Communication climate is a phrase that is used to mean the “social tone of a relationship,” (Johnson & Phillips 2003, p. 190). It does not entail to a great degree the types of activities that people get involved in but rather the kind of feelings they have towards each other as they execute activities together. Communication climate exists in all interpersonal relationships whether at home, social gatherings or in the workplace. Communication climate can either be positive or negative.
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Positive Communication Climate
A positive communication climate is one that communicates confirming messages (Ander & Rodman 1999). Confirming messages are messages that show the message recipient that he or she is important and valued by the message sender. There are three levels of confirming messages namely: endorsement, acknowledgment and recognition.
Recognition is the most basic form of confirming messages (Conville 1991). It refers to the act of being aware of other people. Although it is the easiest way of confirming others, it does not imply that it is always done. Recognition entails acts such as returning calls, replying to a text message or email sent by someone else, waving to a neighbor, smiling at a loved one, maintaining eye contact with a familiar person and visiting others. While such acts are simple to perform, many times people avoid them. For instance, it is common to turn the other way when one sees a former classmate approaching, pretending not to see a neighbor while parking your car in the neighborhood, going about your duties when your husband arrives home from work rather than meeting him at the door with a smile and a hug, and avoiding eye contact with a boss at the workplace. All these acts of failing to recognize others may be done either intentionally or unintentionally. However, if the recipients of the message have the perception that the message senders are avoiding him, the message would become disconfirming to them (Goodall & Goodall 2002).
Acknowledgment is a stronger form of confirming messages. It entails not only recognition of others but also going a step further and listening to them, interpreting what they say, asking them questions, and infrequently giving them advice when required or appropriate. Acknowledgment of others shows that we have a genuine interest in them. Listening is the most common form of acknowledging others. Listening entails paying in-depth attention to what others are saying without interrupting them (Johnson & Phillips 2003). It involves understanding both what they verbally say and what they do not verbally say; that is, reading between the lines. It also entails understanding their feelings about the issue at hand. Acknowledgment at home can be shown by a husband listening to his wife intently when an issue arises. The husband will sit down with his wife and let his wife talk her heart out without cutting her short. Once the wife is through with talking, the husband will ask his wife questions about the issue and if necessary will offer suggestions concerning the problem. The husband will also ask his wife for her point of view about what she thinks should be done. Even if both the husband and wife have differing opinions about the issue, they will take time and effort to talk through all the suggestions and arrive at the solution they think is best. Such a scenario shows that the husband not only recognizes his wife but also acknowledges her as an equal and significant partner.
In the workplace, acknowledgment can be shown by the efforts made by the management to solicit assistance from employees, for instance, by asking for their suggestions when an important organizational decision needs to be made. This does not necessarily mean that the management should implement all the ideas given by the employees. Nevertheless, the mere act of involving the employees in the decision-making process is an indication to them that they are important assets to the organization and that the organization values and appreciates them (Goodall, Goodall & Schiefelbein 2009). Indeed, research shows that organizations that involve their employees in the decision-making process have more satisfied employees as well as better performance (Holland 1996).
Endorsement is the strongest form of confirming messages. It entails not only recognizing and acknowledging others but also agreeing with them and complimenting them. Praise is another form of endorsement that is equally effective. Praise should however be done honestly and when the person means it. Giving praise about something that is not genuine is morally and ethically wrong. This however happens many times. For instance, it is common for a person to praise her friend’s mode of dressing yet deep down in her heart she feels the dressing mode is horrible. The same goes with agreeing. It is not morally right to agree with someone else’s opinions just for the sake of the relationship. It is always good to voice one’s own beliefs even if they are in contrast with those of others (Gudykunst 2004).
In the home, endorsement can take many forms. For instance, a parent can praise her child for outstanding performance in academics or in a sport. Such an action enhances the relationship between parent and child. In addition, it will motivate the child to work even harder next time because she knows her efforts do not unnoticed. On the other hand, if a parent fails to endorse her child for the efforts she makes at school or in extra-curricular activities, she will harm the bond between herself and her child. This is because the child will feel as if she is not appreciated or valued no matter how well she performs. In turn, the lack of endorsement may have a negative impact on the child’s motivation to work harder. The same can be said of the relationship between a husband and his wife. A wife who compliments her husband frequently for the hard work he does in providing for the family offers an incentive for that husband to work even harder. Thus, the husband will endure any storm that comes his way at the workplace because he knows there is someone at home who appreciates him. In the workplace, the endorsement is manifested in various ways. A manager who praises an employee for work done well motivates that employee to be more productive. It is important to note that endorsement does not necessarily take the form of verbal messages (Larsen & Folgero 1993). It can also be done non-verbally, for instance, a pat on the back for work well done and a bear hug for performing well at school are all messages that complement and endorse others.
Negative Communication Climate
A negative communication climate is created by the use of disconfirming messages. Disconfirming messages are messages that communicate to the recipient that he or she does not exist or that they are not valued or appreciated. Such messages are more damaging to a relationship than disagreeing messages. Disconfirming messages are of different types including impervious, interrupting, irrelevant, tangential, impersonal, ambiguous, and incongruous messages (Wood 2009).
Impervious and tangential messages
Impervious messages are messages that portray that one party is ignoring the other party. Such messages may take the form of failure to return a call or message or reply to an email. Such a failure shows that the recipient of the message does not value or appreciate the worth of the sender. In short, impervious messages imply that the recipient has no interest in the sender. This is the case especially if the sender makes further attempts to convey the message but the message remains un-replied. Tangential messages are messages that ignore the message sender by introducing a totally different topic altogether. At the workplace, an impervious message may be communicated when an employee asks a fellow employee a question but the latter acts as if she did not hear. A tangential message on the other hand occurs if the second employee introduces a totally unrelated issue rather than addressing the first employee’s question (Trenholm & Jensen 1999).
Interrupting a person during a conversation is not only rude but it tends to convey a message that the person interrupting knows better than the one talking. It also shows that the person doing the talking is not making any sensible suggestions or opinions. Interrupting hinders effective communication because one party may fail to deliver the message that he is supposed to deliver. At the workplace, there are bound to be workers who because they talk faster than others or are impatient with others tend to interrupt their fellow workers. This habit may be intimidating to others and therefore may prevent them from sharing useful suggestions and ideas because they know they will be interrupted anyway.
Irrelevant messages are those that are completely unrelated to the topic that is being discussed. Irrelevant messages communicate a message that the topic at hand is not of importance and should not be raised again (Myers & Anderson 2008). For instance, at home, an irrelevant message can be communicated when a son asks for money from his mother than his mother replies by telling him to work on his homework. In such a situation, the mother totally ignores the topic brought up by her son and instead switches to another different topic. At the workplace, an irrelevant message can be communicated when an employee makes a request for salary raise from his employer but instead of discussing the issue, the employer asks the employee for the sales report. Such a communication clearly states to the employee that salary raise is not really important (Trenholm & Jensen 1999).
Impersonal messages are messages that are laden with clichés and generalized statements. They show that the recipient and the sender of the messages are not on the same personal level. For instance, a wife may say to her husband, “I have a headache” but instead of seeking to find out why she is suffering from the headache, he replies “headaches are common nowadays, must be the global warming”. In such a scenario, the husband clearly communicates to his wife that he does not care about her illness. At the workplace, the impersonal message may be communicated between a manager and an employee. An employee may request a day off to attend his son’s sport’s game. The manager may then reply “we all have kids”. Such a message shows that the manager is not on the same personal level as the employee and therefore does not understand the need for the employee to be there for his son.
Ambiguous and congruous messages
An ambiguous message is one that has several interpretations and therefore the message recipient is unsure about which of the interpretations the sender meant. An example of an ambiguous message is one in which a wife suggests to her husband that they should buy a house then the husband replies by saying, “yeah, sure, maybe we will”. The first part of this statement implies that he is for the idea and therefore they will indeed buy the house. However, the use of the word “maybe” shows uncertainty about the actual buying of the house. On the other hand, a congruous message is one that has conflicting statements. An example of an incongruous message between two employees is when one employee asks the other “mind helping me out in this?” than the other replies “not really” but rolls her eyes. The reply implies that the employee is happy to help out her colleague but the rolling of the eyes implies that she is not. In conclusion, disconfirming messages create a hostile and negative communication climate which may put off other people or discourage them from communicating certain messages. This can only be avoided by using confirming messages (Wood 2009).
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