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Communication Competence

What does it mean to be a “competent communicator?” In particular, think of what a competent communicator
looks like, or acts like, in an interpersonal or group setting. That’s what this video will focus on:
Defining what Communication Competence is, and
Key Factors in increasing communication competence “Competence” means simply that something
or someone is sufficient to meet one’s needs. Synonyms include “capable,” “appropriate,”
proficient,” “adequate,” and “suitable.” Perhaps just as instructive is what It doesn’t
mean: It doesn’t mean you have to be the best, outstanding, exceptional, impressive,
or expert. Of course, if you are the best, outstanding,
exceptional, impressive, or expert, that’s great! You would have met the minimum qualifications
for being competent. What does this mean when communicating with
others? One definition, from Dr. J. Dan Rothwell,
currently a professor at Cabrillo College, is simple and straight forward: Communication
competence means engaging in communication with others that is both effective and appropriate. Much of what I’m going to cover comes from
Dr. Rothwell. He breaks down Communication Competence into
four core concepts: The first two concepts are embodied in Rothwell’s
previous definition: Effective and Appropriate. Effective refers to if you were able to get
your message across while appropriate means you are able to follow the rules of the communication
situation. Think about young children who often misspell
words or have poor handwriting. If a child writes, “The cat put it’s paws
their,” putting an apostrophe in “it’s” and using the wrong spelling of “there”—oh,
the “Grammar Nazi in me is cringing right now—we can probably figure out what she
is saying—it’s effective—but the spelling doesn’t follow the rules or what is acceptable
for the situation. It’s not appropriate. Another example: A student is annoying me
by constantly asking me when assignments are due—and those dates are clearly identified
in the course schedule. I could just answer the question by giving
the due dates—probably appropriate. But if my intent is to teach students to be
responsible and figure it out for themselves, then telling them the due dates would not
be effective. I could also respond in other ways:
“Look at the schedule.” “Are you too lazy to check?” “If you check the schedule, you’ll see
the due dates are clearly spelled out in the Due Dates section. If you are having difficulty finding it, we
can schedule a meeting.” And, I could choose not to respond—which
is still a response. Some of these may be effective, but not overly
appropriate. “Are you too lazy to check?” gets the
point across but is a bit mean. (Oh, believe me, I’ve seen and heard worse.) Some would argue that no response is appropriate;
students should know where to look and professors shouldn’t have to coddle students who don’t
take the initiative to find it themselves. But, is it effective? And, don’t forget, that it matters what
the situation is. Are we communicating via email? In front of a class of students? Within earshot of others? What culture are we communicating in? The direct approach favored by many Western
cultures is completely inappropriate in many Asian cultures. That connects to the third concept of Communication
Competence being a matter of degree. Consider a continuum with “Deficient”
or highly incompetent on one side and “proficient” or highly competent on the other. In between you can plot other levels of competence. Could someone be below expectations but not
quite deficient? Average? And, could it differ by situation or skill
set? In other words, you might be proficient in
public speaking but lacking in interpersonal communication skills. Or you might be good at listening but not
so great at getting to the point when offering your ideas. With this in mind, you can see that competency
is not really a characteristic of the individual, but is applicable to a given situation. The final core concept is a We-Not Me-Orientation. As individuals, we tend to be “ego-centric.” We view everything from our perspective, putting
ourselves first. We often try to achieve our individual goals
without even thinking about the others we interact with. Now, I’m not saying you should never put
your needs first, but it’s definitely inappropriate to ignore others and the impact of your communication
on them. For example, if you are working with a group,
you may have to reconsider your needs so that the group can meet their goals. We may need to be more “group” oriented
than “individual” oriented. How do we become more competent at communicating? There are three key interrelated factors:
Motivation, Knowledge, and Skill. Motivation is your general willingness or
desire to do something. Another word for motivation might be commitment. You can be motivated to achieve something
positive—reaching for the carrot—or to avoid something negative—keeping away from
the stick. You may be committed or motivated to change
your communication in a romantic relationship if you want to maintain or deepen it—or
work harder to keep it together, avoiding a break-up. Motivation is usually thought of as internal
but could be affected by outside factors. Think about wanting to learn another language. What motivates you to learn the language or
practice it? Might your motivation be that it is fun? Or that you want to be a role model for others? Or that being bilingual may result in a higher
income? Or, if you moved to another country, you might
be motivated to learn the language in order to survive or fit in. Knowledge is the information that you need
to do what you want to do. If you wanted to learn another language, you’d
need to gain the knowledge to do it. All the motivation in the world won’t help
you be competent if you don’t have the knowledge. And skill refers to your ability to apply
your knowledge. You could be motivated to learn another language
and have the knowledge, but the words coming out of your mouth might be indecipherable. And, as I said earlier, these three factors
are interrelated. If you’re motivated, you’ll likely figure
out a way to get the knowledge AND you’ll practice which will improve your skill. Knowledge may help with the skill, and if
you are skilled it’s often easier to find the motivation to continue what you are doing. Two other factors to consider are sensitivity
and ethics. The Sensitivity aspect relates to the We-Not
Me-Orientation we discussed earlier. This is your ability to identify other people’s
reactions and behave appropriately. You could think of this as a subset of the
Skill factor: It is a skill to determine what others are feeling—Anger? Conflict? Frustration? Contentment?—and adjust your communication
accordingly. And we should all behave ethically by being
honest, fair, respectful, consistent, and responsible. The question you might need to ask yourself
now is, “Are you a competent communicator?” Ah… not such an easy question to answer,
right? If communication competence is really a matter
of degree, then your answer likely is, “It depends.” Focusing on motivation, knowledge, and skills,
and adding in sensitivity and ethics, is the first step to developing Communication Competence.

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