Language and Interpersonal Communication Discussion

Part I: Language and interpersonal communication

Ch. 4 Language and Interpersonal Communication explains the definition, function, and structure of language. They are informative especially if you are interested in the linguistic aspect of the communication.

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Please read the section on p. 101 From Raillery to Rant.  Author Trenholm wrote a side piece regarding conversation in modern-day America. She quoted Miller’s question, “Is conversation possible today, or are we no longer willing to listen to one another with civility?

Interpersonal
Communication
Interpersonal
Communication
SEVENTH EDITION
Sarah Trenholm
Arthur Jensen
Ithaca College
Syracuse University
O X F O R D | N E W YO R K
OXFO RD UNIVER SIT Y PRESS
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ISBN 978-0-19-9827503
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Trenholm, Sarah, 1944Interpersonal communication/Sarah Trenholm, Arthur Jensen.— 7th ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-19-982750-3 (main text:alk. paper—ISBN 978-0-19-982751-0
(instructor’s manual/test bank:alk. paper)—ISBN 978-0-19-982752-7
(instructor’s resource cd—ISBN 978-0-19-982753-4 (instructor’s edition:alk.
paper)—ISBN 978-0-19-982754-1 (companion website)—
ISBN 978-0-19-982755-8 (student success manual:alk. paper)
1. Interpersonal communication. I. Jensen, Arthur, 1954– II. Title.
BF637.C45T72 2013
153.6—dc23
2011027983
Printing number: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper.
Contents in Brief
Feature Boxes
xxiv
Preface
xxvi
PART 1
Introductory Perspectives
1 Communication and Competence 3
2 Building Interpersonal Relationships 23
PART 2
Sending and Receiving Messages
3 Nonverbal Communication 45
4 Language and Interpersonal Communication 79
5 Listening 107
PART 3
Interpersonal Processes
6 Perceiving and Interpreting Social Worlds 131
7 Meeting Social Expectations 159
8 Establishing Individual Identities 177
9 Achieving Personal and Relational Goals 201
PART 4
Relational Contexts
10 Understanding Family Relationships 229
11 Creating Intimate Relationships 259
12 Managing Professional Relationships 295
13 Interpersonal Communication, Culture, and Change 325
Glossary
350
References
365
Illustration Credits
Indices
389
390
vv
This page intentionally left blank
Contents
Feature Boxes
Preface
xxvi
PART 1
1
xxiv
Introductory Perspectives
Communication and Competence
What Is Communication?
3
4
Definitions of Human Communication
Characteristics of Communication
Communication Is a Process
4
5
5
Communication Is Uniquely Human
6
Communication Is a Collective Activity
6
Communication Is a Creative Endeavor
6
Communication Is Regulatory
Summary and Implications
7
8
A Model of Communication Competence
9
Process Competence: Knowledge about Communication
Message Competence
11
Interpretive Competence
Role Competence
12
Self Competence
12
Goal Competence
Culture and Context
11
13
14
Historical Change and Cultural Values
15
How Technology Affects Cultural Context
Relational Cultures as Context
16
18
Performative Competence: Acting on Knowledge
18
Skill Building: On Taking a Process Perspective
Process to Performance
18
19
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
9
19
20
Suggested Readings
20
Online Student Resources
20
vviiii
vviii
iii
Contents
Observation Guide
Exercises
20
21
interdisciplinary connections 1.1 Bonzo Goes to College 7
interdisciplinary connections 1.2 Insulting the Meat 15
research in review 1.1 Getting the Most Out of College 19
screening room 1.1 Meet the Parents 13
2
Building Interpersonal Relationships
23
What Is Interpersonal Communication?
24
The Situational Approach to Interpersonal Communication?
24
The Developmental Approach to Interpersonal Communication?
The Role of Interpersonal Communication in Relationships
What Is a Relationship?
27
The Characteristics of Relationships
29
Relational Paths: Intimacy and Distance
Private vs. Public Relationships
Independence vs. Conformity
34
34
36
What Does It Take to Be Relationally Competent?
Communication Competence and Relationships
Some Characteristics of Healthy Relationships
Skill Building: A Preview
Process to Performance
39
41
41
41
Suggested Readings
42
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
38
40
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
38
42
42
42
interdisciplinary connections 2.1 The Neuroscience of Love 28
interdisciplinary connections 2.2 Mind Your Manners 37
research in review 2.1 Stress and Interpersonal Communication 34
screening room 2.1 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 31
PART 2
3
Sending and Receiving Messages
Nonverbal Communication
45
26
27
Contents
What Is Nonverbal Communication?
Spontaneous Communication
Symbolic Communication
48
48
The Power of Nonverbal Codes
49
The Functions of Nonverbal Codes
Expressing Meaning
51
Regulating the Flow of Interaction
51
The Structure of Nonverbal Codes
The Visual Communication System
52
52
52
53
environmental preferences
territoriality 53
personal space 55
Kinesics
50
50
Modifying Verbal Messages
Proxemics
47
55
body movements 56
types of gestures 56
Gaze
57
the expressive function of gaze 57
using gaze to regulate and monitor interaction
looking vs. seeing 58
Facial Expression
59
universal expressions 59
misreading facial expressions
Artifacts
61
61
physical appearance 62
clothing and adornment
63
The Auditory Communication System
Vocal Characteristics
Messages in the Voice
64
64
The Invisible Communication System
Chronemics
Olfactics
Haptics
63
65
65
65
66
types of touch 66
the contexts and functions of touch
Culture and Nonverbal Communication
Balancing Nonverbal Codes
67
Expectancy Violations Theory
69
67
66
58
ix
ix
xx
Contents
Cognitive Valence Theory
69
Compensating and Reciprocating in Everyday Life
71
The Interplay of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Skill Building: Communicating Feelings
Expressing Feelings
74
Process to Performance
74
Questioning Communication Revisited
74
75
Suggested Readings
76
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
72
72
Reflecting Feelings
Review Terms
71
76
76
76
interdisciplinary connection 3.1: A Better Place to Live 54
interdisciplinary connection 3.2: The “Guarded Self” 68
research in review 3.1: Pinocchio’s Nose 57
screening room 3.1: Freaky Friday 64
4
Language and Interpersonal Communication
What Is Language?
79
80
How Verbal and Nonverbal Codes Differ
Characteristics of Verbal Codes
The Functions of Language
The Structure of Language
80
82
82
84
Semantic Meaning: Language at the Level of the Word
Denotative and Connotative Meanings
84
86
The Importance of Semantic Competence
86
Syntactic Meaning: Language at the Level of the Utterance
Order as Meaning
87
The Importance of Syntactic Competence
87
Pragmatic Meaning: Language at the Level of the Speech Act
Language in Use
87
88
Interpreting and Producing Speech Acts
Using Pragmatic Rules in Interaction
88
90
Message Production: Achieving Pragmatic Goals
Language, Power, and Politics
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
93
92
91
87
Contents
Language and Labels
93
Identity and Language Use
94
Social Class and Discourse
94
Gender and Discourse
95
early findings 95
later criticisms 96
Language, Domination, and Freedom
Avoiding Sexist Language
97
98
Skill Building: Initiating Conversation
Starting to Talk
100
Finding a Topic
102
Asking Questions
100
102
Using Free Information During Conversation
Closing Conversations
103
Process to Performance
103
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
103
103
Suggested Readings
104
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
102
104
104
105
interdisciplinary connection 4.1: Speaking with Names 90
interdisciplinary connection 4.2: From Raillery to Rant 101
research review 4.1: Please and Thank You, Two Magic Words That Open Any Door 84
screening room 4.1: The King’s Speech 85
5
Listening
107
What Is Listening?
108
Listening vs. Hearing
109
The Listening Process
109
Beyond Accuracy: Listening Relationally
110
Listening and the New Technologies
111
Ways of Listening
113
Types of Listening
Listening Styles
113
115
What Should We Listen For?
116
Conflict Management and Effective Listening
When Are Conflicts Healthy?
117
116
xi
xi
xii
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Contents
Why Are Conflicts Difficult to Manage?
Hot Emotions
117
117
Biased Perceptions
118
Communication Obstacles
121
Personal Differences in Conflict Management
Attitudes about Human Nature
Emotional Intelligence
123
123
124
Skill Building: Becoming a More Competent Listener
Improving Comprehension and Evaluation
Enhancing Empathic Listening
Process to Performance
126
126
127
Suggested Readings
127
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
125
125
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
125
127
127
127
interdisciplinary connections 5.1: Do Crows Really Use SUVs to Crack Nuts?
114
interdisciplinary connections 5.2: Hot Under the Collar or Cool Under Fire 119
research in review 5.1: When Parents and Children Don’t See Eye to Eye 121
screening room 5.1: About a Boy 111
PART 3
6
Interpersonal Processes
Perceiving and Interpreting Social Worlds
131
Factors That Affect the Way We See the World
Emotions and Perception
Motivation and Perception
132
132
133
Cognitive Structures and Perception
136
Schematic Thinking and Information Processing
Schemata That Describe and Classify People
Personal Constructs
Person Prototypes
Stereotypes
137
138
138
138
138
Schemata That Define Roles and Relationships
138
Schemata Containing Information about the Self
139
Schemata That Tell Us What to Do in Social Situations
140
Contents
Social Cognition and Interpersonal Interaction
Sizing Up Situations
140
Episode Identification
141
Using Scripts to Guide Interaction
142
The Invisibility of Situational Constraints
Perceiving Other People
143
143
Using Personal Constructs to Judge Others
144
Implicit Personality Theories and Interaction
Evaluating Relationships
Self-Monitoring
140
144
145
145
Creating Relational Definitions
145
Explaining Behavior by Making Attributions
Personality vs. Situation
Attributional Biases
146
147
148
the anchoring effect 148
overestimating personality 148
underestimating the situation 149
seeing things from our own perspective
149
Categorical Thinking and Interpretive Competence
Naïve Realism: Seeing What We Believe
149
Dual Processing and Impression Formation
Attention and Identification
Controlled Categorization
Personalization
151
152
Mindfulness and Open-Mindedness
Increasing Mindfulness
152
152
153
Process to Performance
154
Questioning Communication Revisited
154
154
Suggested Readings
155
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
151
151
Skill Building: Becoming More Mindful
Review Terms
149
155
155
155
interdisciplinary connection 6.1: The Power of the Present 134
interdisciplinary connection 6.2: Using Reflections and Interpretations 150
research in review 6.1: When Being Mindful Really Matters 137
screening room 6.1: Memento 135
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xiv
xiv
Contents
7
Meeting Social Expectations
Creating Social Identities
160
Social Control and Conformity
The Nature of Social Roles
Choosing Our Roles
159
160
160
163
Social Support and Role Identity
The Looking-Glass Self
164
164
Social Comparison Processes
164
Commitment and Role Identity
Rewards and Role Identity
164
165
How Social Roles Affect Communication
Communication as Performance
Face-Work and the Social Self
165
165
165
Other Aspects of Everyday Performance
sets, costumes, and props
backstage behavior 167
ensemble acting 168
Communication as Storytelling
166
166
169
Skill-Building: Showing Politeness and Respect
Interpersonal Sensitivity
172
Avoiding Threats to Face
172
Balancing Solidarity and Independence
Process to Performance
173
173
Suggested Readings
174
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
173
173
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
171
174
174
174
interdisciplinary connection 7.1: They Just Like to Be Not the Same as Us 163
interdisciplinary connection 7.2: Talking Tough in Teamsterville 167
research in review 7.1: “Guys Can’t Say That to Guys” 161
screening room 7.1: Big Fish 169
8
Establishing Individual Identities
The Self in History
177
178
Self Concepts: Gaining Independence from Social Roles and Rules
What Is the Self-Concept?
180
180
Contents
Self as Narrative
182
Self as Cognitive Schema
Self as Behavior
183
184
Self as Relational Achievement
Self as Internal Dialogue
185
186
Personality Differences and Interpersonal Communication
Communicator Styles
188
Rhetorical Sensitivity
189
The Noble Self
187
189
The Rhetorical Reflector
190
The Rhetorical Sensitive
190
Communication Apprehension
Attachment Styles
190
191
Intimacy Motivation
191
Skill-Building: Improving Competence through Self-Disclosure
What Is Self Disclosure?
192
General Rules for Revealing the Self
193
A Case Study in Disclosure: Coming Out
How to Reveal Same-Sex Orientation
195
What to Say When a Friend Comes Out
Process to Performance
198
198
Suggested Readings
198
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
197
198
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
194
199
199
199
interdisciplinary connection 8.1: The Saturated Self 181
interdisciplinary connection 8.2: Zen and the Art of Selflessness 188
research review 8.1: Presentation of Self in Cyberspace 184
screening room 8.1: Big Eden 195
9
Achieving Personal and Relational Goals
What Is Interpersonal Influence?
Types of Influence
202
Culture and Influence
Issues in Influence
203
204
202
201
192
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Contents
Skills for Goal Achievement
204
Face and Interpersonal Influence
Symbolic Role-Taking
205
205
Theories of Influence: Understanding Others’ Needs
The Need for Rewards
206
Classical Conditioning
Operant Conditioning
Social Learning
206
209
210
Social Exchange Processes
210
The Need for Consistency
210
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
211
Ways to Reduce Dissonance
211
Commitment and Consistency
211
The Need to Establish Identity
212
Value Theory
212
Relationships and Self-Validation
214
Summary: Choice and Motivation
Source Characteristics
214
215
Power and Interpersonal Influence
Self-Presentation Strategies
Influence as Self-Persuasion
Message Strategies
216
216
218
220
Compliance-Seeking Strategies
Strategies in Interaction
220
222
Skill Building: Steps to Goal Achievement
Principles of Goal Competence
223
Becoming Appropriately Assertive
Process to Performance
223
225
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
225
225
Suggested Readings
226
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
223
226
226
226
interdisciplinary connection 9.1: Weapons of Influence 208
interdisciplinary connection 9.2: What’s in a Name?
219
research in review 9.1: Wait ’Til You Hear What I Heard 215
screening room 9.1: Thank You for Smoking 217
205
Contents
PART 4
Relational Contexts
10 Understanding Family Relationships
Maintaining Family Ties
230
The Family as a System
231
Family Structures
231
Power-Authority Structure
232
Decision-Making Structure
232
Interaction Structure
233
Characteristics of Family Structures
role differentiation 235
boundaries 235
coordination of subsystems
The Functions of the Family
Internal Functions
235
236
237
237
providing care 237
socialization 238
intellectual development
recreation 238
emotional support 238
External Functions
238
239
239
cultural transmission
accommodation 240
Families and Change
240
The Dynamics of Family Evolution
The Family Life Cycle
240
240
Stressful Contact with Outside Sources
Illness or Death of a Family Member
242
242
Divorce or Separation of Family Members
Strategies for Coping with Change
Anticipating Change
243
243
Encouraging Family Cohesiveness
Maintaining Adaptability
245
Building Social Networks
245
Family Communication Patterns
Family Rules and Family Identity
Establishing Communication Rules
regulative rules 245
constitutive rules 246
Family Themes and Identity
247
245
245
245
245
243
229
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iii
Contents
Interaction in Family Subsystems
Husbands and Wives
248
Parents and Children
249
Siblings
248
251
Families in History
252
Skill Building: Communicating to Comfort
Process to Performance
255
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
255
256
Suggested Readings
256
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
253
256
256
257
interdisciplinary connection 10.1: Creating Hallmark Moments 239
interdisciplinary connection 10.2: Divorce Is When Your Family Is Dead 244
research in review 10.1: “You’re My Parent but You’re Not” 237
screening room 10.1: The Kids Are All Right 241
11 Creating Intimate Relationships
What Is Intimacy?
259
260
Have People Always Had Intimate Relationships?
Moving from Public to Private Relationships
260
Factors That Influence Definitions of Intimacy
Family Messages
260
262
262
Recent Cultural Messages
263
Environmental Conditions
263
Individual Relational Messages and Intimacy
sending dominance messages 265
dimensions of intimacy 266
relational contracts and cultures
264
267
Opening the Door to Intimacy: Interpersonal Attraction
Duck’s Filtering Theory of Attraction
Interpersonal Magnets
Physical Beauty
Similarity
268
268
268
Reciprocal Liking
269
Complementary Needs
Costs and Rewards
269
270
Other Sources of Attraction
270
267
267
Contents
Coming Closer: Creating Intimate Relationships
Stages in the Development of Romantic Coupling
Initiating
271
271
Experimenting
Intensifying
Integrating
Bonding
270
271
272
273
274
The Development of Friendship
Rawlins’s Friendship Stages
Types of Friendships
274
274
276
Keeping It Together: Relational Maintenance
Balancing Relational Dialectics
276
The Expressive-Protective Dialectic
278
The Autonomy-Togetherness Dialectic
The Novelty-Predictability Dialectic
The Gender Role Dialectic
276
278
278
279
Working Out Dialectic Tensions
280
Perceptual Biases During Maintenance
Relational Maintenance Behaviors
280
281
Too Close for Comfort: When Relationships Self-Destruct
Stages in Relational Deterioration
Differentiating
283
Circumscribing
284
Stagnating
Avoiding
283
284
284
Terminating
285
Dysfunctional Relational Patterns
Why Patterns Are Important
285
285
Unhealthy Patterns of Communication
problems of punctuation 285
disconfirming responses 286
paradoxes and double binds 286
spirals and urps 287
Signs of Trouble to Come
Successful Couples
Unstable Couples
288
288
289
Gottman’s Four Horsemen
criticism 289
contempt 290
defensiveness 290
stonewalling 290
289
285
282
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xx
xx
Contents
Skill Building: Offering Effective Feedback
Process to Performance
291
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
291
292
Suggested Readings
292
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
291
293
293
293
interdisciplinary connection 11.1: Playing the Dating Game 272
interdisciplinary connection 11.2: Seeing Our Partners Through Rose-Colored Glasses 282
research in review 11.1: This Is Your Brain on Love 261
screening room 11.1: The Social Network 277
12 Managing Professional Relationships
295
Interpersonal Communication in Public Situations
Public Realms in History
296
296
Interacting in the Public Realm Today
Enacting Roles and Scripts
297
298
Showing and Deserving Respect
298
avoidance rituals 298
presentational rituals 299
demeanor 299
Giving Priority to Practical Goals
299
Making Room for Expressive Behavior
300
Communicating in Our Communities
300
Space and Place: Community Design and Communication
Third Places: Connecting with Your Community
Interacting in the Workplace
301
Sizing Up Organizational Cultures
Learning the Ropes
302
304
Attending to Organizational Stories and Rituals
narratives and stories 305
rituals and practices 305
Participating in Communication Networks
Joining the Team
Leading the Team
301
306
307
Building Teamwork Skills
308
establishing norms 308
developing cohesion 309
306
304
300
Contents
Coping with Supervision and Status
309
Status Differences in Communication
309
Effective Supervisory Communication
310
Serving the Customer
310
One-to-One Marketing
311
Internal Customer Relations
312
Balancing Personal and Professional Relationships
Framing Friendship in the Workplace
Managing the Office Romance
312
312
313
Deciphering the Boundaries between Home, Work, and Community
Skill Building: Approaches to Workplace Conflict
Choosing Your Conflict Style
316
Taking a Problem-Solving Approach to Negotiation
Compromise vs. Problem Solving
Problem-Solving Strategies
318
319
321
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
321
321
Suggested Readings
322
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
317
317
Rules for Cooperative Problem Solving
Process to Performance
314
322
322
322
interdisciplinary connection 12.1: The Conversational Organization 303
interdisciplinary connection 12.2: “Sorry, I’m Not Apologizing” 315
research review 12.1: Lessons from The Apprentice 307
screening room 12.1: Barbershop 302
screening room 12.2: Office Space 311
13 Interpersonal Communication, Culture, and Change
Cultural Influences
326
Dimensions of Difference
326
Locus of Control: Control vs. Constraint
Action Orientation: Doing vs. Being
327
329
Attitudes Toward Time: M-Time vs. P-Time
329
Connections to Others: Individualism vs. Collectivism
330
Communication Styles: Low-Context vs. High-Context
330
American Cultural Patterns
331
325
314
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Contents
Ethnic, Regional, and Class Differences
Shifting Cultural Identities
332
332
Ethnicity and Language Choices
Regional and Class Differences
332
334
Communicating Across Culture
336
Barriers to Intercultural Understanding
Prejudice
336
336
Communicating Prejudice
Ethnocentrism
339
340
Assumed Similarity
340
Historical Influences
340
The Colonial Period (1600–1780)
The Colonial Household
Codes of Conduct
340
342
342
Social Identity and Patriarchy
342
Gender Roles and Social Identity
343
The Early Industrial Period (1830–1880)
Social Change and Anxiety
The 19th-Century Home
Rudeness and Civility
343
343
343
344
Gender Roles and Personal Identity
The Modern Period (1900–1960)
344
344
Mass Consumption and the American Dream
Home and Family Values
345
Personality and Self-Expression
Sex and Self-Discovery
344
345
346
Skill Building: Increasing Sensitivity to Context
Adapting to International Differences
346
Increasing Cocultural Understanding
347
Process to Performance
348
Questioning Communication Revisited
Review Terms
348
348
Suggested Readings
349
Online Student Resources
Observation Guide
Exercises
346
349
349
349
interdisciplinary connection 13.1: The Thrill of Victory 327
interdisciplinary connection 13.2: If You Can’t Stand the Shame, Don’t Play the Game 335
Contents
research in review 13.1: When Nobody Knows Who You Really Are 341
screening room 13.1: Crash 337
Glossary
350
References
365
Illustration Credits
Indices
390
389
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Feature Boxes
interdisciplinary connections
Bonzo Goes to College (Chapter 1) 7
Insulting the Meat (Chapter 1) 15
The Neuroscience of Love (Chapter 2) 28
Mind Your Manners (Chapter 2) 37
A Better Place to Live (Chapter 3) 54
The “Guarded Self” (Chapter 3) 68
Speaking with Names (Chapter 4) 90
From Raillery to Rant (Chapter 4) 101
Do Crows Really Use SUVs to Crack Nuts? (Chapter 5) 114
Hot Under the Collar or Cool Under Fire (Chapter 5) 119
The Power of the Present (Chapter 6) 134
Using Reflections and Interpretations (Chapter 6) 150
They Just Like to Be Not the Same as Us (Chapter 7) 163
Talking Tough in Teamsterville (Chapter 7) 167
The Saturated Self (Chapter 8) 181
Zen and the Art of Selflessness (Chapter 8) 188
Weapons of Influence (Chapter 9) 208
What’s in a Name? (Chapter 9) 219
Creating Hallmark Moments (Chapter 10) 239
Divorce Is When Your Family Is Dead (Chapter 10) 244
Playing the Dating Game (Chapter 11) 272
Seeing Our Partners Through Rose-Colored Classes (Chapter 11) 282
The Conversational Organization (Chapter 12) 303
“Sorry, I’m Not Apologizing” (Chapter 12) 315
The Thrill of Victory (Chapter 13) 327
If You Can’t Stand the Shame, Don’t Play the Game (Chapter 13) 335
research in review
Getting the Most Out of College (Chapter 1) 19
Stress and Interpersonal Communication (Chapter 2) 34
Pinocchio’s Nose (Chapter 3) 57
Please and Thank You, Two Magic Words That Open Any Door (Chapter 4) 84
When Parents and Children Don’t See Eye to Eye (Chapter 5) 121
When Being Mindful Really Matters (Chapter 6) 137
“Guys Can’t Say That to Guys” (Chapter 7) 161
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Feature Boxes
Presentation of Self in Cyberspace (Chapter 8) 184
Wait ’Til You Hear What I Heard (Chapter 9) 215
“You’re My Parent but You’re Not” (Chapter 10) 237
This Is Your Brain on Love (Chapter 11) 261
Lessons from The Apprentice (Chapter 12) 307
When Nobody Knows Who You Really Are (Chapter 13) 341
screening room
Meet the Parents (Chapter 1) 13
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Chapter 2) 31
Freaky Friday (Chapter 3) 64
The King’s Speech (Chapter 4) 85
About a Boy (Chapter 5) 111
Memento (Chapter 6) 135
Big Fish (Chapter 7) 169
Big Eden (Chapter 8) 195
Thank You for Smoking (Chapter 9) 217
The Kids Are All Right (Chapter 10) 241
The Social Network (Chapter 11) 277
Barbershop (Chapter 12) 302
Office Space (Chapter 12) 311
Crash (Chapter 13) 337
xxv
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Preface
To the Student
Living in the 21st century means that you can do amazing things. It means that you can pick up
a phone or sit down at a computer and instantly contact someone on the other side of the globe.
It means that space and time don’t mean what they used to, that you can be as close to someone
in Beijing or Beirut as to someone in Bethesda or Bangor. It also means that your social world is
more complex than that of any generation before yours, and that the technologies that link you to
strangers can also serve to isolate you from friends and neighbors. In a world where communication
technology seems to offer the solution to every problem, it’s important to remember that ease of
access does not mean ease of understanding. Building rewarding and lasting relationships today is
more challenging than ever before. The goal of this book is to help you become a more competent
communicator in a world where communication is not always easy.
For most of us, most of the time, communication is a process that seems to come naturally,
without practice. Although you’ve communicated all your life, you’ve probably done so routinely
without thinking about it. You rarely stop to analyze the choices that you make. Yet these choices
greatly influence the way that communication behavior affects others and yourself.
After reading this book, you’ll be more aware of the power and potential of interpersonal choices.
You’ll have the tools to observe communication as it unfolds, and you’ll have the knowledge to
make better communication decisions. So, we invite you to take control of your world by thinking
seriously about interpersonal communication: an activity that is both commonplace and uncommonly important.
To the Instructor
Our goal in this edition, as it has been in the previous editions, is to make students aware of the
impact of communication on their lives. We want them to see that interpersonal communication
has real significance, that the way people talk and what they talk about make a difference in the
quality of their lives and the lives of those around them. We also want them to recognize that communication is complex and that there are no easy formulas that will guide them through every
situation. Although we realize that students may want their instructors to offer them simple rules
for becoming better communicators, we believe students should be encouraged to find their own
solutions to communication problems rather than following one-size-fits-all prescriptions. For this
reason we focus on providing basic theories and principles that can be used to analyze and understand human interaction, and we provide examples to show students how these principles play out
in actual interaction. Throughout, we have resisted the temptation to “dumb down” the material. We
have faith that our students can handle basic social-scientific theory, if their instructors help them
see its applications. We also believe that oversimplifying our field by offering simple prescriptions
doesn’t do justice to its complexity and integrity.
As in previous editions, we build our discussion around a model of communicative competence.
We do so because we believe the model provides a theoretical structure to our discussion, because it
responds to student desires to become more competent communicators, and because it encourages
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Preface
students to think about the abilities and understandings they must master in order to take control
of their social worlds. Throughout the text we also have included boxes, called Interdisciplinary Connections, that focus on unusual applications of communication principles. Drawn from anthropology,
neuroscience, history, psychology, popular culture, and the like, the Interdisciplinary Connections show the
connections between our field and other academic disciplines, demonstrating how material that
students learn in one class is enriched by what they learn in others, and emphasizing how culture
and context affect what it means to be a competent communicator.
At the end of each chapter, after students have thought about communication principles, they
will encounter a section devoted to improving skills. This section offers suggestions about how to
put the content of the chapter to work. Topics for discussion, formerly included at the end of each
chapter, as well as chapter outlines and review quizzes can now be found on the companion website
and in the Instructor’s Manual, which also provides test items, additional classroom activities, and
handouts. We hope you will find this material helpful in the classroom.
Changes to This Edition
Q
Q
Q
Q
Q
Addition of a new chapter on listening. Several instructors told us that more attention should
be given to listening. We agree and have emphasized listening in two ways. First, we have
modified our model to include listening as a basic skill under message competence. Second,
we have introduced a new chapter (Chapter 5) that focuses on listening. Although we have
included some of the material on listening from the former edition, much of the material is
new.
Greater emphasis on conflict management. We have expanded our coverage of conflict
management by introducing the topic at some length in the chapter on listening (Chapter
5), and returning to it throughout the text. We feel that poor listening is a significant source
of conflict, and improving listening skills is one way to manage conflict more effectively.
We also believe that one of the reasons many students sign up for a course in interpersonal
communication is to find ways to make everyday conflicts less destructive.
An interdisciplinary focus. Previous editions have included boxed material that highlighted
communication-related information from other disciplines. We have renamed these boxes
Interdisciplinary Connections to underscore the fact that communication is an important subject
in a variety of disciplines. These boxes emphasize the connections that exist between our field
and other academic disciplines. We have also included seven new Interdisciplinary Connections
boxes in this edition. The new topics include the art of conversation (Chapter 4), the nature
of emotions (Chapter 5), tactics used by professional “spin doctors” to fool us (Chapter 5), the
influence of names (Chapter 9), divorce (Chapter 10), doing kin work (Chapter 10), the brain
chemistry of love (Chapter 11) and culture and sports (Chapter 13).
Earlier introduction of the concept of culture. We have broadened our discussion of culture by
introducing it earlier in the book and then returning to it throughout. As we discuss our model
of communication competence in Chapter 1, we now place greater emphasis on the necessity
of taking culture into account. We have added several new sections describing and offering
examples of how culture serves as a context for communication. Then, throughout the body
of the text, we provide examples and boxes that continue to emphasize the importance of
culture. Finally, we present a detailed discussion of cross-cultural differences in Chapter 13,
where it acts as a kind of “capstone” for the course.
Greater readability and currency. We’ve streamlined the text by making some chapters more
concise and rewriting select discussions that had grown too dense, creating a more userfriendly edition. In addition, we’ve added several new chapter openers, updated the book’s
research content, and provided new examples to clarify difficult concepts.
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Preface
Q
Q
Q
Q
Q
New research reports and Screening Room reviews. The book features six new screening room
reviews (The King’s Speech, About a Boy, Memento, Thank You for Smoking, The Kids Are All Right,
and the Social Network) and one new Research in Review feature on how parents and children
misperceive conflicts.
In-text glossary. Several reviewers told us their students wanted a glossary. In the previous
edition definitions were provided online in the form of flash cards. In this edition we provide a
glossary in the book itself.
New critical thinking features. Throughout this edition we have made an attempt to engage
students more fully. You will note that the beginning of each chapter now includes a
Questioning Communication section that poses some of the questions that will be covered in the
chapter. In a Questioning Communication Revisited section at the end of each chapter, we revisit
these questions and provide answers. We believe these two sections act as both a preview
and a partial chapter summary. In order to further personalize the text, we have also added
questions for students to think about at the end of each Interdisciplinary Connection and each
Screening Room. In addition to inviting students to think about the issues discussed, these
questions can form the basis of class discussion or can be used as topics for log entries or
essays.
Internal reorganization. If you have used this text before, you should have no problem using this
edition. The number of chapters and their order has remained essentially the same, with one
exception: Chapter 5. In this edition Chapter 5 covers the topic of listening. The material on
relational messages that comprised the former Chapter 5 has been folded into the chapter
on intimacy, Chapter 11. We believe this change makes sense and provides a more effective
instructional sequence for the text.
New design elements. We have given the book a dramatic facelift, using a larger page size, a new
design, and color photos. We hope that this design will engage today’s student more actively
while preserving the contemporary yet scholarly appeal that the book has established with
instructors.
Acknowledgments
We are indebted to all of the fine reviewers who have offered comments and criticisms over the
years. Although we may not have been able to follow all of their suggestions, we have always taken
them seriously and found them to be stimulating and insightful. Any improvements over the years
are due in large part to their careful work; any errors are, unfortunately, our own.
Reviewers of the Seventh Edition
Jarae Fulton
University of Northern Colorado
Stacie Renfro Powers
The Ohio State University
Kristin Haun
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Marcia D. Dixson
Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne
Gretchen Norling Holmes
University of West Florida
Sakile K. Camara
California State University, Northridge
Robert Charles Steinmiller
Henderson State University
Merissa H. Ferrara
College of Charleston
Joseph Knudsen
Wilbur Wright College
James L. Heflin
Cameron University
Preface
Virginia Hamilton
University of California, Davis
Melanie Finney
DePauw University
Jennifer T. Edwards
Tarleton State University
Alesia Hanzal
University of Kansas
Kristopher Weeks
Montclair State University
Deborah Bridges
University of Houston
We are also grateful for to the reviewers of the previous editions, whose work helped shape this
seventh edition.
Previous Reviewers
Denise Polk
West Chester University
Randall Koper
University of the Pacific
Jodi Wahba
North Carolina State University
David Habbel
Utica College
Taleyna Morris
Missouri State University
Craig Fowler
California State University, Fresno
Victoria Leonard
College of the Canyons
Angela L. Blais
University of Minnesota-Duluth
We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of everyone at Oxford University Press. We give
special thanks to Thom Holmes, our development editor, Mark T. Haynes, our editor, and editorial
assistants Caitlin Kaufman and Kate McClaskey for their excellent suggestions and patience. We are
also grateful to the fine work of our managing editor Lisa Grzan, production editors Barbara Mathieu
and Emma Parker, art directors Paul Schlosser and Betty Lew, and designer Binbin Li. Finally, we
would like to thank our colleagues and students at Ithaca College and Syracuse University for their
encouragement and support.
Sarah Trenholm
Arthur Jensen
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Part
1
Introductory
Perspectives
Chapter 1
Communication and Competence
Chapter 2
Building Interpersonal Relationships
Interpersonal communication is an act of coordination and
balance; it is through communication that we build social
worlds.
1
Communication and
Competence
Now, I do not deny, nor do I doubt, that should communication
be opened, the reaction among mankind would be very
strong—not because of the content of the message but
simply from the fact that a message could in fact be received.
Such an experience would say to us human beings “We are
not alone in the universe.” And this, I think . . . might by
itself quite justify any expenditures made in the search for
extraterrestrial intelligence.
QUESTIONING
C O M M U N I C AT I O N


W. H. McNeill1
O
nly a few years ago, the idea that humans might one day
communicate with extraterrestrials seemed ridiculous. Those
who believed it possible were considered to be, at best, misguided and,
at worst, lunatics. Since the 1970s, however, some very high-powered
astrophysicists have been taking the idea seriously. They are convinced
that communication with alien intelligence may one day be possible.2
Think about it for a minute. Try to put yourself in the place of these
scientists. Imagine that you are trying to make contact with alien beings.
Remember that the beings you are trying to reach—if they exist at all—
have given you no address. All you know is that they live somewhere in
the vast stretches of the universe, hundreds or thousands of light years
away. And even if you succeed in making contact, you still have to design
an intelligible message. Movies like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
notwithstanding, extraterrestrials are unlikely to respond (or even look)
like any organism you have ever seen. The chances of their being able to
33

What is the best
definition of
communication?
What makes a
communicator
competent?
Why is culture so
important?
44
Part 1
Introductory Perspectives
understand human language, let alone English, are infinitesimally small.
How can you be sure that aliens will recognize your communications?
How will you be able to recognize theirs? What if you have already come
in contact with their messages without realizing it?
In the face of all these problems, your only choice would be to do exactly
what all of us do when we communicate: rely on guesswork and faith. You
would begin by assuming a desire for cooperative communication. You would
then try to guess what extraterrestrials are like and how they see the world,
searching for a point of similarity upon which to make connection. After that,
you would simply wait and hope. Of course, the subject of this book is not
interstellar communication but a much more mundane one: the way normal
human beings communicate as they go about their everyday lives. We believe,
though, that unusual examples help us see the commonplace in new ways.3
If you think about it, there are some interesting similarities between
earthbound and intergalactic communication. First of all, in both cases
we must resist “communicative chauvinism,” the belief that everyone
else thinks and acts as we do. Communication depends on sensitivity
to differences and on a real desire to establish common ground. Second,
people who wish to communicate must learn to “speak the same language”;
they must take the time and trouble to adjust to one another. Cooperation
and coordination are necessary for any kind of communication, whether
it’s with neighbors in the next street or with beings in the next galaxy.
We often take interpersonal communication for granted, overlooking
what an amazing process it really is. The purpose of this book is to help you
see interpersonal communication in a new light. While it may not be as
exotic as interstellar communication, it is still a complex and fascinating
process. We hope that by the time you finish this book, you will have a
better understanding of how it works.
What Is Communication?
Although communication has been written about
for over 25 centuries,4 there is still disagreement
about how to define it. In this section we’ll look at
a number of definitions of human communication,
offer our own, and then explore its implications.
Definitions of Human Communication
In 1972, Frank Dance and Carl Larson surveyed the
field for definitions of communication. They found
126.5 Even more have been formulated since then.
Obviously, a process as complex as communication
is difficult to summarize or define. Each person who
thinks seriously about it brings a different perspective to the task. There are many valid ways to view a
process, each providing a different insight.
We will give you a number of definitions to consider, but before we do, stop and jot down your own
ideas about communication. Then, compare your
definition with those that follow. Ask yourself which
comes closest to your understanding of what communication is. More important, ask yourself why.
Chapter 1
Q
Q
Q
Q
Q
Communication and Competence
Communication is the discriminatory
response of an organism to a stimulus.6
Communication . . . is an “effort after
meaning,” a creative act initiated by man in
which he seeks to discriminate and organize
cues so as to orient himself in his environment
and satisfy his changing needs.7
Speech communication is a human process
through which we make sense out of the
world and share that sense with others.8
Communication: the transmission of
information, ideas, emotions, skills, etc., by the
use of symbols . . . 9
Communication is a process by which a source
transmits a message to a receiver through
some channel.
Communication is essentially cooperative; it succeeds only when
we work in concert with others.
The purpose of a definition is to set boundaries and
to focus attention. Definitions ask people to look at
certain parts of a process while ignoring others. The
question to ask in evaluating a definition is not, “Is it
right or wrong?” Rather, the question should be, “Is it a
useful guide for inquiry?” Each focuses on a different
part of the phenomenon we call communication.
The first definition is very broad. According to this
view, any response by any living organism counts as
communication. A plant seeking out the sun, prey
sensing the presence of a predator, a human being
reading a book—all would be examples of communication. Furthermore, this definition concentrates
on the part the receiver plays in communication and
gives almost no attention to the part played by the
sender. In comparison, the next definition is narrower, focusing our attention on human communication and emphasizing the reasons we communicate.
The third definition adds another concept, that of
sharing. According to this definition communication
is more than the processing of information; it is also
the transmission of that information to others. The
fourth definition also takes up the idea of transmission but adds a further limitation: Messages created
by humans are made up of symbols. The final definition focuses on the means by which this transmission of messages takes place and introduces the idea
of the sender as the initiator of communication.
Each definition tells us something about the process of communication, yet each leaves something
out. Each asks us to examine a different aspect of the
process. While you may prefer one definition over
another, one is not necessarily right and the others
wrong. Rather, each may be useful for a different
purpose. In the next section we offer yet another
definition, not because our definition is necessarily
closer to what communication really is, but because
it allows us to take a more social perspective on
communication and because it emphasizes the creativity of interaction. We believe that this definition
will be particularly useful in helping us understand
communication in the interpersonal context.
Characteristics of Communication
For us, communication is the process whereby humans
collectively create and regulate social reality. Let’s try to
understand what this definition has to say about
communication by looking at each of its parts.
COMMUNICATION IS A PROCESS
Any object or activity can be viewed as either a thing
or a process. A thing is a static object, bound in time,
and unchanging. A process is moving, it has no beginning and no end, and it is constantly changing.
Our first point, then, is that communication is a process, not a thing.
The communication process is like a river: active,
continuous, and flowing, never the same from one
minute to the next. If we try to understand a river
by analyzing a bucket of water drawn from it, we are
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Introductory Perspectives
not studying the river as a whole. The same is true
of communication. Individual sentences, words, or
gestures make sense only when we see them as part
of an ongoing stream of events. To understand communication, we have to look at how what we do and
say is connected to what others do and say. We have
to view communication as an ongoing process.
COMMUNICATION IS UNIQUELY HUMAN
The term communication has been used to describe
the behavior of many organisms. Geneticists, for
example, describe the instructions for development
and growth in the DNA of cells as a kind of communication. Physiologists use the term to describe
how the human body maintains and regulates itself.
Biologists see all kinds of animal behaviors as communication, including the distress signals of birds,
the courtship ritual of jumping spiders, the use of
threat displays by Siamese fighting fish, and the play
behavior of gorillas and baboons.10
The kind of communication we are interested
in, however, is human communication. We believe
that humans communicate in unique and powerful
ways that differ markedly from those used by other
animals. Although there have been several recent
attempts to teach higher primates to use human
communication codes, results of these studies are
inconclusive. Interdisciplinary Connection 1.1 summarizes some of the research on this subject.
Most everyone will agree that of all creatures,
only humans use language naturally and spontaneously, giving us a flexibility and creativity denied
to all other animals. Of course, as Aldous Huxley pointed out, this power is not always to our
advantage:
For evil, then, as well as for good, words make us
the human beings we actually are. Deprived of
language, we should be as dogs or monkeys. Possessing language, we are men and women able to
persevere in crime no less than in heroic virtue,
capable of intellectual achievements beyond the
scope of any animal, but at the same time capable
of systematic silliness and stupidity such as no
dumb beast could ever dream of.11
COMMUNICATION IS A COLLECTIVE ACTIVITY
At heart, communication is social; it can occur
only when people enter into relationships with
one another, when they share meaning collectively. Human society and human communication
are dependent on one another: One could not exist
without the other. On the one hand, what holds a
society together is the ability of its members to act
as a coordinated whole, which would be impossible
without communication. On the other hand, communication presupposes the use of a socially agreed
upon symbol system. Interpersonal communication
cannot occur unless at least two people mutually
engage in creating meaning.
Joost Meerloo tells us that the word communication comes from munia, meaning “service” and connoting “mutual help, exchange, and interaction of
those belonging to the same community.”12 In ancient times, members of the community who were
exempt from public service were referred to as having immunity. If an individual committed an offense
so terrible that he or she was no longer deemed fit
to experience things in common with the rest of
society, the offender was excommunicated. Meerloo
explains, “Wherever the concept of communication
comes into play, the emphasis is on the common
sharing of material and ideological wealth, on social
intercourse, mutual exchange, and the bestowing of
feelings and thoughts onto each other.”13
COMMUNICATION IS A CREATIVE ENDEAVOR
A direct result of human communication is human
creativity. When we agree with others that something can be talked about, we create that thing: We
cause it to exist. While some things we agree to talk
about (such as books or telephones) already exist
in the physical world, others (like truth or justice)
exist only in the shared symbolic world created by
language. This doesn’t mean, however, that symbols
do not have powerful effects upon us.
Let’s take the word demon. For most of us, living
in America in the 21st century, this word has little
reality. For people in many parts of the world, however, demons have a real and objective existence.
In Bali, for example, demons can cause human illness; they can make crops fail, pigs die, and volcanoes erupt. In order to survive, the Balinese must
pacify and cajole them. On the Day of Silence, for
example, everyone must sit “silent and immobile all
day long in order to avoid contact with a sudden
influx of demons chased momentarily out of hell.”14
Chapter 1
Communication and Competence
77
INTERDISCIPLINARY CONNECTION 1.1
BONZO GOES TO COLLEGE | ATTEMPTS TO TEACH LANGUAGE TO PRIMATES
P
art of what we are, and part of how we communicate
and behave, has been inherited from our animal ancestors. But
how much? What is the difference between animal and human
behaviors, and what difference does it make? Studies of animal behavior can help answer these questions.
A number of studies have focused on whether primates other than
human beings can be taught to use “language.” Since the 1950s, when
an infant chimpanzee named Vicki was adopted by a human family
and taught four human words, a number of chimps have been given
language lessons. Four of the most famous of these “students” were
Washoe and Nim Chimsky (who were instructed in the use of American Sign Language), Sarah (who was taught to manipulate magnetized
plastic tokens), and Lana (a computer-trained chimp). The results of
these experiments have led most people to revise their ideas about the
nature of the boundaries between human and animal thought.
All of the chimps learned to associate arbitrary signs with physical
referents. They could recognize symbols for such objects as bananas,
monkey chow, and cola. They could also use symbols to ask for rewards
from their keepers. Washoe, for example, could ask her trainer to tickle
her, and Lana could type on her console, “Start pour coke stop” to
activate a soft-drink dispenser.
The chimps were also capable of more abstract tasks. Sarah, for example, learned to use the tokens symbolizing same and different in very
sophisticated ways. She was able to solve simple visual analogies. For
example, when asked whether an apple and a knife were the same as a
piece of paper and a pair of scissors, she would indicate that they were.
When the scissors was replaced with a bowl of water, she would indicate
that the sets were now different. She also seemed able to recognize the
class to which tokens belonged.Thus, when given the token “banana” and
asked whether it was a name or a color, she would correctly identify it as
a name. Similarly she would label the “yellow” token as a color.
The Balinese live in a symbolic world inhabited by—
among other things—demons.
Are we superior to the Balinese? Is our world any
less symbolic and more real than theirs? Think for
a minute about how much of what you know and
believe comes to you from direct experience and
how much is a product of talk. You may be surprised
to find that most of your reality is created and sustained through communication.
COMMUNICATION IS REGULATORY
Communication allows us not only to create the
world around us but to take possession of it as well.
Just what can we make of these achievements? The chimps were
able to recognize the communicative function of symbols and make
simple associations between these symbols and objects in much the
same way young human children do when they begin to learn language. However, the chimps never learned to link symbols together
into complex “sentences.” Although they used language to gain immediate goals, they showed no interest in using it to comment on
the world. The ability to make up stories, which develops very early in
human children, was absent.
Chimps also did not exhibit linguistic creativity, nor did they use
language to direct their activities, as human children do when they
guide themselves through a task by talking out loud.
Finally, they never spontaneously developed a language of their
own. As Stephen Walker points out, “In a state of nature, we expect
humans to talk, and, by comparison, the most unrelenting efforts to
induce our closest living relatives to reveal hidden linguistic potential
have left the discontinuities [between human speech and animal communication] bloodied but unbowed.”
Questions to Think About
Q
What do you think makes humans unique from other animals?
Q
What are some of the things we humans can do with language that
other animals cannot do? How does the ability to do these things
affect our lives?
Q
Huxley suggests that there is a downside to being able to communicate as we do; for example, we can use language to lie. What other
negative actions occur because we have language?
source: Stephen Walker, Animal Thought (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1983).
Through communication we can act on our world. In
this sense communication is regulatory. If you have
ever come down with a bad case of laryngitis, you
know how helpless you feel when you can’t speak.
Such a loss illustrates the connection between communication and power.
This connection is as old as civilization. Even
today words are associated with magic. By reciting
incantations or writing an enemy’s name on a piece
of paper and then burning it, primitive people try
to control others.15 Even sophisticated moderns retain some superstitions about communication. One
of the most common is reluctance to speak about
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Introductory Perspectives
good or bad fortune. If two friends are studying for
an exam and the first asks, “What if we fail?” the
other is likely to respond, “Don’t even talk about
something like that.” We still retain vestiges of the
belief that talking about something can either make
it come true or jinx it.
Superstitions aside, communication is a powerful regulator of action. Through communication we
can persuade, dissuade, anger, hurt, comfort, soothe,
entertain, or bore one another. We can even use
communication to control our own actions, talking
ourselves into taking risks or comforting ourselves
when we are afraid. Communication is a potent way
of controlling our world.
Summary and Implications
All definitions have implications. What are the implications of our definition of communication? Although we see at least four, perhaps you will be able
to think of more.
1. Much of what we think of as real is actually
the product of communication. This implies that
there is no single reality. Instead, through communication we each create our own reality. People with
different communication experiences will see the
world in different ways. We can never be totally sure
that others see the world as we do. If we stop from
The way we see the world is a product of communication practices;
each of us sees the world (and perhaps distorts it) in a unique way.
time to time to check our perceptions, if we try to
view things from others’ perspectives, we may be
surprised to see how different the world looks.
2. The fact that reality is a product of communication also has another implication: Too often we
allow what we have created through communication to
control us. When the Balinese created demons as an
explanation for natural events, they put themselves
in the position of spending the rest of their lives placating a concept. We too create our own kinds of
demons. The expectations we have for ourselves—
about things like success, perfection, and reputation—are examples of concepts that can control our
lives and relationships.
3. Of course, individuals are not totally free to
create any reality they want. Most of us are strongly
influenced by the cultures in which we live. Communication always takes place in a cultural context. To forget this fact is to become a prisoner of culture. Erving
Goffman has analyzed the powerful but unstated
social rules that govern interaction.16 Although we
will have more to say about Goffman throughout
this book, it might be useful to introduce one of his
concepts now, the concept of face.
Goffman defines face as an approved social
identity, that aspect of ourselves that we present
to others for their approval. He believes that we
spend a great deal of our time trying to fit face both
to situation and to self-image. Communication that
is incongruent with face will be judged as socially
unacceptable. For Goffman, although face may be an
individual’s most cherished possession, “it is only on
loan to him from society; it will be withdrawn unless
he conducts himself in a way that is worthy of it.
Approved attributes and their relation to face make
of each man his own jailer; this is a fundamental
social constraint even though each man may like
his cell.”17
Clearly, many of our most personal behaviors
are culturally derived. One tension we all experience is that between independence and conformity.
To communicate successfully, we must conform to
social rules; to act creatively we must often oppose
them.
4. Finally, communication requires cooperation.
We are influenced not only by our cultures but by
Chapter 1
every individual with whom we communicate. This
means that what is important in interpersonal communication is what people do when they are together, not
what each does separately. Throughout this text we
will stress the idea that interpersonal communication is mutual. In order to understand relationships
we must look at the relationship itself, not at each
individual participant. Most of the time we don’t do
this. For example, when a relationship fails, most
of us try to figure out who to blame. We may blame
the other person, feeling he or she is insensitive or
egocentric; or we may blame ourselves, wishing
we had been more open or less selfish. The truth
is that communication is never the product of only
one person’s efforts. In order for relationships to
work, both parties have to strive to be competent
communicators.
A Model of Communication
Competence
Communication doesn’t always run smoothly. This
may be one of the main reasons you’ve decided to
study interpersonal communication. If you’re like
most people, at some time in your life you’ve run
into communication problems. You’ve probably
been in situations in which you couldn’t think of
what to say next. Or you may have been unable
to express yourself clearly. Perhaps you insulted
someone unintentionally or blurted out something
thoughtlessly. If you’ve experienced any of these
situations, you know how important it is to be able
to communicate competently.
What, exactly, does it mean to communicate
competently? Communicative competence is the
ability to communicate in a personally effective and socially appropriate manner. Although this definition appears very simple, competence is a complex subject
that has generated a lot of research and discussion.
One reason is that competent communication involves two separate levels: (1) a surface level, consisting of the part of competence that can be seen—the
actual performance of day-to-day behaviors—and
(2) a deeper level, consisting of everything we have
to know in order to perform. Although the surface
level has many different names, we will call it performative competence. It is demonstrated every
Communication and Competence
time someone actually produces effective and appropriate communication behaviors. The underlying
level we will call process competence. It consists of
all the cognitive activity and knowledge necessary
to generate adequate performance.
For example, when you hear someone give a
particularly gracious compliment, what you observe
is only the surface level. What you cannot see is the
mental activity that led up to it. Giving a compliment involves a lot of thought. It entails knowing
when a compliment is appropriate and when it isn’t,
predicting whether the recipient will be pleased or
embarrassed, choosing content that sounds sincere
but not ingratiating, and knowing how to phrase the
compliment in a graceful and pleasing style. All of
this is part of process competence.
Process Competence: Knowledge
about Communication
There are many different models of communicative competence. Some focus on performative aspects,18 some on process,19 and some do a little of
both.20 The model presented in Figure 1.1 is primarily a process model. It is our way of answering the
question, “What does a person have to know or be able
to do in order to communicate in a personally effective
and socially appropriate manner?” The center portion
of the model represents the five processes we think
are involved.
We believe that people who wish to be competent communicators must know how to do five
things well: (1) assign meanings to the world around
them; (2) take on social roles appropriately; (3) present valued images of themselves to the world; (4)
set goals strategically; and (5) generate intelligible
messages. These abilities correspond to the types of
process competence outlined in our model: interpretive competence, role competence, self competence,
goal competence, and message competence.
When we say that people who wish to be competent must “know” how to do the things listed previously, we are talking about implicit rather than
explicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is knowledge we don’t stop to think about, that we use unconsciously to guide our behavior. Grammatical
knowledge is a good example. From the time we are
quite young we can say things in well-structured
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Introductory Perspectives
cultural context
process competence
knowledge about
ut communication
c
Interpretive Competence
a process of perceiving
Knowing how to interpret what
goes on around you
Self Competence
Role Competence
Knowing how to meet or violate
social expectations
Goal Competence
a process of
self-presentation
a process of adapting
a process of planning
Knowing who you are and how to
present yourself to others
Knowing how to achieve
communication goals
situational context
relational context
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Message Competence
a process of coding and decoding
Knowing how to send and receive messages effectively
Verbal
Competence
Nonverbal
Competence
Listening
Competence
Using Language
Effectively
Using Nonverbal
Codes Effectively
Processing Messages
Effectively
performative competence
ability to enact communication
historical context: change over time
figure 1.1 Human interaction is a complex blend of many interrelated processes.
and meaningful ways. We can even recognize and
correct errors when we make them. However, most
children (and indeed most adults) would be hardpressed to recite the rules of grammar. The formal
grammatical rules we learn in English class are attempts to express explicitly the implicit rules we
follow when speaking.
The first kind of implicit knowledge we need
about the world is perceptual. In order to communicate, we must be able to assign meaning to the
world; we must know how to “see” it. This kind of
competence we call interpretive competence. We must
also be able to adapt our behavior to those around
us. We must know what behaviors are appropriate
and expected and what are prohibited. This we refer
to as role competence. At the same time we are learning to adapt to others, we must also learn to be
true to self. We must develop our own individual
styles based on our sense of self. This we call self
competence. We must also be able to set communicative goals, to foresee the results of communication and make adequate plans. In other words, we
must show goal competence. Finally, we must be able
to use all of this knowledge in actual speech situations. To do this we need message competence, the
competence that allows us to create and process
Chapter 1
verbal and nonverbal messages. If we lack any of
these kinds of process competence, communication
becomes impossible: Messages are unclear and relationships flawed.
In the remainder of this chapter, we will give a brief
overview of each of the elements in our model. Later
in this book, we will revisit each kind of competence
in more detail. As you read the brief descriptions that
follow, remember that all five types of competence are
interconnected. Because interpretive competence is
at the top of our model and message competence
is at the bottom, it may appear that interpretation
comes before message making. This isn’t necessarily
the case. There are times when we make language
choices based on prior perceptions, but there are
also times when the way we talk about something
affects the way we perceive it. To emphasize the fact
that the relationship between types of competence
is complex and nonlinear, we will start at the bottom
of the model and work our way up.
MESSAGE COMPETENCE
Probably the first kind of competence most people
think of when they think of communication is message competence, the ability to make message choices
that others can comprehend as well as to attend to and
understand the message choices of others. Without the
ability to code and decode messages, communication would be impossible. Schizophrenics, for example, often use language in a bizarre and individualistic way. Their lack of message competence means
that they must live apart from others in an impenetrable private world. Luckily, this kind of disruption
in basic competence is rare. Most of us have an innate ability to understand and create messages.
The most obvious part of message competence
is verbal competence, the ability to process and use
linguistic devices to convey content in effective ways.
Language is the basic currency through which
meanings are exchanged. Without the ability to understand the rules of language, we would be unable
to communicate in a fully human way. But language
isn’t everything. To communicate effectively we also
need nonverbal competence, the ability to process and
use nonverbal codes to convey content in effective ways.
Body movement, facial expression, use of time and
space, physical appearance, and vocal characteristics all convey meaning.
Communication and Competence
Although verbal and nonverbal competence
are important, to communicate competently, we
must be able to do more than simply make messages; we must also be able to consume them as
well. Listening competence, the ability to process and
understand the messages that are sent to us, is thus a
fundamental, though often overlooked, part of message competence.
The ability to make effective linguistic and nonverbal choices and to listen attentively to others lies
at the heart of communication. But message competence does not exist in a vacuum. It is connected
to each of the other kinds of competence shown in
our model.
INTERPRETIVE COMPETENCE
We live and communicate in a world full of diverse
stimuli. Because we cannot pay attention to everything, we must learn to pick out information that
is important and disregard information that is irrelevant and we must be able to make sense of this
information. This ability to gather basic data about
the contexts in which we communicate depends on
interpretive competence: the ability to label, organize,
and interpret the conditions surrounding an interaction.
If you have ever been in a completely unfamiliar
situation, you know how difficult it can be to sort
out sensory impressions. First-time campers lying
alone in a tent in the dead of night hear all kinds
of unfamiliar and inexplicable sounds, sounds that
an experienced camper could easily dismiss as unimportant. Novices in any situation lack interpretive experience: They pay attention to meaningless
details while overlooking important information
and often don’t know how to organize what they
do see. If they have basic interpretive competence,
however, they quickly learn what is important and
what is not.
The need to interpret the world correctly is especially important in interpersonal interactions. In
order to communicate effectively, we must understand the situations in which we find ourselves as
well as the kind of people with whom we are dealing. We must also be able to identify our own feelings and needs. If we misinterpret our surroundings
or misjudge our partners or overlook our own feelings, we may find ourselves in serious trouble. Without basic data about people and situations, we are
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Communication takes teamwork; people in relationships work
together to coordinate their actions and to create a shared
worldview.
likely to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. The
kind of people who blurt out whatever they think,
with no regard for where they are or who they are
with, lack interpretive competence.
Interpretive competence helps us size up situations and people, name them, identify their outstanding characteristics, and, inevitably, decide
upon an attitude toward them. If we succeed at
this, we will make appropriate message choices; if
not, we will do or say the wrong thing and will appear to be personally insensitive and impervious to
our surroundings.
ROLE COMPETENCE
Communication is a cooperative activity, a transaction in which people adapt to one another. Because
of this, effective message choices must be culturally approved and socially shared. This brings us to
a kind of competence we call role competence, the
ability to take on social roles and to know what is appropriate behavior given these roles.
In order to communicate effectively, we must
know the roles we may safely play in any situation;
we must recognize what behaviors are appropriate
and what are off-limits. When conflicting social demands arise, we must be able to choose between
them. We must also be able to maintain our own
social identities while protecting the identities of
others. If we fail to recognize the subtle rules that
govern interaction, our message choices will seem
odd or out of place. This often happens when we
leave the safety of our own cultures. While most of
us manage to learn the norms of our own groups,
we’re often at a loss when we have to interact with
people not brought up as we were. The individual
who is snatched from his or her own environment
and placed in a very different one often lacks role
competence. Plays and movies are full of such characters. The working-class heroine who suddenly
finds herself in high society (My Fair Lady) or the
time traveler who ends up in a different era (Back
to the Future) are examples of characters who must
somehow learn new ways of behaving. While their
ineptness is a source of comedy in the movies, in
real life the consequences of role-inappropriate behavior are more serious. Although a certain amount
of individuality is charming, too much is socially
costly. People who lack role competence often make
message choices that lead others to perceive them
as rude or willful or crazy.
SELF COMPETENCE
Of course communicating competently is not just a
matter of following social rules. People who follow
every rule of etiquette precisely, who let society define them completely, are merely social robots. We
label such people as phony or fake, for they lack an
essential characteristic that most of us value highly:
individuality. Because all of us are individuals with
our own unique thoughts and feelings, we must
express them in our own ways. Thus, another important part of communicative competence is self
competence, the ability to choose and present a desired self-image. Individuals with self competence
know who they are and who they want to be and can
convey that self to others.
One of the most important aspects of growing up
is developing a sense of individuality and a personal
communication style. Central to this process is the
development of a healthy self-concept, for who we
think we are is closely tied to how we present ourselves to others. If our self-concept contains negative elements (if our self-esteem is low) we are likely
to avoid certain communication situations and to
communicate tentatively and self-consciously. If, on
the other hand, our self-concept is positive and our
self-esteem high, we will communicate with confidence in a variety of situations. People who lack
Chapter 1
self competence lack a consistent communication
style. Because they are not sure of who they are, they
have trouble expressing thoughts and feelings. Others may perceive them as inconsistent or cold.
GOAL COMPETENCE
A final process necessary for communicative competence is planning. This process involves goal competence, the ability to set goals, anticipate probable consequences, and choose effective lines of action. Although
not all communication is intentional, a great deal
involves “strategic verbal choice-making.” In order
to make adequate message choices, a communicator must know what he or she is trying to achieve,
determine the obstacles that lie in the path of goal
attainment, and find a line of action that will overcome those obstacles.21 This sequence is well known
to salespeople who often carefully plan their approaches and use “canned” sales pitches to make
sure their goals are achieved. Everyday planning
takes a great deal more creativity and imagination.
Seldom are our objectives completely clear and our
Communication and Competence
13
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lines of argument explicitly laid out; we must be able
to think “on our feet.”
Goal competence doesn’t come easily. If we lack
goal competence, we have few behavioral alternatives. We don’t know how to approach others or what
to do once we gain their attention. People without
goal competence can’t imagine the world as others
see it, and their range of behaviors is limited. They
don’t know how to frame an argument or make an
effective appeal. They may realize that their way of
communicating is not working, but they don’t know
what to do about it. People who lack this form of
competence make poor strategic choices. Others are
impervious to their messages and may well perceive
them as awkward or offensive.
In real life, incompetence at communicating can
be a serious detriment. It can impede personal and
professional advancement. It’s not a laughing matter. But it can be entertaining when it’s not happening to you. For a humorous view of what can happen
when everything a person says or does comes out
wrong, see Screening Room 1.1, the portrait of a man
Screening Room 1.1
Communication Incompetence | MEET THE PARENTS
Jay Roach, 2000
agreeable, but his small social lies soon escalate, especially after he
claims to have milked a cat.
Anyone who’s ever been in a stressful communication situation
can identify with Greg, although, admittedly, most of us don’t set other
people’s houses on fire, flood their septic tanks, or substitute counterfeit cats for beloved pets. This very funny movie explores what happens
when the need to win people over triumphs over common sense, and
it provides an over-the-top example of communication incompetence.
It’s a relief to know that no matter what social faux pas we may make
from time to time or what negative impressions we inadvertently create, it will never get as bad for us as it was for Greg Focker.
Thinking about This Movie
M
eeting prospective in-laws for the first time is a
situation that can challenge even the most accomplished
communicator. Unfortunately, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) is far
from accomplished. His desperate attempts to make a good impression on his girlfriend Pam’s (Terri Polo) parents backfire at every turn,
especially when he meets Pam’s father Jack (Robert DeNiro), a potential groom’s worst nightmare. All Greg wants to do is make himself
Q
Have you ever made a bad first impression on someone you wanted
to impress? If so, what happened, and how was it resolved?
Q
What advice would you give to someone meeting a boyfriend’s or
girlfriend’s parents for the first time?
Q
Greg’s desire to make a good impression made him try too hard,
with disastrous results. In addition to trying too hard, what are some
other factors that can turn a competent communicator into an incompetent communicator?
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Introductory Perspectives
who, in an attempt to make a good impression, goes
from bad to worse.
Culture and Context
So far our discussion of the competence model has
focused on individual abilities. We’ve looked at what
a single individual has to know in order to communicate effectively. We’ve based our discussion on the
assumption that people bring individual strengths
and weaknesses with them when they communicate, and these strengths and weaknesses affect
how successful they will be as communicators. We
have had very little to say about the context in which
communication occurs. Yet it is clear that the same
behavior can be viewed as competent in one context
and incompetent in another. Although we believe
that interpretive, role, self, goal, and message competence are essential in all cultures, we also believe
that the way these forms of competence are defined
differs depending on cultural values and beliefs.
Therefore, in Figure 1.1, competence is “framed”
by four kinds of contexts: cultural, historical, technological, and relational. That is to say, in order to
demonstrate competence, communicators must
take into account constraints imposed on them by
cultural customs, historical values, and relational
understandings, as well as by the technologies at
their disposal.
Culture helps us make sense of the world around us, tells
us what to value and how to act, and gives us the tools to
exchange meaningful messages.
The first, and arguably the most important, context is culture. Culture—that set of values, beliefs,
customs, and codes that bind people together—is
a powerful factor in determining communication
practices. It affects the way we see the world, telling
us what to notice and what to disregard. It generates
the rules and norms that allow us to coordinate our
lives with others’. It offers us models of who we can
be and how we should think about ourselves. It tells
us what we should and shouldn’t do to meet our
goals. And it presents us with the verbal and nonverbal tools that allow us to form messages.
Throughout this book we will offer examples of
ways culture affects communication, and in chapter 13 we will conclude with a “capstone” discussion of cross-cultural communication. In the following chapters, when we discuss communication
games in urban America, or modesty in the deserts
of South Africa, or comforting strategies among the
southwestern Apache, or greeting rituals in Japanese companies, our intention is not to prepare you
to communicate in those contexts. You may or may
not ever go to Japan or South Africa. Nor do we describe these cultures because they are intrinsically
interesting (although we believe they are). Rather,
we focus on cultural differences to let you know that
when it comes to communicating, there are many
possibilities. Thinking about how people from different cultures communicate helps us to understand
and make choices about our own communication. It
also shows how even the most mundane activities
are the products of group agreements that are made
for us by others we may not even know. To take just
one example, let’s consider the everyday action of
complaining.
How we complain and who we complain to may
feel like personal choices, untouched by culture, but,
as Tamar Katriel shows us, in her study of “griping”
in Israel, complaining can be a communication
ritual with its own rules and regulations.22 When
middle-class Israelis gripe, Katriel tells us, the topic
must relate to public life. It usually takes place during a Friday night gathering with friends and family,
and begins when someone offers a complaint. This
is then taken up by the rest of the people present,
who comment in turn about the difficulties of life
in Israel. The ritual usually ends when everyone has
had a say and has agreed that things are getting
Chapter 1
worse and worse. In addition to allowing Israelis to
vent their frustrations, this communication ritual
helps them affirm their cultural identity. Of course,
other people in other cultures complain, but they
do so in their own particular ways. Americans, for
example, often see complaints as an invitation to
offer support and find solutions to individual problems. Other cultural groups may shun complaints
altogether, preferring not to communicate in ways
that could be construed as negative.
What is true of complaining is also true of
other communication episodes: Their functions
Communication and Competence
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and structure are determined, in part, by culture.
Interdisciplinary Connection 1.2 provides another
example, this time looking at the cultural values
associated with modesty and boasting among the
!Kung of South Africa.
HISTORICAL CHANGE AND CULTURAL VALUES
Cultures are dynamic. They change with the times.
The way your parents communicated interpersonally is not the same way you do, and, frightening
though it may be, your children will communicate
in ways you’ll probably think are very strange. Even
INTERDISCIPLINARY CONNECTION 1.2
INSULTING THE MEAT | AN INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION RITUAL
C
ultural understandings guide virtually every aspect of our lives. They show us how to dress and move and
speak. They tell us how to make friends, how to make enemies,
and how to make love. They indicate what objects to hoard, what
people to value, and what gods to worship. But precisely because they
tell us so much, we often fail to realize their influence. Studying the
customs of different cultures can remind us that the way we do things
is not the only natural and proper way.
One example of how another culture communicates is described
by Richard Lee, who studied the Dobe !Kung, the so-called Bushmen
of the Kalahari. The !Kung are nomadic foragers who survive in a harsh
environment by hunting and gathering. They have developed a number
of rituals that have helped them adapt to this way of life. One of the
most interesting is known as “insulting the meat.”
In !Kung society the wild game and edible plants gathered by members of the group are normally shared with the entire tribe. A lot of time
and attention are devoted to the fair distribution of goods, particularly
of meat. One way of ensuring fair distribution is demonstrated by the
following communication pattern.
Strict norms govern the way a hunter announces his results when
he returns from a successful hunt. He must sit in silence until someone
asks him how the hunt went. He must then say that he found nothing
of any worth. On the following day, when his companions go out with
him to collect the kill, they are expected to do so with a minimum of
enthusiasm, complaining loudly about the distance and wretchedness
of the game. Instead of being offended, the hunter agrees, apologizing
for his lack of skill.
What can we make of this behavior? Wouldn’t it be more “natural”
for a hunter to boast of a good kill? Lee tells us that the “heavy joking
and derision are directed toward one goal: the leveling of potentially
arrogant behavior in a successful hunter.” Lee believes that “insulting the meat” is a way of maintaining a sense of equality. Because
the !Kung depend on sharing for survival, generosity is something that
should not be praised but simply expected. Praise might lead to pride
and arrogance, potential threats to the !Kung way of life. As Tomazho,
one of the !Kung, expressed it,
When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as
a chief or a big man, and he thinks of us as his servants or inferiors. We
can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will
make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless.
In this way we cool his heart and make him gentle.
For most of us, this is a peculiar way of doing things. We believe
that people should take pride in their accomplishments and show
gratitude for generosity. But stop for a moment and think about the
social results of concepts such as “gratitude” and “accomplishment”
and “generosity.” How do they affect our relationships with others? The
answer to this question may make you see more clearly how seemingly innocent and trivial patterns of communication are tied to larger
social issues.
Questions to Think About
Q
The !Kung are encouraged to speak more modestly about their accomplishments than we are. Why do you think our culture encourages us to take credit for our successes?
Q
Although we are less modest than the !Kung, there are times when
our society instructs us to be modest. When do you feel it is appropriate to be modest? When do you feel it is appropriate to take
pride in your accomplishments?
Q
Can you think of other ways we communicate that say something
about our cultural values?
source: Richard B. Lee, The Dobe !Kung (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston,
1984).
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within a single culture, change happens. For this
reason, we include historical time period as a context that frames competence.
Even something as fundamental as Americans’
attitudes toward sex have changed over the years.
In George Washington’s America, sex was not a
matter for false prudery; it was talked about with
great directness, and couples were advised to engage “with equal vigor” in the conjugal act. In fact,
women were thought to be ruled by sexual passions
more than men, who were considered more rational
and controlled.23 By the time that Abraham Lincoln
became president, things had changed. Romantic
love was all the rage, and women had been recast
as pure and disinterested when it came to purely
sexual matters. Today, our attitudes have once again
shifted. Although we still believe in romance, many
in our society no longer consider nonprocreative sex
as an offensive act.
The topics we talk about and the ways we do so
have also changed over time. In modern-day America, for example, we value direct, open, and honest
communication. We believe that problems should
be brought into the open and discussed. But during
earlier time periods, for example in the l9th century,
such behavior would have been seen as incompetent. At that time, a more guarded style was considered appropriate. In fact, being too open or too
glib was once considered a character defect. Today,
there is wide acceptance of a general “sell yourself”
mentality. We emphasize history as a communication context because cultural change is inevitable
and adapting to change is a prerequisite for effective
and appropriate communication.
HOW TECHNOLOGY AFFECTS
CULTURAL CONTEXT
We depend on communication technologies to connect us, yet
they can become obsolete almost before we’ve mastered them.
One reason competence is affected by history is
that, over time, new technologies are discovered,
technologies that make it possible to communicate
in new ways. Each time that happens, people must
adapt to the technology and find ways to use it competently. One person may be reticent in face-to-face
contexts but confident online, whereas someone
else may be completely ineffective when communication is mediated. New technologies present new
opportunities and new challenges, although at the
beginning, emerging communication technologies
are often viewed with suspicion.
John Bargh and Katelyn McKenna tell us, for example, that, when the telegraph came into use, governments feared it would lead to revolution.24 And it
was generally feared that the telephone could harm
social interaction by undermining the practice of
visiting friends. Radio and television were also met
with concern as critics warned that people would no
longer engage in civic activities and children would
abandon wholesome activities once these new
Chapter 1
forms of entertainment entered the home. Although
a study by sociologist Robert Putnam gives some
support to the fear that television can undermine
social group membership, none of the other fears
have been realized.25 In fact, in all of the other cases,
interpersonal communication has been enhanced.
Early on, for example, telegraph operators formed
social networks and used code to exchange news
and gossip. In fact, Thomas Edison, who started out
as a telegraph operator, proposed to his wife over
the telegraph.26 The effect of the telephone was
also positive: It increased contact between distant
friends and relatives and strengthened local ties.27
And radio and television both allowed the rapid dissemination of news.
Now, in the 21st century, advances in information and communication technologies are giving
rise to the same old fears of social isolation and the
uncontrolled spread of dangerous information. The
Internet, for example, has been accused of turning
people into mindless zombies who spend hours
surfing the Web looking for pornography—and neglecting family and friends. In an amusing aside,
Bargh and McKenna report that the Internet has
even been denounced by the head of the Miss France
committee as “an uncontrolled medium where rumormongers, pedophiles, prostitutes, and criminals could go about their business with impunity.”
This tirade occurred when rumors that the reigning
Miss France was, in fact a man, spread across the
world.28 Yet, despite the hysteria, most researchers
now agree that the overall effect of the new media
has been to strengthen interpersonal communication, not to weaken it. In fact, national surveys have
found that Internet users actually have larger offline
social networks than nonusers do.29
Despite the positive effects of more connectivity,
new media, including mobile telephones as well as
networked computers, present challenges. Being able
to communicate more quickly does not mean that
one will communicate more competently. Where in
the instruction manual for an iPhone or Blackberry
will you find guidelines for using these devices to
communicate effectively? And novel ways of using
new media are constantly evolving. Currently, the
mobile phone is the favorite communication device
for most U.S. teens. According to a study published
Communication and Competence
in 2010 by the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of 12to 17-year-old Americans owned a cell phone, and
the most popular form of contacting friends was
through text messaging.30 Texting was more popular than talking on landlines or face to face, or connecting through IM. It was even more popular than
talking on one’s cell. And, by 2010, e-mail, previously
hailed as the “killer app” of the Internet, was barely
used as a means of contact among this population.
Interestingly, the study found a gender difference in
texting, with boys typically sending about 30 texts
a day, and girls 80.
How has the wide availability of cell phones
changed communication? One way is the rise of
approximeeting. Because people can contact one
another so easily, they no longer make specific
appointments. This often leads to entire evenings
spent trying to figure out where everyone is and
where to meet up, with the eventual outcome that
nothing ever gets decided. Another challenge lies in
negotiating space. Cell phone users exist in physical
space, yet they communicate in virtual space, an effect that can be confusing when trying to walk along
a busy street while fighting with a friend or trying
to comfort a distraught roommate. And how should
attention be divided between co-present friends and
a ringing cell phone?31
One use of mobile technology that has received
a lot of attention recently is sexting. Despite furor
in the mainstream media, only a small number of
teens admit to sending suggestive photos of themselves to others. According to a study done in 2009,
however, 15 percent of teens had received nude or
near nude images of someone they knew. Sexting
most often occurs between romantic partners, but
it can also be a way of trying to initiate a relationship and can serve as a form of entertainment, with
teens frequently passing along sexts as a joke. The
phenomenon is not surprising given the fact that
interest in sexual exploration is high during the teen
years. When this is combined with a tendency to
take risks and an ability to connect easily with others, a “perfect storm” for sexting is created. According to Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Research Center,
“Teenagers have always grappled with issues around
sex and relationship but their coming of age mistakes and transgressions have never been so easily
17
17
18
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Part 1
Introductory Perspectives
transmitted and archived for others to see.”32 Like all
technologies, new communication media can be a
blessing or a curse.
RELATIONAL CULTURES AS CONTEXT
Another kind of context that affects the way we
communicate is the relational context. When people form relationships, they create what has been
called a “dyadic culture,” consisting of shared beliefs,
norms, and values. People often act quite differently
when they are together than when they are apart.
For example, someone who is normally reticent
and indirect may open up when he or she is with
a significant other, and create a close, comfortable
relationship. Conversely, some relationships cause
people who are normally outgoing and expressive to
turn inward. In extreme cases, individuals may even
suffer from folie a deux, a shared delusional mental
state. Although this kind of psychiatric disorder is
rare, it is not rare for people to change another’s behavior. Indeed, if two people do not in some ways
affect one another we would hardly consider them
to be in a relationship. As we will see in Chapter
11, married couples differ in the ways they communicate with one another. Some carefully avoid
conflicts; others love to fight and make up. Obviously their definitions of effective and appropriate
communication differ, yet each can build strong,
enduring relationships. Communication is highly
relational by nature.
Performative Competence: Acting on
Knowledge
The five processes we have discussed are all necessary for good performance. Unfortunately, knowing
how to communicate does not guarantee we will say
or do the right thing. A person can know perfectly
well what is required in a given situation and still not
perform adequately. A number of factors can cause
communication to fail: individual physical states
such as fatigue or anxiety; contradictory attitudes,
beliefs, and values; poor motivation; and sheer stubbornness. Finally, lack of practice can cause a performance to come off as stilted and artificial.
In this book we’ll provide you with some of the
theoretical knowledge you’ll need to understand and
analyze communication. Although we believe that
the first step to becoming a better communicator is
understanding the basic processes of competence,
we believe that theory is not the whole picture. To be
fully competent you must be able to translate theory
into practice through performance. To help you do
that, at the end of each chapter we include a section
on skill building. This section offers guidelines to
help you improve your interpersonal skills. Through
classroom activities and by working through some
of the activities in the “Process to Performance” section at the end of each chapter, we hope you will find
a way to take these general guidelines and make
them work for you.
Skill Building: On Taking a
Process Perspective
As we progress through the text, we will be looking
at ways to improve specific skills such as listening,
giving and receiving feedback, becoming more assertive, and so on. For now, we want to say a few
general words about how to build skills. An important step in improving your communication is learning to take what we call a process perspective. This
means becoming aware of what’s going on when
you communicate, and beginning to recognize how
the underlying processes involved in communication manifest themselves in everyday performance.
Too often people communicate in a mindless way.
They are so busy thinking about what they are saying or doing (the content of communication) that
they fail to consider how they are going about it (the
form of communication). Taking a process perspective means concentrating on form in addition to content. It means sitting back and watching yourself as
you communicate.
At first this is not an easy thing to do, for it involves a kind of “double consciousness.” The competent communicator must be able to act naturally
and spontaneously and at the same time observe
and analyze communication patterns…

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