Interplay The Process of Interpersonal Communication Fifth Canadian Edition [5 ed.] 9780199033478, 9780199038701, 9780199033522

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Table of contents :
Title Page
Copyright Page
Brief Contents
Publisher’s Preface
Chapter 1: Interpersonal Process
Why We Communicate
Physical Needs
Identity Needs
Social Needs
Practical Needs
The Communication Process
A Model of Communication
Insights from the Transactional Communication Model
Communication Principles
The Nature of Interpersonal Communication
Quantitative and Qualitative Definitions
Personal and Impersonal Communication: A Matter of Balance
Communication Misconceptions
Interpersonal Communication and Technology
Characteristics of Computer-Mediated Communication
Interpersonal Communication and Cultural Diversity
Intercultural Communication
Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication
Comparison of Canadian and US Culture
Attitudes toward Violence
Acceptance of Diversity
Relative Status of Men and Women
Communication Competence
Communication Competence Defined and Described
Characteristics of Competent Communication
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 2: Communication and the Self
Communication and the Self-Concept
How the Self-Concept Develops
Self-Concept Development in Context
Characteristics of the Self-Concept
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Communication
Presenting the Self: Communication as Impression Management
Public and Private Selves
Characteristics of Impression Management
Why Manage Impressions?
How Do We Manage Impressions?
Identity Management and Honesty
Disclosing the Self
Self-Disclosure Factors
Models of Self-Disclosure
Benefits and Risks of Self-Disclosure
Alternatives to Self-Disclosure
Silence and Secrecy
The Ethics of Evasion
Guidelines for Self-Disclosure
Is the Other Person Important to You?
Is the Risk of Disclosing Reasonable?
Is the Self-Disclosure Appropriate?
Is the Disclosure Reciprocated?
Will the Effect Be Constructive?
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 3: Perceiving Others
The Perception Process
Reality Is Constructed
Steps in the Perception Process
Influences on Perception
Access to Information
Physiological Influences
Psychological Influences
Social Influences
Cultural Influences
Common Tendencies in Perception
We Make Snap Judgments
We Cling to First Impressions
We Judge Ourselves More Charitably than We Do Others
We Are Influenced by Our Expectations
We Are Influenced by the Obvious
We Assume Others Are Similar to Us
Perceiving Others More Accurately
Perception Checking
Building Empathy
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 4: Emotions
What Are Emotions?
Physiological Changes
Cognitive Interpretations
Outward Expression
Influences on Emotional Expression
Social Conventions and Roles
Social Media
Emotional Contagion
Expressing Emotions Effectively
Recognize Your Feelings
Choose the Best Language
Share Multiple Feelings
Recognize the Difference between Feeling and Acting
Accept Responsibility for Your Feelings
Choose the Best Time and Place to Express Your Feelings
Managing Emotions
Facilitative and Debilitative Emotions
Thoughts as a Cause of Feelings
Irrational Thinking and Debilitative Emotions
Minimizing Debilitative Emotions
Maximizing Facilitative Emotions
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 5: Listening
The Nature of Listening
The Importance of Listening
Listening Defined
Listening Styles
The Challenge of Listening
Recognizing Barriers to Listening
Avoiding Poor Listening Habits
Components of Listening
Types of Listening Responses
Silent Listening
Which Style to Use?
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 6: Language
The Nature of Language
Language Is Symbolic
Language Is Governed by Rules
Language Is Subjective
Language and Worldview
The Influence of Language
Naming and Identity
Credibility and Status
Power and Politeness
Sexual Orientation
Uses (and Abuses) of Language
Precision and Vagueness
The Language of Responsibility
Culture and Language
High- versus Low-context Cultures
Verbal Communication Styles
Gender and Language
Extent of Gender Differences
Online Language and Gender
Non-Gender Influences on Language Use
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 7: Non-verbal Communication
Non-verbal Communication Defined
Characteristics of Non-verbal Communication
Non-verbal Communication Is Always Occurring
Non-verbal Communication Is Primarily Relational
Non-verbal Communication Is Ambiguous
Non-verbal Communication Occurs in Mediated Messages
Non-verbal Communication Is Influenced by Culture and Gender
Functions of Non-verbal Communication
Creating and Maintaining Relationships
Regulating Interaction
Influencing Others
Influencing Ourselves
Types of Non-verbal Communication
Body Movement
Physical Attractiveness
Physical Environment
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 8: Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships
Why We Form Relationships
Intimacy and Distance in Relationships
Forms of Intimacy
Forms of Distance
The Influence of Culture and Gender on Intimacy
Models of Relational Dynamics
Stages of Relational Development
Dialectical Tensions in Relationships
Characteristics of Relational Development
Communicating about Relationships
Content and Relational Messages
Maintaining and Supporting Relationships
Repairing Damaged Relationships
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 9: Communication Climate
What Is Communication Climate?
How Communication Climates Develop
Levels of Message Confirmation
Causes and Effects of Defensiveness
Climate Patterns
Creating Supportive Climates
Evaluation versus Description
Controlling Communication versus Problem Orientation
Strategy versus Spontaneity
Neutrality versus Empathy
Superiority versus Equality
Certainty versus Provisionalism
Invitational Communication
The Language of Choice
Responding Non-defensively to Criticism
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 10: Managing Conflict
What Is Conflict?
Expressed Struggle
Perceived Incompatible Goals
Perceived Scarce Resources
Conflict Styles
Avoidance (Lose–Lose)
Accommodation (Lose–Win)
Competition (Win–Lose)
Collaboration (Win–Win)
Which Style to Use?
Conflict in Relational Systems
Complementary and Symmetrical Conflict
Serial Arguments
Toxic Conflict: “The Four Horsemen”
Conflict Rituals
Variables in Conflict Styles
Conflict Management in Practice
Steps for the Win–Win Approach
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 11: Communication in Close Relationships: Friends, Family, and Romantic Partners
Communication in Friendships
Types of Friendships
Friendships, Gender, and Communication
Friendship and Social Media
Communication in Successful Friendships
Communication in the Family
Creating the Family through Communication
Patterns of Family Communication
Families as Communication Systems
Effective Communication in Families
Communication in Romantic Relationships
Characteristics of Romantic Relationships
Effective Communication in Romantic Relationships
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Chapter 12: Work, Group, and Team Communication
Communicating in Organizations
Formal Communication
Informal Communication
Relationships in Work Groups and Teams
Characteristics of Groups and Teams
Personal Skills in Work Groups and Teams
Group Cultures
Face-to-Face and Mediated Relationships
Leadership, Power, and Influence in Working Groups
Types of Leadership
Types of Power
Leadership that Supports Diversity and Inclusion
Advancing Your Career
Multiple-choice Questions
Discussion Questions
Journal Ideas
Name index
Subject Index
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Interplay The Process of Interpersonal Communication Fifth Canadian Edition [5 ed.]
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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries. Published in Canada by Oxford University Press 8 Sampson Mews, Suite 204, Don Mills, Ontario M3C 0H5 Canada Copyright © Oxford University Press Canada 2020 The moral rights of the author have been asserted Database right Oxford University Press (maker) First Edition published in 2006 Second Edition published in 2009 Third Edition published in 2012 Fourth Edition published in 2016 Original edition published by Oxford University Press, Inc., 198 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10016-4314, USA. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Permissions Department at the address above or through the following url: Every effort has been made to determine and contact copyright holders. In the case of any omissions, the publisher will be pleased to make suitable acknowledgement in future editions. Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Title: Interplay : the process of interpersonal communication / Ronald B. Adler, Constance Winder,    Lawrence B. Rosenfeld, Russell F. Proctor II. Names: Adler, Ronald B. (Ronald Brian), 1946- author. | Winder, Constance, 1961- author. |    Rosenfeld, Lawrence B., author. | Proctor, Russell F., II, author. Description: Fifth Canadian edition. | Includes bibliographical references and indexes. Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20190202378 | Canadiana (ebook) 20190202386 | ISBN 9780199033478    (softcover) | ISBN 9780199038701 (looseleaf) | ISBN 9780199033522 (EPUB) Subjects: LCSH: Interpersonal communication—Textbooks. | LCGFT: Textbooks. Classification: LCC BF637.C45 A35 2020 | DDC 302.2—dc23 Cover image: Ion Barbu/EyeEm/Getty Images Cover design: Farzana Razak Interior design: Farzana Razak Oxford University Press is committed to our environment. Wherever possible, our books are printed on paper which comes from responsible sources. Printed and bound in the United States of America 1 2 3 4 — 23 22 21 20

Brief Contents Publisher’s Preface  xi Preface xviii

PART 1  |  FOUNDATIONS OF INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION Chapter 1 Interpersonal Process 2 Chapter 2 Communication and the Self 38 Chapter 3 Perceiving Others 78 Chapter 4 Emotions 110

PART 2  |  CREATING AND RESPONDING TO MESSAGES Chapter 5 Listening 142 Chapter 6 Language 174 Chapter 7 Non-verbal Communication 208

PART 3  |  DIMENSIONS OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS Chapter 8 Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships 240 Chapter 9 Communication Climate 274 Chapter 10 Managing Conflict 304

PART 4  |  CONTEXTS OF INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION Chapter 11 Communication in Close Relationships: Friends, Family, and Romantic Partners 336 Chapter 12 Work, Group, and Team Communication 364 Glossary 393 References  400 Name index  455 Subject Index  457

Contents Publisher’s Preface  xi Preface xviii

PART 1  |  FOUNDATIONS OF INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION Chapter 1 Interpersonal Process  2 Why We Communicate  4 Physical Needs  5 Identity Needs  6 Social Needs  6 Practical Needs  7 The Communication Process  8 A Model of Communication  8 Insights from the Transactional Communication Model  8 Communication Principles  10 The Nature of Interpersonal Communication  12 Quantitative and Qualitative Definitions 12 Personal and Impersonal Communication: A Matter of Balance  15 Communication Misconceptions  16 Interpersonal Communication and Technology  17 Characteristics of Computer-Mediated Communication 18 Interpersonal Communication and Cultural Diversity  22 Culture 22 Intercultural Communication  23 Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication 24 Comparison of Canadian and US Culture  26 Attitudes toward Violence  26 Acceptance of Diversity  27

Relative Status of Men and Women  27 Communication Competence  28 Communication Competence Defined and Described 29 Characteristics of Competent Communication 31 Summary  34 Multiple-choice Questions  35 Activities  36 Discussion Questions  37 Journal Ideas  37 Chapter 2 Communication and the Self  38 Communication and the Self-Concept  40 How the Self-Concept Develops  43 Self-Concept Development in Context 45 Characteristics of the Self-Concept  48 The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Communication 51 Presenting the Self: Communication as Impression Management  54 Public and Private Selves  54 Characteristics of Impression Management 55 Why Manage Impressions?  58 How Do We Manage Impressions?  58 Identity Management and Honesty  60 Disclosing the Self  61 Self-Disclosure Factors  62 Models of Self-Disclosure  63 Benefits and Risks of Self-Disclosure  65 Alternatives to Self-Disclosure  68 Silence and Secrecy  68 Lying  69 Equivocation  70


Hinting 71 The Ethics of Evasion  72 Guidelines for Self-Disclosure  72 Is the Other Person Important to You?  72 Is the Risk of Disclosing Reasonable?  73 Is the Self-Disclosure Appropriate?  73 Is the Disclosure Reciprocated?  73 Will the Effect Be Constructive?  74 Summary  74 Multiple-choice Questions  75 Activities  76 Discussion Questions  77 Journal Ideas  77 Chapter 3 Perceiving Others  78 The Perception Process  80 Reality Is Constructed  80 Steps in the Perception Process  80 Influences on Perception  86 Access to Information  86 Physiological Influences  86 Psychological Influences  89 Social Influences  89 Cultural Influences  93 Common Tendencies in Perception  96 We Make Snap Judgments  96 We Cling to First Impressions  97 We Judge Ourselves More Charitably than We Do Others  98 We Are Influenced by Our Expectations 98 We Are Influenced by the Obvious  99 We Assume Others Are Similar to Us  100 Perceiving Others More Accurately  100 Perception Checking  101 Building Empathy  102 Summary  106 Multiple-choice Questions  107 Activities  108 Discussion Questions  109 Journal Ideas  109

Chapter 4 Emotions  110 What Are Emotions?  113 Physiological Changes  113 Cognitive Interpretations  114 Outward Expression  115 Influences on Emotional Expression  116 Personality 116 Culture 116 Gender 120 Social Conventions and Roles  120 Social Media  121 Emotional Contagion  121 Expressing Emotions Effectively  122 Recognize Your Feelings  122 Choose the Best Language  123 Share Multiple Feelings  124 Recognize the Difference between Feeling and Acting  124 Accept Responsibility for Your Feelings 125 Choose the Best Time and Place to Express Your Feelings  125 Managing Emotions  125 Facilitative and Debilitative Emotions 126 Thoughts as a Cause of Feelings  126 Irrational Thinking and Debilitative Emotions 128 Minimizing Debilitative Emotions  132 Maximizing Facilitative Emotions  134 Summary 136 Multiple-choice Questions 137 Activities 138 Discussion Questions 139 Journal Ideas 139

PART 2  |  CREATING AND RESPONDING TO MESSAGES Chapter 5 Listening  142 The Nature of Listening  144 The Importance of Listening  144 Listening Defined  145 Listening Styles  147




The Challenge of Listening  148 Recognizing Barriers to Listening  148 Avoiding Poor Listening Habits  149 Components of Listening  150 Hearing 150 Attending 151 Understanding 151 Remembering 154 Responding 155 Types of Listening Responses  155 Silent Listening  156 Questioning 157 Paraphrasing 160 Empathizing 163 Supporting 164 Analyzing 165 Evaluating 166 Advising 166 Which Style to Use?  167 Summary  169 Multiple-choice Questions  170 Activities  171 Discussion Questions 172 Journal Ideas  172 Chapter 6 Language  174 The Nature of Language  176 Language Language Language Language

Is Symbolic  176 Is Governed by Rules  176 Is Subjective  178 and Worldview  179

The Influence of Language  180 Naming and Identity  180 Credibility and Status  183 Affiliation 184 Power and Politeness  185 Sexism 187 Sexual Orientation  188 Racism 189 Uses (and Abuses) of Language  190 Precision and Vagueness  190 The Language of Responsibility  195 Culture and Language  198 High- versus Low-context Cultures  198

Verbal Communication Styles  200 Code-Switching 200 Gender and Language  201 Extent of Gender Differences  201 Online Language and Gender  202 Non-Gender Influences on Language Use 203 Summary  204 Multiple-choice Questions  204 Activities  206 Discussion Questions  207 Journal Ideas  207 Chapter 7 Non-verbal Communication  208 Non-verbal Communication Defined  210 Characteristics of Non-verbal Communication 211 Non-verbal Communication Is Always Occurring  211 Non-verbal Communication Is Primarily Relational  212 Non-verbal Communication Is Ambiguous  212 Non-verbal Communication Occurs in Mediated Messages  213 Non-verbal Communication Is Influenced by Culture and Gender  215 Functions of Non-verbal Communication  218 Creating and Maintaining Relationships  218 Regulating Interaction  219 Influencing Others  219 Influencing Ourselves  220 Concealing/Deceiving  221 Types of Non-verbal Communication  222 Body Movement  222 Touch  224 Voice  225 Distance  227 Territoriality  229 Time 230 Physical Attractiveness  231 Clothing  231 Physical Environment  232


Summary  234 Multiple-choice Questions  235 Activities  236 Discussion Questions  237 Journal Ideas  238

PART 3  |  DIMENSIONS OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS Chapter 8 Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships  240 Why We Form Relationships  242 Appearance 242 Similarity  243 Complementarity  244 Rewards  245 Competence  246 Proximity  247 Disclosure  247 Intimacy and Distance in Relationships  248 Forms of Intimacy  248 Forms of Distance  249 The Influence of Culture and Gender on Intimacy  250 Models of Relational Dynamics  253 Stages of Relational Development  253 Dialectical Tensions in Relationships  259 Characteristics of Relational Development  262 Communicating about Relationships  263 Content and Relational Messages  263 Maintaining and Supporting Relationships 265 Repairing Damaged Relationships  268 Summary  270 Multiple-choice Questions  270 Activities  272 Discussion Questions  272 Journal Ideas  273 Chapter 9 Communication Climate  274 What Is Communication Climate?  276 How Communication Climates Develop  276 Levels of Message Confirmation  277

Causes and Effects of Defensiveness  282 Climate Patterns  283 Creating Supportive Climates  283 Evaluation versus Description  285 Controlling Communication versus Problem Orientation  287 Strategy versus Spontaneity  287 Neutrality versus Empathy  289 Superiority versus Equality  289 Certainty versus Provisionalism  291 Invitational Communication  292 The Language of Choice  293 Responding Non-defensively to Criticism  294 Summary  299 Multiple-choice Questions 300 Activities  301 Discussion Questions  302 Journal Ideas 302 Chapter 10 Managing Conflict  304 What Is Conflict?  306 Expressed Struggle  307 Interdependence  307 Perceived Incompatible Goals  307 Perceived Scarce Resources  307 Inevitability  307 Conflict Styles  308 Avoidance (Lose–Lose)  309 Accommodation (Lose–Win)  310 Competition (Win–Lose)  311 Compromise   312 Collaboration (Win–Win)  313 Which Style to Use?  314 Conflict in Relational Systems  316 Complementary and Symmetrical Conflict 316 Serial Arguments  317 Toxic Conflict: “The Four Horsemen”  318 Conflict Rituals  319 Variables in Conflict Styles  321 Gender  321 Culture  322




Conflict Management in Practice   324 Steps for the Win–Win Approach  325 Summary  330 Multiple-choice Questions  331 Activities  332 Discussion Questions  333 Journal Ideas  334

PART 4  |  CONTEXTS OF INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION Chapter 11 Communication in Close Relationships: Friends, Family, and Romantic Partners  336 Communication in Friendships  338 Types of Friendships  338 Friendships, Gender, and Communication  339 Friendship and Social Media  342 Communication in Successful Friendships  342 Communication in the Family  345 Creating the Family through Communication  345 Patterns of Family Communication  347 Families as Communication Systems  348 Effective Communication in Families  350 Communication in Romantic Relationships  355 Characteristics of Romantic Relationships  355 Effective Communication in Romantic Relationships   358 Summary  360 Multiple-choice Questions  361 Activities  362

Discussion Questions  363 Journal Ideas  363 Chapter 12 Work, Group, and Team Communication  364 Communicating in Organizations  366 Formal Communication  366 Informal Communication  367 Relationships in Work Groups and Teams  369 Characteristics of Groups and Teams  369 Personal Skills in Work Groups and Teams 370 Group Cultures  373 Face-to-Face and Mediated Relationships  374 Leadership, Power, and Influence in Working Groups  375 Types of Leadership  376 Types of Power  376 Leadership that Supports Diversity and Inclusion   379 Advancing Your Career  381 Networking  381 Interviewing  382 Summary  388 Multiple-choice Questions  389 Activities  390 Discussion Questions  391 Journal Ideas  392

Glossary 393 References  400 Name index  455 Subject Index  457

Publisher’s Preface The fifth edition of Interplay builds on the successful approach used in the previous Canadian editions that have served instructors and students well. It gives first-time students a useful, compelling, and accurate introduction to the academic study of interpersonal communication. Readers of Interplay come away with a new appreciation of how scholarship about communication in interpersonal relationships can make a difference in their everyday lives. To that end, this fifth edition presents new and expanded coverage of key concepts while retaining the trusted qualities and features of the previous editions.

Key Features • An accessible writing style based on the belief that even complicated ideas can be presented in a straightforward way. • A commitment to showing how scholarship offers insights about the process of interpersonal communication. • Thought-provoking photos and cartoons that thoughtfully and compellingly illustrate the text’s insights.

Increased Coverage of Contemporary Issues Impacting Day-to-Day Life • To help students better understand the issues and contexts they will face in their everyday lives, this edition features expanded content on communication and the self, technology, culture, and work throughout. Some new topics include: 42

PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

SELF-ASSESSMENT HOW MUCH COMPASSION DO YOU SHOW YOURSELF? Please read each statement carefully before answering. To the left of each item, indicate how often you behave in the stated manner, using the following scale: Almost Never 1 2 1.

Communication and the Self • Chapter 2 – Self-compassion • Chapter 4 – Change your Self-Talk • Chapter 4 – Combining Daily Mindfulness with Reappraisal

2. 3. 4. 5. 6.


Almost Always 4 5

When I fail at something important to me, I become consumed by feelings of inadequacy. I try to be understanding and patient towards those aspects of my personality I don’t like. When something painful happens, I try to take a balanced view of the situation. When I’m feeling down, I tend to feel like most other people are probably happier than I am. I try to see my failings as part of the human condition. When I’m going through a very hard time, I give myself the caring and tenderness I need.

When something upsets me, I try to keep my emotions in balance. When I fail at something that’s important to me, I tend to feel alone in my failure. When I’m feeling down I tend to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong. 10. When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people. 11. I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies. 12. I’m intolerant and impatient towards those aspects of my personality I don’t like. 7.

8. 9.

Lower scores on items 1, 4, 8, 9, 11, and 12 and higher scores on the remaining items (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 10) indicate greater self-compassion. SOURCE: Raes, F., Pommier, E., Neff, K.D., and Van Gucht, D. (2011). Construct and factorial validation of a short form of the self-compassion scale. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 18, 250–5.

FOCUS ON RESEARCH SELF-CONTROL, SELF-COMPASSION, SOCIAL TEMPTATIONS, AND PROCRASTINATION Most of us have been distracted or put something off that we know we should be doing—maybe even reading this chapter! Procrastination is the voluntary delay of important, necessary, and intended action despite knowing there will be negative consequences for this delay (Sirois and Pychyl, 2013). Many colleges and universities have student success programs that focus on improving our time management skills, but research suggests a different approach will probably work better. Procrastination researcher Tim Pychyl and his colleagues have identified many of the challenges that make us vulnerable to putting things off and suffering for it (Pychyl and Sirois, 2016; Sirois and Giguire, 2018). They know we delay boring or difficult tasks that have long-term payoffs and are not much fun for more pleasant activities that are immediately rewarding, less because we failed to manage our time effectively than because we didn’t feel like doing the boring



or difficult thing. Socializing with others is something that it is immediately rewarding for most people and is very tempting when we’re working on a difficult, boring, or frustrating task. We want to feel better so we ditch the schoolwork and engage in social activities to improve our negative mood. We “give in to feel good” (Pychyl and Sirois, 2016; Sirois and Giguire, 2018). The irony is we then feel bad about procrastinating! Rather than thinking about procrastination as a time management problem, we’re better off thinking about it as a challenge in regulating our emotions and coping. It’s more correctly conceptualized as a test of our self-control and our self-compassion. So, how do we say “no” to the immediate gratification of socializing either in person or online when those temptations are available 24/7? Research suggests we can learn to tolerate and modify the negative emotions we experience during

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Publisher’s Preface

7 | Non-verbal Communication

• Chapter 4 – Social Media and Emotional Contagion • Chapter 6 – Online Language and Gender • Chapter 7 – Emojis, Mediated Messages, and Nonverbal Communication

could be a compliment or a criticism, and the vague statement, “I’m almost done” could mean you have to wait a few minutes or an hour.) Most non-verbal behaviour has the potential to be even more ambiguous than verbal statements like these. To understand why, consider how you would interpret silence from your companion during an evening together. Think of all the possible meanings of this non-verbal behaviour—affection, anger, preoccupation, boredom, nervousness, thoughtfulness—the possibilities are many. The ambiguity of non-verbal behaviour was illustrated when a supermarket chain tried to emphasize its customer-friendly approach by instructing employees to smile and make eye contact with customers. Some customers mistook the service-with-a-smile approach as sexual come-ons. As this story suggests, non-verbal cues are much more ambiguous than verbal statements when it comes to expressing willingness to become physically involved (La France, 2010). Because non-verbal behaviour is so ambiguous, caution is wise when you’re responding to non-verbal cues. Rather than jumping to conclusions about the meaning of a sigh, smile, slammed door, or yawn, it’s far better to use the kind of perception-checking approach described in Chapter 3. “When you yawned, I got the idea I might be boring you. But maybe you’re just tired. What’s going on?” The ability to consider more than one possible interpretation for non-verbal behaviour illustrates the kind of cognitive complexity that we identified in Chapter 1 as an element of communication competence. Popular advice on the subject notwithstanding, it’s usually not possible to read a person like a book.

Non-verbal Communication Occurs in Mediated Messages

1 | Interpersonal Process


Parent and child discuss their changing relationship.

Not all mediated communication is solely verbal. Video calls/chat obviously provide non-verbal information, as do photos on social networking apps and messaging platforms. Even text-based digital communication has non-verbal features. The most obvious way to represent non-verbal expressions in type is with emoji. Emoji, as we


Husband and wife from different cultural backgrounds develop mutual understanding.

Over time, able-bodied and disabled fellow employees develop ways to work effectively together.

Traveller unintentionally violates customs of a culture that he or she doesn’t understand.

English-speaking caller requests directory assistance from English-speaking telephone operator.





FIGURE 1.2 Possible Interactions among Interpersonal and Intercultural Dimensions of Person-to-Person Communication

far less difficult than that for the international traveller. In between these extremes falls a whole range of encounters in which culture plays varying roles. What is the relationship between intercultural communication and interpersonal relationships? William Gudykunst and Young Kim (2003) summarize an approach that helps answer this question. They suggest that interpersonal and intercultural factors combine to form a two-by-two matrix in which the importance of interpersonal communication forms one dimension and intercultural significance forms the other (see Figure 1.2). This model shows that some interpersonal transactions (for example, a conversation between two siblings who have been raised in the same household) have virtually no intercultural elements. Other encounters (such as a traveller from Senegal trying to get directions from an Iranian-Canadian taxi driver in Vancouver) are almost exclusively intercultural, without the personal dimensions that we discuss throughout this book. Still other exchanges—the most interesting ones for our purposes—contain elements of both intercultural and interpersonal communication. This range of encounters is broad in the global village:

business people from different backgrounds try to wrap up a deal; Canadian-born and immigrant children learn to get along in school; health care educators seek effective ways to serve patients from around the world; neighbours from different racial


described in Chapter 4, can help communicate emotion and clarify a meaning that isn’t evident from words alone (Derks et al., 2008; Lo, 2008; Riordan, 2017; Riordan and Kreuz, 2010). For example, see how each graphic below creates a different meaning for the same statement: • You’re driving me crazy • You’re driving me crazy • You’re driving me crazy Yet the meaning of emoji can be ambiguous (Skovholt et al., 2014). A smiley face could have a number of meanings, such as “I’m happy,” “I’m kidding,” or “I’m teasing you.” Other online communication markers are also ambiguous (Vandergriff, 2013). Exclamation marks (sometimes more than one!!!) can be used at the end of sentences


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Culture • Chapter 1 – Individuals’ and Collectivists’ Cultural Values • Chapter 2 – Ableism and “Person First” Language • Chapter 6 – Code Switching in Canada

CONCEPTS IN INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION • Culture: the language, values, beliefs, traditions, and customs people share and learn. • In-groups: groups of people with whom we identify. • Out-groups: groups of people whom we view as different. • Co-culture: a subgroup that is part of an encompassing culture. • Intercultural communication: the process by which members of two or more cultures exchange messages in a manner that is influenced by their different cultural perceptions and symbol systems.

11 | Communication in Close Relationships: Friends, Family, and Romantic Partners

FOCUS ON RESEARCH adl33478_ch01_001-037.indd



Chris Wildt/Cartoonstock




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Work • Chapter 5 – Multicommunicating at Work • Chapter 11 – Social Media and Relationships with Co-workers • Chapter 12 – Leadership that Supports Diversity and Inclusion

SOCIAL MEDIA AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH CO-WORKERS Search the phrase “social media and co-workers” and you’ll find a host of articles about the pros and cons of friending and following workmates online. This kind of sharing involves both risks and rewards. On the positive side, social media can help create bonds by allowing colleagues to learn about each other’s lives away from the job. It can help colleagues get to know each other on a deeper level, which can positively influence their productivity (Goodman, 2014). Along with these benefits, however, online sharing with co-workers has its risks. Some experts believe the risks are so great that they categorically recommend against friending colleagues (Wu, 2017). Others suggest proceeding with caution (Penning, 2016; Whittenberry, 2016). And while you might think that using filters to manage what content certain audiences (family and friends versus professional colleagues) can see is a cautious strategy, recent research suggests it might not achieve the results you want. Anika Batenburg and Jos Bartels (2017) found that integrating work and personal contacts on social media platforms produced higher levels of likeability among colleagues than a “segmenting” strategy, which involved restricting or filtering professional contacts’ access to personal information. These investigators suggest that because liking is related to self-disclosure, being included in a colleague’s

inner circle of friends might increase the likeability of that individual; similarly, when one is kept out of that circle they might feel rejected and their liking of the co-worker might actually decrease. Additional research has revealed that we are more likely to want to integrate our co-workers into our inner social media circles when we perceive them to be trustworthy and sociable (van Prooijen et al., 2018). As you know, our perceptions of others are not always accurate (see Chapter 3) and filters do not ensure privacy; people who have less restricted access to your posts can always share them with a broader audience. We’ve suggested throughout this book that it’s important to keep your online audience in mind when you’re choosing what to share on social media. Although it may feel private and fleeting, it’s not. Before you hit “post,” imagine how your manager, your most reserved co-worker, and your grandmother or another older relative would react if they saw your post. Self-monitoring is your friend. Although this suggestion seems obvious, everyone is aware of people whose social media posts have cost them their jobs. Critical thinking: What’s your preference in terms of including co-workers in your social media? What are the benefits of your approach? What are the potential costs?

Share Joys and Sorrows

Share Laughs and Memories

When you have bad news, you want to tell friends who will offer you comfort and support (Vallade et al., 2016). When a friend has good news, you want to hear about it and celebrate. When sharing sorrows and joys with friends, it’s often important how quickly and in what order the news is delivered. The closer the friendship, the higher the expectation is that you’ll share such things soon after they happen. If a friend asks, “How come I’m the last to find out about your new job?” you may have committed an expectancy violation.

A hallmark of a healthy relationship is shared laughter (Kurtz and Algoe, 2017). One study found that close friends have a distinctive laugh, and that people across cultures can pinpoint in seconds how intimate friends are by listening to them chortle together (Bryant et al., 2016). Another study found that friends regularly prod and deepen each other’s memory banks—so much so that “sharing a brain” is an accurate description for the bond between very close friends (Iannone et al., 2016). If you get together with long-time pals and laugh as



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Publisher’s Preface

Engaging Pedagogy This edition of Interplay builds on the pedagogical approach that has successfully helped students appreciate how scholarship leads to a better understanding of communication in the “real world.” 168

PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

TAKE TWO TYPES OF LISTENING RESPONSES • Silent listening: staying attentive and nonverbally responsive, without saying anything. • Questioning: asking the speaker for additional information. • Open questions allow for a variety of extended responses. • Closed questions only allow a limited range of answers. • Sincere questions are aimed at understanding others. • Counterfeit questions are disguised attempts to send a message, not receive one. • Paraphrasing: restating, in your own words, the message you thought the speaker sent. • Empathizing: showing that you identify with a speaker. • Supporting: revealing your solidarity with the speaker’s situation. • Analyzing: offering an interpretation of a speaker’s message. • Evaluating: appraising the speaker’s thoughts or behaviour in some way. • Advising: providing the speaker with your opinion about what she should do.

• “Take Two” boxes recap core concepts and terms to ensure students understand their meaning and draw linkages between them.

These skills comprise what pioneering therapist Carl Rogers (2003) calls active listening (see Weger et al., 2014). Rogers maintains that helpful interpersonal listening begins with reflective, non-directive responses. Once you have gathered the facts and demonstrated your interest and concern, it’s likely that the speaker will be more receptive to (and perhaps even ask for) your analyzing, evaluating, and advising responses (MacGeorge et al., 2017). You can improve the odds of choosing the best style in each situation by considering three factors. 1. Think about the situation, and match your response to the nature of the problem. People sometimes need your advice. In other cases, your encouragement and support will be most helpful, and in still other cases, your analysis or judgment may be truly useful. And, as you have seen, there are times when your questioning and paraphrasing can help others find their own answer. 2. Besides considering the situation, you also should think about the other person when deciding which approach to use. It’s important to be sure that the other person is open to receiving any kind of help. Furthermore, you


Explore the various types of listening responses by completing the following steps:


1. 2. Known to self

Not known to self





Known to others

Not known to others

FIGURE 2.3 Johari Window Source: From Group process: An introduction to group dynamics. Copyright © 1963, 1970 by Joseph Luft. Used with the permission of Mayfield Publishing Company.

Part 1 represents the information that both you and the other person already have. This part is your open area. Part 2 represents the blind area: information of which you are unaware, but that the other person knows. You learn about information in the blind area primarily through feedback from others. Part 3 of the Johari Window represents your hidden area: information that you know, but are not willing to reveal to others. Items in this hidden area become public primarily through self-disclosure. Part 4 of the Johari Window represents information that is unknown to both you and to others. At first, the unknown area seems impossible to verify. After all, if neither you nor others know what it contains, how can you be sure it exists at all? We can deduce its existence because we are constantly discovering new things about ourselves. For example, it is not unusual to discover that you have an unrecognized talent, strength, or weakness. Items move from the unknown area into the open area when you share your insight, or into the hidden area when you keep it secret. The relative size of each area in our personal Johari Window changes from time to time according to our moods, the subject we’re discussing, and our relationship with the other person. Despite these changes, a single Johari Window could represent most people’s overall style of disclosure.




Describe the four quadrants of the Johari Window and the relationship of each to receptivity to feedback.

4. 5.

Join with two partners to form a trio. Designate members as persons A, B, and C. Person A begins by sharing an actual, current work- or school-related problem with B. The problem need not be a major life crisis, but it should be a real one. Person B should respond in whatever way seems most helpful. Person C’s job is to categorize each of B’s responses as either: silent listening, questioning, paraphrasing, empathizing, supporting, analyzing, evaluating, or advising. After a four- to five-minute discussion, C should summarize B’s response styles. Person A then describes which of the styles were most helpful and which were not helpful. Repeat the same process twice, switching roles so that each person has been in all of the positions. Based on your findings, your threesome should draw conclusions about what combination of response styles can be most helpful.

Benefits and Risks of Self-Disclosure By now, it should be clear that neither all-out disclosure nor complete privacy is desirable. On the one hand, self-disclosure is a key factor in relationship development, and relationships suffer when people keep important information from each other (Porter and Chambless, 2014). On the other hand, revealing deeply personal information can threaten the stability, or even the survival, of a relationship. Communication researchers use the term privacy management to describe the choices people make to reveal or conceal information about themselves (Hammonds, 2015; Petronio, 2013). In the following pages, we will outline both the risks and benefits of opening yourself to others.



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• “Check It!” questions give students a great tool for study and review.

Benefits of Self-Disclosure Although the amount of self-disclosure varies from one person and relationship to another, all of us share important information about ourselves at one time or another. There are a variety of reasons we disclose personal information (Duprez et al., 2015). Catharsis Sometimes, you might disclose information in an effort to “get it off your chest.” Catharsis can indeed relieve the burden of pent-up emotions (Pennebaker, 1997), whether face-to-face or online (Vermeulen et al., 2018), but when it is the only goal of disclosure, the results of opening up may not be positive. Later in this chapter, we’ll discuss guidelines for self-disclosure that improve your chance of achieving catharsis in a way that helps, instead of harms, relationships. Self-Clarification It’s often possible to clarify your beliefs, opinions, thoughts, attitudes, and feelings by

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PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

The remarkable thing was that Fox was a complete fraud! He was a professional actor who had been coached by researchers to deliver a lecture of double-talk—a patchwork of information from a Scientific American article mixed with jokes, non-sequiturs, contradictory statements, and meaningless references to unrelated topics. When wrapped in a linguistic package of high-level, sophisticated professional jargon, and delivered by an engaging, humorous, and well-spoken person, the meaningless gobbledygook was judged favourably. In other words, Fox’s credibility came more from his vocabulary and style of speaking than from the ideas he expressed.


• “Reflection” sidebars offer first-person accounts of how principles covered in the text apply to real life.

ACCENTS AND SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECIES My mother-in-law came to Canada from Italy with her husband and children about 50 years ago. The family settled in an Italian-Canadian community and she was able to continue to speak Italian in order to manage the household and raise her family. Her husband and kids all learned to speak English but she did not. As the only non-Italianspeaking in-law in this big, warm, tightknit family, this posed some communication challenges. I quickly figured out her receptive English vocabulary was very good and when it was just the two of us, she would speak a bit of English and I would muddle along with my rudimentary Italian and we could understand each other. I noticed she never spoke English in front of her husband and children. I was puzzled. I pushed my husband to tell me why this was and discovered that in her early days in Canada, she tried speaking English and her young and much more fluent children teased her about her pronunciation. She immediately lost confidence and quit trying—believing that she could never be as fluent as her children. I was shocked that good-natured teasing could have such a negative impact on a person’s beliefs about themselves and I resolved to never make fun of people’s accents or pronunciations.



Affiliation Accent and vocabulary are not the only ways in which language reflects the status of relationships. An impressive body of research has shown how language can build and demonstrate solidarity with others. Communicators adapt their speech in a variety of ways to indicate affiliation and accommodation, including through their choice of vocabulary, rate of talking, number and placement of pauses, and level of politeness (Giles, 2016). In one study, the likelihood of mutual romantic interest increased when conversation partners’ use of pronouns, articles, conjunctions, prepositions, and negations matched (Ireland et al., 2011). The same study revealed that when couples use similar language styles while instant messaging, the chances of their relationship continuing increased by almost 50 per cent. Close friends and lovers often develop a set of special terms that serve as a way of signifying their relationship (Dunleavy and Booth-Butterfield, 2009). Using the same vocabulary serves to set these people apart from others. The same process works among members of larger groups, ranging from online communities to street gangs and military units. Convergence is the process of adapting one’s speech style to match that of others with whom the communicator wants to identify (Dragojevic et al., 2016). Language matching creates bonds not only between friends but also between strangers online (Rains, 2016; Riordan et al., 2013). When two or more people feel equally positive about one another, their linguistic convergence will be mutual. But when one communicator wants or needs approval, convergence is more one-sided (Muir et al., 216). We see this process when employees seeking advancement start speaking more like their superiors. One study even showed that adopting the swearing patterns of bosses and co-workers in emails is a sign that an employee is fitting into an organization’s culture (Lublin, 2017). The principle of speech accommodation works in reverse too. Communicators who want to set themselves apart from others adopt the strategy of divergence, that is, speaking in a way that emphasizes their differences (Gasiorek and Vincze, 2016).

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Publisher’s Preface

6 | Language




• “Self-Assessment” quizzes allow readers to analyze their current communication behaviour and its consequences.


How often do you hear biases like sexist language, sexually prejudiced language, and racist language in the language of people around you? How often do you use them yourself?

SELF-ASSESSMENT SEXIST LANGUAGE Section I For each of the following statements, rate your agreement or disagreement on a scale ranging from 1 to 5, where 1 = “strongly disagree” and 5 = “strongly agree.” 1. Women who think that being called a chairman is sexist are misinterpreting the word. 2. Worrying about sexist language is a trivial activity. 3. If the original meaning of he was “person,” we should continue to use he to refer to both males and females today. 4. The elimination of sexist language is an important goal. 5. Sexist language is related to the sexist treatment of people in society. 6. When teachers talk about the history of Canada, they should change expressions such as our forefathers to expressions that include women. 7. Teachers who require students to use non-sexist language are unfairly forcing their political views on their students.

PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Section II For each of the following statements, rate your willingness on a scale ranging from 1 to 5, where 1 = “very unwilling” and 5 = “very willing.”

BUILDING WORK SKILLS CULTURAL VALUES AT WORK An important beginning strategy to communicate more effectively at work is being aware of your workplace values and behaviour, and how they’re influenced by your culture. Take a moment to assess your workplace or your school environment in terms of some of the types of non-verbal communication discussed in this chapter. Pay particular attention to touch, proxemics and territoriality, time, clothing, and physical environment. Describe your workplace in terms of these elements, and then identify the values communicated. Here are some questions to get your started: • • • • • •

Whereas sexist language usually defines the world as made up of superior men and inferior women, and sexually prejudiced language usually implies that heterosexuality is superior to any other sexual orientation, racist language reflects a worldview that classifies members of one racial group as superior and others as inferior (Asante, 2002). Not all language that might have racist overtones is deliberate. For example, the connotations


8. When you are referring to a married woman, how willing are you to use the title “Ms Smith” rather than “Mrs Smith”? 9. How willing are you to use the word “server” rather than “waiter” or “waitress”? 10. How willing are you to use the expression “husband and wife” rather than “man and wife”? 11. How willing are you to use the term “flight attendant” instead of “steward” or “stewardess”? Total = ______. Add your responses to the 11 statements, making sure to reverse-score (i.e., 5 = 1, 4 = 2, 3 = 3, 2 = 4, and 1 = 5) statements 1, 2, and 3. Scores can range from 11 to 55, and scores that are 38 or higher reflect a supportive attitude towards non-sexist language; and scores between 28 and 37 reflect a neutral attitude. Scholars note that women are typically less tolerant of sexist language than are men, which may have an impact on these scores (Douglas and Sutton, 2014). SOURCE: This “Self-Assessment” box contains 11 of the 21 items on the Inventory of Attitudes toward Sexist/Nonsexist Language-General, developed by Parks and Robertson (2000).


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Who initiates touch? Who touches whom? Who gets the most territory? Who gets the least? Who gets the window? Do some people prefer greater or less social distance? Who? How do you know? How important is punctuality? Can some people keep others waiting with impunity? What do people wear? Are there differences? Is the physical environment clean? Are some places cleaner than others? Is the space well designed for the work to be done? Are some places better than others?

report feeling closer to one another, having better functioning relationships, and having higher levels of commitment (Arriaga et al., 2008). Environmental influences can even shape perceptions and communication in virtual space. For example, people who meet online in a formal virtual setting, such as a library, communicate more formally than those who meet in a casual virtual cafe (Pena and Blackburn, 2013). You might want to keep these concepts in mind when you’re designing or decorating the spaces

in which you live, study, and work. Your physical environment—real or virtual—can affect your interpersonal communication.

CHECK IT! List the 10 types of non-verbal communication and provide an example of each.

• “Building Work Skills” exercises help students apply knowledge they have gained about interpersonal communication to situations they will likely encounter in the workplace.

SUMMARY Non-verbal communication consists of messages expressed by non-linguistic means. It is pervasive; in fact, non-verbal messages are always available as a source of information about others. Often what we do conveys more meaning than what we say, and non-verbal behaviour shapes perception. Most non-verbal behaviour conveys messages about relational attitudes and feelings, in contrast to verbal statements, which are better suited to expressing ideas. Messages that are communicated

non-verbally are usually more ambiguous than verbal communication. Contrary to what some might think, non-verbal cues also play a role in mediated communication. Non-verbal communication is also affected by culture and gender. Non-verbal communication serves many functions. It can help create and maintain relationships. It also serves to regulate interactions, influence others and influence yourself. In addition, non-verbal communication can be used to conceal


PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

FOCUS ON RESEARCH adl33478_ch07_208-238.indd


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• “Focus on Research” profiles highlight scholarship that students will find interesting and useful on topics ranging from digital life and social anxiety to the connection between interpersonal ability and socioeconomic status.

BEING SNUBBED BY A PHONE You and your friends are having a meal and during the conversation one or more members of the group concentrates on their phone for a while rather than contributing to the conversation. Maybe that someone is you? No big deal, right? How about when it’s just two people having a conversation? Does it matter more? Research suggests that spending time on your phone during a social interaction negatively affects both conversational and relational quality and although it’s increasingly common, it contributes negatively to a communication climate by sending a disconfirming non-verbal message to the person who is being temporarily ignored. Studies conducted in a variety of countries, including Canada, have all found that being snubbed by a smartphone (called “phubbing”) has negative effects on people and relationships (Abeele and PostmaNilsenova, 2018; Chotpitayasunondh and Douglas, 2016, 2018; David and Roberts, 2017; Dwyer et al., 2018; Wang et al., 2017). Researchers have found that as phubbing increases in a social interaction people experience greater threats to the fundamental needs (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in Chapter 1) and they suggest that phubbing is a form of social exclusion that threatens people’s needs for belonging, self-esteem, and meaningful existence (Chotpitayasunondh and Douglas, 2018). Similarly, research examining the effects of phubbing in romantic relationships has found phubbing to be associated with increases in conflict over phone use, decreases in relational satisfaction, and even increases in the risk of depression (David and Roberts, 2017; Wang et al., 2018). In fact, just gazing at your phone (not even touching it) during a social interaction negatively affects the quality of the interaction. Researchers in the Netherlands compared the effects of gazing at a newspaper versus gazing at a phone during a face-toface conversation and found that phone gazing had a unique ability to devalue the quality of the interaction with the conversational partner (Abeele and PostmaNilsenova, 2018). People judged the phone gazing as significantly more harmful than newspaper gazing. In



addition, these researchers found that phone gazing while listening to a conversational partner disrupted the connection between the two more than phone gazing while speaking to the partner. In a similar Canadian study, Ryan J. Dwyer and his colleagues (2018) had people go out to dinner in a restaurant with family and friends and either have their phone in plain sight on the table during the meal or have it hidden away throughout the entire meal. People were randomly assigned to either condition. These researchers found that people who had their phones in view reported feeling distracted and reported enjoying the time spent with family and friends less than those in the “phone out of sight” group. These investigators suggest that even though our phones can connect us to others all over the world, they might very well disconnect us from those sitting across the table. The findings of these studies reveal that both the person being ignored (the “phubee”) and the person distracted by their phone (the “phubber”) suffer individually when both parties are not fully present during social interactions. Moreover, their relationship suffers too. So what should we do? If you tend to be the phubbee, it’s probably best to exercise patience and compassion. Phubbing is highly correlated with fear of missing out, lack of self-control, and internet addiction (Chotpitayasunondh and Douglas, 2016). The collaborative strategies for conflict resolution described in Chapter 10 might help you work out a solution in relationships that are important to you. Similarly, if you tend to be the phubber, gaining self-awareness about your potentially disrespectful behaviour and using problem-solving strategies with your communication partners might help you balance your need to be included in your social network with your need to be fully present with others and connect with them in meaningful ways. Critical thinking: Do you think there are times when phubbing is more or less damaging to relationships? If so, what factors influence the consequences of phubbing?

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Publisher’s Preface

Contemporary Design We have created a design that reflects the vibrancy and excitement of interpersonal communication today without sacrificing content or authoritativeness. 64


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

TABLE 6.3 Pronoun Uses and Their Effects My career ambitions


Feelings about my physical appearance

Feelings about our relationship





“I” Language

Takes responsibility for personal thoughts, feelings, and wants. Less defenceprovoking than “you” language

Can be perceived as egotistical, narcissistic, and self-absorbed

Use descriptive “I” messages in conflicts when the other person does not perceive a problem. Combine “I” with “we” language in conversations.

“We” Language

Signals inclusion, immediacy, cohesiveness, and commitment

Can speak improperly for others

Combine with “I” language, particularly in personal conversations. Use in group settings to enhance a sense of unity. Avoid when expressing personal thoughts, feelings, and wants.

“You” Language

Signals other-orientation, particularly when the topic is positive

Can sound evaluative and judgmental, particularly during confrontations

Use “I” language during confrontations. Use “You” language when praising or including others.


My opinions about our mutual friends

My relationships with members of the opposite sex

My academic life

My family background and problems

FIGURE 2.2 Sample Model of Social Penetration

beliefs or an analysis of another person), you are giving others valuable information about yourself. The fourth level of self-disclosure—and usually the most revealing one—involves the expression of feelings. At first glance, feelings might appear to be the same as opinions, but there’s a big difference. “I don’t think you’re telling me what’s on your mind” is an opinion. Notice how much more we learn about the speaker by looking at three different feelings that could accompany this statement: “I don’t think you’re telling me what’s on your mind . . . . . . and I’m suspicious.” . . . and I’m angry.” . . . and I’m hurt.”

Awareness of Self-Disclosure: The Johari Window Model Another way to illustrate how self-disclosure operates in communication is a model called the Johari


Window, developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (Janas, 2001; Luft, 1969). Imagine a frame that contains everything there is to know about you: your likes and dislikes, your goals, your secrets, your needs—everything. This frame could be divided into information you know about yourself and things you don’t know. It could also be split into things others know about you and things they don’t know. Figure 2.3 illustrates these divisions.

Too much use of any pronoun comes across as inappropriate, so combining pronouns is generally a good idea, and it suggests you’re able to see things from multiple perspectives (Pennebaker, 2011). If your “I” language expresses your position without being overly self-absorbed, your “you” language shows concern for others without judging them, and your “we” language includes others without speaking for them, you’ll probably come as close as possible to the ideal mix of pronouns.

Culture and Language

TAKE TWO • Social penetration model: two ways, measured by breadth and depth, that communication can be more or less disclosing. • Breadth: the range of subjects discussed. • Depth: the personal nature of information (significant and private self-disclosures, clichés, facts, opinions, and feelings).


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So far, we’ve described attributes that characterize most languages, with a particular emphasis on English. Although there are some remarkable similarities among the world’s many languages (Lewis et al., 2013), they also differ in important respects that affect communication within and between

CHECK IT! Describe three harmful linguistic habits that contribute to conflict.


language groups. In this section, we’ll outline some of those factors.

High- versus Low-context Cultures Anthropologist Edward Hall (1959) identified two distinct ways that members of various cultures deliver messages. A low-context culture uses language primarily to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas as directly and logically as possible. To low-context communicators, the meaning of a statement lies in the words spoken. By contrast, a high-context culture relies heavily on subtle, often non-verbal cues to maintain social harmony. High-context communicators pay close attention to non-verbal behaviours, the history of relationships, and social rules that  govern interaction between people. In Table 6.4, we summarize some key differences in how people from low- and high-context cultures communicate. Mainstream culture in Canada, the United States, and northern Europe can be categorized near the low-context end of the scale. In these low-context cultures, communicators generally value straight talk and grow impatient with indirect behaviours such as hinting (Tili and Barker, 2015).


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Aids to Student Learning Textbooks today must speak to the needs and interests of today’s students, providing them with an accessible introduction to a body of knowledge. To accomplish this, the book incorporates numerous features to promote and support student learning. • Chapter Openers preview the contents of each chapter with chapter outlines, key terms, and learning outcomes that provide a concise overview of the key concepts.


Communication and the Self KEY TERMS


benevolent lie breadth cognitive conservatism collectivistic culture depth distorted feedback equivocation face facework impression management individualistic culture Johari Window obsolete information perceived self

presenting self privacy management reference groups reflected appraisal self-compassion self-concept self-control self-disclosure self-esteem self-fulfilling prophecy significant other social comparison social expectations social penetration model


CHAPTER OUTLINE Communication and the Self-Concept How the Self-Concept Develops Self-Concept Development in Context Characteristics of the Self-Concept The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Communication

Presenting the Self: Communication as Impression Management Public and Private Selves Characteristics of Impression Management Why Manage Impressions? How Do We Manage Impressions? Identity Management and Honesty

Disclosing the Self

• •

Models of Self-Disclosure Benefits and Risks of Self-Disclosure

• • • •

Alternatives to Self-Disclosure Silence and Secrecy Lying Equivocation Hinting The Ethics of Evasion

Describe the characteristics and development of the self-concept Explain the influence of language, cultural values, and self-fulfilling prophecies in shaping the self-concept Analyze how the self-concept affects communication with others Describe how people manage impressions in person and online to enhance their presenting image Explain the characteristics of and reasons for self-disclosure Explain the risks of, benefits of, guidelines for, and alternatives to self-disclosure

Guidelines for Self-Disclosure Is the Other Person Important to You? Is the Risk of Disclosing Reasonable? Is the Self-Disclosure Appropriate? Is the Disclosure Reciprocated? Will the Effect Be Constructive?

Self-Disclosure Factors



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Publisher’s Preface

End-of-Chapter Learning Tools • Chapter Summaries ensure a thorough understanding of key concepts and aid in reviewing for tests and exams. • Multiple-Choice Quizzes provide students with a quick assessment tool to ensure comprehension of material discussed in the chapter. 270

8 | Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships

PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

the past—in other words, to remember that you, too, have wronged others and needed their forgiveness (Exline et al., 2008). Given that it’s in our own best interest to be forgiven, we would do well to remember these words from Richard Walters

(1984) who sees forgiveness as a choice requiring courage and continuous acts of will: “When we have been hurt we have two alternatives: be destroyed by resentment, or forgive. Resentment is death; forgiving leads to healing and life” (p. 366).

d. the person with average ability who spilled the coffee Social exchange theory suggests


a. we seek relationships with people who are competent in social exchange. b. we seek relationships with people who can give us rewards greater than the costs we encounter dealing with them. c. we terminate relationships with people when our social exchanges with them are stagnant. d. we terminate relationships with people who are low on the social exchange index.

SUMMARY Explanations for why we form relationships with some people and not with others include appearance (physical attractiveness), similarity, complementarity, rewards, competence, proximity, and disclosure. Intimacy and distance are important parts of our relationships with others and there are several ways to establish both. Culture and gender influence intimacy in relationships by informing the social rules that govern intimate communication. Also, each culture defines the extent to which any relationship should be formal and distant or close and intimate. Some theorists argue that interpersonal relationships may go through as many as 10 stages of growth and deterioration. They suggest that communication may reflect more than one stage at a given time, although one stage will be dominant. Another way to analyze the dynamics of interpersonal communication is in terms of dialectical tensions, that is, mutually opposing, incompatible desires that are part of our relationships and that

can never be completely resolved. These tensions include integration–separation, stability–change, and expression–privacy. Both views characterize relationships as constantly changing, so that communication is more of a process than a static thing. Relational messages are sometimes expressed overtly by verbal metacommunication; however, they are more frequently conveyed non-verbally. Interpersonal relationships require maintenance to stay healthy. Relational maintenance requires partners to use positive and open communication that includes assurances and demonstrates commitment to the relationship. It also entails sharing tasks, investing in each other’s social networks and offering social support through the exchange of emotional, informational and instrumental resources. Some relationships become damaged over time and others are hurt through relational transgressions. Apologies and forgiveness are particularly important strategies for repairing damaged relationships.


a. We are attracted to people who are similar to us and dislike those who are different. b. We are attracted to people who are different than ourselves rather than people who are similar. c. We are attracted to people who are similar to ourselves and we are also attracted to those whose different characteristics complement our own. d. Neither similarities nor differences affect our motivation to form relationships


a. b. c. d.

a. b. c. d.


a. b. c. d.

In Elliot Aronson and colleagues’ study of how competence and imperfection combine, their subjects found which of the following quiz show contestants most attractive? a. the person with superior ability who did not spill the coffee b. the person with average ability who did not spill the coffee c. the person with superior ability who spilled the coffee

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denial compartmentalizing accepting reframing

The finding that frequent interaction during the day via cellphone can be a source of conflict in relationships is evidence of which of the following dialectical tensions?

because our relationships are influenced most by proximity. 2.



Metacommunication is the term used to describe

Fabiola helps her friend Gabrielle move to a new place when her relationship with Alberto ends. Fabiola is providing Gabrielle with which type of social support? a. b. c. d.

emotional informational instrumental all of the above

10. Which of the following apologies contains the components people look for in an apology, in order of importance? a. Sorry you found that remark insensitive. I will avoid that sort of straight talk with you in the future. b. I acted selfishly and didn’t consider your perspective. I will make things right and I am so sorry for being so thoughtless. c. Oh, l didn’t realize you would be offended. So sorry. d. We obviously had a misunderstanding but I will make things right. Sorry.

integration–separation dialectic stability–change dialectic expression–privacy dialectic dynamic–static dialectic

Grace and Zoe enjoy sharing their beliefs about spirituality, politics, and the meaning


emotional physical intellectual shared activities

a. messages that refer to other messages or communication about communication. b. the aspects of communication that convey how communication partners feel about one another. c. communication that helps maintain and repair relationships. d. communication that conveys emotional support.

handshakes and friendly facial expressions. small talk and searching for common ground. engagement and marriage. avoidance and personal space.

Sal has reinterpreted Akeno’s unwillingness to share some information about parts of his past as an interesting and admirable quality rather than feeling hurt and excluded by his privacy. Which of the following strategies has Sal used to manage this tension in her relationship with Akeno?



Which of the following statements is true regarding why we form relationships?

a. b. c. d.

The hallmark of the “experimenting” stage of relational development is



of life with each other. They find these discussions interesting and they feel secure knowing they can safely share their deeply held beliefs with each other. Their relationship involves which type of intimacy?

Answers: 1. c; 2. c; 3. b; 4. b; 5. d; 6. a; 7. c; 8. a; 9. c; 10. b




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• Student Activities reinforce concepts and ideas through practical, interactive exercises. • Discussion Questions draw out key issues while encouraging readers to form their own conclusions about interpersonal communication • Journal Ideas encourage students to think in depth about concepts and strategies discussed in the chapter and how they relate to their personal goals. 272

8 | Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships

PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

ACTIVITIES 1. Critical Thinking Probe Some critics claim that Knapp’s model of relational stages is better at describing romantic relationships than other types. Use a variety of romantic and non-romantic interpersonal relationships from your experience to evaluate the breadth of his model. If the model does not describe the developmental path of all types of interpersonal relationships, can you suggest alternative models? 2. Invitation to Insight How do you manage the dialectical tensions in your important relationships? Is there a pattern to what you and the other person do, or does it depend on the type of relationship you have? Identify at least two dialectical tensions in two different relationships— one relationship, perhaps, with a person with whom you work closely, and the other with a romantic partner. How is each tension managed? Which approach do you and your partner tend to use (denial, disorientation, alternation, segmentation, balance, integration, recalibration, or reaffirmation)? What seem to be the conditions that determine which method you and your partner use? 3. Ethical Challenge Consider the notion that we often face conflicting goals when we communicate in an attempt to meet our own needs and those of others. Use the information found on pages 259–62 to identify a situation in which your personal goals conflict with those of another person. What obligation do you have to communicate in a way that helps the other person

reach their goals? Is it possible to honour this obligation and still try to satisfy your own needs? 4. Skill Builder Describe three unexpressed relational messages in one or more of your interpersonal relationships. a. Explain how you could have used metacommunication to express each one. Consider skills you learned in other chapters, such as perception checking, “I” language, and paraphrasing. b. Discuss the possible benefits and drawbacks of this kind of metacommunication in each of the situations you identified. On the basis of your discussion here, what principles do you believe should guide your decisions about whether and when to focus explicitly on relational issues? 5. Role Play Choose a partner. Pretend you don’t know each other and you want to initiate contact with this person in class. What strategies might you use? (Review the strategies listed on pages 253–5.) Role-play your attempts to initiate contact. Which strategies worked well? Are there any you would not try in this context? Now reverse roles and think of another context or situation in which your partner might want to initiate contact with you (e.g., at work, at a party). Role-play initiating contact in this new situation. Afterward, again analyze the strategies that worked, those that didn’t, and the ones that felt appropriate or inappropriate in this situation, and discuss why.


Why do we form relationships with other people?


Describe the four different types of intimacy presented in this chapter and give an example of each from your own relationships. Do you



think an ideal intimate relationship would include all four? Why or why not? 3.


Describe the dialectical tensions that exist in one of your relationships (e.g., with your parents, a friend, or a romantic partner). How do you manage these tensions in that relationship?


Despite its importance, metacommunication is not a common feature of most relationships. Why do you think this is?


Review the strategies for relationship maintenance and repair described on pages 265–70. Which do you use in your most satisfying

relationships? Which, if any do you use in your least satisfying relationships? Is there a relationship between the number of maintenance strategies you use and your satisfaction with your relationships? Why or why not? 7.

While forgiveness has tremendous benefits it can be challenging. Are some transgressions in relationships easier for you to forgive than others? What factors might contribute to individual differences in people’s ability to forgive?


You can get a sense of how your desires for both intimacy and distance operate by reflecting on a relationship with an important person you see regularly. For this journal exercise you might choose a friend, family member, or romantic partner. For at least a week, chart how your communication with this relational partner reflects your desire for either intimacy or distance. Use a 7-point scale, in which behaviour seeking high intimacy receives a 7 and behaviour designed to avoid physical, intellectual, and/or emotional contact receives a 1. Use ratings from 2 to 6 to represent intermediate stages. Record at least one rating per day, making more detailed entries if your desire for intimacy or distance changes during that period. What tactics did you use to establish or maintain distance? After charting your communication, reflect on what the results tell you about your personal desire for intimacy and distance. Consider the following questions: •

Was there a pattern of alternating phases of intimacy and distance during the time you observed?


Was this pattern typical of your communication in this relationship over a longer period of time? Does your communication in other relationships contain a similar mixture of intimacy and distance? Most importantly, are you satisfied with the results you discovered in this exercise? If you are not satisfied, how would you like to change your communication behaviour?

Choose one of the dialectal tensions described in this chapter and describe how it operates in one of your close relationships. Review this journal entry in a couple of weeks and see if the tension has changed. If so, how has it changed? Why do you think it has changed? If no change has occurred, why do you think it has remained so stable? Are there environmental factors that influence how these competing needs affect this relationship? If so, what are they?

Do you think Knapp’s model of the stages of relational development can be adapted to collectivist cultures? Why or why not?

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Publisher’s Preface

Resources for Instructors and Students Interplay is part of a comprehensive package of learning and teaching tools that includes resources for both students and instructors, all available on the book’s Ancillary Resource Centre, at:

For the Instructor • An “Instructor’s Manual” includes lecture suggestions, additional questions for encouraging class discussion, and lists of complementary web and video resources for each chapter. • A “Test Bank” offers a comprehensive set of multiple-choice, true-or-false, short-answer, and essay questions for every chapter. • PowerPoint slides, summarizing key points from each chapter and incorporating figures and tables from the textbook, are available to adopters of the text. • An Image Bank featuring all of the photos, figures, and cartoons used in the text. Instructors should contact their Oxford University Press sales representative for details on these supplements and for login and password information.

For the Student • A “Student Study Guide” offers self-testing study questions, chapter overviews, links to useful resources, and case study exercises with sample scenarios.


Preface It has been a pleasure and a privilege to research and update this latest Canadian edition of Interplay. Now, perhaps more than at any other time in my life, I believe in the importance of a collective, lifelong commitment to developing and refining our interpersonal communication knowledge and skills. While I have long believed effective interpersonal communication skills are the foundation of meaningful personal relationships, increasingly I see how much they support mutual respect, co-operation, and civility generally. Learning more about interpersonal communication is an investment that benefits us both personally and collectively and I want to thank those of you who read this book for your commitment to this endeavour. I also want to express my gratitude to the many people who contributed to this fifth edition for their involvement. To the reviewers, Michael Lee (University of Winnipeg), Bev Snell (Red River College), and those who wished to remain anonymous, you gave me excellent advice, identified gaps, and helped me better understand how you use this textbook; thank you. To the remarkably talented team at Oxford University Press, Toronto—Phyllis Wilson, Stephen Kotowych, Liz Ferguson, Emily Kring, Katherine Kawalerczak, and Michelle Welsh—your intelligence, creativity, and expertise have made this edition even better than the last. I’m particularly grateful to Amy Hick for her intelligent and careful editing, superb suggestions, and for being such a pleasure to work with. It has been my tremendous good fortune to work with such an outstanding team. I would also like to thank my friends and colleagues who never fail to make my life interesting and fun. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Jonathan Lau for his research support, and Juanita Wattam-­ Simeon for making my working life so enjoyable. Bernice Cipparrone McLeod and Fidelia Torres gave me valuable feedback and Susan Heximer and Jessica Paterson shared e­ xcellent resources that have made this edition more inclusive and up-to-date. I would also like to thank Chris Sinclair for helping me make the many decisions that are part of writing. Finally, to my family, Gerlando, Owen, and Oliver, no matter what kind of day I have you make it a better one, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to know and love you. Connie Winder George Brown College, Toronto


Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Sam Edwards/iStockphoto



Interpersonal Process

CHAPTER OUTLINE Why We Communicate Physical Needs Identity Needs Social Needs Practical Needs

The Communication Process A Model of Communication Insights from the Transactional Communication Model Communication Principles

The Nature of Interpersonal Communication Quantitative and Qualitative Definitions Personal and Impersonal Communication: A Matter of Balance Communication Misconceptions

Interpersonal Communication and Technology Characteristics of Computer-Mediated Communication

Interpersonal Communication and Cultural Diversity Culture Intercultural Communication Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication

Comparison of Canadian and US Culture Attitudes toward Violence Acceptance of Diversity Relative Status of Men and Women

Communication Competence Communication Competence Defined and Described Characteristics of Competent Communication

KEY TERMS asynchronous channel co-culture cognitive complexity communication competence computer-mediated communication (CMC) content dimension culture dyad environment ethnocentrism in-groups intercultural communication interpersonal communication media richness

mediated communication multimodality noise (external, physiological, psychological) out-groups permanence prejudice qualitative interpersonal communication quantitative interpersonal communication relational culture relational dimension self-monitoring social media stereotyping synchronous transactional communication


Identify examples of the physical, identity, social, and practical needs you attempt to satisfy by ­communicating Explain the interpersonal communication process: its transactional nature, governing principles, and characteristics Describe the degrees to which your communication is qualitatively impersonal and interpersonal Explain the advantages and drawbacks of various types of computer-mediated communication compared to face-to-face communication Define culture and co-culture, and explain the concept of degrees of intercultural communication Compare Canadian and American perceptions of violence, diversity, and the relative status of men and women and explain how these differences affect our interpretation of American interpersonal communication research findings Identify principles of communication competence and characteristics of competent communicators


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

t­ eamwork/relationship-building skills were ranked first among the abilities employers were looking for in both entry-level and mid-level hires. This same study noted that new graduates were most likely to lack “human skills,” which include interpersonal communication and relationship skills. More than four decades of research have identified the lack of effective communication as central to relational breakups, including divorce (Gottman, 2003). In addition, workplace communication errors contribute to interpersonal conflict, loss of productivity, and unnecessary waste, and in fields such as aviation (Tiewtrakul and Fletcher, 2010) and health care, even loss of life (Carter et al., 2009; Vilensky and MacDonald, 2011). If you pause now and make a mental list of communication problems you’ve encountered, you’ll see that, no matter how successful your relationships are at home, with friends, at school, or at work, there is plenty of room for improvement in your everyday life. The information that follows will help you improve the way you communicate with some of the people who matter most to you.

Why We Communicate Research demonstrating the importance of ­communication has been around longer than you might think. Frederick II, e­ mperor of the Holy Roman E ­ mpire from 1220 to 1250, carried out ­language deprivation experiments. A medi­ eval historian described one of his dramatic, and inhumane, ­ ­ experi-­ ments:

© lechatnoir/iStockphoto

Everyone communicates. Students and professors, parents and children, employers and employees, friends, strangers, and enemies—we all communicate. We have been communicating with others from the moment of our birth and will keep on doing so until we die. Why study an activity you’ve been doing your entire life? You might be surprised just how much there is to learn about one of our most fundamental activities. First, you will discover there is no evidence to support some widely held assumptions about communication. For example, more communication is not always better, communication will not solve all problems and effective communication is not a natural ability. You will also learn about decades of research evidence confirming the necessity of interpersonal communication and meaningful relationships in maintaining our health, well-being, and longevity. In this sense, exploring human communication is rather like studying anatomy or botany—everyday objects and processes take on new meaning. A second, more compelling reason for studying interpersonal communication is that all of us could learn to communicate more effectively. A survey by the Business Council of Canada (2018) revealed that once job candidates had met the threshold for vocationally specific skills, ­ interpersonal/

Interpersonal communication occurs when people treat one another as unique individuals, regardless of the context or the number of people involved. Why should we study something that happens every day?

He bade foster mothers and nurses to suckle the children, to bathe and wash them, but in no way to prattle with them, for he wanted to learn whether they would speak the Hebrew language, which was the oldest, or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perhaps the language of their parents, of whom they had been born. But he laboured in vain because all the children died.

1 | Interpersonal Process

For they could not live without the petting and joyful faces and loving words of their foster mothers. (Ross and McLaughlin, 1949, p. 366)

Contemporary researchers have found less drastic ways to illustrate the importance of communication, but have found similarly disturbing effects of social isolation. During the 1950s as part of an effort to understand “brainwashing,” Donald Hebb, a psychologist at McGill University, conducted a study in which student volunteers were paid to spend days or weeks by themselves deprived of stimulation including meaningful human contact. Most volunteers only lasted a few hours, few lasted more than two days, and none of them lasted a week (Bond, 2014). Participants quickly became anxious, acutely restless, and began to experience hallucinations. Afterwards they suffered from prolonged anxiety, high levels of emotionality, and had difficulty completing cognitive tasks such as arithmetic problems. The study was quickly cut short due to the extreme distress participants experienced. Accounts from prisoners of war held in solitary confinement attest to the risks human beings are willing to take to communicate with others. Prisoners have described the unique torment of prolonged solitary confinement as more unbearable than other tortures and deprivations. They have described tapping on walls to spell out words and risking torture and even death for doing so because the need to communicate is so fundamental to human survival (McCain, 1999). Researchers have identified solitary confinement, unlike other captivity stressors such as physical abuse and deprivation of food, as negatively affecting long-term cellular aging (Stein et al., 2018). Prisoners have reported preferring to be brutally interrogated and physically tortured rather than spend time in solitary confinement (Bachar and Aherenfeld, 2010). Indeed, courts in Ontario and British Columbia have recognized the devastating psychological harm caused by solitary confinement, as has the United Nations (Proctor, 2018). The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules (the Nelson Mandela Rules) define solitary as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact” (United Nations

Office on Drugs and Crime, 2016). The Mandela Rules include indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement in the list of prohibited cruel, inhumane, or degrading punishments or tortures. Meaningful human contact is a necessity of life and many would argue a basic human right. Although it is true that all of us need some solitude, often more than we get in this always-on world, each of us has a point beyond which we do not want to be alone. Beyond this point, solitude changes from a pleasurable to a painful condition. In other words, we all need people. We all need to communicate.

Physical Needs Communication is so important that its presence or absence affects physical health. Studies confirm that people who process a negative experience by talking about it report improved life satisfaction, as well as enhanced mental and physical health, compared to those who only think about it (Lyubomirsky et al., 2006; Sousa, 2002). A study conducted with police officers found that being able to talk easily to colleagues and supervisors about ­work-related trauma was connected to better physical and mental health (Stephens and Long, 2000). Even when we have not experienced anything particularly stressful or traumatic, spending time engaged in conversations with others has benefits. Ten minutes of talking a day, face to face or on the phone, improves memory and improves people’s intellectual functioning (Ybarra et al., 2008). Without regular, meaningful social contact, we suffer. Physicians have identified a higher prevalence of health problems among people who report feeling socially isolated. Loneliness in childhood and adolescence results in poorer sleep, symptoms of depression, and poorer overall health. In older adults, loneliness is associated high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, dementia, impaired immunity, and earlier mortality (Hawkley and Capitanio, 2015; Luo et al., 2012). Evidence gathered by numerous researchers over many decades shows that satisfying relationships can literally be a matter of life and death (e.g., Cohen et al., 1997; Hall and Havens, 2002; Holt-Lunstad



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

et al., 2015; Maté, 2003; Robles, 2010: Rosenquist et al., 2011; Yang et al., 2016). For example: • People who lack strong relationships run a greater risk of early death than people who are obese or exposed to air pollution. • Divorced, separated, and widowed people are 5 to 10 times more likely to need p ­ sychiatric hospitalization than their happily married ­counterparts. • People with more supportive social networks are less susceptible to depression and cognitive decline. • Pregnant women under stress and without supportive relationships have three times as many complications as pregnant women who suffer from the same stress, but have strong social support. • Socially connected people’s wounds heal faster. • Socially isolated people are four times as susceptible to the common cold as those who have active social networks. Research like this demonstrates the importance of satisfying personal relationships, and it explains the conclusion of social scientists that communication is essential for health. Not everyone needs the same amount of contact, and the quality of communication is almost certainly as important as the quantity. Nonetheless, the point remains: personal communication is essential for our well-being. As distinguished psychologist John Cacioppo says, “Social connection is to humans what water is to fish: you don’t notice it until it’s missing and then you realize it’s really important” (Bielski, 2018).

Identity Needs Communication does more than enable us to survive. It’s the way—indeed, the major way—we learn who we are (Fogel et al., 2002; Khanna, 2004, 2010). As you’ll read in Chapter 2, our sense of identity comes from the way we interact with other people. Do we think of ourselves as clever or foolish, skilful or inept, attractive or ugly? The answers to these questions don’t come from looking in the mirror. We decide who we are on the basis of how others react to us.

Deprived of communication with others, we would have no sense of identity. This is illustrated by the famous Wild Boy of Aveyron, who spent his early childhood without any apparent human contact. The boy was discovered in January 1800 when he was digging for vegetables in a French village garden. He showed no behaviour one would expect in a social human. He could not speak, but uttered only weird cries. More significant than this absence of social skills was his lack of any identity as a human being. As author Roger Shattuck (1980, p. 37) put it, “The boy had no human sense of being in the world. He had no sense of himself as a person related to other persons.” Only through the influence of a loving “mother” did the boy begin to behave—and, we can imagine, think of himself— as a human. Modern stories support the essential role that communication plays in shaping identity. In 1970, the authorities discovered a 12-year-old girl (whom they called Genie) who had spent virtually all her life in an otherwise empty, darkened bedroom with almost no human contact. The child could not speak and had no sense of herself as a person until she was removed from her family and “nourished” by a team of caregivers (Rymer, 1993). Like Genie and the Wild Boy of Aveyron, each of us enters the world with little or no sense of identity. We gain an idea of who we are from the way others define us. As we explain in Chapter 2, the messages children receive in their early years are the strongest identity shapers, but the influence of others continues throughout our lives.

Social Needs Some social scientists have argued that besides helping define who we are, communication is the principal way relationships are created (Duck and Pittman, 1994; Hubbard, 2001). For example, Julie Yingling (1994) asserts that children “talk friendships into existence.” Canadian teenagers value friendships the most, ahead of a comfortable life, recognition, and excitement (Bibby, 2001), and they spend a great deal of time developing and maintaining these relationships through communication. As we discuss in Chapter 8,

1 | Interpersonal Process

sometimes we deal with social needs directly by discussing our r­ elationships with others. But more often, communication satisfies a variety of social needs without our ever addressing them overtly. Communication helps us to help and be helped by others, to feel included and worthwhile, to have fun and relax with others, and to exert influence and control in social situations (Rubin et al., 1988). Because relationships with others are so vital, some theorists have gone so far as to argue that c­ ommunication is the primary goal of human existence. Anthropologist Walter Goldschmidt (1990) calls the drive for meeting social needs “the human career.” Positive social interaction and ­support appear to be the strongest determinants of quality of life (Leung and Lee, 2005). Beyond our immediate circle of contacts, we can satisfy social needs by communicating with a larger community. Yet there appears to be an increasing trend in North American society for people to live more socially isolated lives than their parents and grandparents did (Putnam, 2000). Since the 1950s, we eat together less often, belong to fewer social clubs, and enjoy fewer visits from friends (Putnam, 2000). Large-scale social ­changes such as industrialization, capitalism, and the proliferation of cheap and efficient transportation have changed the communities in which we live. Many of us live farther away from our families, friends, and places of work than our ancestors did. In addition, advances in technology have allowed us to do our banking, shop for groceries, visit the library, and be entertained and go to school and work without leaving our homes. While there are numerous advantages to being able to connect to the world remotely, there is increasing evidence that active, meaningful face-to-face involvement with other people is essential to our happiness, resilience, well-being, and longevity (Burke at al., 2010; Sagioglou and Greitemeyer, 2014; Pinker, 2015; Turkle, 2011, 2015).

Practical Needs We shouldn’t overlook the everyday, important functions of communication. It is the tool that lets us tell the hairstylist to take just a little off the sides,

direct the doctor to where it hurts, and inform the plumber that the broken pipe needs attention now! Beyond these obvious needs, a wealth of research demonstrates that communication is an essential part of effectiveness in a variety of daily situations. Canadian employers have identified interpersonal communication skills as essential in helping graduating university and college students gain employment and advance in their careers (Business Council of Canada, 2018; Employment and Social Development Canada, 2014; Munroe and Watt, 2014).). The ability to communicate effectively, establish and maintain relationships, and work effectively in teams distinguishes successful job candidates and employees from their less successful peers. More importantly, workplace errors by professionals ranging from pilots to surgeons more frequently involve failures in communication than technical errors alone (Wilson, Whyte, Gangadharan, and Kent, 2017). Communication is just as important outside of work. Decades of research findings suggest that married couples who communicate effectively are more likely to enjoy greater marital satisfaction than couples who lack effective communication skills (Kirchler, 1988; Litzinger and Gordon, 2005; Rehman and Holtzworth-Munroe, 2007; Ridley et al., 2001). Same-sex couples’ satisfaction with their long-term relationships (both studies mentioned were done in the US before same-sex marriage was legalized there) is also strongly influenced by their communication and problem-solving skills (Peplau and Fingerhut, 2007; Quam et al., 2010). On the scholastic front, college and university students are more likely to successfully complete their programs when they are engaged in both academic and social activities, such as interacting regularly with faculty and peers and engaging in campus activities (Demetriou and Schmitz-Sciborski, 2011; Tinto, 1993). Students who are able to cultivate and maintain strong, supportive relationships are also more likely to be successful in their academic pursuits (Bíró., Veres-Balajti, and Kósa, 2016; DaSilva, Zakzanis, Henderson and Ravindran, 2017). Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1968) suggests, in a theory called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that human needs fall into five categories, each



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

of which must be satisfied before we concern ourselves with the next one. As you read on, think about the ways in which communication is often necessary to satisfy each need. The most basic needs are physical: sufficient air, water, food, and rest, and the ability to reproduce as a species. The second category of Maslow’s needs involves safety: protection from threats to our well-being. Beyond physical and safety concerns are the social needs we have already mentioned. After those necessities are met, Maslow suggests that each of us has the need for self-esteem: the desire to believe that we are worthwhile, valuable people. The final category of needs involves self-actualization: the desire to develop our potential to the maximum, to become the best people we can be.

CHECK IT! Why do we communicate? Describe the four types of needs communication helps us to meet.

The Communication Process So far, we have talked about communication as if its meaning were perfectly clear. In fact, scholars have debated the definition of communication for years with no simple conclusions (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008). One thing is clear: human communication is a complex process with many components. In this section, we’ll discuss some features and principles of communication.

A Model of Communication As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” That’s what scientists had in mind when they began creating models of the communication process in the 1950s. The early models were simplistic, linear, and u ­ nidirectional—illustrating something the sender of a message did to a passive receiver. Subsequent models were more interactional, with senders and receivers taking turns, but still characterized communication as

s­ equential. However, as you know, many of today’s ­exchanges involve communication partners sending and receiving messages simultaneously. Over time, communication models have become increasingly sophisticated in an attempt to represent all the factors that affect human interaction. No model can completely represent the process of communication, any more than a map can capture everything about the neighbourhood where you live. Still, the model in Figure 1.1 provides a starting point for explaining the insights and principles discussed below.

Insights from the Transactional Communication Model Figure 1.1 illustrates a number of important characteristics of communication. As you read on, note how the following insights help explain the richness of this process.

Sending and Receiving Are Usually ­Simultaneous In the following scenarios, ask yourself who is sending a message and who is receiving one. • A teacher is explaining a difficult concept to a student after class. • A parent is lecturing a teenager about the family’s curfew rules. • A salesperson is giving a customer information about a product. The natural impulse is to identify the teacher, parent, and salesperson as senders, while the student, teenager, and customer are receivers. Now imagine a confused look on the student’s face; the teenager interrupting defensively; the customer blankly staring into the distance. It’s easy to see that these verbal and non-verbal responses are messages being “sent,” even while the other person is talking. Because it’s often impossible to distinguish sending from receiving, our communication model replaces these roles with a more accurate word: communicator. This term reflects the fact people can simultaneously be senders and receivers who exchange multiple messages.

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Communicator sends, receives , assigns meaning

Communicator sends, receives, assigns meaning Channel(s)




A’s Environment


B’s Environment

FIGURE 1.1  Communication Model

Meanings Exist in and among People Messages, whether they are verbal or non-verbal, don’t have meanings in themselves; rather, meanings reside in the people who express and interpret them. Imagine that a friend says “I’m sorry” after showing up two hours late for a pre-arranged meeting. There are several possible “meanings” that this expression might have: a genuine apology, an insincere attempt to defuse your anger, or even a sarcastic jibe. It’s easy to imagine that your friend might mean one thing and you might have a different interpretation of it. The possibility of multiple interpretations means that it’s often necessary to negotiate a shared meaning in order for satisfying communication to occur.

Environments Affect Communication Problems often arise because communicators occupy different environments (sometimes called contexts)—that is, fields of experience that help them make sense of other people’s behaviour. In communication terminology, environment refers not only to a physical location, but also to the personal experiences and cultural backgrounds that the participants bring to a conversation. Environments aren’t always obvious. For example, playing a co-operative versus a competitive game creates

different communication environments, as do the values, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds and personal histories of the players. Notice how the model in Figure 1.1 shows that the environments of A and B overlap. This intersecting area represents the background that the communicators have in common. If this overlap didn’t exist, communication would be difficult, if not impossible. Whereas similar environments facilitate satisfying communication, different backgrounds can make effective communication more challenging. Consider just some of the factors that might contribute to different environments and to difficulties: • A might belong to one cultural group and B to another. • A might be rich and B poor. • A might be rushed and B have nowhere to go. • A might have lived a long, eventful life, and B might be young and inexperienced. • A might be passionately concerned with the subject and B indifferent to it.

Noise Affects Communication Another factor that makes communication difficult is what scientists call noise—anything that



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

interferes with the transmission and reception of a message. Three types of noise can disrupt communication. External noise includes those factors outside the receiver that make it difficult to hear or listen, as well as many other kinds of distractions. For instance, someone sitting next to you and speaking loudly on their phone, or a siren going by may prevent you from hearing a speaker’s remarks. Physiological noise involves biological factors in the receiver that interfere with accurate reception, such as hearing loss, illness, and so on. Psychological noise refers to cognitive factors that make communication less effective. For instance, a person being spoken down to or disrespected may become so irritated that they have trouble listening objectively to the rest of a speaker’s message.

Channels Make a Difference Communication scholars use the term channel to describe the medium through which messages are exchanged (Ledbetter, 2014). Along with faceto-face interaction, we can exchange messages using mediated communication. Mediated channels include the telephone, text messaging, email, and social media platforms. The communication channel being used can affect the way a receiver responds to a message (O’Sullivan, 2000). For example, ending a relationship by sending your ex-lover a text message makes a different statement than delivering the bad news in person, and receiving criticism on social media is a very different experience compared to receiving the same information in an email sent only to you. Most people intuitively recognize that the selection of the channel depends on the kind of message they are sending and the relationships between sender and receiver. Generally, we build trust through face-to-face interactions (Brooks et al., 2017) and people prefer to share highly emotional messages (e.g., romantic break-up, resigning from a job) in face-to-face encounters or telephone conversations but, as we’ll discuss a bit later in this chapter, all channels have their advantages and disadvantages for both the sender and the receiver.

Communication Principles In addition to the insights offered by the communication model, there are other principles that guide our understanding of communication.

Communication Is Transactional As we saw in the model of communication introduced earlier in this chapter, communication is transactional communication—that is, a dynamic process created by the participants through their interaction with one another. Perhaps the most important consequence of the transactional nature of communication is the degree of mutual influence that occurs when we interact. To put it simply, communication isn’t something we do to others; rather, it’s an activity we do with them. In this sense, communication is rather like dancing— at least, the kind of dancing we do with partners. Like dancing, communication depends on the involvement of a partner. A great dancer who doesn’t consider and adapt to the skill level of his or her partner can make both of them look bad. In communication and dancing, even two talented partners don’t guarantee success. When two skilled dancers perform without coordinating their movements, the results feel bad to the dancers and look foolish to an audience. Finally, relational communication—like ­dancing—is a unique creation that arises out of the way in which the partners interact. The way you dance probably varies from one partner to another because of the co-operative, transactional nature of dancing. Likewise, the way you communicate almost certainly varies with different partners. As we’ll examine later in this chapter, the ability to adapt increases your competence as a communicator. Psychologist Kenneth Gergen (1991) captures the transactional nature of communication well when he points out how our success depends on interaction with others: “One cannot be ‘attractive’ without others who are attracted, a ‘leader’ without others willing to follow, or a ‘loving person’ without others to affirm with appreciation” (p. 158). The transactional nature of relationships requires that we communicate with other people, not to them.

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REFLECTION CHOOSING THE CHANNEL I’m an average person in just about every way, except that I have a speech impediment. I have good days and bad days with my speech. On the bad days, I get the idea that strangers think I’m slow and incompetent, even though people who know me don’t think I’m either. Texting and email have become a very satisfying way for me to communicate, especially with people I don’t know very well. With text messages and email, people can form opinions about me without thinking just about how I sound. I’ve found that my impediment isn’t a problem once people know me, but at first, I think it is a real barrier; text and email remove that barrier completely.

CHECK IT! When developing a model for interpersonal communication, what insights regarding the nature of interpersonal communication must we consider, and why?

Communication Can Be Intentional or Unintentional Some communication is clearly deliberate: you probably plan your words carefully before asking your manager for a raise or offering constructive criticism. Some scholars (e.g., Motley, 1990) argue that only intentional messages like these qualify as communication. However, others (e.g., Baxter and Montgomery, 1996; Buck and VanLear, 2002) suggest that even unintentional behaviour is communicative. Suppose, for instance, that a friend overhears you muttering complaints to yourself. Even though you didn’t intend her to hear your remarks, they certainly did carry a message. In addition to these slips of the tongue, we unintentionally send many non-verbal messages. You may not be aware of your sour expression, impatient

shifting, or sigh of boredom, but others notice them nonetheless. Even the seeming absence of a behaviour has communicative value. Recall the times when you sent an email or left a voicemail message and received no reply. You probably assigned some meaning to the lack of a reply. Was the other person angry? Indifferent? Too busy to reply? Whether or not your hunch was correct, the point remains that all behaviour has communicative value. “Nothing” never happens. In this book, we will look at the communicative value of both intentional and unintentional behaviour. We take the position that whatever you do—whether you speak or remain silent, confront or avoid a person, show emotion or keep a poker face—you provide information to others about your thoughts and feelings. In this sense, we’re like transmitters that can’t be shut off.

Communication Has a Content and a ­Relational Dimension Virtually all messages have a content dimension which involves the information being explicitly discussed (e.g., “Please pass the salt,” “Not now, I’m tired,” “You forgot to buy milk”) and a relational dimension (Watzlawick et al., 1967), which expresses how you feel about the other person (e.g., whether you like or dislike him or her, feel in control or subordinate, feel comfortable or anxious, and so on). For instance, consider how many different relational messages you could communicate by simply saying “thanks a lot” in different ways. Sometimes, the content of a message is all that matters. For example, you may not care how the person behind the counter feels about you, as long as you get your order. In a qualitative sense, however, the relational dimension of a message is often more important than the content under discussion. This explains why disputes over apparently trivial subjects become so important. In such cases, we’re not really arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes or whether we should go out or stay in. Instead, we’re disputing the nature of the relationship. Who is in control? How important are we to each other? In Chapter 8, we’ll explore several key relational issues in detail.


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

TAKE TWO DIMENSIONS OF EVERY MESSAGE • Content: refers to the information explicitly being discussed. • Relational: refers to how the communicators feel about each other.

Communication Is Irreversible We sometimes wish that we could back up in time, erasing words or acts and replacing them with better alternatives. Unfortunately, such reversal is impossible. Sometimes, further explanation can clear up the confusion or an apology can mollify another person’s hurt feelings, but other times, no amount of explanation can erase the impression you have created. It is no more possible to “unreceive” a message than to “unsqueeze” a tube of toothpaste. Words said and deeds done are irretrievable. Nowhere is this more evident than with social media. Once you have sent or posted that comment or those pictures they can live on forever, well beyond your control.

Communication Is Unrepeatable Because communication is an ongoing process, an event cannot be repeated. The friendly smile that worked so well when you met a stranger last week may not succeed with the person you encounter tomorrow. Even with the same person, it’s impossible to recreate an event. Why? Because both you and the other person have changed. You have both lived longer. The behaviour isn’t original. Your feelings about each other may have changed. You need not constantly invent new ways to act around familiar people, but you should realize that the “same” words and behaviour are different each time they are spoken or performed. Chapter 8 takes a closer look at communication as a dynamic and continuous process in the context of our relationships.



Consider a time when you wished to take back something you communicated to another person. How did it affect your relationships—both with that person and with others in your life?

CHECK IT! What are the five principles that guide our understanding of interpersonal communication? ­ Describe them and explain their significance.

The Nature of Interpersonal Communication Now that you have a better understanding of communication principles, it’s time to look at what makes some types of communication uniquely interpersonal.

Quantitative and Qualitative Definitions Interpersonal communication has been defined in two ways (Redmond, 1995). Most definitions describe a quantitative interpersonal communication as any interaction between two people. Social scientists call two people who are interacting a dyad, and they often use the adjective dyadic to describe this type of communication. So, in a quantitative sense, the terms dyadic communication and interpersonal

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Tom Toro The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank.

communication can be used interchangeably. If we use a quantitative definition, a sales clerk helping a customer or a police officer ticketing a speeding driver would be examples of interpersonal acts, whereas a teacher leading a class or an actor performing before an audience would not. Dyadic communication is different from the kind of interaction that occurs in larger groups (Wilmot, 1995). In a group, participants can form coalitions to get support for their positions. In a dyad, though, the partners must work matters out with each other. This difference explains why, if a task calls for competition, children prefer to play in three- or four-person groups, and if it calls for co-operation, they prefer to be in dyads (Benenson et al., 2000). Despite the unique qualities of dyads, you might object to the quantitative definition of interpersonal communication. For example, consider a routine transaction between a sales clerk and customer, or the rushed exchange when you ask a stranger on the street for directions. Communication of this sort hardly seems the same as when you talk to a friend about a personal problem or share with family members your experiences of a year in school. The impersonal nature of some two-person exchanges—the kind when you think, “I might as well have been talking to a machine”—has led some scholars (e.g., Miller and Steinberg, 1975; Stewart and Logan, 1998) to argue that quality, not quantity, is what distinguishes interpersonal communication. Qualitative interpersonal communication occurs when people treat one another as unique individuals, regardless of the context in which the interaction occurs or the number of people involved. When quality of interaction is the criterion, the opposite of interpersonal communication is impersonal interaction, not group, public, or mass communication.


Several features distinguish qualitatively interpersonal communication from less personal exchanges. The first is uniqueness. Whereas impersonal exchanges are governed by the kind of social rules we learn from parents, teachers, and etiquette guides, the way we communicate in a truly p ­ ersonal ­relationship is unlike our behaviour with ­anyone else. In one relationship, you might exchange good-­ natured insults, while in another, you are careful never to offend your compatriot. ­Communication scholar Julia Wood (2009) coined the term relational ­culture, in which people in close relationships create their own unique ways of i­ nteracting. A second characteristic of qualitatively interpersonal communication is irreplaceability. Because interpersonal relationships are unique, they cannot be replaced. This explains why we usually feel so sad when a close friendship or love affair cools down. We know that no matter how many other relationships we have in our lives, none of them will ever be quite like the one that just ended. Interdependence is a third characteristic of qualitatively interpersonal relationships. Here, the fate of the partners is connected. You


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

might be able to brush off the anger, affection, excitement, or depression of someone you’re not involved with interpersonally, but in an ­i nterpersonal relationship, the other’s life affects you. Sometimes, interdependence is a pleasure, and at other times, it’s a burden. In either case, interdependence is a fact of life in qualitatively interpersonal relationships. A fourth measure of interpersonal communication is disclosure of personal information. In impersonal relationships, we don’t reveal much about ourselves, but in many interpersonal ones, communicators feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. This does not mean

REFLECTION IRREPLACEABLE LOSS My dad died when I was 29 years old. Ever since I was a child, I had always thought I would never reach 30. Fortunately, I did and have made it well past, but something changed forever when I was 29. I lost a relationship that could never be replaced. After my dad died, I felt suddenly “grown up” or as if I didn’t have a “safety net” any more. Nothing had really changed in my life to account for this feeling of being on my own except the absence of my dad and our unique ways of interacting. No one else called me by the nickname he did. It was gone. Our ways of talking, our jokes, our shared memories seemed to be evaporating. I couldn’t hold on to them all by myself. I remembered sitting beside my dad at his mom’s funeral. I was 10 years old. I felt sad, but a bit relieved that she had died because she had been sick with Alzheimer’s disease for some time. It was the first funeral I had been to, and I was nervous, so I watched my dad carefully to see what to do. At one point in the service, he turned to me and with a wink said, “Well, I’m an orphan now.” (His father had deserted the family when he was a child.) I burst out laughing. Thinking back now, I wonder if there was a little tinge of truth in his joke. I wonder if he felt the same way I did when he died—all grown up and alone without that relationship to catch him if he fell.

that all interpersonal relationships are warm and caring, or that all self-disclosure is positive. It’s possible to reveal negative, personal information: “I’m really mad at you . . .” In impersonal communication, we seek payoffs that have little to do with the people involved. You listen to professors in class or talk to potential buyers of your used car in order to reach goals that have little to do with developing personal relationships. By contrast, you spend time in qualitatively interpersonal relationships with friends, lovers, and others because of the fifth characteristic of such communication, intrinsic rewards. It often doesn’t matter what you talk about, as developing the relationship is what’s important. As discussed in this book, interpersonal communication is interaction characterized by the qualities of uniqueness, irreplaceability, interdependence, disclosure, and intrinsic rewards. As such, it forms only a small fraction of our interaction. Most of our communication is relatively impersonal. We chat pleasantly with cashiers or fellow passengers on the bus, discuss the weather or current events with most classmates and neighbours, and deal with co-workers and teachers in a polite way; but considering the number of people with whom we communicate, interpersonal relationships are by far the minority.

TAKE TWO DEFINING INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION: QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY • Quantitative interpersonal communication: definitions focus on the ­ ­ number of people involved. • Qualitative interpersonal communication: ­definitions focus on the nature of the interaction between the people involved in terms of its uniqueness, irreplaceability, amount of disclosure, and intrinsic rewards, as well as the interdependence of the people involved.

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The rarity of qualitatively interpersonal communication is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us do not have the time or energy to create personal relationships with everyone we encounter. In fact, the scarcity of interpersonal communication contributes to its value. Like precious and oneof-a-kind works of art, qualitatively interpersonal relationships are special because they are rare.

Personal and Impersonal Communication: A Matter of Balance Now that the differences between qualitatively interpersonal and impersonal communication are clear, we need to ask some important questions. Is personal communication better than the impersonal variety? Is more personal communication the goal? Most relationships are neither personal nor impersonal. Rather, they fall somewhere between these two extremes. Consider your own communication and you will find that there is often a personal element in even the most impersonal situations. You might appreciate the unique sense of humour of a supermarket cashier or spend a few moments sharing private thoughts with the person cutting your hair. And even the most tyrannical, demanding, by-the-book manager might show an occasional flash of humanity. Just as there’s a personal element in many impersonal settings, there is also an impersonal side to our relationships with the people we care about most. There are occasions when we don’t want to be personal: when we’re distracted, tired, busy, or just not interested. In fact, interpersonal communication is somewhat like rich food—it’s fine in moderation, but too much can make you uncomfortable. The blend of personal and interpersonal communication can shift in various stages of a relationship. The communication between young lovers who talk only about their feelings may change as their relationship develops. Several years later, their communication has become more routine and ritualized, the percentage of time they spend on personal, relational issues drops, and the conversation about less intimate topics increases. In Chapter 8, we discuss how c­ ommunication c­ hanges as relationships pass through various stages; and in

Chapter 2, we describe various t­ heories of self-disclosure. As you read this i­nformation, you’ll see even more clearly that, while ­interpersonal communication can make life worth living, it isn’t possible or desirable all the time.

SELF-ASSESSMENT HOW INTERPERSONAL ARE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS? Select three important relationships to assess. These might include your relationships with people at work or school, with friends, or with your family. For each relationship, answer the following q ­ uestions: 1. To what extent is the relationship characterized by uniqueness? How much is this relationship one of a kind? Low level of High level of uniqueness 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 uniqueness 2. To what extent is the relationship ­irreplaceable? Very easy Very hard to to replace 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 replace 3. To what extent are you and your relationship partner interdependent; that is, to what extent do your actions affect the other? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 High Little interdependence interdependence 4. To what extent is communication in the relationship marked by high disclosure of personal information? Little High disclosure 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disclosure 5. To what extent does the relationship create its own intrinsic rewards? Little intrinsic High intrinsic value 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 value Referring to your answers, decide how q ­ ualitatively interpersonal (or how impersonal) each relationship is. (If you have more fives, sixes, and sevens in your answers, then your relationship is more interpersonal. If you have more ones, twos, and threes, then the relationship is more impersonal.) How satisfied are you with your findings? What can you do to improve your s ­ atisfaction with these relationships?



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Communication Misconceptions Now that we have described what communication is, we need to identify some things that it isn’t. Avoiding these common misconceptions (adapted from McCroskey and Richmond, 1996) can save you a great deal of trouble in your personal life.

Not All Communication Seeks Understanding Most people operate on the implicit, but flawed, assumption that the goal of all communication is to maximize understanding between communicators. While some understanding is necessary for us to coordinate our interaction, there are some types of communication in which understanding as we usually conceive it is not the primary goal. ­Consider, for example, the following situations: • The social rituals we enact every day: “How’s it going?” you ask. “Great,” the other person replies. The primary goal in exchanges like these is mutual acknowledgement: there is obviously no serious attempt to exchange information. • Many attempts to influence others: A quick analysis of most commercials and advertisements shows that they are aimed at persuading viewers to buy products, not helping viewers understand the content of the ad. In the same way, many of our attempts to persuade others to act as we want don’t involve a desire to get the other person to understand what we want—just to comply with our wishes. • Deliberate ambiguity and deception: When you decline an unwanted invitation by saying, “I can’t make it,” you probably want to create the impression that the decision is really beyond your control. (If your goal were to be perfectly clear, you might say, “I don’t want to get together. Truthfully, I’d rather do almost anything than accept your invitation.”) In fact, we often equivocate precisely because we want to hide our true thoughts and feelings (this is explained in detail in Chapter 9).

REFLECTION ONLINE REGRET I’ve been told that real world regret often involves sadness and shame about what we didn’t do (e.g., didn’t visit an ill relative, failed to speak up as a bystander), but that online regret is all about wishing we hadn’t done something. I know that is true in terms of my experiences posting and tagging pictures on social media and I’ve resolved to never post or tag before asking. I’ve legitimately angered friends by posting or tagging pictures of us doing dumb things over the years but my worst offence, and one in which I really didn’t foresee the potential negative consequences, involved posting pictures of my sister’s kids. I really hadn’t thought through the possibility of those cute pics being used for inappropriate or illegal purposes, or even the chances of my nieces and nephews being bullied or harassed because of what I did. And it never crossed my mind that my picture sharing could lead to strangers stealing these pics and posting them as their own (which is known as digital kidnapping). I have learned the hard way that you can’t really take anything back on the internet—in terms of our digital lives communication really is irreversible!

More Communication Is Not Always Better While failure to communicate effectively can certainly cause problems, too much communication can also be a mistake. Sometimes, excessive communication is simply unproductive, as when two people go over the same ground again and again without making progress. There are other times when talking too much actually aggravates a problem. We’ve all had the experience of “talking ourselves into a hole”—making a bad situation worse by pursuing it too far. As McCroskey and Wheeless (1976, p. 5) put it, “More and more negative communication merely leads to more and more negative results.” There are even times when no interaction is the best course. When two people are angry and hurt, they may say things they don’t mean and will later regret. In such cases, it’s

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TAKE TWO Not all communication seeks understanding. Some examples include: • everyday social rituals; • persuasion and coercion; and • deliberate ambiguity and deception.

probably best to spend time cooling off, thinking about what to say and how to say it. In Chapter 4, we will help you decide when and how to share feelings.

Communication Will Not Solve All Problems Sometimes, even the best-planned, best-timed communication won’t solve a problem. For example, imagine that you ask an instructor to explain why you received a poor grade on a project you believe deserved top marks. The instructor clearly outlines the reasons why you received the low grade and sticks to that position after listening thoughtfully to your protests. Has communication solved the problem? Hardly. Sometimes, clear communication is even the cause of problems. Suppose, for example, that a friend asks you for an honest opinion of an expensive outfit they just bought. Your clear and sincere answer, “I think it’s a terrible colour on you,” might do more harm than good. Deciding when and how to self-disclose isn’t always easy. See Chapter 2 for suggestions.

Effective Communication Is Not a Natural Ability Most people assume that communication is an aptitude that is developed without the need for training—rather like breathing. Although nearly everyone does manage to function passably without much formal communication training, most people operate at a level of effectiveness far below their potential. In fact, communication skills are similar to athletic ability. Even the least gifted among us can improve with training and practice.

Interpersonal Communication and Technology The relationship between human communication and technology is a very long one. From cave art and hieroglyphics through to the printing press and social networks, humans have engaged in invention to support their desire to communicate. In the interpersonal realm, until a few decades ago, face-to-face communication seemed essential to starting and maintaining most, if not all, personal relationships. Other channels did exist, primarily telephone or postal correspondence, but most interpersonal communication seemed to require physical proximity. Face-to-face communication is still vitally important, but increasingly technology also plays a role in starting and maintaining relationships. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) provides us with other ways to interact both socially and at work. CMC describes any communication that involves two or more electronic devices. Social media is the term that describes all online communication channels that allow community-based input, interaction, content sharing, and collaboration. Mediated communication technologies allow people to communicate with each other privately, in curated social networks, and publicly 24/7. Some critics argue that the almost hypnotic attraction of the internet and social media discourages people from spending time face to face with others. Problematic internet use, which is internet use that interferes with the ability to accomplish daily routines, is associated with social anxiety, loneliness, and depression, but sorting out whether the internet is the cause or symptom of such problems is difficult (Tokunaga, 2014). For some individuals, internet use can and does interfere with the quality of their face-to-face personal relationships. Email, text messages, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and online video games are ways to stay in touch and interact with others, but, as Sherry Turkle (2011, 2015) and Susan Pinker (2014) point out, they are no substitute for real conversation and physical human connection. You can’t give someone a hug, wipe away their tears, or really share all the sensations of a delicious meal without being in their company.


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

On the other hand, there is considerable research that suggests that mediated communication can actually enhance interpersonal communication in certain contexts. Social networking creates opportunities for people to connect with friends and relatives anywhere globally, anytime. In addition, it allows people to interact with individuals they may never have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. They can share interests, develop businesses, build and maintain friendships and romantic relationships (Anderson and Rainie, 2018). While there is growing evidence that there is no substitute for faceto-face communication for our long-term health and well-being (Pinker, 2014), mediated communication plays a vital role in establishing and maintaining our interpersonal relationships.

Characteristics of Computer-Mediated Communication Like face-to-face communication, mediated communication contains the same elements described in the communication model introduced earlier in this chapter (communicators, environments, messages, channels, and noise). It also satisfies the same physical, identity, social, and practical needs. Despite these similarities, mediated communication differs from the in-person variety in some important ways. Table 1.1 provides an overview of differences by communication channel. Each channel has its advantages and drawbacks and you can boost your communication effectiveness by choosing the channel that is best, depending on the nature of the message, the recipient, and the situation.

in Chapter 7, face-to-face communication is rich in non-verbal messages. By c­ omparison, most mediated channels are leaner. Text-based messages are inherently leaner than verbal messages delivered on the phone, via video chat/conferencing, or in person. Even with the addition of embedded images and brief videos (e.g., emojis, gifs, memes, etc.), text-based messages lack many of the more nuanced non-verbal cues that help communicators better understand each other’s intentions and emotions, and thus are more easily misunderstood. For some people the absence of non-verbal cues such as voice tone, facial expressions, etc., makes text-based communication more comfortable. For shy individuals in particular, use of text-based channels can actually enhance the quality of their friendships and reduce their anxiety about participating in discussions (Hammick and Lee, 2014). However, pared down, text-based communication creates more opportunities for misunderstanding. Without non-verbal cues, it’s easier to misinterpret messages, particularly those that might be interpreted as conveying humour, irony, or sarcasm. When choosing the best channel to send a message it’s important to consider the advantages and drawbacks of each and keep in mind that we tend to interpret positive text-based messages as more neutral than intended and neutral messages as more negative than intended (Byron, 2008).

Morsa Images/iStockphoto


Leanness Social scientists use the term media richness to describe the abundance of non-verbal cues that add clarity to a message (Otondo et al., 2008). Conversely, leanness describes messages that carry less information due to the lack of non-verbal cues. As you’ll read

A lot of people argue that the internet has a negative effect on communication, while others argue that now we can communicate better than we ever have before. What do you think?

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TABLE 1.1  Characteristics of Communication Channels Synchronization



Face to Face




Video Chat


Moderately rich




Moderately lean




Moderately lean


Text/Instant Messaging

Asynchronous (but potentially quick)







Social Networking

Typically asynchronous

Lean (but can include photos and videos)


Asynchronicity Asynchronous communication occurs when there is a time gap between when the message was sent and when it is received. Email, voicemail, snail mail, text messages, and social networking posts are asynchronous. By contrast, synchronous communication occurs in real time. In-­ person communication, phone calls, and video chat/ conferencing are ex­amples of synchronous communication. Asynchronous messages are different from synchronous messages because you have more time to respond to them as well as the option to not respond at all. But as we discussed earlier this chapter, not responding is still communicating—all behaviour has communicative value. Asynchronous messages give us a chance to think about our responses and they also allow us to share information with people in different time zones in ways that were previously impossible. For example, recent immigrants to Canada are more likely to use the internet (email, text messaging, and Skype) every day to communicate with relatives and friends abroad (Canadian Internet R ­ egistration Authority, 2018; Statistics Canada, 2008). CMC provides not only increased opportunities for communication locally, but also the ability to maintain relationships over long distances.

Permanence A third difference between face-to-face and mediated communication is permanence, or how long the message endures. Unlike our face-to-face

c­ onversations, the messages, photos, and videos we post or send to each other can be saved indefinitely. This can be a tremendous advantage. For example, when your doctor or specialist electronically records your conversation about a health condition you’re able to access it anytime in the future; or when you’ve forgotten where to meet your friend you can look up the address she texted to you earlier. But there are obvious disadvantages too. Regretting information posted on social media is common, more so among young people (under 25 years) (Chou et al., 2019; Xie and Kang, 2015). The most common regrets involve posting about sensitive topics, content with strong sentiment, lies, and personal secrets (Wang et al., 2011), often impulsively. We’ve all heard of social media missteps that have hurt people’s relationships with family, friends, and colleagues or adversely affected their reputations or careers. In more extreme instances, others can intercept information. For instance, a study conducted by Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) found that 89 per cent of the sexually explicit photos and videos of young people they found on public websites were self-­ generated (e.g., selfies, sexting messages sent privately). These images had never been intended for public viewing (IWF, 2015), but were still accessible and distributed by unintended viewers. Even with privacy settings and other safeguards, the reality is we don’t control the information we share online, it can potentially be accessed by anyone, and it can never truly be deleted from the internet. We’ll look at some of these challenges when we discuss



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

­ ersonal disclosure in Chapter 2, and when we p examine communication climates and conflict in later chapters. In the meantime, however, it’s wise to be cautious and considerate online and remember

that despite feeling private and transitory, the online world is public and potentially permanent. Think twice before communicating something that might haunt you for a lifetime.

FOCUS ON RESEARCH OUR DIGITAL LIVES AND INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION Although this textbook is not specifically focused on the impact of technology on communication we will certainly discuss both the benefits and challenges of digital life on specific elements of interpersonal communication and our relationships with others. Research on the effects of technology and the internet on everything from children’s development to dating to business success has increased exponentially in recent years. In terms of the impact on communication and interpersonal relationships, the findings are mixed in terms of benefits versus detriment. Janna Anderson, director of Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Centre, and Lee Rainie, director of Internet and Technology Research at the Pew Research Centre (2018), canvased technology experts, scholars, and health specialists and asked them to respond to the following: Please share a brief personal anecdote about how digital life has changed your daily life, your family’s life or your friends’ lives in regard to well-being—some brief observation about life for self, family or friends. Tell us how this observation or anecdote captures how hyperconnected life changes people’s well-being compared to the way life was before digital connectivity existed. They received responses from 1,150 people from around the world, the majority of whom (79 per cent) were based in North America. Their respondents included people from a wide cross-section of ­occupations including professors, teachers, research scientists, futurists, consultants, advocates, activists, technology developers, administrators, ­ entrepreneurs, business leaders, authors, editors, journalists, legislators, politicians, and lawyers.

Analysis of the responses revealed that 47 per cent of their respondents predicted people will be more helped than harmed by digital life in the next 10 years, 32 per cent predicted the reverse (more harmed than helped), and the remaining 21 per cent predicted no change in people’s well-being as a result of digital life. These investigators identified a number of themes in the responses related to the ways digital life helps us or harms us, as well as respondents’ ideas about potential remedies to mitigate the harm. Those most relevant to our focus on interpersonal communication include the potential of digital life to increase our ability to meet and maintain our connections with others, thereby increasing our connectedness, self-fulfillment, and contentment. On the negative side, digital life has the potential to increase our stress (overload), possibly erode our face-to-face communication skills, and diminish our trust in others. Included below is a small selection of quotes from some of Anderson and Rainie’s (2018) respondents that help illustrate the positive and negative impacts of digital life on our interpersonal lives. . . . I have met and developed relationships with people outside any sphere of reference I never would have had thanks to my digital life. . . . When forced to only have relationships with people you can meet in person, you tend to live in a more-narrow world, with people more like you. Digital communications broadens your horizons, or it can if you want it to. I often find myself stressed out at the end of the day; as a result I tend to enjoy relaxing and staying in for the night. Without the modern hyperconnected lifestyle this would result

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in me reading or doing other solo activities. Through voice-chat applications and online multiplayer gaming, I connect with friends to play video games. While I don’t have the energy to be social in one way, the ease of connecting over the internet enables me to enjoy time with friends and maintain our relationships. My family and I use our smartphones to send photos, video chat and send text messages on a daily basis, allowing us to stay in contact more frequently. . . . On the negative side, I look at headlines way too much as a form of stimulus any time I have a second to spare— even when I’m with my children. I’d say I’m less present, less able to focus on reading long form text, than I was before my smartphone came into my life. My brother spent a period between graduating school and obtaining a job idly watching screens and interacting only via them. He spent all day and into the night constantly immersed in this. The TV was always on in the background while he played intense online video games on his laptop, while also continuously texting or messaging others about the game. Technology became his life. It was difficult to separate him from his virtual world and to interest him in physical human interaction. He became grumpy, began sleeping less and less, and stopped dedicating time to his own physical needs. Although it was a scary time, he was later able to pull himself out of it and eventually reconnect with the real world. While he was lucky to be able to quit, some are not able to do so. I have a young friend who lives in another state in a rural area. Over time, I have realized from their social media posts that he/she is emerging as gender non-conforming. In the past, this is a journey that I would probably not have known about, especially since his/her immediate family is very conservative and have not accepted this facet of the young person’s identity. I am so grateful to have been included in this revelation so I can offer my unconditional love and support. And I am even more grateful that a person who in the past would have felt

isolated, unnatural, and broken now knows that they are in fact part of a global community. He/ she can find and utilize peer support groups as well as myriad medical, psychological and spiritual resources that would not have been available to someone in a small town in the past. I believe this will probably save lives. I definitely hope that it will help increase our ability as a society to accept others who don’t conform to our preconceived notions of what is normal. Anderson and Rainie (2018b) report that even respondents who predicted that human well-being will be harmed also pointed out that digital tools will continue to improve some aspects of our lives and that there is no turning back. In terms of how we mitigate the dangers of our digital lives some respondents identified education as a key mechanism. The primary change needs to come in education. From a very early age, people need to understand how to interact with networked, digital technologies. They need to learn how to use social media, and learn how not to be used by it. They need to understand how to assemble reliable information and how to detect crap. They need to be able to shape the media they are immersed in. They need to be aware of how algorithms and marketing—and the companies, governments, and other organizations that produce them—help to shape the ways in which they see the world. Unfortunately, from preschool to grad school, there isn’t a lot of consensus about how this is to be achieved. We are hopeful that learning more about interpersonal communication will help you to take advantage of the benefits of digital life and support you in mitigating the potential harm to your relationships, health, and over all well-being. Critical thinking: Can you think of a brief personal anecdote about how digital life has affected your daily life, your family’s life, or your friends’ lives with regard to well-being? What are your predictions in terms of digital life being a helpful or harmful ­influence on our interpersonal communication and relationships? Why?



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

CHECK IT! What is the general consensus regarding the effects of technology on interpersonal ­communication?

Interpersonal Communication and Cultural Diversity Almost a half century ago, communication guru Marshall McLuhan (1964) coined the metaphor of the world as a “global village” where members of all nations are connected by communication technology. Just as with members of a traditional village, McLuhan suggested, the affairs and fates of the occupants of Planet Earth are connected— for better or worse. This analysis has proved to be increasingly true in the years since McLuhan introduced it. The growth in communication technology, including international telephone service, the internet, and global media coverage brings the world into our homes. Although relatively cheap transportation has reduced the barrier of distance, thus making travel easier for more people than ever before, Canadians don’t need to go far to be exposed to the global village. Demographic changes have been transforming Canada into a microcosm of the global village. At the time of the last national census, one-fifth of Canadians identified themselves as immigrants (Statistics Canada, 2018). Canada is increasingly a nation of people with diverse ethnic origins with Canadians reporting over 250 different ethnic origins and ancestries, and four in ten people identified more than one ancestry at the time of the most recent census (Statistics Canada, 2017). The Canadian concept of multiculturalism, where people value, celebrate, and preserve their cultural heritage rather than becoming assimilated into the dominant culture, helps to create this microcosm of global diversity. Over the past 30 years, Canadians have expressed increasingly positive attitudes toward newcomers (Environics Institute, 2018). Economic integration also creates ties that bind nations and people. National economies are increasingly ­connected with and

affected by developments around the world. According to Industry Canada, no other major economy is as trade-oriented as Canada. The country depends on international trade to grow and prosper; because Canada’s economy is very small, domestic-based companies increasingly enter global markets in order to remain viable and competitive (Kingston, 2017). Given all this information, it makes sense to examine how interpersonal communication operates between members of different cultures. Throughout this book, we will see that when people from different backgrounds interact, they face a set of challenges that are often different from when members of the same culture communicate.

Culture Defining culture is not an easy task. For our purposes, Larry Samovar and his colleagues (2012) offer a clear and comprehensive definition of culture as “the language, values, beliefs, traditions, and customs people share and learn.” This definition shows that culture is, to a great extent, a matter of perception and definition. When you identify yourself as a member of a ­culture, you must not only share certain characteristics, but you must also recognize yourself, and others like you, as possessing these features; and see others who don’t possess them as members of different categories. For example, height doesn’t seem like a significant factor in distinguishing “us” from “them,” whereas skin colour is often considered significant—at least in some cases. It’s not hard, though, to imagine some future society where height is the differentiating feature. Social scientists use the term in-groups for groups with which we identify and out-groups for those that we view as different (Tajfel and Turner, 1992). Social scientists use the term co-culture to describe the perception of membership in a subgroup that is part of an encompassing culture. For example, North American culture includes categories based on a number of factors including but not limited to: •  age (e.g., teen, senior citizen) •  ethnicity (e.g., South Asian, Indigenous)

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•  sexual orientation (e.g., LGBTQ+, heterosexual) •  geographic region (e.g., Northerner, Quebecker) •  physical disability (e.g., person who uses a wheelchair, person who is blind) •  religion (e.g., Muslim, Catholic) •  profession (e.g., nurse, musician) Members of co-cultures develop distinctive communication patterns and membership in these groups enriches people’s lives and provides meaningful connections. There also can be tensions between membership in co-cultures and the larger culture. Children of recent newcomers to Canada face these tensions as they navigate between the languages, values, beliefs, traditions, and customs of their schools, friends, and homes. Tensions between members of different co-cultural groups can also occur. For instance, a potential barrier to effective interprofessional teamwork in health care stems from differences in values and in the educational training systems of the various health care professionals tasked to work together. The traditional culture of physician training has focused on a task-oriented approach to patient care and an authoritarian decision-making model that can create friction with nurses and social workers whose training focused more on relationships and patient self-determination (Hall, 2005). When we think of culture in this way, it becomes apparent that most of us live our lives as members of many cultural and co-cultural groups. No single label or category can fully explain someone’s identity—they are all woven together. As we’ll see in Chapters 2 and 3, it’s important to understand how this shapes our identities and our perceptions of others, and ultimately how this influences our interpersonal communication.

Intercultural Communication Having defined culture, we can go on to define intercultural communication as the process by which members of two or more cultures exchange messages in a manner that is influenced by their different cultural perceptions and symbol systems, both verbal and non-verbal (Samovar et al., 2012).

Note that intercultural communication (at least as we’ll use the term here) doesn’t always occur when people from different cultures interact. The cultural backgrounds, perceptions, and symbol systems of the participants must have a significant influence on the exchange before we can say that culture has made a difference. Consider a few examples where culture does and doesn’t play a role: • A group of preschool children is playing in a park. These three-year-olds don’t realize that their parents may have come from different countries or even that they don’t all speak the same language. At this point, we couldn’t say that intercultural communication is taking place. Only when different norms become apparent—about diet, sharing, or parental discipline, for example—do the children begin to think of one another as different. • Members of a school basketball team from a variety of cultural backgrounds—some East Asian, some South Asian, some Caribbean, and some European—are intent on winning the league championship. During a game, cultural distinctions aren’t important. There’s plenty of communication, but it is not fundamentally intercultural. Away from their games, the players are friendly when they meet, but they rarely socialize. If they did, they might notice some fundamental differences in the way members of each cultural group communicate. • A husband and wife were raised in homes with different religious traditions. Most of the time their religious heritage makes little difference and the partners view themselves as a unified couple. Every so often, however—perhaps during holidays or when meeting members of each other’s family—the different backgrounds are highlighted. At those times, we can imagine the partners feeling quite different from each other—thinking of themselves as members of separate cultures. These examples show that in order to view ourselves as members of a culture, there has to be some distinction between “us” and “them,” between inand out-group. We may not always be able to say precisely what the differences are. We may have



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

only a feeling that something is different. There are occasions when cultural influences are powerful, but so subtle that they go unrecognized.

Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication


At this point, you may be wondering whether there is any communication that is not intercultural, or at least co-cultural. Indeed, there are many cases when communication isn’t influenced by intercultural considerations. Even in an increasingly diverse world, there are still plenty of relationships in which people share a basically common background. The people who gather to play bocce ball at the local Italian community centre, the Irish marchers in a St Patrick’s Day parade, or the group of people from a small town who knit together on Wednesday evenings are likely to share similar personal histories, norms, customs, and values. Even when people with different cultural backgrounds communicate, those differences may not

be important. David may be a Jewish man whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe, while Lisa is a third-generation Japanese-Canadian woman whose parents are practising Christians, but they have created a life together that transcends their differences, and that enables them to deal comfortably with those differences when they do arise. Rather than classifying some exchanges as intercultural and others as free from cultural influences, we may more accurately talk about degrees of cultural significance (Lustig, Koester, and Halualani, 2018). Encounters can fit along a spectrum of interculturalness. At the most intercultural end are situations where differences between the backgrounds and beliefs of communicators are high. A traveller visiting a new country for the first time with little knowledge of local society would be an obvious example. At the least intercultural end of the spectrum fall exchanges where cultural differences matter little. A student from Montreal who attends a small university in the Maritimes may find life somewhat different, but the adjustment would be

This group could be participating in intercultural communication or in co-cultural communication. Can they ­participate in both?

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Parent and child discuss their changing relationship.

Husband and wife from different cultural backgrounds develop mutual understanding.

Over time, able-bodied and disabled fellow employees develop ways to work effectively together.

Traveller unintentionally violates customs of a culture that he or she doesn’t understand.

English-speaking caller requests directory assistance from English-speaking telephone operator.



FIGURE 1.2  Possible Interactions among Interpersonal and Intercultural Dimensions of Person-to-Person ­Communication

far less difficult than that for the international traveller. In between these extremes falls a whole range of encounters in which culture plays varying roles. What is the relationship between intercultural communication and interpersonal relationships? William Gudykunst and Young Kim (2003) summarize an approach that helps answer this question. They suggest that interpersonal and intercultural factors combine to form a two-by-two matrix in which the importance of interpersonal communication forms one dimension and intercultural significance forms the other (see Figure 1.2). This model shows that some interpersonal transactions (for example, a conversation between two siblings who have been raised in the same household) have virtually no intercultural elements. Other encounters (such as a traveller from Senegal trying to get directions from an Iranian-Canadian taxi driver in Vancouver) are almost exclusively intercultural, without the personal dimensions that we discuss throughout this book. Still other exchanges—the most interesting ones for our purposes—contain elements of both intercultural and interpersonal communication. This range of encounters is broad in the global village:

business people from different backgrounds try to wrap up a deal; Canadian-born and immigrant children learn to get along in school; health care educators seek effective ways to serve patients from around the world; neighbours from different racial

TAKE TWO CONCEPTS IN INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION • Culture: the language, values, beliefs, traditions, and customs people share and learn. • In-groups: groups of people with whom we identify. • Out-groups: groups of people whom we view as different. • Co-culture: a subgroup that is part of an encompassing culture. • Intercultural communication: the process by which members of two or more cultures exchange messages in a manner that is influenced by their different cultural perceptions and symbol systems.


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

or ethnic backgrounds look for ways to make their streets safer and cleaner; middle-class teachers seek common ground with students from low-­ income neighbourhoods—the list seems almost ­endless. In situations like these, ­communicators are trying to establish some degree of relationship and ­understanding. Donald Reilly/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank.


Comparison of Canadian and US Culture Since the population of the United States is roughly ten times that of Canada and five times that of the United Kingdom (Index Mundi, 2017), it follows logically that a very large proportion of the research on interpersonal communication in Western culture has been conducted with US citizens. Canadians have a much smaller database of homegrown studies to inform them about their interpersonal communication practices. So, to what extent can we apply US findings to the Canadian context? In order to answer this question, we need to examine the similarities and differences between the two cultures, particularly in areas that are relevant to interpersonal communication. There are differences between American and Canadian values in a few key areas that influence how individuals from each country might judge the appropriateness and effectiveness of various types of interpersonal communication differently. So, how exactly are Canadian values similar to US values, and how are they different? There has been considerable discussion, debate, and research comparing the values and behaviour of Canadians and Americans (Adams, 2003, 2017; Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2014). The consensus appears to be that, although the two cultures are very similar when placed in the context of the many cultures in the world (Hofstede, 1980, 2001), there are some differences that are important to many Canadians. For instance, Michael Adams, founder of the nonprofit social research organization Environics Institute, has reported on large social values surveys conducted in Canada and the United States over a 20-year period beginning in 1992, with the most recent survey being administered in both countries

in 2016. He and his Environics colleagues have used those surveys in combination with individual interviews and previously compiled Canadian survey findings (dating back to 1983) to conduct a comparative analysis of Canadian and American culture and to track shifts in social values (Adams, 2003, 2017). Values were defined as “ideas that motivate people to behave the way they do, good, bad or neither” (Adams, 2003, p. 12). Large, diverse, and representative samples of Canadians and Americans were questioned about a wide variety of social values and Canadian survey data is publicly available on the Envrionics Institute’s website. Canadians and Americans described ­different values, attitudes, and beliefs in a variety of areas. Some of the most significant in terms of their impact on interpersonal communication are attitudes toward violence, tolerance of diversity, and the relative status of men and women.

Attitudes toward Violence Michael Adams (2003, 2017) argues that Canadians are markedly differentiated from Americans by their attitudes toward violence. Generally,

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fewer Canadians perceive that they are surrounded by violence than do their US counterparts. Canadians are less likely to perceive violence as a normal part of everyday life or as a way of solving problems. When compared with Americans, far fewer Canadians endorsed the view that “violence is a part of everyday life— it’s no big deal.” This was particularly true when comparing the attitudes of young Canadian and American men (ages 15 to 24). Thirty-four per cent of young American men endorsed the view that violence was an acceptable part of everyday life whereas 13 per cent of young Canadian men shared that view (Adams, 2014).

Acceptance of Diversity Canadians consistently express more positive attitudes toward immigration (Adams 2007b, 2010, 2017; Environics Research Institute, 2018; Pew Research Centre, 2003; Soroka and Robertson, 2010) when compared to the United States and many Western countries. Public opinion surveys conducted over the past two decades suggest that the majority of Canadians endorse the idea that immigrants have a good influence on their country. The majority of Americans surveyed did not appear to share that belief (Parker et al., 2018). Americans were also more likely to report that they believe newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American customs and values. Even if respondents in both countries were not being completely truthful in order to appear more socially acceptable, Canadians appear to believe that in Canadian culture, intolerance of immigrants is not socially acceptable. It is important to note that these data have the potential to be misleading, because they might be interpreted to imply that Canadians are neither ethnocentric, nor racist and prejudiced toward immigrants and minorities. There is abundant evidence that Canadians can be ethnocentric, racist, and prejudiced (Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2017). However, it appears that Canadians are different from Americans to the extent to which we believe these things are not acceptable in Canada. In addition to being open-minded toward cultural diversity, Canadians are more accepting of

diversity in people’s sexuality than Americans. Data from World Values Surveys indicate that Canadians are more open-minded toward LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, agender, gender queer, bigender, gendervariant, pangender) people than are Americans (Ingelhart, 2014). Canadian attitudes both influence and are influenced by Canadian laws that guarantee equal rights to all people regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, including the right to be legally married and to be protected against discrimination in employment and housing. LGBTQ+ people do not have these same legal protections in all states in the US. Canada provides a gender neutral option on passports (“x”) and other government issued documents for individuals who do not identify as male (“m”) or female (“f”) (McQuigge, 2017). Again, greater acceptance of sexual diversity and fluidity in gender identity in Canada does not mean that LGBTQ+ people do not experience prejudice and discrimination, but it does appear that Canadians are aware that these negative attitudes and prejudiced behaviours are wrong. The majority of Canadians also want their communities to be fully accessible to people with disabilities and want Canada to be a leader on this front (Angus Reid, 2015). Significantly more Canadians with disabilities are employed compared to Americans with disabilities but Canadians acknowledge that we still have a long way to go on this front (McQuigge, 2017; United States Department of Labor Statistics, 2018). And, unlike the United States, which has a single dedicated federal law protecting the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of Canadians with disabilities are only protected at the federal level under the general umbrella of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most provinces, other than Ontario, do not have specific legislation focusing solely on protecting the rights of people with disabilities (Malhotra and Rowe, 2014).

Relative Status of Men and Women There is growing recognition in Canada and throughout the world that the binary gender



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

c­ategorizations of “male” and “female” and the characteristics we have learned to associate with those categories can be unnecessarily restrictive. In Chapter 3 we discuss how generalizations about groups or categories of people negatively affect the accuracy of our perceptions. Despite the limitations and inaccuracies of this way of categorizing human beings, gender is one the most salient characteristics children and adults use to cluster individuals (Ellemers, 2018). A great deal of research has been conducted using this binary classification, on everything from discrimination and equal rights to interpersonal communication and human relationships, and some of that information informs the content of this book. Discrimination against women exists in Canada, but Canadians are less willing than their US counterparts to endorse a view of patriarchal authority (the father must be master in his own home) or a view that men are naturally superior to women. According to the Environics 2016 survey data, 23 per cent of Canadians and 50 per cent of Americans said the father of a household must be the boss (Adams, 2017). Adams (2003, 2005, 2017) argues that Canadians’ more egalitarian views regarding the status of women and their unwillingness to endorse traditional family models of patriarchal authority have contributed to making us take a more inclusive view of what constitutes a family. More Canadians support the view that common-law partners and samesex couples are “proper” families (Adams, 2003, 2017; Mitchell, 2014). At the same time that we see differences, we are also aware that in a global context, the values that are the basis for Canadian society are perceived as more similar to those of US society than to those of many other cultures (Grabb and Curtis, 2010; Ingelhart et al., 2014). When we look at the cultural dimensions such as individualism versus collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, and “power distance” (social hierarchy), Canada and the United States have very similar rankings. Geert Hofstede and his colleagues used extensive statistical data to examine cultural values in 53 different countries around the world (Hofstede, 1984, 2001, 2011; Hofstede et al., 2010). One value dimension they measured indicates

the extent to which people’s personal goals take priority over their allegiance to the group, “that is, individualism as opposed to collectivism.” The United States, Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, and Canada all rank very high in promoting individualism. Similarly, Canada and the United States are similar in regard to the degree to which their respective cultures are tolerant of uncertainty compared to countries such as Portugal, Greece, and Japan, which are classified as uncertainty avoidant. Finally, power distance, which is a concept similar to that of social hierarchy, is also very similar in the United States and Canada, whose cultures are more egalitarian than cultures such as India and Mexico but less egalitarian when compared to Israel, Denmark, and New Zealand. We will discuss these cultural dimensions in more detail in Chapter 2. Given the similarities between the two cultures, at least in a global context, it seems fair to assume US interpersonal communication research findings have at least some applicability to Canadians. At the same time, it’s important to be sensitive to the fact that there are real and significant differences between the two cultures and to keep a critical eye open to the possibility that these cultural differences might influence our interpretations and the applicability of US research findings in a Canadian context.

CHECK IT! What differences have been noted between Canadian and US values, and why do they matter?

Communication Competence “What does it take to communicate better?” is probably the most crucial question to ask as you read this book. Answering it has been one of the leading challenges for communication scholars. While all the answers aren’t in yet, research has discovered a great deal of important and useful information about communication competence.

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Communication Competence Defined and Described Most scholars agree that communication competence is the ability to achieve goals in a manner both effective and appropriate (Spitzberg, 2000). To understand these two dimensions, consider how you might handle everyday communication challenges, such as declining an unwanted social invitation or asking a friend to stop an annoying behaviour. In cases like these, effective communication would get the results you want. Appropriate communication would do so in a way that, in most cases, enhances the relationship in which it occurs. You can appreciate the importance of both appropriateness and effectiveness by imagining approaches that would satisfy one of these criteria, but not the other. Effectiveness without appropriateness might satisfy your goals but leave others unhappy. Conversely, appropriateness without effectiveness might leave others content, but you frustrated. With the goal of balancing effectiveness and appropriateness, in the following paragraphs we outline several important characteristics of communication competence.

Motivation and Open-Mindedness Are Key In order to become a more competent communicator, you must have some desire to improve your communication skills with a variety of people. You need to be open to new ways of thinking and behaving. Without an open-minded attitude, a communicator will have trouble interacting competently with people from different backgrounds. To understand open-mindedness, it is helpful to consider three traits that are incompatible with it. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own culture is superior to others. An ethnocentric person thinks—either privately or openly—that anyone who does not belong to his or her in-group is somehow strange, wrong, or even inferior. Ethnocentrism leads to an attitude of p ­ rejudice— an unfairly biased and intolerant a­ ttitude toward others who belong to an out-group. (Note that the root term in prejudice is “pre-judge.”) An important element of prejudice is ­stereotyping—exaggerated

TAKE TWO OBSTACLES TO OPEN-MINDEDNESS • Ethnocentrism: the belief that one’s own culture is superior to others. • Prejudice: an unfairly biased and intolerant attitude toward others who belong to an out-group. • Stereotyping: exaggerated generalizations about a group.

generalizations about a group. Stereotypical prejudices include the obvious exaggerations that all women are emotional, all men are sex-crazed and insensitive goons, all older people are out of touch with the modern world, and all gay men are flamboyant. Stereotyping can even be a risk when it comes to one’s knowledge of the cultural characteristics within one’s own milieu, which we explore in Chapter 2. Despite general similarities within a culture, not every individual group member shares the same values and beliefs. It’s encouraging to know that open-minded communicators can overcome pre-existing stereotypes and learn to appreciate people from different backgrounds as individuals.

There Is No Single Ideal or Effective Way to Communicate Your own experience shows that a variety of communication styles can be effective. Some very successful communicators are serious, while others use humour; some are gregarious, while others are quieter; and some are more straightforward, while others hint diplomatically. Just as there are many kinds of beautiful music or art, there are many kinds of competent communication. Furthermore, a type of communication that is competent in one setting might be a colossal blunder in another. The joking insults you routinely trade with one friend might offend a sensitive family member, and last Saturday night’s romantic approach would probably be out of place at work on Wednesday morning. No list of rules or tips will guarantee your success as a communicator.



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Flexibility is especially important when members of different cultures meet. Some communication skills seem to be universal (Ruben, 1989)—for example, every culture has rules that require speakers to behave appropriately. But the definition of what kind of communication is appropriate in a given situation varies considerably from one culture to another (Gudykunst, 2003). On an obvious level, customs like belching after a meal or appearing nude in public, which might be appropriate in some parts of the world, would be considered outrageous in others. But there are more subtle differences in competent communication. For example, qualities like self-disclosure and speaking in a straightforward manner— much valued in North America—are likely to be considered overly aggressive and insensitive in many Asian cultures, where subtlety and indirectness are considered important (Kim et al., 1998; Merkin et al., 2014). Culture has a significant influence on how we experience our personal relationships. Knowledge of people’s cultural backgrounds and coculture memberships is helpful in becoming a more competent communicator. If, for example, you understand that a potential friend’s background is likely to regard displays of respect as especially important, or that maintaining eye contact with a supervisor might be considered disrespectful in some cultures, you can adjust your communication accordingly. Competent communicators are able to adapt their style to suit the individual and cultural preferences of others (Chen, 1997; Friedman et al., 2018).

Competence Is Situational Because competent behaviour varies so much from one situation and person to another, it’s a mistake to think that communication competence is a trait that a person either possesses or lacks (Spitzberg, 1991). It’s more accurate to talk about degrees or areas of competence. You and the people you know are probably quite competent in some areas and less so in others. For example, you might deal quite skilfully with peers, but at the same time feel clumsy interacting with people much older or younger,

wealthier or poorer, or more or less “attractive” than you. In fact, your competence may vary from situation to situation. This means it’s an overgeneralization to say, in a moment of distress, “I’m a terrible communicator!” It’s more accurate to say, “I didn’t handle this situation very well, but I’m better in others.”

Competence Requires Mindfulness Knowledge of how to communicate with people from different backgrounds is often ­ “culturespecific,” to use Samovar and his ­colleagues’ terminology (2012). The rules and customs that work with one group might be quite different from those that succeed with another. The ability to “shift gears” and adapt one’s style to the norms of another culture or co-culture is an essential ingredient of communication competence (Kim et al., 1996). How can a communicator acquire the culture-specific information that leads to competence? One important element is what Stella Ting-Toomey (1999) and others call mindfulness— awareness of one’s own behaviour and that of others. Communicators who lack this quality blunder mindlessly through intercultural encounters, oblivious of how their own behaviour may confuse or offend others, and how behaviour that they consider bizarre may simply be different from their norm. Strategies to help increase your mindfulness might include observing what members of a different culture do and using these insights to communicate in ways that are most effective. In  addition, you can formally study a culture by ­taking courses or informally by travelling, reading, and having contact with people from different cultural groups (Ting-Toomey and Chung, 2012).

Competence Can Be Learned To some degree, biology is destiny when it comes to communication style (Beatty and McCroskey, 1997). Studies of identical and fraternal twins suggest that some traits, including sociability, a short temper, and the ability to relax seem to be partially a function of our genetic makeup. Fortunately, biology isn’t the only factor that shapes how we communicate. Communication competence is, to

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a great degree, a set of skills that anyone can learn (Fortney et al., 2001). For instance, problem-based simulations have been shown to reduce communication apprehension in nursing students (Kim et al., 2018). In fact, direct instruction in interpersonal communication skills has demonstrated benefits for individuals working in a variety of professions (Clayton et al., 2012; Jin et al. 217; Seenan et al., 2016). Even without systematic training, it’s possible to develop communication skills through the processes of observation and trial and error. We learn from our own successes and failures, as well as from observing other models—both positive and negative. Of course, it’s our hope that you will become a more competent communicator by reading and applying what you learn from this book too.

Characteristics of Competent Communication Despite the fact that competent communication varies from one situation to another, scholars have identified several common denominators that characterize effective communication in most ­contexts.

A Large Repertoire of Skills As we’ve already seen, good communicators do not use the same approach in every situation. They know that it’s best sometimes to be blunt and, at other times, to be tactful—that there is a time to speak up and a time to be quiet. The chances of behaving competently increase with the number of options you have about how to communicate (Pillet-Shore, 2011). For example, if you want to start a conversation with a stranger, your chances of success increase as you have more options available. All it might take to get the conversational ball rolling is a self-introduction. In other cases, seeking assistance might work well: “I’ve just moved here. What kind of neighbourhood is the east end?” A third strategy is to ask a question about some situational feature: “I’ve never heard this band before. Do you know anything about them?” You could also offer a sincere compliment and follow it up with a question: “Great

shoes! Where did you get them?” Just as a chef has a wide range of herbs and spices to choose from, a competent communicator can draw from a large array of behaviours.

Adaptability Having a large repertoire of possible behaviours is one ingredient of competent communication, but you have to be able to choose the right one for a particular situation (Hendon et al., 2017). Communicators who are able to take another person’s perspective and adapt their communication accordingly experience fewer interpersonal misunderstandings and are able to resolve conflicts effectively (Edwards et al., 2017). Effective communication means choosing the right response for the situation. These choices include the channel you select for a particular message too. Each of us has our preferred modes of communication. Some preferences, such as use of social media, appear to be influenced by age. Canadians aged 18 to 36 are more likely to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram compared to adults who are 37 years of age or older (Poushter et al., 2018). Communication scholars suggest the willingness to embrace a variety of communication channels, referred to as multimodality, makes us more effective as communicators (Chan, 2015). As we discussed ­earlier in this chapter, choosing the best channel for your message involves considering both content and relational aspects of the message. As a rule of thumb, more complex and personal messages usually require richer and more synchronous channels, such as face-to-face and phone conversations (Eden and Vesker, 2016). It is wise to consider your recipient’s preferences and the context of the communication. For instance, in most workplaces email, phone, and voicemail are still traditionally preferred whereas texting and use of social media may be considered inappropriate or unprofessional, depending on the nature of the work (DeClerq, 2018; Gale, 2017; Wayne, 2014). Another component of adaptability is being able to accept uncertainty and ambiguity sometimes. Our desire for certainty and clarity in communication with others can make us uncomfortable in




PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

­erson’s point of view (Davis p 1983; Edwards et al., 2017). We’ll discuss empathy and perspective taking in more detail in Chapter 3. For now, it’s important to understand that empathy and perspective taking are essential skills because people may not always clearly express their thoughts and feelings. Using cognitive and emotional processes to discover more about others’ experiences helps us communicate our interest in others, better understand them, and respond appropriately. Empathy has been associated with enhanced personal relationWhich characteristics of competent communication might be most relevant ships and prosocial behaviour and to these communicators? can be increased through training (Teding van Berkhout and unfamiliar situations where we’re unsure about Malouff, 2016). Empathy has also how to communicate. There are times you won’t been identified as possibly the most vital componknow which approach is best, and that’s to be ent of intercultural communication competence expected. Communication scholars suggest that (Arasaratnam and Doerfel, 2005; Ni et al., 2015). the ability to live with that uncertainty is an essential ingredient of intercultural communication Cognitive Complexity competence (Gudykunst, 1993). Cognitive complexity is the ability to construct a variety of different frameworks for viewing Ability to Perform Skilfully an issue. Imagine that a long-time friend never Once you’ve chosen the best way to communicate, responded to the message you sent to her but you you have to do it effectively. In communication, as expected a response. One possible explanation is in other activities, practice is the key to skilful per- that she is offended by something you’ve done. formance. Much of the information in this book Another possibility is that something has hapwill introduce you to new tools for communicat- pened in another part of her life that is upsetting. ing, and the Skill Builder activities at the end of Or perhaps nothing at all is wrong and you’re just each chapter will help you practise them. Patience being overly sensitive. Researchers have found that and perseverance are required to develop your a large number of constructs for interpreting the skills. It’s normal to feel disappointed in yourself behaviour of others leads to greater “conversational for not doing as well as you had hoped with some sensitivity,” thereby increasing the chances of actskills but, as we’ll discuss in Chapter 2, it’s import- ing in ways that will produce satisfying results ant to be patient and kind to yourself in order to (Burleson, 2007; Burleson and Caplan, 1998). preserve and develop your skills.

Empathy and Perspective Taking We are more effective communicators when we try to understand and empathize with the other

Self-Monitoring Psychologists use the term self-monitoring to describe the process of paying close attention to one’s own behaviour and using these observations

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to shape the way one behaves. Self-monitors are able to move a part of their consciousness outside of themselves to observe their behaviour from a detached viewpoint. In doing so, they’re able to think such thoughts as these:

CHECK IT! What are the characteristics of a competent ­communicator?

“I’m making a fool of myself.” “I’d better speak up now.” “This approach is working well. I’ll keep it up.”

need to be faithful to one’s true beliefs. Likewise, an excess of empathy and cognitive complexity can It’s no surprise that self-monitoring generally lead you to see all sides of an issue so well that you increases one’s effectiveness as a communicator become incapable of acting. In other words, both a (Day et al., 2002; Tyler 2008). The ability to ask deficiency and an excess can lead to incompetent yourself the question, “How am I doing?” and to communication. change your behaviour if the answer isn’t positive How does your behaviour as an interpersonal is a tremendous asset for communicators. communicator measure up against the standards Although the qualities we’ve discussed so of competence described in this chapter? Like most far do play an important role in communicative people, you’ll probably notice some areas of your competence, they can be ineffective when car- life that are very satisfying and others that you ­ ried to excess (Spitzberg, 1994). For example, too would like to change. As you read on in this book, much ­self-monitoring can make a person so self-­ you’ll find that the information we provide in each con­scious that the concern for appearance (“How chapter offers advice that can help your communido I sound?” “How am I doing?”) overshadows the cation become more productive and rewarding.

BUILDING WORK SKILLS TAKING THE OTHER PERSON’S PERSPECTIVE WHEN SENDING MESSAGES Have you ever received a telephone or email message that left you wondering what the sender wanted you to do or why they wanted you to know what they had to say? A message may have been missing the most important information (e.g., the person’s name or phone number). Or a message may have had so much detailed, irrelevant information that you couldn’t wade through it all. These kinds of messages are particularly frustrating at work. We have probably all received them and sent them. Often, we leave these messages before we have really thought through our requests of others—before we have taken their perspective. For this skill-building exercise, you need a partner from class. First, think about a need to communicate with someone at your workplace or at school, a request to make or information to share. If you can’t think of a real example, you and your partner can use one of the examples below: • A colleague has asked you to switch shifts because she has an appointment. You are willing to do so, but must get the permission of your supervisor. Leave a message for your supervisor. • You have come down with some sort of illness and will have to miss class. You have a test and an assignment due. Leave a message for your teacher. Jot down your message. Now, read your message from the point of view of the person you are leaving it for. Is it complete? Is it well-organized? Will the recipient understand the context? Are there irrelevant details that could be omitted? Have you told him or her what you want or why he or she needs to know? Once you’re satisfied with your message, you can do one of the following: leave it on the voicemail of your partner from class; email it to your partner; or just read it, uninterrupted, to your partner. continued



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Ask your partner to imagine he or she is the person you intended to send the message to. Your partner can then give you some feedback about the quality of your message, particularly your ability to take the recipient’s perspective.

SUMMARY Communication is important for a variety of reasons. Besides satisfying practical needs, meaningful communication contributes to physical health, plays a major role in defining our identity, and forms the basis for our social relationships. Communication is a complex process that can be represented in a communication model. The model we present in this chapter depicts how communicators usually send and receive mes­ ­ sages simultaneously. The meaning of these messages resides in the people who exchange them, not in the messages themselves. Environment and noise affect communication, as do the channels we choose for sending our messages. A variety of principles help explain how communication operates. Communication is transactional— that is, it’s a dynamic process that people create through interaction. Messages can be intentional or unintentional, and they almost always have both a content and a relational dimension. Once expressed, messages cannot be withdrawn. Also, communication is unrepeatable. Interpersonal communication can be defined quantitatively (by the number of people involved) or qualitatively (by the nature of interaction between them). In a qualitative sense, interpersonal relationships are unique, irreplaceable, interdependent, intrinsically rewarding, and usually characterized by self-disclosure. Qualitatively interpersonal communication is relatively infrequent, even in many close relationships. While some research suggests that computer-mediated communication (CMC) is more impersonal than face-to-face communication, other research shows that it can enhance interpersonal relationships. Increasing multiculturalism in Canada and closer, globalized economic connections between Canada and other nations compel us to look at

interpersonal communication in the context of cultural diversity. Intercultural communication is the process by which people belonging to two or more cultures share messages in a manner that is influenced by their different cultural perceptions and symbol systems. When we review interpersonal communication research, it is important to keep in mind that the majority of studies have been conducted in the United States and, although Canadians and their US counterparts are very similar in many respects, they do differ in terms of some significant social values. These include attitudes toward violence, ethnic and cultural diversity, and the relative status of men and women. To understand the communication process, it’s important that we recognize and avoid several common misconceptions. Despite the value of ­self-expression, more communication is not always better than less. In fact, there are times when more communication can make problems worse. Even at its best, communication is not a panacea that will solve every problem. Effective communication is not a natural ability. While some people have greater aptitude at communicating, everyone can learn to interact with others more effectively. Communication competence is the ability to be both effective and appropriate—that is, to get desired results from others in a manner that maintains the relationship on terms that are acceptable to everyone. There is no single ideal way to ­communicate. Flexibility and adaptability are characteristics of competent communicators, as is the skillset that includes empathy and perspective taking. Also important to being a competent communicator are the abilities to utilize cognitive-complexity skills and self-monitor. The good news is that communication competence can be learned.

1 | Interpersonal Process


Prolonged solitary confinement


a. is only a negative experience for some people. b. is considered torture under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules. c. is preferred to physical torture among most prisoners. d. has few if any long-term effects on humans. 2.



Transactional communication a. is the dynamic process created by communicators interacting with each other. b. suggests that the way you communicate with others varies from person to person. c. suggests that communication depends on the involvement of a partner. d. all of the above.

Virtually all messages have a content component and a relational component. How are they different? a. The content component refers to explicit information in the message and the relational component refers to how you feel about the message itself. b. The content component refers to all aspects of the message and the relational component only refers to how the participants feel about the interaction. c. The relational component refers to how you feel about the other person and the content component refers to the information that is explicitly discussed. d. The content component refers to information that is explicitly discussed and the relational component refers to the ­subtext.

Your friend said they were sorry after they spilled coffee on your new top. You think they’re insincere, but another friend thinks the apology is genuine. This difference of opinion best illustrates which insight from the communication model presented in this chapter? a. Sending and receiving are usually simultaneous. b. Different channels have different disadvantages. c. Meanings exist in and among people. d. Psychological noise affects communi­ cation.


a. You can communicate many different relational messages simply by saying, “Thanks a lot.” b. All behaviour has some communicative value. c. Some scholars argue that only intentional messages qualify as a communication. d. An ignored email is an example of non-communication.

An example of physical noise is a. worrying about an upcoming test. b. daydreaming about a great party you attended. c. hearing loss. d. feeling irritated by the person beside you talking on their phone.

Which statement is false?


Which statement is false? a. An apology or explanation can be helpful, but it can never erase the impression you created. b. Clear explanations can clear up a miscommunication to the point that it is the same as if it had never occurred. c. Every act of communication is unique. d. The irreversibility of communication is very evident in social media.


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication


Computer-mediated communication (CMC) can enhance interpersonal communication in certain contexts. However, it a. can also interfere with the ability to accomplish daily routines. b. can create more opportunities for misunderstanding. c. is associated with anxiety, loneliness, and depression. d. all of the above.


Which of the following statements regarding culture and interpersonal communication is false? a. When people from different backgrounds interact, they face a unique set of ­challenges. b. Members of co-cultures develop distinctive communication patterns.

c. Sometimes, culture does not play a role in communication. d. It is more accurate to classify ­exchanges as intercultural or free from cultural ­influences rather than viewing ­exchanges as containing degrees of cultural ­significance. 10. Which of the following are characteristics of competent communication? a. Having a large repertoire of skills and adaptability. b. The ability to perform skilfully and with empathy. c. The ability to communicate with cognitive complexity and self-monitoring. d. All of the above.

Answers: 1. b; 2. c; 3. c; 4. d; 5. c; 6. c; 7. b; 8. d; 9. d; 10. d


ACTIVITIES 1. Invitation to Insight How much time do you spend communicating? Conduct an informal study to answer this question by keeping a two-day log of your activities. Using your findings, answer the following questions: a. What percentage of your waking time is spent speaking with and listening to others? b. Using the explanation on pages 12–15 of this chapter, describe what percentage of your entire communication is qualitatively interpersonal. c. How satisfied are you with your findings? How would you like to change your everyday ­communication? 2. Critical Thinking Probe As we discussed in this chapter, communication is transactional—it is something we do with others and not to them. How does face-to-face communication differ from mediated communication, such as social media? Are they equally transactional? Are they equally interpersonal?

3. Invitation to Insight How competent are you as a communicator? You can begin to answer this question by interviewing different people who you trust and who will provide you with some honest feedback (e.g., family members, friends, or co-workers). Conduct interviews with a variety of people to determine if you are more competent in some relationships than in others. a. Describe the characteristics of competent communicators outlined on pages 31–3 of this chapter. Be sure your interviewee understands each of them. b. Ask your interviewee to rate you on each of the observable qualities. (It won’t be possible for others to evaluate internal characteristics, such as cognitive complexity and s ­elf-monitoring.) Be sure this evaluation considers your communication in a variety of situations, because it’s likely you aren’t uniformly competent—or incompetent—in all of them.

1 | Interpersonal Process

c. If your rating is not high in one or more areas, discuss with your partner how you could raise it. d. Consider whether another person might rate you differently. Why might this happen? 4. Skill Builder Knowing how you want to communicate isn’t the same as being able to do it competently. The technique of behaviour rehearsal provides a way to improve a particular communication skill before you use it in real life. Behaviour rehearsal consists of four steps: a. Define your goal. Begin by deciding how you want to behave. b. Break the goal into the kinds of behaviour it involves. Most goals are made up of several verbal and non-verbal parts. You may be able

to define these parts by thinking about them yourself, by observing others, by reading about them, or by asking others for advice. c. Practise each behaviour before using it in real life. You can practise a new behaviour by rehearsing it alone and then with others before you put it into action. Another approach is to picture yourself behaving in new ways. This mental image can increase your effectiveness. d. Try out the behaviour in real life. You can improve your chances of success in two ways. First, work on only one subskill at a time, and start with easy situations. Don’t expect yourself suddenly to behave flawlessly in the most challenging situations. Second, begin by practising your new skills in situations where you have a chance of success.


Why do humans communicate? Which reasons are most relevant to you?


Why study interpersonal communication? How might you benefit?


Think of someone who you believe is an effective interpersonal communicator. Give examples of the characteristics of competent communication that this person demonstrates.


Give an example of each of the four communication misconceptions described in this chapter. How have these misconceptions affected you?


Is it important to consider interpersonal communication in the context of cultural diversity? Why or why not?

JOURNAL IDEAS At the end of each chapter you will find a couple of ideas to help you keep a reflective journal. There is considerable evidence (Armarego, 2007; Bolton, 2005; Brown, 2009; Sinclair and Woodward, 1997) that journal writing helps students integrate theory into practice. In order to become better at performing particular skills (communication skills, perhaps) people need to reflect on, analyze, and critically evaluate their current practice. We hope these

­ uestions stimulate the beginnings of such selfq reflection. 1.

Review the misconceptions people have about communication and describe an example of each that you have experienced or directly observed.


How does technology affect your interpersonal communication in positive and negative ways?


Communication and the Self



CHAPTER OUTLINE Communication and the Self-Concept How the Self-Concept Develops Self-Concept Development in Context Characteristics of the Self-Concept The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Communication

Presenting the Self: Communication as Impression Management Public and Private Selves Characteristics of Impression Management Why Manage Impressions? How Do We Manage Impressions? Identity Management and Honesty

Disclosing the Self Self-Disclosure Factors

Models of Self-Disclosure Benefits and Risks of Self-Disclosure

Alternatives to Self-Disclosure Silence and Secrecy Lying Equivocation Hinting The Ethics of Evasion

Guidelines for Self-Disclosure Is the Other Person Important to You? Is the Risk of Disclosing Reasonable? Is the Self-Disclosure Appropriate? Is the Disclosure Reciprocated? Will the Effect Be Constructive?

KEY TERMS benevolent lie breadth cognitive conservatism collectivistic culture depth distorted feedback equivocation face facework impression management individualistic culture Johari Window obsolete information perceived self

presenting self privacy management reference groups reflected appraisal self-compassion self-concept self-control self-disclosure self-esteem self-fulfilling prophecy significant other social comparison social expectations social penetration model


Describe the characteristics and development of the self-concept Explain the influence of language, cultural values, and self-fulfilling prophecies in shaping the self-concept Analyze how the self-concept affects communication with others Describe how people manage impressions in person and online to enhance their presenting image Explain the characteristics of and reasons for self-disclosure Explain the risks of, benefits of, guidelines for, and alternatives to self-disclosure


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Who are you? Before reading on, take a few minutes to try a simple experiment. First, make a list of the 10 words or phrases that describe the most important features of who you are. Some of the items on your list may involve social roles (student, sibling, parent). Some may be physical characteristics (physically fit, tall, dark haired), others might refer to abilities or dispositions (musical, inquisitive, creative). Or perhaps you can best define yourself in terms of moods, feelings, or attitudes (optimistic, critical, or energetic). You might consider your social characteristics (outgoing, shy, or argumentative), or highlight belief systems (environmentalist, Buddhist, vegetarian, conservative). You could include references to your work (blogger, barista, student advisor). Finally, you could focus on particular skills (swimmer, carpenter, cook). In any case, choose 10 words or phrases that best describe you, and write them down. Next, re-order your list from most fundamental to least fundamental to your identity. How do you feel after trying this exercise? Most people find the experience a powerful one. They say that it clarifies how each of the items selected is fundamental to their identity and they gain a clear picture of the parts of themselves they value and the parts they’re unhappy with.

the most significant part of one person’s self-­ concept might consist of social roles, whereas for another it might be physical appearance, health, friendships, accomplishments, or skills. Self-esteem is the part of the self-concept that involves evaluations of self-worth. A communicator’s self-concept might include being quiet, argumentative, or serious. Their self-esteem would be determined by how they felt about these qualities. Our competence in doing things we value, such as maintaining satisfying relationships, influences how good we feel about ourselves, and, in turn, our feelings of self-esteem influence how we approach the things we do. As Figure 2.1 shows, people who feel good about themselves have positive expectations about how they will communicate (Baldwin and Keelan, 1999). Self-esteem depends on our assessment of how well we do things that matter to us. As we’ll discuss in the next few pages, other people have a great deal of influence over the things we value and our assessment of our worth. It’s important to note that although high self-­esteem has benefits it does not ensure interpersonal success. We have all encountered individuals with what appears to be an inflated sense of self- worth, who come across as conceited, condescending, and generally irritating. The good news is that our appraisals of ourselves, whether overly harsh or much too generous, can be changed and a positive Communication yet realistic self-evaluation is a good starting point for positive communication with others. and the Self-Concept The ability to be kind to yourself rather than The list you just created offers clues about your overly critical has been identified as an importself-concept, that is, the relatively stable set of ant component of our self-concept (Neff, 2003). perceptions you hold of yourself. One way to Self-compassion “involves being touched by ­ understand the self-concept is to imagine a special one’s own suffering, generating the desire to mirror that not only reflects physical features, but alleviate one’s suffering and treat oneself with also allows you to view other aspects of yourself—­ understanding and concern” (Neff, 2013, p. 28). emotional states, talents, likes, dislikes, values, Self-­compassion is a tendency to be caring and roles, and so on. The reflection in that mirror understanding rather than harshly critical of would be your self-concept. oneself. It requires acceptance that imperfection Any description of your self-concept that you is part of our shared experience of being human. constructed in this exercise is only a partial one. To It’s important to note that self-compassion is very make it complete, you would have to keep adding different from self-pity because self-compassion items until your list ran into hundreds of words. involves the acknowledgement that others have Of course, not every dimension of self-concept that similar problems whereas self-pity exaggerates you could list is equally important. For example, personal suffering. When a person engages in

2 | Communication and the Self



High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Positive thoughts “I did well.”

Positive thoughts “I can do it.”

Desirable behaviour

Negative thoughts “I failed again.”

Negative thoughts “I can’t do it.”

Undesirable behaviour (e.g., gives up easily, won’t try)

FIGURE 2.1  The Relationship between Self-Esteem and Communication Behaviour Source: Adapted from Johnson, H.M. (1998). How do I love me? 3rd edn (pp. 3, 5). Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co.

self-pity, they become so wrapped up in their own problems they ignore their inter-connectedness with other people and are unable to step back from their situation to get a more objective perspective (Neff, 2003). People who have self-compassion have been found to be enjoy greater happiness, cope with failure more constructively, be more resourceful, be less susceptible to social anxiety and negative body image problems, and enjoy better health and improved relationships (Blackie and Kocovski, 2018; Kelly and Stevenson, 2016; Martin and Kennett, 2018; Neff and Beretvas, 2012; Yarnell and Neff, 2013; Wasyikiw, 2012). You can learn to be less self-critical and more selfcompassionate (Neff and Germer, 2013; Smeets et al., 2014). The questions in the self-compassion assessment on page 42 can be used to help you better understand this concept and the extent to which you are compassionate with yourself. Self-control is sometimes called self-regulation, and it involves your ability to change your thoughts, emotions, moods, impulses, or performance of some task in order to achieve a personal goal or meet a social or cultural expectation (Baumeister and Alquist, 2009). Self-control has been associated with many positive outcomes, including secure and satisfying relationships. The most impressive evidence regarding the value of self-control comes to us from a study done by Yuichi Shoda, Walter Mischel, and Philip Peake

(1990), often referred to as the “marshmallow experiment.” Four-year-old children were asked to choose between getting one marshmallow im­ mediately or getting three marshmallows if they were able to wait (delayed gratification), while in the presence of that first marshmallow (temptation). The children who displayed more self-control, being able to wait for the larger reward, were, as a group, more successful both socially and academically as adults than the children who were unable to delay gratification. Additional studies have demonstrated that higher levels of self-control are associated with a variety of positive outcomes including greater academic and occupational success, more positive and satisfying interpersonal relationships, and greater happiness and life satisfaction (Baumeister and Tierney, 2011; de Ridder et al., 2012; Hoffman et al., 2014; Moffitt et al., 2011; Tangney et al., 2004). Now you may think, “Well, I would have eaten that marshmallow. I  couldn’t wait.” Fortunately, self-control can be developed—you can build self-control, strength, and stamina. Practising self-control in one area (e.g., engaging in an academic study program) can help you develop self-control in other areas (e.g., exercising more or drinking less), but it is important to have a concrete, step-by-step plan that is manageable and creates better habits (Oaten and Cheng, 2006; Itzchakov et al., 2018; Uziel and Baumeister, 2017).



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

SELF-ASSESSMENT HOW MUCH COMPASSION DO YOU SHOW YOURSELF? Please read each statement carefully before answering. To the left of each item, indicate how often you behave in the stated manner, using the following scale: Almost Never Almost Always 1     2      3      4      5 1. When I fail at something important to me, I become consumed by feelings of inadequacy. 2. I try to be understanding and patient towards those aspects of my personality I don’t like. 3. When something painful happens, I try to take a balanced view of the situation. 4. When I’m feeling down, I tend to feel like most other people are probably happier than I am. 5. I try to see my failings as part of the human condition. 6. When I’m going through a very hard time, I give myself the caring and tenderness I need.

7. When something upsets me, I try to keep my emotions in balance. 8. When I fail at something that’s important to me, I tend to feel alone in my failure. 9. When I’m feeling down I tend to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong. 10. When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people. 11. I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies. 12. I’m intolerant and impatient towards those aspects of my personality I don’t like. Lower scores on items 1, 4, 8, 9, 11, and 12 and higher scores on the remaining items (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 10) indicate greater self-compassion. SOURCE: Raes, F., Pommier, E., Neff, K.D., and Van Gucht, D. (2011). Construct and factorial validation of a short form of the self-compassion scale. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 18, 250–5.

FOCUS ON RESEARCH SELF-CONTROL, SELF-COMPASSION, SOCIAL TEMPTATIONS, AND PROCRASTINATION Most of us have been distracted or put something off that we know we should be doing—maybe even reading this chapter! Procrastination is the voluntary delay of important, necessary, and intended action despite knowing there will be negative consequences for this delay (Sirois and Pychyl, 2013). Many colleges and universities have student success programs that focus on improving our time management skills, but research suggests a different approach will probably work better. Procrastination researcher Tim Pychyl and his colleagues have identified many of the challenges that make us vulnerable to putting things off and suffering for it (Pychyl and Sirois, 2016; Sirois and Giguire, 2018). They know we delay boring or difficult tasks that have long-term payoffs and are not much fun for more pleasant activities that are immediately rewarding, less because we failed to manage our time effectively than because we didn’t feel like doing the boring

or difficult thing. Socializing with others is something that it is immediately rewarding for most people and is very tempting when we’re working on a difficult, boring, or frustrating task. We want to feel better so we ditch the schoolwork and engage in social activities to improve our negative mood. We “give in to feel good” (Pychyl and Sirois, 2016; Sirois and Giguire, 2018). The irony is we then feel bad about procrastinating! Rather than thinking about procrastination as a time management problem, we’re better off thinking about it as a challenge in regulating our emotions and coping. It’s more correctly conceptualized as a test of our self-control and our self-compassion. So, how do we say “no” to the immediate gratification of socializing either in person or online when those temptations are available 24/7? Research suggests we can learn to tolerate and modify the negative emotions we experience during

2 | Communication and the Self

tasks we would rather avoid and reduce our procrastination tendencies (Eckert et al., 2016). According to Pychyl, who writes a very helpful procrastination blog called “Don’t Delay” for Psychology Today, step one involves becoming aware of the feelings of not wanting to do something, but not “becoming” those feelings—be non-judgmentally aware of them. For instance, perhaps you don’t feel like reading the rest of this chapter because you find it boring compared to messaging and chatting with your friends. Period. No judgment. Step two involves figuring out the next action—I have to put my phone down (maybe where I can’t hear it and/or turn off alerts), open the book, and find the place I left off reading. I can do that, I can open the book and find that spot. Pychyl suggests you’ll again have to acknowledge your whole body screaming that

TAKE TWO • Self-concept: the relatively stable set of perceptions you hold of yourself. • Self-esteem: the part of the self-concept that involves evaluations of self-worth. • Self-compassion: treating one’s self with kindness and concern when facing inadequacy or suffering • Self-control: the ability to change (one’s thoughts, behaviours, emotions, etc.) in order to conform to an expectation. • Procrastination: the voluntary delay of important, necessary, and intended action despite knowing there will be negative consequences for this delay.

you don’t want to do that right now and the feeling can be overwhelming but you just chip away. Stepby-step, acknowledge the emotions that are working against you and continue to make tiny choices that will propel you through the task at hand—one page or section at a time for this chapter! Regulating those negative emotions means acknowledging they exist and then muscling through them in small manageable steps to accomplish the task you would rather not do, but ultimately need to get done Finally, when you experience setbacks it’s important to see them as a normal part of being human. Practise self-compassion (but not self-pity) to lower your stress rather than being overly self-critical (Sirois, 2014). For more procrastination research and tips check out Psychology Today’s “Don’t Delay” blog, https://www

bodies that float into view, almost as if they were strange objects belonging to someone else. Then the connection is made, almost as if the child were realizing, “The hand is me,” “The foot is me.” These first revelations form the child’s earliest concept of self. As the child develops, this rudimentary sense of identity expands into a much more complete and sophisticated picture that resembles the self-­ concept of adults. This evolution is almost totally a product of social interaction (Goodvin et al., 2008; Schmidt, 2006). Two complementary theories describe how interaction shapes the way individuals view themselves: reflected appraisal and social comparison (Harter, 2012; Sedikides and Skowronski, 1995). Both of these processes happen in face-to-face and online interactions with others.

Reflected Appraisal

How the Self-Concept Develops Researchers generally agree that the self-concept does not exist at birth (Kail and Barnfield, 2014). At about six or seven months, children begin to recognize “self” as distinct from surroundings. If you have ever watched children at this age, you’ve probably marvelled at how they can stare with great fascination at a foot, a hand, and other parts of their

Before reading on, try the following exercise. Either by yourself or aloud with a partner, think of someone you know or once knew who helped enhance your self-concept by acting in a way that made you feel accepted, worthwhile, important, appreciated, or loved. For instance, you might remember a teacher who took time to encourage you, or a grandparent who never criticized or questioned your youthful foolishness.



© Zoe Waelchli

PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

healthy self-concepts (Brown et al., 2009). Along with family, the messages from many other significant others shape our self-concept. A teacher from long ago, a special friend or relative, or even a barely known acquaintance who “likes” something you’ve posted on social media can all leave an imprint on how you view yourself (Li et al., 2018). Carol Dweck (2006, 2010) advises that when an adult says things to children such as, “I think you worked hard to solve the problem,” Self-concept starts developing when we’re only a few months old, but con- children understand that their tinues into adulthood, largely due to social interaction. What interactions abilities to work hard and persist produce good results. As a have you had in the past year that changed the way you saw yourself? result, they are more likely to show tenacity and perseverance After thinking about this supportive person, when faced with the next challenge, and with this think of someone who acted in either a big or small “growth” mindset they understand that they can way to diminish your self-esteem. For instance, develop their abilities. On the other hand, if adults you may have had a coach who criticized you in say, “You’re smart” when children solve probfront of the team, or one member of a group of lems, children are more likely to develop a “fixed” friends who excludes you from group messages mindset. They may come to believe that people are and makes excuses when you see pictures posted born with their abilities (e.g., intelligence) and no online of social activities you were excluded from. amount of practice, perseverance, or effort is going After thinking about these two types of people, to change the outcome. People with fixed mindyou should begin to see that everyone’s self-­ sets are more likely to quit after they’ve failed and concept is shaped by reflected appraisal—that much less likely to take chances and tackle diffiis, perceptions of the judgments of those around cult projects because they believe that they do not them. To the extent that you have received sup- possess the ability to be successful—they live up to portive messages, you’ve learned to appreciate their fixed expectations and limit their opportunand value yourself. To the extent that you perceive ities for learning and growth. critical signals, you’re likely to feel less valuable, You might argue that not every part of your lovable, capable, and secure (Lemay and Dudley, self-concept is shaped by others, that there are cer2009). Your self-concept can be seen, at least in tain objective facts recognizable by self-observation part, as a product of the messages you’ve received alone. After all, nobody needs to tell you whether throughout your life. you’re taller than others, speak with an accent, Social scientists use the term significant have curly hair, and so on. These facts are obvious. other to describe a person whose evaluations are Indeed, some features of the self are immediately especially influential. Messages from parents, of apparent. But the significance we attach to them— course, are an early and important influence on the that is, the rank we assign them in the hierarchy self-concept. Supportive parents are more likely of our list and the interpretation we give them— than unsupportive ones to raise children with depends greatly on the opinions of others.

2 | Communication and the Self

Social Comparison So far, we’ve looked at the way messages from other people shape the self-concept. In addition to using these messages, each of us forms our self-image by the process of social comparison, by evaluating ourselves in terms of how we compare with others (Festinger, 1954; Wolf et al., 2018). We decide whether we’re superior or inferior and similar or different by comparing ourselves to what social scientists call reference groups—others against whom we evaluate our own characteristics. You might feel ordinary or inferior in talent, friendships, or attractiveness if you compare yourself with an unsuitable reference group. People differ in their tendencies to compare themselves to others and those with greater sensitivity to and awareness of others experience more uncertainty and instability regarding their self-concepts (Buunk and Gibbons, 2006; Vogel et al., 2015), particularly when comparing their abilities (Yang et al., 2018). Comparing yourself with inappropriate reference groups, such as professional athletes, Mensa geniuses, or billionaires, will likely make you feel very ordinary or inferior in terms of your athleticism, intelligence, and personal wealth. Even comparing yourself to a more suitable reference group, such as the social networking profiles of your friends and acquaintances, can create unrealistic expectations and unhappiness (Appel et al., 2016; Chae, 2018; Chou and Edge, 2012; Qiu et al., 2012). Social networking allows people to portray their most idealized self-views—focusing on the positive aspects of their lives, and leaving out all the imperfections that are inevitably part of being alive. People who are more prone to social comparison tend to spend more time passively browsing other people’s profiles and are more susceptible to negative self-perceptions and greater unhappiness (Lee 2014; Verduyn et al., 2015; Vogel et al., 2015). For example, a steady diet of browsing other peoples’ vacation photos, pics of joyous family celebrations, and happy couples displaying their amazing accomplishments and flawless lives can convince you your life and your achievements pale in comparison. How often do we see pictures of others cleaning their toilets, arguing with each other, ­feeling bored,

or completing tedious tasks? Not that we want to necessarily see these things, but routine, possibly mundane and downright unpleasant activities are part of all our lives. Without complete, accurate information about other people, it is easy to compare yourself to them negatively and feel like you’re missing out (Morry et al., 2018). In addition, when we’re not feeling good about ourselves we’re more vulnerable to unfavourable social comparisons on social media. Once you place yourself alongside a truly representative and realistic sample, you have a better chance of developing a more accurate understanding of yourself.

CHECK IT! Describe the processes of reflected appraisal and social comparison in the development of self-­ concept.

Self-Concept Development in Context Whose opinions about us matter the most? Which reference groups are available to us for comparison? When we think about how the self-concept develops, we need to consider forces that are larger than our family, friends, and immediate community members. Our identities are shaped by our age and place in history, our gender identity, our ­sexual orientation, our physical ability or disability, ­cultural background, and the co-cultural groups we belong to. These elements create the larger social context in which our self-concepts develop.

Language and Identity Some aspects of culture, such as language, have obvious implications for shaping the way we think and feel about ourselves. If you live in a culture where everyone speaks the same language, then language will have little noticeable impact on how you view yourself and others. But what happens when some members of a society speak the



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

dominant language and others speak a minority language or dialect? Speakers of a non-dominant language can feel pressured to assimilate or they can decide not to speak the majority language. In either case, the impact of language on the self-­ concept is powerful. Comfort and confidence in speaking a language increases the extent to which people identify themselves with the language group (Freynet and Clement, 2015), and speakers of the dominant language have power and privilege that minority language speakers often do not have (Rivest et al., 2017). The issue of language and identity is evident in Canada’s diverse multicultural society. It’s strongly felt by two groups in particular: Indigenous peoples and francophone Canadians. The residential school system, which was developed in the late nineteenth century and existed until the 1990s, is responsible for the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures. These schools separated Indigenous children from their families and communities, prevented parents from contacting their children, forced Indigenous children to learn and use English or French, and forbade them from using their ancestral languages. This was done to break their connections to their culture and identity (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). In addition to enduring the abuse of being forcibly separated from their families, Indigenous children lost their languages and their traditions. Many Indigenous leaders assert that the loss of Indigenous languages has caused Indigenous peoples to lose their spirit as well. The loss of hundreds of languages that have already passed into history is an intellectual catastrophe in every way comparable in magnitude to the ecological catastrophe we face today as the earth’s tropical forests are swept by fire. Each language still spoken is fundamental to the personal, social, and—a key term in the discourse of indigenous peoples—spiritual identity of its speakers. They know that without these languages they would be less than they are, and they are engaged in the most urgent struggles to protect their linguistic heritage. (Prodanovic, 2013; Zepeda and Hill, 1991)

Although the federal government has apologized for the atrocities committed by the residential school system, the pain and loss of relationships, culture, and identity remain a notorious legacy. Knowing one’s language is a crucial component of identity and at the time of the most recent census only 15.6 per cent of Canada’s North American First Nations, Métis, or Inuit peoples knew an Indigenous language well enough to carry on a conversation (Statistics Canada, 2016). Indigenous communities are working to revitalize their languages, but the passing of Elders who have specialized grammatical and cultural knowledge seriously jeopardizes this work. In addition, limited language resources and the social and emotional barriers created by colonization have created additional challenges (Rosborough, 2017). The preservation of the French language in Canada, particularly in Quebec, has created considerable controversy over the years. Perhaps the most hotly debated measure was Bill 101. Under this legislation, which was passed in 1977 by the Quebec National Assembly, the only language permitted on commercial signs was French, and the right to attend an English-language elementary school was severely restricted. Many Quebeckers believed that, in order for francophone culture to survive, the French language needed to be protected in an increasingly English-speaking world. Since 1977, several amendments to the legislation have helped to ease some of the tensions between French and English-speaking Quebeckers. Pro-French laws have succeeded in preserving the language in Quebec. Almost all Quebeckers (95 per cent) maintain a knowledge of French and four-fifths of the population speak French at home (Bourhis and Sioufi, 2017). As well, national polls have shown increased support for bilingual policies (Jebwab, 2011). However, Francophones remain a linguistic minority in North America and preserving a unique cultural identity can be challenging in a world where English is increasingly the language of business and commerce and the third most widely spoken language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish (McCarthy, 2018). Even within a language system, the labels that members of a co-culture use to define themselves

2 | Communication and the Self

can both reflect and help define their sense of identity. For instance, personal pronouns like he/ him and she/her immediately summon meanings we ascribe to female and male social categories in our culture (Wood and Eagly, 2015). Although people use the terms sex and gender interchangeably there is an important difference (Katz-Wise and Hyde, 2014). Sex refers to biological characteristics, whereas gender refers to the social, behavioural, and psychological dimensions cultures define as masculine and feminine. Rather than a binary, two-category system (male or female), researchers have identified gender as being more fluid, multidimensional, and something embedded in an individual’s experience (Rogers and Ahmed, 2017; Tobin et al., 2010). Identities such as gender

fluid or non-­binary aim to capture possibilities other than male or female (Becker et al., 2017). Our gender identities are our own internal sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. In English, pronouns are gendered and the traditional gender pronouns she/her, he/him do not fit everyone’s gender identity. When requested, using non-binary pronouns like they/them communicates respect for another person’s identity. As researcher and scholar Lee Airton (2018) points out, using they as a singular pronoun can be difficult and stressful at first and will probably take practice, but when you try to get it right, and respect someone’s choice of pronoun, you can have a profound effect on the well-being of that individual. When we discuss confirming messages in Chapter 9, it will become increasingly clear how fundamental this type of acknowledgement is in creating a supportive tone in your relationships.


Cultural Values and Norms

How is a child practising her letters learning not only how to write words, but learning a culture and identity as well?

In addition to language, there are several cultural values that shape our identities and our perceptions of others. Sometimes, they influence our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of ourselves and others in ways we may not even be aware of. We’ll examine several of these cultural differences in Chapter 3, when we look at how culture shapes our views of other people. In addition, we’ll look at cultural differences in the use of language, silence, and context in Chapter 6. While all these cultural values influence our perceptions of ourselves and others, the most powerful dimension of culture on our identities is the emphasis different cultures place on the importance of the individual versus the importance of the group. Members of an individualistic culture view their primary responsibility as helping themselves, whereas communicators in a collectivistic ­culture feel loyalties and obligations to in-groups: extended family, the community, or even the organization (Hofstede, 2011). Individualistic cultures are also characterized by self-reliance and competition, whereas members of a collectivistic culture are more attentive to and concerned with the opinions of others. The individualism–collectivism



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

dimension has been relied on most heavily to examine and explain differences in communication patterns across cultures (Merkin, Taras, and Steel, 2014). Among the world’s most individualistic countries are the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Latin American (e.g., Colombia and Costa Rica), Asian (e.g., South Korea and China), South Asian (e.g., Pakistan and Indonesia), and Caribbean (e.g., Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago) cultures are generally more collectivistic (Hofstede, 1980, 2001, 2011). Table 2.1 summarizes some differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures. The differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures show up in communication patterns. For instance, people from more individualistic cultures tend to be more expressive, straightforward, and direct in their communication; while people from more collectivist cultures are likely to be more indirect and restrained in their communication and use persuasion, silence, ambiguity, and third-party communication in order to preserve relationship harmony (Merkin et al., 2014). It must be noted that while cultural values of individualism and collectivism describe general

cultural differences between nations they are not necessarily accurate when describing the values or communication styles of specific individuals within a culture or a nation. Sometimes there are greater differences within cultures than between them (Taras et al., 2016). There are many other factors that influence individuals’ values and their communication styles, such as their personality, age, education level, occupational status, political beliefs, and so forth. This conceptualization of cultures differing, in terms of the value placed on the individual versus the group, helps us to understand how groups of people from different cultural backgrounds might differ in terms of their conceptualizations of themselves and their preferred communication styles. However, it doesn’t help us know how to communicate effectively with an individual—for that we need to keep an open mind and remember and apply the characteristics of competent communication, as described in Chapter 1.

Characteristics of the Self-Concept Now that you have a better idea of how your self-concept has developed, we can take a closer look at some of its characteristics.

TABLE 2.1  The Self in Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures Aspect of Culture



View of self in relation to group

Separate, unique individual; should be independent, self-sufficient

Part of extended families or in-groups; “we” or group orientation

Care philosophy

Care for self and immediate family before others

Care for extended family before self

Group membership

Many flexible group memberships; friends based on shared interests and activities

Emphasis on belonging to a very few permanent in-groups, which have a strong influence over the person

What is rewarded

Individual achievement, initiative, and decision making

Contribution to group goals and well-being; co-operation with in-group members; group decision making

Credit and blame assignment

Individually assigned

Shared by the group

What is valued and admired

Autonomy, change, youth, individual security, and equality

Duty, order, tradition, age, group security, status, and hierarchy

2 | Communication and the Self

The Self-Concept Is Subjective The way we view ourselves may be at odds with other people’s perceptions—and often with the observable facts (Simine and Carlson, 2010). For instance, people are notoriously bad judges of their own communication skills. A random sample of men was asked to rank themselves on their ability to get along with others. Defying mathematical laws, every subject put himself in the top half of the population. Sixty per cent rated themselves in the top 10 per cent of the population, and an amazing 25 per cent believed they were in the top 1 per cent. In the same study, 70 per cent of the men ranked the quality of their leadership in the top quarter of the population, whereas only 2 per cent thought they were below average. Sixty per cent said they were in the top quarter in athletic ability, whereas only 6 per cent viewed themselves as below average (Myers, 1980). These results are consistent with people’s bias to overestimate their abilities and rate themselves more favourably than others in a wide variety of areas (Fay et al., 2012; Vazire and ­Carlson, 2010). There are also times when we view ourselves more harshly than the facts warrant. We have all experienced a temporary case of the “uglies,” convinced we look much worse than others say we do. Research confirms what common sense ­suggests— people are more critical of themselves when they are experiencing a negative mood than when they’re feeling more positive (Brown and Mankowski, 1993; Cantazaro and Wei, 2010). Although everyone suffers occasional bouts of self-doubt that affect communication, some people suffer from long-term states of excessive self-doubt and criticism, reliably remembering when things went wrong, and consistently forgetting when they went well (Hardy et al., 2015; Howe and Dweck, 2016; Ng and Abbott, 2016). This chronic self-doubt can of course influence communication with others. Self-evaluations can be distorted for several reasons, including: • Obsolete information Effects of past failures in school or social relationships can linger long after they have occurred even though they don’t

REFLECTION INDIVIDUALS’ AND COLLECTIVISTS’ CULTURAL VALUES Growing up in Canada, having immigrated from China when I was six years old, I learned that many of my family’s customs and traditions were different from those of my friends at school. As a child who loved playing sports, I quickly realized that my friends who did not have Chinese heritage identified as individuals in ways I did not. Sure, everyone on our soccer, volleyball, and baseball teams wanted to win, but many of my teammates wanted to achieve their personal best for themselves as much or more than for the team. Growing up I had been explicitly taught that the team was more important than any individual player. In Chinese we have a different name for the private or individual self (Xiao Wo, or “little me” or self) and the self that belongs to the group or team (Da Wo, or “big me” or the collective). In English and French there is no real equivalent for the idea of a collective self (Da Wo) and it took me a long time to figure out how to navigate sports and have attention paid to me as an individual player. Seriously, it took a while before I learned not to feel deeply embarrassed if I won individual praise or an award. I think my friends thought I was being “fake modest” but it actually felt really awful to stand out like that!

predict failure in the future. Likewise your past successes don’t guarantee future success. • Distorted feedback Overly critical remarks from parents, classmates, teachers, employers, or even rude strangers can have a lasting effect. Other distorted messages may be overly positive. For instance, an administrator may claim to be an excellent manager because her assistants pour on false praise in order to keep their jobs. • Perfectionism From the time most of us learn to understand language, we are exposed to models who appear to be perfect. The implicit message is, “A well-adjusted, successful person has no faults.” This naive belief in perfection



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

can distort our perceptions of ourselves and others. • Social expectations Curiously, we belong to a society that rewards those people who downplay the strengths that we demand they possess. We deem these people “modest” and find their behaviour agreeable. We usually consider those who show off their strengths as braggarts or egoists, confusing them with people who boast about accomplishments that they do not possess (Miller et al., 1992). This convention leads most of us to talk freely about our shortcomings while downplaying our accomplishments.



Briefly describe how individualism and collectivism influence the development of the self-concept and interpersonal communication.

You might be a relaxed conversationalist with people you know, but at a loss for words with strangers. You might be patient when explaining things on the job, but have no tolerance for such explanations at home. The self-concepts of most communicators react to these changes (“I’m patient at work, but I’m not patient at home”), and these changes affect self-esteem (“I’m not as good a person at home as I am in public”). We also change over the course of our lives. Think back to the list of words and phrases you chose to describe yourself at the beginning of this chapter. How many were true 10 years ago and how many do you think will be true 10 years from now? It’s important to acknowledge changes in our self-concepts even though it’s not always easy, as we’ll see.

The Self-Concept Resists Change

A realistic self-concept should recognize the way we’ve changed over time, but the tendency to resist revision of our self-perception is strong. A Healthy Self-Concept Is Flexible Once we fasten onto a self-concept, the tendency People change. From moment to moment, we is to seek out people who confirm it. Numerous aren’t the same. We wake up in the morning in a studies (e.g., North and Swann, 2009; Stets and jovial mood and become irritated by lunchtime. Cast, 2007) show that both university/college students and married couples with high self-esteem seek out partners who view them favourably, whereas those with low self-esteem are more inclined to seek out people who view them unfavourably. This tendency to look for information that conforms to an existing self-concept has been labelled cognitive conservatism and appears to hold true for people in a variety of cultures (Church et al., 2012). Understandably, we’re reluctant to revise a favourable self-concept. If you were a thoughtful, romantic partner early in a relationship, it would be hard to admit that How do perfectionism and social expectations relate to low self-esteem?

2 | Communication and the Self

TAKE TWO Cognitive conservatism: the tendency to look for information that conforms to an existing self-­ concept.

you might have become less considerate and attentive lately. Likewise, if you used to be a serious student, it isn’t easy to admit that you’ve slacked off recently. Curiously, the tendency to cling to an outmoded self-perception holds even when the new image would be more favourable. For example, some of our former students still view themselves as underachievers despite being successful on several measures. Some people have difficulty believing compliments about the person they’ve become (Kille et al., 2017). This sort of cognitive conservatism fosters unnecessary doubt and negative self-perceptions. These students can become their own worst enemies, denying themselves the validation they deserve, and need, to enjoy satisfying relationships. Once the self-concept is firmly rooted, it becomes more difficult to change. Research suggests that mindfulness, being non-judgmentally aware of your immediate experiences, allows us to have more flexibility in our self-concepts and remain open to incorporating accurate messages about who we are and how we’ve changed (Hanley and Garland, 2017; Hanley et al., 2015).

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Communication The self-concept is such a powerful influence on the personality that it not only determines how you see yourself in the present, but also can actually affect your future behaviour and that of others. Such occurrences come about through a phenomenon called the self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when a person’s expectations of an event and their subsequent behaviour based on those expectations make the anticipated outcome more likely to occur

(­Watzlawick, 2005). As you saw in the discussion surrounding Figure 2.1 this circular process involves four stages: 1. Holding an expectation (for yourself or for others) 2. Behaving in accordance with that expectation 3. The expectation coming to pass 4. Reinforcing the original expectation Self-fulfilling prophecies occur all the time, although you may never have given them that label. For example, think of some experiences you may have had: • You expected to become nervous and botch a presentation, and later did so. • You’re nervous about seeing a person you’re romantically attracted to at a party. You expect they won’t notice or talk to you. You make very little eye contact with anyone at the party and end up feeling bad and leaving early. In each of these cases, there’s a good chance that the event took place as it did because you predicted that it would. You needn’t have botched the presentation, and you might have had a better time at the party if you hadn’t gone to it with such pessimism. In other words, what helped make each event happen the way it did was your expectation of things going a certain way.

Types of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies There are two types of self-fulfilling prophecies. Self-imposed prophecies are ones that influence your behaviour. You’ve probably had the experience of waking up in a cross mood and saying to yourself, “This will be a bad day.” Once you come to such a conclusion, you’ll likely act in ways that make it come true. If you avoid the company of others because you expect they have nothing to offer, your suspicions will have been confirmed—nothing exciting or new is likely to happen. On the other hand, if you approach the



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

same day with the idea that it could be a good one, this expectation may well be met. Smile at people, and they’re more likely to smile back. Enter a class determined to learn something, and you probably will. In these cases and other similar ones, your attitude has a great deal to do with how you see yourself and how others see you. For example, Jenna Clark and Melanie Green (2018) discovered that people who expect online communication to contribute to the growth of their interpersonal relationships (Stage 1: holding an expectation) were more willing to engage in relationship-building social processes such as sharing information about themselves and offering social support within their online communications (Stage 2: behaving in accordance with that expectation). This in turn creates more positive expectations for the interaction’s success (Stage  3: expectation coming to pass), which in turn reinforces their original expectation (Stage 4). These investigators suggest that our expectations about social media and interpersonal relationships influence the outcomes of our online interactions. A second category of self-fulfilling prophecy is one that governs someone else’s actions. The classic example was demonstrated by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson in a study they describe in their book Pygmalion in the Classroom (1968). The experimenters told teachers that 20 per cent of the children in a certain elementary school showed unusual potential for intellectual growth. The names of the 20 p ­ er cent were drawn by means of a table of random numbers—much as if they were drawn out of a hat. Eight months later, these unusual or “magical” children showed significantly greater gains in IQ than the remaining children, who had not been singled out for the teachers’ attention. The change in the teachers’ behaviour toward these allegedly “special” children led  to changes in the intellectual performance of the randomly selected children. Among other things, the teachers gave the “smart” students extra time to answer questions and provided more feedback to them. These children did ­better, not because

they were any more intelligent than their classmates, but because their teachers (significant others) communicated the expectation that they could. In other words, it wasn’t just what the teachers believed that made a difference, it was how these beliefs were conveyed by the teachers’ behaviour. Notice that it isn’t just the observer’s belief that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for the person who is the target of the expectations. The observer must communicate that belief verbally or non-verbally for the prediction to have any effect.

CHECK IT! The self-concept is subjective. Describe four reasons it can be distorted.

Influence of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies The influence of self-fulfilling prophecies on communication can be strong, acting either to improve or to harm relationships. If you assume that another person is unlikeable, you will probably act in ways that communicate your feelings. In such a case, the other person’s behaviour will probably match your expectations, since we usually do not go out of our way to be nice to

TAKE TWO Self-fulfilling prophecy: occurs when a person’s expectations of an event and her or his subsequent behaviour based on those expectations make the outcome more likely than it would otherwise be. Such prophecies can be self-imposed (influenced by your own behaviour) or governed by the behaviour of others.

2 | Communication and the Self

© Zachary Kanin The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

people who aren’t nice to us. If, on the other hand, you treat the other person as likeable, the results will probably be more positive. The self-fulfilling prophecy is an important force in interpersonal communication, but we don’t want to suggest that it explains all behaviour. There are certainly times when the expectation of an event will not bring it about. Your hope of drawing an ace in a card game will not in any way affect the chance of that card turning up in an already shuffled deck. Nor will your belief that good weather is coming stop the rain from falling. In the same way, believing you’ll do well in a job interview when you’re clearly not qualified for the position is unrealistic. To connect the


self-fulfilling prophecy with the “power of positive thinking” is an oversimplification.

BUILDING WORK SKILLS THE SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY Imagine yourself at work or school. Pretend you have to interact with someone (a customer, colleague, client, supervisor, etc.) who has a reputation for being difficult. If you can’t imagine a situation, try one of the scenarios described below. You are the assistant coach of a soccer team of eight-year-old girls and boys. The mother of a child on your team has left you a voicemail to call her back. The last time you saw her, she accused your colleague, the head coach, of playing other children more frequently and not giving her child enough shifts. She claimed the head coach didn’t know how to put together a winning team. In her message, she didn’t say what she wanted to talk to you about. You work at the returns counter of a major department store. There is a man in line whom you saw a colleague assist last week. At that time, he attempted to return a pair of pants that he had bought a month earlier and had worn and washed. He said he didn’t like the style and it didn’t suit him, and he wanted a full refund. He yelled at your colleague and accused him of being incompetent when he explained that the store’s policy did not allow such returns. You have to serve this man next. List the ways in which your prior knowledge of this person might negatively affect your perception of her or his communication. How might your expectations influence your communication? What could you do to reduce the effects of the self-fulfilling prophecy in this situation?


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication


Public and Private Selves

Do you think it’s dishonest for people to have public selves and private selves?

Presenting the Self: ­Communication as Impression Management So far, we’ve described how communication shapes the way communicators view themselves. Now we turn the tables and focus on the topic of impression management—the communication strategies that people use to influence how others view them. In the following pages, you will see that many of our messages are aimed at creating desired impressions.

To understand why impression management exists, we have to discuss the notion of self in more detail. So far, we’ve referred to the self as if each of us had only one identity. In truth, however, each of  us possesses several selves, some private and others public. These selves are often quite different. The perceived self is the person you believe you are in moments of honest self-examination. The perceived self may not be accurate in every respect. For example, you may think you’re much more (or less) empathetic than an objective test would suggest. Accurate or not, the perceived self is powerful because we believe it reflects who we are. The perceived self is called “private” because you’re unlikely to reveal all of it to another person. You can verify the private nature of the perceived self by thinking of elements of your self-perception that you would not disclose. For example, you might be reluctant to share some feelings about your appearance (“I think I’m rather unattractive”), your goals (“The most important thing to me is becoming rich”), or your motives (“I care more about myself than about others”). In contrast to the perceived self, the presenting self is a public image—the way we want to appear to others. In most cases, the presenting self we seek to create is a socially approved image: diligent student, loving partner, conscientious worker, loyal friend, and so on. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1959, 1983) uses the word face to describe this socially approved identity, and he coined the term facework to describe the verbal and non-­ verbal ways in which we act to maintain our own presenting image and the images of others. (See Chapter 9 for more on presenting self and face.) He argues that each of us can be viewed both as a kind of playwright who creates roles that we want others to believe and as the performer who acts out those roles. Goffman (1983) suggests that each of us maintains face by putting on a front when we are around others we want to impress. In contrast, behaviour in the back region—when we’re alone— may be quite different. You can recognize the difference between public and backstage behaviour by remembering a time when you observed a driver,

2 | Communication and the Self

TAKE TWO • Perceived self: the person you believe yourself to be in moments of honest self-examination; physical traits, personality characteristics, attitudes, aptitudes, and all other parts of the image you want to present to the world • Presenting self: a public image, the way you want to appear to others. • Face: your socially approved identity; different selves we present to different people. • Facework: the verbal and non-verbal ways in which you act to maintain your own presenting image and the images of others.

alone in their car, behaving in ways that would never be acceptable in public. All of us engage in backstage ways of acting that we would never exhibit in front of others. Just think about how you behave in front of the bathroom mirror when the door is locked, and you’ll appreciate the difference between public and private behaviour. If you knew someone was watching, would you behave ­differently?

Characteristics of Impression Management Now that you have a sense of what impression management is, we can look at some characteristics of this process.

We Strive to Construct Multiple Identities It’s an oversimplification to suggest we use impression-management strategies to create just one identity. In the course of even a single day, most people play a variety of roles: “respectful student,” “joking friend,” “friendly neighbour,” and “helpful co-worker,” to suggest just a few. We even play a variety of roles around the same person. As you grew up, you almost certainly changed characters as you interacted with your parents. In one situation, you acted as the responsible adult (“You can trust me to look after our place while you’re away”)

and at another time you were the helpless child (“I can’t find my socks!”). At certain times—perhaps on birthdays or holidays—you were a dedicated family member, and at other times you may have played the role of rebel. Similarly, research suggests people utilize different aspects of traditional femininity and masculinity as parts of their identities, highlighting or minimizing different traits in different situations (van Breen et al., 2017). The ability to construct multiple identities is one element of communication competence and well-being. Each of us constructs multiple identities, many of which may be independent and even conflicting, in order to feel good about ourselves and to maintain a sense of belonging (Vignoles et  al., 2006). Multiple identities are integral to existing and communicating in society, but they’re not without some challenges—particularly if one of those identities feels imposed on you. The challenges of a more fluid identity are apparent for many Indigenous Canadians who frequently negotiate between the “traditional” and “non-traditional” elements of their unique heritage and contemporary culture (Friederers, 2006). Newcomers to Canada face unique multiple identity challenges too. For example, how do you retain your cultural heritage and also identify with mainstream Canadian society? Research suggests newcomers who are able to balance their multiple identities achieve greater levels of well-being than either those who abandon their cultural heritage or those who fail to embrace Canadian culture, or those who feel they don’t belong or identify with either culture (Berry and Hou, 2016; Jedwab, 2013, 2016). A positive sense of self that incorporates all the multifaceted components of our identities (e.g., our various cultures, co-cultures and ethnicities, race, gender identity, sexuality, disabilities, and body image, etc.) enhances self-confidence and self-esteem, which are protective factors when facing discrimination (Ai et al., 2014; Forber-Pratt and Zape, 2017; Kelly et al., 2004; Schafer and Ferraro, 2011; Sellers et al., 2003). It might be tempting to regard some of your identities as more “real” than others, but it’s more accurate to recognize that all of them are you in various roles. Communication



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researchers argue that differentiating between “fake” and “real” selves is counterproductive (Tracy and Trethewey, 2005). Instead, it’s healthier

to recognize that competent communicators are multifaceted people with a variety of roles and identities—all of which are you.

FOCUS ON RESEARCH HOW LIVING ABROAD CAN INCREASE SELF-CONCEPT CLARITY It is a truism that the world is increasingly interconnected. Colleges and universities are actively recruiting more international students and companies frequently locate their offices throughout the world. As a result, more and more individuals have experienced living abroad. This prompted Hajo Adams and his colleagues (2018) to wonder how living in a foreign country for a significant amount of time (not just visiting) affects the development of the self-concept. Specifically, Adams and his colleagues (2018) were interested in learning more about how experi­ ences living abroad affected the structure, rather than the content, of people’s self-concept. The structural component they examined was self-concept clarity, which refers to the ways in which people’s knowledge about themselves is organized. Individuals high in self-concept clarity have a clear sense of who they are. They’re confident about their identities—their skills, beliefs, and the nature of their personalities. They know who they are, remain consistent over time, and do not have beliefs that conflict with each other. People with high levels of self-concept clarity are less susceptible to depression, anxiety, and stress; are more likely to use effective coping strategies when dealing with life’s challenges; and enjoy better relationship quality when compared to those with less self-concept clarity (Bigler et al., 2001; Campbell et al., 2003; Lewandowski et al., 2010). Previous research found that transitional experiences such as a change in job or romantic partner tend to decrease self-concept clarity (Light and Visser, 2013; Slotter et al., 2010). In contrast, Adams and his colleagues (2018) discovered that living abroad is a rare kind of transitional experience that increases self-concept clarity. They conducted a series of six studies involving 1,874 participants all of which provided evidence that individuals who had lived abroad reported higher self-concept clarity than

those who had not or those who had signed up to live abroad but who had not yet done so. After controlling for personality factors and possible self-reporting biases, they concluded that living abroad increased self-concept through self-discerning reflections. So, what is self-discerning reflection? When living in a foreign culture people have a unique opportunity to examine parts of their identities and determine the extent to which these are reflections of their cultural upbringing or truly things that define them. Living in a different culture provides a contrast, which helps make your own cultural values and beliefs more visible. When you’re immersed in the norms and values of your own culture they’re often invisible, but when you’re surrounded by different norms and values there are opportunities for self-examination and self-questioning. Adams and his colleagues (2018) give the example of a German person who is punctual, something valued in German culture. When living in a culture that does not value punctuality this person is forced to reflect on their beliefs about punctuality—is it an important part of their identity or is it a remnant of their upbringing that can easily be discarded? Living abroad provides a multitude of opportunities for this type of self-­ examination and as a result, individuals’ self-concepts come into sharper focus. Adams and his colleagues (2018) conclude their research paper by quoting ­German philosopher Hermann von Keyserling who, in 1919, observed that, “The shortest path to oneself leads around the world.” Critical thinking: Can you think of a time when some aspect of your cultural upbringing came into sharper focus because you were exposed to a different culture? Do you think there are ways, other than living abroad, to gain perspective on the structure of your self-concept? What might they be and how might they work in developing self-concept clarity?

2 | Communication and the Self

As we perform our multiple identities, our audience is made up of other actors who are trying to create their own characters. Identity-related communication is a kind of process theatre in which we improvise scenes where our character reacts with others. For example, perhaps you try to present yourself as easygoing and funny by joking about something that has gone wrong, but your partner does not see the humour or the appropriateness of a relaxed approach. Your partner’s response may well elicit another version of yourself. Virtually all conversations provide an arena in which communicators construct their identities in response to the behaviour of others. As we saw in Chapter 1, communication is not made up of discrete events that can be separated from one another. Instead, what happens at one moment is influenced by what each communicator brings to the interaction and by what had happened in their relationship up to that point.

Identity Management Can Be Deliberate or Unconscious

s­ ympathetic in response to another’s message) only in face-to-face settings, when their expressions can be seen by the other person. When they’re speaking over the phone and their reactions cannot be seen, they don’t make the same expressions (Chovil, 1991). Studies like these suggest that much of our behaviour is aimed at sending messages to others— in other words, is identity management. You can see by now that much identity management is unconscious. The experimental subjects described by Brightman and colleagues didn’t consciously think, “Somebody is watching me eat this salty sandwich so I’ll make a face” or “Since I’m in a face-to-face conversation, I’ll show I’m sympathetic by mimicking the facial expressions of my conversational partner.” Decisions like these are often made instantaneously and outside of our conscious awareness. It seems an exaggeration to suggest that all behaviour is aimed at making impressions. Young children are certainly not strategic communicators. Babies spontaneously laugh when they’re pleased and cry when they’re sad or uncomfortable, without any notion of creating an impression on others. Likewise, there are almost certainly times when we as adults act spontaneously. On the whole, however, impression management strategies influence our communication.

There’s no doubt that sometimes we’re highly aware of managing the impressions we create. Most job interviews and first dates are clear examples of deliberate identity management. But in other cases, we unconsciously act in ways that are performances for others. For example, in a classic experiment, participants expressed facial disgust in reaction to eating sandwiches laced with a supersaturated solution of salt water only when there was another person present; when they were alone, they made no faces upon eating the same snack (Brightman et al., 1975). Another study showed that communicators engage in facial mimicry What are some advantages and disadvantages of managing your identity? (such as smiling or looking


Identity Management Is Collaborative



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

People Differ in Their Degree of Identity Management Some people are much more aware of their ­identity-management behaviour than others (Kopp, 1988; Snyder, 1979). There are advantages to being able to effectively self-monitor and adjust our communication. People who pay attention to themselves are generally able to handle social situations smoothly, often putting others at ease. They are also good “people readers” who can adjust their behaviour in response to others (Flynn et al., 2006). Along with these advantages, there can be drawbacks to being an extremely high self-monitor (Leone and Hall, 2003; Leone and Hawkins, 2006; Oyamot et al., 2010). Such people’s analytical nature may prevent them from experiencing events completely, since part of their attention will always be taken up with viewing the situation from a detached position. High self-monitors’ ability to act makes it difficult to tell how they’re really feeling. For example, high self-monitors have been observed to manipulate their Facebook profiles in order to appear more extroverted, happy, and popular when compared to lower self-monitors (Hall and Pennington, 2013). In fact, because high self-monitors change roles often, they may have a hard time themselves knowing how they really feel. By contrast, low self-monitors express what they’re thinking and feeling without paying much attention to the impression they create. While they may be more in touch with their feelings, their reactions may not help them to achieve their desired outcomes in some interpersonal situations. By now, it should be clear that neither extremely high nor low self-monitoring is the ideal. There are some situations when paying attention to yourself and adapting your behaviour can be useful, and other times when reacting without considering the effect on others is a better approach. This need for a range of behaviour demonstrates once again the notion of communicative competence, as outlined in Chapter 1—flexibility is the key to successful relationships.

Why Manage Impressions? Why bother trying to shape the opinions of others? Sometimes, we create and maintain a front to follow social rules.

Social rules govern our behaviour in a variety of settings. For example, ridiculing or humiliating a friend or family member in public is a violation of fundamental social rules regarding saving others’ face. Expressing your boredom when a close friend is describing their extreme distress about a recent experience violates our understanding of friendship. More superficially, chewing with your mouth open, clearing your throat, or belching loudly without saying “excuse me,” picking your nose, and spitting in public are all social rule violations in mainstream Canadian society and violating these rules may not be in your best interest. Other times, being completely open about our identities may create risks we will discuss a bit later in this chapter.

CHECK IT! Describe four characteristics of impression management.

Even when social roles do not dictate the proper way to behave, we often manage the impression we create for personal reasons or to achieve relational goals. You might, for example, dress up for a visit to traffic court in the hope that your front (responsible citizen) will persuade the judge to treat you sympathetically. You might act in a more friendly and lively way than you feel when you meet someone new so that you’ll appear likeable. In situations like these, you aren’t being deceptive as much as “putting your best foot forward.” All these examples show that it is difficult— perhaps even impossible—not to create impressions. After all, you’re always sending some sort of message.

How Do We Manage Impressions? How do we create a public face? In our technological age, which provides many options for communicating, the answer depends in part on the communication channel chosen.

2 | Communication and the Self

In face-to-face interaction, communicators can manage their front in three ways: with their manner, their appearance, and the setting. Manner consists of a communicator’s words and non-verbal actions. Your manner plays a major role in shaping how others view you. In Chapters 6 and 7, we describe in detail how words and non-verbal behaviour create impressions. Since you have to speak and act, the question is not whether or not your manner sends a message, but rather whether or not these messages will be intentional. Along with manner, a second dimension of identity management is appearance—the personal items people use to shape an image. Sometimes, appearance is part of creating a professional image. A physician’s white lab coat and a police officer’s uniform set the wearer apart as someone special. A tailored suit and a rumpled outfit create very different impressions in the business world. Off the job, clothing is just as important. We choose clothing that sends a message about ourselves: “I’m stylish,” “I’m sexy,” “I’m athletic,” and a host of other possible messages. A final way to manage impressions is through the choice of setting—physical items we use to influence how others view us. In the car culture of modern Western society, the automobile is a large part of identity management. This explains why many people lust after cars and trucks that are far more expensive and powerful than they really need. A sporty convertible or a powerful pickup truck doesn’t just get a driver from one place to another; it also makes a statement about the kind of person they are. The physical setting we choose and the way we arrange it is another important way to manage impressions. What colours do you choose for the place you live? What artwork is on your walls? What music do you play? If possible, we choose a setting that we enjoy, but in many cases, we create an environment that will present the desired front to others. If you doubt this fact, just remember the last time you straightened up your place before guests arrived.

Impression Management in Mediated ­Communication Impression management is just as pervasive and important in mediated communication. At first glance, the technology of mediated communication seems to limit the potential for identity management. Texting and email, for example, appear to lack the richness of other channels. They don’t convey the tone of your voice or your posture, gestures, or facial expression. What is missing in mediated communication can actually be an advantage for communicators who want to manage the impressions they make (Pelled et al., 2017). When sending electronic messages, people can choose their level of clarity or ambiguity, seriousness or humour, logic or emotion. The asynchronicity of electronic correspondence allows a sender to say difficult things without forcing the receiver to respond immediately, and it permits the receiver to ignore a message rather than give an unpleasant response. Options like these show that mediated communication can serve as a tool for identity management at least as well as the face-to-face variety (Tong and Walther, 2011; Lane, 2018). Part of Snapchat’s appeal is that it involves less impression management because photos and videos vanish in a few seconds, unlike other social media platforms

Liza Donnelly The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

Face-to-Face Impression Management



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

where pictures and videos can be repeatedly scrutinized and shared with an unintended audience. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow users to manage their impressions (Levordashka and Utz, 2017). Consider how featuring or withholding the following kinds of information affects how people might regard your online profile: age, photo, educational or career accomplishments, sexual orientation, job title, interests, personal philosophy and religious beliefs, and organization affiliations. You can easily think of a host of other kinds of material that could be included or excluded, and the effect that  each would have on how others regard you. Content you choose to share on social media may be influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the extent to which you are managing impressions. For instance, one study found that when individuals wanted to fit in with group tastes they shared less unique music and movies but when they were trying to present their best possible selves, they tended to share more prestigious music and films (Johnson and Ranzini, 2018). When undergraduate Facebook users were asked how they think they come across in their profiles most acknowledged that their presentations were highly positive, but not too positive (Toma and Carlson, 2015). Overly positive self-authored content about one’s self (bragging) is perceived negatively in mediated communication (Scott and Ravenscroft, 2017), as it is in face-to-face interactions. Viewing your online presence from another perspective can be a valuable impression management exercise. Depending on what you discover when you enter your name in a search engine; you may decide to engage in some “reputation management” (Osborn et al., 2016). You may want to change your privacy settings, customize who can see certain updates, and delete unwanted information.

Identity Management and Honesty At first, identity management might sound like an academic label for manipulation or phoniness. And there certainly are situations where impression management is dishonest. A manipulative date who pretends to be affectionate or thoughtful

in order to gain sexual favours is clearly unethical and deceitful. So are job applicants who lie about their academic records to get hired or salespeople who pretend to be dedicated to customer service when their real goal is to make a quick buck. Online deception is common—indeed most people believe other people lie, at least sometimes, online (Hancock and Woodworth, 2013; Toma et al., 2016). Lies about appearance tend to be most expected, but people also expect others to lie about their age, interests, and activities. On sites with greater anonymity (e.g., anonymous chatrooms and hook-up apps), people suspect others will lie about their gender. People admit they’re not always honest online in order to protect their privacy or appear more attractive. A common justification for lying in mediated communication is “everyone lies online” (Drouin et al., 2016). In more extreme cases people have been lured into a relationship (catfished) by someone who has created a completely fictional persona online. But not all cases of identity management are so clearly wrong. In a job interview, is it legitimate to appear more confident and reasonable than you really feel? Likewise, in a boring conversation are you justified in being more attentive than you feel like being, out of courtesy to the other person? And are there times you would be foolish to provide complete and truthful information online? Managing your online identity helps to protect your privacy and security. Situations like these suggest that managing impressions doesn’t necessarily make you a liar. In fact, it is almost impossible to imagine how we could communicate effectively without making decisions about which front to present in one situation or another. Each of us has a repertoire of faces—a cast of c­haracters—and part of being a competent communicator is to choose the best role for a situation. It’s an oversimplification to say that there is only one honest way to behave in each circumstance and that every other response would be insincere and dishonest. Instead, identity management involves deciding which face—which part of yourself—to reveal. Which face to show to others is an important decision, but, in any case, you are sharing a real part of yourself.

2 | Communication and the Self

CHECK IT! What are the advantages and disadvantages of mediated communication for identity management?

Disclosing the Self What we share about ourselves and what we keep hidden is part of impression management. So what constitutes self-disclosure? You might argue that aside from secrets, it’s impossible not to make

FOCUS ON RESEARCH RECOGNIZE THE PERSON FIRST According to the Rick Hansen Foundation (2018), one in seven Canadians has a disability and that number will rise to one in five in 2036. Yet disability is something many of us do not think about too much. By now, it’s probably apparent that our identities are social constructions. How and what we choose to include in our identities depends a great deal on the social concepts and perspectives available to us. For people with disabilities, who face barriers to participation in daily activities, the impact of societal perspective on how identity is constructed is often obvious. For decades, North American society understood the concept of disability from an exclusively medical perspective—disabilities have been characterized as illnesses and dysfunctions residing within individuals. This perspective has perpetuated an “ableist” worldview that most of us are so immersed in we don’t even see. From the ableist perspective, certain abilities are essential to function in the world and if somehow you don’t have those abilities then you are disabled. From this perspective, the person with the disability should strive toward the able-bodied norm (Pena et al., 2016). More informed thinking flips this social construction around. People’s impairments only create disabilities in situations where attitudes and the environment are not supportive. Impairment is only a disability when there are disabling environmental factors (e.g., lack of ramps and elevators, documents not accessible to a screen reader, no hearing aids, wheelchairs or prostheses, etc.) (Pena et al., 2016). Changes to the physical environment, innovations in assistive technologies, inclusive policies, and initiatives to make the world more accessible have gone a long way to remove barriers in the physical environment. Still, changing people’s mindsets and attitudes has proven challenging.

Changing attitudes is no easy task but changing our language is one way to start. Using “person first” language when referring to a person who has a disability recognizes the person first and the disability second. For example, referring to someone as a “person who uses a wheelchair” puts the person first and describes the type of disability they have, whereas “wheelchair-bound person” uses a person’s disability as a means to describe their identity. Because people with disabilities comprise such a large and diverse group, this approach is not everyone’s preference. Some people identify strongly and proudly with their disability and the community of activism that gives them strength (Pulrang, 2017). They prefer to reclaim the term “disabled” to describe themselves and to build a common culture and empower themselves. There is evidence that for people with certain disabilities (e.g., multiple sclerosis) embracing their disability as part of who they are predicts better overall well-being (Bogart, 2015). It’s important to note that they refer to themselves as disabled but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want others to do the same. Using “person first” language is a more respectful approach, unless you’re directed otherwise. Disability is the one identity category we will all embody if we live long enough (Dolmage, 2014). It’s in all our best interests to both conceptualize and create a world that is inclusive and accessible for all. Critical thinking: Do you think the ways we describe and refer to each other in casual conversation have an effect on our self-concepts? Why or why not? How are language, culture, and the physical environments we live in similar or different in helping us define ourselves?


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

yourself known to others. After all, every time you open your mouth to speak, you’re revealing your tastes, interests, desires, opinions, beliefs, or some other bit of information about yourself. Even when the subject is not a personal one, your choice of what to talk about tells the listener something about who you are. In Chapter 7, we’ll discuss the fact that each of us communicates non-verbally. If every verbal and non-verbal behaviour in which you engage is self-revealing, how can self-disclosure be distinguished from any other act of communication? Psychologist Paul Cozby (1973) suggests that for communication to be considered self-disclosing, it must contain personal information about the sender and be purposefully communicated verbally to another person.

Depth A self-disclosing statement is generally regarded as being personal—containing relatively “deep” rather than “surface” information. Of course, what is personal and intimate for one person may not be for another. You may feel comfortable admitting your spotty academic record, short temper, or fear of spiders to anyone who asks, whereas others would be embarrassed to do so. Even basic demographic information, such as age, can be extremely personal for some people.

Availability of Information

Although this definition is a start, it ignores the fact that some messages intentionally directed toward others are not especially revealing. For example, telling an acquaintance, “I don’t like clams” is quite different from announcing, “I don’t like you.” Let’s take a look at several factors that further distinguish self-disclosure from other types of communication.

Self-disclosing messages must contain information that the other person is not likely to know at the time or to be able to obtain from another source without a great deal of effort. For example, describing your recent relationship break-up might feel like an act of serious disclosure because the information concerns you, is offered intentionally, is honest and accurate, and is considered personal. However, if the other person could obtain that information elsewhere without much trouble—from social media or mutual friends, for example—your communication might not be as revealing as you think.


Context of Sharing

Self-Disclosure Factors

It almost goes without saying that true self-­ Sometimes, the self-disclosing nature of a statement disclosure has to be honest. It’s not revealing to say, comes from the setting in which it is uttered. For “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before” to every Saturday night date, or to preface every lie with the statement “Let me be honest . . .” As long as you are honest and accurate to the best of your knowledge, communication can qualify as an act of self-disclosure. On the other hand, painting an incomplete picture of yourself (telling only part of what is true) is not genuine disclosure. We’ll talk more about the relationship between honesty and discloIf as little as 2 per cent of our communication qualifies as self-disclosure, how sure later in this chapter. do we get to know one another?



2 | Communication and the Self

instance, relatively innocuous information about family life seems more personal when a student shares it with the class (Frisby and Sidelinger, 2013), or when an athlete tells it to her coach (Officer and Rosenfeld, 1985), or when it’s shared online (Jiang et al., 2013; Kaishan et al., 2017; Ruppel et al., 2017). In these situations the person disclosing the information has less control over who has access to the information, how others might interpret what they have revealed, and what others might do with the information. Information that might not qualify as self-disclosure in one-on-one interactions with peers or at a gathering of friends and relatives is often perceived as personally revealing in these more public or power-imbalanced contexts. We can summarize our definitional tour by saying that self-disclosure (1) has the self as subject, (2) is intentional, (3) is directed at another person, (4) is honest, (5) is revealing, (6) contains information generally unavailable from other sources, and (7) gains much of its intimate nature from the context and culture in which it is expressed. Although many acts of communication may be self-revealing, this definition makes it clear that few of our statements may be classified as self-­ disclosure. Most conversations—even among friends and romantic partners—focus on everyday mundane topics and disclose little or no personal information (Alberts et al., 2005; Dindia et al., 1997).

CHECK IT! Describe all the qualities of self-disclosure.

Models of Self-Disclosure Now that you have an understanding of what self-disclosure is, let’s take a look at two models that help us better understand how it operates in ­relationships.

Degrees of Self-Disclosure: The Social Penetration Model Social psychologists Dalmas Taylor and Irwin Altman (1987) created the social penetration model,

which describes relationships in terms of breadth and depth of disclosure. Figure 2.2 depicts a student’s self-disclosure in one relationship as an example. The first dimension of self-disclosure in this model involves the breadth of information volunteered—the range of subjects being discussed. For example, the breadth of disclosure in your relationship with a fellow worker will expand as you begin revealing information about your life away from the job, as well as on-the-job details. The second dimension of disclosure is the depth of the information being volunteered—the shift from relatively unrevealing messages to more ­personal ones. Depending on the breadth and depth of information shared, a relationship can be defined as casual or intimate. In a casual relationship, the breadth may be great, but not the depth. A more intimate relationship is likely to have much depth in at least one area. The most intimate relationships are those in which disclosure is great in both breadth and depth. Altman and Taylor (1973) see the development of a relationship as a progression from the periphery of their model to its centre, a process that usually takes place gradually. Each of your personal relationships probably has a different combination of breadth of subjects and depth of revelation. One way to classify the depth of disclosure is to look at the types of information that can be revealed. Clichés are ritualized, stock responses to social situations—virtually the opposite of self-­ disclosure: “How are you doing?” “Fine.” Although hardly revealing, clichés can serve as a valuable kind of shorthand that makes it easy to keep the social wheels greased. Another kind of message involves communicating facts. Not all factual statements qualify as self-disclosure. To qualify, they must fit the criteria of being intentional, significant, and not otherwise known: “This isn’t my first try at college. I dropped out a year ago with terrible grades.” Disclosing personal facts like these suggests a level of trust and commitment that signals a desire to move the relationship to a new level of intimacy. Opinions can be a revealing kind of self-­ disclosure since they often reveal more about a person than facts alone do. Every time you offer a personal opinion (such as your political or religious



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

My career ambitions

Feelings about my physical appearance


Feelings about our relationship


My opinions about our mutual friends

My relationships with members of the opposite sex

My academic life

My family background and problems

FIGURE 2.2  Sample Model of Social Penetration

beliefs or an analysis of another person), you are giving others valuable information about yourself. The fourth level of self-disclosure—and usually the most revealing one—involves the expression of feelings. At first glance, feelings might appear to be the same as opinions, but there’s a big difference. “I don’t think you’re telling me what’s on your mind” is an opinion. Notice how much more we learn about the speaker by looking at three different feelings that could accompany this statement: “I don’t think you’re telling me what’s on your mind . . . . . . and I’m suspicious.” . . . and I’m angry.” . . . and I’m hurt.”

Awareness of Self-Disclosure: The Johari Window Model Another way to illustrate how self-disclosure operates in communication is a model called the Johari

Window, developed by Joseph Luft and Harry ­Ingham (Janas, 2001; Luft, 1969). Imagine a frame that contains everything there is to know about you: your likes and dislikes, your goals, your secrets, your needs—everything. This frame could be divided into information you know about yourself and things you don’t know. It could also be split into things others know about you and things they don’t know. Figure 2.3 illustrates these divisions.

TAKE TWO • Social penetration model: two ways, measured by breadth and depth, that communication can be more or less disclosing. • Breadth: the range of subjects discussed. • Depth: the personal nature of information (significant and private self-disclosures, clichés, facts, opinions, and feelings).

2 | Communication and the Self

Known to self

Known to others

Not known to others

Not known to self





FIGURE 2.3  Johari Window Source: From Group process: An introduction to group dynamics. Copyright © 1963, 1970 by Joseph Luft. Used with the permission of Mayfield Publishing Company.

Part 1 represents the information that both you and the other person already have. This part is your open area. Part 2 represents the blind area: information of which you are unaware, but that the other person knows. You learn about information in the blind area primarily through feedback from others. Part 3 of the Johari Window represents your hidden area: information that you know, but are not willing to reveal to others. Items in this hidden area become public primarily through self-disclosure. Part 4 of the Johari Window represents information that is unknown to both you and to others. At first, the unknown area seems impossible to verify. After all, if neither you nor others know what it contains, how can you be sure it exists at all? We can deduce its existence because we are constantly discovering new things about ourselves. For example, it is not unusual to discover that you have an unrecognized talent, strength, or weakness. Items move from the unknown area into the open area when you share your insight, or into the hidden area when you keep it secret. The relative size of each area in our personal Johari Window changes from time to time according to our moods, the subject we’re discussing, and our relationship with the other person. Despite these changes, a single Johari Window could represent most people’s overall style of disclosure.

CHECK IT! Describe the four quadrants of the Johari Window and the relationship of each to receptivity to feedback.

Benefits and Risks of Self-Disclosure By now, it should be clear that neither all-out disclosure nor complete privacy is desirable. On the one hand, self-disclosure is a key factor in relationship development, and relationships suffer when people keep important information from each other (Porter and Chambless, 2014). On the other hand, revealing deeply personal information can threaten the stability, or even the survival, of a relationship. Communication researchers use the term privacy management to describe the choices people make to reveal or conceal information about themselves (Hammonds, 2015; Petronio, 2013). In the following pages, we will outline both the risks and benefits of opening yourself to others.

Benefits of Self-Disclosure Although the amount of self-disclosure varies from one person and relationship to another, all of us share important information about ourselves at one time or another. There are a variety of reasons we disclose personal information (Duprez et al., 2015). Catharsis  Sometimes, you might disclose information in an effort to “get it off your chest.” Catharsis can indeed relieve the burden of pent-up emotions (Pennebaker, 1997), whether face-to-face or online (Vermeulen et al., 2018), but when it is the only goal of disclosure, the results of opening up may not be positive. Later in this chapter, we’ll discuss guidelines for self-disclosure that improve your chance of achieving catharsis in a way that helps, instead of harms, relationships. Self-Clarification  It’s often possible to clarify your beliefs, opinions, thoughts, attitudes, and feelings by


Willing to disclose

Willing to disclose Open to feedback I

Willing to disclose

PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Willing to disclose


Open to feedback III

Open to feedback II

Open to feedback IV

FIGURE 2.4  How Limited Disclosure Blocks Communication Source: From Group process: An introduction to group dynamics. Copyright © 1963, 1970 by Joseph Luft. Used with the permission of Mayfield Publishing Company.

talking about them with another person. This gaining of insight by “talking the problem out” is central to most psychotherapy, but it also goes on in other relationships, ranging all the way from close friendships to conversations with bartenders or hairdressers. Self-Validation  If you disclose information with the hope of seeking the listener’s agreement (“I think you did the right thing”), you are seeking validation of your behaviour—confirmation of a belief you hold about yourself. On a deeper level, this sort of self-validating disclosure seeks confirmation of important parts of your self-concept. Validation from others is a significant motivator for public social media posts (Bazarova and Choi, 2014). Self-validation through self-disclosure is an important part of the “coming out” process through which LGBTQ+ people share their sexual orientation and choose to integrate this knowledge into their personal, familial, and social lives (Manning, 2015). Reciprocity A well-documented conclusion from research is that one person’s act of self-disclosure makes it more likely that the other person will reveal personal information (Sprecher et al., 2015). There is no guarantee that revealing personal information about yourself will trigger self-disclosures by others, but your own honesty can create a climate that makes the other person feel safer, and perhaps even obligated to match your level of candour. Sometimes, revealing personal information will cause the other person to do so within the same conversation. It’s easy to imagine how telling a partner how you

feel about the relationship (“I’ve been feeling bored lately”) would generate the same degree of candour (“You know, I’ve felt the same way!”). This kind of give and take occurs online as well (Dai et al., 2016). It’s important to keep in mind that reciprocity does not always occur at the same time. Telling a friend today about your job-related problems might help her feel comfortable telling you about her family history later, when the time is right for this sort of disclosure. Impression Management Sometimes, we reveal personal information to make ourselves more attractive, and research shows that this strategy seems to work. One study revealed that both men’s and women’s attractiveness was associated with the amount of self-disclosure in conversations (Stiles et al., 1996). Consider a couple on their first date. It’s not hard to imagine how one or both partners might share personal information to appear more sincere, interesting, sensitive, or curious about the other person. The same principle applies in other situations. A salesperson might say, “I’ll be honest with you . . .” primarily to show that they’re on your side. Maintenance and Enhancement of Relationships  Research demonstrates that we like people who disclose personal information to us. In fact, the relationship between self-disclosure and liking works in several directions. In face-to-face and online interactions we like people who disclose personal information to us (Dindia, 2002; Kashian et al., 2017; Lin and Utz, 2017). In face-toface interactions, we reveal more about ourselves

2 | Communication and the Self

to people we like, and we tend to like others more after we have disclosed to them (Dindia, 2002). Beyond fostering liking, disclosure (if it’s appropriate, of course) is related to relationship maintenance too. For instance, appropriate self-disclosure is associated with greater martial satisfaction across numerous cultures (Cordova, Gee, and Warren, 2005; Kito, 2005; Quek and Fitzpatrick 2013). Not surprisingly, partners who reveal personal information to each other often avoid the sorts of misunderstandings that lead to unhappiness and build greater trust and intimacy. In contrast, the tendency to hide personal information from others has been identified as a predictor of interpersonal conflict and less relationship satisfaction (Uysal et al., 2012). Moral Obligation  Sometimes, we disclose personal information out of a sense of moral obligation. People who are HIV positive, for example, are often faced with the choice of whether or not they should tell their partners. Hirsch Allen and his ­colleagues in British Columbia (2014) found that 73 per cent of HIV-positive men and women in their study disclosed their HIV-positive status to their sexual partners. This rate of disclosure is slightly higher than studies done in countries where there is less criminalization of non-disclosure. However, ­additional research has revealed that it is people’s belief that they have a moral duty to tell their partners that consistently predicts disclosure rates among people who are HIV positive. Laws criminalizing non-disclosure in a particular jurisdiction have been much less influential (O’Byrne, 2012).

The Risks of Self-Disclosure While the benefits of  disclosing are certainly important, opening up can also involve risks that make the decision to disclose a difficult and sometimes painful one (Afifi and Coughlin, 2007; Christofides et al., 2012). The risks (and fears) of self-disclosure fall into six common categories (Greene et al., 2006; Rosenfeld, 2000), including rejection, causing a negative impression, deceased relational satisfaction, loss of influence, loss of control, and hurting the other person. We’ll take a closer look at these in the following pages.

TAKE TWO BENEFITS OF SELF-DISCLOSURE • Catharsis: revealing thoughts, feelings, and emotions to release emotional burden. • Self-clarification: talking about beliefs, thoughts, opinions, and attitudes to gain insight. • Reciprocity: disclosing information to increase the likelihood that the other person will do the same. • Impression management: revealing personal information in order to make ourselves more attractive. • Maintenance and enhancement of relationships: foster liking and maintain healthy relationships through disclosure. • Moral obligation: disclosing information because of a sense of duty.

Rejection John Powell (1969) sums up the risks of disclosing in answering the question that forms the title of his book Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? “I am afraid to tell you who I am, because, if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and that’s all I have.” The fear of disapproval is powerful. Sometimes, it’s exaggerated and il­logical, but there are real dangers in revealing ­personal information: A: I’m starting to think of you as more than a friend. To tell the truth, I think I love you. B: I think we should stop seeing one another. Negative Impression  Even if disclosure does not lead to total rejection, it can create a negative impression. A: You know, I’ve never had a relationship that lasted more than a month. B: Really? I wonder what that says about you. Decrease in Relational Satisfaction Besides affecting other people’s opinions of you, disclosure can lead to a decrease in the satisfaction that comes from a relationship. Consider a scenario like this, where the incompatible wants and needs of both people become clear through disclosure:



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

A: Let’s get together with Youssef and Sahar on Saturday night. B: To tell you the truth, I’m tired of seeing Youssef and Sahar. I don’t have much fun with them, and I think Youssef is kind of a jerk. A: But they’re my best friends! Loss of Influence  Another risk of disclosure is a possible loss of influence in the relationship. Once you confess a secret weakness, your control over how the other person views you can be diminished. A: I’m sorry I was so sarcastic. Sometimes, I build myself up by putting you down. B: Is that it? I’ll never let you get away with that again! Loss of Control Revealing something personal about yourself means losing control of the information. What might happen if the person tells someone else what you disclosed—people you prefer didn’t know, or whom you would like to tell yourself? A: I never really liked Nor. I agreed to go out because it meant a good meal in a nice restaurant. B: Really? Nor would certainly like to know that! Hurting the Other Person  Even if revealing hidden information leaves you feeling better, it might hurt others—cause them to be upset, for example. It’s probably easy to imagine yourself in a situation like this: A: Well, since you asked, I have felt less attracted to you lately. B: I know! I don’t see how you can stand me at all!

Alternatives to Self-Disclosure Though self-disclosure plays an important role in interpersonal relationships, it’s not the only type of communication available. To understand why complete honesty is not always easy or ideal, consider some familiar situations:

You’ve grown increasingly annoyed by some habits of the person you live with. You fear that bringing up this topic could lead to an unpleasant conversation and maybe damage the relationship. Your friend, who is headed out the door for an important job interview, says, “I know I’ll never get this job! I’m really not qualified, and besides, I look terrible.” You agree with your friend’s assessment. You’ve just been given a large, extremely ugly lamp as a gift by a relative who visits your home often. How would you answer the question, “Where will you put it?”

Although honesty is desirable in principle, it often has risky, potentially unpleasant consequences. It is tempting to sidestep situations where self-disclosure would be difficult, but examples like the ones you just read show that avoidance is not always possible. Research and personal experience show that communicators—even those with the best intentions—are not always completely honest when they find themselves in situations when honesty would be uncomfortable (Ennis et al., 2008; Scott, 2010). Four common alternatives to self-­ disclosure are remaining silent or being secretive, lying, equivocating, and hinting. We will take a closer look at each one.

Silence and Secrecy One alternative to self-disclosure is to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself. Keeping silent is one way to avoid disclosing information you would rather keep private, particularly in situations when you are not asked directly about it. In their exploration of the dark and light sides of avoidance and secrets, Tamara Afifi, John Caughlin, and Waid Afifi (2007) discuss what characterizes secrecy. They suggest that secrets involve intentionally concealing private information that the individual considers too risky to reveal. Not all silence is secretive; however, when you choose silence over disclosure you have made a choice to conceal information, at least in that particular situation. As we’ve discussed throughout this text, talk–silence patterns vary by culture, and many

2 | Communication and the Self

TAKE TWO RISKS OF SELF-DISCLOSURE • Rejection: disclosure may cause disapproval. • Negative impression: even if disclosure doesn’t cause outright rejection, it can make you look bad. • Decrease in relational satisfaction: relationships can suffer from disclosure. • Loss of influence: disclosure may reveal your weakness, and you may have less influence over others. • Loss of control: people can tell others what you have disclosed and thus control information that you want to manage. • Hurting the other person: disclosure might cause the other person to be upset.

Canadians find prolonged silences uncomfortable, but this is not the case in many Asian and Canadian Indigenous cultures. Within any culture, some people are more inclined to keep their emotions and thoughts to themselves (Vrij et al., 2003). Determining whether or not information is private (others have no claim to it) or whether it is a secret (we are keeping it from people who have a right to know) involves considering the ethics of evasion, which we will discuss a little later in this chapter.

Lying A lie is a deliberate attempt to hide or misrepresent the truth. Lying to gain unfair advantage over an unknowing victim seems clearly wrong. Lies can provoke negative emotions in the recipient, damage their trust of the liar, and can motivate revenge and further dishonesty. Lies are damaging to relationships (Lupoli et al., 2018; Tyler et al., 2006). However, not all lies are created equally. A benevolent lie is defined (at least by the person who tells it) as one that is not malicious—and perhaps is even helpful to the person it’s told to. The most obvious reason for benevolent lying is to protect the other person’s feelings. You can almost certainly recall times when you have been less than truthful in order to

avoid hurting someone you care for. Benevolent lies are common even in our closest relationships (DePaulo et al., 2009). Our perceptions of the liar’s motivation appear to determine the extent to which we judge lies as undermining our trust of others (Cantarero et al., 2018). When people lie for self-serving reasons (e.g., to make themselves look better or gain an advantage) we judge them as untrustworthy, but when people tell lies with the intention of benefiting others we tend to trust them more (Levine and Schweiter, 2015). Cross-cultural research suggests our understanding of what constitutes a lie is influenced by socio-cultural conventions, at least to some extent. In a series of studies done over the past two decades researchers in Canada and China have found that Chinese children are significantly more likely than Canadian children to judge lying to hide one’s good deeds as positive and telling the truth about one’s good deeds as undesirable (Lee et al., 1997). In these investigations, Chinese adults, unlike Canadian adults and both Chinese and Canadian children, considered untruthful statements made to conceal a person’s own good deeds not to be lies at all (Fu et al., 2001; Xu et al., 2009). Similarly, Chinese children aged 9 to 17 years judged lies told to benefit a group they belonged to (e.g., their class, school, country) less negatively as they got older (Fu et al., 2016). These investigators suggest that that the emphasis Chinese culture places on modesty and its importance for maintaining group cohesiveness and harmony influences Chinese people’s conceptualizations of lies and their moral judgments. According to research conducted at Cornell University’s Social Media Lab, the most frequent type of lies we tell each other via mediated communication is “butler lies.” Butler lies are small lies that help us manage our availability, in much the same way as a butler might manage the access to an employer (Hancock et al., 2009; Reynolds et al., 2013; Smith et al., 2014). Examples of butler lies are things like “I’m on my way” (when you haven’t left), or “Can’t meet later. Busy” (when you’re not busy) or “Sorry, just got your message” (when you got it a while ago). They make use of ambiguities that arise from the fact that both communicators are not in the same place. People report using butler lies to avoid hurting other people’s feelings or to save face




PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

that are not literally false but cleverly avoid an ­unpleasant  truth (Bello, 2005). The value of equivocation becomes clear when you consider the alternatives. Consider the dilemma of what to say when you’ve been given an unwanted present—an ugly painting, for example—and the giver asks what you think of it. How can you respond? On the one hand, you need to choose between telling the truth and lying. At the same time, you have a choice of whether to make your response clear or vague. Figure 2.5 disWhen do you think benevolent lying is the right thing to do? When is it harmful? plays these choices. After considering the alternaand to help manage the pressure of being expected tives, we clearly see that the first to always be available. option—an equivocal, true response—is far preferTable 2.2 presents some common reasons given able to the other choices in several respects—mainly, for lying. because it spares the receiver embarrassment. Rather than flatly saying no to an unappealing invitation, it may be kinder to say, “I have other plans”—even if those plans are to stay home and watch television. The underlying content of equivocal messages (e.g., unwillingness to accept the invitation) is often What reasons do people give for lying and what are the effects of lies? understood by their recipients but these ambiguous messages are taken as more polite than the truth might be (Bello and Edwards, 2005). However, when Clearly, lies can elicit different responses and the risks of a negative interpretation of an equivocal are not equal in terms of the damage they do to message are high, for example, in response to your relationships. An occasional benevolent lie in co-worker bringing up a recent job interview you an otherwise honest relationship does not pose had with another company in front of your supermuch threat. Major deception though—especially visor, most people prefer not to equivocate (Bello when it’s part of a pattern of deceit—is a different et al., 2016). In high-risk situations people are more matter. Lying about major parts of your relation- likely to tell the truth or lie. Some forms of equivocation rely on telling parship can lead to the end of that relationship. So, if tial truths (Rogers et al., 2017). Imagine you had preserving a relationship is important to you, then ­honesty—at least about important matters—really promised to be home right after class but instead went out for drinks with classmates. Upon arriving does appear to be the best policy. home late you might justify being late by saying, “One of my friends from class needed to talk about Equivocation a personal problem.” Even if your time at the pub Lying isn’t the only alternative to self-disclosure. included this conversation this technically honest When faced with difficult choices, communicators statement is clearly an act of deception. Communican—and often do—use equivocation: statements cators who hedge the truth view this strategy as


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TABLE 2.2  Some Reasons for Lying Reason


Save face for self

“Oh, I never got that invitation!”

Save face for others

“Don’t worry about forgetting my get-together. It really was no big deal.”

Acquire resources

“Oh, please let me add this class. If I don’t get in, I’ll never graduate on time!”

Protect resources

“I’d like to lend you the money, but I’m short myself.”

Initiate interaction

“Excuse me, I’m lost. Do you live around here?”

Be socially gracious

“No, I’m not bored—tell me more about your vacation.”

Avoid conflict

“It’s not a big deal. We can do it your way. Really.”

Avoid interaction

“That sounds like fun, but I’m busy Saturday night.”

Be able to leave

“Oh, look what time it is! I’ve got to run!”

Present a competent image

“Sure I understand. No problem.”

Increase social desirability

“Yes, I’ve done a fair amount of skiing.”

SOURCE: Adapted from Dunbar, N.E., Gangi, K., Coveleski, S., Adams, A., Bernhold, Q., and Giles, H. (2016). When is it acceptable to lie? Interpersonal and intergroup perspectives on deception. Communication Studies, 67(2), 129–46.

less ethically dubious than more blatant forms of deception. Technically speaking, they reason, they did not tell a lie. Nevertheless, when those on the receiving end discover the full story, they’re likely to be just as offended as if the person had told them an outright lie (McGregor, 2017).

Hinting Hints are more direct than equivocal statements. Whereas an equivocal message is not necessarily

aimed at changing another’s behaviour, a hint seeks to get the desired response from the other person. As Michael Motley (1992) suggests, some hints are designed to save the receiver from embarrassment. For example: Direct Statement

Face-Saving Hint

I liked your old hairstyle better than the new one.

This is a new look for you. You have such great hair! You can wear any style.

I’m too busy to I know you’re busy; I’d continue with this better let you go. conversation. I wish you would let me go.

Equivocal OPTION I: (Equivocal, True Message)

OPTION II: (Equivocal, False Message)

“What an unusual painting! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“Thanks for the painting. I’ll hang it as soon as I can find just the right place.”

OPTION III: (Clear, True Message)

OPTION IV: (Clear, False Message)

Direct Statement

Face-Saving Hint

“It’s just not my kind of painting. I don’t like the colours, the style, or the subject.”

“What a beautiful painting! I love it.”

Please don’t smoke here; it bothers me.

I’m pretty sure that smoking isn’t permitted here.

I’d like to invite you out for lunch, but I don’t want to risk a “no” answer to my invitation.

Gee, it’s almost lunch time. Have you ever eaten at that new Italian restaurant around the corner?




FIGURE 2.5  Dimensions of Truthfulness and Equivocation

Other hints are less concerned with protecting the receiver than with saving the sender from embarrassment, such as:



William Haefeli/Cartoonstock

PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

TAKE TWO ALTERNATIVES TO SELF-DISCLOSURE • Silence or secrecy: saying nothing. • Lying: deliberately attempting to hide or misrepresent the truth. • Equivocation: giving a response that has two or more equally plausible meanings. • Hinting: making a face-saving remark designed to get a desired response.

The success of a hint depends on the other person’s ability to pick up the unexpressed message. Your subtle remarks may go right over the head of an insensitive receiver or one who chooses not to respond to them. If this happens, you still have the choice to be more direct. If the costs of a straightforward message seem too high, you can withdraw without risk.

The Ethics of Evasion We can clearly see why people often choose hints, equivocations, and/or benevolent lies instead of complete self-disclosure. These strategies are easier ways to manage difficult situations than the alternatives

for both the speaker and the receiver of the message. In this sense, successful liars, equivocators, and hinters can be said to possess a certain kind of communicative competence. On the other hand, there are times when honesty is the right approach, even if it’s painful. At times like these, evaders could be viewed as lacking either the competence or the integrity to handle a situation effectively. Are hints, benevolent lies, and equivocations ethical alternatives to self-disclosure? Some of the examples in these pages suggest the answer is a qualified yes. Many social scientists and philosophers agree. For example, researchers David Buller and Judee Burgoon (1994) argue that the morality of a speaker’s motives for lying, not the deceptive act itself, ought to be judged. Another approach is to consider whether the effects of a lie will be worth the deception. Ethicist Sissela Bok (1978) says deception may be justified if it does good things, prevents harm, and/or protects a larger truth. Perhaps the right questions to ask, then, are whether an indirect message is truly in the interests of the receiver, and whether this sort of evasion is the only effective way to behave. Bok suggests another way to check the justifiability of a lie: imagine how others would respond if they knew what you were really thinking or feeling. Would they accept your reasons for not telling the truth?

Guidelines for Self-Disclosure Self-disclosure is a special kind of sharing that is not desirable in every situation. Let’s look at some guidelines that can help you recognize how to express yourself in a way that’s rewarding for you and for the others involved.

Is the Other Person Important to You? There are several ways in which someone might be important. Perhaps you have an ongoing relationship deep enough that sharing significant parts of yourself justifies keeping your present level of togetherness intact. Or perhaps the other person is someone you know, but not intimately. Now you see a chance to grow closer, and disclosure may be the path toward developing that personal relationship.

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BUILDING WORK SKILLS DISCLOSURE AT WORK Imagine a situation at work where you’ve made a mistake. Imagine that part of the reason for your error is related to something personal (for example, a conflict in a relationship, a disability you have, or a bias you have). In order for the problem to be corrected, you need to tell either your co-worker, or your supervisor. Whom would you tell? What would you say? How much information would you reveal? Describe the risks and benefits of the choices you made. Share your approach and list of the risks and benefits with a classmate. Do they agree with your analysis? Why or why not?

Is the Risk of Disclosing Reasonable? Most people intuitively calculate the potential benefits of disclosing against the risks of doing so (Afifi and Steuber, 2009). Even if the probable benefits are great, opening yourself up to almost certain rejection may be asking for trouble. For instance, it might be foolhardy to share your important feelings with someone who is likely to betray your confidences or ridicule them. On the other hand, knowing that your partner will respect the information makes the prospect of speaking out more reasonable. Revealing personal thoughts and feelings can be especially risky on the job (Connell, 2012). The politics of the workplace sometimes require communicators to keep their feelings to themselves in order to accomplish both personal and organizational goals. You may find the opinions of a manager or customer personally offensive, but decide to bite your tongue rather than risk your job or lose goodwill for the company.

Is the Self-Disclosure Appropriate? It is important, and quite interesting, to recognize that revealing your emotions and thoughts to others activates the same reward centres in the brain that are activated by food and sex (Tamir and Mitchell, 2012). However, while self-disclosure is intrinsically rewarding, it’s not always the best course of action. Generally, it’s not wise to reveal highly personal secrets in public forums such as in classrooms or on social media sites (Frisby and

Sidelinger, 2013). One of the problems with online communication is that the experience of being online (as the user perceives it, often in private or at home) is not the same reality as is found on the internet, where privacy settings can and are breached, and monitoring by companies and third parties is routine. It’s been said, “If you’re not paying for something, then you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” On the other hand, sharing personal information in private settings is part of relationship development and can promote trust and intimacy (Greene et al., 2006). But even during a phase of high disclosure, sharing everything about yourself isn’t necessarily ­constructive. Self-disclosure is not an all-or-­nothing proposition. It’s possible to reveal information in some situations and keep it to yourself in others. In any case, disclosure should be relevant and appropriate to the situation at hand.

Is the Disclosure Reciprocated? There is nothing quite as disconcerting as talking your heart out to someone, only to discover that the other person has yet to say anything to you that is even half as revealing. You think to yourself, “What am I doing?” Unequal self-disclosure creates an unbalanced relationship, one with potential problems. The reciprocal nature of effective disclosure doesn’t mean that you are obliged to match every one of another person’s revelations. In order to maintain mutual investment in a relationship, disclosure needs to be balanced over time.



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another person, and usually at a great cost to the relationship. It’s important to consider the effects of your candour before opening up to others. Comments such as “I’ve always thought you were pretty unintelligent,” or “Last year, I made love to your best friend,” may sometimes resolve old business and thus be constructive, but they can also be devastating—to the listener, to the relationship, and to your self-esteem.

Self-disclosure has its risks and rewards. When has disclosing something about yourself helped a relationship you’ve had? When has it hurt a relationship?

Will the Effect Be C ­ onstructive? Self-disclosure can be a vicious tool if it’s not used carefully. Every person has a psychological boundary to subjects that are extremely sensitive to them. Intruding in that area is a sure way to disable

CHECK IT! Describe the five factors you need to consider before disclosing information about yourself to others.

SUMMARY The self-concept is a relatively stable set of views that people hold about themselves. It begins to develop soon after birth, and is shaped by the appraisals of significant others and by social comparisons with reference groups. The self-concept develops in the context of the larger socio–cultural environment. Language affects the development of our self-concept, as do a number of cultural values. The most fundamental of these values is a culture’s individualistic–collectivistic orientation. The self-concept is subjective and can be substantially different from the way a person is perceived by others. Although the self may evolve, the self-­ concept resists change. A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when a person’s expectations of an event influence the outcome. A prophecy can consist of predictions (positive or negative) by others, or it may be self-imposed.

It’s possible to change one’s self-concept in ways that lead to more effective communication. Identity management consists of an individual’s strategic communication designed to influence other people’s perceptions. Identity management aims at presenting one or more faces to others, which may be different from the spontaneous behaviour that takes place in private. Some communicators are high self-monitors who are very conscious of their own behaviour, while others are less aware of how their words and actions affect others. Communicating through mediated channels can enhance a person’s ability to manage impressions. Since each person has a variety of faces that they can reveal, choosing which one to present is a central concern of competent communicators. Self-disclosure consists of honest, revealing messages about the self that are intentionally

2 | Communication and the Self

directed toward others. Disclosed communication contains information that is generally unavailable from other sources. The percentage of messages that are truly self-disclosing is relatively low. Two models for examining self-disclosure in relationships are the social penetration model and the Johari Window. The social penetration model describes two dimensions of self-disclosure: breadth and depth. The Johari Window uses four window panes to illustrate how much information

a person reveals to others, hides, is blind to, and is unaware of. Communicators choose to disclose or not to disclose personal information for a variety of reasons. Four alternatives to revealing self-disclosures are silence, lies, equivocations, and hints. When deciding whether or not to disclose, communicators should consider a variety of factors, such as the importance of the other person to them, the risk involved, and the appropriateness, relevance, and constructiveness of the disclosure.


A relatively stable set of perceptions you hold about yourself and the ability to treat yourself with concern are a. b. c. d.


self-concept and self-disclosure. self-esteem and self-compassion. self-concept and self-compassion. self-esteem and self-concept.

reflected appraisal and social comparison reflected appraisal and self-control reference groups and significant others power distance and uncertainty avoidance


People from which type of culture are more likely to be restrained and use persuasion, silence, and ambiguity in their communication?

Which of the following is true about the self-concept? a. The self-concept changes easily and is subjective. b. The self-concept is subjective and distorted feedback can have a lasting effect. c. The self-concept changes easily and is unaffected by social expectations. d. The self-concept is distorted by obsolete information, but not by social expectations.

Which of the following statements is false? a. Facework describes the verbal and non-verbal ways in which we act to maintain our own presenting image. b. The person you believe yourself to be at moments of private self-examination is called the perceived self. c. Identity management includes the communication strategies that people use to influence how others view them. d. The presenting self is a private image— the way we want to appear to ourselves.

a. collectivistic b. resistant c. avoidant d. individualistic 4.

Ying is nervous about her job interview and has convinced herself that she will not do well. Her nervousness causes her to be tongue-tied during the interview and she does not impress the employer. Ying’s expectations and subsequent behaviour demonstrate the power of a. self-devaluation. b. equivocation. c. distorted feedback. d. self-fulfilling prophecies.

What are the two theories that explain how social interaction shapes the self-concept? a. b. c. d.




Which of the following statements about identity management is true? a. We strive to construct a single, coherent identity. b. Identity management is done privately. c. People differ in the degree of identity management. d. Identity management is always conscious.


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication


Which of the following statements is false? a. Mediated communication can serve as a tool for identity management at least as well as the face-to-face variety. b. Part of the appeal of Snapchat is that it requires less impression management. c. Overly positive self-authored content about one’s self is usually perceived positively in mediated communication. d. Identity management is sometimes dishonest


The social penetration model includes a. the reciprocity and depth of information volunteered.

b. catharsis and self-validation of information volunteered. c. the breadth and depth of information volunteered. d. the breadth and social influence of information volunteered. 10. Silence, lies, equivocations, and hints are a. alternatives to revealing self-disclosures. b. “butler” methods that maintain our identity management. c. ways of making use of ambiguities due to the asynchronous nature of the communication. d. benevolent distortions of the truth.

Answers: 1. c; 2. a; 3. a; 4. b; 5. d; 6. d; 7. c; 8. c; 9. c; 10. a


ACTIVITIES 1. Invitation to Insight What reference groups do you use to define your self-concept? You can recognize your social comparison groups by answering the following questions: a. Select one area in which you compare yourself to others. In what area is the comparison made? (For example, is the comparison based on wealth, intelligence, social skill?) b. In the selected area, ask yourself, “Which people am I better or worse than?” c. In the selected area, ask yourself, “Which people am I the same as or different from?” What is the effect of using these groups as a basis for judging yourself? How might you view yourself differently if you used other reference groups as a basis for comparison? 2. Invitation to Insight Describe two incidents in which self-fulfilling prophecies you imposed on yourself affected your communication. Explain how each of these predictions shaped your behaviour, and describe how you might have behaved differently if you had made a different prediction. 3. Critical Thinking Probe What social forces affect the development of self-concept in childhood and beyond? To what

degree do these forces contribute to healthy or unhealthy self-concepts? Use three specific messages to illustrate your answers. Then, discuss how individuals can reduce the effect of unhealthy forces in their everyday lives. 4. Skill Builder a. Make a list of some personal information you have not shared with a family member. Then, make a second list of information you haven’t disclosed to a friend. b. For each item on your lists, consider the worst consequences if you were to reveal this information and the best possible consequences from disclosing this information. c. Evaluate the most likely outcome if you were to disclose, and then conduct a risk–benefit analysis to decide whether or not to keep the information private or share it. 5. Ethical Challenge You can gain a clearer sense of the ethical implications of impression management by following these directions: a. Make a list of the different presenting selves you try to communicate at school or work, to family members, to friends, and to various types of strangers—in either face-to-face

2 | Communication and the Self

c­ ommunication or by computer-mediated communication. b. Which of these selves are honest, and which are deceptive? c. Are any deceptive impressions you try to create justified? What would be the consequences of being completely candid in the situations you have described? Referring to your answers to these questions, develop a set of guidelines to distinguish ethical and unethical impression management. 6. Role Play With a partner, imagine yourselves in each of the following situations. Choose your respective parts in each scenario, and then choose the most effective way you could act. Role-play your choices.

a. You offer to teach a friend a new skill, such as playing the guitar, using a computer program, or sharpening up a tennis backhand. Your friend is making slow progress, and you find yourself growing impatient. b. At a party, you meet someone you find very attractive, and you’re pretty sure the feeling is mutual. You feel an obligation to spend most of your time with the person you came with, but the opportunity here is very appealing. c. At work, you face a belligerent customer. You don’t believe that anyone has the right to treat you this way. d. A friend or family member makes a joke about your appearance that hurts your feelings. You aren’t sure whether or not to make an issue of the remark or to pretend that it doesn’t bother you.


What is the difference between self-concept and self-esteem? How does each affect interpersonal communication?


Are language and culture important in the development of one’s self-concept? Why or why not?


Given the characteristics of self-concept, how amenable is it to change? Support your position by referring both to the characteristics of

the self-concept and research regarding influences on its development. 4.

Where do you draw the line between identity management as competent communication and dishonest manipulation? Support your position by referring to arguments presented in this chapter.


How are lying, silence, hinting, and equivocation different? Are they morally different?


Create a list of words or a collage of pictures (or a bit of both) that represents aspects of your self-concept that you present to others (presenting self). Create a second word list or collage that represents your private self. How did you learn about these aspects of yourself? Consider the processes of reflected appraisal and social comparison in your analysis—who are your significant others and reference groups? How accurate

is this representation? What are possible reasons for an inaccurate assessment? What would you like to change? 2.

Recall a couple of times when you disclosed personal information with very different outcomes (one positive situation and one negative situation). Review the guidelines for self-disclosure (found on page 72) to analyze each situation and the different outcomes.




Perceiving Others

CHAPTER OUTLINE The Perception Process Reality is Constructed Steps in the Perception Process

Influences on Perception Access to Information Physiological Influences Psychological Influences Social Influences Cultural Influences

Common Tendencies in Perception We Make Snap Judgments We Cling to First Impressions We Judge Ourselves More Charitably than We Do Others We Are Influenced by Our Expectations We Are Influenced by the Obvious We Assume Others Are Similar to Us

Perceiving Others More Accurately Perception Checking Building Empathy

KEY TERMS achievement culture androgyny attribution confirmation bias empathy fundamental attribution error gender halo effect horns effect interpretation narratives negotiation

nurturing culture organization perception perception checking power distance primacy effect punctuation selection self-serving bias sensation standpoint theory uncertainty avoidance


Describe the subjective nature of perceiving interpersonal messages and relationships Explain how access to information, physiological, psychological, social, and cultural factors influence interpersonal perception Summarize common tendencies in perception that can sometimes lead to misperceptions Use perception checking to clarify your understanding of another person’s point of view Describe the value of empathy in interpersonal communication and relationships


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”

so different to each of us. After examining the perceptual factors that make understanding so difficult, we’ll look at tools for bridging the perceptual gap.

– George Carlin

It all depends on how you look at it! Doughnut, hole, or misshapen beignet? Sincere, phony, or trying too hard? Attractive or not your type? As we discussed in Chapter 2, each of us has our unique point of view. Who you are and how you were raised are unique to you, which means that no one perceives the world exactly the way you do. This essential principle significantly affects interpersonal relations, as communicators attempt to share meaning from perspectives that are often quite different. The brilliance of many observational comedians is their ability to describe something, often very commonplace, that we pay little attention to, from an unexpected, unique, and humorous angle. Just like the boxes in Figure 3.1, every interpersonal situation can be seen from multiple points of view. Take a minute to study that figure. How many ways can you discover to view this image? If you see only one or two, keep looking. (You can see at least four ways of viewing the image by looking at Figure 3.2.) If it’s hard to make quick and accurate sense of simple drawings, imagine the challenge involved in trying to understand the perspectives of other human beings, who are far more complex and multi-dimensional. In this chapter, we provide tools for communicating in the face of perceptual differences. We’ll begin by explaining that we construct reality by assigning meaning to our sensations. Then we’ll introduce some of the many reasons why the world appears

The Perception Process How do our perceptions affect our communication with others? Recall from the communication model presented in Chapter 1, meanings exist in and among people. Each of us actively constructs our own reality. So, how do we do this?

Reality Is Constructed Most social scientists agree that the world we know isn’t “out there.” Rather we create our reality by interpreting and assigning meaning to the information we gather through our senses. Sensation describes how our sense organs (e.g., eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin) pick up information from the environment (e.g., light waves, sound waves, chemicals, pressure, and temperature) and translate them into messages our brains can process. The process of assigning meaning to the information we receive from our senses is perception. Our ears sense sounds in hertz and decibels but our brains perceive a friend’s laughter and a favourite song. Our eyes sense light waves of varying intensities but our brains perceive a colleague looking puzzled. Sensations are the raw materials of our experiences in the world and perceptions are the meanings we assign to them. The process of making meaning of our interactions with others involves four steps, which we’ll discuss next.

Steps in the Perception Process Selection Since we’re exposed to more sensory input than we can possibly manage, the first step in perception is the selection of which data we will attend to. There are several factors that cause us to notice some messages and ignore others (Wood et al., 2016). FIGURE 3.1  Two Cubes Touching

• Intensity. Something that is louder, larger, or brighter stands out. Someone who laughs or

3 | Perceiving Others

FIGURE 3.2  Four Ways of Viewing Two Cubes Touching

talks loudly at a party attracts more attention (although not always favourable) than quieter guests do. • Repetition. Repetitious stimuli can also attract our attention. Just as a quiet, but steadily dripping tap can come to dominate our awareness, people to whom we’re often exposed will become noticeable. • Contrast or change. Unchanging people or things are less noticeable. For example, we may appreciate our significant others more when they leave. • Motives. Our intentions in a situation also determine what we pay attention to. For example, someone on the lookout for a romantic adventure will be especially aware of attractive potential partners, whereas the same person in an emergency might be oblivious to anyone except the police or medical personnel. • Emotional state. Our moods shape what we select. People in a sad mood notice less of what’s going on around them than those in happier moods (Kaspar et al., 2013; Zimasa et al., 2017).

Organization After selecting information from the environment, the next stage is organization, or arranging it in some meaningful way (out of many possibilities) to

help make sense of the world. The raw sense data we perceive can be organized in more than one way. (See Figure 3.2 for a visual example of this principle.) We organize using perceptual schema, which are cognitive frameworks (Macrae and Bodenhausen, 2001). We use various types of schema to classify other people, including the following (Freeman and Ambady, 2011): • Physical (e.g., thin or heavy, accent or no accent, old or young) • Role-based (e.g., student, electrician, spouse) • Interaction-based (e.g., friendly, helpful, aloof, sarcastic) • Psychological (e.g., generous, anxious, moody, shy) Once we’ve chosen an organizing schema to classify people, we use that schema to make generalizations about members of the groups who fit our categories. For example, if you’re especially aware of a person’s attractiveness, you might be alert to the differences in the way beautiful and plain people are treated (more on this in Chapter 7). If religion plays an important part in your life, you might think of members of your faith differently than you do of others. We then organize our observations into generalizations. (“Teachers usually. . . .,” “Shy people often . . .,” “Men tend to . . . .”). There’s



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

FOCUS ON RESEARCH THE MYTH OF MULTI-TASKING AND SOCIAL MEDIA Given that our attention is limited and we select what to pay attention to in any given moment, is it really possible to multi-task? Well, maybe if the tasks are several things required to prepare a meal (e.g., sautéing onions while you’re chopping other vegetables and waiting for a pot of water to boil) or one of the tasks is very familiar and routine, like having a shower and running through your to-do list for the day in your head. But most of us have scorched a few onions when the recipe is too complicated and forgotten if we’ve already shampooed our hair when we have too much on our minds. So, what about checking Facebook during class or returning texts while studying? Is it possible to do both effectively? Unfortunately, the answer is no, Even if the class is slow and boring and even if you can check the slides online and review the textbook later. There is conclusive evidence that students who media multi-task in class recall less material in both the short term and the long term—even when they have a chance to read the textbook and return to the teacher’s slides ahead of the test (Glass and Kang, 2019). In addition, when one student is using social media in class, it negatively affects the performance of students sitting nearby, who are distracted without even knowing it (Sana and Weston, 2013)! There is evidence that we don’t even enjoy or remember television shows as much when we’re multi-tasking (e.g., watching a show and checking Facebook) (Oveido et al., 2015). Both research and experience tell us that our brains can only select and process so much information at one time. Mobile devices provide a distraction that impairs our cognitive focus (Carrier et al., 2015), our learning (Kuznekoff et al., 2015; Mendoza et al., 2018), studying (David et al., 2015), remembering

­othing wrong with making generalizations— n in fact, it would be impossible to get through life without them—but they need to be made accurately. And, overgeneralizations (typically involving descriptors such as “always” and “never”) can lead to problems of stereotyping, which you’ll read about in a few pages.

(Uncapher et al., 2016), our exam and test scores (Glass and Kang, 2019), our productivity (Duke et al., 2018), and even our enjoyment of other media (Oveido et al., 2015) and our time face to face with friends and family (Dwyer et al., 2018). Far more seriously, media multi-tasking increases our chances of accidental death or injury (e.g., texting and driving and distracted pedestrians—for information on persuading friends to stop texting and driving see Wang, 2016). The problem is when we attempt to divide our attention we inevitably miss things and it takes time to get back into the task we left, even if we left only briefly. So, we actually waste time and do both tasks more poorly and more slowly than if we had focused on them one at a time. Worse still, as the complexity of the tasks increases so do the drops in our accuracy and speed. In addition, when we orient our attention away from our immediate social environment we tend to enjoy what we’re doing less (Killingsworth and Gilbert, 2010). Do you remember the “marshmallow experiment” we referred to in the self-control section of Chapter 1? Our phones are the ultimate marshmallows and as temping and irresistible as they are, if not used judiciously our attempts at media multi-tasking can cost us much more than some burned food or extra clean hair. When you’re travelling, or in class, or studying, or socializing face to face, or watching your favourite show—give it your full and undivided attention. Critical thinking: Given that the self-concept is subjective (Chapter 2) and people frequently defy basic rules of probability when calculating their abilities, how would you convince people that they might not actually be able to media multi-task as well as they think they can?

We can also organize specific communication transactions in different ways, and these differing organizational schemes can have a powerful effect on our relationships. Communication theorists have used the term punctuation to describe the determination of causes and effects in a series of interactions (Watzlawick et al., 1967). You can

3 | Perceiving Others

Interpretation Once we’ve selected and organized our perceptions, we interpret them in a way that makes some sort of sense. Interpretation—attaching meaning to sense data—plays a role in almost every interpersonal act. Is the person who smiles at you across a crowded room interested in romance or simply being polite? Is a friend’s kidding a sign of affection or irritation? Should you take an invitation to “drop by any time” literally or not? The way a communication sequence is punctuated affects its perceived meaning. Which comes first, the demanding or the withdrawing?






FIGURE 3.3  Communication Sequence


begin to understand how punctuation operates by visualizing a running quarrel between spouses. Notice that the order in which each partner punctuates this cycle affects how the dispute looks. One partner begins by blaming the other: “I withdraw because you’re so demanding.” The other partner organizes the situation differently: “I’m demanding because you withdraw.” These kinds of demand–withdraw arguments are common in intimate relationships across cultures (Christensen et al., 2006; EldHow can we work to “de-categorize” our views of others? ridge, 2017; Holley et al., 2018). Once the cycle gets rolling, it’s There are several factors that cause us to interimpossible to say which accusation is accurate, as Figure 3.3 indicates. The answer depends on how pret a person’s behaviour in one way or another: Relational satisfaction. A behaviour that seems the sequence is punctuated. Anyone who has seen two children argue about positive when you’re happy with a partner might “who started it” can understand that squabbling seem completely different when the relationship over causes and effects is not likely to solve a con- isn’t satisfying. For example, couples in unsatisflict. In fact, the kind of finger-pointing that goes fying relationships are more likely than satisfied along with assigning blame will probably make partners to blame one another when things go matters worse (Huynh et al., 2016). Rather than wrong (Diamond and Hicks, 2012). The opposite arguing about whose punctuation of an event is is true too. Partners in satisfying relationships are correct, it’s far more productive to recognize that a dispute can look different to each party and then Demanding move on to the more important question: “What can we do to make things better?”



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

likely to view each other more benevolently than accurately (Segrin et al., 2009). Expectations. If you expect people to treat you badly you will be more likely to interpret their behaviour negatively. For example, insecure people with low self-esteem, who expect their friends to view them as vulnerable and insecure, perceive their friends’ honest and genuine behaviour as less authentic (perpetuating their insecurities) than do confident people without such expectations (Lemay and Dudley, 2009). Personal experience. What meanings have similar events held? If, for instance, you’ve been taken advantage of by landlords in the past, you might be skeptical about reclaiming your cleaning deposit. Assumptions about human behaviour. Do you assume people are lazy, dislike work, avoid responsibility, and must be coerced into doing things, or do you believe people generally exercise self-direction and self-control? Imagine the differences between a manager who assumes workers fit the first description and one who assumes they fit the second. Knowledge of others also affects the way we interpret their actions. For instance, if you know a friend has just been jilted by a lover or fired from a job, you’ll interpret their aloofness differently than if you were unaware of what happened. If you know an instructor is rude to all students, you’ll be less likely to take their remarks personally. Although we have talked about selection, organization, and interpretation separately, the three phases of perception can occur in different sequences. For example, a parent’s or babysitter’s past interpretations (such as “Sebastian is a troublemaker”) can influence future selections (his behaviour becomes especially noticeable) and the organization of events (when there’s a fight, the

TAKE TWO • Punctuation: the determination of causes and effects in a series of interactions.

REFLECTION PROBLEMATIC PUNCTUATION When I was living with my parents, my father was always asking where I was going or where I had been. I interpreted his questions as being too nosy, and I usually responded with hostility or silence. This made him even more concerned about what I was doing. Now, I recognize that each of us was punctuating this situation differently. He saw me as being the problem: “I ask you what you’re doing because you never tell me.” I saw him as the cause of the problem: “I never tell you what I’m doing because you’re always pestering me.” Who started the cycle? Either way, we both lost. I have come to realize how hanging onto our different ways of punctuating the situation kept us from understanding one another.

assumption is that Sebastian started it). Like all communication, perception is an ongoing process in which it’s hard to pin down the beginnings and endings.

Negotiation In Chapter 1 you read that meaning is created both in and among people. So far, our discussion has focused on the inner components of perception— selection, organization, and interpretation—that take place in each individual’s mind. Now, we need to examine the part of our sense-making that occurs among people. Negotiation is the process by which communicators influence one another’s perceptions. Negotiation can operate in subtle ways. For example, it’s rare to draw a conclusion about something or someone without comparing notes with others. Imagine you think a person you met is attractive and you mention this to friends. If they disagree with you (“I don’t find that person attractive”), you might shift your initial perception—not radically but a bit. In one study that examined this process, college students rated the attractiveness of

3 | Perceiving Others

models in a series of photos (Yang and Lee, 2014). Those who were able to see others’ evaluations of the same photos slowly shifted their ratings to match the consensus, while those who were unable to see other people’s ratings did not. Our interpretations are not only influenced by our own individual experiences but also by the interpretations of others. Another way to explain negotiation is to view interpersonal communication as the exchange of stories. Scholars call the stories we use to describe our personal worlds narratives (Bromberg, 2012). Just as the cubes in Figure 3.1 (on page 80) can be viewed in several ways, almost every interpersonal situation can be described by more than one narrative. These narratives often differ. People who value cleanliness and order may label their housemates as dirty and sloppy, while those housemates would likely describe a concern for tidiness as obsessive. An employee who is punctual but refuses to stay late might see themselves as having clear work/ life balance boundaries whereas their supervisor might interpret that same behaviour as demonstrating a lack of commitment to the job. When our narratives clash with those of others, we can either hang onto our own point of view, and refuse to consider anyone else’s (usually not productive), or try to negotiate a narrative that creates at least some common ground.

CHECK IT! Describe the factors that influence the way we interpret human behaviour.

The best chance for smooth communication is to have shared narratives. For example, romantic partners who celebrate their successful struggles against relational obstacles are happier than those who do not have this shared appreciation (Flora and Segrin, 2000). Likewise, couples who agree about the important turning points in their relationships are more satisfied than those who have different views of what incidents were most important (Baxter and Pittman, 2001).

Shared narratives do not have to be accurate to be powerful (Martz et al., 1998; Murray et al., 1996). Couples who report being happily married after 50 or more years seem to collude in a relational narrative that does not always jibe with the facts (Miller, 2006). They agree that they rarely have conflicts, although objective analysis reveals that they have had their share of disagreements. Without overtly agreeing to do so, they choose to blame outside forces or unusual circumstances for their problems, instead of blaming each other. They offer the most charitable interpretations of each other’s behaviour, believing that their spouse acts with good intentions even when things don’t go well. They seem willing to forgive, or even forget transgressions. Examining this research, Judy Pearson (2000) asks: Should we conclude that happy couples have a poor grip on reality? Perhaps they do, but is the reality of one’s marriage better known by outside onlookers than by the players themselves? The conclusion is evident. One key to a long happy marriage is to tell yourself and others that you have one and then to behave as though you do! (p. 186)

TAKE TWO THE FOUR STEPS IN PERCEPTION • Selection: the process of determining which information we will pay attention to; influenced by stimuli intensity, repetition, contrast, or change as well as our motives and emotional state. • Organization: the process by which we arrange information in a meaningful way using perceptual schema (physical, role, interaction, and psychological constructs). • Interpretation: the process of making sense of perceptions within our own minds; influenced by relational satisfaction, expectations, personal experience, assumptions, and knowledge of others. • Negotiation: the process by which communicators influence one another’s perceptions.



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Influences on Perception A variety of factors influence how we select, organize, interpret, and negotiate information about others. The information we have available to us affects our perceptual judgments, as do physiological, cultural, social, and psychological factors.

Access to Information We can only make sense of what we know, and none of us knows everything about even the closest people in our lives. When new information becomes available, perceptions change. If you see your doctor only at their office your conclusions about them will be based on their behaviours in those roles. If you see them commuting to work, at the grocery store, or at a concert your perceptions of them might change. We often gain access to new information about others when their roles overlap. A work party is a good example of a place where you might see people that you had only ever seen in “work” mode behaving quite differently in “party” mode. Similarly, the first time a close friend or romantic partner takes you to one of their family gatherings you might see your friend or partner playing the role of “spoiled child,” or “dutiful grandchild.” If you’ve ever said, “I saw a whole new side of you tonight,” chances are it’s because you gained access to information you didn’t have before. Social media can provide new information that affects perceptions. That’s why job hunters are encouraged to clean up their online profiles and be careful to manage the impressions they make (Walton et al., 2015). It’s also why children and parents may not want to be part of each other’s social media networks (Child and Westermann, 2013; Erickson et al., 2016), which we discuss further in Chapter  11. As we discussed in Chapter 2, the information we glean about others on social media is incomplete because we only have access to what others choose to share. While meta-­ a nalysis of peoples’ online “digital footprints” can predict some components (e.g., agreeableness, e­xtroversion, etc.) of their p ­ ersonalities (Azucar et al., 2018), these

predictions are predictive for groups rather than individuals. The accuracy of our perceptions of individuals is substantially ­better when we have opportunities to interact face to face—even when those interactions are brief (Amady et al., 2000: Okdie et al., 2011).

Physiological Influences Sometimes, our different perspectives come from our physical environment and the ways that our bodies differ from others.

The Senses The differences in how each of us sees, hears, tastes, touches, and smells stimuli can affect interpersonal relationships (Croy et al., 2013). Consider the following examples arising from physiological differences: “Turn down the TV! It’s giving me a headache.” “It’s not too loud. If I turn it down, it’ll be impossible to hear it.” “It’s freezing in here.” “Are you kidding? We’ll suffocate if you turn up the heat!” “Why don’t you pass that truck? The highway’s clear for half a mile.” “I can’t see that far, and I’m not going to get us killed.”

These disputes aren’t just over matters of opinion. Our reception of sensory data is different. Differences in vision and hearing are the easiest to recognize, but other gaps also exist. There is evidence that identical foods taste different to different people (Puputti et al., 2018). Similarly, people differ significantly in their preferences for different odours (Ferdenzi et al., 2017). Likewise, temperature variations that are uncomfortable to some of us are inconsequential to others. Remembering these differences won’t eliminate them, but it will remind us that other people’s preferences aren’t wrong or crazy, just different.

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Age We experience the world differently throughout our lifetimes. Age alters not just our bodies but also our perspectives. Consider how you have viewed your parents over the years. When you were a child, you probably thought their knowledge and abilities were almost unlimited—they knew and could do so many things! As a teen, you may have seen them as over-controlling and out of date. In adulthood, many people regard their parents as knowledgeable and wise and recognize that parents are vulnerable to the same stresses and challenges everyone faces. Although your parents have changed over time it’s likely that your perceptions of them have changed far more than they have.

Think of the last time you came down with a cold, flu, or some other ailment. Do you remember how different you felt? You probably had much less energy than usual. It’s likely that you felt less sociable and that your thinking was to make sound judgments (Almodes et al., 2016; slower than usual. Such changes have a strong Killgore, 2010; Peretti et al., 2018). This helps to impact on how you relate to others. It’s good to explain why the world looks much better and realize that someone else may be behaving dif- problems often seem less insurmountable after a ferently because of illness. In the same way, it’s good sleep. important to let others know when you feel ill so they can give you the understanding you need. Just as illness can affect your relationships, so can excessive fatigue. When you’ve been working long hours or studying late for an exam, the world can seem quite different than when you’re well rested. Lack of sleep negatively affects our moods and our ability to concentrate, and increases our anxiety. It compromises our interpersonal functioning and job performance during the day (Beatie et al., 2015). People who are sleep deprived have a reduced frustration tolerance, less empathy, increased negative mood, and greater difficulty Our biological states can strongly affect how we perceive the world. Can processing emotions and using them you think of a time when your perception was affected by pain or fatigue?


Health and Fatigue


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Hunger Our digestive system plays a significant role in our interpersonal behaviour. Hungry people often feel grumpy and people who have overeaten are more likely to feel tired. Being hungry seems to affect our capacity for decision making as well. Researchers in Israel found that judges’ decision making appeared to be influenced by the length of time since they had last eaten (Danzinger et al., 2013). Hunger also appears to be related to a propensity for increased anger and aggression (hence the addition of hangry to our vocabularies). Hunger affects our perceptions, negatively affects our emotions, and appears to reduce our feelings of connectedness to others (Li and Zhang, 2014).

Biological Cycles Are you a “morning person” or a “night person”? Each of us has a daily cycle in which all sorts of changes constantly occur, including variations in body temperature, sexual drive, alertness, tolerance to stress, and pain (Jankowski, 2013; Tsaousis, 2010). We often aren’t conscious of these changes, but they can affect the way we relate toward each other. For instance, analysis of online gaming and social media activities suggests people’s propensity to socialize (e.g., make friend requests) is also influenced by their biological rhythms (Zhang et al., 2015).

Neurological Differences Some differences in perception are rooted in neurology. These include challenges such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder, as well as mental health challenges (e.g., bipolar disorder, s­ chizophrenia) and degenerative conditions (e.g., dementia, ­Alzheimer’s disease). A common element among these challenges is that they appear to involve differences in brain and nervous system functioning. For example, many people with autism spectrum disorder experience difficulty understanding the actions of others and they may struggle with social relationships. Brain imaging research

suggests that these d ­ ifficulties may be related to neurological differences that make understanding other people’s intentions and emotions more difficult (Greimel et al., 2010; Iacoboni and Dapretto, 2006; Khalil et al., 2018; Lee et al., 2013; Saito et al., 2018). People with bipolar disorder experience significant mood swings in which their perceptions of social interactions, friends, family members, and even attempts at social support shift dramatically (Doherty and MacGeorge, 2013; de Brito Ferreira Fernandes et al., 2016; Kim et al., 2016). Finally, studies have shown that people with ADHD often struggle with aspects of language perception (e.g., recognizing others’ vocal cues indicating anger) and empathy (Kis et al., 2017). Some neurological differences are the result of alcohol and drug consumption. Certain prescription drugs may be prescribed specifically to do just that. For instance, some anti-anxiety medications can increase people’s perceptions of others as more agreeable and less threatening (Rappaport et al., 2018). Non-prescription substances, such as caffeine and alcohol, can affect our perceptions too. One study found that consumption of a moderate amount of caffeinated coffee prior to participating in a group activity not only increased participants’ task relevant participation but also increased their positive evaluations and satisfaction with themselves and other group members of the group (Unnava et al., 2018). Alcohol also changes our perceptions of others and ourselves. There is evidence that alcohol changes our brain chemistry by increasing the release of endorphins and the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine, which may contribute to changes in our perceptions. One example of this is the “beer goggles” phenomenon. This is the idea that people tend to rate others, particularly those they might find sexually attractive when sober, as even more attractive when they’ve consumed an alcoholic drink or two. Evidence for this is mixed, however. Several studies conducted in laboratories have provided evidence to support the idea (Jones et al., 2003; Lyvers et al., 2011), but at least one study (Maynard et al., 2016) conducted in the field (i.e., in actual pubs) found no evidence for an increase in perceptions of attractiveness as a result of alcohol

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consumption. A study conducted in France found that people who consumed alcohol rated themselves as more attractive (Bègue et  al., 2013)! In this study both people who had consumed alcohol (experimental group) and those who believed they had consumed alcohol but had not (placebo group) rated themselves more highly (e.g., as more attractive, bright, original, and funny) in relation to a speech they had given, than did those who did not drink (control group). This suggests that the influence of alcohol on perception is quite possibly both physiological and psychological. We’ll examine some of the psychological influences on our perceptions in the next section.

Psychological Influences Along with physiology, our psychological state also influences the way we perceive others.

Mood Our emotional state strongly influences how we view people and events, and, therefore, how we  communicate (Lount, 2010). An early experiment using hypnotism dramatically demonstrated how our varying moods influence our perceptions of events (Lebula and Lucas, 1945). Each subject was shown the same series of six pictures, each time having been put in a different mood. The descriptions of the pictures differed radically depending on the emotional state of the subject. The following examples are from one subject in various emotional states while describing a picture of children digging in a swampy area: Happy mood: “It looks like fun, reminds me of summer. That’s what life is for, working out in the open, really living—digging in the dirt, planting, watching things grow.” Anxious mood: “They’re going to get hurt or cut. There should be someone older there who knows what to do in case of an accident. I wonder how deep the water is.” Critical mood: “Pretty horrible land. There ought to be something more useful for kids of that age

to do instead of digging in that stuff. It’s filthy and dirty and good for nothing.”

Although there’s a strong relationship between mood and happiness, it’s not clear which comes first—the perceptual outlook or the amount of relational satisfaction. There is some evidence that perception leads to satisfaction (Fletcher et al., 1987), and some that suggests satisfaction drives positive perceptions (Luo et al., 2010). In other words, the attitude or expectation we bring to a situation shapes our level of happiness or unhappiness. Once started, this process can create a spiral. If you’re happy about your relationship, you’ll be more likely to interpret your partner’s behaviour in a charitable way. This, in turn, can lead to greater happiness. Of course, the same process can work in the opposite direction. One remedy for serious distortions—and unnecessary conflicts—is to monitor your own moods. If you’re aware of being especially critical or sensitive, you can avoid overreacting to others and you can warn others—“This isn’t a good time for me to discuss this with you— I’m feeling irritated at the moment.”

Self-Concept A second factor that influences perception is the self-concept (Hinde et al., 2001). For example, the recipient’s self-concept has proved to be the greatest factor in determining whether people who are being teased interpret the teaser’s motives as being friendly or hostile, and whether they respond comfortably or defensively (Alberts et al., 1996). As we discussed in Chapter 2, there is considerable evidence that the way we think and feel about ourselves ­influences our perceptions of others. For instance, there is evidence that perceiving oneself as funny is related to perceiving others as funny (Bosacki, 2013). There is also neurological evidence that parts of your self-concept you may be blind to (e.g., implicit introversion/extroversion) influence your perceptions of other people’s emotions (Suslow et al., 2017).

Social Influences Within any society, one’s personal point of view plays a strong role in shaping perceptions.



Uplight pictures/Shutterstock

PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

given society identifies as masculine and feminine behaviour. People can be more or less masculine or more or less feminine, or have both masculine and feminine characteristics in equal proportion. Androgyny is the combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics, or the quality of being neither feminine nor masculine. As we discussed in Chapter 1, the binary nature of the male/ female dichotomy in gender roles is restrictive and limiting for many people. Increasingly, Canadian society is embracing One remedy for serious distortions—and unnecessary conflicts—is to mongender diverse and non-binary itor your own moods. What are some things you can do to change your mood gender categories (Grant, 2018). in the moment? That said, a great deal of Social scientists have developed standpoint research to date has examined communication in theory to describe how a person’s position in terms of the male/female dichotomy and found the world shapes their view of society in general that men and women perceive the social world difand of specific individuals (Wood, 2008). Stand- ferently. Trying to tease apart the extent to which point theory is most often applied to the differ- biology and socialization account for these difference between the perspectives of privileged social ences is often very difficult, but it’s important to groups and of people who have less power (Stevens understand that—whether learned or hard wired— et al., 2017), as well as to the different perspectives these perceptual and communication differences of women and men (Dougherty, 2001). Unless exist. For instance, neurological evidence suggests one has been disadvantaged, it can be difficult to women are more responsive to human faces than imagine how different the world might look to men (Proverbio, 2017) and observational data sugsomeone who has been treated badly because of gest they’re better at reading emotions and genrace, ethnicity, gender, biological sex, sexual orien- erally more perceptive about interpreting others’ tation, or socio-economic class. After some reflec- non-verbal cues (Hall and Andrzejewski, 2017; tion, though, it’s easy to understand how being Thompson and Voyer, 2014). marginalized can make the world seem like a very Sex-role stereotypes can influence perception. different place. In one study, debate judges rated hypothetical We look now at how some specific types of female debaters as significantly more aggressive societal roles affect an individual’s perception. than their male counterparts despite the fact that both male and female debaters used similar language (Mathews, 2016). Another study found that Sex and Gender Roles participants judged ambiguous text messages as Although people often use the terms sex and gender more negative when the sender was identified as as if they’re identical, they are not (Katz-Wise and female—particularly when the recipient was male Hyde, 2014). Sex refers to biological characteris- (Kingsbury and Coplan, 2016). Studies conducted tics of a male or female, whereas gender refers to in the workplace have found that sex-role stereothe social and psychological dimensions of what a types influence people’s perceptions of leadership

3 | Perceiving Others

FOCUS ON RESEARCH DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? Chris Davis, 28 years old, was apprehended last night on charges of domestic abuse. Two police officers arrived at the location of the dispute at 7:05 p.m. At that time they found Robin Brown, 28 years old, Chris’s partner, on the living-room couch bleeding with a black eye. Robin reported that Chris had become angry about a telephone call and had begun shouting obscenities and then grabbed, punched, and kicked Robin to the floor before leaving the house. After reading this report, ask yourself: • If you had witnessed this interaction between Chris and Robin would you report it to the police? • Do you think Chris should be convicted of assault? • As crimes go, how violent was the incident? • Should Robin leave Chris for good? • Do you think Chris has acted this way in the past? Did you assume that Chris was a man and Robin a woman? If you didn’t, would your answers be different? What if you found out that Chris and Robin were both men or both women, or if you knew that Robin was a man and Chris was a woman? Studies suggest the influence of gender on perceptions of crimes such as intimate partner violence (IPV) and stalking are pervasive (Allen and Bradley, 2018; Cass and Mallicoat, 2015; Cormier and Woodworth, 2008; Crittenden et al., 2017; Dunlap et al., 2012; Finnegan et al., 2018). For example, Canadian and American university students perceived incidents of IPV and stalking differently when the experimenters varied the genders of the perpetrator and victim (Allen and Bradley, 2018; Cormier and Woodworth, 2008). Investigators have found that students perceived same-sex scenarios of IPV (perpetrator and victim—both male or both female) and the less

and innovation. Women who display the characteristics typically associated with leadership (e.g., assertive, decisive) and innovation (e.g., risk taking, initiative, championing change) are not recognized

c­ ommon opposite-sex scenario (i.e., female perpetrator and male victim) to be less abusive than the more common opposite-sex scenario (i.e., female victim and male perpetrator). Students were more likely to report the male perpetrator and female victim scenario of IPV to the police and were more likely to believe that the heterosexual male perpetrator should be convicted of assault compared to the other three perpetrators. The students in this study were also more adamant that the heterosexual female victim should leave the relationship compared to the homosexual victims and the heterosexual male victim (Cormier and Woodworth, 2008). Similarly, students were more likely to perceive stalking cases in which a man was criminally harassing a woman as worthy of reporting and prosecution, and they perceived the male perpetrator more negatively and the female victim more positively than in scenarios where the roles were reversed (Cass and Mallicoat, 2015; Dunlap et al., 2012) Canadian police officers, on the other hand, appear to be less influenced by gender in their perceptions of IPV and stalking. They were more inclined to take all forms of abuse and stalking more seriously than the students and deem them criminal and worthy of reporting (Cormier and Woodworth, 2008; Finnegan et al., 2018). In stalking cases, however, they were more likely to rate the anticipated harm to female victims of male perpetrated stalking as greater than when perpetrators were female and victims were male (Finnegan et al., 2018). These studies demonstrate the powerful influences of gender stereotypes, previous experience, and occupational roles on our perceptions. Critical thinking: Can you think of other instances where gender and occupational roles might influence people’s perceptions differently?

or rewarded, in terms of their work performance, to the same extent as men who display these characteristics (Ely et al., 2011; Heilman, 2012; Johnson et al., 2008; Luksyte et al., 2016).



Liza Donnelly/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Occupational Roles The kind of work we do also governs our view of the world. Imagine five people taking a walk through a park. One, a botanist, is fascinated by the variety of trees and plants. Another, a zoologist, is on the lookout for interesting animals. The third, a meteorologist, keeps an eye on the sky, noticing changes in the weather. The fourth, a psychologist, is totally unaware of nature, concentrating instead on the interactions among the people in the park. The fifth, a pickpocket, quickly takes advantage of the others’ absorption to collect their wallets. There are two lessons in this little story. The first, of course, is to watch your wallet carefully. The second is that our occupational roles often govern our perceptions. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of how occupational roles shape perception occurred in the early 1970s. Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo (1971; Haney and Zimbardo, 2009) recruited a group of well-educated, middle-class young men. He randomly chose 11 to serve as “guards” in a mock prison set up in the basement of Stanford’s psychology building. He issued uniforms, handcuffs, whistles, and billy clubs to the

guards. The remaining 10 subjects became “prisoners” and were put in rooms with metal bars, bucket toilets, and cots. Zimbardo let the guards establish their own rules for the experiment. The rules were tough: no talking during meals, rest periods, or after lights out. They took head counts at 2:30 a.m. Troublemakers received short rations. Faced with these conditions, the prisoners began to resist. Some barricaded their doors with beds. Others went on hunger strikes. Several ripped off their identifying number tags. The guards reacted to the rebellion by clamping down hard on protesters. Some became sadistic, physically and verbally abusing the prisoners. The experiment was scheduled to go on for two weeks, but after six days Zimbardo realized that what had started as a simulation had become too real, and stopped it. The roles they had taken on led the guards and prisoners to perceive, and then treat, each other very differently. You can probably think of ways in which the jobs you’ve held have affected how you view others. If you have worked in customer service, you’re probably more patient and understanding with those in similar positions (although you could also be a bit more critical).

Relational Roles Think back to the “Who am I?” list you made in Chapter 2. It’s likely your list includes roles you play in relation to others: you may be a sibling, roommate, spouse, friend, and so on. Roles like these don’t just define who you are—they affect your perception. Take, for example, the role of parent. As most new parents will attest, having a child alters the ways they see the world. They might perceive their crying infant as a helpless soul in need of

3 | Perceiving Others

c­omfort whereas nearby strangers might have a less compassionate appraisal. There is considerable neurological evidence that pregnancy and being involved in caring for one’s young child changes people’s brains, which in turn affects their perceptions and caregiving behaviours (Abraham et al., 2014; Hoekzema et al., 2017). The roles involved in romantic relationships can also dramatically affect perception. These roles have many labels: partner, spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, and so on. There are times when your affinity biases your perception. You may see your partner as more attractive than other people do and as more attractive than previous partners, regardless of whether that’s objectively accurate (Swami and Allum, 2012). As a result, you may overlook some faults that others notice (Segrin et  al., 2009). Your romantic role can also change the way you view others. Researchers have found that when people are in love, they pay less attention to other potential romantic candidates and judge them as less attractive than they otherwise would (Cole et al., 2016; McNulty et al., 2018). Perhaps the most telltale sign of “love goggles” is when they come off. Many people have experienced breaking up with a romantic partner and wondering later, “What did I ever see in that person?” The answer, at least in part, is that you saw what your relational role led you to see.

Cultural Influences Culture exerts a powerful influence on the way we view other people’s communication. In this section we’ll explore cultural differences regarding the value of talk and silence, approaches to logic and thinking, views of social obligations, distribution of power, and the extent to which people avoid uncertainty and value achievement and nurturance. These are just some of the ways in which cultures differ, and these differences influence our perceptions of ourselves and other people.

Talk and Silence As we discussed in Chapter 2, many Western cultures tend to view talk as desirable and use it for

social purposes as well as to perform tasks. Silence has a negative value in these cultures. It’s likely to be interpreted as lack of interest, unwillingness to communicate, hostility, anxiety, shyness, or a sign of interpersonal incompatibility. Westerners are uncomfortable with silence, which they find embarrassing and awkward. On the other hand, Asian cultures tend to perceive talk quite differently (Kimm, 2002). Silence is valued, as Taoist sayings indicate: “In much talk there is great weariness” or “One who speaks does not know; one who knows does not speak.” Unlike Westerners, Japanese and Chinese communicators believe that remaining quiet is the proper state when there is nothing to be said. To Asians, a talkative person is often considered a show-off or a fake. These different perceptions of speech and silence can lead to communication problems when people from different cultures meet. Communicators may view each other with disapproval and mistrust. Only when they recognize the different standards of behaviour can they adapt to one another, or at least understand and respect their differences.

Social Obligations People from collectivistic and individualistic cultures perceive interpersonal behaviour and obligations differently. For example, Au et al. (2001) gave hospitality-school students in China and Canada a description of how a service provider handled a complaint from a customer whose coat was stained with tea. Results showed that the students from China (collectivists whose primary responsibility is to help the group) were more likely than the students from Canada (individualists whose primary responsibility is to take care of oneself) to see the service provider as the person at fault. In addition, Janoff-Bulman and Leggatt (2002), looking at motivational differences in the perception of social obligations by Latino American (collectivistic) undergraduates and Anglo American (individualistic) undergraduates, found that although individuals from both cultures reported a strong sense of obligation toward close friends and family members, Latino Americans felt a stronger



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

REFLECTION CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN HUMOUR I was born and raised in Russia. One thing I find very different here [Canada] is the way people use humour. When I first arrived in this country, I noticed that my host family joked and teased me a lot. I was often offended and hurt. The problem was that neither my host family nor I understood the differences in meaning people attach to the same way of behaving. In Russia, people do not tease to express affection. In Canada, though, joking is often a way to show friendship. Once I realized this cultural difference, I became better at socializing.

­ otivation than Anglo Americans to help more m distant family and friends.

Thinking and Logic The way members of a culture are taught to think and reason shapes the way they interpret other people’s messages (Gudykunst and Kim, 2003). One important force that affects thinking is a culture’s system of logic. Members of individualistic cultures, such as Canadians and Americans, prize rationality and linear, logical thinking. They value the ability to be impartial—to analyze a situation from a detached perspective. They rely on facts, figures, and experts to make decisions. Members of individualistic societies tend to see the world in terms of dichotomies, such as good– bad, right–wrong, happy–sad, and so on. In contrast, members of collectivistic cultures are more likely to be intuitive. They prefer to get a feel for the big picture and are less impressed by precision, classification, or detachment. Collectivistic cultures are also less prone to see the world in either–or terms. They accept the fact that people, things, or ideas can be both right and wrong, good and bad at the same time. Such categorizing doesn’t mean that members of individualistic cultures are never intuitive or that collectivistic ones are never rational. The differences in ways

of t­hinking are a matter of degree. Nonetheless, it’s easy to imagine how an individualist raised in mainstream Canadian culture and someone from an extremely collectivistic Asian or Indigenous culture could find their interactions perplexing. For instance, consider what might happen when a conflict arises between two romantic partners, friends, or co-workers. “Why don’t we look at this rationally,” the individualist might say. “Let’s figure out exactly what happened. Once we decide whose fault the problem is, we can fix it.” By contrast, the partner with a more collectivistic way of thinking might say, “Let’s not get caught up in a lot of details or an argument about who is right or wrong. If we can get a feel for the problem, we can make things more harmonious.” Although both partners might be speaking the same language, their modes of thinking about their relationship would be dramatically different.

Distribution of Power The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “every individual is equal before the law and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.” For members of democratic societies, this principle of equality is so fundamental that we accept it without question. However, not all cultures share this belief. Some operate on the assumption that certain groups of people (an aristocracy or an economic class, for example) and some institutions (such as a church or the government) have the right to control the lives of individuals. Geert Hofstede (1980, 2011) coined the term power distance to describe the degree to which members of a society accept an unequal distribution of power. Cultures with low power distance believe in minimizing the difference between various social classes. Rich and poor, educated and uneducated groups may still exist, but there is a pervasive belief that one person is as valuable as another. Low power-distance cultures also support the notion that challenging authority is acceptable— even desirable. Citizens are not necessarily punished for raising questions about the status quo.

3 | Perceiving Others

According to Hofstede’s research, Canadian and US societies have relatively low power distance, though not the lowest in the world. Austria, ­Denmark, Israel, and New Zealand proved to be the most egalitarian countries. At the other end of the spectrum are countries with a high degree of power distance: Philippines, Mexico, Venezuela, India, and Singapore. The degree of power distance in a culture is reflected in key relationships (Santilli and Miller, 2011). Children who are raised in cultures with high power distance are expected to obey their parents and other authority figures to a degree that would astonish most children raised in Canada or the United States. Power automatically comes with age in many countries. For example, the Korean language has separate terms for older brother, oldest brother, younger sister, youngest sister, and so on. Parents in cultures with low power distance do not expect the same unquestioning obedience and are not surprised when children ask why when requested or told to do something. On-the-job communication is different in low and high-power distance societies (Zerfass et  al., 2016). In countries with high power distance employees have much less input into the way they do their work. In fact, workers from these cultures are likely to feel uncomfortable when given the freedom to make their own decisions (Madlock, 2012) or when a more egalitarian supervisor asks for their opinion. The reverse is true when management from a more egalitarian tradition does business in a country where workers are used to high power distance. Managers may be surprised to find employees do not expect much say in decisions and do not feel unappreciated when not consulted. They may regard the dutiful and respectful employees as lacking initiative and creativity. Given these differences, it’s easy to understand why multinational companies need to consider cultural differences in values and related perceptions when they set up shop in a new country.

Uncertainty Avoidance The desire to resolve uncertainty seems to be a trait shared by people around the world (Berger, 1988).

While uncertainty may be universal, cultures have different ways of coping with an unpredictable future. Hofstede (2011) uses the term uncertainty avoidance to describe the degree to which members of a culture feel threatened by or uncomfortable in ambiguous situations and how much they try to avoid them. A culture’s degree of uncertainty avoidance is reflected in the way its members communicate. In countries where people avoid uncertainty, such as Portugal, Belgium, Greece, and Japan, deviant people and ideas are considered dangerous, and intolerance and ethnocentrism are high (Cargile and Bolkan, 2013). People in these cultures are especially concerned with security, so they have a strong need for clearly defined rules and regulations. By contrast, people in a culture that is less threatened by the new and unexpected are more likely to tolerate—or even welcome—people who don’t fit the norm. Residents of countries such as Singapore, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, the United States, and Canada are less threatened by change. Following established rules and patterns isn’t necessarily expected, and different behaviour may even be welcomed.

Achievement and Nurturing The term achievement culture describes societies that place a high value on material success and a focus on the task at hand, while nurturing culture is a descriptive term for societies that regard the support of relationships as an especially important goal. People from achievement versus nurturing cultures voice their opinions in significantly different ways (Hofstede, 2016; van den Bos et al., 2010). In achievement cultures (e.g., the US), which emphasize out-performing others, those who see themselves as highly capable feel more empowered to voice their opinions and are satisfied when they can do so. In contrast, in nurturing cultures (e.g., the Netherlands), which emphasize helping, those who see themselves as less capable feel valued as important group members and feel more satisfied when they have the opportunity to voice their opinions. People in nurturing cultures are more



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

inclined to behave in ways that promote harmony and use a more sensitive and indirect communication style when compared to the more assertive and direct style of those in achievement cultures (Merkin et al., 2014). Canada is considered a moderately achievement-oriented culture. Clearly, what constitutes an effective communicator is perceived differently in cultures that vary on this dimension. As you think about the cultural values described here, realize that cultural misunderstandings do not occur just between people from different countries. In Canada’s increasingly multicultural society, people from different cultural backgrounds are likely to encounter one another “at home,” in the communities they share. As we discussed in Chapter 2, most Canadians belong to co-cultural groups and must navigate the varying values and norms that shape perception when they communicate with others. In some instances, there is considerable harmony in the values and norms that exist in their co-­ cultures; for others, there is considerable discord. What we all share is the fact that our cultural values shape our perceptions.

CHECK IT! Describe the four general areas of influence on our perceptions and provide examples within each area.

Common Tendencies in Perception It is obvious that many factors distort the way we interpret the world. Social scientists use the term attribution to describe the process of attaching meaning to behaviour (Turri, 2017). We attribute meaning both to our own actions and to the actions of others, but we often use different yardsticks. Research has uncovered several perceptual tendencies that may lead to inaccurate attributions.

We Make Snap Judgments Our ancestors had to make quick judgments about whether strangers were likely to be dangerous, and while there are still times when this ability can be a survival skill, in many cases judging others without enough knowledge or information can get us into trouble. Most of us have felt badly misjudged by others who made unfavourable snap judgments. Despite the risks of rash decision making, in some circumstances people can make surprisingly accurate judgments in the blink of an eye (Gladwell, 2004). The best snap judgments come from people whose decisions are based on experience and expertise. However, even non-experts can be good at making split-second decisions. For instance, research has demonstrated that people can accurately judge a stranger’s level of self-­esteem based on a brief observation of the target introducing themselves in a public situation (Hirschmuller et al., 2017). Similar findings have been reported for people’s judgments of the suitability of speed dating candidates as potential romantic partners and inferences about politicians based on snap judgments (Kurzban and Weeden, 2005; Wanke et al., 2013). However, it’s important to keep in mind that the physical attractiveness of the person being judged can and often does cloud the accuracy of our snap judgments. Snap judgments become particularly problematic when they are based on stereotyping—­ exaggerated beliefs associated with a categorizing system. Stereotypes that people automatically make on “primitive categories” such as race, sex, and age (Devos, 2014) may be founded on a kernel of truth but they go beyond the facts at hand and make claims that usually have no valid basis. Three characteristics distinguish stereotypes from reasonable generalizations. • The first involves categorizing others on the basis of easily recognized, but not necessarily important characteristics. For example, perhaps the first thing you notice about a person is the colour of their skin—but that may not be nearly as significant as the person’s intelligence or achievements.

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• The second feature that characterizes stereotypes is ascribing a set of characteristics to most or all members of a group. For example, you might unfairly assume that all older people are doddering or that all men are insensitive to women’s concerns. • Finally, stereotyping involves applying these generalizations to a particular individual. Once you believe all old people are demented or all men are jerks, it’s a short step to considering a particular senior as senile or a particular man as a sexist pig. Stereotypes exist in all cultures around the world (Cuddy et al., 2009) and can plague intercultural communication (Allen, 1995; Buttny, 1997; Kashima et al., 2013). By adulthood, we tend to engage in stereotyping frequently, effortlessly, and often unconsciously, using what researchers call implicit bias to make our judgments (Morin, 2015). Once we create and hold stereotypes, we seek out isolated behaviours that support our inaccurate beliefs in an attempt to be cognitively consistent (Kashima et al., 2013). Interpersonal communication has been found to play a role in stereotype maintenance. For example, researchers have found that when people are relaying stories to each other (e.g., gossip, things in the news, recounting their own experiences, even children’s stories) they tend to communicate information that is consistent with our stereotypes and leave out information that is inconsistent with our stereotypes (Lyons and Kashima, 2003, 2006). One way to avoid the kinds of communication problems that come from excessive stereotyping is to “de-categorize” others, giving yourself a chance to treat people as individuals. Changing labels can aid the process of de-categorizing. Instead of talking about Asian co-workers, gay friends, or foreign students, dropping the descriptors “Asian,” “gay,” and “foreign” might help you perceive others more neutrally.

CHECK IT! What are stereotypes and how are they different from other generalizations we make about people?

We Cling to First Impressions Snap judgments are significant because our initial impressions of others often carry more weight than the ones that follow. This is due, in part, to what scientists call the primacy effect—our tendency to pay attention to and remember things that happened first in a sequence (Miller et al., 2004). You can probably recall some of the first impressions you held of people who are now your close friends. You probably immediately liked some of your friends but others “grew on you”— your initial appraisal of them was not as positive. Either way, your first impressions played a significant role in the interactions that followed. Social scientists have found that first impressions are often based on physical appearance and tend to be inaccurate (Olivola and Todorov, 2010). The term halo effect describes the tendency to form an overall positive impression of a person based on a single positive characteristic. Positive first impressions are often based on physical attractiveness, which can lead people to attribute all sorts of other virtues to a good-looking person (Dion et al., 1972; Langlois et al., 2000; Lemay et al., 2010). For example, employment interviewers rate mediocre but attractive job applicants higher than less attractive candidates (Watkins and Johnston, 2000). Unfortunately, the opposite also holds true. The horns effect (also called the “devil” or “pitchfork” effect) occurs when a negative appraisal adversely influences perceptions that follow (Koenig and Jaswal, 2011). Once we form a first impression—whether it’s positive or negative—we are susceptible to confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out, remember, and organize our impressions to support that opinion. For example, once a potential employer forms a positive impression in a job interview, they tend to ask questions that confirm their image of the applicant (Powell et al., 2012). This might include asking leading questions aimed at supporting positive views (“What valuable lesson did you learn from that setback?”), interpret applicant answers in a positive light (“Ah, taking time away from school to work was a good idea!”), encourage the applicant (head nodding,



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

smiling, “Good point!”), and sell the company’s virtues (“I think you would like working here”). Likewise, applicants who create a negative first impression are operating under a cloud that may be impossible to dispel. We all have a tendency to confirm what we already believe to be true. Given the almost unavoidable tendency to form first impressions, the best approach is to keep an open mind, look for information that might challenge your initial beliefs, and be willing to change your opinion if events prove you mistaken.

We Judge Ourselves More Charitably than We Do Others While we evaluate others critically, we tend to judge ourselves more generously (McClure et al., 2011), and social scientists use two theories to explain this phenomenon. The first is called the fundamental attribution error: the tendency to give more weight to personal qualities (dispositional) than to the situation when making attributions (Ross, 1977, 2001). For instance, recipients of a work-related email containing spelling and grammatical errors are more likely to assume the sender is unintelligent (personal quality) than to assume that English is not the sender’s first language (contextual factor) (Vignovic et al., 2010). On the other hand, when we experience failure, like making spelling mistakes of our own in an email message, we quickly find explanations outside ourselves, such as being in a hurry. When we’ve done something well, however, we’re quick to take personal credit rather than attribute the success to the situation. This self-serving bias means when we perform poorly, we usually blame external forces (situational) and when we perform well we credit ourselves rather than the situation (Sheppard et al., 2008). Consider a couple of examples: • When they make an error, we think they weren’t listening well or trying hard enough; when we make the mistake, the problem was unclear directions. • When he makes an overly critical comment it’s because he is insensitive; when we do it, it’s because the situation called for it.

Research has found that people working in virtual teams, as opposed to in-person teams, are quicker to blame partners when mistakes occur (Walther and Barazova, 2007). These researchers suggest that “unseen, unknown, and remote” teammates make easy scapegoats when something goes wrong. When working on virtual teams we often lack the contextual information about our colleagues (e.g., current workload, last minute demands, previous work performance, etc.) but when teammates have greater awareness of their colleagues’ activities they are more likely to make more accurate attributions (Trainer and Redmiles, 2018). Research also shows that when people are aware of both the positive and negative characteristics of another person, they tend to be more influenced by the undesirable traits (Baumeister et al., 2001; Kellermann, 1989; Sparks and Baumeister, 2008). This attitude sometimes makes sense. If the negative quality clearly outweighs any positive ones, you would be foolish to ignore it. For example, a surgeon with shaky hands and a teacher who hates children would be unsuitable for their jobs, regardless of their other virtues. But much of the time, it’s a bad idea to pay excessive attention to negative qualities and overlook good ones. People who make more complex attributions about other people’s behaviour (that is, those who take into account many different causes for behaviour) are more accurate in their social judgments and less prejudiced and punitive in their conclusions about other people (Tam et al., 2008). In addition, people who take into account many different reasons for other people’s behaviour are viewed by their peers as thoughtful, empathic, socially skilled, and wise (Fast et al., 2008).

We Are Influenced by Our Expectations Suppose you took a class and were told in advance by several friends that the instructor is terrific. Would this affect the way you perceive the teacher? Research shows that it almost certainly would. Studies of students’ exposure to teacher

3 | Perceiving Others

ratings have found that students who read posi- We Are Influenced by the Obvious tive comments about their instructors on a website viewed those teachers as more credible, Being influenced by what is most obvious is undercompetent, attractive, and favourable than did standable. As you read earlier, we select stimuli students who were not exposed to the same posi- from our environment that are noticeable—that tive comments (Edwards et al., 2007; Reber et al., is, intense, repetitious, unusual, or otherwise attention-grabbing. The problem is that the most 2017) However, expectations do not always lead obvious factor is not necessarily the only cause—or to more positive appraisals. There are times the most significant one—of an event. For example: when we raise our expectations so high that • When two children (or adults, for that matter) we’re disappointed with the events that occur. If fight, it may be a mistake to blame the one who you’re told that someone you are about to meet lashes out the loudest. Perhaps the other one is extremely attractive, you may be disappointed was at least equally responsible, by teasing or when the person doesn’t live up to your unrealisrefusing to co-operate. tic expectations. Our expectations influence the • You might complain about an acquaintance way we see others, both positively and negatively, whose malicious gossiping or arguing has and may lead to self-fulfilling prophecies (DiPaola become a bother, forgetting that by putting up et al., 2010). For instance, couples with histories with that kind of behaviour you’ve been at least of high conflict tend to expect their partners to partially responsible. be less responsive to their needs and experience • You might blame an unhappy work situation more negative conflict outcomes than couples who on your manager, overlooking other factors expect their partners to be responsive and to value beyond their control, such as a change in the them. When couples change their expectations of economy, the policy of higher management, or each other, they behave differently during the condemands of customers or other workers. flict and feel more positive afterwards (Marigold and Anderson, 2016). It’s important to be aware of the influence of our expectations when we are making decisions about others. Many professions require that proposals be evaluated through “blind review”— that is, the person submitting the proposal is not allowed to offer identifying information that might influence the evaluator’s appraisal. For example, orchestras often use “blind auditions” where musicians perform behind a screen (Rice, 2013). In the same way, you can probably think of times when it would be wise to avoid advance information about another per- We all form first impressions when meeting new people. How can we avoid letson so that you will perceive the ting those first impressions inform all of our understanding and interactions with others? person as neutrally as possible.



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

These examples show that it’s important to take time to gather all the facts before arriving at a conclusion.

We Assume Others Are Similar to Us We commonly imagine that others have the same attitudes and motives that we do (Human and Biesanz, 2011). The frequently mistaken assumption that other people’s views are similar to our own applies in a wide range of situations. For example: • You like to keep your cellphone on the table during meals and assume this preference is shared when you visit some of your more distant relatives for dinner. Your relatives are offended when you interrupt the dinner conversation to answer a text. • You’ve been bothered by a fellow students’ tendency to get off the subject during group project meetings. You would want to know if you were creating problems for your group, so you decide that these group members will probably be grateful for some constructive criticism. Unfortunately, you’re wrong. • You lost your temper with a friend a week ago and said some things you regret. In fact, if

TAKE TWO • Halo effect: the tendency to form an overall positive impression of a person based on a single positive characteristic. • Fundamental attribution error: the tendency to give more weight to personal qualities (dispositional) than to the situation when making attributions. • Self-serving bias: the tendency to blame the situation for our failures and take personal credit for our successes. • Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out, remember, and organize information to support our opinions.

someone said those things to you, you would consider the relationship finished. Imagining that your friend feels the same way, you avoid making contact. In fact, your friend feels partly responsible and has avoided you because they think you’re the one who wants to end things. These examples show that others don’t always think or feel the way we do and that assuming similarities can lead to problems. Sometimes, you can find out the other person’s real position by asking directly, other times, by checking with someone else or by making an educated guess after you’ve thought the matter through. All these alternatives are better than simply assuming that everyone would react the way you do. We don’t always fall into the kind of perceptual tendencies described in this section. Sometimes, for instance, people are responsible for their misfortunes, or our problems are not our fault. Likewise, the most obvious interpretation of a situation may be the correct one. Nonetheless, a large amount of research has shown again and again that our perceptions of others are often distorted in the ways we’ve discussed. The moral, then, is clear: do not assume that your negative appraisal of a person is accurate or unbiased.

CHECK IT! Summarize the five common tendencies in our perceptions of other people.

Perceiving Others More ­Accurately After reading this far, you can appreciate how flawed our perceptions of one another can be. It’s easy to understand how these distorted perceptions can interfere with our communication. What we need, then, are tools to improve the accuracy of our attributions. In the following section, we’ll introduce two such tools.

3 | Perceiving Others

Perception Checking With the likelihood for perceptual errors being so great, it’s easy to see how a communicator can leap to the wrong conclusion and make false assumptions. Consider the defence-arousing potential of incorrect accusations like these: “Why are you mad at me?” (Who said I was?) “What’s the matter with you?” (Who said anything was the matter?) “Come on now. Tell the truth.” (Who said I was lying?)

Even if your interpretations are correct, these kinds of mind-reading statements are likely to generate defensiveness. The skill of perception checking is a better way to share your interpretations (Hansen et al., 2002). A complete perception check has three parts: 1. a description of the behaviour you noticed; 2. two or more possible interpretations of the behaviour; and 3. a request for clarification about how to interpret the behaviour. Perception checks for the preceding three ­examples would look like this: “When you left quickly and slammed the door [behaviour], I wasn’t sure whether you were mad at me [first interpretation] or just in a hurry [second interpretation]. How did you feel? [request for clarification]” “You haven’t laughed much in the last couple of days [behaviour]. It makes me wonder whether something’s bothering you [first interpretation] or whether you’re just being quiet [second interpretation]. What’s up? [request for clarification]” “You said you really liked the job I did [behaviour], but there was something about your voice that made me think you may not like it [first interpretation]. Maybe it’s just my imagination, though [second interpretation]. How do you really feel? [request for clarification]”

Perception checking is a tool to help us understand others instead of assuming that our first interpretation is correct. Because its goal is mutual understanding, perception checking is a co-­operative approach to communication. Besides leading to more accurate perceptions, it signals an attitude of respect and concern for the other person, saying, in effect, “I know I’m not qualified to judge you without some help.” Sometimes an effective perception check won’t need all of the parts listed in the preceding examples to be effective: “You haven’t dropped by lately. Is anything the matter?” [single interpretation] “I can’t tell whether you’re kidding me about being cheap or if you’re serious [behaviour combined with interpretations]. Are you mad at me? [request for interpretation] “Are you sure you don’t mind driving? I would appreciate a ride if it’s no trouble, but I don’t want to take you out of your way [request for clarification comes first; no need to describe behaviour].

The straightforward approach of perception checking has the best chance of working in what we identify in Chapter 6 as low-context cultures— ones in which members use language as clearly and logically as possible. Canadian, American, Australian, and German dominant cultures, for example, fit into this category. Members of these groups are most likely to appreciate the kind of straightforward approach that perception checking embodies. On the other hand, members of high-context cultures (more common in Indigenous Canadian communities, Latin America, and Asia) value social harmony over clarity. High-context communicators are more likely to regard candid approaches like perception checking as potentially embarrassing, preferring instead less direct ways of understanding one another. Along with clarifying meaning, perception checking can sometimes be a face-saving way to raise an issue without directly threatening or attacking the other person. Consider these examples:



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

“Were you going to drop off the rent cheque tomorrow?” “Am I boring you, or do you have something else on your mind?”


In the first case you might have been quite sure your roommate had forgotten to deliver the rent cheque, in the second that the other person was bored. Even so, a perception check is a less threatening way of pointing out behaviour than direct confrontation. Keep in mind that one element of competent communication is the ability to choose the best option from a large repertoire, and perception checking can be a useful strategy at times.

parents whose perception checks reveal that their teenager’s outlandish behaviour grows from a desire to be accepted would likely find that insight very useful. But to truly understand this behaviour the parents would need to consider (or perhaps recall) what it feels like to crave that acceptance.

Empathy Defined

What we need, then, to understand others more completely is empathy—the ability to recreate another person’s perspective and to experience the world from her point of view (Geist, 2013). It’s impossible to achieve total empathy, but with enough effort and skill, we can come closer to this goal (Buckman et al., 2011; Long et al., 1999). Building Empathy Empathy has three dimensions. On one level Perception checking can help us decode ­messages empathy involves perspective taking—the ability more accurately, but it doesn’t give us enough to take on the viewpoint of another person. This information that we can claim to fully understand understanding requires a suspension of judgment, another person. For example, a professor who uses so that for a moment you set aside your own opinperception checking might learn that a student’s ions and consciously take on those of the other reluctance to ask questions is due to confusion person. In order to be accurate, we must use our and not lack of interest. This information would be thinking skills, not our intuition (Ma-Kellams helpful, but imagine how much more effective the and Lerner, 2016). The idea that there are diverse professor would be if they could get a sense of the ways of seeing the world and that embracing them confusion from the student’s perspective. ­Likewise, equally can help to deepen our understanding has been referred to as “twoeyed seeing” (Martin, 2012). Two-eyed seeing is believed to have originated from the Mi’kmaq word Etuaptmumk and describes the need to take both Indigenous and Western worldviews into consideration without perpetuating the dominance of one over the other and to acknowledge our interdependence with each other (Bartlett et al., 2012; Whiting et al., 2018). Two-eyed seeing reminds us, quite literally, that we need to use all our ­resources in our work to perceive each Perception checking is a tool to help us understand others instead of assum- other accurately and that ing that our first interpretation is correct. Have you done any perception understanding is the first comchecking recently? ponent of empathy.

3 | Perceiving Others

BUILDING WORK SKILLS PERCEPTION CHECKING Improve your perception-checking ability by developing complete perception-checking statements for the following situations. Be sure your statements include a description of the behaviour, two equally plausible interpretations, and a request for verification. You made what you thought was an excellent suggestion to your supervisor, who responded, “I’ll get back to you about that right away.” It’s been three weeks, and you haven’t received a response yet. You disagreed with a co-worker’s suggestions during a meeting. When the meeting was over, you asked if anyone wanted to go for lunch and everyone agreed, with the exception of that same co-worker. The next day when you pass in the hall, that persons nods, but doesn’t say hello or smile as usual.

In addition to cognitive understanding, empathy also has an affective dimension—what social scientists term emotional contagion. In everyday language, emotional contagion means that we experience the same feelings that others have. We know their fear, joy, sadness, and so on (Cuff et al., 2016). A third aspect of empathy is a genuine concern for the welfare of the other person. Not only do we think and feel as others do, but we have a sincere interest in their well-being. Full empathy requires both intellectual understanding of the other person’s position and an affective understanding of their feelings (Kerem et al., 2001; Meneses and Larkin, 2017). It’s easy to confuse empathy with sympathy, but the concepts are different. With sympathy you view the others person’s situation from your own point of view. With empathy, you view it from the other person’s perspective. Consider the difference between sympathizing and empathizing with a single parent or homeless person. When you sympathize, you focus on the other person’s confusion, joy, or pain. When you empathize, the experience becomes your own, at least for a moment. It’s one thing to feel bad (or good) for someone; it’s more profound to feel bad (or good) with someone.

Developing Empathy There is considerable evidence that empathy, like any other skill, can be learned (Buckman et al., 2011; Luberto et al., 2018). Human beings appear to

TAKE TWO • Empathy: recreating another person’s perspective and experiencing the world from his point of view (“feeling inside”). • Sympathy: feeling compassion for someone, but not experiencing that person’s point of view or emotions (“feeling with”).

have an innate capacity for empathy and the extent to which it is developed varies from person to person. The development of empathy in childhood and adolescence is supported by parenting p ­ ractices that include modelling empathy, encouraging appropriate emotional expressiveness, explaining the effects of one’s actions on others, and consistent discipline (Chaparro and Grusec, 2016; Strayer and Roberts, 2004). A longitudinal investigation conducted over a 23-year period found that adolescents with high empathy continued to be high in empathy as adults and were more likely to use constructive communication skills during conflict situations in their marriages or common-law relationships as adults (Allemand et al., 2015). Continuing to develop empathy as an adult requires open-mindedness, curiosity, imagination, and commitment. It’s hardest to empathize with people who are radically different from us in categories such as age, sex, and socio-economic



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

William Steig/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

status (Goleman, 2013; Samovar et al., 2012). One of the best ways to gain empathy for people whose view differs from yours is by interacting with them (Zhang, 2016). We can also empathize by attempting to experience the world from another person’s perspective. Researchers have found that simulations can help you experience another person’s reality. For instance, spending time in a virtual body of a different race from yours or having an elderly avatar, even for just a short period of time, can help you understand how the world looks and feels to other people (Hogenboom, 2013; Yee and Bailenson, 2006). Even playing prosocial video games and reading fictional stories have been associated with greater abilities to take another person’s perspective and to be empathetic (Gentile et al., 2009; Mar et al., 2009). Reading fiction and participating in simulations and co-operative video games are experiences that have the potential to take us to new places where we can experience the social worlds of others. We can practise using the same thinking skills and empathic abilities that we would use in our own real-life social situations to increase the accuracy of our understating of others. As we saw in Chapter 1, the ability to empathize is so important that it’s an essential ingredient of communicative competence. Empathy can have benefits for both the person who is doing the empathizing and the person who is being u ­ nderstood. The importance of empathy is emphasized in

schooling and ongoing professional development in a variety of fields including health care, education, corrections, and business. We’ll return to an examination of the benefits of empathy in our discussion of listening in Chapter 5.

Empathy and Ethics The golden rule of treating others as we want to be treated points to the clear relationship between the ability to empathize and the ethical principles that enable society to function (Howe, 2013). Bystanders who feel empathy for victims are more likely to intervene and offer help than those who are indifferent. On a larger scale, studies in Canada, the United States, and Germany have revealed a relationship between feelings of empathy and the willingness of people to follow the moral principle that r­ esources should be allocated according to people’s needs. Empathetic people have “an interest in understanding life rather than taking sides” (Adams, 2003).

Requirements for Empathy Empathy may be valuable, but it’s not always easy to achieve. In order to make such perceptual leaps, you need to develop several skills and attitudes. Open-Mindedness Perhaps the most important characteristic of an empathic person is the ability and disposition to be open-minded—to set aside for the moment your own beliefs, attitudes, and values and to consider those of the other person. Open-mindedness is especially difficult when the other person’s position is radically different from your own. The temptation is to think (and sometimes say), “That’s crazy!” “How can you believe that?” or “I’d do it this way . . .” Being open-minded is often difficult because people confuse understanding another’s position with accepting it. These

3 | Perceiving Others

BUILDING WORK SKILLS BEGINNING TO BUILD EMPATHY Canadian business leader Jean Claude Monty, the highly successful past chair, CEO, and president of BCE Inc., described empathy as one of the most important attributes of an effective leader. “Empathy allows you to look at every situation through the customer’s, employee’s, shareholder’s, and competitor’s eyes, to gain a far deeper understanding of how they’re all interconnected and what your next step should be” (Monty, 1998). Often, the hardest time to empathize with someone is when we’re involved in an argument or conflict with that person. Think about a disagreement you had recently with someone at work or school. Take a moment to jot down your perspective on the issue. Now, try honestly and accurately to imagine the other person’s thoughts and feelings about the same issue. Describe the two sides of the argument to a friend or classmate. Does your friend or classmate think you have genuinely tried to perceive the issue from the other person’s point of view? Has your position on the issue changed at all? Why or why not?

SELF-ASSESSMENT YOUR EMPATHY QUOTIENT Respond to each of the following statements using a scale ranging from 0 to 4, where 0 = “never” and 4 = “always.” Also have someone who knows you well fill out the questionnaire and compare notes afterward.

 1. When someone else is feeling excited, I tend to get excited too.  2. Other people’s misfortunes do not disturb me a great deal.  3. It upsets me to see someone being treated disrespectfully.  4. I remain unaffected when someone close to me is happy.  5. I enjoy making people feel better.  6. I have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than I am.  7. When a friend starts to talk about their problems, I try to steer the conversation towards something else.  8. I can tell when others are sad even when they do not say anything.  9. I find I am in tune with other people’s moods.  10. I do not feel sympathy for people who cause their own serious illnesses.  11. I become irritated when someone cries.

 12. I am not really interested in how other people feel.  13. I get a strong urge to help when I see someone who is upset.  14. When I see someone being treated unfairly, I do not feel very much pity for them.  15. I find it silly for people to cry out of happiness.  16. When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel a bit protective toward them. Scoring: Before summing your scores for the 16 items reverse the scores for the negatively worded items: 2, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, and 15. That is, for these items: 0 = 4; 1 = 3; 2 =2, 3 = 1 and 4 = 0. After reversing the scores for the noted items, sum all your responses to determine your total empathy score. In several studies female participants scored slightly higher than male ones. For women, the average score was 47 and for men, the average score was 44. SOURCE: Adapted from Spreng, R., McKinnon, M.C., Mar, R.A., and Levine, B. (2009). The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire: Scale development and initial validation of a factor-analytic solution to multiple empathy measures. Journal of Personality Assessment, 91, 62–71.



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

are quite different matters. To understand why a friend disagrees with you, for example, does not mean you have to give up your position and accept theirs. Imagination Being open-minded is often not enough to make you empathetic. You also need enough imagination to be able to picture another person’s background and thoughts. A happily married or single person needs imagination to empathize with the problems of a friend considering divorce. A young person needs it to empathize with a parent facing retirement. A teacher needs it to understand the problems of students, just as students can’t be empathic without trying to imagine how their instructor feels. Commitment Because empathizing is often difficult, a third necessary quality is a sincere desire to understand another person. Listening to unfamiliar, often confusing information takes time and is not always pleasant. If you aim to be empathic, be willing to accept the challenge. Empathy requires considerable energy and effort and you need to make sure that your own needs for comfort and compassion are met in order to be prepared for the challenge.

CHECK IT! What are the three requirements for empathy, and why do people often have difficulty with the first requirement?

By now, you can see the tremendous difficulties we encounter when we want to understand one another. Physiological distortion, psychological interference, and social and cultural conditioning all insulate us from our fellow human beings. But the news is not all bad, for with a combination of determination and skill, we can do a better job of spanning the gap that separates us and, as a result, enjoy more satisfying interpersonal relationships.

CHECK IT! Name and describe two tools that can improve the accuracy of our attributions.

SUMMARY Many communication challenges arise because of differing perceptions. The process of interpersonal perception is a complex one, and a variety of factors influence each person’s view of reality. Interpersonal perception involves four phases: selection, organization, interpretation, and negotiation. A number of influences can affect how we perceive others’ behaviour. Physiological factors include our senses, age, health, fatigue, hunger, and biological cycles. Psychological factors such as mood and self-concept also have a strong influence on how we regard others. In addition, social influences, such as sex and gender and occupational roles, play an important part in the way we view those with whom we interact. Finally, cultural influences shape how we recognize and make sense of others’ words and

actions. Our cultural values influence our perceptions of talk and silence, thinking and logic, social obligations, distribution of power, avoidance of uncertainty, and the value of achievement and nurturance. Our perceptions are often affected by common perceptual tendencies. We are more likely to blame others than ourselves for misfortunes, and we are more influenced by negative information than positive information. We’re influenced by our expectations, and we’re also influenced by obvious stimuli, even if they are not the most important factors. We make snap judgments and cling to first impressions, even if they’re mistaken, and we assume others are similar to us. One way to verify the accuracy of our interpretations is through perception checking. Instead of

3 | Perceiving Others

jumping to conclusions, communicators who check their perceptions describe the behaviour they noticed, offer two or more equally plausible interpretations, and ask for clarification from their partner. Empathy is the ability to experience the world from another person’s perspective. There are three

dimensions to empathy: perspective taking, emotional involvement, and concern for the other person. Empathy has benefits for both the empathizer and the recipient. The requirements for developing greater empathy include open-mindedness, imagination, and commitment.



Which of the following statements about the perception process is false?

a ­supposedly better cellphone plan. Fariba’s mood is an example of

a. Your emotional state has little effect on which stimuli you will attend to. b. The raw sense data that we perceive can be organized in more than one way. c. Expectations affect our interpretation of others. d. Narratives can be used to create common ground.

a. b. c. d. 6.

Within the perception process, relational satisfaction has the greatest influence on

Culture influences people’s perceptions of a. equality. b. logic. c. power. d. all of the above.




Fariba is in a bad mood and is very skeptical about the salesperson’s explanation of

Blaming the failure of others on their personal characteristics and blaming the situation for our own failure are known as

Common tendencies in perception (such as clinging to first impressions) are most likely to lead to a. b. c. d.

Snap judgments a. are always inaccurate. b. are effortless. c. are most accurate when they are based on stereotypes. d. help to de-categorize people.

physiological influence on perception. social influence on perception. psychological influence on perception. narrative influence on perception.

a. the self-serving bias and uncertainty avoidance. b. uncertainty avoidance and standpoint theory. c. standpoint theory and the fundamental attribution error. d. the fundamental attribution error and self-serving bias.

a. punctuation. b. selection. c. organization. d. interpretation. 3.

a a a a


judging others more charitably. inaccurate attributions. accurate attributions. building empathy.

Our tendency to seek out, remember, and organize information that supports our impressions and beliefs is known as a. b. c. d.

confirmation bias. the halo effect. the empathy effect. the first impressions effect.


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication


Which of the following is NOT a component of empathy? a. perspective taking b. emotional contagion c. genuine concern d. sympathy

10. Which of the following statements is false?

b. Perception checking is a tool that helps us understand others. c. To be effective all perception checking statements must include a description of behaviour, two interpretations, and a request for clarification. d. Perception checking has the best chance of working in low-context cultures.

a. Perception checking can decrease the likelihood of making perceptual errors. Answers: 1. a; 2. d; 3. d; 4. b; 5. c; 6. d; 7. b; 8. a; 9. d; 10. c


ACTIVITIES 1. Critical Thinking Probe Complete the following sentences: a. Women _____________________________. b. Men ________________________________. c. Francophones ________________________. d. Anglophones _________________________. e. Accountants _________________________. f. Older people _________________________. Now, ask yourself the degree to which each of your responses was a stereotype and/or a generalization. How might aspects of your own identity (e.g., gender identity, religion, culture, language, etc.) affect your responses? Is it possible to make generalizations about the groups listed above? How could your answers to these questions change the way you perceive and respond to people in these groups? Share your list with a classmate and discuss the degree to which your responses were stereotypes and the ways in which your communication is affected by stereotyping. 2. Invitation to Insight You can get a better appreciation of the importance of punctuation by using the format pictured in Figure 3.3 (on page 83) to diagram the following situations: a. A father and daughter are growing more and more distant. The daughter withdraws because she interprets her father’s coolness as r­ ejection.

The father views his daughter’s aloofness as a rebuff and withdraws further. b. The relationship between two friends is becoming strained. One makes jokes to lighten up the tension, and the other becomes more tense. c. A couple is on the verge of breaking up. One partner frequently asks the other to show more affection; the other withdraws physical contact. Explain how each of these situations could be punctuated differently by the two participants. Next, use the same procedure to explain how an event from your experience could be punctuated in at least two different ways. Describe the consequences of failing to recognize the plausibility of each of these punctuation schemes. 3. Invitation to Insight On pages 96–100 of this chapter, we outlined several common perceptual tendencies. Describe instances in which you committed each of them, and explain the consequences of each one. Which of these perceptual tendencies are you most prone to make, and what may be the results of making it? How can you avoid these tendencies in the future? 4. Skill Builder You can develop your empathy skills by putting yourself in the shoes of someone with whom you have

3 | Perceiving Others

an interpersonal relationship. With that person’s help, describe in the first person how the other person views an issue that is important to them. In other words, try as much as possible to become that person and see things from their perspective. Your partner will be the best judge of your ability to make this perceptual jump, so use their comments to modify your account. After doing the exercise, describe how your attempt changed the way you might relate to the other person. 5. Role Play With a partner, choose one of the situations described below or recall a situation in which someone displayed ambiguous non-verbal behaviour, and construct a perception-checking statement. Be sure to include a description of the behaviour, two plausible, but different interpretations of the behaviour, and a request for clarification. Now,

have your partner act out the ambiguous behaviour and role-play your perception-checking statement with your partner. Reverse roles. Situation One Your sister arrives home from school, loudly drops her books, and walks by you without a greeting. You hear her bedroom door slam shut. Situation Two You call a close friend to talk about your exciting plans for the weekend and they’re quiet, answering your questions, but not elaborating on the plans, asking questions, or offering an opinion. Your friend’s mood seems very subdued and a bit distant. Situation Three You arrive at work and your supervisor gives you a list of things to be done. She is not as talkative as usual and quickly walks away after giving you instructions.



Imagine yourself at a family meal or celebration. How might the participants’ perceptions of this event differ? Consider all the influ­ ences on perception described in this chapter to gain insight into the ways in which various family members might perceive the situation differently. Consider the cultural influences on perception described in this chapter. How might the common perceptual tendency to assume that

others are like us create problems in Canada’s multicultural society? 3.

In what types of situations can our common tendencies in perception work to our advantage, and where would these same tendencies work to our disadvantage?


Some communication researchers argue that empathy is perhaps the most important element of communication competence. Would you agree or disagree? Why?


Think of someone you strongly disagree with about a particular issue. Try to describe how they think and feel about the issue as accurately as possible. Remember, understanding their position does not mean that you accept or agree with it.


Consider the influences on perception discussed in this chapter and describe examples of how they have influenced your perceptions and have possibly influenced other people’s perceptions of you.





CHAPTER OUTLINE What Are Emotions? Physiological Changes Cognitive Interpretations Outward Expression

Influences on Emotional Expression Personality Culture Gender Social Conventions and Roles Social Media Emotional Contagion

Expressing Emotions Effectively Recognize Your Feelings Choose the Best Language Share Multiple Feelings Recognize the Difference between Feeling and Acting Accept Responsibility for Your Feelings Choose the Best Time and Place to Express Your Feelings

Managing Emotions Facilitative and Debilitative Emotions Thoughts as a Cause of Feelings Irrational Thinking and Debilitative Emotions Minimizing Debilitative Emotions Maximizing Facilitative Emotions

KEY TERMS communication apprehension debilitative emotions emotions emotional contagion emotional intelligence emotional labour emotionally counterfeit facilitative emotions fallacy of approval fallacy of catastrophic expectations

fallacy of causation fallacy of helplessness fallacy of overgeneralization fallacy of perfection fallacy of should intrapersonally rational–emotive approach reappraisal rumination self-talk


Identify and explain the physiological, cognitive, and outward expressions of your own and others’ ­emotions Describe the various personal and social influences on emotional expression Demonstrate how to express your emotions appropriately and effectively Distinguish between facilitative and debilitative emotions, and explain how that appraisal may be used to manage emotions affectively


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Imagine how different life would be if you lost your ability to experience emotions. An emotionless world would be free of boredom, frustration, fear, and loneliness. But the cost of such a painfree existence would be the loss of emotions like joy, pride, and love. Few of us would be willing to make that sort of trade-off. Being aware of and experiencing emotions is fundamental to the quality of our lives. People who have suffered damage to the areas of the brain that allow them to process emotional information have serious difficulty making decisions in daily life, despite the fact that their cognitive abilities are still functioning normally (Hiser and Koenigs, 2018). Making decisions and navigating our lives require the combination of cognitive processes and emotional responses. Emotions help humans

solve the basic problems of social living (Ferrer and Mendes, 2018; Lerner et al., 2015). The role of emotions in human affairs is apparent to social scientists and lay people alike. Daniel Goleman (1995) coined the term emotional intelligence to describe the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and be sensitive to others’ feelings. Studies have shown that emotional intelligence is positively linked with self-esteem and life satisfaction (Carmeli et al., 2009), healthy conflict communication (Smith et al., 2008), empathic listening abilities (Pence and Vickery, 2012), and effective workplace interactions (Coetzer, 2015; Miao et al., 2017). Some employers even use emotional intelligence measures as part of their personnel selection process (Iliescu et al., 2012).

SELF-ASSESSMENT YOUR EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE To what extent is each of the following true for you? Rate each item below on a scale ranging from 1 to 5, where 1 = “very seldom true of me” and 5 = “very often true of me.”  1. It’s hard for me to understand my feelings.  2. I have trouble understanding how others feel.  3. I don’t fantasize or daydream.  4. I find it hard to contain my impulses.  5. I have difficulty expressing my feelings.  6. I’m good at understanding how others feel.  7. When I am in a difficult situation, I collect information.  8. I tend to be impatient.  9. It’s hard for me to describe my feelings.  10. I’m sensitive to others’ feelings.  11. I stop and think before solving problems.  12. I find it hard to control my anxiety. Scoring: Reverse-score items 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, and 12 (i.e., 5 = 1, 4 = 2, 3 = 3, 2 = 4, 1 = 5). Add items 1, 5, and 9. This is your score on the intrapersonal dimension of Emotional Intelligence: ____. The average score for young adult men on this dimension is about 10, with most scores between 8

and 12; for young adult women, the average is about 11, with most scores between 9 and 13. Add items 2, 6, and 10. This is your score on the interpersonal dimension of Emotional Intelligence: ____. The average score for young adult men on this dimension is about 12, with most scores between 10 and 14; for young adult women, the average is about 13, with most scores between 11 and 15. Add items 3, 7, and 11. This is your score on the adaptability dimension of Emotional Intelligence: ____. The average score for young adult women and men on this dimension is about 12, with most scores between 10 and 14. Add items 4, 8, and 12. This is your score on the stress management dimension of Emotional Intelligence: ____. The average score for young adult women and men on this dimension is about 9, with most scores between 7 and 11. SOURCE: This assessment, based on adaptations of 12 of the 35 items of the original measure, is from Parker, J.A., Keefer, K.V., and Wood, L.M. (2011). Toward a brief multidimensional assessment of emotional intelligence: Psychometric properties of the Emotional Quotient Inventory – Short Form. Psychological Assessment, 23, 762–77.

4 | Emotions

Because emotions are such an important part of human communication, we will take a close look at them in the following pages. We’ll explore what feelings are, discuss the ways they’re handled in contemporary society, and see how recognizing and expressing them can improve relationships. We’ll also look at some guidelines that should give you a clearer idea of when and how to express your emotions constructively. In the final section, we’ll explore a method for coping with troublesome, debilitating feelings that inhibit rather than help your communication.

What Are Emotions?

Emily Flake, The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

Suppose an extraterrestrial visitor asked you to explain emotions. How would you answer? You might start by saying that emotions are things that we feel. But this doesn’t say much, for, in turn, you would probably describe feelings as synonymous with emotions. There isn’t consistent agreement among researchers on exactly what an emotion is (Izard, 2010, 2011). Psychologist Caroll Izard distinguishes between first-order emotions, which are simpler and operate in infancy and early childhood, and emotion schemas. Emotion schemas are what we typically experience as adults. They require more sophisticated

cognitive skills (i.e., beyond interpreting a sensation of pain or pleasure) and involve an interaction between feeling and thinking. Much of the debate regarding what emotions are seems to revolve around the role of cognition in emotions. For our purposes (understanding the role of emotions in interpersonal communication) we will define emotions as feeling states that include physiological changes, cognitive interpretations, and outward expression. While finding an agreed upon definition of emotion is chal­lenging, there is considerable consensus that emotions play an important role in motivating and focusing human behaviour and in social interactions. In the context of interpersonal communication it’s useful to examine three components of our definition in order to better understand the role of emotion in our social interactions (Scherer, 2000).

Physiological Changes When a person has strong emotions, many bodily changes take place. For example, the physical components of fear include an increased heartbeat, a rise in blood pressure, an increase in adrenalin secretions, a high blood sugar level, a slowing of digestion, and a dilation of the pupils (Madan et al., 2017; Schauer and Elbert, 2010). Marriage researcher John Gottman notes that symptoms such as these occur when couples engage in intense conflicts (Gottman and Silver, 1999). He calls the condition “flooding” and has found it impedes effective problem solving. Research supports the notion that we experience emotions not just in the mind but throughout the whole body (Nummenmaa et al., 2014). Research conducted at the University of Toronto found that undergraduate students who had been rejected in an online game were more likely to estimate the temperature of the room they were in as colder than participants who had not been socially ostracized (Zhong and Leonardelli, 2008).



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication







FIGURE 4.1  Body Temperatures Associated with Various Emotions Source: Nummenma et al. (2014)

In a second experiment by these same investigators, rejected participants were significantly more likely than their non-rejected peers to want a warm drink (e.g., coffee or soup) than a cold drink (e.g., icy cola). As Figure 4.1 shows, disgust may turn our stomachs, fear can tighten our chest, happiness can make us feel warm all over and sadness cold. Noticing physiological sensations such as these can offer a significant clue to your emotions.

Cognitive Interpretations Although there may be cases in which there is a direct connection between physical behaviour and emotional states, in most situations the mind plays an important role in determining how we feel (Critchley and Garfinkel, 2018). As we noted, some physiological components of fear are a racing heart, perspiration, tense muscles, and raised blood pressure. Interestingly enough, these symptoms are similar to the physical changes that accompany excitement, joy, and other emotions. In other words, if we were to measure the physical condition of someone having a strong emotion, we would have a hard time knowing whether that person was trembling with fear or with excitement. Sometimes it’s a matter of interpretation and labelling. The recognition that the bodily components of most emotions are similar led some psychologists to conclude that the experience of fright, joy, or anger comes primarily from the labels—and the accompanying cognitive interpretations—we give

to our physical symptoms (Imbir, 2016). Psychologist Philip Zimbardo (1977) offers a good example of this principle: I notice I’m perspiring while lecturing. From that I infer I am nervous. If it occurs often, I might even label myself a “nervous person.” Once I have the label, the next question I must answer is, “Why am I nervous?” Then I start to search for an appropriate explanation. I might notice some students leaving the room, or being inattentive. I am nervous because I’m not giving a good lecture. That makes me nervous. How do I know it’s not good? Because I’m boring my audience. I am nervous because I am a boring lecturer and I want to be a good lecturer. I feel inadequate. Maybe I should open a delicatessen instead. Just then a student says, “It’s hot in here, I’m perspiring and it makes it tough to concentrate on your lecture.” Instantly, I’m no longer “nervous” or “boring.” (p. 53)

Social scientists refer to this process as reappraisal: rethinking the meaning of emotionally charged events in ways that alter their emotional impact (Troy et al., 2013). Research shows that reappraisal is related to positive psychological health outcomes (Brockman et al., 2017; Butler et  al., 2003; Gross 2015; Troy et al., 2018). Reappraisal also has relational benefits both among family and friends and at work (Jones et al., 2017; Troth et al., 2018). People who are able to step back from their conflicts and reappraise them from a neutral perspective reduce the emotional impact of their disputes and are better able to maintain positive interpersonal relationships.

4 | Emotions

Outward Expression Feelings are often apparent by observable changes. Some of these changes involve a person’s appearance: blushing, sweating, and so on. Other changes involve behaviour: a distinctive facial expression, a particular posture, certain gestures, different vocal tone and rate, and so on. Although it’s reasonably easy to tell when someone is feeling a strong emotion, it’s more difficult to be certain exactly what that emotion might be. A slumped posture and a sigh may be a sign of sadness or fatigue. Likewise, trembling hands may indicate excitement or fear. As we shall see in Chapter 7, non-verbal communication involves expressing messages via non-linguistic means such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, voice tone, etc., and is usually ambiguous and can easily be misread. Although we usually think of non-verbal behaviour as the reaction to an emotional state, there may be times when the reverse is true—when non-verbal behaviour actually causes emotions. For instance, clenching your fists can help you feel stronger (Schubert and Koole, 2009) and walking with an upbeat strut can stave off feelings of depression (Michalak et al., 2015). We’ll discuss the relationship between non-verbal behaviours and emotions more in Chapter 7. As behavioural scientists like to say, it can be easier to act yourself into new ways of feeling than to feel yourself into new ways of acting. Non-verbal behaviour is a powerful way of communicating emotion. In fact, non-verbal actions are better at conveying attitudes than they are at expressing ideas. But sometimes, words are necessary to express feelings. Saying “I am angry” is clearer and more helpful than stomping out of the room, and “I’m feeling nervous” might help explain a pained expression on your face. There are times when you cannot rely on perceptiveness to make sure a message is communicated and understood accurately. Putting emotions into words can help you manage them more effectively, whereas leaving them unspoken can be personally and interpersonally harmful (Chervonsky and Hunt, 2017). The ability to communicate clearly about feelings has been characterized as part of emotional intelligence, which we discussed earlier in the chapter. We

experience most emotions with different degrees of intensity and we use specific emotion words to represent these differences. Awareness of the intensity of emotions and the vocabulary to describe them accurately is important. Reluctance or an inability to express emotions is associated with greater social difficulties and unhappiness (Chervonsky and Hunt, 2017). Although we understand many words that describe emotions in varying intensity, we tend to rely on a few basic emotional labels (happy, sad, mad, etc.), and increase or decrease their intensity with words like “really,” “kind of,” and so on. Rather than using these modifiers—“I was really, really happy” and “I was kind of angry”—to increase or decrease the intensity of our descriptions, we can enhance others’ understanding of our experi­ences by choosing more accurate descriptors such as ecstatic or annoyed. Figure 4.2 illustrates this point. To say you’re “annoyed” when a friend breaks an important promise is probably an understatement. In other cases, people chronically overstate the strength of their feelings, saying everything is either “fantastic” or “terrible.” The problem with this sort of exaggeration is that when a truly intense emotion comes along, there are no words left to describe it adequately. If you “adore” chocolate chip cookies
















FIGURE 4.2  Intensity of Emotions



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

from the local bakery, how do you describe your feelings about your romantic partner?

CHECK IT! Describe the three components of emotions and provide examples of each.

Influences on Emotional Expression Each of us is born with the disposition to reveal our emotions, at least non-verbally. Babies all over the world smile, frown, giggle, and cry whenever the mood strikes them. But over time, a wide range of differences develops in emotional expression. In the next few pages, we’ll look at some influences that shape how people communicate their feelings.

Personality Science has established an increasingly clear relationship between personality and the way people experience and communicate emotions (Wilson et al., 2015). For example, extroverted people—those with a tendency to be cheerful and optimistic and to enjoy social contact—report more positive emotions in everyday life than more introverted individuals (Lucas et al., 2008; McCrae and Costa, 2008). Conversely, people with neurotic personalities— those with a tendency to worry, be anxious, and feel apprehensive—report more negative emotions than less neurotic individuals. In addition, individuals with neurotic tendencies are less accurate when identifying negative emotions in others (Edgar et al., 2012; Matsumoto et al., 2000). Although personality can be a strong force, it does not have to govern your emotions or communication satisfaction. Think of shyness, which can be considered the opposite of extroversion. Introverted people can devise comfortable and effective strategies for reaching out. For example, the absence of auditory and visual cues in textbased communication has been found to help shy people feel less apprehension about communicating with new people (Hammick and Lee, 2014). Social

media can provide a way for shy people to initiate communication and gain confidence. Research evidence suggests that mediated communication provides opportunities for socially anxious people to connect with others who share the same interests and provides opportunities to rehearse behaviour and communication skills that may help them in face-to-face social interactions (Ledbetter et al., 2011). However, there is also evidence that the cognitive biases socially anxious people are more susceptible to in face-to-face interactions are also present in at least some forms of mediated communication (Kingsbury and Coplan, 2016). See the Focus on Research box, R U Mad @ Me, for details.

Culture Although people around the world experience the same emotions, the same events can generate quite different feelings in different cultures. The notion of eating cod tongues might bring a smile of delight to some residents of Newfoundland, though it would cause many other Canadians to grimace in ­disgust. Culture also has an effect on how emotions are ­valued. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine emotions being valued in ways that are different from our own. An eye-opening example of what it’s like to experience emotions being valued differently comes from the late anthropologist Jean Briggs at Memorial University (2000). As a PhD student, in the 1960s, Jean lived for 18 months with an Inuit family (as a daughter) in a tiny Utkuhiksalik community in Chantrey Inlet, northwest of Hudson’s Bay. The Utkuhiksalik value social harmony. They need to work together to survive in such a harsh climate. During her stay Jean learned to speak Utkuhikalingmiut (she documented the language later) and she learned about a culture that did not express anger or blame towards others. Jean was not aware of this cultural value when she arrived. When a group of American fishermen, who had flown in, asked to borrow the only remaining canoe after having damaged the first one they borrowed Jean was incensed. The community needed the canoe to get their autumn and winter supplies before the ice set in, and they had no materials or access to materials to repair the first canoe these men had broken! The canoe was essential for the ­survival

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FOCUS ON RESEARCH R U MAD @ME? In face-to-face situations people who are socially anxious are more likely to interpret ambiguous social situations negatively when compared to their less anxious peers (Chen et al., 2018). Although the use of emoticons and emoji can help reduce ambiguity in mediated communication (Kaye et al., 2016, 2017; Rodrigues et al., 2018), there is some evidence that they’re not used as frequently in private messaging between friends as they are in more public messaging (e.g., status updates) (Oleszkiewicz et al., 2017). In addition, they don’t help reduce message ambiguity in some situations (see examples below for mes­ sages in which an emoji or emoticon might not clarify the senders’ messages). So, Carleton University researchers Mila Kingsbury and Robert Coplan (2016) wondered if social anxiety might also negatively bias interpretations of ambiguous text messages. Kingsbury and Coplan (2016) developed and validated a measure of interpretation bias in computermediated contexts, specifically text messages. Their measure includes 24 vignettes for which the respondent imagines receiving an ambiguous text from a friend. The respondent is presented with one negative and one benign interpretation and asked to rate the likelihood of each interpretation occurring to them. They rate the likelihood of each interpretation using a five-point scale with one meaning the interpretation “does not come to mind” and five meaning the interpretation “definitely comes to mind.” Below are a few examples of the vignettes and the two interpretations (one negative, one benign) for each. Vignette Example 1:

A few minutes before class, you message a friend and ask him/her to save you a seat. S/he responds “I’m sitting with Alex.” Response choices:

a. S/he is telling me where s/he is sitting so I can find him/her b. S/he doesn’t want to sit with me Vignette Example 2:

A friend of yours is hosting a party. You send him/her a message asking if it’s alright to bring someone with you to the party. S/he replies: “Oh okay” Response choices: a. It’s fine if I bring someone b. S/he doesn’t want me to bring someone Vignette Example 3:

The day after attending a party, you get this message from a friend: “I heard about last night” Response choices: a. S/he heard about something interesting that happened at the party b. S/he heard about something embarrassing I did or said Kingsbury and Coplan (2016) varied the order of the benign and negative interpretations and the gender of the senders in the process of validating their measure. They found that individuals with higher social anxiety had a greater tendency to endorse the negative interpretations of ambiguous text messages. They point out that in face-to-face situations the presence of ambiguous non-verbal social cues (e.g., a yawn that could mean tiredness or boredom, or laughter that continued


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

could signal amusement or disdain) provide a source of social ambiguity that socially anxious individuals are more likely to interpret negatively. In text mes­sages, the absence of any additional social cues creates the ambiguity. Socially anxious people appear more inclined to not only misinterpret social cues (e.g., faceto-face interaction) but also interpret verbal messages more negatively in the absence of social cues (e.g., text messages). The investigators argue that these negative appraisals may serve to maintain social anxiety by increasing the likelihood that people will avoid social situations, and thereby decrease the amount of posi-

of the community. Jean was angry and told the men her Inuit father did not want to lend them his canoe. She violated the Utkuhiksalik rules of courteous, obliging behaviour and created fear of reprisals from the fishermen (even though in the end they got the canoe). As a result of this discourteous display of anger, Jean was subtly ostracized by the Inuit community. At first she didn’t realize or understand what was happening but as she learned more about her host community she found out that the meanings they assigned to various emotions were very different from the ones she had learned growing up. “For them, a happy person was a good person, a safe person; anger was mindless, childish; also dangerous: an angry person might kill. For Inuit, social order did not derive merely from following rules of expression, it depended on feeling the culturally appropriate emotions. As they saw it, emotions motivated behaviour. I think they were right.” (p. 159)

More recent studies have confirmed that different cultures both experience and value emotions differently. For example, members of collectivist cultures are more likely to value “low arousal positive affect” such as being calm, relaxed, and p ­ eaceful.

tive feedback they receive from social situations. The good news is that negative interpretation bias can be reduced (Liu et al., 2017). The first step in that process is being aware of the possibility that our interpretations might be biased. The next step involves reappraising the situation, which we discuss later in this chapter. Critical thinking: Can you think of factors other than social anxiety or shyness that might contribute to interpreting ambiguous social situations more negatively? More positively? What is the role of emoticons and emoji in your mediated communication?

In contrast, members of more individualistic cultures tend to value “high arousal positive affect” such as excitement, enthusiasm, and elation (Kuppens et al., 2016; Lim 2016; Tsai et al., 2006). There is also evidence that people experience emotions that “fit” their culture’s values. For instance, in individualistic cultures that value autonomy and independence people are more likely to experience emotions related to selfworth and autonomy, such as pride and anger. In contrast, in collectivist cultures, where interdependence and connectedness are highly valued, people tend to experience more feelings of closeness to others rather than pride in situations where things go well, and

© iStockPhoto/Bartosz Hadyniak


There are a lot of influences that shape how we communicate our feelings. How do you see the influences discussed in this chapter shaping the way you communicate?

4 | Emotions


more embarrassment, rather than anger, when things emotional expression among collectivistic and indidon’t go well (Boiger et al., 2013; De Leersnyder et al., vidualistic cultures (Matsumoto et al., 2008). Clearly, 2014). In addition, when people’s experiences of emo- expressing strong negative emotions such as anger tion “fit” with their cultural values, particularly in and disgust could easily threaten interpersonal harthe context of their interpersonal relationships, they mony. It’s easy to see how differences in display rules experience greater relational well-being (De Leer- can lead to communication problems. For example, snyder et al., 2014, 2015). These researchers confirm individualistic North Americans might view collecwhat Jean Briggs observed more than 50 years ago: tivistic Asians as less than candid, whereas a person we learn which emotions are valued in our cultures raised in Asia could easily regard North Americans through our interactions with others and this social- as being overly demonstrative. ization shapes our emotional experiences (Mesquita Cultural background influences the way we interet al., 2017). pret others’ emotions as well as the way we express The position of a culture on the individualism– our own. Recognition of emotion is generally more collectivism spectrum is one of the most influential accurate when the person expressing the emotion factors in emotional expression (Halberstadt and and the person judging the emotional display belong Lozada, 2011). Members of collectivistic cultures to the same cultural group (Dailey et al., 2010; Elf(such as Japan and India) prize harmony among enbein and Ambady, 2002a). It makes sense that it members of their in-group and discourage the would be easier to judge another person’s emotional expression of any negative emotions that might upset expressions accurately if you were familiar with relationships among people who belong to it. By the subtle differences in expressive style that are contrast, members of highly individualistic cultures part of their culture. In a comparison of university like Canada and the United States feel comfortable students from Africa (Gabon) and North Amerrevealing their feelings to people they are close to. ica (Quebec), Hillary Elfenbein and her colleagues Individualists and collectivists also handle emotional (2007) found that members of these two groups of expression with members of out-groups differently. students had their own culturally unique differences Whereas collectivists are quite frank about express- in facial expressions of some emotions. Knowledge ing negative emotions toward outsiders, individual- of these unique variations in emotional expression ists are more likely to hide emotions such as dislike gave members of the same culture a distinct advan(Ting-Toomey, 2017). For instance, in a cross-cultural tage for accurately reading emotions within their investigation of display rules for seven basic emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, contempt, and surprise) researchers found that Canadian university students believed showing positive emotions (e.g., happiness, surprise) and powerfully negative emotions (e.g., anger, disgust) was appropriate more often than Japanese students. Japanese students had more varied rules for displaying emotions, depending on who they were interacting with, compared to Canadian students (Safdar et al., 2009). These differences in ideas about appropriate displays of emotion are Women appear to be better at detecting and interpreting emotional expresconsistent with general norms for sions. Do you think this is an advantage or disadvantage for women?



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

cultural group. The investigators compared these uniquely distinct variations in emotional expression to ­dialects—variations in a standard language. In addition to knowledge of unique variations in facial expressions, members of different cultures pay closer attention to different facial cues when interpreting emotional expressions. People in individualistic cultures pay closer attention to a person’s mouth. Conversely, people in collectivist cultures are more likely to look carefully at a person’s eyes. Cultures even differ in their use of emoticons, with people from individualistic cultures usually using symbols that direct attention to the mouth [ :  ) or :–( ] while people from collectivist cultures are more likely to vary the direction of the eyes [ ^_^ or ; _ ; ] (Park, Barash et al., 2013; Yuki et al., 2007).

Gender Even within our culture, gender roles often shape the ways in which people experience and express their emotions (Lee et al., 2013; Wester et al., 2002; Wingenbach et al., 2018). For instance, research suggests women are faster than men at recognizing emotions from facial cues (Hampson et al., 2006). They are better at identifying multiple emotions (Hall and Matsumoto, 2004) and better at judging emotions from eye behaviour alone (Kirland et al., 2013). They’re also more stimulated by emotional data and remember them better than men do (Spalek et al., 2015). Research on emotional expression also suggests that there is some truth in the stereotype of the inexpressive male and the more demonstrative female. Overall, women seem more likely than men to express a wide range of feelings (Palomares, 2008). In many cultures, men are socialized not to express emotions such as sadness, but their expression of anger is deemed acceptable. In contrast, women’s expressions of sadness fit with the female stereotype for emotional expression, but their expressions of anger do not. Megan McCarty and her colleagues (2014) found that when men and women experience counter stereotypic emotions in public places (e.g., men feeling sad and women feeling angry) it interfered with performance on a cognitive task. This was true even if they did not express their emotions publically. These researchers suggest that experiencing emotions that we have

been socialized not to express is taxing. S­ imilarly, when women buck social conventions and express emotions that counter stereotypes, such as contempt, they report feeling more unhappy than men do (Crowley and Knowles, 2014). Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be reluctant to talk about their feelings, which can lead to relational chal­ lenges (Hesse et al., 2012, 2015). Although men and women generally experience the same emotions, there are some significant differences in the ways they read and express them (Brody and Hall, 2010). These differences are due in large measure to social conventions, which we’ll discuss next.

Social Conventions and Roles Canadians have a reputation for being “nice”—polite, deferential, and law-abiding people (Adams, 2003; McIntyre, 2017). Mainstream North American culture generally discourages the direct expression of most emotions. Count the number of genuine emotional expressions you hear over a two- or three-day period (“I’m angry”; “I feel embarrassed”) and you’ll discover that such expressions are rare. People are generally comfortable making statements of fact and often delight in expressing their opinions, but they rarely disclose how they feel. They tend to act out rather than talk about their emotions. Not surprisingly, the emotions that people do share directly, face to face or online, are usually positive (“I’m happy to say . . .”; “I really enjoyed . . .”). Communicators are reluctant to send messages that embarrass or threaten the face of others (Shimanoff, 1988). For instance, contemporary societies discourage expressions of anger. When compared to past centuries, many societies today strive to suppress this “unpleasant” emotion and its expression in almost every situation, including child-rearing, the workplace, and personal relationships (Pinker, 2011; Stearns and Stearns, 1986). One study of married couples (Shimanoff, 1985) revealed that the partners shared complimentary feelings (“I love you”) or face-saving ones (“I’m sorry I yelled at you”). They also willingly disclosed both positive and negative feelings about absent third parties (“I like Amir,” “I’m uncomfortable around Gloria”). On the other hand, they rarely verbalized face-threatening feelings (“I’m disappointed in you”) or hostility (“I’m  mad

4 | Emotions

at you”). This isn’t to suggest that restricting emotion expression is always a bad idea. Researchers use the term emotional labour to describe situations in which managing or even supressing emotions are both appropriate and necessary (Butler and Modaff, 2012). Studies show emotional labour is an important part of many if not most occupations. Studies of first responders, correctional officers, financial planners, people working as customer service representatives, teachers and health care providers have all found that it can be taxing to manage the expression of their emotions (Grandey et al., 2013).

Social Media Communicators usually express more emotion via mediated communication than they do in person (Derks et al., 2008; Reid and Reid, 2010). In some cases, that is good news. Those who have trouble sharing feelings face to face may find freedom to do so via mediated communication. Consider how it might be easier to say the words “I’m embarrassed” or “I love you.” However, norms of social media emotion sharing, like face-to-face sharing, are biased toward the positive and when negative emotions are shared on social media users are less likely to offer public social support (Ziegele and Reinecke, 2017). In addition, as discussed in Chapter 1, online disinhibition can also encourage emotional outbursts and tirades. This kind of venting can be hazardous to interpersonal relations, and it probably won’t make you feel any better. Social media can also feed emotional responses. For instance, regularly checking a romantic partner’s Facebook may spur feelings of jealousy, resulting in relational dissatisfaction (Dainton and Stokes, 2015). Jealousy resulting from social media posts is especially strong when the viewer is already suspicious, and more so for women than men (Muise et al., 2014). Snapchat can elicit even more jealousy than Facebook because it’s often used for flirting and finding new love interests (Utz et al., 2015). The bottom line is that both senders and receivers experience emotions more intensely online. It’s wise to keep this in mind before hitting send on emotionally charged messages and before jumping to conclusions about ambiguous mediated messages.

Emotional Contagion Emotions can spread from one person to another through a process known as emotional contagion (Dasborough et al., 2009). As Daniel Goleman (1995, p. 115) observes, “We catch feelings from one another as though they were some kind of social virus.” There is evidence this contagion happens between students and teachers (Baker, 2005), customers and employees (Jiangang et al., 2011), co-workers (Robbins and Juge, 2010), and husbands and wives (Randall et al., 2013). Although people differ in the extent to which they are susceptible to emotional contagion (Ilies et al., 2007; Papousek et al., 2008), you can probably recall instances in which being around a calm person left you feeling more at peace or when your previously good mood was spoiled by contact with a grouch. That’s the power of emotional contagion. This process can take place online as well as in person. In an analysis of millions of status updates on Facebook, researchers found that posts about rain—which typically correlate with negative moods—can have a ripple effect on readers (Coviello et al., 2014). Those exposed to their friends’ rainy day messages began posting more negative updates even if it wasn’t raining in their area. The good news is that positive posts are contagious too—at even greater rates. The researchers found that every positive status update led to 1.75 new posts by followers. Twitter updates can have similar effects (Ferrara and Yang, 2015). It’s important to recognize that communicating your emotional state—even online—with people who may not know you well, can have an impact on the feelings and moods of others. And, if checking others’ posts leaves you feeling anxious and depressed (Lin et al., 2016), it might be a good time to take a break from social media.

CHECK IT! Describe seven influences on emotional expression that shape how people communicate their feelings.



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

are healthier than those who don’t. Inexpressive people, those who avoid their feelings and impulses and deny distress, are more likely to suffer from a host of medical ailments (Quartana and Burns, 2010). However, overly expressive people also suffer physiologically. When people lash out angrily, their blood pressure jumps an average of 20 points and in some people by as many as 100 points (Siegman and Snow, 1997). Learning how to express emotions constructively is central to good health. The following suggestions Emotions can be contagious, so it’s important that we express them well. Can can help you decide when and you think of a time you “caught” an emotion from someone else? how to express your emotions. Combined with the guidelines for self-disclosure in Chapter 2, Expressing Emotions they can improve the effectiveness of your emoEffectively tional expression. A wide range of research supports the value of expressing emotions appropriately. Starting at a young age the way parents talk to their children Recognize Your Feelings about emotion has a powerful effect on develop- Answering the question, “How do you feel?” is ment. John Gottman and his associates (1997) not as easy for some people as others (Peper, identify two distinct parenting styles: “emotion 2000). Communication researchers Melanie coaching” and “emotion dismissing.” Research Booth-Butterfield and Steven Booth-Butterfield has  found that parents who accurately and (1998; also see Samter and Burleson, 2005) found non-judgmentally describe children’s emotions that some people (whom they term “affectively (e.g., “It looks like you’re very angry”) were more oriented”) are much more aware of their own likely to have children who could accurately rec- emotional states and use information about those ognize and describe their emotional states. In con- feelings when they make important decisions. By trast, children of parents who denied or invalidated contrast, people with a low affective orientation their children’s emotions (e.g., “Don’t be angry!”) are usually unaware of their emotions and tend were less able to accurately identify their feelings to consider feelings to be useless, unimportant (Lambie and Linberg, 2016). Validating and label- information. The researchers summarize studies ling children’s emotions teaches them life skills for showing a relationship between awareness of feelcommunicating about feelings, leading to much ings and a wide range of valuable traits, includmore satisfying relationships. Children who grow ing having positive relationships between parents up in families where parents dismiss emotions are and children, being able to comfort others, being at higher risk for behaviour problems than those sensitive to non-verbal cues, and even being able to skilfully use humour to communicate. In other who practise emotion coaching (Young, 2009). At the most basic physiological level, people words, being aware of your feelings is an importwho know how to share their feelings appropriately ant ingredient in effective communication.

4 | Emotions

Beyond being aware of one’s feelings, research shows that it’s valuable to specifically identify one’s emotions. Teaching children to recognize and accurately identify their emotions is foundational to building their emotional intelligence (David, 2016). College students who could pinpoint the negative emotions they experienced (such as “nervous,” “angry,” “sad,” “ashamed,” and “guilty”) also had the best strategies for managing those emotions (Barrett et al., 2001). As we saw earlier in this chapter, there are a number of ways in which feelings become recognizable. Physiological changes can be a clear sign of your emotional state. Monitoring your non-­ verbal behaviour is another excellent way to keep in touch with your feelings. You can also recognize your emotions by observing your thoughts, as well as the verbal messages you send to others. It’s not far from the verbal statement, “I hate this!” to the realization that you’re angry (or bored, nervous, or embarrassed).

Choose the Best Language


Most people suffer from impoverished emotional vocabularies. Ask them how they’re feeling, and the response will almost always include the same

terms: good or bad, terrible or great, and so on. Take a moment now and see how many feelings you can write down. Many communicators think they’re expressing feelings when, in fact, their statements are emotionally counterfeit. For example, it sounds emotionally revealing to say, “I feel like going to a show” or “I feel we’ve been seeing too much of each other.” But, in fact, neither of these statements has any emotional content. In the first sentence, the word feel really stands in for an intention: “I want to go to a show.” In the second sentence, the “feeling” is really a thought: “I think we’ve been seeing too much of each other.” You can recognize the absence of emotion in each case by adding a genuine word of feeling to it—for instance, “I’m bored and I want to go to a show” or “I think we’ve been seeing too much of each other and I feel confined.” Relying on a small vocabulary of feelings is as limiting as using only a few terms to describe colours. To say that the ocean in all its moods, the sky as it varies from day to day, and the colour of your true love’s eyes are all “blue” tells only a fraction of the story. Likewise, it’s overly broad to use a term like good or great to describe how you feel in situations as different as earning a high grade, finishing a marathon, and hearing the words “I love you” from a special person. Bradberry (2015) found that one sign of emotional intelligence is having a “robust emotional vocabulary”:

Sometimes recognizing your emotions can be difficult. Journaling can help, as can talking to someone close to you. What are some other ways you come to recognize your emotions?

While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

There are several ways to express a feeling verbally: • Through single words: “I’m angry” (or “excited,” “depressed,” “curious,” and so on). • By describing what’s happening to you metaphorically: “My stomach is tied in knots,” “I’m on top of the world.” • By describing what you’d like to do: “I want to run away,” “I’d like to give you a hug.” Finally, you can improve emotional expression by making it clear that your feeling is centred on a specific set of circumstances, rather than the whole relationship. Instead of saying, “I resent you,” say, “I get resentful when you do not keep your promises.” Rather than, “I’m bored with you,” say, “I get bored when you talk about money.”

Share Multiple Feelings Many times, the feeling you express is not the only one you’re experiencing. For example, you might often express your anger, but overlook the confusion, disappointment, frustration, sadness, or embarrassment that preceded it. To understand the importance of expressing multiple emotions, consider the following examples. For each one, ask yourself two questions: How would I feel? What feelings might I express? • An out-of-town friend has promised to arrive at your house at six o’clock. When your guest hasn’t arrived by nine, and hasn’t responded to your texts you’re convinced there’s been a terrible accident. Just as you pick up the phone to call the police and local hospitals, your friend strolls in with an offhand remark about getting a late start. • A friend has posted a photo of you online, along with a positive message. On one hand, you feel flattered by the display of affection. On the other hand, you would rather keep the picture private. You wish your friend had asked first. In situations like these, you would probably feel several emotions. Consider the case of the late friend. Your first reaction to their arrival would probably be relief: “Thank goodness they’re safe!”

TAKE TWO • Emotionally counterfeit: statements that appear to describe feelings, but lack emotional content.

But you would also probably feel anger: “Why didn’t they text or call to tell me they’d be late?” The second example would probably leave you feeling pleased, embarrassed and angry—all at the same time. Despite the commonness of experiencing several emotions at the same time (Carofiglio et al., 2008), we often communicate only one feeling— usually, the most negative one. In both of the preceding examples, you might show only your anger, leaving the other person with little idea of the full range of your feelings. Consider the different reaction you would get by describing all your emotions in such situations.

Recognize the Difference between Feeling and Acting Just because you feel a certain way does not mean you must always act on it. In fact, there’s compelling evidence that people who act out angry feelings— even by hitting a punching bag—actually feel worse than those who experience anger without lashing out (Bushman et al., 1999; Parlamis et al., 2010). Posting your frustration on online “rant sites” doesn’t help either (Martin et al., 2013). Venting anger has many negative personal and interpersonal outcomes (Gibson and Callister, 2010; Parlamis, 2012). Recognizing the difference between feeling and acting can liberate you from the fear that getting in touch with certain emotions will commit you to some disastrous course of action. If, for instance, you think, “I’m so nervous about the interview that I want to cancel it and pretend I’m sick,” it becomes possible to explore why you feel so anxious and then work to remedy the problem. Pretending that nothing is the matter, on the other hand, will do nothing to diminish your anxiety, which can then block your chances for success.

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Accept Responsibility for Your Feelings People do not make us like or dislike them, and believing that they do denies accepting accountability and the responsibility each of us has for our own emotions. It’s important to make sure that your emotional expressions do not blame others for the way you feel (Bippus and Young, 2005; Oatley, 2010). The “I” language described in Chapter 6 makes it clear that you own your feelings. For example, instead of saying, “You’re making me angry,” it’s more accurate to say, “I’m feeling angry.” Instead of uttering, “You hurt my feelings,” a more responsible statement is, “I feel hurt when you do that.”

Choose the Best Time and Place to Express Your Feelings Often, the first flush of a strong feeling is not the best time to speak out. If you’re awakened by the racket caused by a noisy neighbour and you storm over to complain, you may say things you’ll regret. In situations like this, it’s probably wiser to wait until you’ve thought out carefully how you can express your feelings in a way that is most likely to be heard. Even after you’ve waited for your initial emotion to subside, it’s still important to choose the time that is best suited to the message. If you’re rushed or tired or disturbed by some other matter, that’s probably a good reason for postponing the expression of your feeling. In the same manner, you ought to be confident that the recipient of your message is ready to hear you out before you begin. Sometimes that means checking the other person’s mood before you start sharing emotions. In other cases, it’s about calculating whether that person is ready to hear sentiments such as “I love you.” But don’t put off expressing emotions too long. It turns out that the old adage “Never go to bed angry,” has scientific validity (Hicks and Diamond, 2011). Interpersonal conflict between couples that’s left unresolved overnight leads to poor sleep patterns, which can cause a variety of health problems.

CHECK IT! What are the six guidelines to keep in mind when expressing emotions?

There are also cases where you may choose to never express your feelings. Even if you’re dying to tell an instructor that her lectures leave you bored to a stupor, you might decide it’s best to answer her question “How’s class going?” with an innocuous “Okay.” And even though you may be irritated by the arrogance of a police officer who stops you for speeding, the smartest approach might be to keep your feelings to yourself. When you experience strong emotions but don’t want to share them verbally (for whatever reason) writing out your feelings and thoughts has been shown to have mental, physical, and emotional benefits (Crowley, 2014; Pennebaker and Chung, 2007). Putting your feelings into words—even if no one reads them—has therapeutic value (Wilson, 2011). This demonstrates once again the link between emotions and communication. The cognitive process of turning feelings into language helps manage the emotions.

Managing Emotions The preceding section described how to express your emotions constructively. But there will be times when you decide it’s best to keep your feelings to yourself. For example, imagine that during class your professor makes an offhand comment that makes you feel embarrassed. You might not feel comfortable saying “That hurt my feelings.” Likewise, in a job interview, you probably wouldn’t do yourself any favours by confessing your nervousness. The following sections describe how to manage your emotions intrapersonally—that is through your own thought processes. The starting point is learning to differentiate beneficial emotions from the less helpful kind.



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

Facilitative and Debilitative Emotions Not all emotions are beneficial. For instance, depression, terror, and irrational guilt do little to help you live well or improve your relationships. It’s important to distinguish between facilitative emotions, which contribute to effective functioning, and debilitative emotions, which hinder or prevent effective performance. An example of a debilitative emotion is communication apprehension—­feelings of anxiety that plague some people at the prospect of communicating in an unfamiliar or difficult situation such as giving a speech, meeting strangers, or being interviewed for a job. Not surprisingly, debilitative emotions like communication apprehension can lead to a variety of problems in personal, business, educational, and even medical situations (Blume et al., 2013; Emory et al., 2018; McCroskey, 2009). The difference between facilitative and debilitative emotions is often not one of quality as much as degree. For instance, a certain amount of anger or irritation can be constructive, if it stimulates a person to improve the unsatisfying conditions. Rage, on the other hand, usually makes matters worse. The same is true of fear. A little bit of nervousness before a job interview may inspire you just enough to improve your performance (athletes or actors who are too relaxed usually do not do well), but a job candidate who is inordinately anxious is not likely to impress potential employers (Ayres and Crosby,

REFLECTION FEELING MIXED EMOTIONS Recently I had the experience of feeling mixed emotions when my romantic partner of three years ended our relationship. We dated throughout high school and first year university, but the relationship had become strained and we had less and less in common. I was seriously thinking about ending the relationship but my partner beat me to it, leaving me feeling relieved, hurt, and sad all at the same time.

1995). One big difference, then, between facilitative and debilitative emotions is their intensity. A second characteristic of debilitative feelings is their extended duration. Feeling sad for a while after the breakup of a relationship or the loss of a job is natural. Spending the rest of one’s life grieving over the loss accomplishes nothing. In the same way, staying angry at someone for a wrong inflicted long ago can be just as punishing to the grudge holder as to the wrongdoer (Bushman et al., 2005). Rumination involves recurrent thoughts not demanded by the immediate environment (Sullivan et al., 2005). A substantial body of research confirms that rehashing negative events over and over in your head increases feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression, and makes them last longer (Verduyn and Lavrijsen, 2015). Jealousy and rumination are a particularly bad mix (Elphinston et al., 2013), often leading to unhealthy relational behaviours such as surveillance and stalking. While it is sometimes hard to stop ruminating, as we will soon see, it is possible.

Thoughts as a Cause of Feelings How can you minimize debilitative feelings? One way is known as the rational–emotive approach (Ellis and Ellis, 2014). This method is based on the idea that the key to changing feelings is to change unproductive cognitive interpretations. Emotions may seem to have a life of their own. People wish they could feel calm when approaching strangers, yet their voices quiver. They try to appear confident when asking for a raise, but their eyes twitch nervously. Many people would say that the strangers or their supervisor makes them feel nervous, just as they would say that a bee sting causes them to feel pain: Activating Event


bee sting

physical pain

meeting strangers

nervous feelings

When looking at emotions in this way, people may believe they have little control over how they feel. However, the causal relationship between activating events and emotional discomfort (or pleasure) is not as great as it seems. Cognitive

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Activating Event

Thought or Belief


Being called “I don’t deserve names to be treated like this.”

hurt, anger

Being called “My friend must names be sick.”

sadness, compassion

The same principle applies in more common situations. For example, the words “I love you” can be interpreted in a variety of ways. They could be taken at face value as a genuine expression of deep affection. They might also be interpreted in a variety of other ways: for example, as an attempt at manipulation; a sincere, but mistaken declaration uttered in a moment of passion; or an attempt to make the recipient feel better. It’s easy to imagine how different interpretations of a statement like “I love you” can lead to different emotional reactions: Event



Hearing “I love you”

“This is a genuine statement.”

delight (perhaps)

Hearing “I love you”

“They are just saying this to manipulate me.”



psychologists and therapists argue that it is not events, such as meeting strangers or being jilted by a lover, that cause people to feel bad, but rather the beliefs they hold about these events. Consider this example to understand how thoughts cause feelings. Imagine you start receiving a string of angry, insulting messages from a friend. Under the circumstances, it’s likely that you would feel hurt and angry. Now, imagine that after receiving the offensive messages, you learn that your friend had been hospitalized for mental illness. In this case, your reaction would probably be quite different—most likely, you’d feel sorrow, compassion and possibly embarrassment for ever imagining your good friend would turn against you so quickly for no apparent reason. In this story, the activating event—being called names—was the same in both cases, and yet the emotional consequences were very different. The reason for different feelings has to do with the pattern of thinking in each case. In the first instance, you would most likely think that your friend was angry with you and that you must have done something terrible to deserve such a response. In the second case, you would probably assume that your friend had experienced some psychological difficulty, so you would probably feel sympathetic. This example illustrates that people’s interpretations of events determine their feelings:

Think about the last time you were upset. What role did your beliefs about the event play in your emotional response?

The key, then, to understanding and changing feelings lies in reappraising the event. This takes place through a form of intrapersonal communication professionals have labelled self-talk (Fernyhough, 2016; Geurts, 2018)—the non-vocal, internal monologue that is our process of thinking. To understand how self-talk works, pay attention to the part of you that, like a little voice, whispers in your ear. Take a moment now and listen to what the voice is saying. Did you hear the voice? It was quite possibly saying, “What



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

little voice? I don’t hear any voices!” This little voice talks to you almost constantly: “I wonder when they’ll finally decide about that.” “I’d better get moving or I’m going to be late.” “How rude to cut in line!”

At work or at play, scrolling through our phone or brushing our teeth, we’re almost always thinking. This thinking voice rarely stops. It may fall silent for a while when we’re meditating or concentrating on a task, but most of the time, it rattles on. Let’s look at how that voice sometimes processes thoughts in ways that need reappraising.

Irrational Thinking and Debilitative Emotions This process of self-talk is essential to understanding the debilitative feelings that interfere with effective communication (Ellis, 2017). Many debilitative feelings come from accepting a number of irrational thoughts—we’ll call them fallacies here—that lead to illogical conclusions and, in turn, to debilitating feelings. We are not usually aware of these thoughts, and that makes them especially powerful.

The Fallacy of Perfection People who accept the fallacy of perfection believe that a worthwhile communicator should be able to handle any situation with complete confidence and skill. Although such a standard of perfection can serve as a goal and a source of inspiration (rather like making a hole-in-one for a golfer), it’s unrealistic to expect that you can reach or maintain this level of behaviour. The truth is, people simply are not perfect, despite what we see online and in media (Dougherty and Krawczyk, 2018). People who believe that it’s desirable and possible to be a perfect communicator come to think that they will not be appreciated if they’re imperfect. Admitting mistakes, saying “I don’t know,” or sharing feelings of uncertainty or discomfort thus seem to be social defects. But we know that’s not accurate, because most of us don’t like being around know-it-alls who never acknowledge they’re fallible.

TAKE TWO • Facilitative emotions: contribute to effective functioning. • Debilitative emotions: hinder and prevent effective performance; they are usually more intense and longer lasting than facilitative emotions and are frequently based on irrational thinking. • Rational–emotive approach: a cognitively-based therapeutic approach that involves getting rid of debilitative emotions by changing one’s thinking.

You become more liberated each time you comfortably accept the idea that you are not perfect. Saying to yourself “I made a mistake—I’m a failure” will likely lead to debilitative emotions. Replacing that with “I made a mistake—I guess I’m human, and I learned something from it” is far more facilitating.

The Fallacy of Approval Another mistaken belief is based on the idea that it is vital—not just desirable—to obtain everyone’s approval. Communicators who subscribe to the fallacy of approval go to extreme lengths to seek acceptance from others, even to the extent of sacrificing their own principles and happiness. Adherence to this irrational myth can lead to some ludicrous situations, such as feeling nervous because people you really do not like seem to disapprove of you, or feeling apologetic when you’re not at fault. Consider how some self-talk is rooted in the fallacy of approval, and how realistic alternatives can lead to more facilitative emotions: Fallacious approval seeking: “If I speak up about those racist jokes, the others will probably think I’m hung up on political correctness.” Rational: “I hope they won’t think I am overly PC but I’d rather speak up than compromise my beliefs.”

4 | Emotions

Fallacious approval seeking: “If I confront my classmate about not doing their share of the project they will probably get defensive.” Rational: “There’s a chance my classmate will get ­defensive—but I would rather deal with it than keep quiet and feel resentful.”

Don’t misunderstand: abandoning the fallacy of approval does not mean living a life of selfishness. It’s still important to consider the needs of others. It’s also pleasant—perhaps even necessary—to strive for the respect of certain people. The point is that the price is too high if you must abandon your own needs and principles in order to gain this acceptance.

The Fallacy of Should One source of unhappiness is the inability to distinguish between what is and what should be, or the fallacy of should. For instance, imagine a person who is full of complaints about the world: “There should be no rain on weekends.” “Money should grow on trees.” “We should all be able to fly.”

Beliefs such as these are obviously foolish. But we hold those kinds of expectations for others all the time: “They shouldn’t be so inconsiderate.” “People should stand up for themselves.” “They should work harder.”

We also hold these expectations for ourselves. Read these out loud and consider how you feel about them (your tone of voice will give you a clue): “I should be more outgoing.” “I should be nicer to my family.” “I should be a better team player.”

Even when they’re true, “should” statements carry a lot of emotional baggage. Rather than

expecting others to behave the way you think they should and feeling disappointed when they don’t meet that standard, it’s more realistic to think, “I wish they would behave the way I want—but maybe I’m being unrealistic to expect better behaviour.” The same principle applies to self-imposed resolutions—they can be unrealistic and create ­ more problems than they solve. It can be more productive to set goals rather than dwell on self-criticism. Consider these alternatives to the previous list: “I wish I were more extroverted but I’m not. I’ll do the best I can without being phony.” “I’m going to start being nicer to my family.” “I’ll resist being selfish and work on being a better team player.”

The Fallacy of Overgeneralization The fallacy of overgeneralization occurs when a person bases a belief on a limited amount of evidence. Consider the following statements: “I’m so stupid! I can’t understand how to do my income tax.” “Some friend I am! I forgot my best friend’s birthday.”

These examples focus on a single shortcoming as if it represents everything. It’s more rational and less punishing to avoid overgeneralizing. Finding one task challenging doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent, and forgetting one event doesn’t make you a bad friend. A second, related category of overgeneralization occurs when we exaggerate shortcomings: “They never listen to me.” “They’re always late.” “I can’t think of anything.”

Upon closer examination, such absolute statements are almost always false and they usually lead to discouragement or anger. It’s better to replace overgeneralizations with more accurate messages: “They often don’t listen to me.” “They’ve been late three times this week.” “I haven’t had any ideas I like today.”



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

FOCUS ON RESEARCH THE REMINDERS OF OUR FRIENDS CAN HELP TAKE AWAY THE STING OF BEING EXCLUDED Why do we seek approval from others and why does it hurt so much when they reject us? Researchers have found that some of the same pain-related brain mechanisms that are activated when we hurt ourselves physically (e.g., stub your toe) are also activated by social pain, such as social exclusion or ostracism (Sturgeon and Zautra, 2016). In fact, taking a pain reliever such as acetaminophen dulls the social pain of rejection and exclusion just as it does physical pain (DeWall et al., 2011). The need to belong to a group is central to our survival as a species, as we discussed in Chapter 1 (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Over a decade of research examining people’s responses to social exclusion in an online cyberball game paradigm has confirmed that adults find it painful when other adults choose not to include them in the game; it’s also painful just to watch others be rejected from the online game (Hartgerink et al., 2016; Wesselmann et al., 2009; Williams and Jarvis, 2006). Incredibly, it’s even painful when people are rejected by groups of people they despise (Gonsalkorale and Williams, 2007). A recent investigation using the cyberball paradigm examined the extent to which subtly reminding people of their larger social network after they experienced

The Fallacy of Causation People who live their lives in accordance with the fallacy of causation believe they should do nothing that can hurt or in any way inconvenience others because it will cause undesirable feelings. For example, you might not tell your family members that they have interrupted you several times because you don’t want to make them angry. Similarly, it might be tempting to avoid bringing up issues with co-workers because you don’t want to cause a negative reaction. A reluctance to speak out in such situations often results from assuming that one person can cause another’s emotions—that others,

rejection in the cyberball game affected their ability to recover from the social exclusion experience (Knausenberger and Echterhoff, 2018). This study found that German university students with a more collectivist orientation (more interdependent) recovered faster (regained their feelings of social connection) than their peers with a more individualist orientation, when they saw a subtle reminder of their social network (e.g., Facebook logo in the corner of their computer screen) during a series of tasks they completed after experiencing ostracism in the cyberball game. Participants who were not reminded of their friends saw a Word logo on their computer screen. Participants who had a more individualistic orientation (more independent) were not affected by either logo. These investigators wondered if the ubiquitous presence of logos in our lives might sometimes help remind us of our enduring connections to others and bolster our sense of belonging in the face of social exclusion. Critical Thinking: What helps you recover from rejection or social exclusion? Do you think that the cultural dimension of individualism versus collectivism helps explain your recovery supports? Are there other aspects of culture that might be more relevant?

for example, are responsible for your feeling disappointed, confused, or irritated, or that you are responsible for others feeling hurt, angry, or upset. Actually, this assumption is sometimes incorrect. We may act in provocative ways, for which we are responsible, but each person is also responsible for the way they react. It’s not accurate to say that people make you angry, upset, or even happy. Behaviour that upsets or pleases one person might not bring any reaction from another. If you doubt this fact, think about people you know who respond differently to a behaviour that you find bothersome. (You may scream “Idiot!” when driving and someone switches lanes in front of you without signalling, while the person

4 | Emotions

REFLECTION THINKING ABOUT AN ANNOYING FRIEND My friend Ada talks about her personal life at length, but when I talk about myself for more than a couple of minutes, she has few comments and quickly turns the conversation back to her favourite topic, herself. Until lately, Ada’s egocentric focus was beginning to hurt my feelings. When Ada talks about herself, I think that what I have to say isn’t interesting or that she doesn’t care about me as a friend. I feel neglected, as if our relationship is one-sided. Lately, I’ve started to think about other reasons Ada talks so much. For example, she’s told me that I’m a great listener and that I help her by lending an ear. Also, I’ve realized that Ada seldom gets to talk about herself (she spends all day talking to customers on the phone and is engaged to a very talkative guy). So now I’ve started to take Ada’s self-centred approach less personally. I still wish she would listen to me more, but I don’t think that her egocentrism is making me resentful. It’s my choice whether to accept her as she is, speak up about what I want, or see less of her.

driving the car behind you may not even notice, or may notice, but not care.) The contrast between their reactions and yours shows that responses are determined more by our own temperament and thinking than by the actions of others. One way to avoid debilitative feelings that often accompany the fallacy of causation is to use responsible language, as we’ll discuss in Chapter  6. Instead of saying “They make me so angry,” reframe it to centre on your reaction to the other person’s behaviour: “I don’t like it when they talk about me behind my back.” Instead of saying, “I had to visit my grandparents this weekend; they gave me no option,” take responsibility for your choices: “I decided to visit my grandparents this weekend, but I might choose differently next time.” Taking ownership for your actions and reactions can often lead to a sense of empowerment.

The Fallacy of Helplessness The fallacy of helplessness suggests that forces beyond our control determine our satisfaction in life. People with this outlook continually see themselves as victims: “There’s no way a woman can get ahead in this society. The best thing I can do is to accept it.” “I was born with a shy personality. I’d like to be more outgoing, but there’s nothing I can do about that.” “I can’t tell my manager that she’s putting too many demands on me. If I did, I might lose my job.”

The error in such statements becomes apparent once a person realizes that few paths are completely closed. Many difficulties a person claims can’t be solved do have solutions; the task is to discover the solutions and to work diligently at applying them. Changing your self-talk can help you see some of those choices and feel more positive about pursuing them: “It’s an uphill battle in this society but I will do my best to bring about change.” “I tend to be shy around strangers, but I’m going to introduce myself to someone I don’t know at the party tonight.” “It won’t be pleasant to confront my manager, but I can do it.”

Even if you simply change “I can’t tell my manager” to “I won’t tell my manager” you’ll at least be aware of the choice you’re making and feel less helpless.

The Fallacy of Catastrophic Expectations Some fearful people operate on the assumption that if something bad can happen, it probably will. This is the fallacy of catastrophic expectations—a position similar to Murphy’s Law. These statements are typical of such an attitude: “If I invite them to the party, they probably won’t want to come.” “If I speak up in order to try to resolve a conflict, things will probably get worse.”



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

and the kind of reappraisal we’ll discuss next. Communicators who manage their emotions are able to express them in productive ways with their partners, and this helps maintain relationships. With that in mind, we look at how to reduce debilitative emotions that are generally counterproductive to personal and interpersonal health.


Minimizing Debilitative Emotions

Which of these fallacies do you struggle with the most? What are some things you can do to overcome irrational thoughts?

“If I apply for the job I want, I probably won’t be hired.” “If I tell them how I really feel, they’ll probably just laugh at me.”

Once you start imagining terrible consequences, a self-fulfilling prophecy can begin to build. One study revealed that people who believed that their romantic partners would not change for the better were likely to behave in ways that contributed to the breakup of the relationship (Metts and Cupach, 1990). And, people who have a “pessimism bias” often perceive threats in their relationships that are not apparent to outsiders, leading to relationship dissatisfaction (Knobloch et al., 2007). If this fallacy plagues you, it’s best to shift your internal language from “I fear the worst” to “I’ll hope for the best.” Although it’s easy to understand the personal benefits of reducing debilitating emotions, it’s important to remember the interpersonal reasons for doing so. Simply put, relationships function better when the people involved manage their e­ motions (English et al., 2013; Knobloch and Metts, 2013). This obviously doesn’t mean stifling feelings—quite the contrary. Emotion management involves self-awareness, emotional intelligence,

Now you’re ready to put into practice the rational–emotive process and self-talk. When practised conscientiously, it can help you cut down on the self-defeating thinking that leads to many debilitative emotions.

CHECK IT! List the seven fallacies or irrational types of thinking that can create debilitative emotions. Provide an example of each fallacy.

Monitor Your Emotional Reactions The first step is to recognize when you’re having debilitative emotions. As we suggested earlier, one way to notice feelings is through physical stimuli: butterflies in the stomach, racing heart, blushing, and so on. Although such reactions might be symptoms of food poisoning, more often they reflect a strong emotion. You can also recognize certain ways of behaving that suggest your ­feelings—stamping instead of walking normally, being unusually quiet, and speaking in a sarcastic tone of voice are some examples. It may seem strange to suggest that it’s necessary to look for emotions—they ought to be immediately apparent. However, the fact is that we often suffer from debilitative feelings for some

4 | Emotions

time without noticing them. For example, at the end of a trying day you’ve probably caught yourself frowning and realized that you’ve been wearing that expression for some time without knowing it. Remember the two key characteristics of debilitating emotions, intensity (they are too intense) and duration (they last too long), and use them to guide your assessment.

Note the Activating Event Once you realize how you’re feeling, the next step is to figure out what activating event triggered your response. Sometimes, it’s obvious. If your romantic partner keeps calling you by the name of a former lover, you’re likely to become upset. Research shows that dating couples can develop “social allergies” to each other, becoming hypersensitive about their partner’s annoying behaviours (Cunningham et al., 2005). In other cases, however, the activating event is not so apparent. Sometimes, there is no single activating event, but instead a series of small incidents that finally trigger a debilitative feeling. This sort of thing happens when someone teases you over and over about the same thing, or when you suffer a series of small disappointments. The best way to begin tracking activating events is to notice the circumstances in which you have debilitative feelings. Perhaps they happen when you are around specific people. For example, you may feel tense or angry every time you encounter a person you have struggled with in the past. Until those issues are dealt with, feelings about past events can trigger debilitative emotions, even in apparently innocuous situations. In other cases, you might discover that being around certain types of individuals triggers debilitative emotions. For instance, you might become nervous around people who seem more intelligent or self-confident than you are. In other cases, certain settings can stimulate unpleasant emotions: parties, work, or school. Sometimes, the topic of conversation is what sets you off, whether it’s politics, religion, sex, or some other sensitive subject. There is evidence to suggest that the channel or information source can play a role too. There are considerable variations in people’s perceptions of appropriate

cellphone etiquette and civility. Social media, with its exclusive and nonexclusive message features, friending and defriending, can also contribute to feelings of jealousy, envy, sadness, and social isolation (Rozgonjuk et al., 2018; Utz et al., 2015). Recognizing your activating events is an important step in minimizing debilitative emotions.

Record Your Self-Talk This is the point at which you analyze the thoughts that are the link between the activating event and your feelings. If you’re serious about getting rid of debilitative emotions, it’s important to actually write down your self-talk when you’re learning to use this method. Putting your thoughts on paper will help you see whether or not they make any sense. Monitoring your self-talk might be difficult at first. This is a new skill, and any new activity seems awkward. If you persevere, however, you’ll be able to identify the thoughts that lead to your debilitative feelings. Once you get into the habit of recognizing this internal monologue, you will be able to identify your thoughts quickly and easily.

Dispute Your Irrational Beliefs Now is the time to engage in the reappraisal process mentioned earlier in this chapter. Use the discussion of irrational fallacies on pages 128 to 132 to find out which parts of your self-talk are based on mistaken thinking, and then use those skills to actively dispute your irrational beliefs. You can do this most effectively by following three steps. First, decide whether each belief you have recorded is rational or irrational. Next, explain why the belief does or does not make sense. Finally, if the belief is irrational, write down an alternative way of thinking that is more sensible and that can leave you feeling better when you are faced with the same activating event in the future.

Change Your Self-Talk Once you have disputed your irrational beliefs, it’s time to change your intrapersonal language accordingly. Replace words in your self-talk such



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

as “can’t,” “have to,” and “should” with words like “will,” “want to,” and “choose to.” For example: Instead of saying “I can’t make small talk with strangers,” say, “I will ask more questions with strangers.” Instead of saying, “I have to be polite to rude customers,” say, “I choose to be polite because it’s better than the other options.” Instead of “I should be less defensive,” say, “I want to be less defensive, so I’m going to work on it.”

After reading about this method for dealing with unpleasant emotions, some readers may have objections such as: “This rational–emotive approach sounds like nothing more than trying to talk yourself out of feeling bad.” This accusation is totally correct. After all, since we talk ourselves into feeling bad, what’s wrong with talking ourselves out of bad feelings, especially when they’re based on irrational thoughts? “The kind of disputing we just read sounds phony and unnatural. I don’t talk to myself in sentences and paragraphs.” There’s no need to dispute your irrational beliefs in any special literary style. You can be as colloquial as you want. The important thing is to clearly understand what thoughts led you into your debilitative feeling so you can clearly reappraise them. When the technique is new to you, it’s a good idea to write or talk out your thoughts in order to make them clear. After you’ve had some practice, you’ll be able to do these steps in a quicker, less formal way. “This approach is too cold and impersonal. It seems to aim to turn people into cold-blooded, calculating, emotionless machines.” This is simply

not true. A rational thinker can still dream, hope, and love. There’s nothing necessarily irrational about feelings like those. “This technique promises too much. There’s no chance I could rid myself of all unpleasant feelings, however nice that might be.” We can answer this by assuring you that rational–emotive thinking probably won’t make all your debilitative feelings go away. What it can do is reduce their number, intensity, and duration.

Maximizing Facilitative Emotions Reducing debilitative emotions is only part of the emotional health equation. Contemporary scholars maintain that fostering positive emotions is just as important as minimizing negative ones. Whether it’s called “learned optimism” (Seligman, 2006) or “positivity” (Fredrickson, 2009), the approach is similar to what’s outlined in this chapter. If thoughts cause feelings, then positive thoughts can cause positive feelings. Ruminating on the good rather than the bad in life can enhance one’s emotional, relational, and even physical health (Rius-Ottenheim et al., 2013; Wrosch et al., 2017). It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll have a positive emotional response to every event. The key, according to Harvard professor Susan David (2016), is to cultivate “emotional agility.” Emotional agility is a skill set that builds on our ability to face our emotions, label them, understand them, and then choose to move forward deliberately. It is the ability to recognize when you’re feeling stressed, be able to step outside your stress, and then decide how to act in a way that is congruent with your personal values and aligned with your goals. (Semnani, 2016)

BUILDING WORK SKILLS CHALLENGING IRRATIONAL BELIEFS Debilitative emotions at work or school can prevent you from making decisions and solving problems. Choose an important situation you faced at work or school in which you experienced debilitative emotions that interfered with your ability to communicate effectively. Use the five steps on pages 132–4 to challenge the rationality of your beliefs. How has the rational–emotive approach affected your communication in this situation?

4 | Emotions

FOCUS ON RESEARCH COMBINING DAILY MINDFULNESS WITH REAPPRAISAL Ekaterina Pogrebtsova and her colleagues (2018) at the University of Guelph, Simon Fraser University, and Kemmy Business School in Ireland developed and piloted a brief (five day) daily practice of mindfulness and positive appraisal to help university students manage their stress, decrease their negative emotions, and promote their overall well-being. Positive reappraisal involves changing your self-talk, as we’ve just discussed. Mindfulness is another well-­ established emotional regulation technique that involves focusing awareness on thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judging them. Mindfulness involves acceptance of and curiosity about one’s emotions and thoughts. It helps people broaden their attention, sometimes called “decentring attention,” which can facilitate a positive reappraisal of a seemingly negative situation (Azam et al., 2016; Garlan et al., 2015). When you establish some distance from your thoughts and feelings it’s easier to think about them differently. In addition, mindfulness helps us focus on the meaning of our experiences in terms of our personal growth and development. Often, negative incidents can frequently be reframed or reappraised as inherently meaningful events that help us learn, grow, and develop as human beings. These investigators randomly assigned 106 Canadian university students to one of three conditions: reappraisal-only intervention, mindful-reappraisal intervention, and a control condition. All participants attended a one-hour “Looking on the Bright Side of Life” general training session. Afterwards, for five consecutive days (Monday to Friday), participants assigned to the reappraisal-only condition completed a daily positive reappraisal exercise, an online survey, and a second online daily positive and negative affect scale. Participants in the mindful-reappraisal condition completed the same surveys over the same fiveday period but their exercise included mindfulness instructions (an example of these is below) in addition to positive reappraisal instructions. The control group completed all the same measures but did not receive exercise instructions. Finally, in order to control for people’s naturally occurring levels of ­mindfulness all three groups completed the Toronto Mind­ fulness Scale each day (Davis et al., 2009).

Participants in this study described a variety of predominantly low-severity stressors that included academic issues (most frequent), followed by interpersonal conflict, miscellaneous daily hassles, and general negative mood. Lower frequency issues involved lateness, forgetfulness, physical pain or sickness, and lack of sleep. The investigators found that the students in both intervention groups (but not the control group) reported a pronounced decrease in negative emotions over the five-day intervention. Participants assigned to the mindful-reappraisal group experienced higher average levels of daily positive emotion and lower levels of daily negative emotions compared to participants assigned to the reappraisal-only and control groups. In addition, participants in the mindful-reappraisal intervention reported higher average levels of mindfulness compared to the reappraisal-only and control groups. The investigators concluded that incorporating mindfulness instructions into classic positive reappraisal exercises helped to promote student well-being in a short (five-day) intervention. Below are the instructions the investigators provided to students in the mindfulness-reappraisal group. Please lean back and relax for a moment. If you want to, you can close your eyes. Allow yourself to explore your thoughts and keep an open mind while you engage in this activity. First please complete the breathing technique: Keep count of the number of seconds it takes you to inhale, and then to exhale, for three full breaths. Now relax and take some time to recall a negative event that happened to you within the last 24 hrs. As you recall the negative situation, please try to do so objectively without evaluating the situation or making judgments about what happened. Pretend as if you are an outsider viewing the situation with no background knowledge. What happened exactly? Where did it happen? What did you see, hear, or even smell? What did you do or say? Were you alone or were other people involved? If another person was (or several people were) involved, what exactly did they do or say? Think of the b ­ enefits continued



PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication

you may have gained from your experience such as self-understanding, insight, or improvement in a relationship and your thoughts and feelings associated with those benefits such as empowerment and relief. Focus on what you have learned from this experience and how it will help you in your future experiences. Please finish the exercise by completing the breathing technique again. Keep count of the number of seconds it takes you to inhale, and then to exhale, for 3 full breaths to allow yourself to focus on the present moment. More than half the participants in this study reported feeling better (improved mood) after completing the exercises. Other benefits included reduced frustration, improved clarity, feeling better

Even though you can’t dictate all the events in your life, you have the power to reappraise them. Clichés such as “look on the bright side” and “have an attitude of gratitude” may not be comforting when delivered by others, but they can serve as helpful reminders. You can regard challenging situations as growth opportunities. You can focus on what you gained rather than what you lost. You can choose compassion over contempt. The difference between “you really hurt me” and “I found out how strong and capable I really am” is often a matter of mindset and positive emotions followed by positive reappraisals.

prepared to face future stressors, and learning to avoid similar situations in the future. Finally, 89 per cent of the participants said the exercises were useful and 79 per cent believed they would continue to use the exercises regularly in the future. Pogrebtsova and her colleagues caution that there may be cultural differences that affect the effectiveness of mindful-­ reappraisal as a coping strategy and that mindfulness and positive reappraisal are just two of many effective strategies students can use to promote their well-being. Critical Thinking: How important is emotional regulation to your overall well-being? What strategies do you employ to manage negative emotions and sustain positive emotions? What role could/does mindfulness play in your well-being?

Many people find it easier to focus on their negative emotional experiences. It often takes mindful effort to pay attention and express pleasurable feelings in close relationships. Here are 10 emotions that research (Fredrickson, 2009) identifies as basic to positivity: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. How many of those have you experienced recently? How often do you express these emotions to people who matter? Is it possible that you felt these emotions but can’t recall them? Identifying and then talking or writing about your positive emotional experiences can lead to greater personal and interpersonal satisfaction.

SUMMARY Emotions have several dimensions. They are signalled by internal physiological changes, are highly influenced by cognitive interpretations, and are manifested in verbal and non-verbal outward expression. Personality, culture, gender, social conventions and roles, social media, and emotional contagion all influence how people experience and express their emotions.

Expressing emotions effectively involves accurately recognizing our feelings, having a robust vocabulary in order to accurately describe our emotions, and having the ability to express multiple feelings. We must also recognize the difference between feeling and acting. Appropriate emotional expression requires willingness to accept responsibility for one’s feelings instead of blaming them on

4 | Emotions

others. If we determine it’s appropriate to share our emotions with others we need to choose the proper time and place. Managing our emotions requires us to distinguish between facilitative and debilitative emotions. Many debilitative emotions are caused by various types of irrational thinking. Minimizing

debilitative emotions involves a process of reappraisal. The steps involved include paying attention to our emotional reactions, noting the activating event, recording our self-talk, disputing our irrational beliefs, and changing our selftalk. Maximizing facilitative emotions requires emotional agility and mindful effort.


Min-Seo keeps thinking about how embarrassed she was when the teacher called her name and she wasn’t paying attention in class. She keeps replaying the scene over and over in her head and wishing she had been listening and feeling like a failure. MinSeo is

c. rumination. d. the rational–emotive approach. 4.

a. Venting negative emotions on social media is generally constructive. b. Both senders and receivers of mediated messages experience emotions more intensely than in face-to-face interactions. c. Communicators generally express more emotion online than they do in person. d. Snapchat tends to illicit more jealousy than Facebook.

a. reappraising the event. b. ruminating. c. displaying emotional intelligence. d. experiencing a facilitative emotion. 2.

Darya notices that when she’s waiting for her friends to arrive at the café she feels light and carefree. She’s tapping her foot to the music playing and she catches herself smiling. She interprets these signals as evidence that she is happy. This is an example of the a. verbal expression component of emotion. b. non-verbal expression component of emotion. c. rumination component of emotion. d. cognitive interpretation component of emotion.


Kofi is an emergency room nurse who must stay positive, and suppress anxiety and fear during stressful situations when patients are feeling acute pain and in distress. This requires a. emotional labour. b. counterfeit emotions.

Which of the following statements is false?


When considering sharing your emotions with others it is important to a. do it immediately. b. be as spontaneous as possible. c. realize that experiencing an emotion does not commit you to a course of action. d. all of the above are true about sharing emotions.


Isaad says that because he’s shy he can’t speak during the presentation and so will just have to accept a mark of zero on that part of the assignment. Isaad’s thinking is an example of the fallacy of a. perfection. b. approval. c. should. d. helplessness.


PART ONE: Foundations of Interpersonal Communication


The belief that if something bad can happen it probably will is the fallacy of a. causation. b. should. c. catastrophic expectations. d. perfection.


Samina notices that whenever she spends time with her partner’s friends from the art college she feels anxious and doubts her own intelligence. Her analysis of the situation is a. noting the activating event for debilitating emotions. b. discovering that certain types of people trigger these emotions. c. one step in the rational–emotive process. d. all of the above are true about her analysis.


The rational–emotive approach to dealing with debilitating emotions a. is really just trying to talk yourself out of feeling bad. b. can help cut down on self-defeating thinking. c. is not realistic for people who have strong emotional temperaments. d. all of the above are true about the rational–emotive approach.

10. A skillset that builds on our ability to face our emotions, label them, understand them, and choose to move forward deliberately is called a. b. c. d.

the fallacy of perfection. facilitative emotions. emotional agility. emotional labour.

Answers: 1. b; 2. b; 3. a; 4. a; 5. c; 6. d; 7. c; 8. d; 9. b; 10. c


ACTIVITIES 1. Invitation to Insight The Self-Assessment exercise on page 112 gives you a general sense of your emotional intelligence. Ask two or three people who are close to you to offer their appraisal using the assessment. Do their evaluations match yours? If not, what do you think explains the difference? What are some of the ways you might improve your emotional intelligence?

3. Ethical Challenge According to the rational–emotive approach, we cause our own feelings by interpreting an event in one way or another. If this is true, it is a fallacy to claim we “make” others feel happy or sad. Do you accept this position? To what degree are you responsible for communicating in ways that “cause” others to feel happy or sad? Use a specific incident from your life to illustrate your answer.

2. Skill Builder Choose an important emotion you experience in one of your relationships. This relationship needn’t be highly personal. You might, for example, focus on an employer, an instructor, or a neighbour. Use the guidelines on pages 122–5 to determine whether, and how, you might express this emotion.

4. Role Play Choose a partner. Together, develop a specific scenario in which you have sent an email that your partner has interpreted much more negatively than you intended. Discuss your options to clarify this situation and then role-play your solution to the problem. Now, switch roles.

4 | Emotions


What are emotions? What do they contribute to the human experience of life?


Six influences on emotional expression are described in this chapter. Explain how each has influenced your ability and motivation to communicate your feelings.


Several common, but flawed beliefs, or fallacies, are described in this chapter. Which ones are you most susceptible to? Why do you think that is?


Discuss the value of self-talk in managing difficult emotions. How is the emergence of “life coaches” related to this concept?

On the basis of your experience, decide whether you subscribe to the fallacy of helplessness and what you could do to eliminate this sort of debilitative thinking from your life.


The Focus on Research box, on page 135, included a description of mindful-­ reappraisal instructions to help decrease the duration of negative emotions. For one week keep track of times when you experience negative emotions and follow the instructions for mindful-reappraisal. Pay attention to your mood—do your emotions change after you step back and reappraise the situation more positively with an open and non-judgmental attitude? If yes, how so? If not, why not?

Six guidelines for expressing emotions are described in this chapter. Do you think these guidelines are complete? Are there any guidelines you would add? Remove? Why?



Explore the fallacy of helplessness by describing two important difficulties you have in communicating with (a) family members, (b) people at school or at work, (c) strangers, and (d) friends. Use the following format for each difficulty:

I can’t __________________________,

because _________________________.

Now, read the list, but with a slight difference. For each can’t, substitute the word won’t. Note which ones are actually “won’t” statements. Read the list again, but this time substitute “I do not know how to” for your original can’t. Rewrite any sentences that are truly “do not know how” statements, then decide what you could do to learn the skill that you currently lack.



Creating and Responding to Messages


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CHAPTER OUTLINE The Nature of Listening The Importance of Listening Listening Defined Listening Styles

The Challenge of Listening Recognizing Barriers to Listening Avoiding Poor Listening Habits

Components of Listening Hearing Attending Understanding

Remembering Responding

Types of Listening Responses Silent Listening Questioning Paraphrasing Empathizing Supporting Analyzing Evaluating Advising Which Style to Use?

KEY TERMS advising analytical listening ambushing analyzing attending closed questions counterfeit questions critical listening empathizing evaluating hearing listening listening fidelity

mindful listening mindless listening open questions paraphrasing questioning relational listening remembering responding silent listening sincere questions supporting task-oriented listening understanding


Describe the importance and nature of listening, and the listening styles that interpersonal communicators use Explain the challenges that can impede effective listening and identify your own ineffective listening Identify the five components of the interpersonal listening process Effectively use a variety of reflective and directive listening responses

PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Take a moment to think of the worst listener you know. Maybe it’s someone who interrupts or whose attention seems to wander as you talk. Perhaps this person forgets important things you have said, steers the conversation back to topics that only they’re interested in, or gives responses that reflect a lack of understanding. Recall how you feel when you’re conversing with this poor listener. Perhaps you feel irritated, frustrated, discouraged, or all three? Now think about how others view you as a listener. Which of these behaviours that you find so annoying in your conversational partners, do you engage in yourself? Attentive listening is fundamental to effective interpersonal communication and is perhaps the most difficult skill to develop. In this chapter, you’ll learn about the many factors that make good listening difficult, and you’ll also find reasons for tackling those challenges. You’ll see what really happens when listening takes place. Finally, you’ll read about a variety of listening responses that you can use to increase your own understanding, improve your relationships, and help others.

The Nature of Listening

all the ­challenges ­inherent in attentive and effective listening. Listening effectively requires a number of skills, not the least of which is really paying attention in the midst of our constantly connected, digitally distracting world. We begin our exploration of this subject by describing the importance of listening in interpersonal communication.

The Importance of Listening How important is listening? If we use frequency as a measure, it ranks at the top of the list (Janusik and Wolvin, 2009). Among college students, listening makes up over 50 per cent of their communication activities (Emanuel et al., 2008), as Figure 5.1 illustrates. In the workplace, listening is a frequent activity. When working adults were asked to name the most common communication behaviour they observed in their place of business, “listening” was named most frequently (Keyton et al., 2013) Numerous studies (summarized in Flynn et al., 2008) find listening to be the most important communication skill for entry-level workers, subordinates, supervisors, and managers on several fronts: job and career success, ­productivity,

When people think about improving their communication skills, they usually think of developing their ability to send messages. While sending messages is important, and we spend a considerable number of pages in this book discussing effective language and non-­ verbal communication, many scholars suggest that if you were to choose only one communication skill to improve, your best choice would be to improve your listening skills. We have all heard simplistic prescriptions for better listening (e.g., “close your mouth Unfortunately, there is no connection between how well most communicators and open your ears”), but this think they listen and how competent they really are in their ability to underadvice doesn’t begin to capture stand others. Are there times when you’re a better listener than others?



5 | Listening

28% Media listening

16% Reading

17% Speaking

28% Interpersonal listening

FIGURE 5.1  Types of Communication Activities Source: Emanuel, R. et al. (2008). How college students spend their time communicating. International Journal of Listening, 22, 13–28.

upward mobility, communication training, and organizational effectiveness. When several hundred human-resource executives were asked to identify skills of the ideal manager, the ability to listen effectively ranked at the top of the list (Winsor et al., 1997). In fact, research suggests leaders who build a culture of listening have better performing organizations (Kirtley Johnson and Reed, 2017; Daimler, 2016). The world of work is not the only place where listening is vital. When a group of adults was asked to rank various communication skills according to their importance, listening topped their family and social lists, alongside their career lists (Brownell and Wolvin, 2010). In committed relationships, listening to personal information in everyday conversations is considered an important ingredient of satisfaction (Kuhn et al., 2018; Prager and Buhrmester, 1998). With this in mind, we turn our attention to defining this important skill.

Listening Defined So, what exactly is listening? Listening, at least the interpersonal type, is the process of r­eceiving,

Hearing Versus Listening Listening and hearing are not identical. Hearing is the process by which sound waves strike the eardrum and cause vibrations that are transmitted to the brain. Listening takes place when the brain reconstructs these electrochemical impulses into a representation of the original sound and then gives them meaning (Robinshaw, 2007). Barring illness, injury, or earplugs, you cannot stop

William Haefeli/Cartoonstock

11% Writing

i­nterpreting, and responding to spoken and ­nonverbal messages. Traditional approaches to listening focus on reception of spoken messages. However, we have broadened the definition to include messages of all sorts because much of contemporary listening takes place through mediated channels, some of which involve written ­messages. Consider times you’ve said “I was talking to a friend and she said  .  .  .,” when the conversation you are recounting actually took place via text message. You’ll read in Chapter 8 how social support can be offered in face-to-face communication but also through text messages, posts, tweets, and other social media mechanisms. We continue to focus on spoken messages in this chapter but recognize that “listening” in our contemporary society involves more than meets the ear.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

SELF-ASSESSMENT YOUR LISTENING STYLE Record your first impressions of each of the following statements by indicating the degree to which you agree or disagree. Use a scale ranging from 1 to 7, where 1 = “strongly disagree” and 7 = “strongly agree.” Relational Listening  1. When listening to others, it is important to understand the feelings of the speaker.  2. I listen to understand the emotions and moods of the speaker.  3. I listen primarily to build and maintain relationships with others.  4. I enjoy listening to others because it allows me to connect with them. Analytical Listening  1. I tend to withhold judgment about another’s ideas until I’ve heard everything they have to say.  2. When listening to others, I consider the issue before responding.  3. I fully listen to what a person has to say before forming any opinions.  4. To be fair to others, I fully listen to what they have to say before making judgments. Task Listening  1. I get frustrated when people get off topic during a conversation.  2. I prefer speakers who quickly get to the point.  3. I find it difficult to listen to people who take too long to get their ideas across.  4. When listening to others, I appreciate speakers who give brief, to the point presentations.

hearing. Your ears will pick up sound waves and transmit them to your brain whether you want them to or not. Listening, however, is not so automatic. Many times, we hear, but do not listen. Sometimes, we deliberately do not listen. Sometime we automatically and unconsciously block out irritating sounds, such as a neighbour’s lawn mower or the roar of nearby traffic. We also stop listening when

Critical Listening  1. I often catch errors in other speaker’s logic.  2. I tend to naturally notice errors in what other speakers say.  3. I have a talent for catching inconsistencies in what a speaker says.  4. When listening to others, I notice contradictions in what they say. SOURCE: This measure presents 16 of the 24 items of the original instrument developed by Graham Bodie and his colleagues: Bodie, G.D., Worthington, D.L., and Gearhart, C.C. (2013). The Listening Styles Profile – Revised (LSP_R): A scale revision and evidence of validity. Communication Quarterly, 61, 72–90. Scoring: Add your responses to items 1 to 4. This is your Relational Listening Score. American undergraduate students had an average score of 22, with most scoring between 21 and 24. Add your responses to items 5 to 8. This is your Analytical Listening Score. American undergraduate students had an average score of 19, with most scoring between 17 and 21. Add your responses to items 9 to 12. This is your Task Listening Score. American undergraduate students had an average score of 20, with most scoring between 18 and 22. Add your responses to items 13 to 16. This is your Critical Listening Score. American undergraduate students had an average score of 18, with most scoring between 16 and 20.

we find a subject unimportant or uninteresting. Boring stories, commercials, and nagging complaints are common examples of messages we may tune out. Other times, we think we’re listening, but in fact, we’re simply receiving sounds and our minds are elsewhere. Listening requires not just hearing, but the effort of paying attention, understanding, remembering, and responding, as we’ll discuss later in this chapter.

5 | Listening

Mindless Listening When we move beyond hearing and start to listen, researchers note that we process information in two very different ways (Burleson, 2011; Todorov et al., 2002). Ellen Langer (1990) uses the terms mindless and mindful to describe these two different ways of listening. Mindless listening occurs when we react to others’ messages automatically and routinely, without much mental investment. Words such as superficial and cursory describe mindless listening. Although the term mindless listening may sound negative, this sort of low-level information processing is potentially a valuable type of communication. It frees us to focus our minds on messages that require our careful attention (Burgoon et al., 2000). Given the number of messages we’re exposed to, it’s impractical to listen carefully and thoughtfully all of the time. It’s unrealistic to devote your full attention to long winded stories, idle chatter, or remarks you have heard many times before. The only realistic way to manage the onslaught of messages is to be “lazy” toward many of them (Griffin, 2006). In situations like these, we forgo careful analysis and fall back on the schemas—and sometimes the stereotypes— described in Chapter 3 to make sense of a m ­ essage. If you stop right now and recall the messages you have heard today, it’s likely that you processed most of them mindlessly.

Mindful Listening By contrast, mindful listening involves giving careful and thoughtful attention and responses to the messages we receive. You tend to listen mindfully when a message is important to you or someone you care about. Think of how you would tune in carefully if a close friend told you about the loss of a loved one. In situations like this, you want to give the message-sender your complete and undivided attention. Sometimes we respond mindlessly to information that deserves—and even demands—our mindful attention. Ellen Langer’s (1990) determination to study mindfulness began when her grandmother complained about headaches coming from

a “snake crawling around” beneath her skull. Doctors quickly diagnosed the problem as senility, interpreting the snake description as nonsense. In fact, Langer’s grandmother had a brain tumour that eventually killed her. The event made a deep impression on Langer: For years afterward, I kept thinking about the doctors’ reactions to my grandmother’s complaints, and about our reactions to the doctors. They went through the motions of diagnosis, but were not open to what they were hearing. Mindsets about senility interfered. We did not question the doctors; mindsets about experts interfered. (p. 3)

Most of our daily decisions about whether to listen mindfully or not do not have life-or-death consequences, of course. Yet we often need to listen consciously and carefully to what others are telling us. That kind of mindful listening is the focus of this chapter.

Listening Styles Not everyone listens the same way or with the same goals all the time. Communication researchers have identified four broad listening styles—task-oriented, relational, analytical, and critical—each of which has both strengths and weaknesses (Bodie et al., 2013). Many people use more than one listening style and the style may vary depending on the situation at hand (Gearhart et al., 2014).

Task-Oriented Listening Task-oriented listening is most concerned with efficiency and accomplishing the job at hand. When deadlines and other pressures demand immediate action, task orientation can be beneficial. It’s most appropriate when the focus is taking care of business; such listeners encourage others to be organized and concise. Despite its advantages, a task orientation may alienate others when it seems to ignore their feelings. People with a different temperament, or those who are from cultures where it’s impolite to be direct, may not appreciate a strictly ­task-­oriented approach.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

In addition, a focus on getting things done quickly may come at the expense of thoughtful deliberation and consideration. Finally, t­ask-oriented listeners may minimize the emotional issues and concerns that are important to many business and personal transactions.

Relational Listening Relational listening is most concerned with building emotional closeness with others. People who primarily use this style are typically extroverted, attentive, and friendly (Villaume and Bodie, 2007). Relational listeners aim to understand how others feel; they are thus aware of and are highly responsive to others’ emotions. They strive to be nonjudgmental and are more interested in understanding and supporting people than evaluating or controlling them. Not surprisingly, relational listeners are more likely than those with other styles to draw out responses from the message sender (Keaton et al., 2015). A relational style can have drawbacks, however. In an effort to be congenial and supportive, relational listeners may lose their detachment and ability to objectively assess information (Gearhart and Bodie, 2011).

Analytical Listening Analytical listening emphasizes attending to the full message before coming to judgment. People who default to this style want to hear details and analyze an issue from a variety of perspectives. Analytical listeners can be a big help when the goal is to investigate difficult questions, taking into account a wide range of perspectives. They are especially valuable in thinking systematically about complex issues. This thorough approach can be time consuming and impractical at times, however, such as when a deadline is fast approaching.

Critical Listening People who default to critical listening have a strong desire to evaluate messages. They are concerned not with just understanding

­ essages but assessing their quality, focusing m on accuracy and consistency. This style is especially helpful when the goal is to investigate a problem. However, critical listeners can also frustrate others by appearing to find fault in even minor details. Whichever styles you use, it’s important to recognize that you can control the way you listen. When your relationship with the speaker needs attention, opt for a relational approach. If investigation is called for, put on your analytical persona. And when there is a need for evaluation, become a critical listener. You can be more effective by assessing and adapting to the listening preferences and styles of your conversational partners.

The Challenge of Listening Even with the best intentions, listening carefully is a challenge. When two or more people are listening to a speaker, we tend to assume that they’re each hearing and understanding the same message. However, recall our discussion of perception in Chapter 3, where we pointed out the many factors that cause each of us to perceive an event differently. Physiological factors, social roles, cultural background, and personal interests and needs all shape and distort the raw data we hear into very different messages. It’s no wonder that dyads ­typically achieve only 25 to 50 per cent accuracy in interpreting or representing each other’s behaviour (Spitzberg, 1994). Our listening is always coloured and limited by our unique view of the world. Although we all listen differently, we can try to avoid some common pitfalls. Here we’ll look at some of the obstacles and bad habits we must overcome to listen carefully.

Recognizing Barriers to Listening Listening is more difficult than many realize. Common barriers to listening include information overload, personal concerns, rapid thought, and noise. Being aware of these potential barriers can help you create environments that are more conducive to listening.

5 | Listening

CHECK IT! Define the term listening. Describe four reasons for listening and provide an example of each.

Information Overload The sheer amount of speech most of us encounter every day makes it impossible to listen carefully to everything we hear. We are bombarded with messages not only in face-to-face interaction, but also from the internet, media, cellphones, and various other sources (Arsenault, 2007). Given this barrage of information, it’s challenging to keep our attention totally focused for long periods. As a result, we often choose—understandably and sometimes wisely—to listen mindlessly rather than mindfully.

Noise Finally, our physical and mental worlds often present distractions that make it hard for us to pay attention to others. The sounds of other conversations, traffic, and music, as well as the kinds of psychological noise that we discussed in Chapter 1, all interfere with our ability to listen well. In addition, fatigue or other forms of discomfort can also distract us. For instance, consider how the efficiency of your listening decreases when you’re seated in a crowded, hot, stuffy room full of moving people and other noises. In such circumstances, even the best intentions aren’t enough to ensure cogent understanding.

CHECK IT! Describe four barriers to listening.

Personal Concerns A second reason we don’t always listen carefully is that we’re often wrapped up in personal concerns that we perceive as being more immediately important to us than the messages others are sending (Nichols, 2009). It’s hard to pay attention to someone else when we’re anticipating an upcoming test or thinking about the wonderful time we had last night with our friends. When we feel required to give attention to others but our focus is elsewhere, listening becomes mindless at best and often a polite charade.

Rapid Thought Listening carefully is also difficult because our minds are so active. Although we’re capable of understanding speech at rates of up to 600 words a minute (Versfeld and Dreschler, 2002), the average person speaks much more slowly—between 100 and 140 words a minute. Therefore, we have a lot of “spare time” to spend with our minds while someone is talking. The temptation is to use this time in ways that are not related to the speaker’s ideas, such as thinking about personal interests, daydreaming, planning a rebuttal, and so on. The trick is to use this spare time to understand the speaker’s ideas better, rather than to let your attention wander.

Avoiding Poor Listening Habits Most of us have one or more bad habits that keep us from understanding others’ messages. As you read about the following list of such habits, see which ones describe you. Avoiding these poor ­listening behaviours begins with awareness of when you engage in them. • Pseudo-listening is pretending to pay attention. Pseudo-listeners give the appearance of being attentive: they look you in the eye, nod, and smile at the right times, and even answer you occasionally, but their minds are elsewhere. • Stage hogging is expressing your own ideas without inviting others to share theirs. Stage hogs monopolize the conversation and only allow others to speak from time to time so they can catch their breath. They do not seem to care what others may contribute to the conversation. • Selective listening is responding only to the parts of a speaker’s remarks that interest the listener and rejecting everything else. • Filling in the gaps is manufacturing information that was not part of an original story or message. People presume to have heard things the speaker has not communicated, as though they have the ability to


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

REFLECTION FAKE LISTENING I went parachuting for the first time last month. Before our first jump, we spent four hours in “ground school.” I listened very carefully, especially during the part where they told us what to do if our chute didn’t open after jumping from the plane. This was life-and-death material, and I didn’t want to miss anything. That’s not the way I listen at school most of the time. I sit through most classroom lectures and it all seems like gibberish to me. I act as if I’m listening— nod at what I hope are the right times, smile when people laugh, and even scratch my head as if I’m thinking—so the teacher will assume I am listening. But I don’t remember a thing afterward. I used to think it was all the teacher’s fault, but I guess part of it has to do with whether or not I bother to turn up my “listening volume.”

Hearing As we’ve already discussed, hearing is the physiological aspect of listening. It’s obviously vital to listening because it’s the starting point in the process. It can be diminished by physiological disorders, background noise, and auditory fatigue, a temporary loss of hearing caused by continuous exposure to the same tone or loudness. People who attend loud concerts or fireworks may experience auditory fatigue and, if they’re exposed often enough, permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions facing Canadians (The Hearing Foundation of Canada, 2018). What used to be perceived as a problem just for the elderly is now a serious concern for adolescents, due in large part to use of earphones for portable devices (Jiang et al., 2016). It’s wise to protect your hearing—for your own sake as well as for the sake of your relationship partners.

read minds. When people who fill in the gaps retell what they listened to, they present a distorted (not merely incomplete) version of the original. • Insulated listening is almost the opposite of selective listening. Instead of only focusing on topics of interest, these listeners tune out any topics they would rather not deal with. • Defensive listening is taking innocent comments as personal attacks. Defensive listeners project their own insecurities onto others. • Ambushing is listening carefully only to collect information for use in attacking the speaker. This kind of strategy often creates defensiveness from the other person and ruins a supportive communication climate. It escalates conflict, as we’ll discuss further in Chapters 9 and 10.

Components of Listening By now, you can begin to see that there is more to listening than sitting quietly while another ­person speaks. In truth, listening—especially mindful ­listening—consists of five separate elements: hearing, attending, understanding, remembering, and responding.



We miss out on things when we don’t listen. Do you think it’s possible to be a good listener all of the time?

5 | Listening

Attending While hearing is a physiological process, attending is a psychological one and is part of the process of selection that we described in Chapter 3. As we discussed earlier in this chapter and in ­Chapter 3, we’re inundated with messages, often all at the same time. This deluge of communication has made attending tougher than at any time in human history (Hansen, 2007; Ralph et al., 2013). We would go crazy if we attended to every sound we hear, so we filter out some messages and focus on others. Not surprisingly, research shows that we attend most carefully to messages when there is a benefit in doing so (Burleson, 2007). If you’re planning to see a movie, you’ll listen to a friend’s description of it more carefully than you otherwise would. And when you want to get better acquainted with someone, you’ll pay careful attention to almost anything they say, in hopes of improving the relationship. In addition to paying attention to verbal communication, listening involves attending to the non-verbal messages people send us as well. Notice that the Chinese characters that make up the verb meaning “to listen” in Figure 5.2 include not just ears, but eyes, too. Some people fail to



TAKE TWO • Pseudo-listening: an imitation of real listening. • Stage hogging: the practice of only expressing one’s own ideas during conversation. • Selective listening: the act of listening only to the parts of a speaker’s remarks that interest you. • Filling in the gaps: the practice of making up information to give the impression that one was listening and can recall the whole story. • Insulated listening: the tendency to avoid or fail to hear or acknowledge certain topics. • Defensive listening: the habit of interpreting innocent comments as personal attacks. • Ambushing: the tendency to listen carefully, but only to gather information that can be used to attack the speaker.

notice non-verbal signals, but for others, attending to non-verbal communication poses unique ­challenges. People with a physiological syndrome called non-verbal learning disorder often miss or misinterpret non-verbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice (Casey, 2012). Whether due to insensitivity or physiology, failing to attend to non-verbal cues is a listening deficit. Attending doesn’t just help the listener; it also benefits the message sender. People remember more details of conversations in which they perceived their conversational partner as attentive (Pasupathi and Hoyt, 2010). People also are able to express their opinions with greater comfort during conversations with an attentive versus an inattentive listener (Itzchakov et al., 2018).

Understanding HEART

FIGURE 5.2  The Chinese characters that make up the verb meaning “to listen” tell us something significant about this skill. Calligraphy by Angie Au

Paying attention—even close attention—to a message does not guarantee that you’ll understand what’s being said. Understanding is attaching meaning to a message. This stage of listening is composed of several elements. First, of course, you must be aware of the syntactic and grammatical rules of the language. You must also be familiar



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

FOCUS ON RESEARCH HEARING LOSS Hearing loss is increasingly common in Canada (The Hearing Foundation of Canada, 2018), particularly as the population ages, and it creates a host of interpersonal challenges for those with this sensory loss, as well as for their friends, family, and colleagues. Helen Keller (1933), who was both blind and deaf for most of her life, said: The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus—the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man. (p. 68) Hearing loss can create psychosocial difficulties such as social isolation and increased dependency, and it increases the likelihood of interpersonal challenges, particularly in close relationships (Lehane et  al., 2017; Manchaiah et al., 2013). People who suffer hearing loss often find noisy social situations ­challenging and overwhelming. It’s difficult to for them to pick out distinct voices and participate in conversations and this can lead to avoidance of social situations such as parties, work meetings, and social situations in general. Even in quieter, private situations, people with impaired hearing often cannot hear soft voices, which negatively affects their ability to carry on an intimate conversation without risk of embarrassment (Lucas et al., 2018). These difficulties are associated with depression and reduced social activity among people with hearing loss (Andrade et al., 2017). Hearing aids can help to alleviate many of the social challenges associated with hearing loss, but they’re not widely adopted. Only about 20 to 33 per cent of individuals who could potentially benefit from hearing aids actually report using them (Abrams and Kihm, 2015; Bainbridge and Ramachandran, 2014; Singh and Lauer, 2016). For most people, hearing loss comes on gradually and is often difficult to perceive at first. People with mild hearing loss may not be aware of it, may choose to ignore it or may blame their communication difficulties on others—“You’re

mumbling, speak up!” may be a common refrain (Desjardins and Doherty, 2017). Some factors that have been associated with hearing aid uptake include: • • • • •

degree of hearing impairment; awareness of communication difficulties; expectations and attitudes about hearing; finger dexterity and visual acuity; willingness to use information communication technologies; • dispositions and personality traits such as higher openness to new experiences; • positive expectations and attitudes of family, significant others (SO), and health care professionals toward hearing aid cost and ownership; and • not feeling stigmatized by hearing impairment (see Singh and Launer, 2016, 2018 for reviews). Unfortunately, the stigma associated with hearing loss constitutes one of the biggest barriers to hearing aid use (Barker et al., 2017; Fraser, Kenyon, Lagacé, Wittich, and Southall, 2016). Older people with hearing impairments are often perceived as less capable, cognitively diminished, or poor communicators, and these beliefs may in turn cause them to view themselves as old, weak, and less capable, leading them to reject rehabilitation services, such as hearing aids (David et al., 2018; Gagné, Southall, and Jennings, 2009). It’s not difficult to see ageist stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecies contributing to this problem. Several studies have found that even after brief periods of hearing aid use individuals with hearing loss report increased hearing ability and communication with others (Kelly-Campbell and Plexico, 2012) but studies have also reported feelings of disappointment in the efficacy of hearing aids for both the user and their communication partners (Barker et al., 2017; Desjardins and Doherty, 2017). Overall, communication partners report more benefits of hearing aid use and note that individuals with hearing loss are more easily integrated into social events when they agree to wear hearing aids.

5 | Listening

The processes of adapting to hearing loss and using a hearing aid requires adjustments for both people with sensory impairments and their communication partners (Barker et al., 2017; Hofsoe et al., 2018) and strong interpersonal skills and supportive relationships are excellent resources to assist in this adjustment process.

with the speaker’s vocabulary and jargon (you can probably remember times you felt lost in the lingo and acronyms at a new job). Another important factor is what you know about the message’s source. That will help you decide, for example, whether a friend’s insulting remark is a joke or a serious attack. The context of a message also helps you understand what is being said. A yawning response to your comments would probably have a different meaning at midnight than at noon. The ideal in interpersonal listening is both to understand and to be understood. Listening fidelity is the degree of congruence between what a

Critical thinking: In your experience, are people less patient and accommodating when communicating with people who have acquired hearing loss compared to other communication related impairments (e.g., low vision, speech impediments)? Why or why not? Do you think there is greater stigma associated with acquired hearing loss? Why or why not?

listener understands and what the message sender was trying to communicate (Powers and Witt, 2008). Fidelity doesn’t mean agreement. You might listen carefully to a point your friend is making, understand her position quite clearly, and still disagree completely. But the act of listening carefully and understanding sends a positive relational message, even if the communicators don’t see eye-toeye on the content. We’ll discuss the importance of establishing a positive communication climate in greater detail in Chapter 9 and examine the effects of establishing a positive climate when effectively managing conflict in Chapter 10.

FOCUS ON RESEARCH MUTLI-COMMUNICATING AT WORK There is considerable quantitative and qualitative evidence that we switch tasks at work frequently. In the information technology (IT) field computer programmmmers, analysts, and managers spend an average of nine minutes working on a task before they switch or engage in overlapping tasks and in other fields the length of time on task is as low as an average of three minutes (Cameron et al., 2018; Cameron et al., 2016; Dieker, 2016; Gonzalez and Mark, 2004). As we discussed in Chapter 3, multitasking is really just task switching due to the limited ability of our brains to process complex information. Multi-communicating (MC) is a term used to describe engaging in multiple overlapping conversations at the same time (Reinsch, Turner, and Tinsley, 2008). Like multitasking, we cannot actually read texts, answer emails, and talk on the phone all at the same time—

we have to switch our attention between each of these tasks. Ann-Francis Cameron and her colleagues (2016, 2018) have identified four commonly held myths about MC at work. The first is that it makes employees more accessible. While it is true that people at work check their email on average every 12 minutes (Marulanda-Carter and Jackson, 2012) and they perceive themselves as more accessible, they are actually less accessible to the people they’re meeting with face-to-face—because they’re not attending and therefore are not listening to those they’re meeting with (Cameron and Webster, 2013; Cameron et al., 2018). The second misconception is that MC makes us more productive. Research examining our ability to juggle two conversations at the same time suggests continued



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

we make more errors, contribute less to both conversations, and increase confusion and the need for repetition when engaged in multiple conversations simultaneously (Cameron and Webster, 2013; ­Cameron et al., 2018). The third erroneous belief about MC is that we must engage in it to do our jobs. Because of this belief, many of us have developed the habit of constantly checking and immediately responding to communications rather than at times that are best for us. Most of us do not need to be constantly available to do our jobs effectively and these MC habits contribute to our being less effective in our jobs, as a result of the inattention and mindless listening MC produces. This is particularly true for those of us who try to engage in MC during face-to-face meetings (Cameron et al., 2016, 2018). In addition, this habit of constantly checking our phones may well have contributed to a new phobia, nomaphobia, which is the fear of being without our devices (Yildirim, and Correia, 2015; for more information on nomaphobia and tips for managing it in workplaces see Tam et al., 2018). The final myth identified by Cameron and her colleagues (2016) is that MC at work is not perceived as rude. People argue that everyone does it and nobody really minds. However, Cameron and her colleagues (2013) have found that people perceive others engaging in MC as more rude and incompetent. This is particularly true of managers who engage in MC in the presence of their employees and this perception of rudeness is not just a perception shared by the older generation. In Cameron’s research, younger employees’ perceptions of their multi-communicating co-workers were just as negative (Cameron and Webster, 2011). The only situation in which MC at work was perceived as acceptable was when the purpose of the second conversation was to provide information needed in the first discussion (e.g., texting a co-worker who

Remembering Remembering is the ability to recall information once we’ve understood it and it depends on several factors. These include the number of times the information is heard or repeated, the amount of information received at once, and whether the information can be rehearsed (Ranpura, 2013).

is not present to get an update on a project being discussed in the meeting) (Cameron et al., 2018; Cameron and Webster, 2013). So, what should we do about our inaccurate beliefs about our mindless listening habits at work? Cameron and her colleagues provide a series of research-based suggestions that include the following: • •

• •

Do not confuse the frequency with which you engage in MC with your ability to do it effectively. When you need to focus your attention and engage in mindful listening, disable prompts (e.g., figure out the times you are most tempted to engage in MC and put your communication devices on silent mode) that perpetuate the “cue-routine-reward” loop associated with mediated communication. Identify channels and procedures for truly urgent communications in the workplace. When giving feedback and direction to employees and subordinates, focus on one conversation at a time. Do not assume that peoples’ attitudes towards MC are consistently positive or based on age or generation. When MC is required explain why and apologize for doing so to reduce perceptions of incivility.

These investigators acknowledge that MC is part of work environments and there may be times when it can be planned for and effective, but that mindless MC decreases our productivity and can damage people’s perceptions of us and our work relationships. Critical Thinking: Do you feel pressure to be constantly connected and responsive? Do you think some of the inaccurate beliefs about multi-communicating at work have parallels in our social lives? If so, how so? If not, why not?

Early research on listening revealed that people remember only about half of what they hear immediately after hearing it, even when they listen mindfully (Barker, 1971). Within two months, half of the originally remembered portion is forgotten, bringing what we remember down to about 25 per cent of the original message. In fact, people start forgetting immediately (within eight hours,


5 | Listening

contact, nodding, smiling, gesturing, leaning forward—their patients responded with clearer descriptions of symptoms, leading to more accurate diagnosis (Ruben and Hall, 2016). There is evidence to suggest we express our opinions and recount events more clearly when speaking to attentive, responsive listeners (Bodie et al., 2015; Itzchakov et al., 2017). In other words, attentive and responsive listening helps both senders and receivers communicate more effectively. As discussed in Chapter 1, adding responsiveness to our Listening is not a passive activity—at the same time we receive messages, we also send them. What messages do you think these people are sending listening model demonstrates the fact that communication is one another? transactional. Listening is not the 50  per cent remembered drops to roughly just a passive activity. As listeners, we’re active par35 per cent). Of course, these amounts vary from ticipants in a communication transaction, sending person to person and depend on the importance and receiving messages simultaneously. of the information being recalled (Cowan and AuBuchon, 2008). Brain injuries and diseases that affect our memories increase even further the Types of Listening Responses challenges of mindful listening and remembering Of the five components of listening described above, (Barwood and Murdoch, 2013; Bender et al., 2014). responding is the one that lets us know if others are Forgetting messages can cause relational prob- truly tuned in to what we’re saying (Maisel et al., lems. People often feel slighted when others—­ 2008). Think for a moment of someone you conespecially loved ones—don’t remember things sider a good listener. Why did you choose that perthey’ve heard. “I told you this repeatedly and you son? It’s probably because of the way they behave still forgot?” is a familiar refrain in many interper- while you’re speaking. sonal conflicts. Across a variety of situations (e.g., with friends, romantic partners, workplace colleagues) people expect competent listeners to be attentive, underResponding standing, alert, friendly, responsive, empathic, All the steps we’ve discussed so far—hearing, open-minded, perceptive, reflective, supportive, attending, understanding, and remembering— and able to maintain conversational flow (Bodie are internal activities. A final part of the listening et al., 2012; Bodie et al., 2015; Lipetz et al., 2018). process involves responding to a message—­giving What behaviours mark those characteristics? observable feedback to the speaker (Reis and Clark, Good listeners: 2013). In initial interactions, people generally appreciate listeners who respond by asking ques•  ask and answer questions; tions and paraphrasing (Huang et al., 2017; Weger • provide reflective and relevant feedback; et al., 2014). Non-­verbal ­responsiveness is import• give the speaker time and space to express ant too. One study found that when physicians themselves; offered plenty of s­ upportive non-­verbal cues—eye • offer their own perspective; and



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

• respond non-verbally by making eye contact, nodding their heads, and leaning forward. In other words, although listening begins as an internal mental process, others will determine whether and how you’re listening by monitoring your responses. As Figure 5.3 illustrates, listening responses like these range from reflective feedback that invites the speaker to talk without fear of being judged, to more directive responses that evaluate the speaker’s messages. The primary goals of reflective feedback are to understand, confirm, and mirror what the speaker said. By contrast, the primary goals of directive feedback are to judge the speaker’s message and provide guidance. We’ll spend the remainder of this chapter looking at when and how to use each response style along the spectrum. Each one is an important component of your listening toolkit.

Silent Listening There are times when the best response is to say nothing, such as when you don’t want to encourage the speaker to keep on talking. If a supervisor or instructor is droning on when you need to leave for an appointment or when a friend retells the story of a love affair gone bad you might not want to keep the conversation going. In situations like these, a verbal response would only encourage the speaker to ­continue—precisely the opposite of the reaction you would be seeking. The best response in these cases may be silent listening—staying attentive and non-verbally responsive without saying anything. Silent listening is not just an avoidance strategy. It also can be the right approach when you’re open to the other person’s ideas, but your interjections

Silent Listening




FIGURE 5.3  Types of Listening Responses


wouldn’t be appropriate. For instance, rather than interrupting a friend’s joke to ask for clarification, it might be more considerate to wait for the punchline. Staying silent can be difficult in some situations, particularly when we’re working on projects and tasks with others. Implementing “listening circles” can help to improve interpersonal communication in the workplace. Listening circles are an adaptation of Indigenous practices of “council” and involve people sitting in a circle and only one person speaking at a time (Hyde, 1993). The person who is speaking holds a “talking stick” or “speaker’s staff” to signal that it’s their turn to speak. The other group members listen silently. Research suggests that when employees have been effectively trained and supported to employ listening circles at work they experience less social anxiety, increased self-awareness, and greater open-­mindedness in relation to work-related matters (Itzchakov and Kluger, 2017). There are even times when silent listening can help others solve their problems. Sonia Johnson (1987; see also Smith, 2010) describes a powerful activity she calls “hearing into being.” The process is simple. In brainstorming sessions, each participant has half an hour of uninterrupted floor time. “When we are free to talk without threat of interruption, evaluation, and the pressure of time,” notes Johnson, “we move quickly past known territory out into the frontiers of our thought” (p. 132). Johnson, who uses the technique in feminist seminars, reports that some women burst into tears when they first experience “hearing into being” because they are not used to being listened to so seriously and completely. When was the last time you talked, uninterrupted, to an attentive partner for more than a few minutes? How would you like the chance to develop your ideas without






5 | Listening

­ ausing for another’s comments? Silent listening is p a response style that many of us could profit from using—and receiving—more often.

CHECK IT! Describe the five components of listening.

Questioning Regarded as “the most popular piece of language” (Goodman and Esterly, 1990), questioning is asking for additional information. There are several reasons to ask sincere, non-directive questions: • To clarify meanings. Good listeners don’t assume they know what their partners mean; they ask for clarification with questions such as: “What did you mean when you said he had been

FOCUS ON RESEARCH LISTENING IN MEDICINE The medical interview has long been a fundamental part of health care. It allows the health care provider to establish rapport with the patient, communicate concern and compassion, and it facilitates reciprocal communication (Scholl et al., 2014), which improves health outcomes (Street Jr., 2013). Open ended questions such as “What brings you here today?” or “How are you?” help prompt patients to provide detailed information about their health concerns. This information is essential for establishing the “agenda” or the patient’s reasons for the medical appointment. Studies conducted in Europe and the US have found that physicians frequently fail to ask these questions. (Rey-Bellet et al., 2017; Singh Ospina et  al., 2018). For example, a US study, which analyzed a random sample of 112 clinical encounters, found only about 36 per cent of physicians posed questions to elicit the patients’ concerns and reasons for their visit to the doctor. An examination of 68 patient follow-up visits to a German university-based out-patient clinic found higher rates of doctor’s soliciting the patient’s agenda for the visit, but still 32 per cent of these physicians failed to ask their patients these types of questions during their appointments (Rey-Bellet et al., 2017). Even when physicians do ask patients for information about their health and the reasons for their medical visits, they appear to be very quick to interrupt. In that same US study, patients had an average of only 11 seconds to describe their health concerns before their doctors interrupted them.

This failure to demonstrate mindful listening is not new. A landmark study conducted in the 1980s found 69 per cent of physicians interrupted their patients and the average time the patients spoke before interruption was 18 seconds (Beckman and Frankel, 1984). Subsequent studies have all found that physicians frequently fail to ask questions in order to understand the main reasons for the consultation and when they do inquire, they are often quick to interrupt their patients (Dyche and Swiderski, 2005; Marvel et al., 1999). There are probably multiple reasons for this lack of mindful listening and they include doctors feeling constrained for time, not having enough communication training, feeling burned out, and concentrating on completing electronic records instead of interacting with their patients (Sing Ospina et al., 2018). Research suggests that when left uninterrupted patients complete their descriptions of their medical complaints in under two minutes (Langewitz et al., 2002) and mindful listening to the patients’ descriptions actually saves physicians time and increases the likelihood of a more accurate diagnosis (Ruben and Hall, 2016). Canadian-trained physicians receive considerable communication instruction early in their medical schooling but it often drops off when they get into their clinical practice environments (Noakes, 2018), and if it’s not valued and modelled in those clinical environments, it’s much less likely to be practised when physicians have graduated—perpetuating the status quo.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Sometimes it takes a startling event to remind us that our knowledge is limited and we need to stop and listen mindfully. One such example comes from a physician working in a Canadian Indigenous community. The sense of humility that comes with understanding your limitations, I could illustrate with a quick story: I saw a very elderly Native lady; her daughters brought her in, she was sort of a matriarch and they called me that night and asked would I come to the house and see her and I did. Normal pulse, normal blood pressure, chest clear, everything seemed fine and I had no idea why they called me out at night, but I was pretty annoyed that they had done that . . . when one of the daughters said to me, “Would you like a cup of tea?” and I said, “Sure, that would be great,” and that sort of diffused my little reprimand. I went to the kitchen and sat down to have my cup of tea and while I was having the tea, the daughters went back into the bedroom, and then one of them walked out and said, “Well, she’s gone very peacefully now,” and I said, “What?” and ran into the bedroom. She was lying there as dead as a doornail and they said, “Thank you very much for coming when mother died. You know we knew she was going to go and we really appreciate just you having been here.”

I thought to myself, “Well, first of all am I ever glad that I didn’t say what I had intended to say about the unnecessary visit and secondly, how the hell did they know she was dying? I honestly did not have a clue. That injected in me a great sense of humility, like whoa, they know a lot that I don’t know, about their mother, but also just about death and dying—and anyway, I’ve held onto that sense of humility and that’s pretty much where I remain.” (Kelly and Brown, 2002) Culturally sensitive health care practitioners who employ mindful listening skills are better able to establish trusting and therapeutic relationships with their patients. This results in a constructive alliance that leads to focused, efficient, and patient-centred care (Gobat et al., 2015; Mauksch et al., 2008). Critical thinking: How would asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to this family’s responses have helped guide this physician’s behaviour? Can you think of a time when you did not have an opportunity to provide a helping professional (e.g., first responder, health care provider, teacher, social service provider) with information they needed in order to help you? What factors contributed to that problem? Can you recall times when you didn’t listen mindfully to a helping professional? What were the barriers that affected your listening?

CALVIN AND HOBBES © Watterson. Dist. By UNIVERSAL UCLICK. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

5 | Listening

‘unfair’ to you?” “You said she’s ‘religious’—how do you define that term?” “You said you were going ‘fast’—just how fast were you going?” Of course, be sure to use an appropriate tone of voice when asking such questions, or else they might sound like an inquisition. • To learn about other people’s thoughts, feelings, and wants. A sincere, sensitive, and caring question can draw out opinions, emotions, needs, and hopes. “What do you think about the new plan?” and “How did you feel when you heard the news?” are examples of such probes. When inquiring about personal information, it’s usually best to ask open questions that allow a variety of extended responses rather than closed questions that allow only a limited range of answers. For instance, “How did you feel?” is an open question that allows a variety of responses, while “Did you feel angry?” is a closed question that requires only a yes or no answer (and may direct respondents toward feelings they weren’t experiencing). • To encourage elaboration. People are sometimes hesitant to talk about themselves, or perhaps they aren’t sure if others are interested. Remarks such as, “Tell me more about that,” “I’m not sure I understand,” and “I’m following you” convey concern and involvement. Notice that none of these examples ends with a question mark. We can encourage elaboration simply by acknowledging that we’re listening. • To encourage discovery. Asking questions can sometimes encourage others to explore their thoughts and feelings. “So, what do you see as your options?” may prompt an employee to come up with creative problem-solving alternatives. “What would be your ideal solution?” might help a friend get in touch with various wants and needs. Most importantly, encouraging discovery rather than dispensing advice indicates you have faith in others’ ability to think for themselves. This may be the most important message that you can communicate as an effective listener. • To gather more facts and details. People often appreciate listeners who want to learn more, as

long as the questions aren’t intrusive. Questions such as, “What did you do then?” and “What did she say after that?” can help a listener understand the big picture. One study found that teachers who ask questions in ­ parent-teacher conversations before launching into problem solving are perceived as more effective communicators (Castro et al., 2013). Research also indicates that people who ask more genuine questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners and are judged to be more responsive (Huang et al., 2017). Not all questions are genuine requests for information. Whereas sincere questions are aimed at understanding others, counterfeit questions are really disguised attempts to send a message, not receive one. As such, they really fit better at the “more directive” end of the listening response continuum shown in Figure 5.3 on page 156. It’s also likely that they’ll lead to a defensive communication climate, as we’ll discuss in Chapter 9, and escalate conflict, which we examine in Chapter 10. Counterfeit questions come in several varieties: • Questions that trap the speaker. Asking, “You didn’t like that movie, did you?” backs the respondent into a corner. By contrast, “What did you think of the movie?” is a sincere question that’s easier to answer. Adding a tag question such as “didn’t you?” or “isn’t that right?” to the end of a question can indicate that the asker is looking for agreement, not information. Although some listeners use these tag endings to confirm and facilitate understanding (Coates, 1986), others use tags to coerce agreement or to accuse—for example, “You said you’d call at five o’clock, but you forgot, didn’t you?” Similarly, questions that begin with “Don’t you” (such as, “Don’t you think she would make a good manager?”) direct others toward a desired response. As a simple solution, changing “Don’t you?” to “Do you?” makes the question less leading. • Questions that make statements. “Are you finally ready?” is more a statement than a question—a



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

fact unlikely to be lost on the targeted person. Emphasizing certain words can also turn a question into a statement: “You lent money to Tony?” We also use questions to offer advice. The person who asks, “Are you going to stand up to him and give him what he deserves?” has clearly stated an opinion about what should be done. • Questions that carry hidden agendas. “Are you busy Friday night?” is a dangerous question to answer. If you say “no,” thinking the person has something pleasant in mind, you won’t like hearing, “Good, because I need some help moving my piano.” Obviously, such questions are not designed to enhance understanding; they’re setups for the proposal that follows. Other examples include, “Will you do me a favour?” and “If I tell you what happened, will you promise not to get mad?” Because they’re strategic rather than spontaneous, these questions are likely to provoke defensiveness (see Chapter 9). Wise communicators answer questions that mask hidden agendas cautiously with responses such as “It depends” or “Let me hear what you have in mind before I answer.” • Questions that seek a positive judgment. “How do I look?” is often a request for a particular response, (“You look great”) The listener must carefully consider the context before responding. • Questions based on unchecked assumptions. “Why aren’t you listening to me?” assumes the other person is not paying attention. “What’s the matter?” assumes that something is wrong. As we explained in Chapter 3, perception checking is a much better way of confirming one’s assumptions. You’ll recall that a perception check offers a description and interpretations, followed by a sincere request for clarification: “When you keep looking at your phone, I think you aren’t listening to me, but maybe I’m wrong. Are you paying attention?” No question is inherently sincere or counterfeit. As we’ll discuss further in Chapter 6, the meaning and intent of any statement is shaped by its context. Moreover, a slight change in tone of voice or facial expression can turn a sincere question into a

counterfeit one, and vice versa. Consider how the questions “What are you doing?’ or “When will you be finished?” could be asked in different ways, eliciting different responses. Research about coming out conversations (Manning, 2015) illustrates the delicate balance of using questions as an active listener. In one study, gay, lesbian, and bisexual participants said they wanted to hear certain kinds of questions from those who listened to their coming out disclosures. Participants viewed sincere questions as indicators of open communication and a desire to understand. They didn’t appreciate questions that seemed leading (“Are you sure this isn’t a phase?”), defensive (“Is this because I wasn’t around much?), or inappropriate (asking for graphic sexual details). When a topic is sensitive and emotionally charged, it’s best to keep your questions as open and neutral as possible. “Tell me more—I’m listening” is usually a good option, if it’s sincere.

Paraphrasing Paraphrasing is providing feedback that restates, in your own words, the message you thought the speaker sent. You may wonder, “Why would I want to restate what has already been said?” Consider this simple exchange: “Let’s make plans to get together next weekend.” “So you want to chat next week to make plans for Saturday?” “No, what I meant is that we should check our calendars now to see if we’re free to go to the game on Sunday.”

By paraphrasing, the listener learned that the speaker wanted to make plans now, not later—and that “weekend” meant Sunday, not Saturday. Note that the listener rephrased rather than repeated the message. In effective paraphrasing you restate what you think the speaker has said in your own words as a way of checking the meaning you’ve assigned to the message. It’s important that you paraphrase, not “parrot-phrase.” If you simply repeat the speaker’s comments verbatim, you’ll sound foolish—and, just as important, you still might misunderstand what’s been said.

5 | Listening

Types of Paraphrasing Statements Restating another person’s message in a way that sounds natural can sometimes be a difficult skill to master. Here are three approaches to get you started: 1. Change the speaker’s wording. Speaker: “Bilingual education is just another failed idea of francophones.” Paraphrase: “Let me see if I’ve got this right. You’re mad because you think bilingual education sounds good, but it doesn’t work?”

2. Offer an example of what you think the speaker is talking about. When the speaker makes an abstract statement, you may suggest a specific example, or two, to see if your understanding is accurate. Speaker: “Lee is such a jerk. I can’t believe the way he acted last night.” Paraphrase: “You think those jokes were pretty offensive, huh?”

3. Describe the underlying theme of the speaker’s remarks. When you want to summarize the theme that seems to have run through another person’s conversation, a complete or partial perception check is useful: Speaker: “Be safe tonight.” Paraphrase: “Sounds like you’re worried that something might happen to me. Am I right?”

There are several reasons why paraphrasing aids in listening. First, as the preceding examples illustrate, paraphrasing allows you to find out if the m ­ essage received is the message the sender intended. Second, paraphrasing often draws out further information from the speaker, much like questioning (in fact, a good paraphrase often ends with a question such as “Is that what you meant?”). Third, paraphrasing is an ideal way to take the heat out of intense discussions. When conversations become heated, it’s often because the people involved believe they aren’t being heard. ­Paraphrasing has been shown to increase the speaker’s positive emotions toward the listener.

Rather than escalate the conflict, try paraphrasing what the other person says: “Okay, let me be sure I understand you. It sounds as if you’re concerned about . . . ” Paraphrasing usually stops a defensive spiral because it assures the other person of your involvement and concern. For these and other reasons, we usually feel a sense of affinity for those who make the effort to paraphrase our messages (Weger et al., 2010). There are two levels at which you can paraphrase messages: the first involves feedback of factual information; the second involves describing what you believe the underlying message to be.

Paraphrasing Factual Information Summarizing facts, data, and details is important during personal or professional conversations. “We’ve agreed that we’ll take another few days to think about our choices and make a decision on Tuesday—right?” might be an effective way to conclude a business lunch. A questioning tone should be used; a listener wants to be sure that meaning has been shared. Even personal topics are sometimes best handled on a factual level: “So, your main problem is that our friends take up all the parking spaces in front of your place. Is that it?” While this “neutral” response may be difficult when you feel under attack, it helps to clarify facts before you offer your reaction. It’s also a good idea to paraphrase instructions, directions, and decisions before acting on what you think has been said.

Paraphrasing Personal Information While restating factual information is relatively easy, it takes a sensitive ear to listen for the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and wants. The ­underlying message is often the more important one, and effective listeners try to reflect what they hear at this level (Bodie et al., 2016). An attentive conversationalist listens for thoughts, feelings, and wants, and is thus able to address the cognitive (rational), affective (emotional), and behavioural (desired action) domains of the human experience.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

BUILDING WORK SKILLS PARAPHRASING Practise your ability to paraphrase in order to understand others by following these steps: 1. Choose a partner, and designate one of you as person A and the other as person B. Find a subject on which you and your partner seem to disagree—a personal dispute, a philosophical or moral issue, or perhaps a matter of personal taste. 2. Person A begins by making a statement on the subject. Person B’s job is to paraphrase the idea. In this step, B should feedback only what they heard A say, without adding any judgment or interpretation. B’s job here is simply to understand A—not to agree or disagree with A. 3. Person A responds by telling B whether or not the response was accurate and by making any necessary additions or corrections to clarify the message. 4. Person B then paraphrases the revised statement. This process should continue until A is sure that B understands them. 5. Now, B and A reverse roles and repeat the procedure in the first four steps. Continue the conversation until both partners are satisfied that they have explained themselves fully and have been understood by the other person. After the discussion has ended, consider how this process differed from typical conversations on controversial topics. Was there greater understanding here? Do the partners feel better about one another? Finally, ask yourself how your life might change if you used more paraphrasing in everyday conversations.

Read the following statement as if a friend is talking to you, and listen for all three components in the message: Jean-Pierre has hardly been home all week—he’s been so busy with work. He rushes in just long enough to eat dinner, then he buries himself at his desk until bedtime. Then he tells me today that he’s going fishing Saturday with his buddies. I guess men are just like that—job first, play second, family third.

What is the speaker thinking, feeling, and wanting? Paraphrasing can help you find out: “Sounds as if you’re unhappy (feeling) because you think Jean-Pierre’s ignoring you (thought) and you want him to spend more time at home (want).” Recognize that your paraphrase may not be accurate; the speaker might reply, “No, I really don’t want him to spend more time at home—I just want him to pay attention to me when he’s here.” Recognize also that you could identify an entirely different think–feel–want set: “So, you’re frustrated (feeling) because you’d like Jean-Pierre to change (want), but you think it’s hopeless because men have different priorities (thought).” The fact that these examples

offer such different interpretations of the same message demonstrates the value of paraphrasing. Your paraphrases don’t have to be as long as the examples in the preceding paragraph. It’s often a good idea to mix paraphrasing with other listening responses. In many cases, you’ll want to reflect only one or two of the think–feel–want components. The key is to give feedback that is appropriate for the situation and to offer it in a way that helps the listening process. Because paraphrasing may be an unfamiliar way of responding, it could feel awkward at first. Research suggests that rehearsing paraphrasing in imagined interactions can help you respond more effectively in actual conversations (Vickery et al., 2015). If you start by paraphrasing occasionally and then gradually do it more often, you’ll begin to see the benefits of this method.

CHECK IT! Describe the three approaches to paraphrasing another person’s message and explain how paraphrasing aids listening.

5 | Listening

Empathizing Empathizing is a response style listeners use when they want to show they identify with a speaker. As we discussed in Chapter 3, empathy involves perspective taking, emotional contagion, and genuine concern. When listeners put the attitude of empathy into verbal and non-verbal responses, they engage in empathizing. Sometimes, these responses can be quite brief: “Uh-huh,” “I see,” “Wow!” “Ouch!’ “Whew!” and “My goodness!” In other cases, empathizing is expressed in statements like these: “I can see that really hurts.” “I know how important that was to you.” “It’s no fun to feel unappreciated.” “I can tell you’re really excited about that.” “Wow, that must be rough.” “I think I’ve felt that way, too.” “Looks like that really made your day.” “This means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”


Empathizing falls near the middle of the listening response continuum shown in Figure 5.3 on page 156. It’s different from the more reflective responses at the left end of the spectrum, which attempt to

How often do you empathize with the people you interact with?

gather information neutrally. It’s also different from the more evaluative styles at the right end of the spectrum, which offer more direction than reflection. To understand how empathizing compares to other types of responses, consider these examples: “So, your supervisor isn’t happy with your performance and you’re thinking about finding a new job.” [paraphrasing] “Ouch—I’ll bet it hurt when your supervisor said you weren’t doing a good job.” [empathizing] “Hey, you’ll land on your feet—your supervisor doesn’t appreciate what a great asset you are.” [supporting]

Notice that empathizing identifies with the speaker’s emotions and perceptions more than paraphrasing does, yet offers less evaluation and agreement than supporting responses. In fact, it’s possible to empathize with others while disagreeing with them (Gordon and Chen, 2016). For instance, the response “I can tell that this issue is important to you” legitimizes a speaker’s feelings without assenting to that person’s point of view (note that it could be said to either a friend or a foe at a business meeting). Empathizing is therefore an important skill whether you agree or disagree with the speaker. Perhaps a better way to explain empathizing is to describe what it does not sound like. Many listeners believe they’re empathizing when, in fact, they’re offering responses that are evaluative and directive. Listeners are probably not empathizing when they do the following: • Deny others the right to their feelings. Consider this common response to another p ­ erson’s ­problem: “Don’t worry about it.” While the remark may be intended as a reassuring comment, the underlying message is that the speaker wants the person to feel differently. It’s unlikely that people can or will stop worrying just because you tell them to. Research shows that empathizing is more effective than denying the feelings and perspectives of others (Burleson and Samter, 1985, 1994). • Minimizing the significance of the situation. Think about the times someone said to you,



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

“Hey, it’s only  .” You can probably fill in the blank a variety of ways: “a game,” “words,” “a test,” “a party.” How did you react? You probably thought the person who said it just didn’t understand. To someone who has been the victim of verbal abuse, the hurtful message wasn’t “just words”; to a child who didn’t get an invitation, it wasn’t “just a party” (see Burleson, 1984); to a student who has failed an important exam, it wasn’t “just a test” (see Burleson and Samter, 1985). When you minimize the importance of someone else’s experience, you are not empathizing. Instead, you’re interpreting the event from your perspective and then passing judgment—rarely a helpful response. • Focus on yourself. It can be tempting to talk at length about a similar experience you’ve encountered (e.g., “I know exactly how you feel, the same thing happened to me—let me tell you about it . . .”). Although your intent might be to show empathy, research shows that such messages aren’t perceived as helpful because they draw attention away from the distressed person (Burleson, 2008). • Raining on the speaker’s parade. Most of the preceding examples deal with difficult situations or messages about pain. However, empathizing involves identifying with the joys of others as well as their sorrows. Many of us can remember coming home with exciting news, only to be told, “A five per cent raise? That isn’t so great.” “An A minus? Why didn’t you get an A?” “Big deal—I got one of those years ago.” Taking the wind out of someone’s sails is the opposite of empathizing. Research shows that we don’t get the full enjoyment out of good news until we share it with someone who responds empathically (Lambert at al., 2013; Reis et al., 2010).

and adults can learn how to offer such responses ­(Dexter, 2013). The Activities section at the end of this chapter can offer you valuable practice in developing your skills as an empathic communicator.

Supporting So far, we’ve looked at listening responses that put a premium on being reflective and non-evaluative. However, there are times when other people want to hear more than a reflection of how they feel— when they would like to know how you feel about them. Supporting responses reveal the listener’s solidarity with the speaker’s situation. There are several types of supportive responses: Agreement: “You’re right—the landlord is being unfair.” “Yes, that class was tough for me, too.” Offers to help: “I’m here if you need me.” “Let me try to explain it to him.” Praise: “I don’t care what the manager said. I think you did a great job!” “You’re a terrific person! If she doesn’t recognize it, that’s her problem.” Reassurance: “The worst part seems to be over. It will probably get easier from here.” “I know you’ll do a great job.” Diversion: “Let’s catch a movie and get your mind off this.” “That reminds me of the time we . . .”

There is some evidence that men and women may differ in the way they act when supporting Empathic listening is essentially an expression others. Women are more likely than men to give of affection, as it communicates validation and a supportive responses when presented with another sense of worth to the message sender (Floyd, 2014). person’s problem (Burleson et al., 2005; Hale et al., Research suggests that emotional intelligence 1997), and appear to be more skilful at composis needed to offer these non-judgmental, other-­ ing and processing such messages (Burleson et al., oriented responses (Pence and Vickery, 2012). 2009, 2011). These skills have been traditionally ­Fortunately, research also shows that both children associated with what is stereotypically feminine

5 | Listening

(High and Solomon, 2016). In fact, women who violate the feminine stereotype and aren’t skilled at offering emotional support to their female friends run the risk of being shunned by their same sex peers (Holmstrom et al., 2005). Regardless of gender, most people respond well to the same types of comforting messages. People report feeling supported by highly personal messages that are delivered with non-verbal immediacy such as maintaining eye contact and appropriate touching (Jones and Burleson, 2003). Moreover, people also appreciate the kind of social support we describe in Chapter 8. However, even the most sincere supportive efforts do not always help. Mourners who had recently suffered the death of a loved one often report that a majority of the comments made to them were unhelpful (Davidowitz and Myrick, 1984; Glanz, 2007). Most of the unhelpful statements are advice: “You’ve got to get out more.” “Don’t question God’s will.” Another frequent response is reassurance, such as, “She’s out of her

REFLECTION COMFORTING A CRYING CHILD: “IT’S OKAY” IS NOT OKAY I have always enjoyed working with young children. Sharing their joy and excitement is such a pleasure and exploring the world with them inspires my curiosity. Another important part of my job as a caring adult in children’s lives is providing comfort and support when they are upset. My first reaction when children are hurt and crying has always been to try to reassure them. When I’m hugging them I find myself saying, “It’s okay. It’s all right.” And things like that. I realize now that, rather than being reassuring, my words could be seen as actually denying the child’s true feelings. Obviously, if you are crying and someone or something has hurt you, it really isn’t okay at all in that moment! It hurts. Now, I try to say things like, “I’m here. I’ll try to help you feel better” when I’m giving my hugs. I try to acknowledge their feelings and offer to comfort and care for them.

pain now” and “Time heals all wounds.” A study of bereaved parents found these kinds of clichés actually do more harm than good (Toller, 2011). People who are grieving don’t appreciate being told how to feel or what they should do. Instead, bereaved parents said they would feel more supported by the silent listening approach described a bit earlier in this chapter. One mother who lost a child offered this recommendation for people who want to help a grieving friend: Go and be with them. You don’t say anything, just say, “I don’t know how you feel but I’m here.” Go sit down and just be with that person. (Toller, 2011, p. 26)

Like the other kinds of helping styles, supporting can be beneficial, but only under certain conditions (Goldsmith and Fitch, 1997; Halone and Pecchioni, 2001), such as: • Make sure your expression of support is sincere. Phony agreement or encouragement is probably worse than no support at all, since it adds the insult of your dishonesty to whatever pain the other person is already feeling. • Be sure the other person can accept your support. Sometimes, people are so upset that they aren’t ready or able to hear anything positive. When you know a friend is going through a difficult time, it’s important not to be overly intrusive before that person is ready to talk and receive your support (Clark and Delia, 1997). • Focus on “here and now” rather than “then and there.” While it’s sometimes true that “you’ll feel better tomorrow,” it sometimes isn’t. More importantly, focusing on the future avoids supporting in the present. Even if the prediction that “10 years from now, you won’t even remember their name” proves correct, it gives little comfort to someone experiencing heartbreak today.

Analyzing In an analyzing response, the listener offers an interpretation of a speaker’s message (“I think what’s really bothering you is . . . ,” “They’re doing



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

it because . . . ,” or “Maybe the problem started when they . . .”). Communicators who respond this way often use the analytical style described earlier in this chapter. This style can be effective in helping people who have problems consider alternative meanings of a situation. Sometimes, an analysis helps clarify a confusing problem and provide an objective understanding of the situation. Research suggests that analytic listeners are able to listen to people who are emotionally upset without experiencing similar emotions, and this can be an advantage in solving problems (Weaver and Kirtley, 1995). In other cases, an analysis can create more problems than it solves. There are two possible reasons: First, your interpretation may not be correct, in which case the person with the problem may become even more confused by accepting it. Second, even if your analysis is accurate, sharing it with the other person may not be useful. There is a chance that it will arouse defensiveness (analysis implies being superior and in a position to evaluate). Besides, the person with the problem may not be able to understand your view of the problem without working it out personally. How can you know when it’s helpful to offer an analysis? There are some guidelines to follow: • Offer your interpretation in a tentative way rather than as absolute fact. There’s a big difference between saying, “Maybe the reason is . . .” and insisting, “This is the truth.” • Your analysis ought to have a reasonable chance of being correct. An inaccurate interpretation— especially one that sounds plausible—can leave a person more confused than before. • Make sure that the other person will be receptive to your analysis. Even if you’re completely accurate, your thoughts will not help if the other person is not ready to consider them. Pay attention to the other person’s verbal and non-verbal cues to see how your analysis is being received. • Be sure that your motive for offering an analysis is truly to help the other person. It can be tempting to offer an analysis to show how brilliant you are or even to make the other person feel

bad for not having thought of the right answer in the first place. Needless to say, an analysis offered under such conditions is not helpful.

Evaluating An evaluating response appraises the sender’s thoughts or behaviour in some way. The evaluation may be favourable (“That’s a good idea” or “You’re on the right track now”) or unfavourable (“An attitude like that won’t get you anywhere”). In either case, it implies that the person evaluating is in some way qualified to pass judgment on the speaker’s thoughts or actions. Communicators who respond this way often approach situations with the critical listening style described earlier in this chapter. Sometimes, negative evaluations are purely critical. How many times have you heard responses such as, “Well, you asked for it!” or “I told you so!” or “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself?” Such comments usually make matters worse by arousing defensiveness. Other times, negative evaluations are less critical. These involve what we usually call constructive criticism, which is intended to help the problem haver improve in the future. Friends give this sort of response about the choice of everything from clothing to jobs to friends. A common setting for constructive criticism is school, where instructors evaluate students’ work in order to help them master concepts and skills. Still, even constructive criticism can arouse defensiveness, because it may threaten the self-concept of the person to whom it’s directed. Chapter 9 provides guidelines for creating supportive communication climates.

Advising When we’re approached with someone’s problem, the most common reaction is to advise (Feng and Magen, 2016). An advising response involves providing the speaker with your opinion about what they should do. We are all familiar with advising responses: “If you’re so unhappy, you should just

5 | Listening

• Is the advice needed? If the person has already made a decision or taken a course of action, giving advice after the fact (“I can’t believe you’re getting back together with him”) is rarely appreciated. • Is the advice wanted? People generally don’t value unsolicited advice. It’s usually best if the speaker is interested in hearing your counsel. Remember that sometimes people just want a listening ear, not solutions to their problems. • Is the advice given in the right sequence? Advice is more likely to be received after the listener offers empathizing, paraphrasing, and questioning responses to understand the speaker and the situation better. • Is the advice coming from an expert? If you want to offer advice about anything from car purchasing to relationship managing, it’s important to have experience and success in those matters. If you don’t have expertise, it’s a good idea to offer the speaker supportive responses, and encourage the person to seek out expert counsel.

• Is the advisor a close and trusted person? Although sometimes we seek out advice from people we don’t know well (perhaps because they have expertise), in most cases we value advice given within the context of a close and ongoing interpersonal relationship. • Is the advice offered in a sensitive, face saving manner? No one likes to feel bossed or belittled, even if the advice is good (Miczo and Burgoon, 2008). Remember that messages have both content and relational dimensions. Sometimes the unstated relational message when giving advice (“I’m smarter than you”; “You’re not bright enough to figure this out yourself”) will keep people from hearing counsel.

Which Style to Use? You can see that each style has advantages and disadvantages. Which style is best? There is no simple answer to this question. All response types and styles have the potential to help others accept their situation, feel better, and have a sense of control over their problems (Imhof, 2003; Werger et al., 2014). As a general rule, it’s probably wise to begin with responses from the left and middle of the listening response continuum: silent listening, questioning, paraphrasing, and empathizing.


quit your job”; “Just tell him what you think”; “You should take some time off.” Even when advice might be just what a person needs, there are several reasons why it often is not helpful. First, it may not offer the best suggestion about how to act. There is often a temptation to tell others how you would behave in their place, but it’s important to realize that what’s right for one person may not be right for another. Second, people may not welcome advice because they perceive it as implying they are inferior to the advice giver who has a ready solution (Shaw and Hepburn, 2013). Third, a related consequence of advising is that it often allows others to avoid responsibility for their decisions. A partner who follows a suggestion of yours that does not work out can always pin the blame on you. Finally, people often do not want advice. They may not be ready to accept it and instead may simply need to talk out their thoughts and feelings. Studies on advice giving (summarized in MacGeorge et al., 2008) offer the following important considerations when trying to help others:


When we’re approached with someone’s problem, the most common reaction is to advise. What conditions should exist before you offer someone advice?


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

TAKE TWO TYPES OF LISTENING RESPONSES • Silent listening: staying attentive and non-­ verbally responsive, without saying anything. • Questioning: asking the speaker for additional information. • Open questions allow for a variety of extended responses. • Closed questions only allow a limited range of answers. • Sincere questions are aimed at understanding others. • Counterfeit questions are disguised attempts to send a message, not receive one. • Paraphrasing: restating, in your own words, the message you thought the speaker sent. • Empathizing: showing that you identify with a speaker. • Supporting: revealing your solidarity with the speaker’s situation. • Analyzing: offering an interpretation of a speaker’s message. • Evaluating: appraising the speaker’s thoughts or behaviour in some way. • Advising: providing the speaker with your opinion about what she should do.

These skills comprise what pioneering therapist Carl Rogers (2003) calls active listening (see Weger et al., 2014). Rogers maintains that helpful interpersonal listening begins with reflective, non-directive responses. Once you have gathered the facts and demonstrated your interest and concern, it’s likely that the speaker will be more receptive to (and perhaps even ask for) your analyzing, evaluating, and advising responses (MacGeorge et al., 2017). You can improve the odds of choosing the best style in each situation by considering three factors. 1. Think about the situation, and match your response to the nature of the problem. People sometimes need your advice. In other cases, your encouragement and ­support will be most helpful, and in still other cases, your analysis or judgment may be truly useful. And, as you have seen, there are times when your questioning and paraphrasing can help others find their own answer. 2. Besides considering the situation, you also should think about the other person when deciding which approach to use. It’s important to be sure that the other person is open to receiving any kind of help. Furthermore, you

BUILDING WORK SKILLS WHICH LISTENING STYLE IS BEST? Explore the various types of listening responses by completing the following steps: 1. Join with two partners to form a trio. Designate members as persons A, B, and C. 2. Person A begins by sharing an actual, current work- or school-related problem with B. The problem need not be a major life crisis, but it should be a real one. Person B should respond in whatever way seems most helpful. Person C’s job is to categorize each of B’s responses as either: silent listening, questioning, paraphrasing, empathizing, supporting, analyzing, evaluating, or advising. 3. After a four- to five-minute discussion, C should summarize B’s response styles. Person A then describes which of the styles were most helpful and which were not helpful. 4. Repeat the same process twice, switching roles so that each person has been in all of the positions. 5. Based on your findings, your threesome should draw conclusions about what combination of response styles can be most helpful.

5 | Listening

need to be confident that you’ll be regarded as someone whose support is valuable. The same listening response can be regarded as helpful or not depending on who is delivering it (Rossetto, 2015). Consider how an “insider” to your job, social circle, or family can offer encouragement or advice (“Hang in there! It’ll get better”) that might ring hollow if it came from an outsider. It’s also important to match the type of response you offer with the style of the person to whom it’s directed (Bippus, 2001). One study found that highly rational people tend to respond more positively to advice than do more emotional people (Feng and Lee, 2010). Many communicators are extremely defensive and are not capable of receiving analysis or judgments without lashing out. Still others are not equipped to think through problems clearly enough to profit from questioning and paraphrasing. Sophisticated listeners choose a style that fits the person.

3. Finally, think about yourself when deciding how to respond. Most of us reflexively use one or two styles (did you notice this when you completed the “Self-Assessment” on page 146). You may be best at listening quietly, posing a question, or paraphrasing from time to time. Or perhaps you’re especially insightful and can offer a truly useful analysis of the problem. Of course, it’s also possible to rely on a response style that is unhelpful. You may be overly judgmental or too eager to advise, even when your suggestions are not invited or productive. As you think about how to respond to another’s problems, consider your weaknesses as well as your strengths.

CHECK IT! What factors should you consider before you choose how to respond as a listener?

SUMMARY Listening is both more frequent and less emphasized than speaking. Despite its relative invisibility, listening is at least as important as speaking. Research shows that good listening is vital to both personal and professional success. Listening is the process of making sense of other’s spoken messages. We listen to many messages mindlessly, but it’s important to listen ­mindfully in a variety of situations. We also listen to others based on our personal styles and ­listening goals. Sometimes our listening is task-oriented; other times it’s more relational, analytical, or critical. Effective listeners match their styles with the needs of the situations. Most people’s understanding of listening suffers from several misconceptions, which communicators need to correct. Mindful listening isn’t easy;

rather, it’s a challenge that requires much effort and talent. Several barriers can hamper effective listening: information overload, personal concerns, rapid thought, and both internal and external noise. Even careful listening does not mean that all listeners will receive the same message. A wide variety of factors discussed in this chapter can result in hugely varying interpretations of even simple ­statements. Listening consists of several components: hearing, attending to a message, understanding the statement, remembering the message after the passage of time, and responding to the speaker. Listening responses are important, because they let us know if others are truly tuned in to what we’re saying. Listening responses can be placed on a continuum. More reflective and less ­directive



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

responses include silent listening, questioning, paraphrasing, and empathizing. These put a premium on gathering information and showing interest and concern. Less reflective and more directive responses include supporting, analyzing, evaluating, and advising. These put a premium on offering input and direction. It’s possible to use

the “more reflective” listening responses to help people arrive at their own decisions without offering advice or evaluation. The most effective listeners use ­several styles, depending on the situation, the other person, and their own personal skills and motivation.


Which of the following statements is true? a. While speaking takes up more of our time, listening skills are important for both our personal relationships and career success. b. Listening and hearing are interchangeable concepts. c. Analytical listening is most concerned with efficiency and accomplishing the job at hand. d. The only way to manage the onslaught of messages is to be “lazy” towards some of them.


a. b. c. d. 4.

While his manager describes a project he would like him to work on, Miguel is thinking about asking a colleague he likes to go out for coffee. He is nodding and smiling at his manager and maintaining eye contact but he isn’t listening. Miguel thoughts are

information overload and selective listening. rapid thought and stage hogging. pseudo-listening and noise. information overload and insulated listening.

Which of the following statements is false? a. Listening fidelity is the degree of congruence between what a listener understands and what the sender of the message was attempting to communicate. b. Listening fidelity implies agreement between listener and message sender. c. Listening mindfully in order to truly understand another person sends a positive relational message. d. High levels of listening fidelity are the ideal in interpersonal listening.

According to research presented in this book, listening is difficult because we’re capable of understanding speech rates a. that are much slower than the rate at which most people speak. b. that are more than four times as fast as the rate at which most people speak. c. that are almost twice as fast as the rate at which most people speak. d. faster in the evenings and slower in the mornings due to our circadian rhythms.


interfering with his ability to listen. This is an example of


Silent listening a. can help others solve their own problems. b. is fundamental to an activity called “hearing into being.” c. is something most of us could profit from using and receiving from others. d. all of the above are true about silent listening.


“You didn’t like that restaurant, did you?” is an example of a. a question that seeks a positive judgment. b. a sincere question.

5 | Listening

c. a question that traps the speaker. d. all of the above. 7.

When Seema’s mother brings up the topic of school, homework, and grades, Seema totally ignores her mother. Seema’s non-listening would be best described as a. pseudo-listening. b. stage hogging. c. insulated listening. d. selective listening.


Which of the following is an example of an empathic listening response? a. “I can tell you’re really excited about that!” b. “Oh, forget about it.” c. “I know exactly how you feel. That happened to me. Let me tell you about it.” d. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”


Which three listening responses would be described as more reflective and less directive? a. paraphrasing, silent listening, and questioning b. questioning, analyzing, and evaluating c. advising, supporting, and empathizing d. paraphrasing, empathizing, and supporting

10. Identify which type of listening response the following statement best represents: “I think she did that because she’s jealous of all the attention you got at the party.” a. advising b. evaluating c. analyzing d. supporting

Answers: 1  . d; 2. b; 3. c; 4. b; 5. d; 6. c; 7. c; 8. a; 9. a; 10. c

ACTIVITIES 1. Invitation to Insight Keep a three-day journal of your listening behaviour, noting the time you spend listening in various situations. In addition, analyze your reasons for listening. Which goal(s) were you trying to achieve? a. to accomplish a task or job b. to build and maintain relationships c. to look at an issue from a variety of perspectives d. to evaluate the message(s) you were receiving To what extent did your listening style help you to achieve your listening goal(s)? What worked? How might you change your approach in the future? 2. Critical Thinking Probe Mindless listening can arise from factors that are not easily observed. Based on your experience,

decide which of the following steps in the listening process cause the greatest difficulties: a. hearing b. attending c. understanding d. remembering e. responding Discuss your findings with your friends, and develop a list of strategies that can help minimize listening problems in the areas you identified and listen more mindfully. 3. Skill Builder Explore the benefits of silent listening by using a “talking stick” in a listening circle. Richard Hyde (1993) developed this exercise from the Indigenous tradition of “council” and Guy Itzchakov and Avraham N. Kluger (2018) have used it to improve (private and public sector) employees’ listening



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

behaviour, reduce their social anxiety, and develop more complex and less extreme attitudes. Gather a group of people in a circle, and designate a particular item as the talking stick. Participants will then pass the stick around the circle. Participants may speak

Are there ever cases where certain types of non-­ listening (e.g., pseudo-listening, stage hogging, and defensive listening—see page 149) are justified? How would you feel if you knew that others were not listening to you?

a. only when holding the stick; b. for as long as they hold the stick; and c. without interruption from anyone else in the circle.

5. Role Play Choose a partner.

When a member is finished speaking, the stick passes to the left and the speaker surrendering the stick must wait until it has made its way around the circle and back before speaking again. After each member of the group has had the chance to speak (not all group members are required to speak if they choose not to), discuss how this experience differs from more common approaches to listening. Decide how the desirable parts of this method could be introduced in everyday conversations. 4. Ethical Challenge What responsibility do communicators have to listen as mindfully as possible to other speakers?

a. One person will provide a factual description of something they know how to do and the other person doesn’t (e.g., cook a particular dish, fix something, etc.). The other person will listen and use paraphrasing to clarify and ensure they understand. Now, reverse roles. b. Next, one person will describe a personal situation (ensure participants are comfortable disclosing the information) that involves thoughts and emotions. The other person will listen and paraphrase to ensure they understand. Now, reverse roles. c. Discuss the strengths and challenges of paraphrasing in both situations from the perspective of the listener and the speaker.


Discuss the benefits of mindful listening skills.


Give an example from your own experience of each of the seven poor listening habits.


Describe instances in your own life when you’ve used the four broad listening styles.


Explain how things can go wrong in each of the five elements of listening.


Why is mindful listening not an easy communication task? Describe the four barriers to listening.


Describe paraphrasing and its benefits.


When is advising an appropriate listening response?


Keep track of the time you engage in any of the seven types of non-listening (e.g., pseudo-listening, stage hogging, selective listening, filling in the gaps, insulated listening,

defensive listening, and ambushing). Note the day, time of day, topic of conversation, location, and people involved. After collecting examples over the course of a week, look at

5 | Listening

your examples and identify any patterns. Are there people, times of day, topics, or locations that recur in your entries? Analyze your entries and describe what obstacles to listening you encounter regularly and what you can do to listen more effectively. Develop at least one personal goal to improve your listening based on your analysis. 2.

Often people don’t want to paraphrase or empathize with people with whom they’re arguing, because they mistake

­nderstanding another person’s point of u view for agreeing with it. Think about a recent time when you disagreed with someone and try to paraphrase the content of their message as well as the personal elements. Can you understand their point of view even when not agreeing with it? Can you imagine the emotions they might have experienced while talking to you? Would actually using this paraphrasing strategy during a disagreement with that person be helpful? Why or why not?





CHAPTER OUTLINE The Nature of Language Language Language Language Language

Is Symbolic Is Governed by Rules Is Subjective and Worldview

The Influence of Language Naming and Identity Credibility and Status Affiliation Power and Politeness Sexism Sexual Orientation Racism

Uses (and Abuses) of Language Precision and Vagueness The Language of Responsibility

Culture and Language High- versus Low-Context Cultures Verbal Communication Styles Code-Switching

Gender and Language Extent of Gender Differences Online Language and Gender Non-Gender Influences on Language Use

KEY TERMS abstraction ladder ambiguous language assertiveness “but” statement code switching convergence divergence euphemism evaluative language high-context culture “I” language “it” statement linguistic relativity

low-context culture phonological rules politeness powerful language powerless language pragmatic rules racist language relative language semantic rules sexist language syntactic rules “we” language “you” language


Explain the symbolic, rule-based, subjective, culture-bound nature of language Describe the influence of language on identity, affiliation, power, politeness, and attitudes about ­sexism, gender identity, and racism Analyze the impact of precise, vague, and responsible language use in interpersonal relationships Construct statements that acknowledge your responsibility for the content of messages Rephrase disruptive statements in less inflammatory terms Describe the relationship between culture and verbal styles, and the influence of language on ­perceptions Compare and critique evidence regarding the impact of gender on language use in interpersonal ­relationships Identify ways in which online language usage is different from the in-person variety


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky (2009) often begins her undergraduate lectures by asking students which cognitive faculty they would least want to lose. Most choose vision and a few pick hearing. Almost no one mentions language. Boroditsky suggests that this an oversight. After all, she reasons, people who lack the ability to see and hear can still have rich and satisfying lives. “But what would life be like if you had never learned a language?” she wonders. “Could you still have friends, get an education, hold a job, start a family? Language is so fundamental to our experience, so deeply part of being human, that it is hard to imagine life without it” (p. 116). A simple exercise illustrates how language is basic to our view of the world. Take a look at Figure 6.1 and quickly say aloud the printed colours of the words shown. The correct response is “orange, blue, yellow,” but chances are you’ll have difficulty getting it right without pausing or stumbling. Our brains tend to automatically fill in the meaning of a word (when we see the word purple printed in the colour orange it’s hard not to say purple, but if we see the word cat printed in the colour orange it’s easier to keep the word meaning and print colour separate and we can complete the task faster). This phenomenon, known as the Stroop effect, points to how language influences perception. We see the world through the filter of our words. Language is arguably the most essential component of human communication. In this chapter, we’ll examine the relationship between words and ideas. We describe some important characteris­ tics of language and show how these characteristics

affect our day-to-day communication. We’ll outline several types of troublesome language and show how to replace them with more effective kinds of speech. Finally, we’ll look at the influence of culture and gender on the way we use language.

The Nature of Language We begin our survey by looking at some features that characterize all languages. These fea­t ures explain both why language is such a useful tool and why it can be so troublesome.

Language Is Symbolic Words are arbitrary symbols that have no meaning in themselves. For example, the word five is a kind of code that represents the number of fingers on your hand only because we agree that it does (see Figure 6.2). As Bateson and Jackson (1964, p. 271) point out, “There is nothing particularly five-like in the number ‘five.’” To a speaker of French, the symbol cinq conveys the same meaning; to a computer, the same value is expressed by the electronically coded symbol 00110101. Even sign language, as “spoken” by most deaf people, is symbolic in nature (Sandler, 2013). Because this form of communication is symbolic and not literal, there are hundreds of different sign languages used around the world; they have evolved independently whenever significant numbers of deaf people have come together (Meir et al., 2010). These distinct languages include ­American Sign Language, Mexican Sign Language, British Sign Language, French Sign Language, Danish Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, and Australian Aboriginal and Mayan Sign Languages—and communicating across different sign languages can be as difficult as it is across different spoken languages (Quinto-Pozos, 2008).

Language Is Governed by Rules FIGURE 6.1  The Stroop Effect. Naming the font colour of a printed word is more difficult if the word meaning and the font colour do not match.

The only reason symbol-laden languages work at all is that people agree on how to use them. The linguistic agreements that make communication possible can be codified in rules. Languages c­ ontain several

6 | Language

FIGURE 6.2  The word “five” in different writing systems.

types of rules that continuously evolve ­(Garner, 2014). Phonological rules govern how sounds are combined to form words. For instance, the words champagne, double, and occasion have  the same meanings in French and English, but are pronounced differently because the languages have different phonological rules. Syntactic rules govern the way symbols can be arranged. Notice that the following statements contain the same words, but the shift in syntax creates quite different meanings: “Whisky makes you sick when you’re well.” “Whisky, when you’re sick, makes you well.”

Wiley Miller/Cartoonstock

Although most of us are not able to describe the syntactic rules that govern our language, it’s easy to recognize their existence by noticing how odd a

statement that violates them appears. Sometimes, however, apparently ungrammatical speech is simply following a different set of syntactic rules. For example, English spoken in Newfoundland and Labrador has many non-standard features in its grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. If you apply the rules of Standard English syntax to the statement, “Throw Mum down the stairs her keys,” you’d be confused about who or what is going down the stairs. But in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, this construction clearly means it’s Mum’s keys, not Mum, that are being thrown down the stairs. There are many regional or co-cultural English dialects with their own syntactic rules. Linguists believe it’s crucial to view dialects as different rather than deficient forms of English (Wolfram and Schilling-Estes, 2005). Semantic rules govern the meaning of language as opposed to the structure. Semantic rules are what make it possible for us to agree that bikes are for riding and books are for reading. Without semantic rules, communication would be impossible, because each of us would use symbols in unique ways, unintelligible to others. Although semantic rules help us understand the meaning of individual words, they often do not explain how language operates in everyday life. Consider the statement, “Let’s get together tomorrow.” The semantic meaning of the words in this sentence is clear enough, and yet the statement could be interpreted in several ways. It could be a request (“I hope we can get together”), a polite command (“I want to see you”), or an empty cliché (“I don’t really mean it”). We learn to distinguish the accurate meanings of such speech through pragmatic rules that tell us what uses and interpretations of a message are reasonable in a given situation (Dougherty et al., 2009). When these rules are understood by all players in the language game, smooth communication is possible. For example, one rule specifies that the relationship between communicators plays a large role in determining the meaning of a statement. Our example, “I want to see you,” is likely to mean one thing when uttered by your supervisor and another thing entirely when it comes from your romantic partner. Likewise, the setting in which



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

the statement is made plays a role. Saying “I want to see you” will probably have a different meaning at the office than at a party. Of course, the ­non-verbal behaviour that accompanies a statement also helps us interpret its meaning. People in individual relationships create their own sets of pragmatic rules. Consider the use of humour: the teasing and jokes you exchange with gusto with one friend might be considered tasteless and offensive in another relationship. For instance, imagine an email or text typed in capital letters and filled with curse words, insults, and exclamation marks. How would you interpret such a message? An outside observer might find it offensive and insulting, when in fact the

­ essage might be fun-loving verbal jousting m between friends (O’Sullivan and Flanagin, 2003; Maiz-Arevalo, 2015). If you have a good friend you call by a less-than-­tasteful nickname as a term of endearment, then you understand the concept. Keep in mind, however, that those who aren’t privy to your relationship’s pragmatic rules are likely to misunderstand you, so you’ll want to be wise about when and where to use these personal codes.

Language Is Subjective If the rules of language were more precise and if everyone followed them, we would suffer from

FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY ARE MEDIATED COMMUNICATION CHANNELS ERODING CONVENTIONAL GRAMMAR? Since the 1960s, with the increased access to film and television, there has been considerable speculation about the influence of media on language. This interest has only increased in recent years with the exponential changes in media in our lives (Tagliamonte, 2014, 2016). One specific concern is that texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media negatively influence people’s ability to use conventional grammar. The assumption is that the use of abbreviations (e.g., tmw for “tomorrow,” u for “you”); initializations or acronyms (e.g., lol for “laugh out loud”; ttyl for “talk to you later”); intensifiers (e.g., really, so); misspellings (e.g., gonna for “going to”); as well as other creative adaptations of conventional language, will erode young people’s ability to use normative (conventional or standard) grammar when it’s required (e.g., in essays, reports, presentations, work-related emails, formal letters, etc.). Intrigued by this phenomenon, University of Toronto linguistics researcher Sali Tagliamonte (2016) amalgamated 13 weeks’ worth of her students’ unmonitored email, instant messaging, and text messages, totaling 179,241 words. Her students also consented to allow her to analyze their final term papers. Taglimonte found that her students navigated the various communication channels with fluidity and

ease. They adapted their spelling, grammar, use of acronyms, short forms, intensifiers, and future temporal references to match the conventions of the type of message (email, text message, instant message, or term paper) they were writing. She points out that acronyms, short forms, and non-standard spellings are not new. Many of them predated the recent surge in their use in mediated communication. For instance, the first known use of the acronym lol is said to have occurred in a letter written by Admiral John Fisher to Winston Churchill in 1917 and the variants of laughter such as haha and hehe have been part of written language since as early as 1000 CE (see Tagliamonte, 2016). Tagliamonte concludes that, across all of the analyses she conducted, young people navigated the different message channels and their corresponding spelling, grammar, and language with ease and aplomb. Critical Thinking: What is your experience navigating the grammar and language choices unique to different communication channels? Have you ever made an error or received a message that you thought was inappropriately informal or formal in terms of language, abbreviations, and grammatical structure? What factors might contribute to such missteps?

6 | Language

TAKE TWO • Phonological rules: govern how sounds are combined to form words. • Syntactic rules: govern the way symbols can be arranged. • Semantic rules: govern the meaning of statements. • Pragmatic rules: tell us what interpretations of a message are reasonable in a given situation.

fewer misunderstandings. You have an hour-long argument about feminism with a friend, only to discover that you were using the term in different ways and that you really were in basic agreement. You tease a friend in what you mean to be a playful manner, but they take you seriously and are offended. These problems occur because people attach different meanings to the same message. Ogden and Richards (1923) illustrated this point graphically in their well-known triangle of meaning (see Figure 6.3). This model shows that there is only an indirect relationship—indicated by a broken line— between a word and the thing or idea it represents.

Thought or Reference



FIGURE 6.3  Ogden and Richards’ Triangle of Meaning Source: Adapted from Ogden, Charles K. and Richards, I.A. (1946), The Meaning of meaning: A study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of symbolism, 8th edn. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, p. 11.

The Ogden and Richards model is oversimplified in that not all words refer to physical “things” or referents. For instance, some referents are abstract ideas (such as love), while others (like angry or exciting) are not even nouns. Despite these shortcomings, the triangle of meaning is useful since it clearly demonstrates an important principle: meanings are in people, not words. Hence, an important task facing communicators is to establish a common understanding of the words they use to exchange messages. In this sense, communication—at least the effective kind—requires us to negotiate the meaning of our language (Leung and Lewkowicz, 2013). This brings us back to a familiar theme: meaning is both in and among people. Language is a function of individuals who give each word unique meaning as well as cultures that create and share meaning collectively.

Language and Worldview For more than 150 years, theorists have put forth the notion of linguistic relativity—that a language both reflects and shapes the worldview of those who use it (Deutscher, 2010; Everett, 2013). For instance, bilingual speakers seem to think differently when they change languages (Cook and Bassetti, 2011). The idea that people who speak different languages organize and view their worlds differently has been supported by a variety of studies. For instance, Lera Boroditsky (2009; Boroditsky and Gaby, 2010), the cognitive psychologist whose observations about language opened this chapter, describes the Pormpuraawans, an Australian Aboriginal community, who don’t have spatial terms like right, left, back, and forward in their language. Instead they use compass directions to communicate about location (east, west, north, and south). So if you asked a Pormpuraawan where she put the keys she wouldn’t say, “On the top left shelf of the bookcase” as we might. Instead she would say, “On the northeast shelf of the bookcase.” The Pormpuraawans have developed an unbelievably good sense of direction and spatial knowledge. They always need to know where they are (in terms of compass directions) in order to communicate not only their own location,



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

but the location of anything or anyone in their world—they have no language to allow them to think about space differently. These differences in spatial terms and spatial thinking provide support for the idea that language exerts a strong influence on perceptions (Allen, 2010). Additional evidence comes from observations of bilingual speakers who seem to think differently when they change languages (Cook and Bassetti, 2011). In one study, French-Americans were asked to interpret a series of pictures. When they spoke in French, their descriptions were far more romantic and emotional than when they used English to describe the same kinds of images. Likewise, when students in Hong Kong were asked to complete a values test, they expressed more traditional Chinese values when they answered in Cantonese than when they spoke in English. In Israel, both Muslim and Jewish students saw bigger distinctions between their group and “outsiders” when using their native language than when they spoke in English, a neutral language in this context. Ex­amples like these show the power of language to shape cultural identity—sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Some languages contain terms that have no English equivalents (Wire, 2010). For example, consider a few words in other languages that have no simple translation in English: • unga (Inuktut): dependent love, especially the

love of a baby for its mother; wanting to be taken care of; it may also refer to the feeling of spouses or friends when they are apart and miss each other. • nemawashi (Japanese): the process of informally feeling out all the people involved with an issue before making a decision. • lagniappe (French/creole): an extra gift given in a transaction that wasn’t expected by the terms of a contract. • lao (Mandarin): respectful term used for older people, showing their importance in the family and in society. • dharma (Sanskrit): each person’s unique, ideal path in life, and the knowledge of how to find it.

It’s possible to imagine concepts like these without having specific words to describe them, but linguistic relatively suggests that the terms do shape the thinking and actions of people who use them. Thus, speakers of a language that includes the notion of lao would probably treat its older members respectfully, and those who are familiar with lagniappe might be more generous. The potential impact of linguistic relativity on interpersonal communication is significant. Consider the difference between the phrases “You make me angry” and “I get angry when you . . .” The first phrase says to the other person—and to ­yourself— that your anger is the other person’s fault. The second phrase is an “I” message that takes responsibility for your emotions (a concept described later in this chapter and previously in Chapter 4). Changing your language can not only help reduce defensiveness in the other person, but can also reframe how you see the situation. The same could happen for people who begin calling female adults “women” instead of “girls” (Florio, 2016), or if they refer to college undergrads as “students” rather than “kids” (Valles, 2014). You might view people differently based on the labels you use to describe them. Your words affect how you see the world.

CHECK IT! Describe four features of language and how each contributes to both the usefulness of language and the potential for misunderstandings.

The Influence of Language As linguistic relativity suggests, language can have a strong effect on our perceptions and how we regard one another. In this section, we’ll examine some of the many ways language can affect our lives.

Naming and Identity “What’s in a name?” Juliet asked rhetorically. If Romeo had been a social scientist, he would have

6 | Language

FOCUS ON RESEARCH NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF FAT TALK The language we use influences our perceptions of the world around us, including ourselves. University of Ottawa researcher Camille Guertin and her colleagues (2017, 2018) have examined the relationship between women’s body image, intrinsic health goals, selfcompassion, and their propensity to engage in “fat talk.” Fat talk is everyday conversations in which people insult themselves about their food consumption (“I ate way too much”), weight (“She’s so thin”), or body appearance (“I hate my thighs”). Both women and men engage in fat talk, but women, across all ages and all body types, do it more. While talking about weight and health concerns with others might provide some cathartic relief and might elicit support from others, it has been associated with numerous maladaptive consequences (Corning and Bucchianeri, 2016). These include elevated body concern issues, which are in turn associated with increased body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Fat talk is significantly associated with mental health issues such as depression, low self-esteem, distorted body image, and dysfunctional eating (Arroyo and Harwood, 2012; Arroyo, Segrin, and Harwood, 2014; Rudiger and Winstead, 2013; Shannon and Mills, 2015). Worse still, Guertin and her colleagues (2017) point out—it’s contagious! One woman’s fat talk causes conversational partners and even women who overhear the conversation to engage in more fat talk themselves and feel greater

answered, “A great deal.” Research has demonstrated that names are more than just a simple means of identification, that, in fact, they shape the way others think of us, the way we view ourselves, and the way we act (Lieberson, 2000). For more than a century, researchers have studied the impact of rare and unusual names on people who bear them (Christenfeld and Larsen, 2008). Early studies claimed that people with non-­normative names suffered everything from psychological and emotional disturbance to failure in college. Later studies show that people often have negative appraisals from not only unusual

­ issatisfaction about their bodies (Corning et al., 2014; d Engeln-Maddox and Salk, 2014; Gapinski et al., 2003; Jones et al., 2014; Salk and Engeln-Maddox, 2011). You can probably think of a multitude of ways media and the unbelievably profitable beauty/grooming/ weight loss industries (sometimes referred to as the “wellness economy”) perpetuate our dissatisfaction with our appearances. You might argue that fat talk is merely a “symptom” of a much larger problem. And you would be correct, but keep in mind, linguistic relativity proposes that language not only reflects the world we live in but also creates it. The research findings of Guertin and her colleagues (2018) indicate that when women are more self-compassionate (see Chapter 2) and pursue intrinsic, self-determined health related goals (e.g., “to be physically healthy”) rather than externally determined appearance goals (e.g., “to be beautiful”) they engage in less fat talk. While these results are correlational, they do suggest that developing our capacity for self-compassion and strengthening our capacity to determine our own ideas about what is attractive and desirable certainly can’t hurt. Critical Thinking: Given that fat talk is not helpful but is frequently engaged in in order to elicit support and reassurance, which of the listening response(s) described in Chapter 5 would you suggest is most appropriate to use when a friend engages in fat talk? Why?

names, but also unusual spellings (e.g., Mehrabian, 2001). Studies in Canada and the US have found discriminatory hiring practices associated with unusual names (Cotton et al., 2008; Eid, 2012; Oreoploulos and Dechief, 2011). Some people regard unique names as distinctive. You can probably think of four or five unique names—of celebrities, professional athletes, or even friends—that make the person easily recognizable and memorable. In one study, a poem signed with an unusual name was assessed as more creative than when signed by a more common name (Lebuda and Karwowski, 2013).



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

TAKE TWO Linguistic relativism: the idea that language exerts a strong influence on perceptions and thought.

Names are one way parents can steep their child in a family’s cultural heritage. In Canada, as in many countries around the world, cultural heritage is increasingly complex. Canadian census data (Statistics Canada, 2017) indicate that the number of individuals who identify as having multiple ethnicities continues to increase. Over the years, popular baby names in Canada (e.g., Ava and Liam in 2018) have also been popular south of the border. However, we have always had names that have been more popular in Canada than in the US. These “distinctly Canadian” baby name choices have typically reflected famous Canadians (e.g., Lorne, referring to Lorne Green, a popular actor in the 1960s) as well as patterns of Canadian immigration. For instance, during the 1950s and 1960s Italian names such as Paolo, Franco, Giovanna, and Antonietta were distinctly common in Canada. Currently there is greater diversity in baby names in general but South Asian names such as Zahra and Armaan and Middle Eastern names like Syed and Zainab are considered “distinctly Canadian” in terms of their prevalence in Canada compared to the US (Motskin et al., 2017). Karen Pennesi, (2016, 2017) a professor at Western University, studies the role language plays in the construction of our individual and group identities. Her work has explored the diversity of names in Canada and she argues that accommodating more diversity in naming in Canada would help to create a more welcoming society and a greater sense of belonging among immigrants and minorities. Increasingly newcomers to Canada choose to keep their given names rather than adopt a more traditional “Canadianized” Anglo or French name. This is important for a variety of reasons not the least of which is the centrality of our given names to our identities. As one of the participants in Pennesi’s (2016) research said:

The name is not just name. It’s your—the first thing you hear when you’re a baby. It’s part of you. To change it is not easy. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem right. You don’t hear it right. It hurts. (p. 58)

Pennesi (2016, 2017) argues that by keeping their given names, and having Canadians learn to pronounce them, immigrants share the responsibility of their integration with the host society. Participants in her study were generally not offended when people mispronounced their names. The important thing was people tried to learn the correct pronunciation rather than “rename” them or suggest a “nickname.” Again, a participant in Pennesi’s study, named Mahilla, who immigrated to Canada as an adult provides an example of this discourteous and disrespectful practice. Well that doesn’t bother me [if people mispronounce my name]. What bothers me is when people [say], ‘‘Oh, I can’t pronounce your name so I’m gonna call you Molly or Margaret.’’ When I was teaching as a term position at a Canadian university the department head decided, oh my name was too difficult to remember. It is three, um three, ah syllables. So, he was going to give me the nickname Molly and I said, ‘‘You can name me whatever you want but [that] doesn’t require me to answer.’’

Some newcomers to Canada do decide to adopt a traditional Anglo or French name (of their own choosing) for a variety of reasons. For instance, TaeYoung Kim (2007) interviewed Korean immigrants to Toronto and found that those who adopted a Canadian name often did so to loosen their ties to the Korean community in Toronto and establish a new peer network. These people chose not to provide their original Korean names even when they were socializing with fellow Korean immigrants. They explained they wanted their new Canadian identities to feature more prominently. As we discussed in Chapter 2, identity development and maintenance is a complex process, deeply rooted in interpersonal communication, and the names people use to identify themselves are integral to that process. Skilled communicators respect people’s choices.

6 | Language


Credibility and Status

sensitive to any confusion their accents might create (Au et al., 2017; Derwing, 2003). In one study, The words we use and the way we pronounce them when a native speaker asked for clarification or rephave a strong influence on whether others accept etition of something they had said, accented speakor reject our ideas. Although, strictly speaking, ers were more likely to feel embarrassed, annoyed, accents are considered non-verbal communica- more socially anxious, and less confident compared tion (see Chapter 7 for definition), we discuss them to accented speakers who had been similarly interhere because they can also be related to language rupted but asked questions that had nothing to do comprehension. A significant amount of research with the clarity of their speech (Au et al., 2017). shows that speaking with a strong foreign accent Finally, there is evidence that bilingualism is assois associated with a variety of negative stereotypes ciated with greater cognitive flexibility, which, as (Derwing and Munro, 2009b), even when speak- we’ll discuss in Chapter 10, is related to effective ers communicate their main ideas successfully conflict resolution skills (Bialystok, 2009). This sug(Gluszek and Dovidio, 2010). People can speak with gests that those speaking with an accent may frea heavy accent and be completely intelligible and quently have better interpersonal communication easy to understand (Munro and Derwing, 2015). skills than many of the unilingual native speakHowever, accented speakers are often judged as ers judging them negatively! Of course, bilingual being less competent, less intelligent, less loyal and people are just as susceptible to accent-based biases trustworthy, and less attractive than native English in their perceptions as unilingual individuals are speakers (Fuertes et al., 2012; Gluszek and Dovidio, but by becoming aware of our perceptual biases, 2010; Hanzlikova and Skarnitzl, 2017; Timming, we’re better equipped to overcome them. 2017). Like many of our perceptual preferences and Vocabulary is also important in shaping percepprejudices (see Chapter 3), our biases against speak- tions. Scholarly speaking is a good example of this ers with a strong foreign accent are often uncon- phenomenon. One illustration comes from a now scious (Pantos and Perkins, 2013). This can make classic study referred to as the “Dr Fox” research these biases difficult to overcome. Research also (Naftulin et al., 1973; Peer and Babad, 2014; Ware and suggests that non-native English speakers are quite Williams, 1980). This research involved Dr Myron L. Fox, who delivered a talk followed by a half-hour discussion on “mathematical game theory as applied to physical education.” The original audience included psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and educators (Naftulin et al., 1973); and a more recent audience (who saw a film of the original Dr Fox lecture) included both undergraduate and graduate students (Peer and Babad, 2014). Questionnaires, collected after the sessions back in the 1970s and after the more recent sessions, revealed that these educated listeners found the lecture thought provoking. Their perceptions of How do accent and vocabulary influence your perception and understanding Dr Fox were very positive. of the characters?



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

The remarkable thing was that Fox was a complete fraud! He was a professional actor who had been coached by researchers to deliver a lecture of double-talk—a patchwork of information from a Scientific American article mixed with jokes, non-sequiturs, contradictory statements, and meaningless references to unrelated topics. When wrapped in a linguistic package of high-level, sophisticated professional jargon, and delivered by an engaging, humorous, and well-spoken person, the meaningless gobbledygook was judged favourably. In other words, Fox’s credibility came more from his vocabulary and style of speaking than from the ideas he expressed.

REFLECTION ACCENTS AND SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECIES My mother-in-law came to Canada from Italy with her husband and children about 50 years ago. The family settled in an Italian-Canadian community and she was able to continue to speak Italian in order to manage the household and raise her family. Her husband and kids all learned to speak English but she did not. As the only non-Italianspeaking in-law in this big, warm, tightknit family, this posed some communication challenges. I quickly figured out her receptive English vocabulary was very good and when it was just the two of us, she would speak a bit of English and I would muddle along with my rudimentary Italian and we could understand each other. I noticed she never spoke English in front of her husband and children. I was puzzled. I pushed my husband to tell me why this was and discovered that in her early days in Canada, she tried speaking English and her young and much more fluent children teased her about her pronunciation. She immediately lost confidence and quit trying—believing that she could never be as fluent as her children. I was shocked that good-natured teasing could have such a negative impact on a person’s beliefs about themselves and I resolved to never make fun of people’s accents or pronunciations.

Affiliation Accent and vocabulary are not the only ways in which language reflects the status of relationships. An impressive body of research has shown how language can build and demonstrate solidarity with others. Communicators adapt their speech in a variety of ways to indicate affiliation and accommodation, including through their choice of vocabulary, rate of talking, number and placement of pauses, and level of politeness (Giles, 2016). In one study, the likelihood of mutual romantic interest increased when conversation partners’ use of pronouns, articles, conjunctions, prepositions, and negations matched (Ireland et al., 2011). The same study revealed that when couples use similar language styles while instant messaging, the ­chances of their relationship continuing increased by almost 50 per cent. Close friends and lovers often develop a set of special terms that serve as a way of signifying their relationship (Dunleavy and Booth-Butterfield, 2009). Using the same vocabulary serves to set these people apart from others. The same process works among members of larger groups, ranging from online communities to street gangs and military units. Convergence is the process of adapting one’s speech style to match that of others with whom the communicator wants to identify (Dragojevic et al., 2016). Language matching creates bonds not only between friends but also between strangers online (Rains, 2016; Riordan et al., 2013). When two or more people feel equally positive about one another, their linguistic convergence will be mutual. But when one communicator wants or needs approval, convergence is more one-sided (Muir et al., 216). We see this process when employees seeking advancement start speaking more like their superiors. One study even showed that adopting the swearing patterns of bosses and co-workers in emails is a sign that an employee is fitting into an organization’s culture (Lublin, 2017). The principle of speech accommodation works in reverse too. Communicators who want to set themselves apart from others adopt the strategy of divergence, that is, speaking in a way that emphasizes their differences (Gasiorek and Vincze, 2016).

6 | Language

TAKE TWO • Convergence: the process of adapting one’s speech style to that of others with whom the communicator wants to identify. • Divergence: the process of adapting one’s speech in ways that emphasize differences between the speaker and others from whom the speaker wants to distance him or herself.

For example, members of an ethnic group, even though fluent in the dominant language, might use their own dialect as a way of showing solidarity with one another. Divergence also occurs in other settings. For example, a physician or lawyer might speak formally and use professional jargon to create a sense of distance from their clients. The same can occur across age lines, such as teens who adopt slang of subcultures other than their own to show divergence from adults (Reyes, 2005). Of course, communicators need to be careful about when not to converge their language. For example, using ethnic or racial epithets when you are not a member of that in-group may be inappropriate and even offensive (O’Dea et al., 2015).

Power and Politeness Communication researchers have identified a number of language patterns that communicate more or less power (Dillard, 2014; Hosman and Siltanen, 2006). Notice the difference between these two statements from an employee to a manager: “Excuse me, sir. I hate to say this, but I . . . uh . . . I guess I won’t be able to finish the project on time. I had a personal emergency and . . . well . . . it was just impossible to finish it by today. I’ll have it to you first thing on Monday, okay?” “I won’t be able to turn in the project on time. I had a personal emergency and it was impossible to finish it by today. I’ll have it to you first thing on Monday.”

The first statement is an example of what has been called powerless language: tentative and indirect word choices, with hedges and hesitations (“Excuse me; sir”; I guess”; “okay?”). The second is labelled powerful language: direct and forceful word choices, with declarations and assertions (“I won’t”; “I will”). Table 6.1 lists several powerless speech mannerisms illustrated in the first statement you just read. It should be noted that the last example in Table 6.1, disclaimers, which are attempts to distance a speaker from unwelcome remarks (e.g., “I don’t mean to sound judgmental but, . . . .”) can actually increase negative judgments (El-Alayli et al., 2008). Disclaimers involving arrogance, laziness, or selfishness (e.g., “I don’t mean to sound arrogant . . .”) also backfire because they sensitize listeners to look for—and find—precisely the qualities the speaker is trying to disavow. A number of studies have shown that speakers who use powerful language are rated as more competent, dynamic, and attractive than speakers who sound powerless (Ng and Bradac, 1993; Reid and Ng, 1999). In addition, when it comes to employment interview outcomes, a powerful speech style results in more positive attributions of competence and employability than a powerless one (Parton et al., 2002). Some communication scholars argue that what we have labelled “powerless” language is actually the speech less powerful people use to get their ideas across (Orbe and Bruess, 2005). When there is inequity in power, it’s not necessarily powerless language that puts one communicator at a disadvantage but rather the power imbalance itself. Women frequently report experiencing power imbalances in male dominated workplace meetings. They describe being interrupted more frequently and having their ideas regularly ignored. While using more assertive and powerful language can help reduce these kinds of power imbalances some researchers suggest that reducing inequity is a team effort. Joanne Lipman (2018) suggests having colleagues who interrupt the “interrupters” and who repeat or amplify the ideas less powerful people present in order to ensure they’re considered can help level the playing field and ensure everyone is heard.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Additionally, some experts question the label “powerless” because tentative and indirect speech styles can sometimes achieve goals better than more assertive approaches (Lee and Pinker, 2010). For example, less forceful approaches can be attempts at politeness: communicating in ways that save face for both senders and receivers. Politeness is valued in some cultures more than others (Dunn, 2013). In Japan, saving face for others is an important goal, so communicators there tend to speak in ambiguous terms and use hedge words and qualifiers. In most Japanese sentences, the verb comes at the end of the sentence, so the action part of the statement can be postponed. Traditional Mexican culture, with its strong emphasis on co-operation, also uses hedging to smooth over interpersonal relationships. By not taking a firm stand with their speech mannerisms, Mexicans believe they will not make others feel ill at ease. Some Canadian Indigenous groups and Koreans are two other cultural groups that prefer “indirect” (e.g., using perhaps or could be) over “direct” speech. Even in North American culture, simply counting the number of powerful or powerless statements will not always reveal who has the most control

in a relationship. Social rules often mask the real distribution of power. A manager who wants to be pleasant might say to an assistant, “Would you mind getting this file?” In truth, both manager and assistant know this is an order and not a request, but the questioning form makes the medicine less bitter. Sociolinguist Deborah Tannen (1994, p. 101) describes how politeness can be a face-saving way of delivering an order: I hear myself giving instructions to my assistants without actually issuing orders: “Maybe it would be a good idea to . . .” “It would be great if you could . . .” all the while knowing that I expect them to do what I’ve asked right away. . . . This rarely creates problems, though, because the people who work for me know that there is only one reason I mention tasks—because I want them done. I like giving instructions in this way; it appeals to my sense of what it means to be a good person . . . taking others’ feelings into account.

As this quotation suggests, high-status speakers—especially higher-status women, according to Tannen—often realize that politeness is an effective way to get their needs met while protecting the

TABLE 6.1  Examples of Less Powerful Language Type of Language


More Empowering Alternative

Hedges and limiting qualifiers

“I’m kinda disappointed . . .” “I think, maybe we should . . .” “I guess I’d like to . . .”

“I’m disappointed.” “We should . . .” “I would like to . . .”


“Uh, may I have a minute of your time?” “Well, we could try this idea . . .” “I wish you would . . . er . . . try to be on time.”

“May I have a minute of your time?” “We could try this idea.” “I wish you would try to be on time.”


“So that’s how I feel.” “I’m not very hungry.”

“That’s how I feel.” “I’m not hungry.”

Overly polite forms

“Excuse me, sir, may I bother you for a second and ask you a question . . .”

“Excuse me, I have a question.”

Tag questions

“It’s about time we got started, isn’t it?” “Don’t you think we should give it another try?”

“It’s about time we got started.” “We should give it another try.”


“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I think you’re overreacting.”

“I think you’re overreacting.”

SOURCE: Adapted from Adler, R.B. and Elmhorst, J. (2010). Communicating at work: Principles and practices for business and the professions, 10th edn. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 29.

6 | Language

dignity of the less powerful person. The importance of achieving both content and relational goals helps explain why a mixture of powerful and polite speech is usually most effective (Geddes, 1992). The  key is to be able to adapt your style to your conversational partner (Loyd et al., 2010). If the other person misinterprets politeness for weakness, it may be necessary to shift to a more powerful speaking style. Conversely, in some situations powerful speech can be perceived as insensitive and overbearing and a less powerful approach is what is needed (Fandrich and Beck, 2012). We’ll discuss power and control issues further in our examination of communication climates in Chapter 9. As always, competent communication requires flexibility and adaptability.

CHECK IT! Describe six less powerful speech mannerisms and provide an example of each.

Sexism Sexist language “includes words, phrases, and expressions that unnecessarily differentiate between females and males or exclude, trivialize, or diminish” either sex (Parks and Robertson, 2000, p. 415). This type of speech can affect the ­self-concepts of women and men, often in subtle ways. Suzanne Romaine (1999) offers several ex­amples of how linguistic terms can stereotype men and women. To say that a woman mothered her children focuses on her nurturing behaviour, but to say that a man fathered a child talks only about his biological role. We are familiar with terms like working mother, but there is no term working father because we assume (perhaps inaccurately) that men are the breadwinners in families. Beyond just stereotyping women, sexist language can stigmatize women. For example, the term unmarried mother is common, but we do not talk about unmarried fathers because for many people, there is no stigma attached to this status for men. And whereas there are over 200 English

words for promiscuous women, there are only 20 for men (Piercy, 2000). In addition to people’s attitudes towards women, education and perspective taking predict their attitudes regarding non-sexist language (Parks and Roberton, 2008). More years of formal education, in academic settings or in specialized settings such as learning to be a plumber or an electrician, is predictive of positive attitudes toward the use of non-sexist language. Similarly, people who are better able to see things from the perspective of others have been found to have a more receptive attitude towards using inclusive language (Parks and Roberton, 2008). One way to eliminate sexist language is by eliminating sex-specific terms or substituting neutral terms (Lei, 2006; Rakow, 1992). For example, using plural pronouns (e.g., they, theirs, them) in sentence constructions eliminates the necessity for gender specific pronouns (e.g., he and she, his and hers, him and her, etc.). You may have noticed that, in this book, we often use a singular they pronoun in place of the standard he or she in an effort to choose language that is as inclusive as possible and facilitate the most effective communication with readers. In fact, as discussed in Chapter 2, they has become the pronoun of choice for many individuals ­(Airton, 2018; Hess, 2016). When words are unnecessarily gender specific, you can substitute neutral terms. For example: mankind may be replaced with humankind, humanity, human beings, human race, and people; man-made may be replaced with artificial, manufactured, and synthetic; manpower may be replaced with labour, workers, and workforce; and manhood may be replaced with adulthood. In the same way, mailmen are letter carriers and postal workers; firemen and firewomen are firefighters; chairmen and chairwomen are presiding officers, leaders, and chairs; foremen and forewomen are supervisors; policemen and policewomen are police officers; and stewardesses and stewards are flight attendants. Of course, some terms refer to things that could not possibly have a sex; so, for example, a manhole cover should be called a sewer lid. Research suggests that while gender-neutral language helps to reduce our stereotypical perceptions of previously male dominated occupations (e.g., entrepreneur instead of businessman, news anchor instead of anchorman) it doesn’t ­completely



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

eliminate the male bias we have (Lassonde and O’Brien, 2013; Sczesny et al., 2016). Author Joanne Lipman (2018) argues that being male is the norm and being female is the outlier. She points out that in European and Asian languages the default form of any word is male. In creating an alternate form to make a female equivalent we add “esse” or “ette” (e.g., steward and stewardess or star and starlet). Lipman argues the male version is taken more seriously and to make her point she jokes that few of us would want to be operated on by a “surgeonette.” Obviously, increased exposure to women in stereotypically male occupations (as well as men in stereotypical female occupations) helps and so does changing the ways we speak. Another more controversial approach to eliminating sexism is clearly marking sex—to heighten awareness of whether the reference is to a female or a male especially in traditionally male or fe­male dominated professions. For example, orthopaedic surgery is a male dominated medical speciality so rather than use the neutral surgeon substitute female surgeon. Nursing is traditionally a female dominated profession so rather than using, the neutral nurse substitute male nurse. Although this approach has been shown to increase non sex-stereotyped imagery (Gustafsson et al., 2015), it also has been criticized for reinforcing gender binaries (as discussed in Chapter 2).

Sexual Orientation Eliminating language that discriminates against LGBTQ+ people is an equally important and challenging task (Stonefish and Lafreniere, 2015). In their study of men’s use of anti-gay insults at the University of Calgary, Tyler Brown and Kevin Alderson (2010) found that men used an abundance of homosexual insults to joke with and pressure their peers, and that only about one-quarter of the men surveyed said they would never use the term fag or faggot to insult another person. The men surveyed also revealed that they rarely if ever believed that the person they were insulting was in fact gay. Brown and Alderson speculate that using what they refer to as homosexual insults may help to create a feeling of inclusion among men and

may serve as an indicator of greater masculinity to heterosexual women. Similarly, in their analysis of the use of the hashtag #nohomo on Twitter, Pascoe and Diefendorf (2019) found it was rarely used in a negative emotional context. Most frequently, #nohomo was used by men when expressing positive emotions and opinions about a wide variety of topics (e.g., movies, music, appearance of other men, celebrities, athletes, friendships, etc.). They argue that the use of #nohomo serves to delineate boundaries between stereotypically masculine and non-masculine behaviour, and their usage reveals the homophobic stereotypes and anxieties that serve as organizing principles of contemporary masculinity. Regardless of why people use these insults, they are offensive and contribute to the stigma and stress LGBTQ+ people experience (Burn et al., 2005; Ecker et al., 2015; Stonefish and Lafrenier, 2015). When confronted with discriminatory language, people often don’t feel they know what to do or say. In a study of recently graduated teachers who were faced with anti-LGBTQ+ language in the classroom, researchers found that by their responses, teachers could be categorized into four main groups: avoiders, hesitators, confronters, and interrogators (Zack et al., 2010). The majority of teachers interviewed were hesitators, but a few confident interrogators used the situation to ask questions and explore students’ understanding of the words they chose and the larger consequences of their choices. Lisa van Leent (2016) found Australian teachers’ responses to diverse sexualities in school fell into similar categories. Canadian scholar Catherine Taylor (2016) and her colleagues suggest Canadian teachers need more support to ensure our schools are LGBTQ+-inclusive. Brian Payne (2010), a high school art teacher, found that students often misused the terms gay and retarded when discussing art, and he made a point of addressing the hurtful nature of these terms and how using these words to describe things they found gauche, awkward, or uncomfortable made them seem unintelligent. He found that by talking openly about students’ choice of words, he not only helped to raise their consciousness, but also improved their vocabularies.

6 | Language



How often do you hear biases like sexist language, sexually prejudiced language, and racist language in the language of people around you? How often do you use them yourself?

Whereas sexist language usually defines the world as made up of superior men and inferior women, and sexually prejudiced language usually implies that heterosexuality is superior to any other sexual orientation, racist language reflects a worldview that classifies members of one racial group as superior and others as inferior (Asante, 2002). Not all language that might have racist overtones is deliberate. For example, the connotations

SELF-ASSESSMENT SEXIST LANGUAGE Section I For each of the following statements, rate your agreement or disagreement on a scale ranging from 1 to 5, where 1 = “strongly disagree” and 5 = “strongly agree.”  1. W  omen who think that being called a chairman is sexist are misinterpreting the word.  2. Worrying about sexist language is a trivial activity.  3. If the original meaning of he was “person,” we should continue to use he to refer to both males and females today.  4. The elimination of sexist language is an important goal.  5. Sexist language is related to the sexist treatment of people in society.  6. When teachers talk about the history of Canada, they should change expressions such as our forefathers to expressions that include women.  7. Teachers who require students to use non-sexist language are unfairly forcing their political views on their students. Section II For each of the following statements, rate your willingness on a scale ranging from 1 to 5, where 1 = “very unwilling” and 5 = “very willing.”

 8. W  hen you are referring to a married woman, how willing are you to use the title “Ms Smith” rather than “Mrs Smith”?  9. How willing are you to use the word “server” rather than “waiter” or “waitress”?  10. How willing are you to use the expression “husband and wife” rather than “man and wife”?  11. How willing are you to use the term “flight attendant” instead of “steward” or “stewardess”? Total = ______. Add your responses to the 11 statements, making sure to reverse-score (i.e., 5 = 1, 4 = 2, 3 = 3, 2 = 4, and 1 = 5) statements 1, 2, and 3. Scores can range from 11 to 55, and scores that are 38 or higher reflect a supportive attitude towards non-­sexist language; and scores between 28 and 37 reflect a neutral attitude. Scholars note that women are typically less tolerant of sexist language than are men, which may have an impact on these scores (Douglas and Sutton, 2014). SOURCE: This “Self-Assessment” box contains 11 of the 21 items on the Inventory of Attitudes toward Sexist/Nonsexist Language-General, developed by Parks and Robertson (2000).


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

of many words favour white people over people of colour (Smith-McLallen et al., 2006; Pfeifer, 2009). Words and images associated with white are usually positive, whether it’s the cowboy hero in white clothing or connotations of white as “pure,” “clean,” “honourable,” “innocent,” “bright,” and “shiny.” The words and images associated with black are often negative, a concept that reaches from the black hat of the villain cowboy and the black cat that causes bad luck to words and phrases like black market, blackball, and blacklist. An obvious step toward eliminating racist language is to make sure your communication is free of offensive labels and slurs (Guerin, 2003). Some troublesome language will be easy to identify, while other problematic speech will be more subtle. For instance, you may use racial, ethnic, or sexuality-related modifiers unconsciously when describing others, think of specifying black professor or Pakistani merchant or lesbian poet. Modifiers like these usually are not necessary, and they can be subtle indicators of prejudiced language. If you wouldn’t use the phrases white professor, European merchant, or heterosexual poet, then modifiers that identify race, ethnic origin, and sexual orientation may be indicators of attitudes and language that need to be changed.

Uses (and Abuses) of Language

need language skills to make our ideas understandable to others. Sometimes, however, we want to be less than perfectly clear. In the following pages, we’ll point out some cases where vagueness serves useful purposes as well as cases where complete understanding is the goal.

Ambiguous Language Ambiguous language consists of words and phrases that have more than one commonly accepted definition. Some ambiguous language is amusing, as the following newspaper headlines illustrate: Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers Teacher Strikes Idle Kids 20-Year Friendship Ends at the Altar

Many misunderstandings that arise from ambiguity are trivial. Other misunderstandings involving ambiguous messages can be more serious. A nurse gave one of his patients a scare when he told her that she “would not be needing” her robe, books, and toiletries any more. The patient became quiet and moody. When the nurse inquired about the odd behaviour, he discovered that the poor woman had interpreted his statement to mean she was going to die soon. In fact, the nurse meant she would be going home shortly.

By now, it’s apparent that language can shape the way we perceive and understand the world. Next, we’ll look at some specific types of usage and examine both their value and the problems they can cause.

Precision and Vagueness Most people assume that the goal of language is to make our ideas clear to one another. When clarity is the goal, we

Sask Pork


6 | Language

REFLECTION CALLING OUT HOMOPHOBIA—WE’RE ALL ON THE SAME TEAM I have three siblings, all of whom are really into sports, especially hockey and lacrosse. Going to their games and hanging out with them has exposed me to lots of swearing and unsavoury language and none of it really bothers me except using gay or fag as an insult. My brothers have said it’s just a word and it comes out before they think about it as part of “jock” culture. But I think it’s so unbelievably hurtful in so many ways, not the least of which is because chances are somebody playing on their team is gay or bisexual or trans or two-spirted! These guys are a tight knit crew and I really don’t think they want to be that unbelievably insensitive and mean to a teammate, so I call them on it. Language matters. It’s wrong.

and embarrassment by being deliberately unclear (Eisenberg and Witten, 1987). If a friend apologizes for arriving late for a date, you can choose to brush off the incident instead of making it an issue by saying, “Don’t worry. It wasn’t the end of the world”—a true statement, but less specific than saying, “To tell you the truth, I was mad at the time, but I’ve cooled off now.” If your manager asks your opinion of a new idea that you think is weaker than your own approach, but you don’t want to disagree, you could respond with a higher-level abstraction by saying, “I never thought of it that way.” Although vagueness does have its uses, highly abstract language can cause several types of problems. At the most basic level, the vagueness of some abstract language makes it hard to understand the meaning of a message. Telling the hairstylist “shorter” or “more casual” might produce the look you want, or it might lead to an unpleasant surprise.



It’s difficult to catch and clarify every instance of ambiguous language. For this reason, the responsibility for interpreting statements accurately rests in large part with the receiver. Feedback of one sort or another—for example, paraphrasing and questioning—can help clear up misunderstandings: “You say you love me, but you want to see other people. In my book, ‘love’ is exclusive. What about you?”

You need to be more positive.

You need to complain less.



You need to complain less about working too hard.


Abstractions are convenient ways of generalizing about similarities between several objects, people, ideas, or events. Figure 6.4 shows an abstraction ladder that illustrates how to describe the same phenomenon at various levels of abstraction. We use higher-level abstractions all the time. For instance, rather than saying, “Thanks for washing the dishes,” “Thanks for vacuuming the rug,” and “Thanks for making the bed,” it’s easier to say, “Thanks for cleaning up.” In such everyday situations, abstractions are a useful kind of verbal shorthand. High-level abstractions also can help communicators find face-saving ways to avoid confrontations

You need to have a better attitude.

You need to quit complaining every time we have to work late or come in on weekends.

FIGURE 6.4  Abstraction Ladder In this example, a supervisor gives feedback to an employee about career advancement at various levels of specificity.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

BUILDING WORK SKILLS REDUCING ABSTRACT LANGUAGE A significant amount of work-related communication consists of stating goals, making requests of others, talking about work-related problems, and complaining! No matter what type of career you have in mind, this will probably be true. Think about using language at work in one of the following ways. Perhaps you need to make a request of a colleague or someone who reports to you, or you need to give them some negative feedback (criticism) about their work. Write down what you might say and then take a look at the examples in Table 6.2, Reducing Abstraction in Your Descriptions, which show how to examine language for abstraction and how to correct for it. The same techniques can help you decide whether you’ve found the right balance between behavioural description and abstract description. How did you do? Could you improve your request or your criticism? How?

You might assume abstract statements will soften the blow of critical messages, but research suggests that isn’t always the case. People who use vague language to describe others’ negative actions are rated as less likeable than those who use concrete language (Douglas and Sutton, 2010). By describing another person’s behaviour in abstract terms you may appear to have a hidden agenda. The effect was not found, however, when describing the positive behaviours of others. Overly abstract language can also lead to stereotyping, as with someone who has had one bad experience and, as a result, blames an entire group: “Marriage counsellors are worthless,” “Torontonians are all rude,” or “Men are no good.” Overly abstract expressions like these can cause people to think in generalities, ignoring uniqueness. Besides narrowing your own options, excessively abstract language can also confuse others. Overly abstract language can lead to more serious problems. For instance, accusations of sexual assault can arise because one person claims not to have consented when the other person insists they did. In response to this sort of disagreement, specific rules of sexual conduct have become more common in workplaces and educational institutions. For instance, Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (2016), requires all post-secondary institutions in Ontario to have published sexual violence policy and protocols, and trained employees able to respond to and address incidents and complaints of sexual violence. These policies and protocols use

low-level abstractions to minimize the chances of anyone claiming confusion about a partner’s willingness or consent. An example of how consent is defined is provided below: Consent: The voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question. It is the act of willingly agreeing to engage in specific sexual behaviour, and requires that a person is able to freely choose between two options: yes and no. This means that there must be an understandable exchange of affirmative words which indicates a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity. It is also imperative that everyone understands the following: • Silence or non-communication must never be interpreted as consent and a person in a state of diminished judgment cannot consent. • A person is incapable of giving consent if she/ he is asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unable to communicate. • A person who has been threatened or coerced (i.e., is not agreeing voluntarily) into engaging in the sexual activity is not consenting to it. • A person who is drugged is unable to consent. • A person is usually unable to give consent when she/he is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. • A person may be unable to give consent if she/ he has a mental disability.

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• The fact that consent was given in the past to a sexual or dating relationship does not mean that consent is deemed to exist for all future sexual activity. • A person can withdraw consent at any time during the course of a sexual encounter. A person may be incapable of giving consent to a person in a position of trust, power or authority. Any sexual relationship between an employee and a student, where the employee teaches or has professional contact with the student as part of their employment responsibilities, is prohibited. Any sexual relationship between an employee with supervising responsibilities and an emp­loyee who reports to them, directly or indirectly, must be reported to their manager and Human Re­sources who will work with the parties to address any potential conflict of interest. • Consent cannot be given on behalf of another person. • It is the responsibility of the initiator of sexual activity to obtain clear and affirmative responses at all stages of sexual engagement.

Low-level abstractions can reduce the chances of a serious misunderstanding. Specific language may not be desirable or necessary in many situations, but in this context it’s useful to ensure a shared understanding of exactly what constitutes voluntary participation and what is an abuse of power. You can make your language—and your ­thinking—less abstract and more clear by learning to make behavioural descriptions of your problems, goals, appreciations, complaints, and requests. We use the word behavioural because such descriptions move down the abstraction ladder to describe the specific, observable objects and actions we’re ­thinking about. Table 6.2 shows how behavioural descriptions are much more clear and effective than vague, abstract statements.

Euphemism A euphemism (from a Greek word meaning “to use words of good omen”) is an innocuous term

substituted for a blunt one. A euphemism avoids a direct, literal reference to an event (such as “She died”), substituting terms describing its consequences (“She’s no longer with us”); related events (“She took her last breath”); metaphors (“She jumped the last hurdle”); or other, more abstract associations (McGlone et al., 2006). Euphemisms typically soften the impact of information that might be unpleasant, both for oneself and for the other person (McCallum and McGlone, 2011). It’s easy to imagine how a relational breakup might be easier to handle with the explanation, “I’m not ready for commitment” than with “I want to date other people.” We tend to use euphemisms more when talking to people of higher status, probably as a way to avoid offending them (Makin, 2004). When choosing how to broach difficult subjects, the challenge is to be as kind as possible without sacrificing either your integrity or the clarity of your message.

Relative Language Relative language gains meaning by comparison. For example, do you attend a large or a small school? This depends on what you compare it to. Compared to the University of Toronto, with over 90,000 students, your university or college may look small, but when compared with a smaller institution, it may seem quite large. Relative words such as fast and slow, smart and stupid, short and long are clearly defined only through comparison. Using relative terms without explaining them can lead to communication problems. Have you ever answered someone’s question about the weather by saying it was warm, only to find out the person thought it was cold? Have you followed a friend’s advice and gone to a “cheap” restaurant, only to find that it was twice as expensive as you expected? Did classes you heard were “easy” turn out to be hard? The problem in each case resulted from failing to link the relative word to a more measurable term. One way to make words more measurable is to turn them into numbers. Health care practitioners have found that by having patients rate their pain on a 10-point scale (with 1 representing



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

TABLE 6.2  Reducing Abstraction in Your Descriptions Behavioural Description Abstract Description

Who Is Involved

In What Circumstances

Specific Behaviour

Behavioural Description


I’m no good at meeting strangers.

People I’d like to date

At parties and in school

I think, “They’d never want to date me.” Also, I don’t initiate conversations.

Behavioural description more clearly identifies thoughts and behaviour to change.


I’d like to be more assertive.

Phone and door-to-door solicitors

When I don’t want the product or can’t afford it

Instead of apologizing, I want to keep saying, “I’m not interested” until they go away.

Behavioural description clearly outlines how to act; abstract description does not.


“You’ve been a great supervisor.”

(No clarification When I’ve necessary) needed to change my schedule because of school exams or assignments

“You’ve been so willing to rearrange my work schedule.”

Give both abstract and behavioural descriptions for best results.


“I don’t like some of the instructors around here.”

Professors A and B

In class, when students ask questions, the professors think they are stupid

They either answer in a sarcastic voice (you might demonstrate) or accuse us of not studying hard enough.

If talking to A or B, use only behavioural description. With others, use both abstract and behavioural descriptions.


“Quit bothering me!”

You and your friends X and Y

When I’m studying for exams

“Instead of asking me again and again to party with you, I wish you’d accept that I need to study tonight.”

Behavioural description will reduce defensiveness and make it clear that you don’t always want to be left alone.

no pain and 10 representing the worst possible pain) they can more accurately gage others’ pain (Chuang et al., 2014). Numerical ratings are used to make words more measurable in everything from restaurant and movie reviews to student satisfaction.

Evaluative Language Evaluative language (sometimes called ­ emotive language) seems to describe something, but really announces the speaker’s attitude toward it (Macagno and Walton, 2010; Richards, 1948). If you approve of

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a friend’s roundabout approach to a difficult subject, you might call her “tactful”; if you don’t like it, you might accuse her of “beating around the bush.” You can appreciate that evaluative words are really editorial statements when you consider these examples: If You Approve, Say

If You Disapprove, Say















The Language of Responsibility Besides providing a way to make the content of a message clear or obscure, language reflects the speaker’s willingness to take responsibility for their beliefs, feelings, and actions. This acceptance or rejection of responsibility says a great deal about

the speaker, and it can shape the tone of a relationship. To see how, read on.

“It” Statements Notice the difference between the sentences of each set: “It bothers me when you’re late.” “I’m worried when you’re late.” “It’s a problem.” “I see it as a problem.” “It’s a boring class.” “I’m bored in the class.”

As the name implies, an “it” statement replaces the personal pronoun I with the less immediate construction it. By contrast, “I” language clearly identifies the speaker as the source of a message. Communicators who use “it” statements avoid responsibility for ownership of a message. This habit is not just imprecise; more importantly, it’s an unconscious way to avoid taking a position.

“But” Statements

TAKE TWO • Ambiguous language: words and phrases that have more than one commonly accepted definition • Abstractions: convenient ways of generalizing similarities between several objects, people, ideas, or events. • Advantages: provide an easy shorthand; help avoid confrontations and embarrassment. • Disadvantages: can lead to stereotyping; can confuse others. • Euphemisms: innocuous terms substituted for blunt ones (e.g., between jobs instead of unemployed). • Relative language: words that gain meaning by comparison (e.g., fast, short). • Evaluative language: (also called emotive language) appears to describe something but actually announces speakers’ attitude towards it

Statements that take the form “X-but-Y” can be quite confusing. A closer look at the “but” statement explains why. But has the effect of cancelling the thought that precedes it: “You’re really a great person, but I think we ought to stop seeing each other.” “You’ve done good work for us, but we’re going to have to let you go.” “This paper has some good ideas, but I’m giving it a ‘D’ because it’s late.”

“Buts” can, however, be a face-saving strategy worth using at times. When the goal is to be absolutely clear, however, the most responsible approach will deliver the central idea without the distractions that can come with “but” statements. Break statements such as the preceding ones into two sentences, and then explain each one as necessary. Doing so allows you to acknowledge both parts of the statement without contradicting yourself.




PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

“You” language is likely to arouse defensiveness. It implies that the speaker is qualified to judge the target—not an idea that most listeners are willing to accept, even when the evaluation is correct. “I” language offers a more accurate and less provocative way to express a complaint (Simmons et al., 2005). By using “I” language, you can describe your reaction to someone’s behaviour, taking responsibility for your statement without expressing judgment. Communicators who use these kinds of “I” mes­ sages engage in assertiveness— clearly expressing thoughts, feelings, and wants (Alberti and Emmons, 2008). Assertive messages are composed of three different types of “I” statements. One describes Though we might describe people as being nervous or attention-seeking just the other person’s behaviour, like we describe the colour of their eyes, people are rarely that unchanging. one describes your feelings, and one describes the consequences How would your friends describe you? Are you like that all of the time? the other’s behaviour has for you. Here are some examples of complete assertive “I,” “You,” and “We” Language messages: We’ve already seen that “I” language is a way of “I get embarrassed [your feeling] when I hear you accepting responsibility for a message. “You” lantalk about my bad grades in front of our friends guage, by contrast, expresses a judgment of the other [the behaviour you observed]. I’m afraid they’ll person. Positive judgments (“You did a great job!”) think I’m stupid [the possible consequence].” rarely cause problems, but notice how each of the “Because I was waiting for you to pick me up following critical “you” statements implies that the this morning [behaviour], I was late for class subject of the complaint is doing something wrong: “You left this place a mess!” “You didn’t keep your promise!” “You’re really crude sometimes!”

Despite its name, “you” language does not have to contain the pronoun you, which is often implied rather than stated outright: “That was a stupid joke!” (“Your jokes are stupid!”) “Don’t be so critical!” (“You’re too negative!”) “Mind your own business!” (“You’re too nosy!”)

and wound up getting chewed out by the professor [consequence]. That’s why I got so angry [­feeling].”

“I haven’t been very affectionate [consequence] because I’ve noticed that you’ve hardly spent any time with me in the past few weeks [behaviour]. I’m confused [feeling] about how you feel about me.”

When the chances of being misunderstood or getting a defensive reaction are high, it’s a good

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idea to include all three elements in your assertive message. In some cases, however, only one or two of them will get the job done: “I’m feeling annoyed because I went to a lot of trouble making this dinner, and now it’s cold.” (The behaviour is obvious.) “I’m worried because I haven’t heard from you.” (“Worried” is both a feeling and a consequence in this statement.)

Despite its obvious advantages, even the best-constructed and masterfully delivered “I” ­ message will not always receive a non-defensive response (Bippus and Young, 2005). As Thomas Gordon (1970, p. 145) points out, “nobody welcomes hearing that his behaviour is causing someone a problem, no matter how the message is phrased.” Furthermore, “I” language in large doses can start to sound egotistical (Proctor, 1989). Research shows that self-absorbed people, also known as “conversational narcissists,” can be identified by their constant use of first-person-singular pronouns (Vangelisti et al., 1990; Zimmermann et al., 2013). For this reason, “I” language works best in moderation. One way to avoid overuse of “I” language is to consider the pronoun we. “We” language implies that the issue is the concern and responsibility of both the speaker and receiver of a message. Consider a few examples: “We have a problem. We can’t seem to talk about money without fighting.” “We’re not doing a very good job of keeping track of all the deliverables on this project, are we?” “We need to talk to your parents about whether we’ll visit them for the holidays.”

It’s easy to see how “we” language can help build a constructive climate. It suggests a kind of “we’re in this together” orientation, a component of what is known as verbal immediacy (Turnman, 2008). Couples who use “we” language are more satisfied than those who rely more heavily on “I” and “you” pronouns (Seider et al., 2009). “We talk” is also helpful for couples when one partner is dealing with a health issue (Rohrbaugh et al.,

2012). Using plural pronouns suggests the medical problem is “ours” rather than “mine” or “yours.” On the other hand, using the pronoun we can be presumptuous and even demanding because you’re speaking for the other person as well as for yourself (Rentscher et al., 2013). It’s easy to imagine someone replying to the statement, “We have a problem . . .” by saying, “Maybe you have a problem, but don’t tell me I have one!” Look again at the “we” language examples offered above and imagine that you don’t agree with the speakers’ conclusions. In that case, you would probably feel defensive rather than included. Table 6.3 summarizes how all three p ­ ronouns— I, you, and we—have their advantages and drawbacks. Given this fact, what advice can we give about the most effective pronouns to use in interpersonal communication? A study by Russell Proctor and James Wilcox (1993) offers an answer. The researchers found that I–we combinations (for example, “I think that we . . .” or “I would like to see us . . . ”) were strongly endorsed by college students, particularly for confrontational conversations in romantic relationships. Richard Slatcher and his associates (2008) came to a similar conclusion: There is value in both “I” and “we” messages in relational communication, as these pronouns demonstrate both autonomy and connection (see Chapter 8 for a description of these relational dialectics).

TAKE TWO • “It” statement: replaces the pronoun I with it and allows a speaker to avoid taking responsibility for ownership of a message. • “But” statement: when but is used in a statement, it has the effect of cancelling out the thought that proceeds it. • “You” language: expresses judgment of the other person. • “I” language: clearly identifies the speaker as the source of the message. • “We language: implies concern and responsibility for the issue is shared between the speaker and receiver of message.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

TABLE 6.3  Pronoun Uses and Their Effects Pronoun




“I” Language

Takes responsibility for personal thoughts, feelings, and wants. Less defenceprovoking than “you” language

Can be perceived as egotistical, narcissistic, and self-absorbed

Use descriptive “I” messages in conflicts when the other person does not perceive a problem. Combine “I” with “we” language in conversations.

“We” Language

Signals inclusion, immediacy, cohesiveness, and commitment

Can speak improperly for others

Combine with “I” language, particularly in personal conversations. Use in group settings to enhance a sense of unity. Avoid when expressing personal thoughts, feelings, and wants.

“You” Language

Signals other-orientation, particularly when the topic is positive

Can sound evaluative and judgmental, particularly during confrontations

Use “I” language during confrontations. Use “You” language when praising or including others.

Too much use of any pronoun comes across as inappropriate, so combining pronouns is generally a good idea, and it suggests you’re able to see things from multiple perspectives (Pennebaker, 2011). If your “I” language expresses your position without being overly self-absorbed, your “you” language shows concern for others without judging them, and your “we” language includes others without speaking for them, you’ll probably come as close as possible to the ideal mix of pronouns.

Culture and Language So far, we’ve described attributes that characterize most languages, with a particular emphasis on English. Although there are some remarkable similarities among the world’s many languages (Lewis et al., 2013), they also differ in important respects that affect communication within and between

CHECK IT! Describe three harmful linguistic habits that ­contribute to conflict.

language groups. In this section, we’ll outline some of those factors.

High- versus Low-context Cultures Anthropologist Edward Hall (1959) identified two distinct ways that members of various cultures deliver messages. A low-context culture uses language primarily to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas as directly and logically as possible. To low-context communicators, the meaning of a statement lies in the words spoken. By contrast, a high-context culture relies heavily on subtle, often non-verbal cues to maintain social harmony. High-context communicators pay close attention to non-verbal behaviours, the history of relationships, and social rules that  govern interaction between people. In Table 6.4, we summarize some key differences in how people from low- and high-context cultures c­ ommunicate. Mainstream culture in Canada, the United States, and northern Europe can be categorized near the low-context end of the scale. In these low-context cultures, communicators generally value straight talk and grow impatient with indirect behaviours such as hinting (Tili and Barker, 2015).

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Korea) were less likely than those from a low-context culture (e.g., the US) to judge a superior who failed to deliver on a promise negatively. While all participants in this study lost some trust for people who failed to keep their promises, the impact of the broken promise was less potent on members of high-­ context cultures (Friedman et al., 2018). Even websites designed for global audiences reflect differences attributable to whether a country’s communication style is high- or low-context (Usnier and Roulin, 2010). For example, those designed for low-context Do you ever witness clashes between low- and high-context communicators countries invite more contact in your interactions with your family or friends? How do you negotiate these and contain more relationship-­ differences? related content than websites from high-­context countries. By contrast, most Asian and Middle Eastern mainTo members of high-context cultures, communistream cultures fit the high-context pattern and can be offended by the bluntness of low-context cators with a low-context style can appear overly talkative, lacking in subtlety, and redundant. On the communication styles (Yum, 2012). There are many other examples of communica- other hand, to people from low-context backgrounds, tion differences between high- and low-context cul- high-context communicators often seem inexprestures. One study of online discussions found that sive or even suspicious. It’s easy to see how misunderin India (a high-context culture), people used more standings about directness and indirectness can emoticons and disclosed less private information create communication problems. For example, direct, that in Germany (a low-context culture; Pflug, 2011). low-context Israelis might perceive their Arab neighIn a study of verbal promises made in the workplace bours, whose high-context culture stresses smooth (e.g., “I will get you those results by Friday”), people interaction, as evasive, while their Arab counterparts from high-context cultures (e.g., India, Taiwan, and might perceive the Israelis as insensitive and blunt. TABLE 6.4  High- and Low-context Communication Cultures Low Context

High Context

Representative national cultures

Canada, the United States, and most northern European countries

Most Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and southern European countries

How most important ­information is carried

Explicit verbal messages, with less focus on the situational context

Contextual cues such as time, place, relationship, and situation

What communicators value

Self-expression, striving to persuade others to accept one’s viewpoint

Relational harmony, maintained by indirect expression of options

What communicators admire

Clear, direct speech

Ambiguity and the use of silence



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Verbal Communication Styles Using language is more than just a matter of choosing a particular group of words to convey an idea. Each language has its own unique character that distinguishes it from others. Matters like the amount of formality or informality, precision or vagueness, and brevity or detail are major ingredients in speaking competently. When a communicator tries to use the verbal style from one culture or co-culture in a different one, problems are likely to arise. Gudykunst (2005) describes three important types of cultural differences in verbal style: 1. Direct or indirect. We’ve already discussed how low-context cultures use language primarily to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas as clearly, directly, and logically as possible, whereas high-context cultures may speak less directly, using language to maintain social harmony. 2. Elaborate or succinct. Speakers of Arabic commonly use language that is much more rich and expressive than that normally found in English. Strong assertions and exaggerations that would sound odd in English are a common feature of Arabic. This contrast in linguistic style can lead to misunderstandings between people from different backgrounds. Succinctness is most extreme in cultures where silence is valued. In many North American Indigenous cultures, for example, the favoured way to handle ambiguous social situations is to remain quiet (Ferraro and Andreatta, 2012). When you contrast this silent style to the talkativeness that is common when people first meet in mainstream Canadian culture, it’s easy to imagine how the first encounter between a Cree or Mi’kmaq person and an Anglo-Canadian person might be uncomfortable for both. 3. Formal or informal. The pronouns used in a language may encode politeness and formality. For example, most European languages except English have different pronouns for informal use among friends (e.g., tu in French and Italian) and more formal pronouns for addressing superiors and

people one does not know well (e.g., vous in French, lei in Italian). In Japanese, there are even more choices depending on the rank, job, sex, and age of the person being spoken to. The informal approach that is characteristic of North Americans is quite different from the great concern for propriety in many parts of Asia and Africa. Formality is not so much a matter of using correct grammar as of defining social relationships. For example, there are different degrees of formality for speaking to old friends, ­non-acquaintances whose background one knows, and complete strangers.

Code-Switching Linguists define the term code-switching as alternating between two or more languages or varieties of a language depending on the conversational context. The term is used more generally to refer to how communicators often adapt both their language and their manner of speaking when they change contexts (Bullock and Toribio, 2012). People can use code-switching either to minimize social differences (convergence) between themselves and other people involved in the conversation or to emphasize them (divergence). Using code-switching to alter how you present yourself to others is another example of communication competence that increases your chances of achieving your goals. A common type of code-switching is to use a word or phrase from a different language or dialect in a sentence. Canada is a multilingual country with two official languages and immigrants from all over the world, so it’s not uncommon to hear people adapt their manner of speaking in different contexts and substitute words from one language into another. For example, a Montrealer speaking English with friends might use the word dep for depanneur, the French word for convenience store. A Canadian whose first language is Spanish might tack on, “you know?” at the end of a sentence spoken in Spanish. Canadians with Caribbean roots might combine patois or creole with standard English with their friends and family but speak only standard English when talking to teachers or employers.

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S­ hifting between codes doesn’t require rejecting your heritage. Think of it as a type of bilingual ability. As we discussed in Chapter 2, the ability to construct multiple identities is one element of communication competence.

Tannen (1990, 1994, 2001). She suggests that women and men grow up learning different rules about how to speak and act. In support of this two-culture hypothesis, communication researcher Anthony Mulac (2006; also see Mulac et al., 2013) has found that men are more likely than women to speak in sentence Gender and Language fragments (“Nice photo”). Men more typically talk So far, we’ve discussed language usage as if it were about themselves with “I” references (“I have a lot identical for women and men. Are there differences of meetings”) and use more judgmental language. between male and female language use? If so, how They’re also more likely to make directive stateimportant are they? ments. In contrast, female speech tends to be more tentative, elaborate, and emotional. For instance, women’s sentences are typically longer than men’s Extent of Gender Differences and they make more references to feelings and make use of more intensive adverbs (“He’s really Approach 1: Significance Differences interested”) that paint a more complete verbal picIn 1992, John Gray argued that men and women ture. In addition, Mulac has found that women’s are so fundamentally different they might as speech is often less assertive. It contains more statewell have come from separate planets. His best-­ ments of uncertainty (“It seems to be . . .”), hedges selling book Men are from Mars and Women are (“We’re kind of set in our ways”), and tag questions from Venus was based largely on anecdotes and (“Do you think so?”). Some theorists have argued conjecture and has been criticized for its lack of that such differences cause women’s speech to be scholarship (Dindia, 2006; Wood, 2002). How- less powerful, but more inclusive than men’s. ever, social scientists have identified some sigCommunication scholar Julia Wood (Wood nificant differences in the ways men and women and Fixmer-Oraiz, 2017) has devoted much of her behave socially (Palomares, 2008; Wood and career to analyzing the impact of sex and gender Fixmer-Oraiz, 2017). These findings have led on communication. While she maintains that ­ some scholars to describe men and women as Gray’s “Mars and Venus” approach is an overmembers of distinct cultures, with their differ- statement that can do more harm than good, she ences arising primarily from socialization rather acknowledges there are differences in what she than biology. The best-known advocate of this terms “feminine and masculine” communication “two culture” theory is sociolinguist Deborah practices.” These are summarized in Table 6.5. TABLE 6.5  Differences Associated with Feminine and Masculine Communication Feminine


Converse to maintain relationships

Converse to establish control

Create climate of equality

Create a sense of power and status

Offer emotional support

Solve problems and complete tasks

Ask questions

Make statements

Offer concrete personal disclosures

Make abstract generalizations

Speak tentatively (often to be polite)

Speak assertively (often to be in charge)

SOURCE: Adapted from Wood, J.T. and Fixmer-Oraiz, N. (2017). Gendered lives: Communication, gender and culture. 12 th edn. Boston, MA: Cambridge.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Approach 2: Minor Differences Despite the differences in the way men and women speak, the link between gender and language use isn’t as clear cut as it might seem (Timmerman, 2002). One meta-analysis involving more than 3,000 participants found women were only slightly more likely than men to use tentative speech (Leaper and Robnett, 2011). Three other analyses (Leaper and Ayres, 2007) looked for gender differences in adults’ talkativeness, affiliative speech, and assertive speech—and found negligible differences for all three language constructs. In essence, these studies showed men’s and women’s speech are far more similar then different. A recent study offers further support for the “minor differences” approach (Hancock et al., 2015). Researchers asked men and women to describe a health-related episode in their lives. Analysis of the transcripts revealed women used slightly more intense adverbs and personal pronouns than men did. However, participants who read the transcripts were largely unable to identify the speakers’ gender. These same researchers then asked men, women, and transgender women to describe a painting. Studied closely, the trans women’s word choices were slightly more similar to the men’s than the women’s—but again most people could not distinguish between them on the basis of word choice. In light of the considerable similarities in language used by both and men and women, communication researcher Kathryn Dindia (2006) suggests that men and women are not from different planets or different cultures and do, in fact, speak the same language, though somewhat differently at times. Online communication appears to be a context in which men and women use language somewhat differently.

Online Language and Gender Research shows that women and men have different written language styles (Pennebaker, 2011), which shows up in online communication (Hoseinei and Tammimy, 2016). For instance, men tend to use more large words, nouns, and swear words than women do. By contrast, women use more

personal pronouns, verbs, and hedges. Of course, word count does not tell the whole story. For instance, whereas women and men use the word we about equally, they do so in different ways. Closer scrutiny suggests women are more likely to use the “warm we” (e.g., “We have so much fun together”), while men are more inclined toward the “distant we” (e.g., “We need to do something about this”). Similarly, research analyzing the online language of 15,000 Facebook users found substantial differences between men and women’s use of affiliative (warmth) language. Self-identified women’s Facebook updates were more likely to use language that was warmer, more compassionate, and polite, whereas self-identified men tended to use language that was colder, more hostile, and impersonal. Substantial differences between women and men’s use of assertive language were not found. In another study, researchers analyzed Facebook status updates provided by 75,000 users and found women tended to use more emotion words (excited) and first person singular pronouns, and made more references to people in their lives (Schwartz et al., 2013). Men made more object references (Xbox) and swore more often—a finding that seems to hold true across most studies exploring gender differences in word use. It appears people are intuitively aware of gender differences in online language. For instance, one study found that online communicators adopt different writing styles depending on their online gender identities (Palomares and Lee, 2010). Participants were given randomly selected gendered avatars—some matching their biological sex and some not. Communicators who were assigned feminine avatars expressed more emotions, made more apologies, used more tentative language than did those with masculine avatars. In other words, participants adapted their language to match linguistic gender stereotypes. Online language differences between genders are more pronounced among adolescents. A study looked at the word choices of teenage boys and girls in chat rooms (Kapidzic and Herring, 2011). The boys were more active and assertive, initiating interaction and making proposals, whereas girls were more reactive (“wow,” “omg,” “lmao”). The boys were also more flirtatious and sexual (“any


6 | Language

threats) when they have the same amount of bargaining strength in a negotiation (Scudder and Andrews, 1995), and they are equally likely to change  the topic of conversation when they have equal power or status in a ­ task-oriented discussion (Okamoto and Smith-Lovin, 2001). Findings like this suggest that characteristically feminine speech is less a function of gender or sex than women’s historically ­less-powerful positions. In fact, differences in social status often show up more clearly in language than gender differences do What reasons are there for miscommunication with members of the opposite (Pennebaker, 2011). sex? Have you come across any of these in your own life? By now, it should be clear that there are differences between hotties wanna chat?”). The researchers noted that the ways men and women speak, but that these these accentuated differences were probably due to the age of the participants and would likely recede in adulthood.


Non-Gender Influences on Language Use Factors other than gender can outweigh or mitigate the influences of gender when it comes to language use. Occupation is one such factor. Male and female athletes communicate in similar ways (Sullivan, 2004) and female farm operators, working in a male dominated occupation, speak more similarly to male farm operators (Pilgeram, 2007). Similarly, male early childhood educators’ speech to their students resembles the language of female teachers more closely than it resembles the language of fathers at home (Gleason and Greif, 1983). Another factor that trumps gender differences in language use is power. For instance, in LGBTQ+ relationships, the conversational styles of partners reflect power differences in the relationship (e.g., who is earning more money) more than the biological sex of the communicators (Steen and Schwartz, 1995). There are also few differences between the way men and women use powerful speech (specifically,

DIFFERENT ROLES, DIFFERENT ­L ANGUAGE As the first woman in a formerly all-male architectural firm, I feel like something of a guinea pig. Most of the partners and associates have made me feel welcome, but a small group treats me with what seems like a condescending attitude. The structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers we use as consultants are even worse. I don’t think they’ve ever worked with a woman who wasn’t a secretary. I’ve found that with these guys, I’ve changed the way I speak. I try to use more powerful language with fewer hesitations and hedges. I make more statements and ask fewer questions. In other words, I sound more like a stereotypical man. I don’t know yet whether this approach will make any difference. The point is, I sound like a different person when I’m at work more than in any other setting. It’s not really an act: it’s more an effort to sound professional. I guess if someone dresses differently when they go to work, there’s nothing wrong with sounding different too.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

­ ifferences are determined by a wide variety of facd tors that may have little or nothing to do with biological sex. As men and women grow to have equal opportunities and more similar social experiences, we can expect that there will be fewer differences in the ways they speak and write.

CHECK IT! Describe the evidence regarding the influences of gender, occupation, and power on language.

SUMMARY Language is both a marvellous communication tool and the source of many interpersonal problems. Every language is a collection of symbols governed by a variety of rules. Because of its symbolic nature, language is not a precise vehicle: meanings rest in people, not in words themselves. The languages we speak shape our worldview. Besides conveying meanings about the content of a specific message, language both expresses and shapes the perceptions of its users. For example, names that people are given influence their identity and the way they’re viewed by others. Language influences our perceptions of creditability and status, and reveals the level of affiliation communicators have with each other. In addition, language patterns reflect and shape a speaker’s perceived power. Finally, language reflects and influences racist, sexist, and prejudiced attitudes. When used carelessly, language can lead to a variety of interpersonal problems. The level of precision or vagueness of messages can affect a receiver’s understanding of them. Both precise messages and vague, evasive messages have their uses in interpersonal relationships, and a competent communicator has the ability to choose

the best level of precision for the situation at hand. Competent communicators know how to use “I,” “you,” and “we” statements to accept the optimal level of responsibility and relational harmony. Some language habits, such as using evaluative or emotive terms, can lead to unnecessary disharmony in interpersonal relationships. Low-context cultures (e.g., North American) rely primarily on language to express thoughts and feelings, while high-context cultures (e.g., Asian) rely heavily on subtle cues to maintain social harmony. The relationship between the gender of the communicator and language is a complex one. Although some writers in the popular press have argued that men and women are radically different and thus speak different languages, this position isn’t supported by scholarship. A growing body of research suggests that differences are relatively minor. Language use in social media has some distinct features and gender differences appear more pronounced (or easier to measure) when written via social media. Many of the language differences that first appeared to be sex-related may actually be due to other factors such as occupation and interpersonal power.


Syntactic rules govern a. how symbols can be arranged. b. how sounds can be combined to form words. c. how words should be interpreted given the situation. d. the meanings of words.


Ogden and Richards’ triangle of meaning suggests a. meanings are in and among people. b. there is an indirect relationship between a word and the thing or idea it represents.

6 | Language

c. problems occur because people attach different meanings to the same message. d. all of the above. 3.

The Pormpuraaw people of Australia don’t have words for right, left, back, and front in their language; instead they use compass directions, and as a consequence they think differently about space than people who speak other languages. This is an example of a. b. c. d.


Alternating between two or more languages or varieties of a language in a single conversation is called

Convergence involves a. adapting one’s speech style to distinguish oneself from others. b. adapting one’s speech style to ensure credibility and status. c. adapting one’s speech style to better match the style of others. d. adapting one’s speech style to be more powerful. Hedges, hesitations, intensifiers, polite forms, tag questions, and disclaimers are all examples of

One friend tells you that a course you’re considering enrolling in is very difficult. Another friend says it’s easy. You’re not sure which assessment is accurate. The problem is,


Research on gender differences and language a. has determined that differences in communication are a result of biological sex. b. has determined that in written communication gender is more measurable and noticeable. c. has established that for the most part men and women speak so differently they can accurately be described as speaking different languages. d. all of the above statements regarding gender differences and language are true.

10. People from high-context cultures, such as many Canadian Indigenous, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures, a. rely on subtle non-verbal cues, the history of relationships, and general social rules that govern interaction. b. rely on language to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas directly. c. often appear talkative and lacking in subtlety. d. tend to be direct and succinct.

Answers: 1. a; 2. d; 3. d; 4. a; 5. d; 6. c; 7. c; 8. d; 9. b; 10. a


convergent speech. divergent speech. less powerful speech. sexist speech.

a. your friends are using euphemisms to describe the course. b. your friends are using ambiguous language to describe the course. c. your friends are using powerless speech to describe the course. d. your friends are using relative language to describe the course.

Linguistic relativity

a. divergence. b. abstraction. c. relative language. d. code-switching. 6.


credibility and status. pragmatic rules. coordinated management of meaning. linguistic relativism.

a. is the idea that language both shapes our perceptions and reflects them. b. describes a type of powerless speech. c. describes ways both senders and receivers of messages can save face. d. relies heavily on euphemisms. 5.

a. b. c. d.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

ACTIVITIES 1. Invitation to Insight Recall an incident in which you were misunderstood. Explain how this event illustrates the principle that “meanings are in people, not words.” 2. Ethical Challenge The information about the influence of language, on pages 180–9, shows how the words a communicator chooses can shape the perceptions of others. Create two scenarios for each type of linguistic influence listed below. The first should describe how the type of influence could be used constructively, and the second should describe an unethical application of this knowledge. a. naming and identity b. affiliation c. credibility and status d. power and politeness e. sexism f. sexual prejudice g. racism 3. Skill Builder Translate the following into behavioural language and share with your classmates to get their feedback: • an abstract goal for improving your interpersonal communication (e.g., “Be more assertive” or “Stop being so sarcastic”) • a complaint you have about another person (e.g., they are “selfish” or “insensitive”) In both cases, describe the person or people involved, the circumstances in which the communication will take place, and the precise behaviour involved. What difference will using behavioural descriptions likely make in your relationships? 4. Invitation to Insight Are there ever situations in your life when it’s desirable to be less clear and more vague? Use the information on pages 190–5 to answer this question and to decide whether vagueness is the most competent approach to the situation.

5. Skill Builder Practise rephrasing each of the following “you” statements in “I” or “we” language: • “You’re not telling me the truth!” • “You only think of yourself!” • “Don’t be so touchy!” • “You don’t understand a word I’m saying!” Now think of three “you” statements you could make to people in your life. Transform each of these statements into “I” and “we” language, and rehearse them with a classmate. 6. Invitation to Insight Do you communicate differently online or by text than in person? Does your social media language differ depending on the medium you use? Monitor your communication over three days and see if you “talk” differently in text messages, social networking posts, tweets, blog entries, and emails compared to face-to-face communication. Are there some words you use more in one context versus another? Do you notice differences in your use of more powerful and less powerful language? Does your level of politeness change? How about use of “you,” “I,” and “we” language? Do your social media messages reflect the identity you wish to project? 7. Invitation to Insight Some authors believe that differences between male and female communication are quite significant. Other researchers believe the differences are not nearly so dramatic. Which approach seems more accurate to you? Offer evidence provided in this chapter along with experiences from your life to support your point of view. 8. Role Play Choose a partner. Think of a real criticism (of someone else) and compose a highly abstract message to convey your complaint (e.g., “You’re so rude”). Briefly describe the situation to your partner (who the other person is and the general situation—avoid providing specific details about

6 | Language

the complaint) and have your partner pretend to be the person you’re criticizing. Deliver your abstract criticism and have your partner respond. Now, compose a more specific behavioural description of the same complaint and deliver this criticism to

your partner and have them respond. Discuss the differences between the two messages. What are the advantages of stating your complaints in more specific terms? Now, reverse roles and repeat the exercise.




Does naming something make it more or less real? More or less frightening? Can you think of examples where naming something in your life made it easier or more difficult to cope with? How does language affect our p ­ erceptions? We’ve argued in this chapter that eliminating gender references (“letter carrier” rather than “mailman”) is preferable to highlighting gender in professional references (female letter carrier). Do you agree or disagree? Why? Given the subjective nature of perception, is “we” language ever acceptable? Why or why not?




What is your experience communicating with people whose tendencies are toward loweror higher-context communication than your own? Have these differences caused communication difficulties? If so, how so? If not, why not? Do you believe that the language a person speaks affects that person’s worldview? Why or why not? Given the diversity of verbal styles in different cultures, is it possible not to offend someone when you’re communicating cross-culturally? Why or why not?


Over the next few days keep track of generalizations (high level abstractions) you make when speaking to others when offering thanks and criticism. Try to rewrite these comments using more precise language. What might be the benefits and drawbacks of using less abstract language when communicating with others?


Think of a couple of times you recently used “you” or “it” language during an argument or conflict. Rewrite your criticisms using “I” language. How might using “I” language change the interaction during a conflict?


Non-verbal Communication



CHAPTER OUTLINE Non-verbal Communication Defined Characteristics of Non-verbal Communication Non-verbal Communication Is Always Occurring Non-verbal Communication Is Primarily Relational Non-verbal Communication Is Ambiguous Non-verbal Communication Occurs in Mediated ­Messages Non-verbal Communication Is Influenced by Culture and Gender

Functions of Non-verbal Communication Creating and Maintaining Relationships Regulating Interaction

Influencing Others Influencing Ourselves Concealing/Deceiving

Types of Non-verbal Communication Body Movement Touch Voice Distance Territoriality Time Physical Attractiveness Clothing Physical Environment

KEY TERMS barrier behaviours chronemics disfluencies emblems haptics intimate distance kinesics monochronic non-verbal communication oculesics

paralanguage personal distance personal space polychronic proxemics public distance regulators social distance territory


Define non-verbal communication and describe its distinguishing characteristics Categorize the various functions that non-verbal communication can serve and provide examples of each Analyze a variety of types of non-verbal communication and describe how they communicate meaning Critically examine the role of culture and gender in influencing non-verbal communication and its ­influence on our perceptions


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

depending on the way they’re spoken. Furthermore, some non-spoken forms of communication, including sign languages used in the deaf community, are linguistic and not really non-verbal in the sense most social scientists use the term. A better definition of non-verbal communication is messages expressed by non-linguistic means. These non-linguistic messages are important because what we do often conveys more meaning than what we say. One early study (Mehrabian,1972) Read Body Language to reveal the secrets . . . claimed that 93 per cent of the emotional impact Do his eyes say he’s interested? of a message comes from a non-verbal source, Does her facial expressions say she’s a manipuwhereas only 7 per cent is verbal. Another (Birdlator? whistell, 1970) described a 65–35 percentage split Does the way he’s standing say he’s a player? between actions and words respectively. Although Almost every pharmacy, supermarket, and airport social scientists have disputed these figures and book rack has its share of “body language” paper- the relative importance of verbal versus non-­verbal backs and magazine articles with claims such as cues (e.g., Lapakko, 1997; Nagel et al., 2012), the these. They promise you can learn secrets that will point remains: non-verbal communication conchange you from a fumbling social failure into a tributes a great deal to shaping perceptions. You might ask how non-verbal communicaself-assured mind reader. Claims like these are almost always exaggerations tion can be so powerful. At first glance, it seems or fabrications. There is, of course, a scientific body as if meanings come from words. To answer of knowledge about non-verbal communication, this question, think of a time when you watched and it has provided many fascinating and valuable people speaking a language you didn’t understand. clues to human behaviour. That’s what this chapter is Although you didn’t understand the words being about. It’s unlikely the following pages will turn you spoken, there were plenty of clues that gave you instantly into a rich, sexy, charming communication an idea of what was going on in the exchange. By superstar, but don’t go away. Even without glamor- watching the speakers’ facial expressions, postures, ous promises, a quick look at some facts about non-­ gestures, vocal tones, and other behaviour you verbal communication shows that it’s an important probably gained a sense of the way the communiand valuable field to study, and that non-verbal com- cators felt about one another and got some ideas munication skills are worth acquiring (Riggio, 2006). about the nature of their relationship. Researchers (summarized in Knapp and Hall, 2013) have found that subjects who hear content-free speech—­ Non-verbal Communication ordinary speech that has been electronically manipulated so that the words are unintelligible— People don’t always say what they mean . . . but their body gestures and movements tell the truth! Will he ask you out? Is she encouraging you? Know what’s really happening by understanding the secret language of body signals. You can improve your . . . sex life . . . social life . . . business life . . .


Since non means “not” and verbal means “with words,” then it seems logical that non-verbal communication would involve “communication without words.” This definition is an oversimplification, however, because it fails to distinguish between vocal communication (by mouth) and verbal communication (with words). Some non-verbal ­messages have a vocal element. For example, the words “I love you” have different meanings

TAKE TWO • Non-verbal communication: messages expressed by non-linguistic means; they can include vocal communication (e.g., voice tone), but not language (e.g., sign language).

7 | Non-verbal Communication


can consistently recognize the emotion being expressed as well as identify its strength.

Characteristics of Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal Communication Is Always Occurring


As Table 7.1 shows, verbal and non-verbal communication differ in a number of ways. We’ll now take a look at some of the fundamental characteristics of non-verbal communication. What is the difference between sign language and non-verbal ­communication?

behaviour can convey a message. You may not intend to show that you’re embarrassed, but your Some theorists have suggested that all non-­ blushing can still give you away. Of course, not all behaviour (intentional or not) verbal b ­ehaviour conveys information. They argue that it is impossible not to communi- will be interpreted correctly. Your trembling hands cate. You can understand the impossibility of might be taken as a sign of nervousness when you’re non-communication by considering what you really just shivering from the cold. But whether would do if someone told you not to communi- or not your behaviour is intentional, and whether or cate any messages at all. Even if you closed your not it’s interpreted accurately, all non-verbal behaveyes or left the room, you would communicate iour has the potential to create messages. messages that mean you’re avoiding contact. One study (DePaulo, 1992) took just this approach. TABLE 7.1  Some Differences between Verbal and When communicators were told not to express Non-verbal Communication non-verbal clues, others viewed them as dull, Non-verbal withdrawn, uneasy, aloof, and deceptive. Verbal Communication Communication The impossibility of not communicating is sigmostly voluntary and often unconscious nificant because it means that each of us is a kind conscious of transmitter that cannot be shut off. No matter usually content-oriented usually relational what we do, we send out messages that say somecan be clear or vague inherently ambiguous thing about ourselves and our relationships with others. If, for instance, someone were observing primarily shaped by rooted in biology culture you now, what non-verbal clues would they get about how you’re feeling? Are you sitting forward discontinuous or continuous or reclining? Is your posture tense or relaxed? intermittent What does your facial expression communicate single channel (words multi-channeled now? Can you make your face expressionless? only) Don’t people with expressionless faces still com- SOURCE: Adapted from Andersen, P. (1999). Nonverbal communication: forms and municate something to you? Even uncontrollable functions. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, p. 16.


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages


1.  “I’m tired.” 2. “I’m in favour of universal health care.” 3. “I’m attracted to another person in the group.” 4. “I think freedom of speech should be protected.” 5. “I’m angry at someone in this room.” This exercise shows that ideas (such as statements 2 and 4) do not lend themselves to non-verbal expressions nearly as well as attitudes and feelings (statements 1, 3, and 5). This explains why it’s possible How can we become more conscious of both the non-verbal messages we’re to understand the attitudes or sending and the non-verbal messages of others? feelings of others by reading non-verbal cues, even if you don’t understand the subject of their communication. Non-verbal Communication Is Text messages and email offer fewer non-verbal ­Primarily Relational cues about the speaker’s feelings than do face-toSome non-verbal messages serve practical func- face encounters or even telephone conversations. tions, such as a police officer directing the flow of Most of us have had the experience of finding out traffic. But non-verbal communication also serves that our email or text message has been misundera far more common (and more interesting) series stood. The use of emoticons and emoji and statements about emotion can be used to try to capture of social functions. Non-verbal communication allows us to define non-verbal expressions in text-based messages and the kind of relationships we have—or want to reduce the chances for misunderstandings. Research have—with others (Burgoon and Le Poire, 1999; suggests that the use of emoticons to capture emoMyers et al., 2011). You can appreciate this fact by tional expressiveness increases the involvement and thinking about the wide range of ways you could interaction between the people sharing an email ­ alther behave when greeting another person. You could or text message (Fabri and Moore, 2005; W wave, shake hands, nod, smile, clap the other per- and D’Addario, 2001). Clearly, the rich mixture of son on the back, give them a hug, kiss them on non-verbal and verbal messages that flow in faceboth cheeks, or avoid all contact. Each one of these to-face exchanges, or even in phone conversations, actions sends a message about the nature of your cannot be easily replicated in writing, but it’s posrelationship with the other person. Non-verbal sible to share emotions and compensate for the lack messages perform another valuable social func- of non-verbal cues in CMC (Walther et al., 2010). tion: they convey emotions that we may be unwilling or unable to express or that we may not even Non-verbal Communication Is be aware of. In fact, non-verbal communication is much better suited to expressing attitudes and Ambiguous feelings than ideas. You can demonstrate this by In Chapter 6, we pointed out how some language imagining how you could non-verbally express can be ambiguous. (For example, the statement “Your nose piercing really makes you stand out” each of these comments:

7 | Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal Communication Occurs in Mediated Messages Not all mediated communication is solely verbal. Video calls/chat obviously provide non-verbal information, as do photos on social networking apps and messaging platforms. Even text-based digital communication has non-verbal features. The most obvious way to represent non-verbal expressions in type is with emoji. Emoji, as we

Chris Wildt/Cartoonstock

could be a compliment or a criticism, and the vague statement, “I’m almost done” could mean you have to wait a few minutes or an hour.) Most non-verbal behaviour has the potential to be even more ambiguous than verbal statements like these. To understand why, consider how you would interpret silence from your companion during an evening together. Think of all the possible meanings of this non-verbal behaviour—affection, anger, preoccupation, boredom, nervousness, thoughtfulness—the possibilities are many. The ambiguity of non-verbal behaviour was illustrated when a supermarket chain tried to emphasize its customer-friendly approach by instructing employees to smile and make eye contact with customers. Some customers mistook the service-with-a-smile approach as sexual come-ons. As this story suggests, non-verbal cues are much more ambiguous than verbal statements when it comes to expressing willingness to become physically involved (La France, 2010). Because non-verbal behaviour is so ambiguous, caution is wise when you’re responding to non-­ verbal cues. Rather than jumping to conclusions about the meaning of a sigh, smile, slammed door, or yawn, it’s far better to use the kind of p ­ erception-checking approach described in ­Chapter 3. “When you yawned, I got the idea I might be boring you. But maybe you’re just tired. What’s going on?” The ability to consider more than one possible interpretation for non-verbal behaviour illustrates the kind of cognitive complexity that we identified in Chapter 1 as an element of communication competence. Popular advice on the subject notwithstanding, it’s usually not possible to read a person like a book.


described in Chapter 4, can help communicate emotion and clarify a meaning that isn’t evident from words alone (Derks et al., 2008; Lo, 2008; Riordan, 2017; Riordan and Kreuz, 2010). For example, see how each graphic below creates a different meaning for the same statement: •  You’re driving me crazy •  You’re driving me crazy •  You’re driving me crazy Yet the meaning of emoji can be ambiguous (Skovholt et al., 2014). A smiley face could have a number of meanings, such as “I’m happy,” “I’m kidding,” or “I’m teasing you.” Other online communication markers are also ambiguous (Vandergriff, 2013). Exclamation marks (sometimes more than one!!!) can be used at the end of sentences

PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

FOCUS ON RESEARCH DOES YOUR SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS INFLUENCE YOUR INTERPERSONAL ACCURACY? The ability to interpret other people’s often-ambiguous non-verbal cues with greater accuracy contributes to our competence as communicators. Research suggests that factors such as intelligence, empathy, and openness to experience are positively correlated with greater interpersonal accuracy and traits such as depression and neuroticism are associated with lower accuracy (Hall et al., 2009, 2011). Social psychology researcher R. Thora Bjornsdottir and her colleagues (2017) at the University of Toronto wondered if people’s subjective perception of their socio-economic status (SES) or social class might also be associated with their ability to accurately judge the non-verbal behaviour of others. Bjornsdottir and her colleagues measured subjective SES by asking study participants to complete the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status (Adler and Stewart, 2007), which asks questions about education, income, living arrangements, and perception of status relative to comparison groups such as your community and country. In addition, they explicitly rated their subjective SES ranging from 1 (lower income) to 5 (upper income). In a series of three studies, these investigators examined the relationship between participants’ reports of subjective SES and their ability to



make accurate judgments about other people using non-verbal cues. One of the measures they used to assess participants’ interpersonal accuracy was the Reading the Mind In the Eyes Test (RMET) (Baron-­ Cohen et al., 2001). This standardized test involves describing what people are thinking or feeling based on a photograph of only their eyes. The participant is presented with a series of 25 photographs of different actor’s eyes (both male and female) expressing a variety of emotions/mental states. Participants are asked to choose the word (from a list provided) that best describes what the person in the photo is thinking or feeling (e.g., serious, ashamed, alarmed, bewildered). The test has proven to be an accurate measure of mild deficits in social understanding in adults (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001). Among Bjornsdottir and her colleagues’ (2017) found that subjective SES significantly predicted participants’ performance on the RMET. Individuals who perceived themselves as lower in SES showed greater sensitivity to the non-verbal displays of others. These investigators note that this finding is congruent with findings that individuals with lower subjective SES focus more on social context (Kraus et al., 2009) and show greater sensitivity to threats and hostile emotions (Kraus et al., 2011) and display greater empathic responses (Varnum et al., 2015) and greater empathic accuracy when reading others’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions (Kraus et al., 2010). Bjornsdottir and her colleagues suggest one possible explanation for these findings is that people who perceive themselves as having lower SES than those around them may experience reduced personal control over many areas The Reading the Mind In the Eyes Test (RMET) presents a series of photos of their lives and as a result similar to the one above and provides a series of choices to describe what the need to be more attentive to person depicted is thinking or feeling such as: serious, ashamed, alarmed, their social environments that bewildered. In this case “alarmed” is the best choice.

7 | Non-verbal Communication

people with higher SES who have greater amounts of personal control. These investigators conclude that these differences in interpersonal sensitivity have the potential to create misunderstandings in interactions between individuals of varying SES and highlight the importance of this type of research in furthering our understanding of interpersonal communication.

and even by themselves to denote a variety of emotional states. Ellipses (. . .) at the end of a phrase can signal displeasure, thoughtfulness, or confusion. They can also be turn-taking signals similar to what you might convey facially or with pauses during in-person conversations. The same is true of lexical surrogates such as “hmmm” or “ooooh,” with meanings ranging from delight to disapproval. Even clicking “Like” or “+1” has a variety of content and relational meanings (Hayes et al., 2016). Punctuation too can make a difference in how you perceive a message. For instance one study found that the use of periods in texts (e.g., “Sure.” ) in one word texts were viewed as less sincere than those written without punctuation (“Sure”) (Gunraj et al., 2016). A study of workplace emails (Skovholt et al., 2014) found that use of emoticons serves three purposes. They can act as hedges (softening or making requests more polite—see Chapter 6), indicate the positive attitude of the sender, and act as markers of irony and jokes. While not everyone agrees about the professionalism of using emoji in work-related emails, it’s important to understand that workplace emails can have an unintended emotional impact. The two most common misinterpretations of emotions in workplace email (that do not include emoji, emoticons, or indications of emotion) are (1) receivers are likely to perceive emails intended to convey positive emotions as more neutral, and (2) receivers are likely to perceive emails as more intensely negative than was intended by the sender (Byron, 2008). There are a number of factors that influence the likelihood of miscommunication, including the length of the

Critical thinking: Can you think of ways people who perceive themselves as having lower SES might have developed superior accuracy in their non-verbal emotion recognition skills, which might be less available or relevant to people who perceive their SES as higher?

relationship between the sender and the receiver, the gender and relative status of the sender (e.g., colleague or manager), the age and mood (positive or negative) of the receiver, and the established guidelines for the expression of emotion in that workplace. Senders can increase the accuracy of receivers’ interpretations by actually verbalizing the emotion (“I am so happy you will be able to come to the meeting”), and receivers can ask questions and state their interpretations of messages and invite the sender to respond. These strategies for perception checking (see Chapter 3) are as useful for mediated communication as they are for the face-to-face variety. Not only does the content of a non-verbal message matter, but when it’s sent matters as well (Ledbetter, 2008; Walther, 2009). If you have ever been upset by a friend who hasn’t responded punctually to one of your texts, then you know the role that timeliness plays in mediated interpersonal communication. We examine the management of time later in this chapter, but here we’ll note that it’s a vital feature of mediated interaction (Kalman et al., 2013). It’s also a good example of the principle that you cannot not communicate. Communicators have expectations about when others should respond to their posts, emails, and messages, and they may perceive delays negatively.

Non-verbal Communication Is Influenced by Culture and Gender It has long been established that certain expressions have the same meanings around the world (Ekman and Friesen, 1971). Smiles and laughter are a u ­ niversal signal of positive emotions, for


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

example, while the same sour expressions convey displeasure in every culture. Charles Darwin believed that expressions like these are the result of evolution, functioning as survival mechanisms that allowed early humans to convey emotional states before the development of language. The innateness of some facial expressions becomes even clearer when we examine the behaviour of children born deaf and blind (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1972). Despite a lack of social learning, these children display a broad range of expression. They smile, laugh, and cry in ways virtually identical to seeing and hearing infants. While non-­ verbal expressions like these may be universal in infants, the cultural rules for appropriate emotional expression and interpretation vary widely around the world. So much so that cultures can be described as having different non-verbal languages just as they have verbal ones (Hasler et al., 2017). Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York from 1933 to 1945, was fluent in English, Italian, and Yiddish. Researchers who watched films of his campaign speeches with the sound turned off found that they could tell which language he was speaking by the changes in his non-verbal behaviour (Birdwhistell, 1970). Some kinds of non-verbal behaviour—called emblems—are culturally understood substitutes for verbal expressions. Nodding the head up and down is an accepted way of saying “yes” in many, but not all cultures. Likewise, a side-to-side head shake is a non-verbal way of saying “no,” and a shrug of the shoulders is commonly understood as meaning “I do not know” or “I’m not sure.” Remember, however, that some emblems—such as the thumbs-up gesture—vary from one culture to another (it means “good job!” in Canada, the number “1” in Germany, and the number “5” in Japan). Most North Americans would say the hand gesture depicted in the photo on this page means “Okay.” But to a Buddhist it signifies acceptance of the world as it is, and in Greece and Turkey its meaning is vulgar. A variety of cultural norms also guide non-­ verbal expressiveness (Matsumoto, 2006). In some cultures, overt demonstration of feelings, such as happiness or anger, are discouraged. In other cultures, the same expressions are perfectly appropriate. Thus, a Korean person might appear

much more non-verbally controlled than an Italian person might, when in fact their feelings might be identical. It’s important to note that the culture in which people live is far more influential than their nationality or ethnicity. For example, the facial expressions of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans differ in ways that reflect their cultural backgrounds (Marsh et  al., 2003). Findings of a large-scale investigation into the propensity of people from individualistic and collectivist cultures to express positive emotion (smiling) and negative emotion (eyebrow furrowing) in response to television ads suggest members of individualistic cultures express negative emotions more freely when compared to individuals from collectivist cultures (McDuff et al., 2017). These investigators argue that this finding is consistent with the idea (Markus and Kitayama, 1991) that collectivist cultures base self-esteem on the ability to show self-restraint and maintain social harmony whereas in individualist cultures self-esteem is based on self-expression and the ability to differentiate oneself from others. ­Similarly, cultures differ in the appropriateness of



In North America this hand gesture means “okay” but in other places in the world it has a very different meaning.

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non-verbal expressions of pain. For instance, in Mi’kmaq culture stoicism is valued and children learn early not to grimace or cry when they’re in pain or even to express pain verbally (Latimer et al., 2014). In fact, there is no word for “pain” in the Mi’kmaq language, only an equivalent for the word “hurt.” Culture also affects how non-verbal cues are monitored. In Japan, for instance people tend to look to the eyes for emotional cues, whereas many Europeans and North Americans focus more on the mouth (Yuki et al., 2007). These differences can be seen in text-based emoticons used in these cultures, as we discussed in Chapter 4. Recall, people from individualistic cultures usually use symbols that direct attention to the mouth [ : ) or :–( ] while people from collectivist cultures are more likely to vary the appearance of the eyes [ ^_^ or ; _ ; ] (Park et al., 2014; Yuki et al., 2007). In her review of the treatment of Indigenous girls taken from their families and forcibly placed in Ontario Training Schools (also known as Residential Schools), Joan Sangster (2002) describes the devastating effects of misinterpreting non-verbal behaviour because of cultural differences. Sangster gives heartbreaking accounts of young Indigenous girls whose culturally appropriate emotional restraint, silent listening, and lack of eye contact were misinterpreted as passivity, secretiveness, and deceitfulness by the reform school staff, who were English-speaking Canadians of European descent. These young girls showed their respect for and deference to authority figures by not looking them in the eye, listening silently, and by keeping their feelings to themselves. The staff interpreted the girls’ non-verbal behaviour as hostility and sneakiness. One school worker wrote, “She is quiet, deep, and cunning. She goes along with training . . . but it is not penetrating.She has no conscience and is not ­progressing. . . . She appears co-operative, but is deceitful” (Sangster, 2002, p. 38). There is no question that the residential school staff’s ethnocentrism and their racist attitudes toward Indigenous Canadians contributed to the staff’s negative interpretations of the girls’ behaviour, and it is also easy to see how a lack of awareness


Have you ever misunderstood someone’s nonverbal cues due to differences in culture? Been misunderstood yourself?

of cultural differences in non-verbal expression can lead to tragic misunderstandings, particularly when one is dealing with children. Gender also affects non-verbal communication and, with rare exceptions, these differences hold true across cultures (Hall, 2006; Knapp and Hall, 2010, 2013). Generally, women are more non-verbally expressive than men and they’re more accurate in interpreting non-verbal behaviour (Hall and Andrzejewski, 2017). More specifically, research summarized by Judith Hall (Hal1, 2006b) shows that, compared to men, women typically • smile more; • use more facial expression; • use more (but less expansive) head, hand, and arm gestures; • touch others more; • stand closer to others; • are more vocally expressive; and • make more eye contact. Despite these differences, men’s and women’s non-verbal communication patterns have a good deal in common (Dindia, 2006; Hall, 2006a). Moreover, gender differences are less pronounced in conversations between LGBTQ+ participants (Knofler and Imhof, 2007). Gender and culture certainly have an influence on non-verbal style, but the differences are a matter of degree rather than kind.


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

REFLECTION NOT SHOWING UP SENDS A MESSAGE As a social convenor at my school, I thought it would be great to have lunchtime yoga sessions to reduce our stress! Many of my classmates seemed keen so I organized the sessions, got the word out via social media, and was then shocked when only two people showed up. I had no idea that many of my classmates had cultural and religious beliefs that prohibited certain mixed gender activities and that in order to participate they needed the yoga classes to be gender specific. That was easy enough to organize—I just wish I had been more aware of the cultural norms and expectations of my peers in the first place. Nevertheless, they certainly sent me a message by not showing up!

CHECK IT! Describe the five characteristics of non-verbal communication.

Functions of Non-verbal ­Communication Now that we have established what non-verbal communication is, we need to explore the functions it serves in relationships. As you’ll read, non-verbal communication plays several roles in the way we relate to others (Ting-Toomey, 2017).

Creating and Maintaining Relationships As we’ll discuss further in Chapter 9, communication is our primary means for beginning, maintaining, and ending relationships. Non-verbal behaviour plays an important role during every relational stage. Consider the importance of non-verbal communication at the beginning of a relationship. When

we first meet another person, our initial goal is to reduce uncertainty about them (Berger, 1987, 2011). We ask ourselves questions such as, “Would I like to know this person better?” and “Is this person interested in me?” One of the first ways we answer these questions is by observing non-verbal cues, including facial expression, eye contact, posture, gesture, and tone of voice (Berger and Kellermann, 1994). This process occurs quite rapidly—often in a matter of seconds (Zebrowitz and Montepare, 2008). At the same time we’re sizing up others, we are providing non-verbal cues about our own attitude toward them. We rarely share these thoughts and feelings overtly. Imagine how odd it would be to say or hear words such as “I’m feeling friendly and relaxed” or “You look pretty interesting, but I won’t pursue this unless you give me a sign you’re interested too.” Messages like these are much more safely expressed through non-verbal channels. Of course, it’s important to remember that non-verbal channels are ambiguous and that you may be misinterpreting them (Mehrabian, 2008). You might want to get an outside evaluation to check your perceptions (“Is it just my imagination, or is she checking me out?”). Non-verbal cues are also important in established ongoing relationships: they both help create and signal emotional climate. For example, non-­­ verbal displays of affection—such as sitting close, holding hands, and gazing at one another—are strongly connected to satisfaction and commitment in romantic relationships (Horan and Booth-Butterfield, 2010). In families, non-verbal cues offer a clear sign of relational satisfaction (Rogers, 2001), and managing their meaning is vital to s­ uccessful parent–child interaction (Grebelsky-Lichtman, ­ 2014, 2015). On the job, supervisors who offer non-verbal cues of liking can increase subordinates’ job motivation, job satisfaction, and affinity for their supervisor (Teven, 2010). You can test the power of non-verbal behaviour in your relationships for yourself. First, observe the interaction of people in relationships without paying attention to their words. Watch couples or families in restaurants or other public places. Focus on non-verbal behaviour of fellow employees or professors and students. You’re likely to see a multitude of cues that suggest the quality of

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each relationship. Chances are good that you could make an educated guess about whether the people you’re watching are satisfied with each other—and whether their relationship is beginning, being maintained, or ending.

S­ometimes deliberately and sometimes without thought, we use non-verbal behaviours in ways that get others to satisfy our wants and needs. To appreciate how we manage impressions and influence others via non-verbal means, consider what happens when you meet strangers you would like to know better. Instead of projecting your image ­verbally Regulating Interaction (“Hi! I’m attractive, friendly, and ­easygoing”), you Non-verbal regulators are cues that help control behave in ways that will present this identity. For verbal interaction. The best example of such regu- example, you might dress in ­something you know lation is the wide array of turn-taking signals in looks good on you, smile more, and perhaps strike a everyday conversation (Wiemann and Knapp, more relaxed and casual pose. 2008). Research has shown there are three non-­ In many individualistic cultures, such as mainverbal signals that indicate a speaker has finished stream Canadian and American cultures, people are talking and is ready to yield to a listener: more compliant and co-operative when we make direct eye contact (Kaisler and Leder, 2016), wear high 1. a change in vocal intonation—a rising or status clothing (Maner, DeWall, and Gailliot, 2008), falling in pitch at the end of a clause; use open body postures (Burgoon et al., 1990), touch 2. a drawl on the last syllable or the stressed others appropriately (Gueguen et al., 2010; Kraus, syllable in a clause; and Huang, and Keltner, 2010), and behave in a friendly, 3. a drop in vocal pitch or loudness when positive way (Kleman, 2008). That’s why job seekers speaking a common expression such as are coached to offer firm handshakes, particularly “you know.” men (Katsumi et al., 2017; Stewart et al., 2008), and Eye contact is another way of regulating verbal smile often and genuinely (Krumhuber et al., 209) to communication (Bavelas et al., 2002). In conver- help influence employers to hire them. sations, the person listening typically looks more In a series of experiments, French psychologist at the speaker than the reverse. The speaker sig- Nicolas Guéguen and his colleagues (2013) invesnals that they’re seeking a response by looking at tigated the extent to which small differences in the listener, creating a brief period of mutual gaze setting could influence attraction. A male research called a “gaze window.” At this point, the listener confederate approached women at a shopping is likely to respond with a nod, “uh-huh,” or other centre and asked for their phone numbers. When reaction, after which the speaker looks away and he made the request holding a guitar case he was continues speaking. more successful (31 per cent gave him their number) than when carrying nothing (14 per cent gave him their number). When carrying a sports bag Influencing Others the proportion of women who agreed dropped to In Chapter 2, we explained that one major goal of nine per cent. In another study, Guéguen (2013) communicating is impression management: getting had female research confederates lie face down on others to view us the way we want to be seen. In many the beach, reading a book. Some had a temporary cases, non-verbal cues can be more important than tattoo of a butterfly on their lower back and some verbal messages in creating impressions (Weisbuch did not. Those with the tattoo were approached by et al., 2010). How we look, act, and sound can be men for conversation more often and more quickly more important in meeting our goals than the words than those without tattoos. These investigators we speak. The influence of non-verbal behaviour suggest that in both studies, seemingly minor comes in many forms. It can capture attention, show changes played major roles in non-verbal impresor increase liking, generate power, or boost cred- sion management. Findings such as these illustrate ibility (Cesario and Higgins, 2008; G ­ ifford, 2011). the influence of stereotypes on our perceptions of



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

SELF-ASSESSMENT NON-VERBAL IMMEDIACY BEHAVIOURS Most communication researchers agree that nonverbal immediacy—the display of involvement signaled by physical closeness, eye contact, smiling, movement, and touch—is an important ingredient of communication competence. You can measure your immediacy be completing this self-­ assessment. Indicate the degree to which you believe each statement applies to you on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = “never” and 5 = “very often.” Then ask someone you know well to complete the assessment about you, requesting they be as honest as possible. When you’re finished, compare notes on your assessments, discuss influences on your behaviour and identify any non-verbal immediacy behaviours you would like to change. Like all skills, increasing or decreasing these non-verbal behaviours requires practice. You may want to practise alone in front of a mirror before trying to make changes in social interactions with others. Often just increasing your awareness of these behaviours and understanding their importance in communicating attention, interest, and warmth is enough to help you make minor adjustments.

 6. I have a bland facial expression when I talk to people.  7. I’m stiff when I talk to people.  8. I have a lot of vocal variety when I talk to people.  9. I lean toward people when I talk to them.  10. I maintain eye contact with people when I talk to them.  11. I smile when I talk to people.  12. I avoid touching people when I talk to them. These 12 items are from a 26-item measure developed by Virginia Richmond and her colleagues.

 1. I use my hands and arms to gesture when talking to people.  2. I use a monotone or dull voice while talking to people.  3. I avoid eye contact while talking to people.  4. I have a tense body position when talking to people.  5. I’m animated when I talk to people.

Scores can range from 12 to 60. Men and women differ in their self-evaluations using this measure, with women perceiving themselves as engaging in more non-verbal immediacy behaviours than men. College-age women had an average score of 47, with most scores between 42 and 52. College-age men had an average score of 43, with most scores between 38 and 49.

others (as we discussed in Chapter 3), as well as the significance of non-verbal communication’s role in influencing others.

Influencing Ourselves Scholars have long known that non-verbal behaviour reflects how a person feels. If you’re happy, you smile; if you’re depressed, you slump, but research also shows the opposite can occur too. That is, if

SOURCE: Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., and Johnson, A.D. (2003). Development of the Non-verbal Immediacy Scale (NIS): Measure of self-and other-perceived non-verbal immediacy. Communication Quarterly, 51, 504–17. Scoring: Step 1. Reverse-score items 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 12 (i.e., 5 = 1, 4 = 2, 3 = 3, 2 = 4, and 1 = 5). Step 2. After reverse scoring the six items in step 1, sum the scores for all 12 items. This is your Non-verbal Immediacy Score.

you change your non-verbal behaviour, it can affect the way you feel. In essence, your body language influences your emotions. Examples of some of these research findings are as follows: • Adopting expansive poses such as hands on hips or spreading out your arms can increase your sense of power (Carney et al., 2010; Cuddy et al., 2018) and tolerance for pain (Bohns and Wiltermuth, 2012).

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• “Jumping for joy” is more than just an emotional reaction. The act of jumping up and down actually triggers happiness (Shafir et al., 2013). • Sitting up straight can improve your mood, self-esteem, and even your memory (Michalak et al., 2014; Nair et al., 2015). • Smiling makes you feel happier (Chang et al., 2013) and smiling for a selfie once a day can improve your mood over time (Chen et al., 2016). This information has practical applications. Amy Cuddy and her colleagues (2015) suggest that prior to a job interview you can boost your confidence and create a more confident presence by discretely holding a power pose for a minute or two. In fact, anytime you’re feeling nervous or low, performing the non-verbal cues of how you want to feel can help you “fake it” until you “make it.” Keep in mind, however, that displaying obviously “fake” emotions (when facial expressions and internal feelings do not match) can lead to negative evaluations by others (Hideg and Kleef, 2017).

Concealing/Deceiving We may honour the truth, but many messages we exchange are not completely truthful. Sometimes we keep silent, sometimes we hedge, and sometimes we downright lie. As we discussed in detail in Chapter 2, not all deception is self-­serving or malicious: much of it is aimed at saving the face of the communicators involved. For example, you might pretend to have a good time at a family celebration or work-related event, even though you were feeling bored and preoccupied. In other cases you might lie to save your own face and avoid embarrassment (“I didn’t get that text”—when you did). In situations like these and many others, it’s easy to see how non-verbal factors can make the face-saving deception either succeed or fail. When verbal and non-verbal messages conflict, we tend to believe the non-verbal. That’s why most people monitor (and self-monitor) non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, patterns of eye contact, posture, vocal pitch, and rate when trying to detect or conceal deception.

Communication researchers Judee Burgoon and Tim Levine (2010) reviewed the evidence on deception detection and came up with three findings that have been supported by research over several decades. First, we’re accurate in detecting deception only slightly more than half of the time—which is only slightly better than chance. Second, we overestimate our abilities to detect others’ lies. We’re not as good at catching deception as we think. Finally, we have a strong tendency to judge others’ messages as truthful. In other words, we want to believe that people wouldn’t lie to us, which biases our ability to detect deceit. This evidence serves as a reminder that it’s not easy to determine whether or not someone is lying and singular non-verbal cues (e.g., lack of eye contact) are not dead giveaways (Burgoon et al., 2015). As one researcher put it, “There is no unique telltale sign for a fib. Pinocchio’s nose just doesn’t exist, and that makes liars difficult to spot” (Lock, 2004, p. 72). Moreover, many popular prescriptions about liars’ non-verbal behaviours simply are not accurate (Guerrero and Floyd, 2006). For instance, conventional wisdom suggests that liars avert their gaze and fidget more than nonliars. Research, however, shows just the opposite: liars often sustain more eye contact and fidget less, in part, because they believe that to do otherwise might appear deceitful (Mann et al., 2013). They also make more eye contact to help them determine whether the other person believes the tales they’re telling (Jundi et al., 2013). Despite the challenges of detecting deception, there are some non-verbal clues that may reveal it (Ekman, 2009). For example, deceivers typically make more speech errors (e.g., false starts, hesitations, stutters, stammers, etc.) than truth tellers. Vocal pitch often rises when people tell lies and liars pause longer before offering answers than do truth-tellers (Sporer and Schwandt, 2007; Vrij et al., 2000). Perhaps most significantly, because it’s a physiological reaction and thus harder to control, liars’ pupils tend to dilate because of the arousal associated with telling lies (Vrij, 2006). That’s why many professional poker players wear sunglasses to hide what their eyes might reveal.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Similar to pupil dilation, the face sometimes reveals a liar’s true feelings in brief unconscious displays called micro-expressions (Yan et al., 2013). Without being aware, liars may leak how they genuinely feel though fleeting furrows of the brow, pursing of the lips, or crinkling around the eyes (Porter et al., 2012). Micro-expressions are more common in what’s called “high stakes” lying, such as when there are severe punishments for being caught (Ekman, 2009). Keep in mind that slow-motion recordings and trained professionals are often required to pick up these micro-expressions. The bottom line is that non-verbal cues can offer information for detecting deception but most lies aren’t detected through snap judgments of a facial expression or shift in posture. Jumping to conclusions based on limited information is unwise and it may lead to communication and relational difficulties.

TAKE TWO The following are five functions of non-verbal communication: 1.  Creating and maintaining relationships 2.  Regulating interaction 3.  Influencing others 4.  Influencing ourselves 5.  Concealing or deceiving

Types of Non-verbal ­Communication So far, we have talked about the role non-verbal communication plays in our interpersonal relationships. Now, it’s time to look at the many types of non-verbal communication.

Body Movement A primary way we communicate non-verbally is through the movement of our bodies: our posture, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and so on. Social scientists use the term kinesics to describe the study of how people communicate through bodily movements (Afifi, 2017). We break them down by category here, although these various features usually work in combination with each other.


Face and Eyes

Not everyone’s nose grows when they’re being deceitful. What are some ways we can detect deceit?

The face and eyes are probably the most noticeable parts of the body, but the non-verbal messages they send are not always the easiest to read. The face is a tremendously complicated channel of expression to interpret, for several reasons. First, it’s hard to describe the number and kind of expressions commonly produced by the face and eyes. For example, researchers have found that there are at least eight distinguishable positions of the eyebrows and forehead, eight more of the eyes and lids, and ten for the lower face (Ekman, 2003). When you multiply this complexity by the n ­ umber

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of emotions we experience, you can see why it would be almost impossible to compile a dictionary of facial expressions and their corresponding emotions. The significance of the face in interpersonal communication can be seen in the many phrases that allude to it. We talk about “saving face,” needing some “face time,” maintaining a “poker face,” and “facing our fears.” That’s because, according to Knapp and Hall (2010), the face may well be “the primary source of communicative information next to human speech” (p. 293). A central component of facial expression is eye behaviour. Oculesics is the study of how the eyes can communicate. Gazes and glances are usually signals of the looker’s interest. However, the type of interest can vary. Gazing can be an indicator of liking (Schotter et al., 2010). In other situations, eye contact indicates interest, but not attraction or approval, such as when a teacher glares at a rowdy student or a police officer “keeps an eye on” a suspect. Of course, the meaning of eye contact is influenced by culture. In many Asian, Indigenous Canadian, and Caribbean cultures individuals avert their gaze as a sign of respect. Some cultures perceive prolonged eye contact as unpleasant and even aggressive (Akechi et al., 2013). In mainstream Canadian and US culture, making eye contact is generally regarded favourably (Akechi et al., 2013). Those who look others in the eye are perceived as intelligent (Murphy, 2007), and experts have found a strong correlation between eye contact and interpersonal closeness (Shellenbarger, 2013). Those same experts have expressed concern about how mobile devices interfere with eye contact. Research also suggests that overuse of technology can dull interpersonal perceptiveness. Preteens who took a five-day break from their cellphones dramatically increased their ability to accurately interpret others’ non-verbal cues (Uhls et al., 2014). In Chapters 8 and 10, we’ll have more to say about technology and relationships, communication climate, and conflict. For now it’s worth noting that eye contact distractions can take a toll on interpersonal communication.


The face and eyes are probably the most noticeable parts of the body, but the non-verbal messages from the face and eyes are not the easiest to read. What are some of the reasons for this?

Posture and Gestures To appreciate the communicative value of kinesics messages, stop reading for a moment and notice how you’re sitting. What does your position say non-verbally about how you feel? Are there any other people near you now? What messages do you get from their present posture? By paying attention to the posture of those around you, as well as to your own, you’ll find another channel of non-­ verbal communication that reveals how people feel about themselves and others. The English language reveals the deep links between posture and communication. English is full of expressions that tie emotional states with body postures: “I won’t take this lying down!” “Stand on your own two feet.”


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

“That’s a weight off my back.” “Don’t be so uptight!”


Phrases like these show an awareness of posture, even if it is often unconscious. The main reason we miss most posture messages is that they are usually subtle. In daily life, people who feel weighed down by a problem seldom hunch over dramatically. In interpreting posture, then, the key is to look for small changes that might be shadows of the way people feel. Gestures are a fundamental element of communication—so fundamental, in fact, that even people who have been blind from birth use them (Bruce et al., 2007). Gestures are sometimes intentional—for example, a cheery wave or thumbs-up. In other cases, however, they’re unconscious. Occasionally, an unconscious gesture will consist of an unambiguous emblem, such as a shrug that clearly means “I don’t know.” Gestures can produce a wide range of reactions in receivers. In many situations, the right kinds of gestures can increase persuasiveness (Maricchiolo et al., 2009). For instance, increasing hand and arm movements, leaning forward, fidgeting less, and keeping one’s limbs open all make a speaker more effective at influencing others. Even more interesting is the finding that persuasiveness increases when one person mirrors another’s movements (Van Swol, 2003).

This is logical considering that non-verbal mirroring (similar to language convergence discussed in Chapter 6) is a common way to express similarity and affiliation with others (Kouzakova et al., 2010). As with almost any non-verbal behaviour, the context in which gestures occur makes all the difference in the results they produce. Animated movements that are well received in a co-operative social setting may seem like signals of aggression or attempts at domination in a more competitive setting. Fidgeting that might suggest deviousness in a bargaining session could be appropriate when you offer a nervous apology in a personal situation. In any case, trying to manufacture insincere, artificial gestures (or any other non-verbal behaviour) will probably backfire. A more useful goal is to recognize the behaviour you find yourself spontaneously delivering and to consider how it expresses the attitudes you already feel.


Social scientists use the term haptics to distinguish the study of touching (Afifi, 2017). Interpersonal touch is a powerful way to communicate our feelings and it plays an important role in our emotional well-being (Gallace and Spence, 2010). Contemporary research confirms the value of touch for infants (Feldman et al., 2010; Field, 2007). In particular, studies have shown the value of “kangaroo care” for premature infants (Feldman et al., 2014). This involves mothers holding their underdeveloped infants close to their skin for one hour a day for two weeks. Compared to babies kept exclusively in incubators, these infants had stronger physiological and cognitive development, slept better, and had lower stress levels. Moreover, the touch sessions increased mothers’ bonds with their babies and reduced their anxiety, showing that touch is important for both givers and People who gesture appropriately often create impressions that differ from receivers. The effects on the those of less expressive people. How expressive do you think you are? children in this study were still

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FOCUS ON RESEARCH NON-VERBAL IMITATION: THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY The next time you’re at a social gathering, take a look at the non-verbal behaviours of each group of conversationalists. Are most of them standing the same way? Are their postures similar? What about their facial expressions? It’s likely their non-­verbal displays are similar, and that’s a positive sign, according to researchers Ishabel Vicaria and Leah Dickens (2016). They conducted a meta-analysis of data about interpersonal coordination—the tendency of social partners to imitate each other’s non-verbal mannerisms. They analysed 50 different studies and found some consistent conclusions. Synchronizing non-verbal behaviours creates a social bond. It happens with people we know and love and also between strangers. Coordinating with another’s non-verbal cues reflects and creates a sense of affinity. It also reduces anxiety and enhan-

evident 10 years later. What this suggests is that interpersonal touch meets a primal human need. Some of the most pronounced benefits of touching occur in medicine and the health and helping professions. For example, patients are more likely to take their medications when physicians give a slight touch when prescribing (Guéguen and Vion, 2009). Touch between therapists and clients has the potential to encourage a variety of beneficial ­changes: more self-disclosure, client self-acceptance, and better client–therapist relationships (Driscoll et al., 1998). Patients with dementia who were given hand massages, along with intermittent gentle touches on the arm and shoulder, decreased their anxiety and dysfunctional behaviour (Kim and Bushmann, 1999). In addition to being touched, studies have found that touching soft things (e.g., soft grip pen, teddy bear) can reassure people in times of uncertainty or social exclusion (Tai et al., 2011; Van Horen and Mussweiler, 2014). An additional power of touch is its on-the-job utility. Studies show that in restaurants, a server’s fleeting touch of their hand on the forearm of a

ces one’s mood. The researchers conclude that non-­ verbal coordination is the “social glue” that promotes cohesion and harmonious feelings between people. So watch for it the next time you’re at a family event, out with friends, or at work. If your non-verbal behaviours match what others are doing, it’s no accident. It may reflect how you feel about those people and how they feel about you. Critical thinking: Have you ever suddenly become aware of how your non-verbal cues have morphed to match the person or people you’re interacting with, making you self-conscious? Conversely, have you ever noticed when the non-verbal communication of someone in a group or gathering is not in sync? What factors make it easier or more difficult for people to synchronize their non-verbal communication?

patron can result in larger tips (Guéguen and Jacob, 2005). And a patron whom a server touches on the arm while suggesting an entrée choice is more likely to choose that meal (Guéguen et al., 2007). There is considerable variation around the world in the amount of touch viewed as appropriate. For example, Saudi men often hold hands as a sign of trust. Same-sex handholding is appropriate in Saudi culture but might easily be misinterpreted by North Americans. In contrast, Saudi men and women do not touch each other in public (Feghali, 1997). Canada is regarded as a moderate touch culture. Most Asian cultures are considered non-­ contact cultures, whereas many South and Central American cultures, and southern European cultures, are viewed as contact cultures (Finnegan, 2005; Hall, 1963; McDaniel and Andersen, 1998).

Voice Social scientists use the term paralanguage to describe the way a message is spoken. Vocal rate, pitch, tone, volume, accent, tempo or emphasis, and



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

meanings come from a single sentence just by shifting the emphasis from one word to another: This is a fantastic communication book. (Not just any book, but this one in particular.) This is a fantastic communication book. (This book is superior, exciting.) This is a fantastic communication book. (The book is good as far as the study of communication goes, but it may not be as great as a work of literature.)


This is a fantastic communication book. (It’s not a play or a movie; it’s a book.)

Touch is a powerful form of communication. Next time you touch or are touched by someone, think about how the touch is part of the communication.

so on can give the same word or phrase many meanings. In essence, paralanguage is not so much about what you say, as how you say it. It adds a considerable amount of information to our utterances, ­helping us to convey our emotions and intentions, and understand those of others. For example, note how many

TAKE TWO • Kinesics: the study of how people communicate through body movements. • Oculesics: the study of how the eyes communicate • Haptics: the study of touching

Along with tone, speed, pitch, and volume, paralanguage includes pauses. Silent or unintentional pauses are those times when people stop to collect their thoughts before deciding how to best continue. It’s no surprise that liars tend to have more of these than truth tellers, as they often make up their stories on the fly (Guerrero and Floyd, 2006). When people pause at length after being asked a delicate question (“Did you like the gift I bought you?”), it might mean they’re buying time to come up with a face-saving—and perhaps less than honest—response. A second type of pause is a vocalized paused. These range from disfluencies such as uh, um, and er to filler words and phrases such as “like,” “okay,” and “ya know.” The effect of paralinguistic cues is strong. Preschool children tend to give more weight to the language or content of messages but as they grow and develop so does their increased reliance on non-verbal information to infer speakers’ emotions, attitudes, and intentions (Gillis and Nilsen, 2017). In fact, by the time children reach the age of 10 years old they rely on the paralinguistic features of a message more than the content to identify speakers’ intent (Friend, 2000), as do adults (Burns and Beier, 1973). Even when vocal factors contradict a verbal message (as when a speaker shouts, “I am not angry!”), adolescent and adult listeners tend to judge the speaker’s intention from the paralanguage, not the words themselves (Mehrabian and Weiner, 1967). Vocal changes that contradict spoken words are not easy to conceal. If the speaker is trying to hide fear or anger, the voice

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will probably sound higher and louder, and the rate of talk may be faster than normal. Sadness produces the opposite vocal pattern: quieter, lower-pitched speech delivered at a slower rate (Ekman, 1985). We tend to have greater affinity for people whose paralanguage is similar to our own. Like the convergence of language patterns we discussed in Chapter 6, people tend to adopt the vocal patterns of their co-cultural peers (Ting-Toomey, 2017). When we judge a speaker’s speech rate as similar to our own we perceive them as more competent and socially attractive than when the rate is different (Feldstein et al., 2001). In addition, people are more likely to comply with requests from speakers whose speech rates are similar to their own (Buller and Aune, 1988, 1992). Similarly, children prefer playmates who have similar speech styles (Kinzler et al., 2009). Sarcasm is one approach in which we use both emphasis and tone of voice to change the meaning of a statement to the opposite of its verbal message (Rockwell, 2007b). Experience this reversal yourself with the following three statements. First say them without additional emphasis, and then say them sarcastically. “You look terrific!” “I really had a wonderful time on my blind date.” “There’s nothing I like better than calves’ brains on toast.”

As with other non-verbal messages, people often ignore or misinterpret the vocal nuances of sarcasm. Members of certain groups—children, people with weak intellectual skills, poor listeners, and people who have communication apprehension and people with certain forms of brain damage—are more likely to misunderstand sarcastic messages than are others (Rockwell, 2007a; Shamay et al., 2002). Research has revealed that children interpret mixed messages in ways very different from adults (Morton and Trehub, 2001). When youngsters aged four to eight were presented with positive statements (such as “Dad gave me a new bike for my birthday”) delivered in a sad tone of voice, they gauged the speaker as happy because they paid attention to the words rather than the vocal cues. When a negative statement was read in an upbeat tone, children interpreted the message as

negative—again, relying more on the content than the paralanguage. There was a direct r­elationship between age and sensitivity to non-verbal cues, with the youngest children relying most heavily on the words spoken. This study helps us appreciate the often taken-for-granted importance of non-verbal cues. It also serves as a reminder that communication with children may require different approaches than those that work with adults. In some cases, you will want to give clues that your words should not be taken literally. One way to do this in written mediated communication is with emoji (Thompson and Filik, 2016), or shorthand such as “jk” or “haha.” In face-to-face conversations, sometimes you need to clarify: “Sorry, I was being sarcastic— maybe I should have just said, I don’t like it when you tease me in front of my friends.” We use vocal cues to express the relational dimension of our messages. For instance, as adults we can lower the pitch of our voices to establish power and authority (Cheng at el., 2016). It is important to pay attention to the paralinguistic messages you’re sending. When first-year medical students watched videos of themselves and rated their doctor–patient communication, some of the primary shortcomings they noticed had to do with their paralanguage— particular tone, rate of speech, volume, and disfluencies (Zick et al., 2007). Disfluencies such as vocalized pauses (including “um,” “er,” “okay,” etc.) reduce a speaker’s perceived credibility (Davis et al., 2006). Pause for a moment and take a self-inventory. What feedback have you received about your paralanguage? Do people ask you to speak up or quiet down? Are you a fast or slow talker? Does your vocal pitch signal confidence? Is you speech filled with “ums” and ‘likes” and “ya knows”? Do loved ones sometimes react to your tone of voice, or critique not what you say but how you say it? Apart from the qualities that result from your particular vocal cords, most features of paralanguage are changeable. With a bit of self-monitoring, you have the ability to shift the way you talk to assist your interpersonal communication.

Distance Proxemics is the study of how communication is affected by the use, organization, and perception of



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

TAKE TWO • Paralanguage: the way a message is spoken. The speaker’s mode of delivery is governed by vocal rate, pitch, tone, volume, pauses (both silent and verbal), and disfluencies. • Disfluencies: non-linguistic verbalizations such as stammering, use of um, er, uh, etc.

space and distance (Afifi, 2017). Each of us carries around a sort of invisible bubble of personal space wherever we go. We think of the area inside this bubble as our own—almost as much a part of us as our own bodies. Our personal bubbles vary in size according to the culture in which we were raised, the person we’re with, the situation, our age, and our gender (Sorokowska et al., 2017). The varying size of our personal space—the distance we put between ourselves and others—gives a non-verbal clue to our feelings (Horan and Booth-Butterfield, 2013). In a classic study (Crane et al., 1987), researchers tested more than 100 married couples, asking partners to walk toward one another and stop when they reached a “comfortable conversational distance.” Then, they gave each partner a battery of tests to measure their marital intimacy, desire for

change, and potential for divorce. The researchers discovered that there was a strong relationship between distance and marital happiness. The average space between distressed couples was about 25 per cent greater than that between satisfied partners. On average, the happy couples stood 28.5 centimetres apart, while the distance between unhappy spouses averaged 37 centimetres. Preferred spaces are largely a matter of cultural norms (Beaulieu, 2004; Høgh-Olesen, 2008). For example, most North Americans stand closer to each other when talking than do most Asians (Anderson and Wand, 2009). Interestingly, the influence of culture on proxemic behaviour even extends to online communication. In ­avatar ­interactions, Asian dyads maintain larger ­distances than European dyads, consistent with what occurs in face-to-face interactions (Hasler and Friedman, 2012). Looking at the distances that North American communicators use in everyday interaction, pioneering researcher Edward Hall found four special distances, each of which reflects a different way we feel about others at a given time. More recently, a large group of researchers representing 42 countries reaffirmed Hall’s research findings and found considerable variation in people’s preferences across various countries (Sorokowska et al., 2017). By “reading” which distance people select, we can get some insight into their feelings.


Intimate Distance

Think about personal space the next time you’re comfortable being close to another person, or uncomfortable being close to another. How far apart are you in those interactions?

The first of Hall’s four zones, intimate distance, begins with skin contact. We usually use this intimate distance with people who are emotionally close to us, and then mostly in private situations—making love, caressing, comforting, protecting. By allowing people to move into our intimate distance, we let them enter our personal space. When we let them in voluntarily, it’s usually a sign of trust: we have willingly

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lowered our defences. On the other hand, when someone invades this most personal area without our consent, we usually feel threatened.

Personal Distance The second spatial zone, personal distance, ranges from 45 centimetres at its closest point to 1.2 metres at its farthest. The closer end of the range is the distance most couples stand from one another in public. If, at a party, a third person were to venture that close, the couple is likely to become alert. This “moving in” is often taken to mean that something more than casual conversation is taking place. The far end of the personal distance range (from roughly 0.75 metres to 1.2 metres) is the area just beyond a person’s reach. As Hall puts it, at this distance, we can keep someone “at arm’s length.” His choice of words suggests the type of communication that goes on at this range: the contacts are still reasonably close, but they’re much less personal than the ones that occur 30 centimetres or so closer.

Social Distance The third zone is social distance. It ranges from 1.2 metres to about 3 metres at the outside. Within this zone, the distance between communicators can have a powerful effect on how we regard and respond to others. For example, students are more satisfied with teachers who reduce (at appropriate levels, of course) the distance between themselves and their classes. They are also more satisfied with the course itself and are more likely to follow the teacher’s instructions (Hackman and Walker, 1990). Likewise, medical patients are more satisfied with doctors who use close physical proximity to convey warmth and concern (Grant et al., 2000). However, people with high social anxiety are likely to keep social distance at the far reaches to reduce their discomfort with strangers (Perry et al., 2013).

Public Distance Public distance is Hall’s term for the farthest zone, extending outward from 3 metres. The

closer range of public distance is the one that most ­teachers use  in the classroom. In the farther reaches of public space—7.5 metres and beyond—two-way communication is almost impossible. Sometimes, speakers must use public distance to reach a large audience, but we can assume that anyone who chooses to use it when more closeness is possible is not interested in a dialogue. When our spatial bubble is invaded, we usually experience stress and respond with barrier behaviours: strategies designed to create a barrier (or fix a broken one) between ourselves and other people (Evans and Wener, 2007). Invade someone’s personal space and notice the reaction. At first, the person is most likely to simply back away, probably without realizing what is happening. Next, your partner might attempt to put an object between you, such as a desk, a chair, or some books clutched to the chest, all in an effort to get some separation. Then, the other person will probably decrease eye contact (the “elevator syndrome,” in which we can crowd in and even touch one another so long as we avoid eye contact). Your reluctant partner might sneeze, cough, scratch, and exhibit various gestures to discourage your anti-social behaviour. The label “anti-social” suggests you should think twice before running experiments like this. The goal here is to describe the lengths people will go to to protect their personal space—and how most of their defense signals are non-verbal.

Territoriality While personal space is the invisible bubble we carry around, territory is a stationary area we claim (Hidalgo and Hernandez, 2001). Robert Sommer (1969) watched students in a college library and found that there is a definite pattern for people who want to study alone. When the library was not crowded, students almost always chose corner seats at one of the empty rectangular tables. After each table was occupied by one reader, new readers would choose a seat on the opposite side and at the far end, thus keeping the maximum distance between themselves and the other readers. One of Sommer’s ­associates



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

tried breaking these “rules” by sitting next to and across from other female readers even though distant seats were available. She found that the women reacted defensively, signalling their discomfort through shifts in posture, by gesturing, or by moving away. Consider how you would react if someone took “your” seat in one of your classes. Even though the chair isn’t your possession, you probably have some sense of ownership about it (Kaya and Burgess, 2007). How you respond to such a manoeuvre depends on who enters and uses your territory (a friend is less threatening than a stranger); why they enter or use it (for instance, a “mistake” is less important than a “planned attack”); what territory is entered or used (you may care more about a territory over which you have exclusive rights, such as your bedroom, than about a territory in a public area, such as your seat in class). Generally, we grant people with higher status more personal territory and greater privacy. We knock before entering our supervisor’s office, whereas the supervisor can usually walk into our work area without hesitating.

Time Social scientists use the term chronemics to describe the study of how humans use and structure time. The use of time depends greatly on culture. Some cultures tend to be monochronic, emphasizing punctuality, schedules, and completing tasks on time (Flaskerud, 2013). Examples of monochromic cultures would be German, Swiss, and mainstream Canadian and US cultures. In contrast, other cultures are more polychronic, with flexible schedules in which multiple tasks are pursued at the same time. Many Indigenous Canadian cultures take this approach (Stonefish and Kwantes, 2017) as do numerous South American, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Arab cultures (Arman and Adir, 2012). One psychologist discovered the difference between North and South American attitudes when he was teaching at a university in Brazil (Levine, 1988). He found that some students arrived halfway through a two-hour class and that most of them stayed and kept a­ sking

TAKE TWO • Personal space: the invisible bubble of space we consider as our own; it varies in size according to the person we’re with, the culture in which we were raised, and the situation at hand. • Intimate distance: the first of Hall’s spatial distances, skin contact to about 45 centimetres. • Personal distance: the second of Hall’s spatial distances, 45 centimetres to 1.2 metres. • Social distance: the third of Hall’s spatial ­distances, 1.2 to 3 metres. • Public distance: the fourth of Hall’s spatial distances, 7.5 metres and beyond. • Barrier behaviours: strategies to create or fix a barrier between ourselves and other people (e.g., avoiding eye contact). • Territory: a stationary space claimed by a person or animal.

questions when the class was scheduled to end. Half an hour after the official end of the period, the professor finally closed off discussion, since there was no indication that the students intended to leave. This flexibility of time is quite different from what is common in most North American colleges and universities. Even within a culture, rules of time vary. Consider your own experience. In school, some instructors begin and end class punctually, while others are more casual. With some people, you feel comfortable talking for hours in person or on the phone, while with others, time seems precious and not to be “wasted.” Time can be a marker not only of status and culture but also of relationships. Research shows that the amount of time spent with a relational partner sends important messages about valuing that person (Andersen et al., 2006). In one study analyzing 20 non-verbal behaviours, “spending time together” was the most powerful predictor of both relational satisfaction and perceived interpersonal understanding (Egland et al., 1997). And, as we’ll discuss in Chapter 11, spending time with a partner is one of love’s languages.

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CHECK IT! Chronemics: the study of how people use and structure time. Monochronic: an approach to the management of time that emphasizes punctuality, schedules, and completing one task at a time. Polychronic: an approach to the management of time that emphasizes flexibility of schedules and pursuing multiple tasks at the same time.

Physical Attractiveness The importance of beauty has been emphasized in the arts for centuries. More recently, social scientists have begun to measure the degree to which physical attractiveness affects interaction between people (Lemay et al., 2010; Lorenzo et al., 2010). Findings, summarized by Knapp and Hall (2013), indicate that women who are perceived as attractive have more dates, receive higher grades in college (or university), persuade men with greater ease, and receive lighter court sentences. Both men and women whom others view as attractive are rated as being more sensitive, kind, strong, sociable, and interesting than people who conform less with what is deemed physically attractive (Knapp and Hall, 2010). Recall, from Chapter 3, that our first impressions and the judgments we make about others are heavily influenced by attractiveness stereotypes (the halo effect). Often people unknowingly judge what is beautiful as what is good (Lemay et al., 2010). For instance, more than 200 managers in a Newsweek survey admitted that attractive people get preferential treatment both in hiring decisions and on the job (Bennett, 2010). People rated as better looking get better grades and higher wages (Gordon et al., 2013; Rhode, 2010). Professors perceived as “hot” are judged as having more expertise; students are more motivated to learn from them and give them higher teaching evaluations (Liu et al., 2013). The beauty bias even exerts itself in the legal system and our political judgments and affiliations (Peterson and Palmer, 2017; Rhodes, 2010). The pervasiveness of what some scholars

have dubbed “lookism” is widespread and does us all a disservice as do all prejudices (Gordon, 2013). Occasionally, beauty has negative effects. Interviewers may turn down highly attractive candidates if they are perceived as threats (Agthe et al., 2011). While good looks generally get rewarded, glamorous beauty can be intimidating (Frevet and Walker, 2014). There is evidence that physically attractive people have trouble maintaining their romantic relationships, perhaps because they have high expectations for how they’ll be treated by their partners (Ma-Kellams et al., 2017). On the whole, however, the interpersonal benefits of attractiveness far outweigh the downsides. Fortunately, attractiveness is something we can control without having to call the plastic surgeon. Evidence suggests that as we get to know people and like them, we start to regard them as better looking (Albada et al., 2002). Even brief interactions with others can increase our perceptions of their attractiveness (Hall and Compton, 2017). Moreover, we view others as beautiful or ugly, not just on the basis of the “original equipment” they come with, but also on how they use that equipment. Posture, gestures, facial expressions, and other behaviours can increase the attractiveness of a seemingly unremarkable person. Finally, our style of dress can make a significant difference in the way others perceive us, as we discuss next.

Clothing Besides protecting us from the elements, clothing is a tool of non-verbal communication. Clothing conveys a variety of messages to others (Howlett et al., 2013), including the following:   1. economic level;   2. educational level;  3. trustworthiness;   4. social position;   5. level of sophistication;   6. economic background;   7. social background;   8. educational background;   9. level of success; and 10. moral character.



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

Dressing more formally—whether in a business suit, lab coat, or uniform—tends to enhance perceptions of credibility and expertise. Canadians prefer their doctors to wear formal attire (defined as blouse, skirt, or pants for women and collared shirt and tie and slacks for men) and a lab coat, rather than scrubs or casual attire, particularly on first encounter (Petrilli et al., 2015). Preferences for physicians’ attire vary around the world and influence patients’ perceptions of knowledge, competence, trustworthiness, professionalism, and approachability. Students regard guest lecturers who dress up for their presentations as more credible (Dunbar and Segrin, 2012). However, formal clothing can also create interpersonal distance. One study (Sebastian and Bristow, 2008) found students attribute more expertise to professors who dress up, but they also rank those professors lower in likeability than casually dressed professors. Judgments based on what a person wears, like other perceptions, need to be made carefully. For example, some people judge the hijab, a head covering or scarf worn by some Muslim women, as a symbol of patriarchal, anti-feminist, male oppression. In contrast, Canadian-Muslim women who wear the hijab have explained that they see it as helping them define their identity and religiosity, demonstrate modesty, and resist sexual objectification (Bhowon, 2016; Litchmore and Safdar,

2016). The choice of whether or not to wear the hijab is influenced by both the internal and external experiences of each woman and is their personal choice. Similarly, investigations into the motivations and responses to Canadian-Muslim women who wear the niqab or burka (complete body, hair, and face covering in which only the eyes are visible) revealed highly personal reasons for this choice including commitment to deeper religious development, helping them express their Muslim identity, and freedom from the pressures of women’s fashion (Clarke, 2013). Perhaps surprisingly to those who judge such coverings as oppressive, very few of the women interviewed in these studies felt pressure by men to wear these garments. In fact, several of the women interviewed who wore the niqab explained that the choice to do so was theirs alone and they faced spousal opposition to their choice (Clarke, 2013). Finally, there is fascinating research regarding the effects of wearing designer knock-off clothing and accessories. Students who believed they were wearing counterfeit sunglasses were more likely to behave unethically than their peers who believed they were wearing authentic designer apparel. Also, those who believed they were ­ wearing designer knock-off goods were more cynical in their perception of others (Gino et al., 2010). Like all our perceptions based on appearances, judgments of others based on their clothing choices need to be made carefully and put into the larger context of what we know about the subjectivity and biases inherent in human ­perception.

© Zoe Waelchli

Physical Environment

Look at what you’re wearing and how you’re sitting right now. What do your clothing and body language communicate about yourself?

We conclude our discussion of non-verbal communication by examining how physical settings, architecture, and interior design affect communication. Physical environments can shape the kinds of interactions that take place in them. For example, a study of 10 neighbourhoods examined the sidewalks, front porches, traffic-calming devices (e.g., speed humps, roundabouts), bars on windows and presence of litter or graffiti. Neighbourliness was significantly higher in places with more positive physical environments. In grittier

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I consider myself to be an independent, liberated, Western woman with a fundamental belief in my equality with men. Attending university, I met several Muslim women who wore head scarves. I had always seen the head scarf as a sign of the male subjugation of women. I had this stereotype of demure, soft-spoken, obliging women, sort of like the “ideal” 1950s housewife, but from a different culture. As I got to know these Muslim women, my perception (or bias) seemed really wrong! I observed these women to be outspoken, articulate, independent-minded individuals. They spoke up in class, challenged their peers’ ideas (both male and female), and clearly had a strong sense of their worth. They told me that rather than being a symbol of subservience to men, the head scarf served as a guard against the eyes of men and freed them from being “sexual objects.” For me, this was a whole new way of interpreting the meaning of the head scarf.

locales, people were less likely to have positive interactions in their communities (Wilkerson et al., 2012). In less hospitable neighbourhoods, adding green space and just keeping them clean, well lit, and graffiti-free can help to promote less littering, graffiti, and crime and can support more positive interactions. Kuo and Sullivan (2001) found that residents of inner-city public housing who lived in relatively barren buildings reported more mental fatigue, aggression, and violence than their counterparts in buildings with nearby grass and trees. Similarly, researchers (Keizer et al., 2008) have found that in environments that contain graffiti, are strewn with litter, and have an abundance of unreturned shopping carts, people are more likely to similarly violate norms or social rules governing public spaces (e.g., they too litter, vandalize, or fail to return their shopping carts). In contrast, exposure to natural environments has been found to be associated with increased generosity and caring for others (Weinstein et al., 2009) Interior design, lighting, choice of furnishings, and decorations also affect the way people feel and interact. Most of us have spent time in what Knapp and Hall (2013) call “unliving rooms,” where the spotless floors, pristine and uncomfortable furniture, and delicate furnishings and decorations send non-verbal messages telling us not to touch anything, to be very careful, and not to be relaxed and comfortable. Students who were interviewed in a room with dim lighting were more relaxed, had a more favourable impression of the interviewer, and were more self-disclosing than those exposed to bright lighting (Miwa and Hanyu, 2006). Clients who received counselling in a comfortably furnished office with upholstered chairs, curtains, a throw rug, and plants felt more welcome and expected better results than those who were treated in a sparsely furnished office with bright lighting (Nasar and Devlin, 2011). Along with shaping communication, the physical environment can reflect the relationships of the people who create them. Consider the shared space of a couple. Do they display photographs of themselves together? Do souvenirs remind them of special times? Partners who create environments that chronicle and celebrate their relationships



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages

BUILDING WORK SKILLS CULTURAL VALUES AT WORK An important beginning strategy to communicate more effectively at work is being aware of your workplace values and behaviour, and how they’re influenced by your culture. Take a moment to assess your workplace or your school environment in terms of some of the types of non-verbal communication discussed in this chapter. Pay particular attention to touch, proxemics and territoriality, time, clothing, and physical environment. Describe your workplace in terms of these elements, and then identify the values communicated. Here are some questions to get your started: • • • • • •

Who initiates touch? Who touches whom? Who gets the most territory? Who gets the least? Who gets the window? Do some people prefer greater or less social distance? Who? How do you know? How important is punctuality? Can some people keep others waiting with impunity? What do people wear? Are there differences? Is the physical environment clean? Are some places cleaner than others? Is the space well designed for the work to be done? Are some places better than others?

report feeling closer to one another, having better functioning relationships, and having higher levels of commitment (Arriaga et al., 2008). Environmental influences can even shape perceptions and communication in virtual space. For example, people who meet online in a formal virtual setting, such as a library, communicate more formally than those who meet in a casual virtual cafe (Pena and Blackburn, 2013). You might want to keep these concepts in mind when you’re designing or decorating the spaces

in which you live, study, and work. Your physical environment—real or virtual—can affect your interpersonal communication.

CHECK IT! List the 10 types of non-verbal communication and provide an example of each.

SUMMARY Non-verbal communication consists of messages expressed by non-linguistic means. It is pervasive; in fact, non-verbal messages are always available as a source of information about others. Often what we do conveys more meaning than what we say, and non-verbal behaviour shapes perception. Most non-verbal behaviour conveys messages about relational attitudes and feelings, in contrast to verbal statements, which are better suited to expressing ideas. Messages that are c­ommunicated

non-verbally are usually more ambiguous than verbal communication. Contrary to what some might think, non-verbal cues also play a role in mediated communication. Non-verbal communication is also affected by culture and gender. Non-verbal communication serves many functions. It can help create and maintain relationships. It also serves to regulate interactions, influence others and influence yourself. In addition, non-verbal communication can be used to conceal

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or reveal deception. When people are presented with conflicting verbal and non-verbal messages, they’re more likely to rely on the non-verbal ones. Non-verbal messages can be communicated in a variety of ways—through body movement (­ including

the face and eyes, gestures, and posture), touch, voice, distance, territory, time, physical appearance, clothing, and environment. Culture plays a significant role in determining the rules and meanings for each of these factors.


Which of the following statements is not true about non-verbal communication?


a. It’s best defined as communication without words. b. It’s a message expressed by non-­linguistic means. c. It can be expressed vocally. d. It’s influenced by culture and gender.

a. are non-verbal regulators. b. are used to indicate a speaker is finished talking. c. are used to help control verbal interaction. d. are all of the above. 6.


When comparing verbal and non-verbal communication scholars suggest non-verbal ­communication is a. b. c. d.


rooted in biology. mostly voluntary and conscious. single channel. usually content oriented.

The difficulty we have expressing ideas and opinions, such as “I think there should be free speech restrictions” via non-verbal communication illustrates the idea that a. non-verbal communication is ambiguous. b. non-verbal communication is influenced by culture and gender. c. non-verbal communication is always occurring. d. non-verbal communication is primarily relational.


Emblems a. describe the way a message is spoken. b. are culturally understood substitutes for verbal expressions. c. are cues that control verbal interaction. d. all of the above are true about emblems.

Changes in vocal intonation, a drawl on the last syllable, and a drop in vocal pitch or loudness

Hamid dislikes public speaking. Just before he enters the room to give his presentation he takes a minute and puts his hands on his hips, stands up straight, and takes a deep breath. Hamid’s behaviour is an example of how non-verbal communication a. b. c. d.


helps us create relationships. helps us regulate social interaction. influences our own feelings. helps us conceal our true emotions.

Paralanguage refers to a. the way body movements communicate. b the way our use of space and distance communicate. c. the way a message is spoken. d. the way the eyes communicate.


The influence of physical attractiveness on human perception a. is primarily limited to dating websites. b. has few if any negative effects. c. is a recent phenomenon due to the increased ease and availability of photo manipulation. d. is similar to other types of prejudice such as racism and sexism.


PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages


Hans feels frustrated when his colleagues routinely show up to meetings late and, as a result, meetings start late and go over the allotted time. He perceives his colleagues as unprofessional and disrespectful. Hans’s time orientation is probably a. monochronic. b. chronemic. c. polychronic. d. latinate.

10. Dressing more formally a. tends to enhance perceptions of credibility and expertise. b. tends to increase perceptions of trustworthiness. c. tends to create interpersonal distance. d. tends to do all of the above.

Answers: 1. a; 2. a; 3. d; 4. b; 5. d; 6. c; 7. c; 8. d; 9. a; 10. d


ACTIVITIES 1. Invitation to Insight Demonstrate for yourself that it’s impossible to avoid communicating non-verbally by trying not to communicate with a friend or family member. (You be the judge of whether to tell the other person about this experiment beforehand.) See how long it takes for your partner to ask what you are doing and to report what they think you might be thinking and feeling. 2. Critical Thinking Probe Interview someone from a culture different from your own, and learn at least three ways in which non-verbal codes differ from those of the place where you were raised. Together, develop a list of ways you could break unstated, but important, rules about non-verbal behaviour in your partner’s culture in three of the following areas: • eye contact • posture • gesture • facial expression • distance • voice • touch • time • clothing

• physical environment • territory Describe how a failure to recognize different cultural codes could lead to misunderstandings, frustrations, and dissatisfaction. Discuss how an awareness of cultural rules can be developed in an increasingly multicultural world. 3. Skill Builder Sharpen your ability to distinguish between observing and interpreting non-verbal behaviour by following these directions: a. Sit or stand opposite a partner at a comfortable distance. For a one-minute period, report your observations of the other person’s behaviour by repeatedly completing the statement, “Now I see ______ (non-verbal behaviour).” For example, you might report, “Now I see you blinking your eyes. Now I see you looking down at the floor. Now I see you fidgeting with your hands.” Notice that no matter what your partner does, you have an unending number of non-verbal behaviours to observe. b. For a second one-minute period, complete the sentence “Now I see ______ (non-verbal behaviour), and I think ______,” filling in the blank with your interpretation of the other

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­erson’s non-verbal behaviour. For instance, p you might say, “Now I see you look away, and I think you’re nervous about looking me in the eye. Now I see you smiling and I think you’re agreeing with my interpretation.” Notice that by clearly labelling your interpretation, you give the other person a chance to correct any mistaken hunches. c. Repeat the first two steps, changing roles with your partner. 4. Invitation to Insight In a public place, unobtrusively record field notes describing non-verbal messages you observe. For each observation, record at least two assumptions about the significance of the behaviour in question. 5. Invitation to Insight Explore your territoriality by listing the spaces you feel you “own,” such as parts of the place you live in, or a seat in a particular classroom. Describe how you feel when your territory is invaded and identify things you do to “mark” it.

6. Role Play This role play allows you to become more aware of your non-verbal behaviour and then gives you an opportunity to pay attention to all the facets of non-verbal communication by observing and copying someone else. a. Think of an important message you need to deliver to someone significant (e.g., declining an invitation, asking for something the person may be unwilling to give). If you can’t think of anything currently, think of a message you had to deliver in the past. b. Deliver the message to your partner and ask them to copy all your non-verbal actions (except paralanguage) while you’re giving the message  —as though you’re looking into a mirror. When you’re finished, discuss what you and your partner noticed about your non-verbal message. c. Next, reverse roles. Have your partner deliver the message and you copy their behaviour. Be sure to pay attention to as many facets as possible (e.g., face and eyes, posture and body movement, touch, gestures). Again, discuss your observations.


Describe similarities and differences between verbal and non-verbal communication.


Why do you think non-verbal communication has so much influence on human perception? Why do we value it more than verbal communication when we’re evaluating the relational content of messages? What are the limitations of non-verbal communication in this regard?


Describe nine types of non-verbal behaviour and rate the significance of each in your communication with others.


The research evidence regarding the power of physical attractiveness over human perception is disconcerting. What can we do to overcome our biases (both positive and negative) in this area? Do you think it’s fair to characterize our perceptual biases related to physical appearance as a prejudice similar to racism or sexism? Why or why not?


Non-verbal communication is ambiguous and often unconscious. It’s highly influenced by culture. How do you think these characteristics in particular contribute to the development and perpetuation of bias?



PART TWO: Creating and Responding to Messages


Pay attention to the types of non-verbal communication that you notice most in others. What kinds of things do you tend to notice? Why do you think that is? Are these observations helpful? Are there other types of non-verbal communication that you overlook? Would it be helpful to pay more attention to these areas? Why or why not?


Keep a one-day log of significant ­non-verbal communication (both face-to-face and mediated) in one of your important ­relationships.

For each entry, note (a) whether the behaviour was deliberate or unintentional; (b) the relational messages that seem to have been exchanged; (c) the degree of ambiguity about the meaning of the behaviour; and (d) gender and cultural factors that may have shaped the non-verbal communication.


Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships




Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships

CHAPTER OUTLINE Why We Form Relationships Appearance Similarity Complementarity Rewards Competence Proximity Disclosure

Intimacy and Distance in Relationships Forms of Intimacy

Forms of Distance The Influence of Culture and Gender on Intimacy and Distance

Models of Relational Dynamics Stages of Relational Development Dialectical Tensions in Relationships Characteristics of Relational Development

Communicating about Relationships Content and Relational Messages Maintaining and Supporting Relationships Repairing Damaged Relationships

KEY TERMS avoiding bonding circumscribing comparison level (CL) comparison level of alternatives (CL alt) dialectical tensions differentiating experimenting expression–privacy dialectic initiating integrating

integration–separation dialectic intensifying intimacy metacommunication relational maintenance relational transgressions social exchange theory social support stability–change dialectic stagnating terminating


Describe the various reasons for entering into interpersonal relationships Analyze the stages typically experienced in relationships and identify factors that might affect this sequence Identify the dialectical tensions that influence your communication goals, the strategies you use to manage these tensions, and alternative strategies you might consider using Describe what communicators must consider in order to maintain, and improve their interpersonal relationships


PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. —William James

There is no question that personal relationships matter. The development and maintenance of stable and satisfying interpersonal relationships is fundamental to human motivation, health, and well-being (Baumeister and Leary, 1995; Campos and Kim, 2016; Yang et al., 2016). Our interconnectedness to others affects our biology, our physical health and survival, and our emotional health and well-being. It’s no surprise that interpersonal relationships are a big part of what make our lives meaningful (Baumeister et al., 2013). Yet, while interpersonal relationships are essential and

contribute to our happiness and the meaningfulness of our lives, they also cause stress (O’Donnell et al., 2014) In this chapter, we introduce some of the dynamics that characterize interpersonal relationships and the communication that occurs within them. After reading the chapter, you’ll see that relationships are neither fixed nor unchanging. Rather, they can, and often do, change over time. In other words, a relationship is more a process than a thing. We look at why we form relationships, the dynamics of those relationships, and how to manage them. In Chapter 11, the companion to this chapter, we’ll extend our discussion by focusing on specific relational contexts: close relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners.

Why We Form Relationships


Why do we form interpersonal relationships with some people and not with others? Sometimes, we have no choice. Children can’t choose their parents, and most workers aren’t able to choose their colleagues. However, even in our workplaces and families we tend to seek out some people and actively avoid others. Social scientists have collected an impressive body of research on interpersonal attraction (Eastwick et al., 2013; Finkle and Baumeister, 2010). Interpersonal attraction is involved in all interpersonal relationships, from romantic to professional to familial and friendly. While the term attraction is used most often to describe being drawn to others physically or sexually, research on interpersonal relationships also uses the term to refer to interest in and the appeal of other people more generally, in platonic relationships—we’ll be using the term in both senses in this chapter. The following are some of the factors that have been identified as influences on our choice of relational partners.

Appearance Think about some of your closest relationships. How have they changed over time? Do you have relationships that haven’t changed?

Most people claim that we should judge others on the basis of how they act, not how they look. However, the reality is quite the opposite, at least in terms of first impressions. Appearance is

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e­ specially important in the early stages of a relationship (Lemay et al., 2010). For instance, physical appearance seems to be the primary basis for attraction of speed daters (Luo and Zhang, 2009). These first impressions can influence secondary ones. For example, when photos rated as attractive accompany online profiles, raters appraise what’s written in the profile more positively (Brand et al., 2012). Online profile owners are also rated as more attractive when they have pictures of physically attractive friends on their pages (Jaschinski and Kommers, 2012). The opposite is also true: images of people’s faces are rated as less attractive when they appear near those rated as unattractive or average (Rodway et al., 2013). Our perceptions of beauty, however, are influenced by more than just societal standards of attractiveness. After initial impressions have passed, ordinary-looking people with pleasing personalities are likely to be judged as attractive (Berscheid and Walster, 1978; Lewandowski et al., 2007). Our interactions with others change our perceptions of their physical appearance. Factors such as liking, familiarity, and respect also influence our perceptions of attractiveness (Singh et al., 2009). You’ll recall from Chapter 7 that positive communication increases perceptions of physical attractiveness (Albada et al., 2002). In fact, as romantic relationships develop, partners create “positive illusions,” viewing one another as more physically attractive over time (Barelds ­et al., 2011, p. 707).


Similarity plays an important role in initial attraction. People are more likely to accept a Facebook friend request from a stranger who is perceived to be similar to them than from one who is perceived as different (Martin et al., 2013). The word “perceived” is important in the preceding sentence. Research shows that speed daters are more attracted to similarities they believe they have than to actual similarities (Tidwell et al., 2013). This finding illustrates that attraction based on similarities is a subjective process. In fact, research suggests that deciding you like someone often leads to perceptions of similarity rather than the other way around (Sprecher, 2014). In addition, attraction and similarity are related to trust (Singh et al., 2015, 2017). Trustworthiness is fundamental to interpersonal attraction (Cotrell et al., 2007) and it may be that people we perceive as more similar to ourselves are also perceived as more trustworthy and more attractive (Singh et al., 2015). For example, in one study, participants were more attracted to discussion partners who changed their attitudes to better align with the participant’s attitude because they viewed these partners as, among other things, more trustworthy (Reid et al., 2018). The similarity thesis has a great deal of support in cultures such as Canada and the United

According to the similarity thesis, perhaps the strongest determinant of relationship formation is similarity to another person (Montoya and Horton, 2013). For example, one study found that similar values about politics and religion are the best predictors of mate choice—significantly more than attraction to personality traits (Alford et al., 2011).


In what ways are your friends like you? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having friends who are similar to you?


PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

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States; however, among other cultures, the attraction to people similar to oneself may not be quite as strong. Steven Heine and his colleagues (2009) found that in comparison to Canadians, Japanese people were less attracted to those who had similar personalities, attitudes, and backgrounds. These investigators suggest that it may be the degree to which you’re pleased with yourself and the extent to which your culture promotes a positive view of the self that determines how attracted you are to people similar to yourself. This idea makes sense when we consider the reasons why similarity is a strong foundation for interpersonal attraction in many Western cultures. First, the other person serves as an external indication—a social validation—that you are not alone in your thinking, that you’re not too peculiar. Someone else did like the same controversial book you liked; therefore, this other person could offer support for you by reinforcing your own sense of what is right. Second, when someone is similar to you, you can make fairly accurate predictions—such as, for example, whether the person will want to eat at a Thai restaurant or attend a concert you’re very excited about. This ability to make confident predictions reduces uncertainty and anxiety (Montoya and Horton, 2013), which leads to greater emotional and relational stability (Cheng and Gruhn, 2016). Third, it’s possible that when we learn that other people are similar to us, we assume they will probably like us, so we in turn like them, causing the self-fulfilling prophecy to creep into the picture again.

Complementarity The old saying “opposites attract” seems to contradict the principle of similarity we just described. In truth, though, both are valid. Differences strengthen a relationship when they are complementary—when each partner’s characteristics satisfy the other’s needs. Research suggests that attraction to partners who have complementary temperaments might be rooted in biology (Fisher, 2007). Relationships also work well when partners agree that one person will exercise control in certain areas (e.g., “You’ll be in charge of laundry”) and the other will take the lead in different ones (e.g., “I’ll take the lead on grocery shopping and cooking”). Disagreement over control issues, however, can cause strain. One study showed that “spendthrifts and tightwads” are often attracted to each other, but their differences in financial management lead to significant conflict over the course of a relationship (Rick et al., 2011). Studies that have examined successful and unsuccessful couples over a 20-year period show the interaction between similarities and differences (Klohnen and Luo, 2003). When partners are radically different, the dissimilar qualities that at first appear intriguing later become cause for relational breakups (Amodio and Showers, 2005). Partners in successful marriages were similar enough to satisfy each other physically and mentally, but were different enough to meet each other’s needs and keep the relationship interesting. Successful couples find ways to keep a balance

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between their similarities and differences while adjusting to the changes that occur over the years (Shiota and Levenson, 2007). Opposites can attract at work, too. There is evidence that teams made up of people with different personality traits, communication styles, cultures, and backgrounds can be more innovative and productive in certain industries and occupations (Gartzia and van Knippenberg, 2016; Joshi and Roh, 2009; Schaffer et al., 2008). Generally, employees are more attracted to their team members when the team is made up of people with differing personality traits, particularly when the team has a balance of people with differing levels of extroversion. People who are extroverted tend to be more sociable, assertive, dominant, and like excitement. A study of teams employed at manufacturing firms, as well as teams of MBA students, found that people got along better and liked their team members more when their own level of extroversion was different from the average level of their team (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005). However, when team members differ in their goals and values, productivity and harmony at work is compromised (Kristof-Brown and Stevens, 2001).

Rewards Some interpersonal relationships are based on an economic model called social exchange theory (Hand and Furman, 2009; Thibaut and Kelley, 1959). This model suggests that we often seek out people who can give us rewards that are greater than or equal to the costs we encounter by dealing with the relationship. Social exchange theorists define rewards as any outcomes we desire. They may be tangible (a nice place to live, a high-paying job) or intangible (prestige, emotional support, companionship). Costs are undesirable outcomes, such as unpleasant work, emotional pain, and so on. A simple formula captures the social exchange explanation for why we form and maintain relationships: Rewards − Costs = Outcome

According to social exchange theorists, we use this formula (often unconsciously) to calculate

whether a relationship is a “good deal” or “not worth the effort,” based on whether the outcome is positive or negative (Frisby et al., 2015). At its most blatant level, an exchange approach seems cold and calculating, but it seems quite appropriate in some types of relationships. A healthy business relationship is based on how well the parties help one another, and some friendships are based on an informal kind of barter: “I don’t mind listening to the ups and downs of your love life because you rescue me when my house needs repairs.” Even close relationships have an element of exchange. Friends and lovers often tolerate each other’s quirks because the comfort and enjoyment they experience makes the less-than-pleasant times worth accepting. However, when one partner feels “under-benefited,” it often leads to problems in the relationship (DeMaris, 2007). Costs and rewards do not exist in isolation. We define them by comparing a certain situation with alternatives. For example, consider a hypothetical woman, Maryam, who is struggling to decide whether to remain in a relationship with Ahmed, her long-time romantic partner. Ahmed does love Maryam, but he has a hair-trigger temper and has become occasionally verbally abusive. Also, Maryam knows that Ahmed was unfaithful to her at least once. In deciding whether or not to stay with Ahmed, Maryam will use two standards. The first is her comparison level (CL)—her minimum standard of acceptable behaviour. If Maryam believes that relational partners have an obligation to be faithful and treat one another respectfully at all times, then Ahmed’s behaviour will fall below her comparison level. This will be especially true if Maryam has had positive romantic relationships in the past (Merolla et al., 2004). On the other hand, if Maryam adopts a “nobody’s perfect” standard, she is more likely to view Ahmed’s behaviour as meeting or exceeding her comparison level. Maryam will also rate Ahmed according to her comparison level of alternatives (CLalt). This standard refers to a comparison between the rewards she is receiving in her present situation and those she could expect to receive in others (Overall and Sibley, 2008). If, for example, Maryam doesn’t want to be alone, her CLalt would be lower than her



PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

present s­ ituation; if she is confident that she could find a kinder partner, her CLalt would be higher than her present situation. Research suggests that when a sense of connection is lacking in a romantic relationship, the draw of intimacy from romantic alternatives becomes particularly strong (Spielmann set al., 2012). Social exchange theorists suggest that communicators unconsciously use this calculation to decide whether to form and stay in relationships. At first, this information seems to offer little comfort to communicators who are in unsatisfying relationships, such as those when the partner’s behaviour is below the CL and there are no preferable alternatives (CLalt). But there are alternatives to being stuck in situations where the costs outweigh the rewards. First, you might make sure that you are judging your present relationship against a realistic comparison level. Expecting a situation to be perfect can be a recipe for unhappiness and relational dissatisfaction (Mikkelson et al., 2016). (Recall the discussion of the “fallacy of should” in Chapter 4.) If you decide that your present situation truly falls below your CL , you might look for alternatives you have not considered. Finally, the skills introduced throughout this book may help you negotiate a better relationship with the other person, assuming the relationship isn’t abusive. Our discussion of social exchange theory has focused on typical relationship rewards and costs that people may experience in a variety of relationships. The consequences of the costs related to these issues are not particularly severe or life threatening. However, social exchange theory can also be applied to more serious relationship challenges. Many abusive relationships do not end despite the pain and suffering endured and the high costs involved. Abusive partners often create conditions (e.g., financial or psychological dependency, fear for one’s physical safety or the safety of children) that undermine the calculation process we outlined above, in that the costs of leaving are (or seem to be) greater than those involved in staying in the relationship. Abused partners may also believe a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all (Kreager at al., 2013). Research has shown that people in abusive dating relationships u ­ nderestimate how unhappy they really are and overestimate how unhappy they

would be if the relationship were to end (Arriaga et al., 2013). Professional help is vital for pulling free from an abusive relationship. Experts recommend the following: • Don’t keep abuse a secret. At the very least, tell a trusted friend or family member what’s happening to you and then ask that person to help you get help. • Watch for patterns. Abuse often happens in cycles. If you’re in the upside of a cycle and all is calm, abusive partners are frequently apologetic and insist that the abuse will not happen again. During this phase of the cycle, it can be easy to overlook a previous violation. But if the abuse returns, it probably won’t be the last time. • Resist self-blame. Abused people often believe they’re at fault for what happened to them, but it’s important to remember that no one deserves to be abused. In addition to resources in your community and at your college or university, the Government of Canada has suggestions regarding information and services to help. ( public-health/topics/get-help-if-you-are-beingabused.html)

Competence We like to be around talented people, likely because we hope their skills and abilities will rub off on us. On the other hand, we’re uncomfortable around

TAKE TWO • Social exchange theory: the practice of seeking out people who can give us rewards that are greater than the costs of dealing with them. • Comparison level (CL): a minimum standard of acceptable behaviour. • Comparison level of alternatives (CLalt): a comparison between rewards in the present situation and those one could expect to receive from others.

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those who are too competent—probably because we believe we look bad by comparison. And we’re attracted most to competence in others when it’s accompanied by a warm (i.e., high friendliness) rather than a cool (i.e., low friendliness) personality (Fiske et al., 2007). Elliot Aronson and his associates (2008) demonstrated how competence and imperfection combine to affect attraction by having subjects evaluate recordings of candidates for a quiz program. One was a “perfect” candidate who answered almost all the questions correctly and modestly admitted that he was an honours student, athlete, and college yearbook editor. The “average” candidate answered fewer questions correctly, had average grades, was a less successful athlete, and was a low-level member of the yearbook staff. In half the tapes, the candidates committed a blunder near the end, spilling coffee all over themselves. The remaining half of the tapes contained no such blunder. These, then, were the four experimental conditions: (1) a person with superior ability who blundered; (2) a per­ son with superior ability who did not blunder; (3) an average person who blundered; and (4) an average person who did not blunder. The students who rated the attractiveness of these four types of people revealed an interesting and important principle of interpersonal attraction. The most attractive person was the superior candidate who blundered. Aronson’s conclusion was that we tend to like people who are somewhat flawed because they remind us of ourselves.


classrooms (Back et al., 2008)—than distant ones. Chances are good that we will choose a mate with whom we often cross paths. Proximity even has a role in social media, where messaging or chatting can create virtual proximity (Baker, 2008). As one researcher notes, when it comes to social networking sites, cultural proximity outweighs geographic proximity (Rohn, 2014). Facts like these are understandable when we consider that proximity allows us to get more information about other people and benefit from a relationship with them. Also, people in close proximity to us may be more similar to us than those who aren’t—for example, if we live in the same neighbourhood, odds are we have the same socio-economic status.

Disclosure In Chapter 2, we described how telling others important information about yourself can help build liking both in person (Dindia, 2002; Sprecher et al., 2013) and through mediated communication (Ledbetter et al., 2011). Sometimes, the basis of this attraction comes from learning about ways we’re similar, either in our experiences (“I broke off an engagement as well”) or in our attitudes (“I feel nervous with strangers, too”). Disclosure also increases

As common sense suggests, we’re likely to develop relationships with people with whom we interact frequently (Segrin & Flora, 2005). In many cases, proximity leads to liking. For instance, we’re more likely to develop friendships with close neighbours—whether near where we live or in adjacent seats in our



Who are the five people you come in contact with most in your life? Do you have strong positive or negative feelings about them?


PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

liking because it’s a sign of esteem. Sharing private information is a form of respect and trust, which we’ve already seen increases attractiveness. Not all disclosure, however, leads to liking. Research shows that the key to satisfying self-­ disclosure is reciprocity—that is, getting back an amount and kind of information equivalent to what you reveal (Dindia, 2000a). A second important aspect of successful self-disclosure is timing. It’s probably unwise, for example, to talk about your sexual insecurities with a new acquaintance or to express your pet peeves to a friend at your birthday party. This is particularly true on social media: disclosures made privately are perceived as more appropriate and intimate than those made publicly. The lack of non-verbal cues and relative anonymity of social media allow people to disclose information that is more personal more easily but revealing those personal details doesn’t always increase likeability or build trust. Disclosures that are made publicly via social media tend to reduce liking for the discloser (Bazarova, 2012). Figuring out what’s appropriate to disclose when, where, and to whom can be difficult, but, for the sake of self-protection, it’s important to reveal personal information only when you’re sure the other person is trustworthy (Shirley et al., 2007).

CHECK IT! Why do we decide to form relationships? Describe the factors that influence our choice of relational partners.

Intimacy and Distance ­ in Relationships What does it mean to be intimate? Does intimacy mean spending time together? Sharing feelings? Having sex? Going through thick and thin? Similarly, how does distance affect relationships? Is a desire to spend time apart indicative of a problem? How and why do we create physical and emotional space between ourselves and others?

Relationship intimacy is often described as a motivation to share one’s private self with another person (Aron et al., 2004). This closeness and commitment can occur in a variety of relationships, including romantic partners, friendships, and relationships with family members and co-workers. As such, intimacy can come in many forms (Lippert and Prager, 2001). However, while intimacy in relationships is important, there are times we want to create some space and distance ourselves from our romantic partners, friends, family, and co-workers. In the next sections of this chapter we’ll examine the many ways we both establish intimacy and create distance, and how culture influences our understanding of both.

Forms of Intimacy As we’ve discussed, intimacy comes in many forms (Lippert and Prager, 2001). One form is emotional intimacy: sharing important information and feelings. Sharing distressing emotions with others can help reduce stress and provide support and comfort (Taylor, 2007). Sharing positive emotions also supports relationship development, because when others respond enthusiastically to our happy news it helps to build trust (Reis et al., 2010). In addition, as we described in Chapter 4, sharing positive emotions helps prolong those good feelings, which makes us happier. Another form of intimacy is physical. Even before birth, developing fetuses experience a kind of physical closeness with their mothers that will never happen again, “floating in a warm fluid, curling inside a total embrace, swaying to the undulations of the moving body and hearing the beat of the pulsing heart” (Morris, 1973, p. 7). As they grow up, fortunate children are continually nourished by physical intimacy when they are rocked, fed, hugged, and held. As we grow older, the opportunities for physical intimacy are less regular but still possible and important. Some physical intimacy is sexual, but physical intimacy can also include affectionate hugs, kisses, and closeness. Even physical struggle can foster intimacy—companions who have endured physical challenges together, for example in sports or during emergencies, can form bonds that last a lifetime.

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A third form of intimacy is intellectual exchanges—though not every exchange of ideas counts as intimacy, of course. Talking about next week’s midterm with your professor or classmates isn’t likely to forge strong relational bonds. But when you engage another person in an exchange of important ideas, a kind of closeness develops that can be powerful and exciting. Shared activities can provide a fourth form of emotional closeness (Baxter, 1992; Girme et al., 2014). Not all shared activCompanions who have endured physical challenges together form a bond ities lead to intimacy. You might that can last a lifetime. Do you have friends with whom you’ve played sports, work with a colleague for years climbed mountains, or survived other physical adversity together? How has without feeling any sort of emo- that affected your relationship? tional connection. But some shared experiences—struggling together against obstacles or living together you may share all of your thoughts or feelings with as housemates, for example—can create strong a friend, family member, or lover; at other times, bonds. Play is one valuable form of shared activ- you may withdraw. You may freely share your feelity that can increase feelings of trust and intimacy ings about one topic and stay more distant regard(Baxter, 1992). Various forms of play often char- ing another one. The same principle holds for acterize friendships, family, and romantic rela- physical intimacy, which waxes and wanes in most tionships. These types of play include partners relationships. inventing private codes, fooling around by acting like other people, teasing one another, joking, laughing, texting each other, chatting playfully, Forms of Distance and playing games and sports (Baxter, 1992; Hsieh Intimacy in a relationship is important, but so is distance. Sometimes, we create physical and emoand Tseng, 2017; Proyer, 2017). The amount and type of intimacy can vary from tional space between ourselves and others whose one relationship to another. Some intimate rela- behaviour we find bothersome, such as intrusive tionships feature emotional disclosure, physical relatives or annoying co-workers. Other times, intimacy, intellectual exchanges, and shared activ- we feel the need to distance ourselves, at least ities, while others may only feature one or two of temporarily, from people we genuinely care for these forms of intimacy. Of course, some relation- (Hess, 2000). Just as there are a variety of ways to be intimships aren’t close ones in any way. Acquaintances, roommates, and co-workers may never become ate, there are different ways to gain distance in a intimate. In some cases, even family members relationship. The most common strategy for credevelop smooth, but relatively impersonal, rela- ating distance, at least among students, is avoidance (Hess, 2000). We can avoid unwanted contact tionships. Not even the closest relationships always oper- physically or by other means. In the same way as ate at the highest level of intimacy. At some times, you can avoid physically making eye contact with



PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

TAKE TWO FORMS OF DISTANCE • Avoidance: evading contact with others. • Being reserved: holding back expression of thoughts and feelings. • Shortening interactions: not asking questions or providing non-verbal cues to encourage conversation. • Restricting topics: limiting what is discussed. • Restraint: not joking or encouraging contact. • Deception: lying.

someone you wish to distance yourself from, you can screen your incoming messages and selectively ignore or delay responding to unwanted messages. Other common avoidance tactics include: being reserved, i.e., communicating very little with the other person; shortening interaction, perhaps by not asking questions or engaging in non-verbal behaviour that encourages the other person to talk; restricting topics, especially those that might be personal or intimate; and using restraint, for instance, avoiding joking or other attention-getting behaviours that often encourage unwanted contact. Deception is a sixth form of distance. In Chapter 2, we discussed lying as an alternative to self­disclosure, and we’ll have more to say about managing the tension between intimacy (integration)

TAKE TWO FORMS OF INTIMACY • Emotional: the exchange of important information and feelings. • Physical: physical closeness, both sexual and non-sexual. • Intellectual: the exchange of important and profound ideas. • Shared activities: mutual experiences such as struggling together or playing.

and ­distance (separation) when we examine the dialectic tensions inherent in our relationships a little later in this chapter. Most people would not want the obligation to form close, intimate relationships with everyone they meet—from the people who share their morning commute to the friends-of-friends they meet at social engagements—but they wouldn’t want to be entirely without intimate relationships either. The key then is balance. Some people fear intimacy in relationships and this can cause major problems in establishing and maintaining satisfying and meaningful relationships (Montesi et al., 2013). Normally, our desire for intimacy waxes and wanes in our relationships. As we’ll discuss later in this chapter, individuals need both closeness and distance even in their most intimate relationships. Lovers and married couples often go through periods of much sharing, alternating with times of relative withdrawal. Likewise, they experience periods of passion and then times of little physical contact (Ben-Ari, 2012; Van Lear, 1991). Friends, too, have times of high disclosure, when they share almost every feeling and idea, and then disengage for days, months, or even longer. Given the equally important needs for intimacy and distance, the challenge is to communicate in a manner that provides the best possible mix of intimate and non-­ intimate relationships (Petronio, 1991).

The Influence of Culture and Gender on Intimacy What is the ideal amount of intimacy? The answer varies according to who is giving it. You know from personal experience that different people seek different levels of intimacy, but what factors lead to these differences? Two powerful influences are gender and culture. Until recently, many social scientists believed that women were better than men at developing and maintaining intimate relationships. This view grew from the assumption that the disclosure of personal information is the most important ingredient of intimacy. Most research does show that women (taken as a group, of course) are somewhat more willing than men to share their

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most personal thoughts and feelings, although the differences aren’t as dramatic as most people believe and appears to be changing (Dindia, 2000b, 2002; Floyd, 2002; Good, 2002). In addition, as we discussed in Chapter 4, there is evidence that men and women also differ in terms of their emotional expression (Palomares, 2008), their ability to quickly and accurately interpret the non-verbal emotional expressions of others (Hampson et al., 2006; Kirkland et al., 2013), and their ability to remember emotional information (Spalek et al., 2015). However, we also know that intimacy comes in several forms. Past research has suggested that while women are more likely to establish intimacy through sharing personal information, men are more likely to find that shared experiences bring them closer to others (Swain, 1989). As with all research that examines gender and communication, it’s important to realize that no generalization applies to every person and that these associations between gender and intimacy don’t imply that one group is better at developing and maintaining intimate relationships than another. Notions of public and private behaviour have changed dramatically over time (Adamopoulos, 1991; Gadlin, 1977). What would be considered intimate behaviour today was quite public at times in the past. For example, in parts of early modern Europe newlyweds were often expected to take part in a bedding ceremony, where family and other witnesses would usher them into their bed to ceremonially validate consummation of the marriage! Conversely, in Europe as well as in colonial North America, the customary level of communication between spouses was once quite formal— not much different from the way acquaintances or neighbours spoke to one another. Today, the notion of intimacy varies from one culture to another and those differences appear related to both differing cultural values (e.g., individualism versus collectivism) and gender role ideology. Studies have found lower levels of intimacy between romantic couples in collectivist cultures such as China than individualistic cultures such as Canada and the US (Goa, 2001; Marshall, 2008; Ting-Toomey, 1991). Some scholars suggest

this is because intimacy needs are often satisfied through interdependent family relationships in collectivist cultures whereas in individualistic cultures, needs for intimacy are satisfied primarily through romantic relationships (Dion and Dion, 1993; Ting-Toomey, 1991). Research has also found that gender role traditionalism is associated with lower rates of self-disclosure and lower levels of intimacy in romantic relationships (Marshall, 2008; Neff and Suizzo, 2006). Canadians often have multiple cultures that influence their behaviour in relationships. Tara Marshall (2010) was interested in how these multiple cultures influenced intimacy and commitment in the romantic relationships of Chinese-Canadians. She found that when ChineseCanadian men identified more with mainstream Canadian culture, they reported greater intimacy in their relationships and so did their romantic partners. When Chinese-Canadian women identified more strongly with their Chinese heritage, they reported greater commitment to their partners. Marshall argues that both culture and gender roles interact to explain these findings. She suggests that the more traditional gender roles that are highly valued in Chinese culture may account for women’s greater commitment to relationships, and the more egalitarian norms for men’s behaviour in mainstream Canadian culture may allow for greater self-disclosure thereby promoting greater intimacy. In addition to differences in notions of intimacy, the amount of intimacy that people desire also varies from one culture to another. In a comparison of members of collectivistic and individualistic cultures (Turkish and mainstream Canadian), researchers from Toronto’s York University studied the participants’ ratings of ideal closeness in a variety of relationships (e.g., with friends, family, and acquaintances) (Uskul et al., 2004). Both the Turkish and the Canadian participants ideally wanted to be closest to their romantic partner; however, the Turkish participants wanted to have greater intimacy than the Canadians in all types of relationships. The Turks also said they feel closer to friends, family, and acquaintances than the Canadians did.




PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

Do you think you are easy to meet but difficult to know, or difficult to meet but easy to know? Or some other combination?

When communicating with people from different cultures, it’s important to consider their norms for appropriate intimacy. Be sure not to mistakenly judge them according to your own standards. Likewise, be sensitive about honouring their standards when talking about yourself. In this sense, choosing the proper level of intimacy isn’t too different from choos­ing the appropriate way of dressing or eating when encountering members of a different culture: what seems familiar and correct at home may not be suitable with strangers.

FOCUS ON RESEARCH CULTURE AND RELATIONAL MOBILITY People differ in their beliefs about relationships and what it takes to make them successful. Researchers have identified two factors that influence our ideas about relationships and both of them appear to be influenced by culture. The first factor is the degree to which we feel we have opportunities to select relationship partners based on our personal preferences, which has been labelled relational mobility (Yuki and Schug, 2012; Yuki et al., 2007). Generally, Canadian and US cultures are characterized as having high levels of relational mobility. In these cultures, there is freedom to seek new relationships and terminate existing relationships based on what an individual deems desirable. Individuals choose their friends, romantic partners, and even the extent to which they interact with their families. In contrast, in cultures with lower levels of relational mobility, such as China, there are comparatively few opportunities to meet new partners because relationships tend to be more stable, exclusive, long-lasting, and often determined by

c­ ircumstance (such as birth and geographical location) (Kito et al., 2017). Choices regarding friends, romantic partners, and the extent to which individuals interact with extended families are highly influenced by collective group membership. The second factor that influences our conceptualizations of successful relationships and how to achieve them is the extent to which we believe relationships are “meant to be” (referred to as destiny beliefs) or that they require constant effort (referred to as growth beliefs). In cultures with high levels of relational mobility, people are likelier to have growth beliefs and endorse strategies, such as those described in this chapter, about how to establish, maintain, and repair relationships. In contrast, in cultures with low relational mobility, people are more likely to ascribe to destiny beliefs (relationships are destined to succeed or fail) and are less likely to actively seek out new relationships and invest in relational development strategies, but they are more likely to maintain harmony in their relationships and

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avoid violating the often unstated but mutually understood relationship rules (Lou and Li, 2018). It’s important to keep these concepts in mind when reviewing the information presented in this chapter in order to better understand individual differences in people’s beliefs about relationships as well as the extent to which many of the strategies we’ll

Models of Relational Dynamics Even the most stable relationships vary from day to day and over longer periods of time. Communication scholars have tried to describe and explain how communication creates and reflects the changing dynamics of relational interaction. In the following sections, we’ll look at two very different characterizations of relational development and interaction.

Stages of Relational Development

discuss are appropriate and effective across various cultures. Critical Thinking: Do you think age, geographical location, and group membership (in addition to cultural background) might influence relational mobility and density beliefs? Why or why not?

later in this chapter. Figure 8.1 shows how Knapp’s 10 stages fit into this three-part view of relational communication that spans the development and demise of a relationship.

Initiating The goals in the initiating stage are to show that you’re interested in making contact and to demonstrate that you are a person worth talking to (Sprecher et al., 2008). Communication during this stage is usually brief, and it generally follows conventional formulas, such as handshakes, comments about innocuous subjects such as the weather, and friendly expressions. Such behaviour may seem superficial and meaningless, but it’s a

Stage theories describe how communication ­changes over the entire life of a relationship. One of the best-known models of relational stages was developed by Mark Knapp (Knapp et al., 2014; also see Dunleavy and Boothbutterfield, 2009; Mongeau and Henningson, 2008), who broke the waxing and waning of relationships into a threeRelational Maintenance part view of relational communication. Knapp’s model Bonding features 10 stages of relaDifferentiating Integrating tional development. Other Coming Coming Together Circumscribing Apart researchers have suggested Intensifying Stagnating that in addition to explaining Experimenting Avoiding how people come together and come apart, any model Initiating Terminating of relational communication ought to contain a third area, relational maintenance— communication aimed at keeping relationships operating smoothly and satisfactor- FIGURE 8.1  Stages of Relational Development From Knapp, Mark L., Vangelisti, Anita L., and Caughlin, J.P. (2014). Interpersonal communication and human ily. We’ll discuss relational Source: relationships. (7 ed.) Boston: Pearson. Printed and electronically reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, maintenance in more detail Inc., New York, New York. th



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way of signalling that you are interested in building some kind of relationship with the other person. It allows us to indicate, “I’m a friendly person, and I’d like to get to know you.” Beginning a relationship—especially a romantic one—can be particularly difficult for people who are shy. Mediated communication can make it easier for people to strike up a relationship (Baker and Oswald, 2010). Not only is online initiating easier for some, but it can result in successful relationships. In one survey, more than a third of married respondents said their relationship began online (Cacioppo et al., 2013). Among college and university students, relationship development typically begins with communication through social networking sites, and progresses to text messaging and later face-to-face and phone conversations (Yang et. al., 2014). Keep in mind that initiating is the opening stage of all relationships, not just romantic ones. Friendships start here (Johnson et al., 2004) and so do employment relationships. In fact, some have compared job interviews to first dates because they have similar properties (Half, 2016). As you read about the stages that follow, consider how the communication involved could apply to landing a job, connecting with a roommate, or joining an organization—as well as forming a romantic relationship.


After meeting someone new, we generally begin the search for common ground, which is known as the experimenting stage. This search usually begins with the basics: “Where are you from? What program are you in?” From there, we look for other similarities: “You’re a runner, too? How many kilometres do you run a week?” The hallmark of the experimenting stage is small talk. We tolerate the ordeal of small talk because it serves several functions. First, it’s a useful way to find out what interests we share with the other person. It’s also a way to “audition” the other person—to help us decide whether a relationship is worth pursuing. In addition, small talk is a safe way to ease into a relationship. You haven’t risked much as you decide whether to proceed further. Scholars have noted, and your experience probably confirms, the importance of social media during the experimenting stage. By perusing someone’s online profiles you can gather much of the information you might gather on the first couple of dates. You can learn about their hobbies, their favourite music, books, and movies, their political preferences, who they hang out with, and what they like to do in their free time (Shonbeck, 2011). In romantic relationships, it’s at this stage that people often make a social media request or offer an invitation. Once access has been given, communicators can look over each other’s profiles, learning important information about the other person at a glance. Information about activities— often gleaned from photos and mutual friends—are important factors in deciding whether to continue to develop the relationship (Fox et al., 2013). And of course, gathering this information through social media is less face-threatening than in-person experiment­ing,  as it  involves Beginning a relationship requires a fair measure of skill. Think about your cur- no stammering, blushing, or rent or last romantic relationship. How did it begin? Was it difficult to start? awkward pauses. In addition,

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experimenting online may benefit people who are committed to religious or social practices that require a more conservative approach to courtship. For instance, in a study of Muslim women residing in the United States, researchers found that online dating platforms allowed women greater access to social networks, more freedom to initiate contact with potential partners, and greater control over the courtship process than they might have in the traditional face-to-face courtship process (Rochadiat et al., 2018). Of course, not all relational experiments are successful. You can probably think of times when you knew within an hour of meeting up with a new potential friend that things were going nowhere. The same can happen when online daters take the plunge and meet in person. The relationship that seemed promising in mediated communication may become less so when interacting face-toface. Communication researchers call this shift in communication channels “modality switching,” and have found it comes with a variety of chal­ lenges (Ramirez et al., 2015). In general, the longer couples hold off meeting in person, the more awkward it will be when they transition to face-to-face communication.

Intensifying When a relationship enters the intensifying stage, communicators increase their amount of contact and the breadth and depth of their disclosures. In friendship, intensifying often includes spending time together, participating in shared activities such as shopping, eating together, hanging out, playing games, studying, watching movies, and sharing their lives with each other (Lee, 2008). In romantic relationships, people use a wide range of strategies to communicate that a relationship is intensifying (Levine et al., 2006). About a quarter of the time, they express their feelings directly to discuss the state of the relationship, such as saying “I love you” (Brantley et al., 2002). More often, they use less-direct methods of communication— spending an increasing amount of time together, asking for support from one another, doing favours for their partner, giving tokens of affection, h ­ inting

and flirting, expressing feelings non-verbally, getting to know their partner’s friends and family, and trying to look more physically attractive. The intensifying stage is usually a time of relational excitement and even euphoria. For friends, it’s a time of increased eagerness, positivity, and patience (Lee, 2008). For romantic partners, it’s often filled with star-struck gazes, goosebumps, and daydreaming. As a result, it’s a stage that is regularly depicted in movies and romance novels— after all, we love to watch lovers in love (Johnson and Holmes, 2009). The problem, of course, is that this stage doesn’t last forever. Sometimes, romantic partners who stop feeling goosebumps begin to question whether they’re still in love, and friends begin to discover one another’s flaws. Although it’s possible the relationship is not as good as it initially seemed during the intensifying stage, it’s equally likely that it has simply moved on to the next of Knapp’s stages—integrating.

Integrating As a relationship strengthens, the individuals enter the integrating stage. They begin to take on an identity as a social unit. Invitations begin to come addressed to a couple, social circles merge, partners share each other’s commitments: “Sure, we’ll spend Thanksgiving with your family.” Common property may begin to be designated—our apartment, our car, our song (Baxter, 1987)—and partners may develop their own personal idioms (Dunleavy and Booth-Butterfield, 2009) and forms of play (Baxter, 1992). As these examples illustrate, the stage of integrating is a time when we give up some characteristics of our former selves and become different people. As integration increases and we become more intimate, uncertainty about our relationship decreases: we become clearer about relationship norms and what behaviours are appropriate and inappropriate. Reducing uncertainty about our partner and the relationship enhances attraction and feelings of closeness (Knobloch and Solomon, 2002). Integrating may include public declarations of a relationship; going “Facebook Official” (FBO), for example, involves the public note that two people are “in a relationship” (Lane et al., 2016). Of course,




PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

As integration increases and we become more intimate, uncertainty about our relationship decreases. We become clearer about relationship norms and what behaviour is appropriate and inappropriate. How is getting to this stage of a relationship difficult?

problems arise when one partner wants to be FBO and the other doesn’t (Papp et al., 2012). Moreover, the meaning of FBO can be different for each partner. One study found that in heterosexual relationships women tend to perceive FBO declarations as involving more intensity and commitment than men do (Fox and Warber, 2013). As a result, such women may connect FBO status with the rights and restrictions normally associated with the next relational development stage, bonding.

Bonding During the bonding stage, the partners make symbolic public gestures to show the world that their

relationship exists and that a commitment has been made (Foster, 2008). These gestures can take the form of a contract between business partners, getting engaged, sharing a residence, a public ceremony, or a written or verbal pledge. The key is that bonding is the culmination of a developed relationship. Bonding usually generates social recognition for the relationship. This may be particularly true for LGBTQ+ people. For instance, in one study, gay and lesbian Canadians who were legally married reported feeling better understood by their friends and family. One participant summarized it nicely: “The language of marriage helped us feel more a part of this world. Everyone knows what it means. It helps others start to realize that a relationship is a relationship and we are dealing with the same issues that everyone else deals with” (MacIntosh, Reissing, and Andruff, 2010, p. 84). In addition to social support, customs and laws impose certain rights and responsibilities on partners who have officially bonded. Bonding usually marks an important turning point in a relationship. Up to now, the relationship may have developed at a steady pace. Experimenting gradually moved into intensifying and then into integrating. Now, however, there is a surge of commitment. The public display and declaration of exclusivity make this a critical period in the relationship.

Differentiating Now that partners have formed this commonality, they need to re-establish individual identities in a stage Knapp calls differentiating. “How are we different?” “How am I unique?” Instead of talking about “our” plans for the weekend, differentiating conversations focus on what “I” want to do. Whereas happy employees might refer to “our company,” the description might change to “this company” when a raise or some other request isn’t forthcoming. Differentiation can also be positive—people need to be individuals as well as part of a relationship. Think, for instance, of young adults who want to forge their own unique lives and identities, even while maintaining relationships with their families

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of origin (Skowron et al., 2009). The same can be true for couples with diverse cultural backgrounds who want to stay connected to their individual cultural values as well as to each other (Kim et al., 2012). As Figure 8.1 shows, differentiating is often a part of normal relationship maintenance in which partners manage the inevitable challenges that come their way. The key to successful differentiation is to maintain commitment to a relationship while creating the space for being individuals as well.

Circumscribing In the circumscribing stage, partners reduce the scope of their contact with each other. The word “circumscribe” comes from the Latin meaning “to draw circles around.” In this stage, distinctions that emerged in the differentiating stage become more clearly marked and labelled: “my friends” and “your friends,” “my bank account” and “your bank account,” and “my room” and “your room.” Such distinctions can be markers of a healthy balance between individual and relational identity. The problem, however, is when there are clearly more areas of separation than integration in a relationship, or when the areas of separation seriously limit interaction, such as taking a personal vacation expressly to put space between you and your partner. In this example, circumscribing entails a  shrinking of partners’ shared interests and ­commitments.


Avoiding When stagnation becomes too unpleasant, people in a relationship begin to create distance between each other through avoidance. This is the avoiding stage. Sometimes, they do it under the guise of excuses (“I’ve been sick lately and can’t see you”); other times, they’re direct (“Please don’t call me; I don’t want to see you now”). In either case, by this point the writing is on the wall about the future of the relationship. Some relationships stall at this stage. Friends, lovers, or family members simply drift apart and rarely if ever interact again. While sometimes there is a natural parting of the ways, other times they leave important things unsaid. A need for some

If circumscribing continues, the relationship begins to stagnate. Partners behave toward each other in old, familiar ways without much feeling. No growth occurs and relational boredom sets in (Harasymchuk and Fehr, 2013). The stagnating stage sees the relationship become a hollow shell of its former self. We see stagnation in many workers who have lost enthusiasm for their jobs yet continue to go through the motions for years. The same sad event occurs for some couples who unenthusiastically have the same conversations, see the same people, and follow the same routines without any sense of joy or novelty.

© Thinkstock/Pixland


There are a lot of reasons why relationships don’t last and some breakups are more positive than others. What is the “best” breakup you or one of your friends ever had? What was the worst?


PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

relationship closure (Dailey et al., 2013), however, often leads to the final sage: terminating.

Terminating Partnerships, friendships, and marriages can last for a lifetime once they’re established, but some do end. The terminating stage of a relationship has its own distinguishable pattern (Conlan, 2008). Characteristics of this stage often include summary dialogues of where the relationship has gone and the desire to dissociate. The relationship may end with a cordial dinner, a note left on the kitchen table, a phone call, a text message, a social network post, or a legal document stating the dissolution, or a combination of several methods. In the workplace, it often involves a meeting between an employee and the person they report to. Depending on each person’s feelings, the terminating stage can be quite short and amicable or it may be bitterly drawn out over time. In either case, termination of a relationship doesn’t have to be completely negative. Understanding each other’s investments in the relationship and needs for personal growth may dilute the hard feelings. The strategies partners use to disengage vary in their levels of directness and the amount of caring and concern that is communicated. This in turn affects the interpersonal outcome associated with the end of the relationship. In romantic relationships, taking a direct approach (e.g., talking about the relationship ending openly, face to face) is associated with less negativity and hard feelings compared to taking an indirect approach (e.g., avoidance, withdrawal and using mediated communication) (Collins and Gillath, 2012). In employment relationships too, the way employees communicate with their managers about leaving an employment relationship affects both their interpersonal relationships and future employment possibilities. In one study of 40 employees who had left a variety of employment positions (e.g., professional, clerical, managerial, sales, etc.), researchers found that when employees left for external reasons (e.g., go back to school), they were more likely to use direct communication strategies and their managers were more likely to respond positively (Kulik et al., 2015). Perhaps

not surprisingly, when employees left for internal reasons (e.g., problems within the employment relationship) they were more likely to use indirect communication strategies and their managers’ responses were less positive. Ilana Gershon (2010) interviewed college students about their romantic relationship breakups and found that the “channel” or medium (face to face, phone, text, or social network) by which the breakup information was communicated mattered a great deal. When students described their breakup stories to her, they always included descriptions of how they or their romantic exes chose to communicate during the breakup—although many of the participants were nostalgic for the days when there were far fewer choices about how to communicate the end of a relationship, they found pros and cons for each choice. Once a relationship is over, it may be wise to take a break from social media connections with that person (LeFebvre et al., 2015). Checking up on a former partner or friend may reduce some uncertainty (Tong, 2013), but it’s associated with greater distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, and decreased personal growth (Lukacs and Quan-Hasse, 2015). Additionally, communicating with former partners can have negative consequences on one’s current relationship (Rodriquez et al., 2016). Terminating relationships is, for many people, a learning experience. In one study, college students who had recently had a relationship breakup were asked to describe the positive lessons they had gained that might help them in future relationships (Tashiro and Frazier, 2003). Their responses fell into four categories. First were “person positives,” such as gaining self-confidence and recognizing that it’s alright to cry. Second, they identified “other positives,” such as learning more about what is desired in a partner. Third, “relational positives,” such as how to communicate better and how not to jump into a relationship too quickly were described. Finally, they identified “environment positives,” such as learning to rely more on friends and how to better balance relationships and schoolwork. Scholars note that although gaining closure might be an ideal in relational termination, finding

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meaning might be a more attainable and healthy goal (Frost et al., 2016).


Dialectical Tensions in ­Relationships


Stage-related views, like the one described in the preceding pages, characterize communication as differing in important ways at various points in the life of a relationship. According to the stage approach, the kind of communication that happens during initiating, experimenting, or intensifying is different from the kind of communication that occurs during differentiating, circumscribing, or avoiding. However, not all theorists agree that relational stages are the best way to explain relational dynamics. Our own experiences, for example, often tell us that communicators grapple with many of the same challenges and use the same strategies throughout a relationship’s lifespan. Some theorists maintain that it’s possible for a relationship to have attributes of both “coming together” and “coming apart” at the same time. Maintaining relationships, then, is about managing these competing goals. Scholars call these struggles dialectical tensions: conflicts that arise when two opposing or incompatible desires exist simultaneously in a relationship. Communication scholars such as Leslie Baxter (Baxter and Braithwaite, 2006; Baxter and Montgomery, 1996), and William Rawlins (1992) have identified several dialectical forces that make successful communication challenging. They suggest that the struggle to manage these tensions creates the most powerful dynamics in relational communication. In the following pages, we’ll discuss three influential dialectical tensions, which are summarized in Table 8.1. As the table shows, we experience dialectical challenges both internally, vis-à-vis our partners, and externally, as we and our relational partners encounter other people whose desires clash with our own.

Coming Together • Initiating: making contact; demonstrating that you are worth talking to. • Experimenting: searching for common ground; engaging in small talk. • Intensifying: beginning to develop a personal relationship; spending more time together and experiencing excitement.

Integration versus Separation Recognizing that no one is an island, we seek out involvement with others. But, at the same time,

Relational Maintenance • Integrating: taking on an identity as a social unit; shared commitments, property and obligations grow. • Bonding: making a symbolic gesture to announce the relationship publicly (e.g., marriage, business partnership). • Differentiating: re-establishing individual identities; can be stressful, positive, or both. • Circumscribing: decreasing the quantity and quality of communication; avoiding conversations about problems in the relationship. Coming Apart • Stagnating: going through hollow routines; no growth in the relationship; little joy or novelty. • Avoiding: creating distance; expressing detachment, avoiding involvement, showing antagonism, dissociating mentally. • Terminating: ending the relationship; can be negative, positive, or both.

we’re unwilling to sacrifice our entire identities for even the most satisfying relationships. The conflicting desires for connection and independence are embodied in the integration–separation dialectic. We want to be close and connected to others, but we also seek autonomy and independence. This set of apparently contradictory needs creates communication challenges that can show up both within a relationship and between the partners and the rest of the world. Sociolinguist Deborah Tannen (1986, p. 17) captures the insoluble integration–separation



PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

TABLE 8.1  Dialectical Tensions Dialectic of Integration–Separation

Dialectic of Stability–Change

Dialectic of ­ Expression–Privacy

Our seemingly incompatible goals




External manifestations


conventionality– uniqueness


SOURCE: Adapted from Baxter, L.A. (1994). A dialogic approach to relationship maintenance. In D.J. Canary and L. Stafford (Eds.). Communication and relational maintenance. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, p. 240.

­ ialectic nicely by evoking the image of two porcud pines trying to get through a cold winter: They huddle together for warmth, but their sharp quills prick each other, so they pull away. But then they get cold. They have to keep adjusting their closeness and distance to keep from freezing and from getting pricked by their fellow p ­ orcupines— the source of both comfort and pain. We need to get close to each other to have a sense of community, to feel we’re not alone in the world. But we need to keep our distance from each other to preserve our independence, so others do not impose on or engulf us. This duality reflects the human condition. We are individual and social creatures. We need other people to survive, but we want to survive as individuals.

The ability to manage conflicting needs for connection and autonomy is basic to relational success (Baxter, 1994; Sahlstein and Dun, 2008). Some of the most common reasons that relationships break up involve the failure of partners to satisfy one another’s needs for connection: “We barely spent any time together”; “My partner wasn’t committed to the relationship”; “We had different needs.” But other complaints involve excessive demands for connection: “I was feeling trapped”; “I needed freedom” (Hui et al., 2013). Mobile devices can create a connection–­ autonomy dilemma (Duran et al., 2011). Frequent interaction during the day via cellphone can be a means for building intimacy in a romantic relationship (Boyle and Sullivan, 2016), for example, but receiving too many calls and texts can feel imposing or even smothering. This is a source of conflict

for many couples and may require some negotiation (Miller-Ott et al., 2012). For instance, partners might agree not to text or call during work hours unless it’s an emergency or they may agree that during certain situations (e.g., concerts, parties, family gatherings) there is no expectation to respond to messages right away. Research suggests that college students often struggle with the conflicting desire to be fully present and attentive in their face-to-face interactions with their romantic partners while still maintaining connection with their social networks (Miller-Ott and Kelly, 2016). These tensions occur in non-romantic relationships too. You can probably think of friends and family members who expect you to always be responsive via cellphone, yet you need some space from them (Eden and Veksler, 2016; Hall and Baym, 2012). Teenagers may perceive parents’ monitoring via cellphones as a violation of their need for independence (Weisskirch, 2009, 2011). Similarly, smart phones have been described as “tethers” that enable employers and employees to be constantly connected, infringing on each other’s autonomy and work–life balance (Sullivan, 2014). These examples serve as a reminder that dialectal tensions exist and persist over the entire life of most close relationships.

Stability versus Change Stability is an important need in relationships, but too much of it can lead to feelings of staleness; conversely, too much change and unpredictability can create stress and uncertainty. The stability– change dialectic captures the tensions between the need for predictability and the need for novelty in our relationships. Although nobody wants a completely unpredictable relational partner (“You are

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not the person I married!”), humorist Dave Barry (1990, p. 47) exaggerates only slightly when he talks about the boredom that can come from spouses knowing each other too well: After a decade or so of marriage, you know everything about your spouse, every habit and opinion and twitch and tic and minor skin growth. You could write a seventeen-pound book solely about the way your spouse eats. This kind of intimate knowledge can be very handy in certain ­situations—such as when you are on a TV quiz show where the object is to identify your spouse from the sound of his or her chewing—but it tends to lower the passion level of a relationship.

TAKE TWO • Dialectical tensions: conflicts that arise when two opposing forces exist simultaneously; they exist within personal relationships and also between individuals/couples and the external world. • Integration–separation: conflicting desires for connection and independence within a relationship. • Stability–change: conflicting needs for constancy and variation within a relationship. • Expression–privacy: conflicting needs to share information but also to keep things confidential within a relationship.

Expression versus Privacy As we discussed above and in Chapter 2, disclosure is an important characteristic of building and maintaining intimacy in interpersonal relationships. Yet, along with our drive for intimacy is an equally important need to maintain some space between ourselves and others. These sometimes conflicting drives create the expression–privacy dialectic, which challenges us to balance our need to be open with our need to keep some information to ourselves. The internal struggle between expression and privacy shows up in our need to be open with our relationship partners (and have them be forthcoming with us) and our simultaneous need to be closed—to keep some things to ourselves (and their need to do the same). What do you do in an intimate relationship when a person you care about asks an important question that you don’t want to answer? (e.g., “Do you think I’m attractive?” “Are you having a good time?”) Because of your commitment to the relationship, you may wish to be honest, but your concern for the other person’s feelings and a desire for privacy may lead you to be less than completely honest. Many people claim, “There are no secrets between me and my best friend” or “I tell my partner everything,” but that’s probably an overstatement. Wise communicators make choices about what they will and won’t share with loved ones—sometimes, but not always, for the other person’s sake (Goldsmith and Domann-Scholz, 2013).

Strategies for Managing Dialectical Tensions Managing these dialectical tensions can be challenging (Duran et al., 2011; Prentice and Kramer, 2006), but researchers have identified a number of communication strategies for dealing with them—most of which are unconscious (Baxter and Braithwaite, 2006). As you read on, think about which ones you use and how effective they are. 1. Denial. In the strategy of denial, relational partners pretend to themselves and one another that conflicts don’t exist. For example, a couple caught between the conflicting desires for stability and change might find their struggle for change too difficult to manage. So they choose to follow predictable, if unexciting, patterns of relating to one another. 2. Compromise. Communicators who try to balance dialectical tensions recognize that both forces are legitimate and try to manage them through compromise. As we’ll point out in Chapter 10, compromise is inherently a situation in which everybody loses at least a little of what they want. A couple caught between the conflicting desires for stability and change might seek balance by compromising with a lifestyle that is



PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships






­ either as predictable as one wants nor as n surprise-filled as the other seeks, which is not an ideal outcome. Alternation. Communicators who use this strategy choose one end of the dialectical spectrum at some times and the other on different occasions. Friends, for example, might manage the integration–separation dialectic by alternating between times when they spend a large amount of time together and other periods when they live independent lives. Compartmentalization. Partners who use this tactic segment different areas (e.g., topics, activities) of their relationship. For example, a couple might manage the expression–­ privacy dialectic by sharing almost all their feelings about mutual friends with one another, but keeping certain parts of their romantic histories private. Acceptance. With this more rewarding approach, communicators simultaneously embrace opposing forces without trying to diminish them. Barbara Montgomery (1993) describes a couple who accept the need both for stability and for change by devising a “predictably novel” approach. Once a week, they would do something together that they had never done before. Similarly, Dawn Braithwaite and her colleagues (1998) found that step-families often manage the tension between the “old family” and the “new family” by adapting and blending their family rituals. Reframing. Another constructive way to manage opposing desires is by reframing them so that the apparent contradiction disappears. Consider how a couple who felt hurt by each other’s unwillingness to share parts of their past might redefine the secrets as creating an attractive aura of mystery instead of being a problem to be solved. The desire for privacy would still remain, but it would no longer compete with a need for openness about every aspect of the past. Reaffirmation. This approach acknowledges that dialectical tensions will never disappear. Instead of trying to make them go away, reaffirming communicators accept—or

even embrace—the challenges these dialectical tensions present. If we consider the metaphorical view of relational life as a kind of roller coaster, communicators who use reaffirmation view dialectical tensions as an inevitable part of the ride.

Characteristics of Relational Development Whether you analyze a relationship in terms of stages or dialectical dynamics, two characteristics are true of every interpersonal relationship.

Relationships Are Constantly Changing Relationships are rarely stable for long periods of time. In fairy tales, a couple may live happily ever after, but in real life this sort of equilibrium is not exactly common. Consider partners who have been married for some time: although they have formally bonded, their relationship will probably shift forward and backward along the spectrum of stages and different dialectical tensions will become more or less important at different times. This constant change can be captured graphically by characterizing relationship development as a helix, as shown in Figure 8.2. The helix depicts relational cycles in which partners continually move through a series of stages before returning, at a new level, to ones they previously encountered (Conville, 1991; Dance, 1967). According to this model, we move from security (integration in Knapp’s terminology) to disintegration (differentiating) to alienation (circumscribing) to resynthesis (intensifying, integrating), to a new level of security. This cycle repeats itself again and again, reflecting the dialectical tensions identified by Baxter and others.

Movement Is Always to a New Place Even though a relationship may move back to a stage it has experienced before, it will never be the same as before. For example, most healthy longterm relationships will go through several phases of experimenting as the partners try out new ways of behaving with each other. Although each phase has the same general features, the specifics will

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FOCUS ON RESEARCH HUMOUR AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS There is a good deal of research that suggests that people value a sense of humour in their friends and romantic partners (Butzer and Kuiper, 2008; Hall, 2017; Kuiper, 2010; Treger et al., 2013). People rate those with a good sense of humour as more attractive than their less funny peers. Playfulness between partners is a vital component of establishing trust and laughing is an important indicator of romantic attraction (Hall, 2015). However, it’s not just being a humorous person or appreciating your partner’s sense of humour that seems to matter the most in terms of increasing attraction and relationship satisfaction. Instead, what’s important is co-creating humour with your partner. This type of relationship-enhancing joking is referred to as relational humour (Hall, 2015). In his meta-analysis of studies published between 1985 and 2016, Jeffery Hall (2017) uncovered and discussed the associations between relational humour and satisfaction at various stages in romantic relationships. He found that this type of shared humour, which includes making private jokes and engaging in humorous banter and playfulness, has a number of benefits. These include bringing about a positive mood, creating a safe space to take risks and be creative (or at least be less bored), and reaf-

feel different each time. Similarly, how partners manage the connection–autonomy dialectic at one time will affect how they experience and manage it at another time with the same or different relational issues. As we discussed in Chapter 1, communication is irreversible. Partners can never simply go back to “the way things were” at a past time. Sometimes, this may lead to regrets, but it can also make relationships exciting, since it lessens the chance for boredom and can lead to novelty and growth.

Communicating about ­Relationships It’s clear that relationships are complex, dynamic, and important—so what do we need to consider in

firming that you and your partner share the same perspective and values (you “get” each other)—all of which contributes to feelings of increased safety and intimacy in the relationship. The results of his meta-analysis suggest that humour that is more relationship-oriented, as opposed to self-oriented, is associated with increased relationship satisfaction. However, aggressive or negative humour, such as making fun of or attacking others, is associated with decreased relationship satisfaction. Finally, Hall’s investigation found a stronger association between humour and relationship satisfaction in young, unmarried samples; he suggests that perhaps this is because the ability to be funny in the early stages of a romantic relationship contributes to attraction and relational humour contributes to bonding. Among individuals in enduring relationships, Hall found that producing and using humour to cope were still predictors of relationship satisfaction but they were not quite as strong as in the early stages of relationship development. Critical thinking: What other reasons might explain why the stage of the relationship affects couples’ uses of humour and its contribution to their satisfaction with the relationship?

order to maintain, improve, and repair them? In this section, we’ll look at ways to think about and analyze our relational communication with the aim of managing the inevitable complexities and changes in ways that are constructive. We start by revisiting an important principle of interpersonal communication discussed in Chapter 1: every message has two dimensions, a content dimension and a relational dimension.

Content and Relational Messages The most obvious component of most mes­sages is their content—the subject being discussed: “It’s your turn to do the dishes” or “I’m busy Saturday night.” In addition, every message—both verbal and non-verbal—has a second, relational



PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

REFLECTION ynthesis R es

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FIGURE 8.2  A Helical Model of Relational Cycles

­ imension, which makes statements about how the d communicators feel toward one another (Knobloch and Solomon, 2003; Watzlawick et al., 1967). These relational messages deal with one or more of the social needs: intimacy, affinity, respect, and control. Consider the two examples we just mentioned: • Imagine two ways of saying, “It’s your turn to do the dishes”—one that is demanding and another that is matter-of-fact. Notice how the different non-verbal messages make statements about how the sender views control in this part of the relationship. The demanding tone says, in effect, “I have a right to tell you what to do around the house,” whereas the matter-of-fact one suggests, “I’m just reminding you of something you might have overlooked.” • You can easily imagine two ways to deliver the statement, “I’m busy Saturday night”—one with some affection and the other without. Most of the time, we’re unaware of the relational messages that bombard us every day. Sometimes, these messages don’t capture our awareness because they match our belief about the amount of control,

I work 30 hours a week and have a full course load at school, so I’m very busy. Sometimes, when my little brother wants to hang out and talk, I give him the brush-off. While he’s telling me about his day, I keep typing on the computer or reading a book. After a while, I sigh and start replying automatically, “Yeah, yeah.” Last night, he asked, “Why don’t you like me anymore?” I realized that, in my obsession with staying on top of my work, I’ve been giving him the wrong impression. Next time, I’ll either give him my attention or let him know explicitly that I can’t.

liking, or intimacy that is appropriate in a relationship. For example, you would probably not be offended if your supervisor told you to drop everything and tackle a certain job, because you agree that supervisors have the right to direct employees. However, if your supervisor delivered the order in a condescending, sarcastic, or abusive tone of voice, you would probably be offended. Your complaint wouldn’t be with the order itself, but with the way it was delivered. “I may work for this company,” you might think, “but I’m not a slave or an idiot. I deserve to be treated like a human being.” Exactly how are relational messages communicated? As the supervisor–employee example suggests, they are usually expressed non-verbally. To test this fact for yourself, imagine how you could act while saying, “Can you help me for a minute?” in a way that communicates each of the following messages: • superiority • helplessness • friendliness • aloofness • sexual desire • irritation Although non-verbal behaviour is a good source of relational messages, remember that it’s ambiguous. The sharp tone you take as a personal insult

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might be due to fatigue, and the interruption you take as an attempt to ignore your ideas might be a sign of pressure that has nothing to do with you. Before you jump to conclusions about relational clues, it’s a good idea to verify the accuracy of your interpretation with the other person: “When you cut me off, I got the idea you were angry with me. Were you?” Using a perception checking statement (see Chapter 3) such as this can help you to avoid acting on assumptions and increases your chances of achieving a mutual understanding. Not all relational messages are non-verbal, however. Social scientists use the term metacommunication to describe messages that refer to other messages (Ruesch and Bateson, 1951; Weder, 2008). In other words, metacommunication is communication about communication. Whenever we discuss a relationship with others, we are metacommunicating: “I wish we could stop arguing so much,” or “I appreciate how honest you’ve been with me.” Despite its importance, overt metacommunication is not a common feature of most relationships (Fogel and Branco, 1997; Wilmot, 1987). In fact, there seems to be an aversion to it, even among many people in intimate relationships (Bisson and Levine, 2009; Zhang and Stafford, 2008). When 90 people were asked to identify the taboo subjects in their personal relationships, the most frequent topics involved metacommunication (Baxter and Wilmot, 1985). For example, people were reluctant to discuss the state of their current relationships and the norms (“rules”) that governed their lives together. Nevertheless, there are times when it becomes necessary to talk about what’s going on

TAKE TWO • Content dimension: the subject of a message being discussed. • Relational dimension: a statement describing how the speaker feels about the listener (can be non-verbal or verbal). • Metacommunication: messages that refer to other messages.

between you and a person with whom you have an intimate relationship. Research shows that metacommunication can play a vital role in relational maintenance and repair (Becker et al., 2008).

Maintaining and Supporting ­Relationships We have all heard the advice that we must “work” at relationships if we want them to be positive and fulfilling, but rarely do we hear about exactly what that work involves. Just as gardens need tending, cars need tune-ups, and bodies need exercise, relationships need ongoing maintenance to keep them successful and satisfying (Lydon and Quinn, 2013). When life is challenging we count on our interpersonal relationships to offer the support we need (Lakey, 2013), so it’s important to put in time and effort to maintain them.

Relational Maintenance As noted earlier, relational maintenance can be defined as communication that keeps relationships running smoothly and satisfactorily. What kinds of communication help maintain relationships? Researchers have identified a number of communication strategies that are used by friends, relatives, romantic partners, and co-workers to maintain positive relationships (Canary et al., 1993; Ogolsky and Bowers, 2013). The five strategies most commonly used by university students were: • Openness: disclosing information, being empathetic, talking about the relationship, and listening to each other. This includes metacommunication and the kinds of relational work discussed earlier in this chapter. • Assurances: letting each other know (both verbally and non-verbally) that the relationship is important, comforting each other, and being supportive. • Joint activities and tasks: spending time with each other and taking care of life’s chores and obligations. • Positivity: trying to make interactions pleasant and cheerful, showing affection, and avoiding criticism. • Social networks: being invested in each other’s friends and family.



PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

Of the strategies listed above, positivity and assurances are the best predictors of marital satisfaction (Dainton et al., 1994). A study analyzing college students’ emails found that with family and friends the most frequently used strategies were openness (e.g., “Things have been a little crazy for me lately”) and social networks (e.g., “How are you and Sam? Hopefully good”) (Johnson et al., 2008). With romantic partners, however, as previous research found, providing assurances (“This is just a little email to say I love you”) was the most used strategy. Social media can play an important role in maintaining relationships (Ledbetter and Keating, 2015). Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram give communicators the chance to keep up with each other through status updates (Craig and Wright, 2012; Dainton, 2013). Of course, there’s a risk that constant updates will leave little to talk about in person. Emails can help too, though calling is particularly valuable for more intimate topics (Utz, 2007). Even a streak of daily Snapchat exchanges can help maintain a relationship (Stein, 2017). One study found that women use social media for relational maintenance more often than men do, regardless of the type of relationship (Houser et al., 2012). This finding is consistent with research showing that women expect and receive more maintenance communication with their female friends than men do with their male friends (Hall et al., 2011). Social media can be especially useful for meeting the challenges of long-distance relationships. These relationships are increasingly common, and they can be as stable as, or even more so than, geographically close relationships (Merolla, 2010). This is true not only for romantic and family relationships, but also for friendships (Johnson, Becker et al., 2009). The key to ensuring the longevity of a long-­ distance relationship is a commitment to relational maintenance. In one study, female college students said that openness and mutual problem solving are vital maintenance strategies in long-distance dating relationships (McGuire and Kinnery, 2010). In another study, both men and women reported that openness (self-disclosure) was the most important factor for maintaining their long-distance friendships (Johnson, Haigh et al., 2009). Participants conceded that sharing tasks and practical help may be less viable options in long-distance relationships.

We’ll talk more about specific relational maintenance strategies in families, friendships, and romantic relationships in Chapter 11.

Social Support Whereas relational maintenance is about keeping a relationship thriving and running smoothly, social support is about helping others during challenging times by providing emotional, informational, or instrumental resources (MacGeorge et al., 2011). Social support has been consistently linked to mental and physical health (Lakey, 2013) and can be offered in a variety of ways, including: • Emotional support: Few things are more helpful in times of stress, hurt, or grief than a loved one who listens with empathy and responds in caring ways (Reis and Clark, 2013). Chapter 5 (pages 164–5) describes what supporting does and doesn’t sound like when responding to others’ emotional needs. Remember, it’s important to keep your message person-centred (High and Solomon, 2016)—that is, focused on the emotions of the speaker (“this must be so difficult for you”) rather than minimizing those feelings (“it’s not the end of the world”) or diverting attention away from them (“tomorrow is a new day”). • Informational support: The people in our lives can be helpful information sources. They can give us recommendations for shopping, advice about relationships, or observations about our blind spots. Of course, keep in mind that advice is most likely to be regarded as supportive when it’s wanted and requested by the person in need. • Instrumental support: Sometimes, support is best given by rolling up your sleeves and doing a task or favour to show that you care (Semmer et  al., 2008). This can be as simple as giving someone a ride to the airport or as involved as providing care to someone during a period of illness. We count on our loved ones to offer assistance in times of need, and instrumental support is a primary marker of a meaningful friendship (“A friend in need is a friend indeed”). Sometimes just being available for interaction can provide social support. One study found that

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SELF-ASSESSMENT NON-VERBAL IMMEDIACY BEHAVIOURS With a particular relationship partner in mind, read each of the following 14 questions, and consider the extent to which you agree or disagree with each. Use a 7-point scale, with 1 = “completely disagree,” 7 = “completely agree,” and 2 though 6 representing levels of agreement between these endpoints. The relationship partner I’m thinking of  1. acts positively towards me.  2. is understanding.   3. talks about their feelings.  4. discusses the quality of our relationship.  5. talks about our plans for the future.  6. includes our friends in our activities.  7. shares in joint responsibilities that face us.  8. is upbeat when we’re together.  9. is forgiving of me.  10. is open about their feelings.  11. tells me how they feel about the relationship.  12. tells me how much I mean to them.  13. does things with our friends.  14. helps with tasks that need to be done. SOURCE: Adapted from Stafford, L. (2011). Measuring relationship maintenance behaviours: Critique and development of the Revised Relationship Maintenance Behaviour Scale. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28, 278–303; and Stafford, L. (2016). Marital sanctity, relationship maintenance, and marital quality. Journal of Family Issues, 37, 119–31.

Add your responses to items 2 and 9. This represents your perception of your partner’s use of understanding maintenance behaviours. Add your responses to items 3 and 10. This represents your perception of your partner’s use of self-­ disclosure maintenance behaviours. Add your responses to items 4 and 11. This represents your perception of your partner’s use of relationship talk maintenance behaviours. Add your responses to items 5 and 12. This represents your perception of your partner’s use of assurance maintenance behaviours. Add your responses to items 6 and 13. This represents your perception of your partner’s use of networks maintenance behaviours. Add your responses to items 7 and 14. This represents your perception of your partner’s use of tasks maintenance behaviours. Which relational maintenance behaviours did you perceive your partner as using most, and which least? These seven types of maintenance behaviours are independent; that is, a person can be perceived as enacting none, several, or all. A review of studies using a version of this test (Ogolsky and Bowers, 2013) concluded that women are perceived as using more of the different types of relational maintenance behaviours than men. Which relational maintenance behaviours are most important in your relationship?

Scoring: Add your responses to items 1 and 8. This represents your perception of your partner’s use of positivity maintenance behaviours.

patients who texted with their friends after they got out of surgery required less pain medication than those who didn’t (Guillory et al., 2015). In this case, the benefit wasn’t just a matter of distraction, because playing video games didn’t have the same analgesic effect on the patients. The researchers maintain that interpersonal interaction—even via texting—offers social support and a measure of pain relief. This serves as

a reminder that the simple act of communication with others when they’re hurting is an act of kindness that can help. Providing and receiving social support can strengthen our connections with others and deepen our appreciation of the relationships we have with them. The empathy (see Chapter 3) that social support both requires and inspires goes a long way towards maintaining relationships that are important to us.



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Repairing Damaged Relationships Sooner or later, even the most satisfying and stable relationships hit a bumpy patch. Sometimes, problems arise from outside forces such as work, finances, and competing relationships, to name a few. Other times, problems arise from differences and disagreements within a relationship. In Chapter 11, we offer guidelines for dealing with these sorts of challenges. Beyond inside and outside forces, relational transgressions can also pose relational problems. Relational transgressions are when one relationship partner violates the explicit or implicit terms of the relationship, thereby letting the other one down in an important way.

Types of Relational Transgressions What constitutes a relational transgression depends on a number of factors; however, these types of violations can be grouped into different categories (Guerrero and Bachman, 2008). Table 8.2 lists some types of relational transgressions, which we’ll analyze in terms of their significance or seriousness, how common they are, the extent to which they were committed on purpose or by accident, and whether they are isolated events or part of a larger pattern. Analyzing transgressions in this way will help inform our choices regarding relationship repair. Minor versus significant: Some of the items listed in Table 8.2 aren’t inherently transgressions, and in small doses they can actually aid relationships. For instance, a little distance can make the heart grow fonder, a little jealousy can be a sign of affection,

and a little anger can start the process of resolving a gripe. In large and regular doses, however, these acts become serious transgressions that can damage personal relationships. When transgression severity is perceived as high, and the perceiver’s communication competence is low, rumination increases and relational closeness decreases (Robbins and Merrill, 2014). Social versus relational: Some transgressions violate social rules shared by society at large. For example, almost everyone would agree that ridiculing or humiliating a friend or family member in public is a violation of a fundamental social rule regarding saving others’ face. Other rules are relational in nature—unique norms constructed by the people involved. For instance, some families have a rule stating, “If I’m going to be more than a little bit late, I’ll let you know so that you don’t worry.” Once such a rule exists, failure to honour it feels like a violation, even though outsiders might not view it as such. Deliberate versus intentional: Some transgressions are unintentional. You might reveal something about a friend’s past without realizing that this disclosure would be embarrassing. Other violations, though, are intentional. In a fit of anger, you might purposely lash out with a cruel comment, knowing that it will hurt the other person’s feelings. One-time versus incremental: The most obvious transgressions occur in a single episode: an act of betrayal, a verbal assault, or walking out in anger. But more subtle transgressions can occur over time. Consider emotional withdrawal: sometimes people retreat into themselves, and we usually give one another space to do just that. But if the

TABLE 8.2  Some Types of Relational Transgressions Category


Lack of commitment

Failure to honour important obligations (e.g., financial, emotional, task related); selfserving dishonesty; unfaithfulness


Physical separation (beyond what is necessary); psychological separation (avoidance; ignoring)


Criticism (especially in front of third parties)

Problematic emotions

Jealousy; unjustified suspicion; rage


Verbal hostility; physical violence

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withdrawal slowly becomes pervasive, it becomes a violation of the fundamental rule in most relationships that partners should be available to one another.

Strategies for Relational Repair Research confirms the common-sense notion that a frequent first step to repairing a transgression is to talk about the violation (Brandau-Brown and Ragsdale, 2008). Chapter 6 offered tips for sending clear, assertive “I messages” when you believe you’ve been wronged (“I was really embarrassed when you yelled at me in front of everybody last night”), whether describing the outcomes of the transgression or asking for an apology (Peyton and Goei, 2013). In other cases, you might be responsible for the transgression and want to raise it for discussion: “What did I do that you found so hurtful?” “Why was my behaviour a problem for you?” Asking questions such as these—and listening non-­ defensively to the answers—can be an enormous challenge. In Chapter 5 we offered guidelines for listening; in Chapter 9, we’ll provide tips about how to manage criticism. Not surprisingly, some transgressions are harder to repair than others. One study of dating partners found that sexual infidelity and breaking up were the two least forgivable offenses (Bachman and Guerrero, 2006). The seriousness of the transgression and the relative strength of the relationship prior to the offense are the two most significant factors in whether forgiveness will be granted (Guerrero and Bachman, 2010). For the best chance of repairing a seriously damaged relationship, an apology needs to be offered. The Last Lecture author Randy Pausch (2008) notes, “If you have done something wrong in your dealings with another person, it’s as if there’s an infection in your relationship. A good apology is like an antibiotic, a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound” (p. 161). Here are the top three things people look for in an apology, in order of importance (Lewicki et al., 2016): 1. Acknowledgement of responsibility: “It was my fault; I acted like a selfish jerk.”

2. Offer of repair: “I’ll fix what I did and make things right.” 3. Expression of regret: “I’m really sorry. I feel awful for letting you down.” Even if you offer an ideal apology, however, it may be unrealistic to expect immediate forgiveness. Sometimes, especially with severe transgressions, expressions of regret and promises of new behaviour will only be accepted conditionally, with a need for them to be demonstrated over time before the aggrieved party regards them as genuine (Merolla, 2008). Given the challenges and possible humiliation involved in apologizing, is it worth the effort? Research suggests yes. Participants in one study consistently reported that they had more remorse over apologies they didn’t offer than about those they did (Exline et al., 2007). If you need to make things right with someone you’ve offended, it’s better to do so now than to later regret that you didn’t.

Forgiving Transgressions You might think that forgiveness is a topic for the theologians and philosophers. However, social scientists have found that forgiving others has both personal and relational benefits (Antonuccio and Jackson, 2009). On a personal level, forgiveness has been shown to reduce emotional distress and aggression (Eaton and Struthers, 2006; Orcutt, 2006) and even improve cardiovascular function (Hannon et al., 2012). Interpersonally, extending forgiveness to lovers, friends, and family can often help restore damaged relationships (Fincham and Beach, 2013). Moreover, most research shows that transgressors who have been forgiven are usually less likely to repeat their offenses than those who have not received forgiveness (Whited et al., 2010). In the workplace, research suggests that leaders who show compassion when employees make mistakes inspire greater loyalty and trust, whereas leaders who react angrily to employee errors increase stress and inhibit employees’ creativity (Seppala, 2015). Even when a sincere apology is offered, forgiving others can be difficult. Research shows that one way to improve your ability to forgive is to recall times when you have mistreated or hurt others in



PART THREE: Dimensions of Interpersonal Relationships

the past—in other words, to remember that you, too, have wronged others and needed their forgiveness (Exline et al., 2008). Given that it’s in our own best interest to be forgiven, we would do well to remember these words from Richard Walters

(1984) who sees forgiveness as a choice requiring courage and continuous acts of will: “When we have been hurt we have two alternatives: be destroyed by resentment, or forgive. Resentment is death; forgiving leads to healing and life” (p. 366).

SUMMARY Explanations for why we form relationships with some people and not with others include appearance (physical attractiveness), similarity, complementarity, rewards, competence, proximity, and disclosure. Intimacy and distance are important parts of our relationships with others and there are several ways to establish both. Culture and gender influence intimacy in relationships by informing the social rules that govern intimate communication. Also, each culture defines the extent to which any relationship should be formal and distant or close and intimate. Some theorists argue that interpersonal relationships may go through as many as 10 stages of growth and deterioration. They suggest that communication may reflect more than one stage at a given time, although one stage will be dominant. Another way to analyze the dynamics of interpersonal communication is in terms of dialectical tensions, that is, mutually opposing, incompatible desires that are part of our relationships and that

can never be completely resolved. These tensions include integration–separation, stability–change, and expression–privacy. Both views characterize relationships as constantly changing, so that communication is more of a process than a static thing. Relational messages are sometimes expressed overtly by verbal metacommunication; however, they are more frequently conveyed non-verbally. Interpersonal relationships require maintenance to stay healthy. Relational maintenance requires partners to use positive and open communication that includes assurances and demonstrates commitment to the relationship. It also entails sharing tasks, investing in each other’s social networks and offering social support through the exchange of emotional, informational and instrumental resources. Some relationships become damaged over time and others are hurt through relational transgressions. Apologies and forgiveness are particularly important strategies for repairing damaged relationships.


Which of the following statements is true regarding why we form relationships? a. We are attracted to people who are similar to us and dislike those who are different. b. We are attracted to people who are different than ourselves rather than people who are similar. c. We are attracted to people who are similar to ourselves and we are also attracted to those whose different characteristics complement our own. d. Neither similarities nor differences affect our motivation to form relationships

because our relationships are influenced most by proximity. 2.

In Elliot Aronson and colleagues’ study of how competence and imperfection combine, their subjects found which of the following quiz show contestants most attractive? a. the person with superior ability who did not spill the coffee b. the person with average ability who did not spill the coffee c. the person with superior ability who spilled the coffee

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d. the person with average ability who spilled the coffee 3.

Social exchange theory suggests a. we seek relationships with people who are competent in social exchange. b. we seek relationships with people who can give us rewards greater than the costs we encounter dealing with them. c. we terminate relationships with people when our social exchanges with them are stagnant. d. we terminate relationships with people who are low on the social exchange index.


Sal has reinterpreted Akeno’s unwillingness to share some information about parts of his past as an interesting and admirable quality rather than feeling hurt and excluded by his privacy. Which of the following strategies has Sal used to manage this tension in her relationship with Akeno?

The finding that frequent interaction during the day via cellphone can be a source of conflict in relationships is evidence of which of the following dialectical tensions? a. b. c. d.

integration–separation dialectic stability–change dialectic expression–privacy dialectic dynamic–static dialectic

Grace and Zoe enjoy sharing their beliefs about spirituality, politics, and the meaning

Metacommunication is the term used to describe a. messages that refer to other messages or communication about communication. b. the aspects of communication that convey how communication partners feel about one another. c. communication that helps maintain and repair relationships. d. communication that conveys emotional support.


Fabiola helps her friend Gabrielle move to a new place when her relationship with Alberto ends. Fabiola is providing Gabrielle with which type of social support? a. emotional b. informational c. instrumental d. all of the above

10. Which of the following apologies contains the components people look for in an apology, in order of importance? a. Sorry you found that remark insensitive. I will avoid