Module Six: Communication and Self-Esteem

  1. Identify techniques for effective communication.
  2. Practice effective listening.

interpersonal communication = mutual understanding
understand = to perceive what is meant by; to grasp the significance of


Being an effective communicator is always high on the list of characteristics of great teachers. Listening is often cited as the single most important teaching skill. Clearly, effective communication skills are essential to realizing our potential as teachers, as well as maintaining healthy relationships in our personal lives. Before examining the connection between self-esteem and communication, it is important to look carefully at the nature of interpersonal communication and its components.

Interpersonal communication is what takes place between two people, when there is two-way understanding, when I understand what is true for you and you understand what is true for me. If you apply this concept to your communication with others, you may find there is a significant amount of talking with little understanding. Talking isn't necessarily communicating. In fact, the words we use only communicate about 7% of the total message. The rest is all in the tone of voice, facial expression, and body language. Also, our physical actions speak volumes. Calling on a sick friend says more to that friend than about anything else you could do.

It's not what you say - it's what you do that counts. Do you look me in the eye? Do you turn away? Do you interrupt to argue? Do you judge and preach? Do you tell me what to do, rather than respect my ability to work it out on my own? Do you blame me for your feelings?

Understanding and being understood are prerequisites for self-esteem, because interpersonal communication is a universal human need. It is right there at Level III on Maslow's hierarchy. Humans are innately social creatures by design. Without connections with others, we can go crazy. Truly, no woman or man is an island. Without vital connections of understanding with other people, we cannot satisfy our social needs, and thus, we cannot realize self-esteem at Level IV. If deprived of air and water, also universal human needs, we die. If deprived of understanding, we also can die long before we are buried. The experience of self comes only out of relationship with others.

Another equally important fact to keep in mind when studying interpersonal communication is that it is impossible. No one can really know what it is like inside another person's skin. It is physically not possible. We are separated in space and reside in our own world. We are always alone. That is how we came into the world, and that's how we live in it, and that's how we depart - alone. This does not mean we must be lonely, even though we can never totally understand each other. With empathy, we can come much closer and build connections that are clear and powerful. We are all alone in this class together. That's the good news!

Effective Communication 

There are two ingredients in effective communication - intention and attention. One must intend to communicate, or something else occurs, something other than mutual understanding. Our unconscious intentions often run counter to communication and understanding. Sometimes our intention to be right, look good, keep our fears secret, teach a lesson, get revenge, or any one of a hundred petty intentions creates an atmosphere where defensiveness and ill will makes mutual understanding impossible.

Unless we give another our attention, there will be no communication, no understanding. If all my attention is focused within myself, I will not hear what you say, let alone understand what it means to you. Attention can only be in one place at one time. I cannot read the sports section and listen to you at the same time. Attention is a function of intention. I can consciously control my attention. When it wanders, I can bring it back.

Since communication is a two-way deal, there are two parts - me understanding you and you understanding me. Both are my responsibility. I understand you by listening. I gain your understanding by self-disclosure, telling you my thoughts and feelings. Thus, it is necessary for me to reflect upon my own internal experience and share it with you, if I intend some understanding. No one is a mind reader.

People are afraid to communicate. It is fear that makes us hold back from sharing our own thoughts and feelings. It is fear that blocks our understanding of what is true for others. Fear is the only barrier to communication, and "All we have to fear is fear itself."

Three Acts of Attention 

Step One

Reflect upon these ideas and how they might apply in your relationships in and out of school. Make some notes to yourself describing your thoughts and feelings. How well do you listen? How could you improve the quality of your communication with others? Why do you sometimes communicate better with people at school than at home? Do you let people know who you really are, or do you keep it to yourself?

Step Two

Select three people and arrange to spend one-on-one time with each within the next week. You can choose anyone: a student, colleague, or relative. The time you spend together does not need to be long. Fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time with a student after school can be very effective. Contact each person, and tell him or her that you want to spend a little time with them. Tell them you would like to get to know them, or you have missed them, or whatever might be appropriate. When you meet, follow these guidelines: (1) Create two or three intentions for each meeting. Write them down. (2) Give the other person your full, undivided attention; put the focus on them. Get them to do most of the talking, and let them take the conversation where they want. Show genuine interest in what they have to say. (3) When it is appropriate, share your own thoughts and feelings. Send "I Messages:" Talk in the first person. (4) Make certain you sit in an open posture, facing the other person directly, and looking them in the eye.

Step Three

Reflect upon your experiences with these people, and consider these questions:

Assignments for Module Six

  1. Forum Assignment:Write a half-page reflection describing your experience with the Three Acts of Attention exercise.

    Post your response on the FORUM into the Module 6 Three Listening Episodes thread. Do NOT start a new thread! Please click the Module 6 Three Listening Episodes thread and then post your assignment. Dialogue with your colleagues. (Respond to minimum of one other student postings.)

  2. Reflection Assignment: Read Chapter 6 in the textbook and write an informal one-half to one page reflection, focusing on what you learned, and how you might apply what you learned. Rather than summarizing the reading, discuss new ideas and significant insights and how you might apply them to enhancing your own self-esteem, the self-esteem of the students in your classroom, or the esteem of your own children.

    Please type this Reflection Assignment single spaced with an extra line between paragraphs. Again, you are encouraged to write your reflection in a word processor, such as Word. Be sure to save often. Then, use the "Copy" and "Paste" commands under the Edit menu to copy your reflection into the body of an e-mail message. Send this to your instructor by email on or before midnight of the module's due date. Type, Module 6 Reflection, in the subject line of your e-mail message. Please do not send your reflection as an attachment, and do NOT post your reflection on the Forum. You should keep a copy of your Reflection Assignment, at least until you receive a response from the instructor to ensure that it was received.

  3. Web Site Assignment: Review online at least one of the Must See links provided throughout the Module 6 course materials. Write a brief (25-50 word) review of your chosen Web site article by responding to this question: What did you learn/relearn from the article that was most significant to the assessment and/or enhancement of your self-esteem, the self-esteem or your classroom, or your own children's esteem?

    Please type your review with the heading Web Site Review at the bottom of the same email that you submit to your instructor with your Reflection Assignment (see #2 above).

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