Communications college students have a stigma of taking the “easy” major, and not knowing what they want to do with their life after school is over. But, what would the world be without those majors? As someone who studied Communications at Arizona State University, I have some insight. I had many people ask what I was going to do with that degree and tell me that my schedule and classes weren’t as hard as theirs were. Maybe that’s true in some cases, but not all. I never had to take hard science or math classes like a pre-med or business major, but none of them had to take my classes either. So who are we to judge each other?
I think so often we forget how important communication is to our world. We forget that communication is more than languages and the written word; it’s body language, facial expressions, tone, and other non-verbals. I’m a firm believer that everyone and anyone should take at least one communication class in their life. Then maybe we’d all have a better idea of how to listen, understand, and talk to each other in more respectful ways. It won’t fix all the world’s problems, but it’s a start in the right direction.
I wanted to discuss my top three favorite communication courses I took in college and my main takeaway from each. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
The way you send the message
The first communication class I took in college was COM 100, which is Intro to Human Communication. This was one of my favorite classes because we dove into theories, dimensions, and concepts of human communicative interaction and behavior. I would say that this is the number one class to take if you’re trying to understand why people are the way they are. One of the theories that I loved to learn about was the Communication Accommodation Theory, developed by Howard Giles. It’s the theory that describes when people accommodate or adjust their communication styles to others either through verbal and nonverbal technique and by divergence or convergence.
Divergence is a strategy in which speakers modify their communication to create or increase differences with others. Convergence is a strategy where speakers tailor their communication to become more similar to the communication styles of others. The Communication Accommodation Theory explains that altering the way you send your message can increase productivity in communication between both parties and improve the chance the message will be accepted positively.
Rewards & Costs
You know that voice in your head that tells you to change the way you speak to someone or to rewrite the paragraph you want to send over text or email? That’s part of this theory. There are mini theories that go into the Communication Accommodation Theory. The one I think of first is the social exchange process. This process assesses the rewards and costs of alternate courses of action, which then favor you toward whatever course of action will bring greater rewards and fewer costs.
I think, especially in the age of social media, sometimes people don’t think about how their words or actions come across to others. We don’t weigh the rewards vs. the cost of what we post, and that ends up hurting others when we may not have meant to.
What you don’t say
Nonverbal Communication, otherwise known as COM 317 at ASU, was another favorite of mine. We studied communication using space, time, movement, facial expression, touch, appearance, smell, environment, objects, voice, and gender/cultural variables. A mouthful, I know, but it all matters. These variables can help people understand if you care about what they’re saying or not, whether you’re lying or telling the truth, and how well you’re listening. To be an overall better communicator, you have to become more sensitive to the body language and nonverbal cues of others, but also of your own.
Nonverbal actions are compelling forms of communication. They can be repetitive, enhancing the message you’re making verbally. They can contradict your verbal message, which can indicate you’re not telling the truth. They can substitute, meaning your nonverbal conveyed a stronger messaged than your words could. They could complement or add to your verbal message, boosting the impact of your message. They could also accent or nonverbally underline your important verbal message.
In a time where what you say can make or break your career, life, or self, nonverbal communication has to be acknowledged. Words mean more than you think they do, and people receive them in different ways. We have to learn more about each other’s nonverbal communication patterns to truly understand one another.
There are seven types of nonverbal communication or body language. All equally important and can play important roles in communication.
- Facial Expressions: Humans are very expressive without having to say a word. Facial expressions are also universal, meaning happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures.
- Body Movement/Posture: The way people move and carry themselves communicates a lot more than you think. A subtle shift when you’re uncomfortable or a slouching posture when you’re sad can visually show people how you’re feeling.
- Gestures: Most people do this without thinking about it, think of waving, pointing, or giving the OK sign. Gestures have the tendency to mean different things across cultures, so it’s necessary to be careful of how and when you use gestures to avoid misunderstanding.
- Eye Contact: The way you look at someone can communicate a variety of things based on the conversation or situation. For most people, their visual sense is dominant, which makes eye contact a key component in nonverbal communication. It’s used to maintain the flow of conversation and gauging interest, affection, or hostility from someone.
- Touch: Some love it, and some hate it. A big hug or kiss on the forehead can show love for someone. While a pat on the head or strong handshake can be condescending or intimidating.
- Space: Think of your personal “bubble.” Letting people close to you and putting literal space between yourself and someone can communicate different things based on the culture, situation, and your past interactions.
- Voice: Words matter, but so does how you say it. People pay attention to how fast you talk, how loud you speak, your tone, and sounds such as “uh” or “ah.” Tone can indicate a lot to the receiver of the message, including sarcasm, anger, confidence, or annoyance.
Without communication, there is no relationship
Relational Communication or COM 310 was one of the most helpful classes I took during my undergrad. If I’m being honest, it was actually therapeutic, learning about different types of relationships and how to handle them. One of the main things I learned was everyone has their own communication style. Occasionally, you will bump heads with someone who has a different one than you. It could be someone at work, a friend, or even a family member. I’m sure there’s a few of you bumping heads on the topics going on in current events right now.
Depending on the relationship, verbal and nonverbal communication can indicate different things. We must view each relationship separately. The cardinal rule of relationships is that communication is key. It lays the foundation on which a relationship stands and can prosper. Unfortunately, not all relationships last.
As I finished this class, we were given a final project, to create a pamphlet on a specific point of the timeline of a relationship (our choice what type) and integrate communication theories into it. Naturally, I chose a romantic relationship because I’ve been through my fair share of those. I called it “Healing the Hurt,” and I focused on the struggle that is associated with breakups, oh, and I used Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors to do it.
It was fun to add names to the stages of a terminated relationship with ice cream. The facts I gathered for it, though, could have easily fit along with work or family relationships that ended.
The overall takeaway is that the way you end things and the type of communication you used matters. You may want to reach back out in the future, or they might, so it’s important to have realistic and balanced thoughts about that person and the situation. Think about why the relationship didn’t work, was it something they said, something they did or maybe didn’t do? Maybe, it’s something you did and didn’t take ownership of until afterward. Your words and nonverbal communication actions have consequences.
The thing I want every one of you reading to take from all of these classes I mentioned is that communication is more than you think it is. It’s more than words on a social media post, more than a text/email, more than a phone call, and more than a wave goodbye. Remember that communication is key to everything we do in life. So maybe it’d be a good idea to go sign up for a communication class or two to learn more.