Herein lays the significance of human behaviour and its impact on communication. It is here that the discipline of communication draws significantly from the field of psychology. Human beings are extremely divergent and no two individuals are identical.
They are not just physical or rational beings, they are very much social and emotional beings. These factors bring in an entirely new dimension to the process of communication.
Effective communication becomes more challenging as we have already noted, because ‘Meanings are in people, not in words.’ Human beings interpret words. They translate the messages they receive.
In translating the messages, in evaluating the speakers and writers, in interpreting the words, each individual brings into the process the person’s total personality. Under the circumstances, literal and mechanical dimensions apart, the behavioural dimension assumes great significance.
Human behaviour in any given context is the product of a person’s perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, values, norms and experiences. They distinctly influence a person’s role and response in communication as the sender and receiver.
In order to ensure the effectiveness of communication, it is very essential that we understand the meaning and impact of each one of them. Each one of them may bring in a bias or an expectation that will affect communication. Let us, therefore, take a look at each one of them.
The word ‘perception’ has many shades of meaning according to the dictionary. It can mean ‘an act or power of perceiving’, or ‘discernment’ or ‘appreciation of any modification of consciousness.’ It could also be used to indicate ‘the combining of sensations into recognition of an object’, ‘reception of a stimulus’ or ‘action by which the mind refers its sensations to external objects as cause’.
Perception implies discernment, reception of a stimulus and an act by which the mind refers its sensations to an external object as the cause. In other words, perception is a process of making sense out of events. It is a process by which we perceive the meaning of any event.
In the organizational context, the commonly used word is ‘role perception’. As against a defined role, there is a perceived role. The definition may or may not be adequate.
It is the attitude of an individual that will influence the perception of the role—whether to confine to the defined role or to go beyond it. Great leaders and achievers bring their own perceptions to the legally or organizationally defined roles. It is such positive perception that helps people become more creative and makes human endeavour much more meaningful.
Perceptions influence human behaviour in a variety of ways, especially in an organizational setting. They qualify or evaluate individuals and events as:
1. Good or bad
2. Beautiful or ugly
3. Sincere or manipulative
4. Fair or unfair
5. Precise or exaggerated
6. Reasonable or unreasonable
7. Complete or incomplete
These are not absolutes. They have an element of judgment. Perception is the action by which the mind refers its sensations to these external stimuli and the individual draws his own interpretations. Perceptions and reality are not necessarily one and the same.
Different people will have different perceptions. Good communicators should have a good understanding of the perceptions of the persons with whom they are communicating. They have to recognize the fact that others may not necessarily perceive their intentions as they themselves do.
The dictionary provides several meanings to the word ‘attitude.’ Attitude means a posture or position or affected posture; settled behaviour, as indicating any condition of things or persons viewed as expressing some thought or feeling.
Attitude exercises a strong influence on human relationships in any sphere, be it family, society, group, organization or nation. Attitude essentially relates to a predisposition. It concerns an individual’s likes and dislikes. Attitudes can be both positive and negative. Positive attitudes contribute to the effectiveness of any process.
Negative attitudes hinder or vitiate the process. Attitudes, however, are not necessarily permanent in nature. It is possible, with conscious effort, to change the attitude of a person or group of persons.
Organizations and businesses are continuously making efforts to change attitudes and make them more positive. Negative attitudes bring negative feelings that undermine the achievement of personal and organizational objectives.
Positive attitudes beget confidence, interest, faith and strength. Individuals with positive attitudes are generally positive and worthwhile. Behavioural psychologists have, over the years, rightly emphasized the RMA factor, i.e., the need to develop the right mental attitude.
Consequently, there is considerable literature on ‘positive thinking.’ Effective communication, like other aspects of human behaviour, depends on positive thinking and the right mental attitude.
Deficiencies in service by the frontline itaff in service organizations like banks and public utilities like railways can also be attributed to attitudinal factors. They can communicate better and interact more meaningfully by developing the right attitude.
In the training programmes organized by various organizations, the attitude and behavioural aspects are recognized to be as important as imparting knowledge and development of skills.
Similarly, while recruiting people, especially for positions that call for regular people-to-people dealings, organizations lay particular emphasis on the attitudinal strengths.
The word belief again has different shades of meaning: faith, intuition, judgment, trust or confidence, acceptance as true or existing of any fact or statement and persuasion of the truth. Like perceptions and attitudes, people have their beliefs as well.
They are not easily changed. Beliefs can cover different areas, such as belief in God, fate, superstition, religion and belief in future. So strong are such beliefs that quite often people spend much of their time, energy and efforts in pursuing those beliefs.
While it is appropriate to recognize the existence of beliefs, it is not always desirable to make a judgment on various beliefs. The fact that one individual, or a group of persons, believes in a particular faith or judgment does not mean that all others have to necessarily subscribe to it.
Organizations generally exhibit a degree of tolerance to accommodate such beliefs as long as they do not affect their functioning. Every country, race and group has its share of beliefs developed over the years, which must be recognized.
For communication to be effective, it is necessary to recognize that people have their beliefs which can have an impact on the process of communication, both at the originating and receiving ends. A good communicator learns to ride on the waves of some beliefs without being obvious about it.
Values constitute yet another dimension of human behaviour. They relate to broad preferences and exist at various levels. There are individual values, to broad I social values, organizational values, national values and one can even refer to global values.
They are so integral that often one can see the existence of a value system within a group or community. Values refer to a certain intrinsic quality or worth. They are seen as standards or criteria that people develop for guiding their actions.
They are developed or adopted in terms of various influences, upbringing, group identification, needs, expectations and comparative standards. Values and ethics often go together.
Ethics relates to the treatment of morality or duty. Ethics deals with that branch of human philosophy which is concerned with human character and conduct. When we refer to values, we are also referring to ethical dimensions, i.e., the human character, conduct and moral values.
It is widely accepted that any business or organization can achieve sustainable success only when its activities are governed by a sound value system. Every profession has to have a set of values. There are values in teaching, banking, trading, medicine and the legal profession. Corporate governance also deals with a set of values or standards to be met.
These values cover various groups of people with whom interaction takes place. These are values in relation to employees, seniors in the profession, clients, competitors and community.
The process of communication is influenced by values and value systems. It would be necessary to take cognizance of the degree of congruence or divergence in values. When there is a high degree of congruence, communication is easy. If the values are highly divergent, communication becomes complex.
5. Norms and Experiences:
Norms and experiences are also among the factors which influence the process of communication. A norm relates to a rule, a pattern or an authoritative standard. It is also understood as the ordinary or most frequent value or state. While discussing norms, it is also appropriate to refer to normal standards.
Dos and don’ts:
Every business or profession normally adopts and articulates such norms or standards. They may be in the nature of expectations, compliances or prescriptions. Norms may also relate to a set of dos and don’ts. We often talk about prudential norms and entry norms.
Similarly, human beings face a variety of experiences in their lives and work situations. People naturally tend to relate events and messages to their previous experiences in dealing with them.
People associated with the process of communication should necessarily take cognizance of this. Based on their past experiences, people may categorize communicators and communications as boring speakers, impatient listener, not very articulate, prone to exaggeration, evasive, contradictory, persuasive, well informed or insightful.
A good communicator makes it a point to be in the know of such perceptions and impressions, and tries to overcome negative impressions through conscious efforts.
Various aspects of human behaviour generally come into play in any interaction and thereby make the communication process more complicated. There are both positive and negative aspects. Some of them exercise a strong influence, while others don’t.
The fact to be recognized is that differences in human behaviour lead to imperfections in communication. Some of the negative factors will have to be removed to make communication more effective. A good communicator is one who develops a clear insight into human behaviour and uses that knowledge to his advantage.