Afifa Jabeen | Arab News Staff
Sunday 10 June 2012
Last Update 14 June 2012 6:52 pm
Those of us who have studied communication on an academic level know just how many theories, books and studies have revolved around the intricate process of human communication. Early Western models of communication — verbal, diagrammatic, or mathematical — claim to describe the structural, technical or functional aspects of the phenomenon.
However, the act of communicating, interacting with people, in fact, can be best deduced from a study of the Prophet's (peace be upon him) life.
Indeed, we learn from the tradition of the Prophet (pbuh) that he was the most proficient in dealing with others. With his outstanding communication skills and excellent manners — always warm and cheerful — the Prophet (pbuh) managed to capture the hearts of the young and the old.
The Jews used to insult and provoke the Prophet (pbuh) by saying, "Al-saam 'alaikum (Death be upon you)," while he would continue to be gentle with them, while only replying: "And upon you too." His wife, Ayesha (peace be upon her) couldn't bear it and so she shot back: "And death be upon you too, and Allah's curse and anger!" The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Take it easy O'Ayesha! You should be gentle. You shouldn't curse or be harsh." She said, "Didn't you hear what they said?" He said, "Didn't you hear what I said? I prayed against them and that prayer will be accepted, whereas their prayer against me will not be accepted."
Notice how the Prophet (pbuh) avoided a situation where he would have to respond to an insult with another insult, even when he dealt with disbelievers?
That was from the Prophet (pbuh) who walked the earth over 1,400 years ago. More recently, one of the most influential models in the history of communication research is the Shannon and Weaver's Model of Communication (1949). Shannon describes communication as a linear, one-way process comprising five functions to be performed, starting at the Information Source, Transmitter, Channel (medium), Receiver and Destination, and one dysfunctional factor, noise.
Osgood and Schramm Model is highly circular and focuses on the behavior of the main actors in the communication process, often describing them as equals, performing identical functions, namely encoding, decoding ad interpreting the message. However, on the contrary, communication is often fairly unbalanced as far as communication research power and time given to communicate are concerned.
In sum, most of the Western communication theories and models have been largely unilinear, wrongly postulating a mechanical notion of communication as the transmission of information from active sources to passive receivers. Further, they assume that communication is an act, a static phenomenon privileging the source, not a dynamic process involving all elements in a social relationship.
Whereas we learn from the Prophet (pbuh) that when someone converses with another person, he should talk about subjects that are suitable and interests them so as to avoid making the conversation one-way and to retain their attention. The nature of the Prophet's speech differed when he would talk with men to that with the elderly, women or children, indicating he treated each of his companions individually, far from considering them alike. For instance, he would talk about expeditions and weapons with Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him), while he would involve his wife Ayesha in jokes and cheerful talk.
It was only in the mid-90s when social scientists began to study communication from a psychological perspective and focus on factors such as perception, attitude and retention of the receivers/audience involved in the communication process.
Many people view communication skills in a commercial light. Some men who display the best of generosity, humor and patience outside are often ill-mannered and sulky at home. Note that the Prophet (pbuh) said, "The best of you is the one who is best to his family. And I am the best of you to my family." (Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah, Sahih)
Further, the Prophet's (pbuh) good manners extended to both the rich and the poor. He displayed the best form of treatment with children. Whenever he visited the Ansar, he would greet the children and place his hand on their heads out of compassion. He would always try to make the people happy with his speech.
Anas Bin Malik - may Allah be pleased with him - had a younger brother, who the Prophet (pbuh) would play with. The child, who was nicknamed Abu Umayr by the Prophet (pbuh), had a small bird. Whenever the Prophet (pbuh) used to meet him, he would jokingly ask 'O Abu Umayr, what happened to Al-Nughayr?' meaning the bird.
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) displayed the best of interpersonal as well as mass communication skills, which were evident from the gatherings he held with his companions. His message would be loud and clear, individuals asked questions without any hesitation, thus, ensuring the message is correctly perceived and retained.
When the Prophet ever noticed a person making a mistake, he would not confront him directly in front of everyone so that he does not feel humiliated. Instead he would say, "What is wrong with the people who do such and such?" The Prophet (peace be upon him) never criticized. Anas (may Allah be pleased with him), who served the Prophet for nine years, said the Prophet never criticized him over anything.
That does not mean that he never advised. While advising, the Prophet's approach was devoid of any excessive speech or argument and consisted of no more than a sentence or two.
The art of listening is an integral part of any successful communication process. Not everything heard needs to be commented upon, thus, interrupting the speaker. The Prophet (pbuh) would listen attentively to the complaints, queries and thoughts of everyone — be it his companions, wives, anyone on the streets or the disbelievers as well.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Let a man come to the people how he likes the people to come to him," meaning treat the people how you like to be treated by them.
For indeed our ability to capture people's hearts and win their love brings us great happiness in life.
Tip: You can better your speech and improve your relationships by reciting the dua that Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) recited when Allah SWT sent him to the Pharaoh:
"O my Lord! Open for me my chest. And ease my task for me; And loosen the knot from my tongue. That they understand my speech." (Surah Ta-Ha, Verses 25-28)
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