HCOM 214: Interpersonal COMM & Conflict

Learning interpersonal communication skills to improve every part of our lives


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Romantic Partners: Prompt 5

I always date outside of my own ethnic group. In fact, I have never been in a serious relationship with a person of the same ethnic group. This, however, has never been a conscious effort (or at least, not to my knowledge)—I’m just open when it comes to ethnicity. That’s not to say I don’t find physical attraction important, rather, ethnicity is not of importance in the bigger picture.

While most of my family members date and marry within the same ethnic group, there are exceptions, mostly on my mom’s side of the family, where my three uncles all have girlfriends of different ethnicities. My uncle Juan has a Korean/Italian girlfriend, my uncle Omar has a Black fiancée, and my uncle Danny has a Mexican girlfriend. My dad’s side of the family is a different story. A majority of his family dates others within the ethnic group, which certainly has a great deal to do with proximity.

Being in a relationship with my girlfriend, who is Asian, has never been an issue for my family. In fact, both sides of the family welcome her into the family with open arms. My family has a very open point of view on the subject: as long as you’re in a happy, healthy relationship with someone you deeply care for, race, gender, sexuality, or religion don’t matter.

When it comes to the general public, I believe that most share the idea that interracial couples are nothing to be concerned about, especially nowadays. I’ve never had any negative reactions about dating someone outside of my ethnic group and I sure hope it stays that way. Who you choose to spend your life with is nobody else’s business, especially not some stranger on the streets. I hope that eventually everyone will share the same general idea my family has regarding relationships: as long as you’re happy, nothing else matters.

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Conflict and Power: Prompt 1

To a total stranger, my girlfriend and I may seem like no more than a lovey-dovey pair of people who have been in the honeymoon stage for nearly a year and a half. But the truth is, it’s not all hugs and kisses. In fact, we’ve had our share of relationship conflicts from time to time. These conflicts, however, don’t slowly erode our relationship, but rather, they give us the tools to build a strong foundation based on effective communication.

One conflict that has arose between us is my sense of humor. Unfortunately, I have this tendency to make rude, sarcastic comments in a tone that isn’t easily detectable as a joke. Everything is fine and dandy until she’s the butt of the joke, however. This sometimes leads to insecurity on her part, stubbornness on my part, and a misunderstanding between both of us. It’s here that I must exercise my conflict resolution skills to clear up confusion and make amends.

Most people get caught up in the heat of the moment and try to compete with one another using defensive communication tactics like sudden-death statements, dirty secrets, or explosive outbursts to win the argument. These tactics, however, are very destructive to all relationships, especially close ones. That’s why, when faced with conflict with my girlfriend, I don’t try to “win” the argument or attack her personally. As the book says, “attack problems, not people.”

Instead of firing off destructive messages, I analyze and approach the conflict carefully. Whether I feel she is overreacting or that she has a valid point, I try to collaborate with her, clear up miscommunication, accommodate her if necessary, and apologize for any misunderstanding. One of the most important concepts to consider, however, is to let go of your pride before addressing conflict. Even if you’re certain that the other person is in the wrong, take a second to listen to their point of view—you may even change your mind after the conflict is resolved.


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Nonverbal Communication: Prompt 5

For better or worse, some people have a voice that stands out from the rest of the crowd. It can be soft and angelic, it can be clear and confident, or it can be loud and obnoxious. More often than not, however, the loud and/or obnoxious voices stand out the most (at least from my experience).

Say what you’d like about me, but I seem to enjoy complaining more than I’d like to admit at times (my girlfriend calls me a grumpy old man). I guess it’s much easier to point out the negatives in our lives than it is to appreciate all the positives. Don’t get me wrong though, I can still appreciate the beauty in life. If I overhear my girlfriend singing, for example, I’ll tell her how beautiful her voice is. On the other hand, if I hear someone with a loud, nasally voice obnoxiously voicing their opinion in class, I’m likely to share that unfortunate experience with a friend later on.

Now I know what you’re thinking already: “You shouldn’t be making fun of people’s voices; it’s rude! How would you like it if someone make fun of yours?” For one, I obviously wouldn’t appreciate it if someone did that, especially considering I’m not very fond of my voice myself. But for better or worse, it’s mine and I can’t do much to please everyone. Keeping that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at some point in my life despised my voice with a burning passion. They have every right to do so if they feel the need, but that doesn’t necessarily justify it.

Let’s not lie to ourselves—we all make quick judgements about people, be it subtly or not. But making these judgements, especially based on something as simple as their voice, is not very ethical. I know for a fact that I’ve formed some harsh judgments about people in my head due to me finding their voice annoying. But after actively listening to what the person has to say on a matter, I realize that my initial judgement was completely wrong. Experiences like this further prove the age-old idea that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.


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Verbal Communication: Prompt 8

A language is more than just a way of speaking with others. It carries rich cultural context, long-held belief systems, and the many values and attitudes unique to it. Not only that, but many languages, like English, adopt words from other languages, including chauffeur from French, a cappella from Italian, doppelgänger from German, and countless more. If half of the world’s current 7,000+ languages were to go extinct, English would still suffer, resulting in less cultural history and a drop in diversity in the English language.

While English is far from extinction, an evolution of the language is entirely possible. Take Old English, for instance. Now an obsolete form of English, it evolved into what is now referred to as Middle English, followed by Early Modern English to our current Modern English. Each of these stages lasted 2-4 centuries before a complete evolution occurred. Even then, our Modern English language has countless dialects—American, Australian, British, Canadian, and many more. Considering all these different dialects and the lifespan of each English stage, it’s only a matter of time before future English speakers see another evolution.

Let’s imagine, however, that the English language is on the brink of extinction and a brand-new language has begun to take its place entirely. All English-speaking countries like England, the United States, and Australia would begin to lose the cultural context, traditions, beliefs, values, and dialects embedded deep within their language. The regulative and constitutive rules that govern the English language we know today would be replaced by that of the new one. As English dies out, we would have no other option but to learn the new language and prepare for the inevitable end. Thankfully, this worrisome scenario is not the case and we can continue to cherish all of the qualities of our language that make it unique and the context that accompanies it.


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Active Listening: Prompt 2

Whether I’m expressing joy over an eventful day, or frustration over life’s overwhelming responsibilities, my mother has always been one of the greatest active listeners in my life. Something about her motherly demeanor and caring personality have always led me to seek her thoughtful advice and welcoming comfort.

Unlike action-oriented listeners (like some of my friends), my mom is a people-oriented listener, checking off all the boxes in the five-step process known as listening. For instance, as I’m telling her about how frustrating finals week is getting over the phone, she receives the thoughts I’m expressing to her and attends to them based on the salience of my tone of voice. Simultaneously, she is understanding what I’m telling her, comparing this experience to previous semesters and how I’ve reacted to those experiences. As I continue sharing my thoughts and concerns, she periodically responds by giving verbal feedback like “uh-huh” or “yeah” as she deems appropriate. In person, she also gives off back-channel cues like nodding and occasional comments to ensure to me that she’s listening attentively. And after I’ve finally finished voicing my thoughts, she recalls them and offers me comfort and advice regarding the situation if necessary.

As the book states, we must adapt our listening purposes to the changing demands of interpersonal encounters. In other words, we must adapt aspects of our listening, such as our listening purpose, based on the content of the conversation. If I tell my mom that I didn’t get an internship I applied for, for example, she wouldn’t listen to analyze or discern, but instead she listens to comprehend and to support. She comprehends how the rejection has affected me and expresses empathy towards those feelings. Similarly, if I successfully land an internship, she notices my excitement and supports me by congratulating me.

Day in and day out, we interact with all types of listeners. Some may be great listeners, others might be absolutely terrible. But when we find someone who is a genuine listener that checks off all the boxes and makes you feel important and cared for, we should cherish that person and the relationship we share with them.


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Emotions: Prompt 2

Upon reading the aforementioned quote from Henry David Thoreau, I came to a sudden realization that I’ve been living by his philosophy for years. Whenever a friend is in need of relationship advice, I tell them: “Stop forcing happiness. Just have some patience and let things happen naturally.” That’s not to say that I’m a sappy hopeless romantic either—this can apply to anything, really. With enough patience and optimism, I firmly believe that positivity can eventually gravitate towards you.

Going back to the romantic connotation of the quote for a second, I’ve seen some great success in this method. Coming to college single, curious, and ready for whatever life throws at me, I decided to (attempt to) come out of my shell a bit more. I’d go to freshman events, I’d join groups of people, and I’d work up the courage to approach individuals and start up a conversation. This “social streak” didn’t last very long though. I quickly gave up and retreated to the safety of my room. Then one day I decided I’d at least attend a movie night in my residence hall with a small group of people. Little did I know that I’d meet my future girlfriend there. Just when I stopped searching for a better social life and friend groups, I find someone who would bring me unimaginable happiness for one year and counting.

Gushy romance aside, Thoreau’s philosophy can be applied to other areas of life such as my future career, for instance. This school year, I’ve applied to several summer internship programs around the state. Anyone who’s applied for a job or internship knows how nerve-racking the wait is. Will I get in? Do I have enough experience? Did my cover letter convey my passion thoroughly enough? These are questions I often found asking myself in the process. As the weeks go by, I get rejected from one program after another. As hope fades, I decide to let go of my stress and leave things to chance. Stress won’t increase my odds, so why bother? Just let it happen naturally.

Whether it’s romance, careers, family, or friendships, patience is key in developing strong bonds and achieving amazing opportunities. Some things can be chased; but others will find their way to us in time.


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Perceiving Others: Prompt 5

The trait that I perceive and like most in myself is conscientiousness. On a daily basis, this may not be as obvious to a stranger that sees me studying at a library: I can get easily distracted, fidget a lot, or take a bunch of 20-minute breaks in my efforts to answer one homework question. But when it comes to long-term organization and duties, I am very careful and methodical.

For example, I may neglect a math review sheet until the morning it’s due (like right now) out of pure laziness. This would lead me to be more careless, less focused, and highly distracted when I do get around to it. But when it comes to things like saving money, planning ahead for next semester’s enrollment, or seeking out internships and job opportunities, I am very methodical about how I approach these tasks.

A reason for my selective conscientiousness, I believe, is that I need to either be passionate about the task at hand or or feel a sense of urgency to get it done, otherwise I become disinterested and it loses its urgency. This is why I’m more likely to apply for internships at a company I admire or work on a programming project as opposed to getting my environment homework done. This persistence and methodical, organized planning are what lead me to believe in my high conscientiousness.

I definitely do see how my opinion of this trait in myself can impact the way I see it in others, especially in a negative way. Whether it’s consciously or not, we’re always making quick judgements about others’ behavior and personality traits, especially if we feel confident—it’s in our nature. If someone were to look over at me while I’m goofing off, for example, they may assume in that moment that I lack conscientiousness. What’s to stop me from doing the same to others? Not everything we perceive is as it seems, however. Usually there are many underlying traits that have yet to reveal themselves to others.