Benchmark Institute is a training and performance development
organization dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of
legal services to low-income communities.
Communication between two people consists of transmitting
and receiving. If both parties are performing both tasks effectively,
there is good communication. This sounds very simple and obvious. In
reality, it is difficult for most people to achieve. Communication is even
difficult when concerned only with intellectual or cognitive content ─
explaining an idea or a theory, giving directions or instructions,
delivering a message. Problems of vocabulary, colloquial expressions,
semantic difficulties complicate transmitting. This makes reception more
difficult. Even assuming efficient transmission, many people do not listen
carefully enough to be efficient receivers anyway.
When people are personally involved, clear two-way communication is even
more difficult because feelings and emotions are present. Most serious
communication difficulties are due to feelings. Yet in personal
interactions, feelings are the most important aspect of the communication.
When people become deeply involved in a democratic relationship,
communicating freely is very difficult.
Most of us need help in communicating effectively. Communication training
is best accomplished in groups. Communication skills learned in groups may
immediately be applied to two-party relationships.
Levels of Communication
To understand better the complexities of communication, let us look at
the various levels on which communication may take place. There are at
least four such levels.
1. Content, the factual material, the basic words themselves, or what one
is talking about.
I may be talking about how to build a sailboat, a painting, or anything.
If the subject is very important, I will very likely be experiencing some
feelings - enthusiasm, pleasure, disgust, or whatever - as Iím
transmitting. The feelings are a vital and important and I may not feel
very important if these feelings are ignored or misunderstood.
3. Feelings about feelings (Fitts 1965¨b).
I may be talking about boat building, and feeling very enthusiastic, but I
may also be embarrassed or ashamed of my enthusiasm. Or I may be angry
with you, but also feel guilty or fearful about my anger. Feelings about
feelings are an important aspect of communication and can create many
problems in communication.
4. The fourth level pertains to the motivation involved, or what the
transmitter is seeking. Why is s/he transmitting this message? What is the
purpose, the reason, for her telling me this? What does the transmitter
want, what is s/he up to, or seeking from me? I may be discussing boat
building with you in an effort to impress you with my knowledge, or
because I want to sell you something, or in an effort to get you to help
me, or simply because you are my friend, and I want to share my pleasure
Everyone needs other people with whom to share themselves ─ their
thoughts, ideas, feelings, experiences, problems, and needs. In order to
share, they must transmit; everyone is a transmitter of some sort, good,
bad, or indifferent. Efficient transmitters can share themselves,
especially feelings, with other people freely and without static,
distortion, or interference. Clear transmission facilitates clear
Transmission is not sufficient when:
• transmitters are not aware of the messages they are sending,
• two or more different, and conflicting, messages are being sent,
• messages are transmitted in some code, or language which receivers do
• when real messages are disguised, expressed indirectly or hidden within
• transmitters communicate too much information.
Clear reception of another's transmission occurs when the receiver can
restate the full message to the transmitter's satisfaction. In radio
communication the receiver will often respond with the phrase, "I read you
loud and clear." Actually, this may or may not be the case. Transmitters
may think their message clear, but they may not be communicating at all.
They may be dealing with two different messages. This is true of much
interpersonal communication, especially communicating feelings. The
greatest difficulty is usually in the original reception.
A basic rule of communication is that it is not accomplished until checked
out or confirmed. Most confirm critical messages; few bother to do this in
ordinary communication. Confirming messages is relatively simple, if we
make the effort.
Good reception requires concentrated effort and attention. This involves
listening or thinking with the speaker instead of about them or about
other things. Often, people do not really listen to each other. They
interrupt each other or both talk at the same time. They think about other
things, concentrate upon preparing their rebuttal or how they can "top"
the other person. They are thinking about themselves. Or they are thinking
about the other person (how boring, or how stupid, how they wish they
would stop talking or some mannerism they displaying) to the point that
they are unable to think with them. Thus, they do not receive the message
Another difficulty in receiving is that many people try to go beyond the
mere reception of the message. They are quite aware that when they
communicate to others they often are seeking some specific response ─
sympathy, love, advice, or agreement ─ that exceeds simple reception. They
realize that others are seeking specific responses also. Thus, they try to
interpret or anticipate the other's demands and prepare their own
responses accordingly. They feel that they must do more than simply
understand or receive, but their efforts to go beyond this point disrupt
their basic reception.
Receivers may complicate matters with their own problems. They may ignore,
or be afraid of feelings to the point that they can only recognize or
respond to content. Or they may be so concerned with making the right
response or not letting themselves be manipulated, that they only attend
to the transmitter's motives. Many individuals are poor receivers because
they donít receive othersí transmissions at all levels. The preoccupation
with content and motives prevents their getting very close to other people
because this preoccupation prevents them from making contact with others'
Clear reception is difficult when people are transmitting messages in a
variety of modes. Ways of transmitting can be condensed into two types:
verbal and non-verbal. When people are together, there is always a great
deal of non-verbal communication. When transmitters are unaware of
non-verbal transmissions, verbal and non-verbal messages are
contradictory, or when receivers ignore or misinterpret non-verbal
signals, clarity of communication is lost.
Interpersonal communication is a complex and difficult task. Transmitting
and receiving are difficult; these difficulties are complicated when risk
enters the picture. Risk occurs particularly when transmitters are
transmitting to and about receivers. Communication becomes more dangerous
Whenever transmitting something that you are not comfortable with such as
criticism, sexual attraction, love, anger, disgust, the task is more
difficult. If you fears the receiver's reactions, clear transmission are
even harder. If receivers demonstrate that they are very threatened,
things become even more difficult.
Receiver's task when threatened may be even harder than the transmitter's.
It is one thing for me to offer understanding and acceptance when you are
talking about other things and people. It is something else when you start
talking about me and about your feelings toward me ─ especially your
negative ones. I may feel that I am under attack and that I must defend
myself, or run away or retaliate by attacking you. How can I suspend these
reactions and devote my energy to understanding you? Many relationships
break down at this point. However, when individuals stay with it and
continue their efforts to communicate, the results are often amazing. True
caring and acceptance are generated by understanding and openness.
When interpersonal communication between two people occurs in a third
partyís presence, that third party can exert a strong influence as a help
or hindrance. Third parties can be "facilitators" and assist both the
transmitter and receiver to achieve clearer communication. They can stop
the communication especially when there is a conflict. They can divert or
distract the communication, for example, by changing the subject or by
taking over the transmitter's role. Or they can restrict their role to
spectator and hinder the communication; a passive audience may add to the
frustration, anxiety, or embarrassment of awkward communication.
Facilitators can be an invaluable help facilitate communication between
individuals and among groups.
The facilitator function is shared by all members in fully functioning
1. Good Receiving Skills
This has a good modeling value for others. Good receivers can facilitate
the immediate communication by sharing their own reception. For example, T
(transmitter) is trying, unsuccessfully, to communicate with R (receiver).
F (facilitator) says to R. "I hear T saying _____. Is this what you hear?" In
addition, as a good receiver the facilitator can check with T.... "Do you
mean _____?" Such assistance not only helps the communication to proceed more
clearly, it also helps to relieve the tension and frustration which are
developing in T and R.
2. Good Transmitting Skills
Again, the modeling effect is helpful. Facilitators must be good
transmitters. If they receive T more accurately than R does, this is
little help unless they can also transmit the message to R more clearly
than T did. Thus, F serves as a kind of pinch-hitter for both T and R.
Since one can learn through practice and coaching to be a better
transmitter and receiver, one can also learn to be a facilitator.
Functioning as a facilitator, in turn, helps to develop one's skills as a
transmitter and receiver.
3. Ability to Encourage Transmitters and Receivers.
Communication often breaks down because participants are frustrated,
anxious, and discouraged. They often say "to hell with it!" and give up.
Good facilitators encourage participants to continue their efforts and not
give up. Facilitators offer democratic involvement since they are willing
to share some responsibility for communication without limiting the T or
Rís freedom. This means that they care something about both parties and
can accept the feelings of both. Facilitators offer to participate with
understanding and openness, expressions of trust in both parties, their
relationship, and the communication process.
4. Ability to Referee
Most people who are hung up on communication snags welcome a good
facilitator. When F is accepted by both T and R, F can help by keeping
them to the task and enforcing the rules. This can be accomplished through
such contributions as: "I believe we have gotten off the subject." "T, you
seem to be avoiding the question." "R, could you restate what you just
said. I'm not sure you heard T correctly." "That sounds pretty fuzzy to
me. Could you (T) restate it or clarify it?" "You're both saying that
you're pretty mad right now, but will you keep trying?"