Social psychology (psychology)/Tutorials/Communication

Resource type: this resource contains a tutorial or tutorial notes.
Completion status: this resource is considered to be complete.

Overview edit

The goal of this tutorial is to explore interpersonal communication models and to participate in some introductory communication skills exercises.

It is intended, in part, to provide experiential participation in some "communication skills 101"-type exercises, but also to train undergraduate psychology students in ways they might themselves one day facilitate training of communication skills.

Preparation edit

  • Use name tags

Levels and channels edit

This exercise engages students in thinking about and discussing human communication in terms of levels and channels.

Levels edit

  1. What levels of communication are there (in terms of psychological depth, ranging from "shallow" to "deep")? e.g.,
    1. "Small talk", clichés, greetings - the purpose is to establish 'ritual' social connection, but not to communicate substantive content
    2. Facts and information - the purpose is convey "data"
    3. Opinions, ideas, judgements - the purpose is convey attitudes and beliefs
    4. Feelings, emotions, affect - the purpose is to communication emotional states
  2. What are some examples of communication at each level?
  3. What level of cognition is required for each level?
    (e.g., point out that cliches and facts often follow scripts, and therefore are less cognitively demanding).

Channels edit

  1. What channels (or modes/types, etc.) of communication are there ? e.g., it is commonly claimed that for 1-to-1 face-to-face communication:
    • 7% is verbal
    • 93% is non-verbal
      • 38% Tone of voice
      • 55% Body language
Ask students to (roughly) guess these percentages - usually ranges between 10 to 30% verbal and 70 to 90% non-verbal. Do students agree? Disagree? Try to provoke some debate, then ask students to address the issue by breaking into small groups (2 to 4) to brainstorm, design, and create a "better" communication model which identifies:
  1. The main communication channels.
  2. Relative % weightings to indicate importance.
  3. Other aspects which are important to model in describing and understanding the relative contributions of various communication channels. e.g., this might include:
    • Breaking down further the components of verbal and non-verbal (tone, body language)
    • Type of communication - e.g., face to face, telephone, text/email/SMS (note: use of emoticons in text as quasi-body language)
    • Culture - relative weights may vary across cultures
    • Individual differences - individual people may make greater or less relative use of some communication channels
  1. Ask each group to briefly share their model, weightings, and other aspects which they've added to improve their model with the whole class.

Body language edit

Body language probably contributes more than half of our 1-to-1 face-to-face communication. This exercise experientially explores the role of three aspects of body language (personal space, eye contact, and touch).

To further discussion and understanding of the role of body language, ask participants to:

  1. Pair up with the person whom they know least well in the group (if there is an uneven number, the tutor joins in).
  2. Personal space:
    1. Ask partners stand a comfortable distance apart, directly facing each other. Experiment in order to establish three distances for each person:
      1. (Just) uncomfortably too far apart for a conversation.
      2. (Just) right for a conversation.
      3. (Just) too uncomfortably close for a conversation.
    2. Do these distances differ for each person in the pair; if so, why? if not, why not?
    3. What consequences might individual differences in preferred personal space distance have on communication and relationships?
    4. What adjustments do we make when we feel a little too far or a little too close? e.g., turning side-on or turning back to person if too close (e.g., in crowded spaces)
  3. Eye contact
    1. Standing a comfortable distance apart, ask partners to look into each other's eyes.
    2. What happens? What kind of reactions are there when asked to look into each other's eyes? What role does eye contact play? (it reduces distance, i.e., makes people feel closer; hence in crowded environments we adjust by averting direct eye contact)
    3. Maybe ask partners to try again - a challenge can be 30 seconds of looking into each other's eyes, in silence. Probe into what this experience is like and why - discuss?
  1. Touch
    1. Standing a comfortable distance apart, with eye contact, hold each other's hands for 30 seconds (this will be difficult for most groups and individuals)
    2. Ask about the effect of touch - what were the effects - how it is used in communication - how does it change things?
  1. How far would students take this kind of process towards "interpersonal encounter" and what effects might it have? e.g., In the 1960's Encounter Groups, Marathon Groups, etc. in the USA become very popular. They were based on experiencing deeper levels of honesty and communication in group settings.
  2. Optional: You could then ask participants to stand a comfortable distance apart - is this new comfortable distance closer or further apart than at the beginning? (maybe use of a tape measure during the initial exercise would allow "data gathering" and research by getting a pre-post measure).

Transmission and feedback models edit

The purpose of this activity is to introduce and explore two basic, but useful models which help people to understand how effective communication can occur. Surprisingly few people are effective communicators and most people will benefit from understanding and applying these models, despite their limitations and critiques.

- Gazda (1973, p. 34

Using the whiteboard, present, discuss, and critique the communication transmission model and adapt it to show and discuss the Shannon-Weaver model.

Transmission model edit

A linear "computer-like" model of communication from sender to receiver.


This approach works well for computers, but discuss where possible degradations of the message can occur in its transmission from one human to another:

  1. Encoding
  2. Transmission interference (e.g., over distance, in noisy environment)
  3. Decoding

As a result, the sender may want to communicate a "square", but the receiver "hears" a "triangle".

Shannon-Weaver model edit

(Or "Are you receiving me? The communication feedback loop.) Then introduce a dynamic concept to improve communciation: a basic feedback loop (from receiver to sender)


Extending the model edit

Ways we can extend the Shannon-Weaver model include:

  1. Channels, consisting at least of verbal and non-verbal channels.
  2. Given these models, ask participants (as a whole class) for strategies which can help to ensure effective communication.
  3. Many of the strategies will be those involved in Active Listening. Point this out, and introduce and define this concept. Active Listening basically describes what is involved in an effective feedback loop:
    • Attending to "listening" (in a concentrating way) and (openly) receiving a sender's message without judging or replying until the full message has been given.
    • Replying to the sender with a summary description of what the sender said (feedback loop).

Exercise: Minefield edit

  • Minefield instructions
  • This is a communication skill and trust exercise which applies concepts from the earlier activities.
  • Some space is required. It can also be done indoors, with the tables and chairs providing "natural" obstacles as participants move from one side of a room to another.
  • Participants should use the same partner as earlier, since a basic bond will already have been established.
  • Make sure to create and maintain a "serious" (trustful) atmosphere which is vital for the activity to work, for developing trust and for maintaining physical and emotional safety.
  • Instead of blind folds, ask participants to shut their eyes.
  • Use equipment at hand for obstacles ("Mines") e.g., bags, files, books, chairs, tables, etc.
  • Before the start and during "swap-over", allow pairs time to discuss and improve their system of communication.

See also edit

External links edit