Benchmark Institute is a training and performance development
organization dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of
legal services to low-income communities.
People’s interpersonal lives are dependent upon the
facility for making their thoughts, feelings, and needs known to others
and on their receptiveness to the attempts of others to share similar data
with them. Communication, a multi-faceted phenomenon, is the result of
efforts toward this end.
Communication can be considered in simplistic terms as the sending and
receiving of messages, since both elements must be present for
communication to take place. However, the fundamental transaction of
message sent and received does not presuppose that communication has
occurred. Often, it has only partially occurred or has been aborted
entirely as a result of the circumstances surrounding the occasion when
the communication attempt was made. These circumstances may be
environmental, emotional, verbal-skill oriented, phenomenological, or
resulting from a host of conditions present within the individuals who are
attempting to relate.
An analogy may help to clarify the concept of the effect of circumstances
on the effectiveness of sending and receiving messages. In the late
afternoon when you observe a sunset, the sun often appears to be a deep
red, larger and less intense than it seems at midday. This is due to the
phenomenon of refraction, the bending of the light rays as they pass
through the earth's atmosphere, and the higher density of dust in the air
through which the light passes as the sun goes down. The sun has already
moved below the horizon, but it is still in sight because its emissions
are distorted by the conditions of the medium through which they must
In a similar way the messages which we send to each other are often
refracted by intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental conditions
which contribute to the atmosphere in which we are relating. I may distort
my message to you by giving out mixed messages verbally and symbolically,
and you may distort what you hear because of your own needs and
experiences. The two of us may be located in an environment, physical and
psychological, which contributes to the difficulty in clearly sharing what
we intend. In an atmosphere of suspicion, for example, we may both become
unduly cautious in our communication.
While it is unlikely that totally non-refracted communication is a
possibility over time between any two persons or with significant others
with whom we must deal interpersonally, an awareness of conditions which
block and alter the intention of sent and received messages may produce
less refraction and better communication in the long run.