Thursday, March 1, 2012

Research Paper on Effective Communication

Research Paper on Effective Communication

Some may argue that there is nothing easier in the world than to just talk. Indeed, what can be complicated about such purely enjoyable process as talking? However, the course of sharing ideas and exchanging opinions, also known as dialogue, is not at all easy. In fact, there are many theories discussing this concept and there are many ways in which this notion can be looked at. In this paper the reader will see that dialogue, in reality, is a much stronger force than we actually think it is. It creates ties, it serves to strengthen relationships between people and expand individual viewpoints, and finally it reaches beyond individual goals, promotes and develops a sense of community and belonging.

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In my research paper I would like to thoroughly cover the topic of dialogue. For the reader’s convenience the paper will be divided into two parts. In the first part I will define „dialogue”, present the history of this concept and provide theoretical points. In the theoretical part of the paper I will particularly focus on the theories of dialogue proposed by David Bohm and Martin Buber who have conducted vast amount of research in this area. The second part of the paper will be more concrete.  I will show a setting in which I find the dialogue to be the most appropriate method of conversation to use. I will dwell upon this issue in detail, providing possible pros and cons of this method as well as how it should be implemented.

Definition of dialogue
The simplest definition of dialogue that I have always been able to relate to is the one that describes dialogue as a conversation between two or more people and a literary form in which two or more parties engage in a discussion. In fact, for me the word „dialogue” has always bared the positive connotation, because it seems to insure the equal and non-discriminative positions of the speakers that evenly share their ideas. It has to be mentioned that dialogue is a very delicate process. In fact, there are obstructions that inhibit dialogue and, thus, favor more confrontational and aggressive communication forms. These alternative communicational forms are: discussion and debate. What makes dialogue to be a complicated concept is that there are many points that influence people to refrain from dialogues. These forces are: fear, the display or exercise of power, distrust, external influences, distractions, poor communication, bewilderment, and of course several more others.
The tool of dialogue is widely used in literature to report and imitate in writing what the parties have said before. This method was firstly used by Greeks and Indians for purposes of allegorical entertainment and instruction. Surely, the method has gained such popularity particularly because it was a non-direct method of instruction. We people do not like to be lectured and learn from our mistakes that other people point out, however we do enjoy judging the problems of others. With the help of „dialogue” the people were enabled to analyze the problems of other people and solve their own problems relating to those experiences.
Types of Dialogues

There are two main types of dialogue: inquiry oriented dialogue (IOD) and action oriented dialogue (AOD). Inquiry oriented dialogue (IOD) has the primary goal of exchanging information regardless of whether and how this information will be used in future actions. Action oriented dialogue (AOD), on the contrary, has the primary goal of a participant performing or being obliged to perform an action or a plan.

The expression types of the Inquiry oriented dialogue (IOD) can be definite as „ask” and „answer”. These expression types apply because in this kind of dialogue one party asks another a question or makes a suggestion and does not influence another party to reply positively to it. Thus, it such a dialogue, the parties are more or less equal and there is a place for any question and any answer. The two subtypes of this kind of dialogue are: the information-seeking dialogue and information-exchange (information oriented) dialogue. In the information-seeking dialogue one party asks the questions, and the other party answers it, and in the information-exchange (information oriented) dialogue the situation stays the same, however the first party asks a question particularly in order to receive specific information. Thus, there is so called info seeking and possibly embedded sub dialogues (Maranhão, 1990, p. 62).

The action oriented dialogue is expressed by „request”, and „confirm”. In this kind of dialogue one party influences another party to become obliged/committed to some action or plan. These actions can be performed either during the time of a dialogue, there are called online actions, or after the dialogue is finished, then they are called offline actions.

Having described the above two types of dialogues I should move further to describing the third one that results from the above two. This is the negotiative dialogue. The utterance types of this dialogue are „suggest”, „accept”, „reject”. This type of dialog includes negotiation that is a type of problem-solving used when parties decide to discuss several alternative solutions to a problem before choosing one of them ((Maranhão, 1990, pp. 63 -64). I find it useful to mention that many people mistaken negotiation to have a rather negative connation, thinking that negotiation always imply conflicting goals. This is not true, because this concept applies the collaborative undertaking to come to a conclusion that can be friendly or more aggressive, however does not necessarily result in a conflict. Both types of dialogues: the inquiry oriented and action oriented can be negotiative. For example, when a customer comes to a travelling agency willing to buy tickets to France, he engages in a dialogue with the service provider that gives him all the information available. Having received the information the customer does not become obliged to fly anywhere, because it has been simply an inquiry oriented dialogue, though several different flights may be discussed, thus it is also a negotiative dialogue. Let us take another example, before an important test a private tutor gives her/his student list of tasks that must be completed for the preparation. The dialogue is clearly action oriented because the student is expected to do what he is told. Though, as the teacher gave the student options as to how he/she should study for this exam, the dialogue is also negotiative.
Lastly, I would like to state that the negotiativity of a dialogue has different degrees. Firstly, there are non-negotiative dialogues, in which only one alternative is discussed.  Secondly, there are semi-negotiative dialogues, in which a new alternative can be introduced by altering parameters of the previous alternative, but previous alternatives are not kept. Thirdly, there are negotiative dialogues, in these dialogues several alternatives can be introduced, furthermore old alternatives are kept and can be returned to.

Theory of dialogue
Many philosophers and scientists had realized the importance of studying the process of dialogue and since then contributed greatly to the research of this concept. In this section of the paper I would like to mention the biggest names in the field concentrating on the most famous scientists in this area such as Martin Buber and David Bohn.

Mikhail Bakhtin – a famous Russian philosopher is famous for introducing the theory of „dialogue“. His theory emphasizes the power of dialogue in increasing the understanding of multiple perspectives and creates countless possibilities to the human kind. It was Bakhtin’s belief that there is a connection between the human beings living all over the world and that only through dialogue it is possible for humans to implement change in this world. For this scientist, dialogue was the underlying force that could lead to innovation. He did not believe that an individual was capable of generation an idea him/herself but he considered that they are generated through dialogue (Bakhitin, 1986, p. 117). Bakhtin came up with a linguistic methodology to define the dialogue, its nature and meaning. He considered that the dialogic relations cannot be reduced neither to the purely logical nor to the purely linguistic (compositional-syntactic) once. Thus, according to him, dialogues are possible only when using complete expressions and talking about reasonable subjects (Maranhão, 1990, p. 197).

Paulo Freire, a celebrated Brazilian educationalist, is known all over the world for developing popular education, advanced dialogue as a type of classroom pedagogy. According to Freire, dialogued communication was not only useful in the classroom environment, but was simply the only successful choice. This is because, in his belief, only this type of conversation ensures the learning and sharing of knowledge between teachers and students and creates a healthy environment with respect and equality. For this scientist ensuring the dialogued pedagogy in classroom could lead to positive changes all over the world. He considered that people grow up unconfident and self-doubting only because there have not been taught in the dialogical environment. Thus, Freire found it necessary to ensure that dialogue is not simply the means of reaching conclusion or expressing standpoints, but rather it is means of on-going communication within people.

According to Martin Buber, the concept of dialogue is an essential building block of community. He thought that many mistaken dialogues for simple exchanges of words, however, they are much more than the exchange of messages and talk that takes place in human interaction (Scholz, 1998). Martin Buber once said that, „…no matter whether spoken or silent…where each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them“ (Arnett, 1986, p.6). This scientist considered that when people engage in dialogues they create a special kind of connection, with the help of this connection one party may positively influence another one. Consequently, when people all over the world engage in millions and billions of dialogues they create the connection that helps them change themselves and their counterparts. Thus, with the help of simple dialogues the whole universe may be changed for the better. Of course, Buber took into consideration that not every person enters a dialogue with good intentions, in such cases, certainly, the outcome may not be positive. What is also interesting is that Buber like Bakhtin did not consider a plain simple chit-chat to be a dialogue, for him, dialogue was only a process of conveying valuable and sane ideas with interest to receive other information (Scholz, 1998).

Finally, I would like to talk about the outlook that a famous scientist David Bohm had on this matter. In fact, David Bohm has come up with a related form of dialogue. In the framework of his project a group of people would meet up and talk together in order to explore their assumptions of thinking, meaning, communication, and social effects. Such group would usually consist of ten to thirty people who meet for a few hours regularly or a few continuous days. For his project David Bohm made sure to choose only those people who would be able to leave the tactics used in debates behind and would be willing to talk about their own life and experiences discussing spontaneous topics. Bohm’s research aimed at exploring the preconceptions, prejudices and patterns of thought people have (Bohm, 1996, p.18-19). Today so called Bohm’s dialogues are used widely by organizations, community centers that want to improve communication with workers or want the people to share their perspectives and experiences about difficult issues. When participating in Bohm’s dialogue, people should primary realize that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation, each individual should agree to postpone judgment in the conversation, and finally, the participants should be as honest and transparent as possible (Bohm, 1996, p. 22).

Dialogue in teaching
For this paper I was asked to think of an environment where engaging in dialogue would be considered the perfect method of communication. Having spent some time thinking about I realized that the environment of a school and a classroom in particular should be really the one where people should use dialogues. It is clear that none of the other communication method seem appropriate when it comes to the relationship of teachers and students. This is so because only in dialogues students are able to explore and attempt to „think together“ collectively and most importantly – learn. In fact, the concept of dialogue has set a central place in Western views of education for a very long time, since the teachings of Socrates. Socrates considered that the back-and-forth form of question and answer, challenge and response, to be the external communicative representation of a dialectical process of thinking. Thus, insinuations all over the world has applied this method in order to generate thinking and learning based on speculation, analysis, and reconstruction of ideas.

There is couple of alternative teaching methods that I find less effective in the classroom, I would like to mention them lower. First of all, if a teacher chooses to employ discussion to be the conversation method in class it may turn out that some students who are not very outgoing or motivated can stay out of the teacher’s reach. Many confuse discussion with dialogue, but discussion is different in a way that it generates conversations involving many people. Thus, only those that are not afraid to speak up participate it in. On the contrary dialogue is more personal, and when engaging into a dialogue a teacher gives a chance to even those students who are shy to feel that they are also welcome to present their opinions. Secondly, a teacher may choose to read a lecture in the classroom, meaning to engage in so called frontal teaching. It is obvious that this method of teaching/communication is not useful because it does not give students an opportunity to state their opinions or to ask deep question. Sadly, this method is often chosen by teachers, because it tends to be the least challenging one. Thirdly and finally, a teacher may choose to use debate or discourse as the communication method in the classroom. This method is more effective than the last one, however, it again focuses mostly on the active students, while leaving behind the others. 

The above presentation of alternatives to dialogues and their cons made it clear that in my opinion teachers should teach using the dialogue method. However, I fully understand that there are cons of this method. Firstly, the method of dialogue stresses the role of the teacher. Thus, a teacher should facilitate the student’s discovery of certain insights on his or her own.  Sometimes it is in pursuit of an answer the teacher has in mind already, in others, of an answer neither participant could have predicted. Consequently, only highly professional and educated teachers may employ this method, because a non-professional would simply ruin studying experience for the students. Secondly, dialogues are at times a bit passive and may sometimes not motivate the students in the classroom. For many, dialogues can be seen as an opportunity „to slack off”, thinking that a teacher would accept any answer even the complete wrong one. In the light of the latter disadvantage, many think that vigorous debate and argument is the only basis for making justifiable conclusions out of the opinions and speculations (Burbules and Bertram).

Ensuring dialogue in a classroom
In this section I would like to suggest ways in which a teacher may ensure the long-term implementation of the dialogue technique in a classroom as well as what difficulties he/she may face over the course of this process. I find it useful to mention that first of all each teacher should define his/her own ways of presenting the material. Furthermore, not every teacher can use the method of dialogue in class, this does not mean that this teacher is bad or unprofessional, this just means that he/she is stronger with another communication method.

In case the experience with introducing dialogue in a classroom has been successful, the time comes for every teacher to think about how particularly to implement this technique in a way that it stays in minds of the student and its good traditions are continued. There are different ways the above can be done. In my opinion the first step to the successful implementation is arranging everything in the classroom in a way that would accommodate conversation between the teacher and a small group of students on a regular and frequent basis. The second step would be draw out a schedule of upcoming dialogues’ topics and distribute it to the students, this step would show them that class-dialogues would be continuous and also give them a feeling of direction. Another step is to make sure that all the students in the classroom enjoy the dialogue more or less equally. When choosing dialogues as the way of teaching the instructor has to guide conversations to include all the students. Also, it is important that the teacher adjusts responses to assist students’ efforts (Burbules, Bertram). Finally, in my opinion, the teacher should always listen carefully to assess levels of students’ understanding and the knowledge they have acquired. The latter means that the dialogue communication technique is successful, though the teacher should supervise it at all times over the long period to see whether the technique is still effective.

When implementing dialogues in classrooms in the long run teacher, of course, faces some difficulties. To begin with, there are always those that would not engage in dialogues or would even refuse to participate in the class, thus disturbing others who are willing to study. Furthermore, there is always a chance that the technique stops being effective after a short period of time, in that case the teacher should evaluate the needs of the class and come up with some other way of teaching (Oberdorster, Tiesler). Finally, sometimes when giving the floor to dialogues a teacher looses the control of the class, thus it is very important to remember that a teacher should use this method only if it does not interfere with discipline (Haroutinian-Gordon, 1991, p. 21-26).

In conclusion I would like to say that we, the people, should not forget or underestimate the importance of dialogues, because in facts dialogues create connection between us. Also, as it was presented above, dialogue communication method seems to be one of the most appropriate methods that should be used by teachers in the classrooms. However, when thinking about using this method, many factors have to be analyzed and considered.
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