…the communication climate that is! How would you describe your most important relationships? Is your relationship with your partner ‘Fair and Warm’? Or ‘Stormy, with predictable Gales”? What about your relationship climate at work – is it sometimes “Cold and Rainy’ or often “Bright and Sunny”?

Just as the earth has determined weather patterns, interpersonal relationships also have unique climates. We can measure the weather by watching the sky, or useing a thermometer – but how can we measure our interpersonal climate?

Communication climates are an outcome of how people feel about each other, not about the way they perform their tasks. And whatever climate is in place at one time it is shared by all involved. If the climate is cold and hostile it will be evident to all within the group.

Again, like the weather, communication climates can change, and a relationship that start out being Dull and Overcast, can with more understanding develop into something that is Warm and Sunny.

So what determines the communication climate at any given time? Well the short answer is that it reflect the degree that people see themselves as being a valued member of the group.
If a person in the team feels that they are a valued member who is respected, their input will be noticeably more positive. However, those who feel unimportant or ignored will bring negative attitudes to the relationship.

The kinds of attitudes and messages that reject the value of others is called disconfirming responses. They are the outcome of team members lacking empathy or respect for other members. Ignoring a person’s input, disputing facts and plainly showing impatience with their contribution to the communication process creates a negative climate.

This type of criticism can be open and verbal – “No, that’s wrong” Is a direct attack on someone, but it is at least open and allows the person to respond with clarification or justification. However, the attack will generate a stormy climate. More extreme types of disconfirming responses can go beyond severe criticism of the actual message, and attacks the credibility or value of the speaker themselves. This seems to be a popular response in politics!

However a confirming response recognises the other person as someone of value, who is important to the cohesion of the team. While disconfirming responses will make us feel unappreciated, a confirming response warms us with the feeling of being valued and important.

Studies carried out by Rosenfeld and Jarrad (1986) into the communication climate between teachers and students found that teachers who consistently used confirming responses with their students had students with a higher level of achievement and a greater sense of self-worth than those who interacted with teachers using disconfirming responses.

Those who used confirming responses were described as being “empathic” whilst those using disconfirming responses were noted as being ‘superior’.

So how can we work towards a positive climate change? The best time to create it is at the beginning of a relationship where you can most easily send the message that each person in the team is a valued and important member. You may have to work a little harder than you anticipated; there may be some members who already have a negative sense of self-worth, but the time spent now will reap great rewards later.

Confirming messages are simply a demonstration of good manners! Listening to others with interest and showing that interest with good body language – sitting slightly forward and nodding when appropriate – will create a sense that you are willing to give each member the opportunity to take the limelight. Keeping quiet until the communication is complete shows respect for what they are saying. Asking intelligent questions or paraphrasing the message indicates that you have understood the speaker’s ideas.

Acknowledging the message is not the same thing as agreeing with it, You can still respond with your ideas and differing points of view, but if these are done in a warm and stable communication climate such differences should not principate stormy weather.

Creating a good communication climate is a matter of ensuring that people in your team know that you respect their ideas and value their input.

The finest qualities in our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can only be preserved by the most delicate handling, yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly ~ Henry David Thoreau.

So treating each other tenderly, empathically will begin the communication process in a positive and confirming way.

But maintaining the positivity within the relationship; ah well! That -like the earth’s climate -will need some work. And that’s a story for another time.

Michele @ Trischel

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