Solatun's Communication Blog


C O M M U N I C A T I O N:A Golden Bridge To a Better Sociocultural Life

A Golden Bridge To a Better Sociocultural Life

By: Dr. Solatun Ibn.M. Djamil

1. Why Communication
We have an extremely memorable sympathetic story on the case that the fourth Indonesia President Abdurrahman Wahid was entering the Indonesia Presidential Palace in his first day as Indonesian President with wearing his luxurious very expensive presidential coat, but he was leaving the palace in a political eviction with only have sufficient time to wear his disheveled undershorts . We indeed will not questioning the case of because all of Indonesian knew that the apprehensive sympathetic case was originated by the failure of communication. Abdurrahman Wahid was previously stated that Indonesia Parliament (members) just look like Taman Kanak-Kanak (Kinder Garden). Most of the parliament members offended and than intercepted all kaind of the president policies therefore he fallen and dislodged from the presidential throne.
Additionally, this is just the other real case can give us a lesson. The Washington Post once published sensational, unfavorable news on an important businessman. Later the news appeared to be a lie. In agreement with the norms, the person was given a right to give his response, but the response was not able to erase the effect of the previous incorrect news on its readers’ minds completely. The man became bankrupt and finally committed suicide (Madjid, 1997) .
Failures in various domains of life, in business, educational, health or political, can be traced to communication problems or what is commonly termed miscommunication . Miscommunication does mean that communication has not happened; rather, “it means that often the meanings that communicators create in response to messages sent to them are very different from the meanings that were intended” (Kreps and Thornton, 1992:7).
In political arena, one remarkable miscommunication took place when the word mokusatsu was interpreted by the US authority in World War II. This Japanese word was a response of the Japanese to the ultimatum of the Allies asking the Japanese to surrender. The US authority took it more or less as “to ignore” (“we do not care”) or “to treat with silent contempt” instead of the more appropriate meaning, “do not give a comment until a decision is made,” or “We will comply with your ultimatum without further notice” as intended by the Japanese (see also Smith, 1993:55; Jandt, 2004:155). This misinterpretation probably led to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US in August 1945.
It is also assumed that the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger above Cape Carnaval, US, was not only a technical failure, but also a communication failure. There were indeed technical problems when the “O” rings were not set properly in their place. Yet, the NASA engineers failed to inform the management of NASA about this problem and to ensure further possible social and political consequences of the possible failure of the Challenger launching (Schirato and Yell, 2000:3).
If miscommunication could lead to fatal danger, it could also create the same danger in the health care. Specifically, it may lead to the death of patients. It is worth noting that decisions to be made by health care providers must be based on messages provided by the clients, colleagues, and other members of the health care team. Their interpretation of the patient’s condition and symptoms resulted from blood test, X-rays or CAT-scan will be risky if it is misleading. In Indonesia, for example, there have been some cases where the misinterpretation of patients’ symptoms by physicians led them to give inappropriate drugs that made the patients get worse or even die. In other cases, sloppy surgeons left their medical tools inside the patient’s body upon the operation, causing them to suffer from pain for some time. Some patients have endeavored to bring law suits against those physicians. However, due to the strong power of the Indonesian medical doctors association, and the difficulty to prove that the medical doctors were wrong, in most cases such law suits have failed.
Despite the importance of human communication in today’s world, many experts in various fields, including the communication it self, not excerptionaly the field of telecomunication, seem to be little the importance of communication. The field of telecommunication it self indeed ha it’s a very crucial problematic challenge related to communication effectiveness. This is just the other real case faced by my own self in term of Information Technology when I was getting Rp.100.000,00 top-up values from an unacquaintedable top-up service centre. I said to my wife that the case has traped me to an anxious feeling. Unfortunately (as my wife answered) the amount of the top-up value just only Rp.100.000,00 rather than Rp.100 billion which will make whoever (certainly me) feel better to forget guilty feeling of because the amount can make us to be richer indeed to be a billionair like the top-ten Indonesian corruptors in BLBI and KLBI cases.
This negligence is partially based on common misunderstandings about communication which include the following:
• Communication skill is a natural gift; every one is capable to do it; it is not a result of one’s training or education.
• I am speaking, therefore I am communicating.
• Communication is based on intention; communication takes place whenever I intend to do so.
• Communication is a verbal process.
• Meanings are in words.
• The more we communicate, the higher its effectiveness.

We might argue, “Why do we have to learn something natural? We have never learned to walk, to sit, to eat, and to sleep, and all other things that we do every day.” We just take it for granted that we communicate every day, so that we think we know how to communicate and how to solve communication problems until we get shocked when our taken-for-granted communication turns to be a failure.
I’d like to throught this session argue that communication like various forms of arts and sports: writing, dancing, running, playing tennis, or swimming that must be learned and developed before we master them. Communication skills as a kind of sociocultural skill must be regarded the same way to them. Habitual communication does not guarantee skillful communication. Simply communicating does not mean communicating effectively. Effectiveness, this is the key point. According to Samovar and Porter (1982:27), understanding communication means that we understand what happens during communication, why it happens, what consequences brought about by communication, and what we can do to influence or maximize the results of communication. Communication is said to be effective if the results of communication fits the purpose of the communicators, whether to inform, to entertain, to persuade, to induce action, or to settle a problem. Communication among those involved in Information Technology based Telecommunication is effective if it fits the expectation of the communication participants (machine makers/ programmers, computer users, telecommunication network users, and certainly all other stakholders).
Since effective communication in our day to day life is inevitable at this globalized world, learning communication is thus not only important but also will bridging our self to be effectively relate to others who have their cultural diversities which differ from us. Yet merely understanding people from different cultures will help us to understand not only their cultures but also their feeling, their wants, and their thought and or ideas, therefore communication in the other word can be nicknamed as A Golden Bridge To A Better Sociocultural Life. I indeed think that human being are really communication being, just as Samovar suggest that we can not not communicate (Samovar, 1982).

2. Communication and Culture
Communication is a culture and culture is communication (Samovar,1991). A well-known anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1976) divides culture into high-context cultures characterized by high-context communication (messages) and low-context culture characterized by low-context communication (messages). People living in high context-cultures (most countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and some countries in Southern Europe) communicate implicitly, relying much on nonverbal symbols and behaviors, including facial expression, tone of voice, and even silence. While, they often hide their feelings to maintain rapport with others, people living in low-context cultures (North America, North Europe, Australia, New Zealand) are blunt and straightforward to make statements. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Consequently, health care providers who come from low-context cultures may often find patients coming from high-context cultures as unreliable, defensive, and tricky. Mutual understanding and trust can hardly develop if the medical professionals ignore these differences.
Deddy Mulyana argued that it is not only no doubt but really true that our culture must contain biases that may inhibit our communication with others. We have to keep some distance from our own culture by “living in other cultures,” by putting ourselves on their shoes not on our shoes. We can only see our own culture clearly from some distance. Samuel Johnson, an English writer in the eighteenth century believed that he would understand his country much better when he stood in another’ culture, or in the words of the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, “To open our eyes to the absurdity of our own customs is the charm and benefit of travel” (Schneider and Barsoux, 1997:10).The crux of the problem is that most people are not aware of the importance of suspending their judgment of other cultures before exploring their own culture so that they can clearly see the positive as well as the negative aspects of their culture, an attitude characterized by understanding and empathy that may enable them to be more just and tolerant toward others.
Refer to the previous two dictums, we can conclude that culture and communication are likely as the two sides of the same coin. There is no communication unless it is characterized as culture bound; and no culture wherever it arised and developed by its embracers entity unless it is the product of communication pratices.

3. Communication: Its Aspect and Prospects
Since communication is commonly defined as “the imparting or interchange of feeling, thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs…” communication will usually manifest in an act or instance of transmitting and or a process by which messages and or information is exchanged between two or more individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior . Communication also commonly related to an exchange of information. Communication can be perceived as a two-way process in which there is an exchange and progression of thoughts, feelings or ideas towards a mutually accepted goal or direction.
Communication is a process whereby messages such as information is encoded and imparted by a sender to a receiver via a channel/medium. The receiver then decodes the message and gives the sender a feedback. Communication requires that all parties have an area of communicative commonality. There are auditory means, such as speaking, singing and sometimes tone of voice, and nonverbal, physical means, such as body language, sign language, paralanguage, touch, eye contact, by using writing ( Retrieved on 2009-03-08).
Communication is thus a process by which we assign and convey meaning in an attempt to create shared understanding. This process requires a vast repertoire of skills in intrapersonal and interpersonal processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating. if you use these processes it is developmental and transfers to all areas of life: home, school, community, work, and beyond. It is through communication that collaboration and cooperation occur ( CurriculumInstruct/Communications/default.aspx. Retrieved on March 14, 2008).
Communication is the articulation of sending a message through different media, whether it be verbal or nonverbal, so long as a being transmits a thought provoking idea, gesture, action, etc. Communication is a learned skill. Most babies are born with the physical ability to make sounds, but must learn to speak and communicate effectively. Speaking, listening, and our ability to understand verbal and nonverbal meanings are skills we develop in various ways. We learn basic communication skills by observing other people and modeling our behaviors based on what we see. We also are taught some communication skills directly through education, and by practicing those skills and having them evaluated ( Retrieved on March 14 2008).
Communication as an academic discipline relates to all the ways we communicate, so it embraces a large body of study and knowledge. Communication as commonly studied at universities, especially at the department of Communication Sciences, will basicly comprise at least of “the content including all messages will be trnsactionally and multilinearely delivered, and the relation including the way we deliver the messages”.
The content or message of a communication transaction will simply can be said as “what is said”. The maing contended on the messages itself will depend on the individual who say in his or her (communicator) sociocultural hierarchy and or ocupassion, the situation surounding the communicator. The meaning indeed will be depend on “what academic dicipline, kind of hobby, what ethnic and or nationality, and what profession are the communicators originated from”. When a Javanese dentist said to his or her Sundanese patient “please gigitekan” the patient may will be dancing a Jaipong Dance, despitely the word “gigitekan” in the dentist mind perceived as “to push the teeth with the other theeth”. Telecommunication engineers at the other place may will say “mouse” to point toward an optional hardwere used in computer sett usually used to point any preset menus displayed in the computer’s monitor. If the engineers saying “mouse” nierside his new young wife the case may will be very different from the first case. The engineer may be has his a very personal taste in making his firtatious wife with his personal hope may be said “embrace me please (peluklah/dekaplah aku)”.
The previous two case are just in term of verbal communication. Communication in fact occurred in verbal and nonverbal ways. There is indeed a vast consensus among communication scholars that nonverbal communication is more influential than verbal communication. Most researchers maintain that a larger part of the meaning of a message is conveyed nonverbally, particularly that containing emotional tones. It is estimated we send more than a half of all our messages through nonverbal channels: 65 % according to Birdwhistell (1955) and 93 % according to Mehrabian and Ferris (1967). (Singelis, 1994:275). This quantity of nonverbal messages partly depends on the culture of the people involved. People from Eastern cultures typically use more nonverbal messages than their Western counterparts. Scholars indicate that nonverbal communication is more dominant than verbal communication, ranging from some 60 percent (in the low-context culture) to some 90 percent (in the high-context culture). Some research shows that at least 75 percent of all communication is nonverbal (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1999:76). Research conducted by Mehrabian and his colleagues indicate that total liking is indicated by 7 % verbal, 38 % vocal + 55 % facial expression (1972:182). This means that nonverbal behavior is far more important than verbal behavior as a source of our emotion. In general we trust nonverbal sources more than verbal sources, since people are more spontaneous when behaving nonverbally. Put differently, nonverbal behavior is more natural than verbal behavior. It is easier for us to control our verbal behavior than our nonverbal behavior; so we are more able to manipulate our verbal behavior than our nonverbal behavior.
The nonverbal communication is included to as communication scholars consensus on the way communicator deliver the messages and commonly said the relation aspect of communication. According to this paragraph, we will indeed conclude that in a lose manner, communication comprise of two main aspects, content aspect and relation aspect. The second aspect we usually called relation may be refered to a memorable case on how Indonesian Medias criticize the way the Director of IMF behaving in a disgrace manner to Soeharto the President of Indonesia when he was signing the additional loan from IMF two decades ago. Althought the IMF Director has no disgrace feeling as any journalist feel, the way the IMF Director taken in practice is not only uncommon but also unpolite accroding to Javanese culture, especially in term of Soeharto as the number one person of the day in Indonesia. The IMF Director style is just a cultural style which usually said by communication scholars as “body language”, but culturally Javanese perceive that it is an important part of Javanese cultural politeness and or ethics.
Some scholars maintain that body language or the language of gestures was the first form of human communication, preceding verbal communication by tens of thousands of years (Cornballis cited in Adler 2004:123) . Some cultures use a lot of body language, while others do not. Italians are considered as people who use a lot of hand gestures while speaking so that they are regarded as too emotional by Americans and North Europeans. Native Americans, Finns, and Japanese are peoples who use a relatively small amount of body language. Indeed gestures and their meanings vary from culture to culture. In the US, number one is indicated by raising an index finger, but some in parts of Europe it is indicated by raising a thumb, and two by raising an index finger and a thumb (Jandt, 2004:131).
To summon somebody, people use different hand waves. In many Western countries, such as the US, England, Germany, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, one call others to come forward by waving one’s hand with one’s palm upward and fingers moving toward the summoner. In many other countries in Asia (for instance the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Japan), Africa (Ghana), and Latin America (Peru), in South Europe (some areas in Italy, Spain, Portugal) and in several Arab countries, it is just the other way around: one summons others by the hand with the palm downward and the fingers moving toward the summoner, even though the hand wave varies a little from one country to another. As Tischler (1999:146) points out, In the US waving the hand up and down in parting will make South Americans approach you. In the Netherlands the Dutch waving hand to summon Indonesians will make them confused. Just imagine, a Dutch medical doctor gives this gesture to her Indonesian patient waiting to be called in a hospital waiting room in Amsterdam. The Indonesian patient might be upset.
A member of the Peace Corps was called to come to the city to settle a problem indicating that a volunteer treated an Ethiopian like a dog. He found the volunteer working in a health center. He observed that the volunteer pointing and calling patients one by one using his finger to come to the examination room. The hand gesture was a big mistake since in Ethiopia, such a pointing was suitable for children, and his summoning was suitable for dogs. In Ethiopia, one points to others by extending one’s arm and hand, and summons others by extending one’s hand, with one’s palm downward, and close it repeatedly (Calloway-Thomas et al., 1999:137). The following is a similar faulty incidence:

A Dutch nurse is working in a field hospital somewhere in East Africa. Her task consists, quite simply, of showings the patients in: they are all sitting on the floor in a tent, and she needs to signal to each of them that it is his/her turn to go into the doctor’s cabinet.
Although the nurse’s task is apparently simple and straightforward, the local people seem to hate her, and do not want to have anything to do with her. They say: ‘She treats us like dogs.’
At first glance, there is nothing in the nurse’s behaviour that could cause such a strong reaction. Until it is discovered that she indicates the next person to be seen by the doctor by pointing with the finger. This simple gesture was the cause of the local people’s reaction: in many countries you can point at animals, but it is extremely rude to point at people with your finger (Pinto, 1990: 112, quoted by Verluyten, 2000:62)

We often wave our hands to greet others. In France, however, greeting through waving hands is personal and individual. General hand wave to all people present in an office as found in the US is deemed insulting to French colleagues. Instead, we should greet each French colleague individually while mentioning their names, such as, “Bonjour Nathalie,” shake her hand and see straight in her eyes (Schneider and Barsoux, 1997:24).
The raised thumb seems to be common in many cultures. But its meaning varies from culture to culture, with the most common meaning being “approval.” In Germany it means “Good!” or “OK”, but it also means “one,” usually used to order something, for example, “One more glass of beer” in a bar. In Australia, the raised thumb also means OK, but it is an insult when it is done abruptly upward, but in Japan the raised thumb means “a male” or number five. In the US “Okay (OK)” is commonly indicated by forming a circle by a thumb and a forefinger while three other fingers stand. In Ireland, however, this sign is vulgar and it is rude in some Latin American countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. It is comparable to or even worse than the middle finger gesture which means “Fuck you!” in the US. In Morocco, Belgium and in some parts in France (including Paris) the sign means “zero.” The same sign means money in Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. The gesture is often used to warn or to threat others in several Arab countries, for example in Syria. In Turkey as well as in Greece, it means a sexual invitation. Imagine an American male doctor who gives the OK sign to a Turkish female patient, a Greek female patient, or a Brazilian patient in an American hospital. This may result in a deteriorating relationship between the two parties.
The fig gesture (the thumb protruding between the index finger and the middle finger while the fist is close) is vulgar in several European countries, in Guatemala, and in Indonesia. But in Portugal and Brazil, it means “Good Luck!” The same sign means “Nothing. You will get nothing” in Ukraine (for children who ask too much). It is worthy of note that while the V sign (with the palm facing outside) means victory in most of the Western countries, in Britain, the same sign (but with the palm facing inside) is insulting, its meaning being equal to the middle finger sign in the US.


1. ^ “communication – Definition from the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary”. Mirriam-Webster. Retrieved on 2009-03-08.
2. ^ “communication”. written at Washington. office of superintendent of Public instruction. Retrieved on March 14, 2008.

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April 17, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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