Although there are several problems that can diminish the effectiveness of interpersonal communication, some tactics can be used in order to minimize these failures in communication. A recent visit to a hotel sparked a perfect example of this communication opportunity between a patron and the hotel's front desk employee. First of all, the history of the confrontation between the patron and the hotel's front desk employee was clouded with expectations and assumptions. For example, the patron made a reservation for a room by using the hotel chain's national reservation center.
This center, in turn, is obligated to give the information to the individual hotels so that the hotels can then honor the reservations accordingly. Unfortunately in this example, the patron's request and approval for a king bed was not relayed from the reservation center to the hotel. As a result, the hotel employee did not have the information that the patron assumed he had received. This assumption resulted in a breakdown in communication between the hotel employee and the patron, which then created hostility on the part of the patron and defensiveness on the part of the employee.
The hostility felt by the patron was partly due to past experiences with hotel employees and the negative outcomes of those experiences (Pfeiffer 12). These past experiences created a situation where the patron did not really listen to what the employee was saying (Pfeiffer 13). Instead, he only heard that there was a problem ('just like there was last time'). The employee's defensiveness was due to his assumption that this particular patron has the same problem that past patrons have had: The patron simply made a mistake with the reservation (De Vito 9). The employee also became defensive because of his rank in the situation and the status differences between a guest of a high-end hotel and a hotel employee (Pfeiffer 14). He knew that he needed to be absolutely correct or else the patron would be awarded a favorable outcome ('the customer is always right'), and this defensiveness did not allow him to fully and effectively listen (Pfeiffer 14).
On the other hand, the patron's assumption that the employee had received the information created unclear information. Had the patron clarified and qualified the correct information, the message would have been clear and the problem may have been solved much earlier. For instance, the patron could have simply explained to the employee the exact information that was given to him by the reservation center, which would have led to a clearer understanding on the part of the employee while minimizing the generalizations used in the conversation (De Vito 13). There were several other conditions that contributed to the communication breakdown between the hotel employee and the patron. For instance, the hotel employee did not at first give his full attention to the conversation with the patron. By not fully attending the situation, the patron felt that he was being somewhat ignored or that his problem was not terribly important to the employee even though it was extremely important to the patron (Bolton 26).
Moreover, had there existed more initial eye contact between the employee and the patron, positive feelings between the two could have been greatly increased (De Vito 124). After all, eye contact 'expresses interest and a desire to listen' (Bolton 29). Without this eye contact, the patron likely felt that the employee had no desire to really listen. In addition, the environment was not conducive towards effective communication. For example, the employee was forced to handle several phone calls, requests from other patrons, and interruptions from other employees during the confrontation with the patron. Because he was not acting like an effective listener, the employee did not attempt to minimize these environmental distractions (Bolton 30) and conveyed the message that the patron was not important enough to exclusively attend to.
Moreover, the physical state of the patron and the employee could have contributed to the lack of effective communication. For one thing, the patron had just spent the day traveling while dealing with stresses such as bus schedules, parking, airplane rides, taxi drives, luggage, and more. These stresses could have led to a negative frame of mind and would have been 'detrimental to communication' (Pfeiffer 13). Honesty and integrity are virtues that were also absent at certain times during the conversation and could have helped fuel the miscommunication fire.
When the patron finally decided to forego the argument over whose information was correct, he asked the employee whether or not there existed a vacant room in the hotel with a king bed. Unfortunately, the employee decided to continue the power struggle by telling the patron that there were no king rooms available. After the patron threatened to involve other employees as well as management in the dispute, the employee finally decided to be honest by revealing that there was a king room available. Although the dispute ended, this revelation of dishonesty created mistrust on the part of the patron and further exemplified the communication problems between the two (Boyle 110). The question of whether or not there existed a king room was also an example of perceptions. The employee, for whatever reason, had the perception that he could not satisfy the patron.
He felt as though the patron was being unreasonable and making unreasonable requests. The patron, on the other hand, had the perception that the employee was being unreasonable and was unwilling to help. These two different perceptions helped to create the ineffective communication between the two (Boyle 53). The fact of the situation, as it was later revealed, was that there did exist several king rooms... but they were being saved for patrons that were deemed more important (i.
e. they were going to spend more money at the hotel). There were several steps that could have been taken by the patron and the employee in order to ensure effective communication. First of all, the employee should have eliminated the many 'refractions' (Pfeiffer 11) that led to his inability to fully listen to the patron including environmental distractions, memories of past experiences, rank, status, and defensiveness. As a result, the employee would have been fully prepared to listen to the patron's explanation of the situation in qualified and clear statements (De Vito 13). Once the patron were to explain the situation in clear and non-accusatory terms, the employee could have evaluated the message and determined whether or not the request was viable.
Of course, in order for this to be successful it would have been necessary for the patron and the employee both agree on a possible solution without exhibiting contrary perceptions (De Vito 154). In other words, the patron and the employee needed to use facts instead of thoughts, feelings, and principles. They also could have made use of communication tools like perception checking in order to obtain clear and useful information from each other. They could have stated their observations, clarified what the other had stated, and asked for (and be receptive to) feedback; which would have encouraged effective communication (De Vito 13). Although the patron ultimately received what he wanted (a king room), the process by which this was obtained was severely tainted with bad feelings and lost time. Unfortunately, because of ineffective communication, the patron and the employee became negative influences on each other that day (Boyle IX).
By avoiding the problems associated with miscommunication and adhering to the rules of effective communication, the patron and the employee could have avoided a very negative situation and resolved a problem in a fraction of the time. Although 'absolutely clear communication' (De Vito 15) may be impossible to achieve, absolutely efficient communication should be a realistic goal... if for no other reason than to get to a vacation that much quicker! References Bolton, Robert (1979), People Skills, Simon & Schuster, New York. Boyle, Dr. William (1999), Getting Connected: How To Improve All Your Relationships, William Boyle and Associates, Illinois.
De Vito, Joseph A. (2002), The Interpersonal Communication Reader, Allyn & Bacon: A Pearson Education Company, New York. Pfeiffer, J. W. (1973), Conditions Which Hinder Effective Communication excerpt from The 1973 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, Pfeiffer and Company, California.