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1: What is communication

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    What Is Communication?

    What is communication? It’s how we signal to each other. All mammals do it – a dog, for instance, can chase a bird from “his” yard with just one bark. But human communication is different. Not only can we grunt, groan, signal pain with a scream or groan, but we can also explain a very complex matter by the words we speak or write. We can send a message about our economic position or our social status by what we wear. We can convey pleasure or displeasure by the look on our face. We can show engagement (or disinterest) by the way we stand or sit. Sometimes we use media to communicate, but not always.

    Communication is the key to culture, society, and civilization. Communication can prevent wars or start them. Communication helps us meet our needs; for example, if you want a raise at work you have to explain why you deserve a raise to the boss. If you’re not happy with a grade in school, you need to be able to explain why you deserve a higher one to the instructor.

    Fundamentally, there are two types of communication – verbal communication and nonverbal communication. Communication can also be viewed as either interpersonal communication or group communication. This course is about interpersonal communication – communication between two people, between husband and wife, parent and child, between friends, or between two people at work. Interpersonal communication is about creating strong relationships with others; it is about winning friends and influencing people, one at a time.

    Our goal in this class is to help you identify and understand the various theories around interpersonal communication and to be able to apply them to real-life experiences at home and in the workplace.

    Why Study Communication?

    You may be wondering “why study communication?” The following case study will give you one answer.

    A Case Study: During the 20th Century, the health and life expectancy of people residing in the United States increased dramatically by more than 30 years, and 25 years of the gain were attributable to advances in public health. In 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled a list of what it considered to be the 10 greatest public health advances in public health from 1900 to 1999. Among them: fluoridation of public water supplies, which not only reduced tooth decay by about 25% in children and adults (CDC, 1999) but also strengthened bones.

    Amazingly enough, a substantial portion of New Jersey’s water supply still was not fluoridated as late as 2004, when we moved to Maryland. That’s because some people in New Jersey convinced their local municipality to oppose fluoridation, and to avoid political controversy, Elizabethtown Water Co. took the position that unless all towns in its service area agreed, it would not fluoridate the water it supplied to residents. This meant that the residents of a town of 500 people could deny fluoridated water to the residents of a city of 85,000 – that’s roughly the size of Largo, Md.

    When we moved to Maryland, we picked two poor dentists in succession. One was technically inept. I never used him, but my wife and daughters did. I didn’t like him and walked out of the first appointment, found a woman dentist that I thought was highly competent, skilled, and caring. On my recommendation, my wife and daughters changed.

    Years later, I learned they all considered the new dentist to be rude, demeaning, and insensitive. My daughters quit going to any dentist. After a couple of years, my youngest daughter found another dentist and resumed going to the dentist. My oldest, however, went at least five years without seeing a dentist at all. She finally was convinced to try the dentist my youngest was using. We’ll call the new dentist Dr. M.

    About a week before she went to Dr. M, she told us she must have contacted poison ivy, or maybe poison oak. The day she went, it was determined she didn’t have poison ivy or poison oak at all, but rather hives caused by extreme anxiety over the thought of visiting a dentist. When she saw Dr. M, the most they could accomplish on the first visit was X-rays. For the next visit, when they were to clean her teeth, they prescribed valium.

    All of this because of a dentist who lacked the appropriate interpersonal skills, what medical professionals call a “bedside manner.”

    In the Workplace: It’s not just medical professionals who need strong communication skills. If you want to get ahead in any workplace, communication is one of the skills employers want and need.

    Hard skills are the technical expertise and knowledge needed for a job. To be an accountant, you must be proficient in accounting, to be a nurse, you must be proficient in nursing, etc. Soft skills are interpersonal qualities, also known as people skills. Employers want new employees to have strong soft skills. Here are the 10 most important soft skills, in order, as perceived by business executives in one study: integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, professionalism, flexibility, teamwork, and work ethic (Robles, 2012).

    Here’s a list from (2022), a website that helps match workers and employers, of the top 10 communication skills employers and recruiters want to see in a resume:

    1. Active listening

    2. The ability to use the right communication method in the right situation.

    3. Friendliness

    4. Confidence

    5. Accepting critical feedback and providing constructive input to others.

    6. Being able to adjust your speaking voice so you can be heard in a variety of settings.

    7. Empathy (and sympathy)

    8. Respect

    9. Nonverbal cues

    10. Responding quickly

    So, communication is often the key to success in whatever career you are pursuing. Watch this video and be prepared to discuss your experience in the workplace. Have you had an effective communicator or an ineffective communicator?

    Finally, you might not think that accountants need to be good communicators. But they do, as we will discuss in Chapter 10.

    In one study of workplace conflict involving college students, Myers and Larson (2005) found the ability to manage interpersonal situations and conflict in the workplace to be an essential skill. More than half (53%) of all students described conflicts that stem from relational and procedural issues such as scheduling, efficient use of resources, and the necessity of completing tasks in a particular sequence. In general, students described frustration with rules and procedures that seemed unfair, arbitrarily enforced, or subjective. For example, one student said he disagreed with a coworker on "which route would be most efficient" to visit customers. Another student said that she and a coworker "did not agree on how to go about a project or what information was needed."

    Communication is a key leadership skill. David McCullough, the historian, says this:

    Maybe, if we could put presidential power in a big pot and boil it down, a big part of what we would find at the bottom would be language, the power of language, the potency of language. Power to persuade is potency indeed, and only a relatively few of the presidents had it – Lincoln, TR, Woodrow Wilson, FDR. And JFK. His inaugural address didn’t just thrill the country then – it still does.

    (McCullough, 2017, p. 20)

    Whether or not a patient is satisfied with the health care he has received is often a reflection of the patient’s satisfaction with communication during the health care visit. Several studies have duplicated the results of work by Korsch, Gozzi & Francis (1968) that found when mothers were dissatisfied with visits to pediatricians they mentioned lack of warmth, lack of consideration for parental concerns, and clarity of diagnosis, as well as heavy use of medical jargon.

    If you are a healthcare major, watch this video and be prepared to discuss how communication contributes to patient satisfaction. If you are not a healthcare major, be prepared to discuss whether the recommended steps “when things go wrong” seem logical to you.

    We’ll cover all this and more in this course.


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1999). Achievements in public health, 1900-1999: Fluoridation of drinking water to prevent dental caries. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 48(41); 933-940. (October 22, 1999) (2022, June 16). Top 10 Communication Skills for Career Success

    Korsch, B. M., Gozzi, E. K., & Francis, V. (1968). Gaps in doctor-patient communication. Pediatrics, 42, 855-871.

    McCullough, D., (2017). The American spirit: Who we are and what we stand for. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

    Myers, L.L. and Larson, R. Sam (2005). Preparing students for early work conflicts. Business Communication Quarterly. 68(3).

    Robles, M.M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills needed in today’s workplace. Business Communication Quarterly. 75(4) 453-465. doi: 10.1177/1080569912460400.

    1: What is communication is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 1.3 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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