To effectively communicate we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.
It had taken me a long time to realize that not everyone (hardly anyone) will ever agree with me or see or experience the world in the exact same way as I do. There will always be an experience that has shaped someone else to perceive the world differently than I do. When I was younger I was surrounded by others who I thought, thought like me and vice versa. But in reality, we were too young to even form our own opinions let alone think that we thought like each other. I firmly believe that you must know what you stand for, what you believe in, and what your core values are to be a starting point.
I’ve come to realize over the years that communication starts with a basic understanding of yourself and how your past, your background, your experiences can affect how you see and communicate with others. As human beings we are the products of our cultures and where we come from. Being able to recognize the significant role that plays in how we situate ourselves in conversations, in interactions with others, and how we form opinions is crucial in maintaining and forming relationships. An understanding of yourself means you are able to further understand where the other is coming from in conversations with those you don’t agree with. Lexi Baxter wrote in the Communication As book “the essence of dialogue is the simultaneous differentiation from, yet fusion with, another” (Baxter, 2006, p. 101). Every utterance, every word, has an origin; it comes from somewhere. Talk in interaction is tied to the past. It’s tied to the past interactions that we have had; it’s tied to cultural differences, our upbringings and our current situations. I am not separate from them, and neither are you. What we communicate is not separate from our past selves; it is laced with cultural meanings and if we are open to the opportunity, we can learn from others who are different from us if we take the time to listen.
Communication is relating; it is finding where you fit in with others and where you don’t. I believe that you can always find commonality with someone if you were to dig deep enough. Communication as relationality states any two persons are always in some relationship to each other (Condit, 2006, p.10). I found this to be powerful because when thinking of my philosophy of communication; I thought about how I saw myself in relation to people I had never met before. I asked myself can I have any relation to them? Could I find commonality with those who aren’t like me or don’t look like me? The answer is yes to both of those questions. Over the years, I have realized that communication studies has taught me how to dig deeper. It has taught me to ask questions, practice patience and most importantly practice radical empathy. Thinking about my philosophy of communication and how it plays a role in my life I would say that I use this definition of understanding and perspective-taking in every interaction. It’s how I am able to relate to others and find common ground with those who I feel might not like me or see me as “less than” because of my outward appearance. Perspective-taking is being aware of yourself and having the capacity to see the point of view of others. This take pairs well with dialogue and relationality because both are about creating and maintaining worlds through relationships, but you can’t do that if you don’t see the world in different ways.
My definition of communication has taught me that I should never dismiss someone just because I don’t agree with them. Being a waitress for 7 years has taught me a lot about myself but when I started my academic career at Creighton, I learned so much more. I realized how I had been a willing participant in producing and reproducing social structures (Seibold & Myers, 2006, p.143) that aren’t okay. It wasn’t until I learned that most people are unaware of the communication practices that go on to reproduces these social structures that I understood perspective-taking and understanding. I learned how language is the lens to how people feel about things and it’s much more revealing than people think.
Code of Ethics
Growing up, I’ve always heard that it’s easier to make the right decision in a hypothetical situation than it is when you’re actually in that situation. Communication ethics are invisible rules that guide our behaviors in interactions, in interpersonal relationships and in some many other situations. With my definition of communication as perspective-taking and understanding in interpersonal relationships and everyday life; I think one of the biggest things to remember that “there is no one universal communication ethic there are multiple communication ethics” (Arnett, 2011, p.46). This means that in every interaction the ethics that guide your behavior in that conversation are going to vary depending on your relationship, your power dynamic, the setting, and your culture just to name a few. To say that there are universal ethics that everyone agrees on would be a false reality. Not being aware of the rules in your conversations could potentially be damaging to your relationship or be a violation to that relationship. In interpersonal relationships for example we all have a “universal human desire for and basic right to respect and dignity” (Planalp & Fitness, 2006, pg.137) in our close relationships but also when we are walking down the street or are in the grocery store. As a waitress the communication ethics is to treat everybody the same. But to do this is to be aware of my bias and to actively work against any preconceived stereotypes I may have a towards group.
In terms of social justice and communication, I believe that to make a change in this world we have to start treating people like we want to be treated. Radical empathy, kindness and love is the key. If we treat people with respect and dignity (because we all have inherent dignity) that is where real change is met. Too often these days I see people dismiss others because it’s not what they want to hear. If they were to realize that we are all connected in some way they would be able to find common ground.
My definition of communication is not an easy one that I think people are willing to accept without criticism. I see my take on communication as more of the ideal rather than the actual thing. But from me, this is how I try every day to live my life. My definition takes a lot of reflection and awareness to pull off and sometimes I think it’s just not possible to understand where everyone is coming from. But when I think about how communication has impacted me and when I think about myself and what I do during interactions with others; these are the thoughts that go through my mind. If I can understand how the other person is coming to this conclusion in our conversation then maybe I can begin to see where things went wrong or where the misstep happened. Perspective-taking has helped me to understand why people have their opinions, beliefs, and values. We should notice people differences but not because they’re bad or wrong. I was taught to be colorblind at young age and although there are advantages to that viewpoint, it is unproductive when trying to make change happen within a broken society. As a society we fear change, we fear those we don’t look like us, don’t conform like us and that’s not good. I don’t know when we stopped celebrating difference. I don’t know when we stopped practicing empathy and love. Taking the time to hear other people out doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or like their point of view. But giving them the space to hear their side and showing them respect and dignity hoping they will reciprocate that back is all you can do.
- Cheney, G., May, S., & Munshi, D. (2011). The Handbook of Communication Ethics. New York: Routledge.
- Shepherd, G. J., St. John, J., & Striphas, T. (Eds.) (2006). Communication as…Perspectives on theory. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.