When a person interacts with another person or a group of people, the exchange that takes place between them, verbal and/or nonverbal, reflects the self behind it- i.e. their personality. The degree of effectiveness with which a person communicates with the others reveals his level of self-awareness. And self-awareness is an essential precondition for self-development. In this chapter, we shall examine the concept of self-development and discuss its relationship with communication.
The term self refers to “an individual person from the perspective of that person. It is the mental image or perception that one has of oneself.” It is “the composite of ideas, feelings, and attitudes that a person has about his or her own identity, worth, capabilities, and limitations.” (Louis Smith, Illustrated Dictionary of Psychology; 2004)Thus, the term self-development implies the recognition of one’s own self and the conscious efforts that one makes towards developing one’s own capabilities and potentialities. Man is a social animal. Hence, his conception or individual perception of himself, i.e. his-self, is directly influenced by his interaction with the people around him, to a considerable extent. By this we do not mean that the surroundings/environment in which a person lives is the sole factor that determines his personality.
Personality is a much more complex entity. It is “the sum total of all the attributes- behavioral, temperamental, emotional and mental- that characterize a unique individual.” (Webster’s Dictionary) It is a combination of various qualities and traits, both innate and acquired. A person is a product of hereditary influences and of learning experiences (i.e. observational learning). Personality consists of an individual’s characteristic (i.e. typical) and distinctive (i.e. individual) ways of behaving (Clifford Morgan, A Brief Introduction to Psychology; 1978). It is shaped by a person’s abilities, environment, education, and family and social influences.
The primary aim of the concept of self-development is to shape and enhance the positive personality traits of an individual. An individual can achieve this by cultivating a positive attitude towards people, objects, and situations. Self-development also brings about enhancement of self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to the sense of self-worth, self-confidence and self-respect which may be a result of social approval or may be totally independent of what others think. Self-development endows a person with good sense and sound judgment, and instills in him the spirit of empathy, thoughtfulness and helpfulness, thus making him a socially amicable person/personality. It also leads to his emotional and intellectual growth. It helps him to divest himself of his rigid mindset and biases that can impede his socialization i.e. a process through which the development of one’s personality takes place. In the context of business communication, a person who is well-aware of his traits, feelings and behaviour and is ready to work towards improving his self, if required, is indeed an asset to a business organization, as he will not only possess good organizational abilities but will also prove to be an effective communicator.
Let us now identify the importance of the concepts of self, self-development and personality in the context of the theory and practice of communication.
SELF-DEVELOPMENT AND COMMUNICATION
Self-development and communication are inter-dependent. The higher the level of self-development achieved by a person, the better communicator he becomes. And similarly, the more effective communicator a person is, the more self-aware he will be as a result of his interactions with others- i.e. the way they behave in general and the particular way in which they treat him.
Modern theories of communication take into consideration the significant role played by personality and self-development in enhancing the communication skills of an individual. An individual’s personality gets reflected in the way in which he interacts with others. For instance, while writing or speaking, a person’s choice of words, his tone and his attitude towards his audience provide a glimpse into his personality by revealing what he thinks/feels about a particular topic (clarity), how he relates his ideas and emotions into words (coherence and cohesion), whether he establishes a bond with the readers or listeners while communicating (sensitivity), or whether he is capable of having a meaningful communication with others (delivery), etc. Self-awareness translates into clarity of thought and facilitates one with a rational and reasonable attitude when one encounters difficult situations. Thus, a person who is equipped with clear thinking and a sound mind is in a better position to communicate effectively. Self-development inculcates a sense of tolerance and this increases the comfort level when a person has to confront culturally diverse situations or has to collaborate with people having varied personalities and their own unique way of looking at things- shaped by their own cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and socialization (assimilation into one’s social surroundings i.e. society).
“Successful communication can result in the transformation of speaker, audience, and the knowledge they share.”
– Michael Osborn and Suzanne Osborn (Public Speaking, 2000)
Likewise, effective communication also contributes to self-development. While communicating either orally or through writing, a person has to be observant, attentive, and perceptive and has to plan and structure his message in such a way that the receiver can deduce the meaning intended by him. He has to take care not only of the verbal aspects but also of the nonverbal aspects of communication. (Refer Chapter __ Types of Communication, on page __) Effective listening is also one of the important bases of self-development. The receiver has to concentrate on the message and the speaker’s body language and has to listen carefully and patiently for communication to be successful. Body language is mostly spontaneous but more often than not intentional. When the sender consciously uses body language to communicate, he has to draw heavily on his conception of who he himself is, who his audience is, what it is that he is trying to convey and how he should express it in order to achieve the desired result. This process sharpens his intellect, adds to his creativity, knowledge and imaginative capability, makes him more aware of his surroundings and endows him with a better understanding of the psychology of other people. Thus, while engaging in the communication process i.e. whether speaking, writing, listening or reading, the communicator’s mental abilities, experience and the qualities of his “true self” come into play, thereby enriching the communication process and in turn get enriched by coming into contact with the self of the receiver. All these things put together lead to the overall development of the personality and hence make an important contribution to the process of self-development.
Let us now discuss what attitude is and examine its essential components.
ATTITUDE- ITS MEANING AND NATURE
“Attitude is a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor.”
– Alice Eagly and Shelly Chaiken (The Psychology of Attitudes, 1993, p.1)
When we think of the possible meanings of the word attitude, the following words come to our mind- ‘perspective’, ‘approach’, ‘point of view’, ‘frame of mind’, etc. Thus, broadly speaking, attitude is a way of looking at things. It is our perception of the world formed by our thoughts, desires, and experiences (undergone or observed). And most of the time, the way we perceive the reality is not as it actually is, but as we expect it to be (i.e. slanting). However, attitude is not a simple, one-dimensional concept. It is in fact quite complex and dynamic in nature.
In the Business Dictionary, the term attitude is defined as “predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual’s choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli). Four major components of attitude are- i) emotions or feelings, ii) beliefs or opinions held consciously, iii) inclination for action, and iv) positive or negative response to stimuli.”
According to C.T. Morgan, an eminent Professor of Psychology, a person’s attitude can be inferred from “the things a person does.” It has a powerful influence on a person’s likes and dislikes and on his behaviour. According to him, attitudes have three essential components- a feeling component, a cognitive component and an action component. (A Brief Introduction to Psychology, Tata McGraw-Hill Ed., 1978)
Let us now try to delineate the nature of attitude in the context of the above information.
On the basis of the definitions listed in the previous section, we can infer that an attitude is- a) a mental state, b) shaped by a person’s beliefs, feelings, values and experiences, c) that determine the way a person looks at or evaluates people, actions, situations, objects, ideas, or issues and the way he reacts or behaves towards it, d) by influencing a person’s likes and dislikes and e) thus his tendency to respond either positively or negatively towards someone or something.
Attitude, like behaviour, is a function of experience i.e. it is or it can be learned. It is a part of an individual’s acquired personality traits. It may be learned through direct experience or through observational learning/modeling (i.e. imitating the behaviour of others). When our beliefs, opinions and feelings cause us to behave in a characteristic way, consistently, while dealing with diverse situations, they become our attitude.
Attitude involves an evaluative judgment about an object. (Maio and Haddock, The Psychology of Attitudes and Attitude Change, Sage Publications, 2010, p.4) It is “a tendency to act toward or against something in the environment, which becomes thereby a positive or negative value.” (E.S. Bogardus) This shows that an attitude is always directed towards some object- a person, a group, an institution, or something abstract (like an idea or an issue).
As discussed above, some social psychologists have studied attitude in terms of the following three components-
1. The feeling component- This is the affective/emotional response that expresses an individual’s choice/preference for a particular object based on his feelings and desires. e.g. “I feel upset when I see malnourished children working at construction sites.”
2. The cognitive component- This is the mental evaluation of an object on the basis of the belief or opinion that a person holds regarding that particular object. e.g. “I think that in our society patriarchal domination is responsible for the deplorable condition of women since ages.” The belief aspect of an attitude affects its feeling component, and vice versa. Most beliefs complement the emotional aspects of attitude. Positive belief/opinion regarding something results in favorable attitude towards it and negative opinion leads to an unfavourable attitude towards the same.
3. The action component- This is the typical behavioral tendency of an individual determined by his feelings and opinions. “I have volunteered to spread awareness regarding the damaging impact of female foeticide on the sex ratio in our country.” According to some psychologists, the behavioral component of an attitude affects the feeling component and the cognitive component. Thus, we may take this to mean that our attitude is, to a considerable extent, shaped by the way we behave.
Attitude is thus a combination of all these components which do not function independently of each other but are interconnected. A minor change in one particular component will affect the overall structure of a person’s attitude as well as the nature of its other two corresponding components.
In the next section, we will study in detail how these attitudes develop.
FACTORS THAT SHAPE ATTITUDE
An important thing to remember about attitude is that it is not universal. Not only does it differ from person to person, but the same person may have a differing attitude towards certain objects and situations. No two people are the same. What distinguishes one person from the other is his individuality. Likewise, no two situations are exactly the same. Thus, an individual may respond to different situations in a different manner depending on his attitude towards a specific object or situation that he is involved with, influenced by his previous learning experiences. Hence, attitude cannot be classified into simple absolute categories such as conservative/liberal, aggressive/passive, etc. without taking into consideration the context in which it is to be realized and which is in turn shaped by that very context. Attitude is a complex of differing patterns of thoughts and emotions with regard to objects and/or situations which determine what a person does when confronted with those. Thus, each individual possesses diverse yet interrelated attitudes which determine his behaviour.
HOW DOES ATTITUDE DEVELOP?
The following factors shape our attitude/s:
Background refers to the personal, social, economic, cultural, religious, educational, professional, political environment to which a person belongs. Parental influences play a significant role in shaping children’s attitudes from birth up to puberty. Children acquire their attitudinal tendencies through modeling i.e. by developing emotional and thought patterns that are similar to those of their parents and by imitating their parents’ behaviour. A great similitude has been observed between the attitudes of children and their parents. The way in which our parents’ react to a positive or negative situation influences our attitudes and also affects our behavior and feelings. For instance, if a child sees that his father often gets angry, restless and turns violent while dealing with a frustrating situation at home, he too would learn this as a coping mechanism and would tend to react in the same way when he faces rejection or is annoyed with someone or something. He might consider such aggressive behaviour as ‘macho’ and would take pride in imitating it or this might be the only way that he probably knows of to deal with difficult situations.
At home, parents and family members pass on thought patterns and attitudes based on age-old traditions and beliefs to their children, teach them the difference between ‘what is right’ and ‘what is wrong’ depending on their own perception of things, thus performing the crucial task of sowing the seeds of their personality which blooms once the children step out of the confines of their homes and mingle and interact with people from varied backgrounds and develop new relationships. Preadolescents are like wet clay. A slight touch can create a deep and long-lasting impression on their minds and can easily mould their way of looking at things. At this stage, they do not have a clear perspective with which to judge people and situations. They are therefore dependent on their parents and role models for guidance.
As children grow older and step into the adolescent phase of their life, parental influences slowly fade out, making way for social and peer influence to take its place. During this period from age 12 to 30, the significant influence on an individual’s attitude comes from their interactions with teachers, peers, colleagues and also from other external sources such as media, culture, religion, society, politics, etc. So far as a child, a person passively absorbed whatever was taught to him by his parents or through the behaviour that he observed in his immediate home environment. But as an adolescent (age 12 to 21), he starts evaluating people’s behaviour and situations based on his grooming and past experiences (whether undergone or observed). It is during this stage that most of an individual’s attitudes actually start taking a distinct shape and during young adulthood (age 21 to 30) they crystallize into a final form and after 30 they do not undergo much change. Thus, adolescence is a very crucial period in the process of attitude formation. (C.T. Morgan, A Brief Introduction to Psychology, Tata McGraw-Hill Ed., 1978)
At school and in college, besides teachers who orient us and help us to develop a new perspective to life, our peers also contribute extensively to the shaping of our attitude. This takes place on a very subconscious level. A peer is “a person who is equal in ability, standing, rank, or value” usually of the same age and educational level. (Oxford Quick Reference Dictionary) During adolescence, people spend more time with their friends who they like and are comfortable with than with their parents and family. Because of this regular socializing with kids of one’s own age, what peers think and do have a major influence on the attitudes that develop during this period. Adolescents try to imitate the actions and behaviour of their peers as they face peer pressure and try to “fit in” or because they have a desire “to belong”. Likewise, one’s colleagues at the workplace are also one’s peers and peer influence during young adulthood also functions in the same way as during adolescence and contributes to the shaping of an individual’s attitude. Attitudes which are acquired during this phase are the ones that will undergo certain changes before finally getting crystallized into “the attitude” of an individual.
External influences that shape a person’s attitude like media, culture, religion, society, and politics tend to have a very strong hold over people’s perception. Parental influences are displaced by these factors during adolescence because of the greater availability of information in our times by means of television and, most importantly, the internet which has effected information revolution. Earlier, children had to depend on newspapers and their parents’ conversation to know what was happening in the world around them. Now, they can have all the information with precise details at the click of the mouse-button or through watching the innumerable 24-hour news channels that have made the world a much smaller place, where news from one corner of the world travels to the other at a lightening speed. Electronic media and the internet have made their presence felt in a big way in the 21st century. We readily accept what is shown or made known to us through them as “authority” on that particular subject/issue and our views regarding culture, religion, morality, and politics are more or less defined by these powerful, influential media.
Another powerful factor that plays a huge role in shaping our attitude is education. Just like parental influences, education too has a very strong influence on the individual. It does not refer to passive learning- a mere passing on of information from the teacher (anyone from whom one learns something) to the learner. It in fact demands an active participation of the learner in the learning process. It thus invests an individual with the requisite knowledge and wisdom and along with that the power to think, to analyse and to decide for oneself on the basis of this knowledge. When an individual goes through this process of education, his attitude towards objects and situations takes a new and distinct shape and becomes a part of his unique personality. Education does not simply mean acquiring academic degrees. Education refers to both formal and informal education. One receives formal education in schools and colleges. But life is better teacher. What one learns from life and the people around is less idealistic and more practical, thus endowing one with the knowledge and wisdom which makes one worldly wise. All the factors that we discussed above- parental, social, peer and external influences- are rich sources of informal education.
Attitude also develops from an individual’s personal experiences. As one grows older, one has a huge repertoire of experiences from which to draw knowledge and wisdom to deal with challenges or choices that one may have to face in life. Past experiences provide a point of comparison and thus define how a person would react or behave in a particular situation. People tend to imitate or avoid certain attitudes and choices depending on the consequences they may have. For instance, if a co-worker had observed that his superior had reacted unfavourably to the suggestion made by his colleague and this had harmed his interests in the organization, then he himself will be very careful while interacting with his boss in order to avoid causing friction. Thus, his attitude towards his boss and towards upward communication will be immensely influenced by this experience. Thus, personal experiences which are a direct result of the personal choices that one makes also determine a person’s attitude.
To sum up, the environment to which an individual belongs- his parents, peers, education, culture, religion, traditions and beliefs, etc. – has a long-lasting effect on his mind and subsequently, his attitude. All these are potential sources of both positive and negative influences on an individual. Thus, an individual must take care to create a very positive environment around him for it is difficult to behave or to think positively in a negative environment. Just as experiences determine his attitude, attitude/s also governs the subsequent experiences. If a person puts in conscious efforts to create a positive environment around himself, he will have positive experiences which in turn will help him to generate a positive attitude.
In the next section, we shall examine the disadvantages of Negative Attitude and discuss certain guidelines on developing Positive Attitude.
TYPES OF ATTITUDE
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” – William James
Should smoking be banned in public places? Is there a need for a reservation for women in the Parliament? Is terrorism an international conspiracy? The answers people give to these kinds of questions reflect their attitude. Attitude is thus an evaluative judgement about an attitude object. And our evaluation depends on our knowledge, experience and eventual likes and dislikes. Our response to an object will be negative if our attitude is unfavourable. Similarly, when we consider an object favourably, then our attitude towards it is said to be positive. Thus, there are two types of attitudes- a) Positive attitude and b) Negative attitude.
As discussed in the previous section, a person’s attitude is shaped by the various factors that influence his way of thinking. And the thought pattern that an individual acquires over a period of time is an essential factor that directs his behaviour and has a far-reaching effect on his life. If a person broods over negative aspects of people and situations, then such kind of thinking will inevitably lead to a negative attitude; whereas, if he nurtures positivity in his mind and practises it when faced with any kind of situation, then he will surely have a very positive outlook on objects (some of which may be quite frustrating or challenging at times). Hence, it is the thought process that defines attitude. Negative or positive thinking about an object translates into negative or positive attitude towards it, respectively. Therefore, changing the way in which a person thinks can have a substantial effect on the way he behaves and subsequently on the way he lives.
First of all, we shall take up Negative Attitude and discuss its deterrable impact on an individual and its resultant disadvantages.
“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
– Thomas Jefferson
Negative attitude is an unfavourable evaluation of an object. It is the outcome of some sort of dislike for the object and has detrimental implications on behaviour. Negative thoughts and emotions like cynicism, envy, selfishness, aggression, shame, hatred, cowardice, greediness, bitterness, despair, annoyance, guilt, frustration, etc. form a negative attitude. Hurtful or disappointing personal experiences also lead to negativity in the mind of an individual. For instance, when a person encounters failure in life, loses confidence and stops the pursuit of his goals, it is because of his negative attitude towards failure. He sees it as a stumbling block and gives up hope. Such pessimism is the outcome of his negative attitude towards a difficult situation. Under such circumstances, people often tend to blame others for their failure. When a person does this, it creates a mental block and it has a long-lasting effect on his ability to think optimistically about and to deal with similar situations.
Prejudice is another important factor that is responsible for the negative attitude of an individual. In simple words, prejudice is a bias or a preconception which has its roots in narrow-mindedness, discrimination and intolerance. It can be defined as an irrational, preconceived opinion or feeling for, or especially against, something or someone, formed unfairly or unreasonably i.e. without proper knowledge or prior experience. (Business Dictionary) Thus, literally put, prejudice is a prejudgement. It is an unjustified attitude, incongruous with the facts, and is mostly based on assumptions or on hearsay. For instance, it is due to prejudice that a person assumes that someone will steal because he is poor. Such an assumption leads to the formation of a negative attitude towards all poor people. This is known as stereotyping. “Stereotyping is the attempt to categorize individuals by trying to predict their behaviour or character on the basis of their membership in a particular group.” (Courtland L. Bovee and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, pp. 67) Thus, prejudice and stereotyping are closely related. Prejudice leads to stereotyping and stereotyping in turn affirms that prejudice. (For a detailed note on prejudice and stereotyping, refer Chapter __ International Communication, pp.__)
How do people with a negative attitude behave? People with a negative attitude have a negative outlook on life. They are a danger to the society. They create a negative environment wherever they go. They make people’s lives dull and miserable. They keep complaining all the time. They blame others for their problems. They are stubborn and selfish and want everyone to behave according to their expectations. They give out negative vibes which repel their friends and family. No one enjoys interacting with such a person as it breeds boredom, anxiety and unnecessary stress in their lives. Because people generally keep away from such person, he has low self-esteem. The negative mindset not only has an adverse effect on his personality but it also limits his creativity and this has a ruinous impact on his efficiency and communication skills at the workplace too. It gives rise to resentment, lack of confidence, and bitterness thus generating even more negativity in the mind of an individual. It pulls the person in a vicious circle of doubts, disappointments and dejection. The resulting sense of worthlessness causes high stress level and has a harmful effect on a person’s health and wellbeing. It not only causes psychological disorders (like depression) but also physical ailments (like heart diseases).
Therefore, one may conclude that in order to be successful in one’s life, one must have or rather must cultivate the right mental attitude i.e. positive attitude. We are well-equipped to handle all kinds of situation if we have the right attitude.
This brings us to our next topic of discussion i.e. Positive Attitude and its benefits and significance in our personal and professional life.
“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” – George Bernard Shaw
Positive attitude is indicative of a person’s optimistic outlook on life, i.e. his belief that one can overcome problematic situations and can achieve success by embracing positive thoughts and feelings. This has direct implications on an individual’s behaviour. When a person responds constructively to stress, has the confidence to deal with the problems and tries to find opportunities in every situation, he is said to have a positive attitude. Unlike a person with negative attitude, he does not see problems and failures as stumbling blocks on his path to achieving success. Rather, he treats failures as stepping-stones to success. A person with a positive attitude always looks on the brighter side of life. He sees the glass as half full instead of seeing it as half empty.
Positive experiences help generate a positive attitude and positive attitude is instrumental in bringing about positive experiences. Thus, it is essential for an individual, who desires to lead a fulfilling life and be successful in all his endeavours, to develop a positive attitude. And how does he accomplish that? He does so by making conscious efforts to breed positivity in his mind- by dwelling on positive thoughts and nurturing positive emotions- which in turn orient him to focus on the good aspects of people and situations and encourage him to pursue his goals with greater confidence. Positive thoughts and emotions include excitement, joy, affection, empathy, friendliness, courage, hope, trust, pride, satisfaction, confidence, patience, humility, etc. When an individual chooses to derive positive emotions from the various triggers in his environment, applies that positivity in the process of forming his thoughts and perceptions and practises positive thinking in his attitude and behaviour towards people and situations, his positive outlook will definitely translate into positive experiences.
What is the profile of people with a positive attitude? People with a positive attitude are not eternal worriers. They know that one always has a choice and that a person’s happiness and success depends on how one chooses to think (thoughts) and what one chooses to do (behaviour). The knowledge that though certain situations are beyond one’s control, yet one has the power to choose how to deal with it makes most activities enjoyable for them. This enables them to function productively both at home and at the workplace. It improves their efficiency. People with a positive attitude often have a huge circle of friends as they are very good at people skills and can communicate effectively. Their enthusiasm is contagious and people love to be around them. They create a friendly atmosphere wherever they go and earn people’s trust by making them feel comfortable in their company. They make excellent team leaders as they extend a lot of support and encouragement and also know how to bring out the best in people in any situation. They are better decision-makers as they focus on the right and relevant things. When faced with problems, they do not waste time in blaming others but busy themselves with finding ways to solve the problems. They are result-oriented and thus are an asset to any organization/institution.
To conclude, a positive environment at home or at work is conducive to the fostering of positive thoughts and emotions and thereby a positive attitude which ultimately results in positive experiences. But developing and sustaining a positive attitude while handling different kinds of situations needs continuous efforts. First of all, one has to identify the negative traits in one’s personality and then he has to systematically and diligently work at replacing those with positive ones. One c