Essentials of Communication
Lead Author(s): Carlos Cruz, Chris Armstrong, John Tindell
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This expansion will transform Effective Public Speaking into a hybrid course, and also covers concepts from an Introduction to Communication.
Chapter 16: Self and Perception
The image that concerns most people is the reflection they see in other people's minds.
- Edward de Bono
Who are you? Who who, who who? I really wanna know.
Who are you? who, who, who, who?
- Peter Townshend
Table of Contents
- To understand the self-concept and its primary components.
- Learn what self-esteem is and how it can affect behavior.
- To understand how the self-fulfilling prophecy applies to your everyday behavior.
- Gain an appreciation of how the presence of other people affects our behavior.
- Learn how the MBTI and Johari Window can help us to develop a more thorough understanding of ourselves.
Read the excerpt below from Lebron James’s 2014 letter indicating his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.1 What does the excerpt tell us about how Lebron James views himself?
I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.
To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned -- seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.
In this chapter we will examine the ways our interactions with others are affected by the way we see ourselves. Psychologists refer to our understanding of our identity as our self-concept. The self-concept is our understanding of ourselves. More simply, the self-concept is the answer to the question: “Who am I?” The self-concept includes four parts: social comparison, social judgments, self-observation, and self-identification. Let’s examine each of these parts to develop a better understanding of how we understand ourselves.
Self-Concept: Social Comparison
Social comparison refers to contrasting our abilities against those of our reference group. Typically, a reference group consists of those people we interact with frequently like friends, family, and coworkers. Social comparison explores how we understand ourselves by looking at whether we are better or worse in an area than the people in our reference group.
An upward social comparison occurs when we compare ourselves to a person that is better in the comparison category. For example, an upward social comparison occurs when we compare our B- grade on a speech exam to a student that scored an A. Another example of an upward social comparison would be if a person compares their salary to their coworkers and they discover that their coworker makes $10,000 more per year. These are both examples of upward social comparisons as we end up on the shorter end of the comparison. Being on the short end of an upward social comparison can lead to negative feelings about ourselves.
A downward social comparison occurs when we are on the better end of an evaluation. For example, imagine receiving a higher grade on your public speaking speech when compared to your classmate. Another example of a downward social comparison would be a track star comparing their record breaking performance against the other racers. In both scenarios, the downward social comparison results in our feeling better about ourselves as we are on the favorable end of the comparison.
Self-observation occurs when we reflect on our own behavior. In self-observation, people develop a better understanding of who they are as people by considering how they have behaved in previous situations. Self-observation is the act of observing one’s own behavior as if you were observing a third party. For example, a person may reflect on an awful comment they made during a recent argument with a loved one. In a moment of anger people occasionally say things they do not mean. However, things said in a moment of anger can still affect judgments long after they occurred. An awful comment can impact how the other person views us. But an awful comment can also affect how we feel about ourselves. We may view ourselves as impulsive if we say something just to “win” an argument. We also may believe that we lack an appropriate filter if we say every thought that is on our mind. Regardless of the final judgment, our actions not only impact how others view us but they also impact how we view ourselves. Will Durant in his interpretation of Aristotle’s work once wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do.”2 Similarly, we learn to define ourselves by the history of our behavior.
Self-Concept: Social Judgments
Self-observation explores how we understand who we are by observing our own behavior. Social judgments focus less on self-observation and more on how interpersonal interactions can affect our sense of self. Famous sociologist Charles Horton Cooley developed the term looking glass self to address this idea. The looking glass self proposes that we understand ourselves by trying to imagine how people see us. The looking glass self has three unique parts. In the first stage, people guess how their social circle views them based on their verbal and nonverbal communication. For example, if a fellow classmate always sits at your table during lunch then you may infer that they enjoy spending time with you. After all, why would a person choose to spend time with a person if they do not enjoy their company? Similarly, if a classmate consistently makes negative comments about your work during a group project then you may guess that they do not view you in a positive light.
In the second stage of the looking glass self, we judge whether our assumption is positive or negative. For example, let’s imagine that most of your coworkers view you as funny. You must decide whether you consider being viewed as funny is positive or negative. In this stage, you are evaluating your best guess regarding how the people in your social circle view you. It’s important to note that people rarely make a single guess regarding how people view them. Instead people develop a long list of characteristics, some positive and some negative, for how people in their social circle view them.
After making our best guesses on how people see us and evaluating those guesses, we internalize those views. Internalize means those assumptions become part of us. How we believe other people see us becomes a big part of how we view ourselves. For example, if your entire circle of friends consistently mentions your great sense of humor then you will start to believe you have a great sense of humor. You may wonder: Why would so many people say something if it’s not true? So instead of believing that your social circle is lying, you instead start to believe that you are a genuinely funny person. It is in this way that our understanding of who we are is determined at least in part by how we believe other people see us.
The final component of the self-concept is self-identification. Self-identification explores how we define ourselves through our place in society. For example, every day we all have various roles we perform. Roles can be viewed as expected behavior based on one’s status. Examples of common roles include: mother, father, son, daughter, employee, student, and boss. In each of those roles, those around us have different expectations regarding what is considered appropriate behavior for the role. For example, it is unlikely that a student would ever give their teacher homework.
These roles are a big part of how we define ourselves to others. The value we assign to the roles we play can determine how we feel about ourselves. Typically, on the first day of class professors often encourage students to tell the class a bit about themselves. In answering this question, we often list roles that are incredibly important to us. Students may inform the class that they are veterans, parents, or full-time employees. You may be proud of some of the roles you play, or defensive about others, but each of these roles helps to define our position in the social structure.
What part of the self-concept explores how our views of ourselves are affected by how we think others see us?
Self-esteem refers to judgments of our worth, which can impact our behavior in many ways. The impact of self-esteem depends on whether a person has low, medium, or high self-esteem. Surprisingly, research has found that people with medium levels of self-esteem tend to demonstrate the highest levels of achievement,3 while low and high levels of self-esteem can have a potentially negative influence on the person.
One way that low self-esteem affects people is by changing how they monitor their own behavior. People with lower levels of self-esteem focus on avoiding mistakes in their everyday lives. Moreover, low levels of self-esteem have been linked to the experience of stress and anxiety as well as decreased performance at work and school. Given the negative effects of low self-esteem, researchers have developed a variety of ways to improve self-esteem.
Perhaps the most important way to address low self-esteem is to change our self-talk. Self-talk refers to the way we communicate within ourselves (the intrapersonal communications we discussed in Chapter 1). When we complete our everyday tasks, we have a constant stream of thoughts that affect our performance. For example, when giving a speech in your public speaking course you may think, “I’m doing a great job. I just have to make sure to slow my speech rate.” Another person might be thinking, “ My speech is going awful! I can’t wait ‘til this is over!” If you had to guess which thoughts would lead to a better performance, you would likely guess the first one. Before other people can see us worthy, we must see ourselves as worthy. Changing the way we communicate with ourselves is the first step to improving self-esteem.
Once a person improves how they interact within themselves, they need to address how they interact with other people. People sometimes do everything in their power to be evaluated positively by others. Since we are all social creatures, we may believe that honesty isn’t the best policy. If we tell a person that we don’t have the time to help them, we think they may view us as selfish. However, self-assertiveness refers to a willingness to stand up for ourselves in our interactions with other people. Self-assertiveness is the ability to not view your own interests as secondary to the interests of others. Self-assertiveness is an awareness that your goals are just as worthy of attention as the goals of someone else. Self-talk and self-assertiveness may allow a person to improve their low levels of self-esteem in the long run.
As discussed in the previous section, our thought processes can impact our self esteem. The impact thinking can have on esteem can be further understood by looking at the self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when our beliefs become reality through our behavior. For example, a student may enter a public speaking course with the belief that they are going to get an A in the course. Based on this belief, the student spends more time practicing for each speech in the course. In addition, the student makes sure to visit the professor during office hours to clarify any questions. Meanwhile, another student may enter the course believe they will be lucky to earn a final grade of C, and they also conduct themselves in a way that assures they make no better, or worse, than a C. The students’ beliefs influenced their expectations for the course and these expectations influenced their behavior. Finally, their behavior produced results that matched their initial beliefs coming into the course. The self-fulfilling prophecy shows us how beliefs can produce results as people behave in a way to make their initial beliefs become reality.
So how does the self-fulfilling prophecy relate to self-esteem? As mentioned earlier, people with low self-esteem tend to approach situations with a negative mindset. This negative mindset can result in our beliefs becoming reality in the same way as the previous example regarding the students in the public speaking course. For example, a student with low self-esteem may approach a math course with a sense of dread. After all, the student knows that, “math isn’t my strongest subject.” This belief produces behavior that matches the belief including not studying for the exams. After all, why should the student spend time studying for the exam when they “know” they are going to fail the course? Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy can produce positive or negative outcomes based on a person’s initial belief. Of the two public speaking students above, one had high self-esteem going into the course, and the other had low self-esteem. Both behaved in a way that reinforced their views of themselves.
So far we have focused on understanding ourselves. The self-concept focuses on how we view ourselves and self-esteem is how we evaluate ourselves. As we discussed in our chapter on Interpersonal Communications, self-presentation changes the focus from ourselves to the people around us. More formally, self-presentation refers to strategies we use to affect how other people see us. For example, think of any social media profile that you currently own. No matter the website, people always make sure to upload the best photos of their adventures. If a friend tags you in an unflattering photo on Facebook, you can (and probably will) untag yourself immediately. After all, what would happen if other people saw that photo? Our social media presence is one long example of self-presentation as we strategically decide what information should and should not be available to our friends and followers.
Our presence on social media is a general example of self-presentation but let’s look at a few different self-presentation strategies. The first strategy is known as ingratiation. Ingratiation refers to attempts to be viewed as likable. One common example of ingratiation is flattery. Usually, saying nice things about a person without going overboard, will get them to like us more. Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves, after all. Another technique that would be considered ingratiation is conformity. Going along with someone’s opinion or decision on a topic can serve as validation. People generally like those that are like us. Conformity creates the appearance of similarity even if it’s not true.
The second technique is known as self-promotion. Self-promotion refers to strategies used to increase perceptions of one’s expertise. A common example of a self-promotion tactic is boasting. Boasting consists of telling people how good you are at an activity. An example of this would be the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Donald Trump frequently bragged about the success of his businesses, which became a key part of his campaign for president.
The third self-presentation strategy is known as supplication. Supplication refers to situations where people attempt to appear helpless , which encourages other people to help us complete the task. For example, a person struggles to open a jar of pickles to get someone else to open the jar of pickles for them. This inability to complete a task results in increased feelings of usefulness for those we turn to for help.
The strategy that is perhaps the direct opposite of supplication is known as intimidation. Intimidation refers to attempts to be viewed as powerful or ruthless. The goal with intimidation is not to be liked but to be feared. Frank Underwood, from the television show House of Cards, consistently performs behaviors to remind those around him that he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. These behavioral reminders of Frank’s ruthlessness are attempts to ensure people do not double cross him.
The final self-presentation strategy is known as exemplification. Exemplification includes attempts to be viewed as virtuous. The easy way to remember exemplification is to remember the word example. Exemplification is all about serving as an example for other people. Examples of exemplification are celebrities that serve as role models for dealing with illnesses. In serving as the face for an illness, the celebrity sheds light on an important topic but also elevates themselves in the eyes of the public.
These five strategies are frequently used to influence how others see us. As discussed earlier, our sense of identity not only comes from our perceptions of ourselves but our perceptions of how we believe others see us.
What self-presentation strategy focuses on serving as an example for others?
Self-monitoring continues to examine how the presence of others impacts our behavior. Self-monitoring refers to behavioral changes to satisfy social standards. A high self-monitor is typically aware of what behavior is considered “appropriate” in different environments and will change their behavior accordingly. High self-monitors can be considered social chameleons as their awareness of social cues and how their behavior might be interpreted leads to fluid behavioral patterns. A low self-monitor does not focus on social standards for “appropriate behavior” and instead presents themselves in the same way regardless of the situation. For this reason, attitudes are better predictors of behavior for low self-monitors as opposed to high self-monitors. Whereas high self-monitors demonstrate increased sensitivity to social standards; low self-monitors remain unaware or uninterested in displaying “appropriate” behavior.
Low self-monitors consistently change their behavior to fit the social situation.
Our sense of self also affects how we interact with the greater world around us. People cannot pay attention to everything in their environment at once so they must choose what to pay attention to. There are three different phases in this selection process: selective exposure, selective attention, and selective recall. All three phases illustrate the idea that who we are and our attitudes (the way we feel about things) impact how we see the world.
Selective exposure means we choose what information we want to encounter based on our beliefs and attitudes. In other words, people seek out information that matches their preexisting attitudes. For example, if a Republican in the United States is seeking out the news then they might be more likely to select Fox News as it is well-known for its conservative point of view. If a democrat were selecting a news outlet, then they may be more likely to select MSNBC as a news channel. Seeking out information that matches preexisting beliefs and attitudes also allows people to avoid information that they disagree with. This means that when people choose to selectively expose themselves to information they are essentially creating an echo chamber where they are consistently hearing information that they agree with while not being exposed to different points of view. The selective exposure decision is made before a person encounters the information that is based on their preexisting attitudes.
While selective exposure occurs before the interaction, selective attention occurs during the interaction with information. Selective attention refers to a biased interpretation of the information. Under selective attention, people process information so it can match their preexisting beliefs and attitudes. An example of selective attention occurs when people watch sports. A committed fan will believe that the refs are making calls in favor of the opposing team. The fan will overlook calls that go in favor of their team as these calls do not support the idea that the refs are against them. Instead the fan will pick and choose plays in the game that support this idea while conveniently overlooking calls that do not support this theory. This demonstrates selective attention at its finest
If selective exposure occurs before we interact with the information and selective attention occurs while we interact with the information, then selective recall occurs after we have interacted with information. Like selective exposure and selective attention, selective recall is also an extension of our attitudes, as selective recall refers to the biased recall of information. Selective recall means we can change the meaning of recalled information so that it matches our attitudes. For example, have you ever noticed that your memory of a conversation with a friend is somewhat different from their recall of the same conversation? Or let’s imagine that a person decides to become a nicer person after being mean their entire lives. When this person thinks of their previous mean behavior, they will alter the memories so it matches their new views of themselves as a nice person.
Taken together, selective exposure, selective attention, and selective recall demonstrate the effects of our attitudes on how we view the world. These concepts demonstrate how difficult it may be for a person to be completely objective. As cautious as we try to be, our attitudes and beliefs usually lead to subjective judgements. It’s hard but not impossible to set aside the self when interacting with the world around us.
Which of the following focuses on biased processing of information after exposure?
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
To further understand people and their personalities, psychologists develop ways to measure the differences between us. One of these measurement tools is known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The purpose of the MBTI is to understand how personality types impact the way we perceive the world. The MBTI includes the following four unique variables: Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judging-Perceiving. A person that completes the test receives a score on each variable. The scores on the variables are then combined into a four-letter personality type. For example, ITSJ means a person scored high in the following four dimensions: Introversion, Thinking, Sensing and Judging. There are a total of 16 different personality types based on how you score on each of those variables. Let’s look at what each of those variables mean.
You have no doubt known some outgoing people that are considered “extraverts” and some shy people who are considered “introverts.” The major difference between the two is actually where we draw our energy from. Extraverts seem to draw energy from the people around them, while the Introverts need a little quiet time to recharge their batteries. People that score high in extraversion enjoy being around people and prefer to be involved in a variety of activities. They are generally seen by their friends as outgoing or as social butterflies. Extraversion focuses on being active both in our interactions with others and in our everyday lives.
People that score higher in introversion derive their energy from focusing on themselves rather than others. They tend to demonstrate a preference to focus on their innermost thoughts. Introverted individuals feel more comfortable with smaller groups as opposed to the larger crowds that are typically associated with extraverted individuals.
This next pairing explores how we prefer to receive information. People that score high in sensing prefer to operate using tangible information received through the five senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. Information obtained through the five senses represents an objective reality. More simply, information obtained through the senses is considered accurate.
People that score higher in intuition tend to trust their “sixth sense,” or their gut feeling, or as Stephen Colbert famously called it, “truthiness.” They prefer to focus on the interpretation of patterns rather than digging into the actual detail, gaining meaning through deep thought. People that score higher in intuition show a clear preference for thinking abstractly as opposed to relying on hands-on experience, which is more in line with the sensing approach.
The next pairing of terms explores how we make decisions in our everyday lives. People that score higher in thinking desire to be logical in their decision-making. One key part of logical thinking is to ignore the influence of emotion in decision-making. They would argue that emotion can cloud one’s judgment, so decision-making should be based solely on thorough reasoning.
People that score high in feeling focus on the other people in the interaction, taking their point of view into perspective. A common expression that represents the feeling dimension is, “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” People that score high in feeling attempt to put themselves in the shoes of other people before making a decision.
The final dimension addresses how we use some of these characteristics in our dealings with the outside world. The Judging-Perceiving measurement looks at how the previously discussed decision making preference (Thinking-Feeling) and perception preference (Sensing-Intuition) apply in our interactions with others.
People that score higher in judging prefer to use their decision-making preference (Thinking-Feeling) in their everyday lives They prefer clear decision making rules, appear task-oriented, and plan things out in advance.4 Other people are likely to see a person with a clear judging preference as incredibly organized and orderly. Importantly, this does not necessarily have to reflect how a person feels on the inside. For example, a person may appear organized to others but feel spontaneous on the inside.
Conversely, people that score higher on the perceiving end typically use their perceiving function (Sensing-Perception) in their everyday lives. These people are likely to be seen by others as relatively flexible and spontaneous when it comes to new experiences. They keep their plans to a minimum, and remain open to new ideas and new information, even in the middle of decision-making. Again, it’s important to remember that there can be a difference between our evaluation by our peer group as spontaneous and our evaluation by ourselves as decisive.
The Johari Window
Just as the MBTI helps us understand more about ourselves, the Johari Window helps us understand our relationships with those around us. The Johari Window model has four unique regions. A drawn version of the model will divide a square into four unique quadrants so that the final product represents a window pane.
Each region in the window provides us with information regarding the knowledge we have of ourselves and the knowledge others have about us. The four regions in the Johari Window are as follows: open area, blind area, hidden area, and unknown area.
The first area in the Johari Window, the open area, consists of information about the self that is known by both people in the interaction. For example, imagine Joan has been in a long-term relationship with Steven. Given the length of their relationship, Joan has learned a lot of information about Steven including: his favorite sports teams, his childhood, and his driving tendencies. In addition, Steven is aware of this same information regarding his general attitudes and behaviors. In this relationship, Steven’s favorite sports teams, his childhood, and his driving tendencies is considered part of the open area as both parties share the same information. The development of an open area is important to an interpersonal or group dynamic as this allows for the other party to adapt their behavior accordingly. Once both parties share the same information then they are better capable of make an informed decision.
The second area in the Johari Window is known as the blind area. In the blind area, the outside parties have knowledge about you, but you don’t have this same knowledge. The blind area is like the blind spot that exists while driving. When a person is driving, there are sometimes spots on the roads that the other drivers around them can see but they cannot see. Similarly, people occasionally lack self-awareness about things that they say or do, whether they are positive or negative, but those around us pick up on these things. For example, you may not realize that you tend to favor one friend’s opinion over another’s, but they may notice it. One important goal for self-improvement is to reduce the size of one’s blind area by continually seeking out information from those around us.
The third quadrant in the Johari Window is the hidden area. The hidden area consists of information that we know but we do not choose to share with others. Since this information is not shared with others, it is considered hidden from others. Information that you choose not to share might include phobias, traumatic events, and even one’s financial status. Each person has their own ideas regarding what information should and should not be shared with other people. It may be helpful to continually reevaluate what information lies in the hidden area as it’s possible that sharing some of this information may beneficial to your relationship with others.
The last quadrant in the Johari Window is known as the unknown area. As you might imagine, the unknown area consists of information that is not known to either party. An example of information that might be unknown to both parties are hidden talents. For example, a person may have a “natural” gift for public speaking but they have never been provided with the necessary opportunity. Another example is a child who has the potential to be a great tennis player but their neighborhood doesn’t have tennis courts. Hidden talents fall into the unknown quadrant as both parties are unaware that the potential skill is there.
The importance of the Johari Window comes in helping us to understand how to analyze and improve ourselves. Moreover, learning to diagram what information falls in each of the four quadrants can help to improve both interpersonal and group interactions. For example, it is often incredibly difficult to discuss familial issues with anyone outside of close family and friends. However, if familial issues are impacting one’s performance on a group project then it may be potentially worthwhile to at least mention the familial issues to the group members. Using the language of the Johari Window, discussing the familial issues with the group is moving information from the hidden area to the open area.
If a student does not discuss their fear of public speaking with their professor then this information would fall into what area in the Johari Window?
In Chapter Two you learned a lot about overcoming your nervousness in public speaking. But understanding the difference between speech anxiety and communication apprehension is incredibly important to your development as a communicator in general. While both terms can be related to a fear of public speaking, communication apprehension is the broader term. Communication apprehension refers to general anxiety about communicating in a variety of situations such as public speaking, group interactions, and even interpersonal interactions. A person with trait communication apprehension experiences anxiety across a variety of communication environments. State communication apprehension is the experience of anxiety in a specific communication context. For example, a person with state communication apprehension may be outgoing in group and interpersonal interactions but experience anxiety prior to public speaking. If you are interested in taking the test that measures trait communication apprehension, please visit the following link
(http://www.jamescmccroskey.com/measures/prca24.htm). Communication apprehension can be managed using the techniques discussed in chapter two.
This chapter explored key components of our identity in the areas of self-concept and self-esteem. We’ve examined the differences between how we see ourselves and how other see us. We discussed the various strategies people use to affect the judgments made by their peers. The interaction between our personal identity and the presence of others has produced a host of frameworks to explore this interaction including the MBTI and the Johari Window. Always continue to understand and explore your identity as this can lead to more positive outcomes in all of the relationships in our lives.
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