culture they focus more on the family and the community and the achievement of the whole. I only mention that because I spent, essentially, the first six years of my life in Tokyo, Japan and when in an environment of several people working for a—seemingly—common goal I notice that I’ll work for the effort of that goal, and I will often forget and get frustrated, when entangled by a few individuals who are mostly interested in their personal advancement, that our society is predominantly self-oriented, and when engaging with people on a personal level through Face-to-Face verbal communication it’s important to be aware, as able as possible, that there are constantly numerous unconscious elements at play in any given moment during face-to-face talk.
Cultural communicative norms offer us enough information to create commonality with the people we are surrounded by within societies that have similar cultural values, as well as offer us enough information to know, or at the very least recognize when someone might be acting or interacting outside of those cultural norms, although within our mutually acceptable cultural norms there exist sub-levels of socialization that are learned indirectly following religious, political, family, etc. influences of the people within our immediate surroundings: sub-cultures; the way that people “perform” within a family, a neighborhood, a community.
In 1996 at the University of Michigan, Richard E. Nisbett and Dov Cohen researched the effects of anger on individuals, specifically 18-20 year old males. The study examined how subjects respond to frustrating, obstructive stimuli when attempting to accomplish a task. It was pretty simple actually, the subjects were required to complete a questionnaire and then, once finish, deliver the document to someone in another room at the end of a long, lean hallway lined with file cabinets where they would advance to the next stage. While in the hallway the students were cut-off by an irate man sifting through a file cabinet whom would offer a muffled insult as the students tried to scoot by, intentionally infuriating the students/subjects before they continued on to the next stage of the study which, in reality, was entirely about how people react to frustrating situations. Ultimately Nisbett and Cohen discovered that a percentage of these students were getting considerably more angry than the rest, and that those students were all from southern states, where the learned behavior of (to abridge) “defending ones honor” is more predominant than in the northern states. Where they learned to react based on the specific, unconscious social cues of their environments.
Words are remarkable things, inasmuch as they can be very shifty. A single word can refer to, or stand for a variety of meanings, even our own lexicons cannot safely define a solitary meaning for one seemingly simple word, let alone the meanings that we apply to words based entirely on our own personal emotional or psychological experiences with a word or a specific meaning of a word; a person might interpret meanings differently than we might intend based on an experience relatable only to that person; we can interpret meaning based on expression, body language, and how something was verbally said, as well as the defined meaning of a word, inasmuch as the fleeting unconscious happenstance of our or their moods can affect a words meaning.
“Meanings are in people, not in words.”
Our learned process of talking to others are primarily a result of unconscious social and cultural cues, also known as, schema.
“Combinations of observed words, vocal tones, and looks that are cued up by changes in the situation, the context, and are culturally provided, prearranged sets of expectations about people and situations that allow us to make sense of what’s going on.”
It’s the same concept as when you walk into a library or a church and your behaviors suddenly shifts, this a learned reaction based on social cues, and much of the way that we communicate with one another is developed from the schema; they have little to do with our conscious thought, because they are buried deeply in what is called the cognitive unconscious part of the mind…
However, I’ll tackle that in the next column on Communication.
I know that the reason I started a column along with the blog was so that I can discuss things from a more personal perspective, and this column really doesn’t read like a personal narrative on communication. I think that is both intentional and not; communication is a very important topic to me, and this being the first column on the subject I think it’s important for me to illustrate that I have both a working knowledge—cause I’m alive—as well as an academic understanding of communication and the psychological background surrounding the topic.