Gordon Wainwright is an independent management training consultant. He has written several books on management communication skills, including 'Read Faster, Recall More' (also published by How To Books) and runs courses for a wide range of organisations, including multinationals and government departments.
How People Interact with Each Other
Social behaviour is produced by at least seven types of drives or motivating forces:
- 1.Biological drives which can produce social interaction. For instance, the need for food and water.
- 2.Dependency drives. The need for the help, protection and guidance of others.
- 3.Affiliation drives. The need to be accepted and liked by others.
- 4.Dominance drives. The need to lead or control others.
- 5.Sex drives. The need for physical proximity, bodily contact and intimacy, usually with attractive members of the opposite sex.
- 6.Aggression drives. The desire to attack other people to accept your picture of yourself as valid.
- 7.Self-esteem drives. The need for other people to accept your picture of yourself as valid.
The motivation produced by these drives does not always operate the same way every time. For instance, biological needs seem to have equilibrium levels. Imbalances can be satisfied by obtaining, for example, food and water. This does not appear to apply to some other drives, like sex, where more can in fact increase your appetite.
Motivation can be conscious or unconscious. The effect of hypnotism is an example of the creation of unconscious motivation and there are other ways in which people can remain unaware of the reasons for a particular motivation to do something. One is the hidden influence of advertising in creating demand for various goods and services.
The degree of arousal and satisfaction of various drives can affect motivation and hence behaviour. There is usually an optimum level of arousal, which is lower with complex activities, and beyond which the effort to satisfy the drive becomes progressively less effective. Arousal is stronger when the incentive is larger, when the object of the motivation is wanted greatly and when its probability of being achieved is greater.
There are interrelationships between various social drives. Aggression, for example, is related to dominance and to low affiliation, but authoritarian personalities can be dominating or dependent on different occasions.
Communication With and Without Words
The social skills that people use include a wide range of levels of communication. These elements, which are combined into general patterns of behaviour, are as follows:
- 1.Body contact. For example, hand-shaking, patting on the back and caressing.
- 2.Proximity and orientation. For example, if one person is taller than another it puts him in a dominating position, and how close a person is allowed to approach will depend upon the degree of mutual acceptance.
- 3.Gestures. These help particularly to show emotional states.
- 4.Facial expressions. These too can indicate emotional states, and such things as perspiration can reveal nervous tension. Smiles are particularly important in getting along well with other people.
- 5.Eye movements. The kind of factors which are important here are where the eyes are looking and for how long, whether the gaze is furtive or open, and how much eye contact occurs between individuals - the greater this is, the greater the degree of intimacy.
- 6.Non-verbal aspects of speech. These include silences, errors, ‘ers’, tone of voice, loudness, pitch, speed of speaking, voice quality and smoothness.
- 7.Speech. We use speech to serve a wide range of purposes: asking questions, conveying information, giving instructions, influencing the behaviour of others by persuading, and so on.
When these elements are combined into general styles of behaviour, they produce examples like the following:
The affiliative style
The individual is warm and friendly. He allows other people to dominate. Since usually an intimate relationship develops only if those involved can interact more or less in the way they want, he tends to be successful socially. He avoids disagreements about beliefs, attitudes and almost anything else. He steers topics of conversation towards common bonds or interests. He treats others as equals and rewards them, for example, by taking an interest in them. His social interaction will contain high proportions of physical proximity, certain kinds of bodily contact (such as pats on the back), eye contact, smiling, friendly tones of voice and conversation about personal topics.
It is possible to establish a friendly relationship with almost anybody, but this entails further lines of action, such as not disagreeing, being more pleasant to them or being submissive, which may not always be palatable if you have to make friends with someone you dislike. It is also worth noting that, if techniques are overdone, the other person will ‘run away’. It is essential to note the reactions of the other person and to react appropriately.
The dominant style
Dominant people tend to talk loud, fast and most of the time in a confident tone of voice. They interrupt others and control the topic of conversation. They need to combine sufficient warmth with these elements to avoid others withdrawing.
Generally speaking, dominant techniques only lead to a dominant relationship when combined with affiliative techniques, and the combination generates a more acceptable pattern of social behaviour.
It is possible to dominate, or influence another’s behaviour, by the systematic rewarding of the desired behaviour immediately after it takes place, and the non-reward or punishment of other behaviour. Rewards based on the need for affiliation include smiling, eye contact, agreement, head-nodding, etc. Punishment might include frowning, looking away, looking bored, looking at a watch, disagreeing, etc. Other rewards and punishments can be based on needs for dominance, dependency, sex, or acceptance of the self-image. Another method of influence is to change the definition of the situation, suggesting that it is not what the other thought it was (for example, indicating that it is a party so they should be cheerful, or it is a serious meeting so they should stop being funny, or there are strangers present so they should be more discreet).
Other minor social styles
These involve, for example, ‘presence’ as opposed to ‘informality’ and the ability to establish ‘rapport’.
Motivation is the main factor in the choice of social skills and styles. It is known that extroverts have stronger affiliative needs than others. Among the other things that we know about how people use their social skills is the fact that women engage in more eye contact and are more dependent on vision in social encounters than men.
What Happens When People Meet
The ways in which we normally categorise people - sex, age, social class, ‘warmth’ or ‘coldness’, introverts or extroverts, variations in anxiety or neuroticism, attitudes to authority - all determine the selection of social skills in dealing with different kinds of people. Introverts, for instance, respond better to praise and extroverts to blame.
When two people meet, the length and frequency of their meetings will generally depend on the rewards each receives from the other. They may have to balance their social skills and this may mean departing somewhat from their preferred techniques. For smooth interaction, synchronisation is necessary in:
- 1.the amount of speech each allows the other;
- 2.the speed or tempo of interaction;
- 3.who is allowed to dominate;
- 4.the degree of intimacy between them;
- 5.the amount of co-operation and competition;
- 6.the emotional tone of the interaction;
- 7.the task and procedure (for example, resolving problems of wanting to do different things or do the same thing in different ways).
When two people meet who are never likely to meet again, there is also a ‘stranger value’ which may increase the amount and speed of self-disclosure. This applies particularly when on holiday or in interviews. Normally, it takes longer periods of interaction to produce greater self-disclosure. Even the superficial details are disclosed most easily, though if two people are isolated intimate disclosure is increased, as it is if the disclosures are mutual.
Before meeting someone, what you are told about a person conditions your attitude and behaviour towards them. If you are told a person is friendly, then you will act in a friendly way and will evoke the same response in the other.
Quarrels are often the result of failures to synchronise in an increasingly intimate situation. The most important factors in friendship, for instance, are as follows:
- 1.People must meet, and in many cases the more frequently they do, the more they will tend to like each other.
- 2.Each person must significantly satisfy the needs of the other.
- 3.People with similar values and interests will tend to like each other. The intense conformity among groups of teenagers and students may explain why friendships made then are so long-lasting.
- 4.People with similar personality traits will tend to like each other.
- 5.Opposites can attract each other when, for instance, one is dominant and the other submissive.
- 6.A similar process can occur when one confirms the other’s role (for example, pupil and teacher).
- 7.One person will tend to like another if he sees that the other likes him.
- 8.One person may like another if he sees he can be helpful or useful to him and may even establish a ‘reciprocity’ each doing things for the other.
There is a small statistical tendency for people high in the following traits to be more popular than those who are low:
- 1.Extraversion. Having a lively and outgoing personality.
- 2.Emotional adjustment. Being emotionally stable and not moody.
- 3.Social sensitivity. Expressed in such things as consideration for others and being able to see things from other people’s points of view.
But more important are the following:
- 1.The extent to which a person conforms to group norms (i.e., behaves as other members of the group behave).
- 2.The extent to which a person manifests the ideals of the group (i.e., has the same aims and principles as other members of the group).
- 3.The extent to which a person contributes to the group’s activities.
This explains why a person can be highly popular in one group or social setting, but completely rejected in another.
How groups behave
Dyads (groups of two people) are less stable than larger groups. There is more danger of the interaction collapsing and there are more signs of tension. However, there is usually less expression of agreement and disagreement.
Triads (groups of three people) show various kinds of internal competition and jockeying for position. If there are three men, there is likely to be a straight battle for dominance. If there are two males and one female, the males will normally compete for the attention of the female. If, however, there are three females, and one is left out, the others will generally work to keep her in. If there is one powerful and dominating member of a triad, the others may form a coalition and combine against him.
As group size increases from four to ten
- it becomes less easy to participate and influence what the others will do
- there is a greater discrepancy between the amount of interaction of different members (in large groups the majority may scarcely speak at all)
- there are greater differences in styles of behaviour
- there is often more expression of disagreement
- there is usually more division of labour if there is work to do.
Most people prefer to belong to a group of five or six, since this gives them variety while they can still exert influence over the others.
Groups develop definite ‘pecking orders’ in terms of the amount of speech and influence permitted to each member. Techniques of reward and punishment, of the kind discussed earlier, can be used to maintain the hierarchy. Norms of behaviour are developed and there are pressures to conform, with rejection if any individual fails to. A deviate (one who refuses to conform to group norms) becomes the object of considerable attention and of efforts to persuade him to change his behaviour. There is an exception for people of very high informal status by virtue of their contribution to the group. They earn ‘idiosyncrasy credit’, or permission to deviate. An example would be the ‘clown’ who does outrageous things, but in such a way as to make people laugh.
The nature of the task the group has to face is a major factor in determining the status hierarchy and general behaviour. If group members are to share equally in the group product, they will tend to cooperate; if the best performer is to take all, they will tend to compete.
Under a cooperative motivation, group members help each other more, there is more division of labour and they come to like one another. Under competition, hostile attitudes often develop.