Cardi and Tilly have been friends since they were both in kindergarten. They are both applying to the same college, hoping to be roommates. However, Cardi gets accepted, but Tilly does not. Cardi is crushed because she wanted to share her college experience with her best friend. Tilly tells Cardi to go without her and she will try again next year after attending the local junior college for a semester. Cardi is not as excited to go to college anymore, because she is worried about Tilly. Cardi talks about different options with her parents, her other friends, and posts about it on social media. This idea of sharing our experiences, whether it be positive, or negative is interpersonal communication. When we offer information to other people and they offer information towards us, it is defined as interpersonal communication.
Interpersonal Communication can be informal (the checkout line) or formal (lecture classroom). Often, interpersonal communication occurs in face-to-face contexts. It is usually unplanned, spontaneous, and ungrammatical. Think about the conversations that you have with your friends and family. These are mainly interpersonal in nature. It is essential to learn about interpersonal communication because this is the type of communication that you will be doing for most of your life. At most colleges, public speaking is a required course. Yet, most people will not engage in making a public speech for the majority of their life, but they will communicate with one other person daily, which is interpersonal communication. Interpersonal communication can help us achieve our personal and professional goals. In this chapter, you will learn the concepts associated with interpersonal communication and how certain variables can help you achieve your goals.
In this chapter, you will learn about ways to make communication more effective. You will learn about communication models that might influence how a message is sent and/or received. You will also learn about characteristics that influence the message and can cause others not to accept or understand the message that you were trying to send.
- Understand that communication is a process.
- Differentiate among the components of communication processes and communication models.
- Describe the differences between the sender and receiver of a message.
You may think that communication is easy. However, at moments in your life, communication might be hard and difficult to understand. We can study communication similar to the way we study other systems. There are elements to the communication process that are important to understand. Each interaction that we have will typically include a sender, receiver, message, channel, feedback, and noise. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Humans encode messages naturally, and we don’t often consider this part of the process. However, if you have ever thought about the exact words that you would use to get a later curfew from your parents/guardians and how you might refute any counterpoints, then you intuitively know that choosing the right words – “encoding” – weighed heavily in your ability to influence your parents/guardians successfully. The language you chose mattered.
The sender is the encoder or source of the message. The sender is the person who decides to communicate and the intent of the message. The source may decide to send messages to entertain, persuade, inform, include, or escape. Often, the sources will create a message based on their feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and past experiences. For instance, if you have feelings of affection towards someone but never communicate those feelings toward that person, they will never know. The sender can withhold or release information.
The transactional model of communication teaches us that we are both the sender and receiver simultaneously. The receiver(s) is the individual who decodes the message and tries to understand the source of the message. Receivers have to filter messages based on their attitudes, beliefs, opinions, values, history, and prejudices. People will encode messages through their five senses. We have to pay attention to the source of the message to receive the message. If the receiver does not get the message, then communication did not occur. The receiver needs to obtain a message.
Daily, you will receive several messages. Some of these messages are intentional. And some of these messages will be unintentional. For instance, a person waving in your direction might be waving to someone behind you, but you accidentally think they are waving at you. Some messages will be easy to understand, and some messages will be hard to interpret. Every time a person sends a message, they are also receiving messages simultaneously.
Messages include any type of textual, verbal, and nonverbal aspects of communication, in which individuals give meaning. People send messages intentionally (texting a friend to meet for coffee) or unintentionally (accidentally falling asleep during lectures). Messages can be verbal (saying hello to your parents/guardians), nonverbal (hugging your parents/guardians), or text (words on a computer screen). Essentially, communication is how messages create meaning. Yet, meanings differ among people. For instance, a friend of yours promises to repay you for the money they borrowed, and they say “sorry” for not having any money to give you. You might think they were insincere, but another person might think that it was a genuine apology. People can vary in their interpretations of messages.
With advances in technology, cell phones act as many different of communication at once. Consider that smartphones allow us to talk and text. Also, we can receive communication through Facebook, Twitter, Email, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and Vox. All of these channels are in addition to our traditional channels, which were face-to-face communication, letter writing, telegram, and the telephone. The addition of these new communication channels has changed our lives forever. The channel is the medium in which we communicate our message. Think about breaking up a romantic relationship. Would you rather do it via face-to-face or via a text message? Why did you answer the way that you did? The channel can impact the message.
Now, think about how you hear important news. Do you learn about it from the Internet, social media, television, newspaper, or others? The channel is the medium in which you learn about information.
It may seem like a silly thing to talk about channels, but a channel can make an impact on how people receive the message. For instance, a true story tells about a professional athlete who proposed marriage to his girlfriend by sending her the ring through the postal mail service. He sent her a ring and a recorded message asking her to marry him. She declined his proposal and refused to return the ring.14 In this case, the channel might have been better if he asked her face-to-face.
Just be mindful of how the channel can affect the way that a receiver reacts and responds to your message. For instance, a handwritten love letter might be more romantic than a typed email. On the other hand, if there was some tragic news about your family, you would probably want someone to call you immediately rather than sending you a letter.
Overall, people naturally know that the message impacts which channel they might use. In a research study focused on channels, college students were asked about the best channels for delivering messages.15 College students said that they would communicate face-to-face if the message was positive, but use mediated channels if the message was negative.
is the response to the message. If there is no feedback, communication would not be effective. Feedback is important because the sender needs to know if the receiver got the message. Simultaneously, the receiver usually will give the sender some sort of message that they comprehend what has been said. If there is no feedback or if it seems that the receiver did not understand the message, then it is negative feedback. However, if the receiver understood the message, then it is positive feedback. Positive feedback does not mean that the receiver entirely agrees with the sender of the message, but rather the message was comprehended. Sometimes feedback is not positive or negative; it can be ambiguous. Examples of ambiguous feedback might include saying “hmmm” or “interesting.” Based on these responses, it is not clear if the receiver of the message understood part or the entire message. It is important to note that feedback doesn’t have to come from other people. Sometimes, we can be critical of our own words when we write them in a text or say them out loud. We might correct our words and change how we communicate based on our internal feedback.
The context or situation where communication occurs and affects the experience is referred to as the . We know that the way you communicate in a professional context might be different than in a personal context. In other words, you probably won’t talk to your boss the same way you would talk to your best friend. (An exception might be if your best friend was also your boss). The environment will affect how you communicate. For instance, in a library, you might talk more quietly than normal so that you don’t disturb other library patrons. However, in a nightclub or bar, you might speak louder than normal due to the other people talking, music, or noise. Hence, the environment makes a difference in the way in which you communicate with others.
It is also important to note that environments can be related to fields of experience or a person’s past experiences or background. For instance, a town hall meeting that plans to cut primary access to lower socioeconomic residents might be perceived differently by individuals who use these services and those who do not. Environments might overlap, but sometimes they do not. Some people in college have had many family members who attended the same school, but other people do not have any family members that ever attended college.
Anything that interferes with the message is called noise. Noise keeps the message from being completely understood by the receiver. If noise is absent, then the message would be accurate. However, usually, noise impacts the message in some way. Noise might be physical (e.g., television, cell phone, fan, etc.), or it might be psychological (e.g., thinking about your parents/guardians or missing someone you love). Noise is anything that hinders or distorts the message.
There are four types of noise. The first type is physical noise. This is noise that comes from a physical object. For instance, people talking, birds chirping, a jackhammer pounding concrete, a car revving by, are all different types of physical noise.
The second type of noise is psychological noise. This is the noise that no one else can see unless you are a mind reader. It is the noise that occurs in a person’s mind, such as frustration, anger, happiness, or depression. When you talk to a person, they might act and behave like nothing is wrong, but deep inside their mind, they might be dealing with a lot of other issues or problems. Hence, psychological noise is difficult to see or understand because it happens in the other person’s mind.
The third type of noise is semantic noise, which deals with language. This could refer to jargon, accents, or language use. Sometimes our messages are not understood by others because of the word choice. For instance, if a person used the word “lit,” it would probably depend on the other words accompanying the word “lit” and or the context. To say that “this party is lit” would mean something different compared to “he lit a cigarette.” If you were coming from another country, that word might mean something different. Hence, sometimes language-related problems, where the receiver can’t understand the message, are referred to as semantic noise.
The fourth and last type of noise is called physiological noise. This type of noise is because the receiver’s body interferes or hinders the acceptance of a message. For instance, if the person is blind, they are unable to see any written messages that you might send. If the person is deaf, then they are unable to hear any spoken messages. If the person is very hungry, then they might pay more attention to their hunger than any other message.
We live in a world where there is constant noise. Practice being mindful of sound. Find a secluded spot and just close your eyes. Focus on the sounds around you. Do you notice certain sounds more than others? Why? Is it because you place more importance on those sounds compared to other sounds?
Sounds can be helpful to your application of mindfulness.16 Some people prefer paying attention to sounds rather than their breath when meditating. The purpose of this activity is to see if you can discern some sounds more than others. Some people might find these sounds noisy and very distracting. Others might find the sounds calming and relaxing.
If you watch old episodes of Superman, you might see scenes where he has to concentrate on hearing the sounds of someone calling for help. Superman can filter all the other sounds in the world to figure out where he needs to focus his attention.
There will be many times in life where you will be distracted because you might be overwhelmed with all the noise. It is essential to take a few minutes, just to be mindful of the noise and how you can deal with all the distractions. Once you are aware of the things that trigger these distractions or noise, then you will be able to be more focused and to be a better communicator.
- Communication is a process because senders and receivers act as senders and receivers simultaneously, with the receiver’s feedback serving as a key element to continuing the process.
- The components of the communication process involve the source, sender, channel, message, environment, and noise.
- Think of your most recent communication with another individual. Write down this conversation and, within the conversation, identify the components of the communication process.
- Think about the different types of noise that affect communication. Can you list some examples of how noise can make communication worse?
- Think about the advantages and disadvantages of different channels. Write down the pros and cons of the different channels of communication.
- Describe perception and aspects of interpersonal perception.
- List and explain the three stages of the perception process.
- Understand the relationship between interpersonal communication and perception.
As you can see from the picture, how you view something is also how you will describe and define it. Your perception of something will determine how you feel about it and how you will communicate about it. In the picture above, do you see it as a six or a nine? Why did you answer the way that you did?
Your perceptions affect who you are, and they are based on your experiences and preferences. If you have a horrible experience with a restaurant, you probably won’t go to that restaurant in the future. You might even tell others not to go to that restaurant based on your personal experience. Thus, it is crucial to understand how perceptions can influence others.
Sometimes the silliest arguments occur with others because we don’t understand their perceptions of things. Just like the illustration shows, it is important to make sure that you see things the same way that the other person does. In other words, put yourself in their shoes and see it from their perspective before jumping to conclusions or getting upset. That person might have a legitimate reason why they are not willing to concede with you.
Many of our problems in the world occur due to perception, or the process of acquiring, interpreting, and organizing information that comes in through your five senses. When we don’t get all the facts, it is hard to make a concrete decision. We have to rely on our perceptions to understand the situation. In this section, you will learn tools that can help you understand perceptions and improve your communication skills. As you will see in many of the illustrations on perception, people can see different things. In some of the pictures, some might only be able to see one picture, but there might be others who can see both images, and a small amount might be able to see something completely different from the rest of the class.
Many famous artists over the years have played with people’s perceptions. Figure 2.3 is an example of three artists’ use of twisted perceptions. The first picture was initially created by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin and is commonly called The Rubin Vase. Essentially, you have what appears to either be a vase (the white part) or two people looking at each other (the black part). This simple image is both two images and neither image at the same time. The second work of art is Charles Allan Gilbert’s (1892) painting “All is Vanity.” In this painting, you can see a woman sitting staring at herself in the mirror. At the same time, the image is also a giant skull. Lastly, we have William Ely Hill (1915) “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law,” which may have been loosely based on an 1888 German postcard. In Hill’s painting, you have two different images, one of a young woman and one of an older woman. The painting was initially published in an American humor magazine called Puck. The caption “They are both in this picture — Find them” ran alongside the picture. These visual images are helpful reminders that we don’t always perceive things in the same way as those around us. There are often multiple ways to view and understand the same set of events.
When it comes to interpersonal communication, each time you talk to other people, you present a side of yourself. Sometimes this presentation is a true representation of yourself, and other times it may be a fake version of yourself. People present themselves how they want others to see them. Some people present themselves positively on social media, and they have wonderful relationships. Then, their followers or fans get shocked to learn when those images are not true to what is presented. If we only see one side of things, we might be surprised to learn that things are different. In this section, we will learn that the perception process has three stages: attending, organizing, and interpreting.
The first step of the perception process is to select what information you want to pay attention to or focus on, which is called . You will pay attention to things based on how they look, feel, smell, touch, and taste. At every moment, you are obtaining a large amount of information. So, how do you decide what you want to pay attention to and what you choose to ignore? People will tend to pay attention to things that matter to them. Usually, we pay attention to things that are louder, larger, different, and more complex to what we ordinarily view.
When we focus on a particular thing and ignore other elements, we call it selective perception. For instance, when you are in love, you might pay attention to only that special someone and not notice anything else. The same thing happens when we end a relationship, and we are devasted, we might see how everyone else is in a great relationship, but we aren’t.
There are a couple of reasons why you pay attention to certain things more so than others.
The first reason why we pay attention to something is because it is extreme or intense. In other words, it stands out of the crowd and captures our attention, like an extremely good looking person at a party or a big neon sign in a dark, isolated town. We can’t help but notice these things because they are exceptional or extraordinary in some way.
Second, we will pay attention to things that are different or contradicting. Commonly, when people enter an elevator, they face the doors. Imagine if someone entered the elevator and stood with their back to the elevator doors staring at you. You might pay attention to this person more than others because the behaviour is unusual. It is something that you don’t expect, and that makes it stand out more to you. On another note, different could also be something that you are not used to or something that no longer exists for you. For instance, if you had someone very close to you pass away, then you might pay more attention to the loss of that person than to anything else. Some people grieve for an extended period because they were so used to having that person around, and things can be different since you don’t have them to rely on or ask for input.
The third thing that we pay attention to is something that repeats over and over again. Think of a catchy song or a commercial that continually repeats itself. We might be more alert to it since it repeats, compared to something that was only said once.
The fourth thing that we will pay attention to is based on our motives. If we have a motive to find a romantic partner, we might be more perceptive to other attractive people than normal, because we are looking for romantic interests. Another motive might be to lose weight, and you might pay more attention to exercise advertisements and food selection choices compared to someone who doesn’t have the motive to lose weight. Our motives influence what we pay attention to and what we ignore.
The last thing that influences our selection process is our emotional state. If we are in an angry mood, then we might be more attentive to things that get us angrier. As opposed to, if we are in a happy mood, then we will be more likely to overlook a lot of negativity because we are already happy. Selecting doesn’t involve just paying attention to certain cues. It also means that you might be overlooking other things. For instance, people in love will think their partner is amazing and will overlook a lot of their flaws. This is normal behaviour. We are so focused on how wonderful they are that we often will neglect the other negative aspects of their behaviour.
Look again at the three images in Figure 2.3. What were the first things that you saw when you looked at each picture? Could you see the two different images? Which image was more prominent? When we examine a picture or image, we engage in organizing it in our head to make sense of it and define it. This is an example of organization. After we select the information that we are paying attention to, we have to make sense of it in our brains. This stage of the perception process is referred to as organization. We must understand that the information can be organized in different ways. After we attend to something, our brains quickly want to make sense of this data. We quickly want to understand the information that we are exposed to and organize it in a way that makes sense to us.
There are four types of schemes that people use to organize perceptions.17 First, physical constructs are used to classify people (e.g., young/old; tall/short; big/small). Second, role constructs are social positions (e.g., mother, friend, lover, doctor, teacher). Third, interaction constructs are the social behaviours displayed in the interaction (e.g., aggressive, friendly, dismissive, indifferent). Fourth, psychological constructs are the dispositions, emotions, and internal states of mind of the communicators (e.g., depressed, confident, happy, insecure). We often use these schemes to better understand and organize the information that we have received. We use these schemes to generalize others and to classify information.
Let’s pretend that you came to class and noticed that one of your classmates was wildly waving their arms in the air at you. This will most likely catch your attention because you find this behaviour strange. Then, you will try to organize or makes sense of what is happening. Once you have organized it in your brain, you will need to interpret the behaviour.
The final stage of the perception process is interpreting. In this stage of perception, you are attaching meaning to understand the data. So, after you select information and organize things in your brain, you have to interpret the situation. As previously discussed in the above example, your friend waves their hands wildly (attending), and you are trying to figure out what they are communicating to you (organizing). You will attach meaning (interpreting). Does your friend need help and is trying to get your attention, or does your friend want you to watch out for something behind you?
We interpret other people’s behaviour daily. Walking to class, you might see an attractive stranger smiling at you. You could interpret this as a flirtatious behaviour or someone just trying to be friendly. Scholars have identified some factors that influence our interpretations:18
First, personal experience impacts our interpretation of events. What prior experiences have you had that affect your perceptions? Maybe you heard from your friends that a particular restaurant was really good, but when you went there, you had a horrible experience, and you decided you never wanted to go there again. Even though your friends might try to persuade you to try it again, you might be inclined not to go, because your past experience with that restaurant was not good.
Another example might be a traumatic relationship break up. You might have had a relational partner that cheated on you and left you with trust issues. You might find another romantic interest, but in the back of your mind, you might be cautious and interpret loving behaviours differently, because you don’t want to be hurt again.
Second, the degree of involvement impacts your interpretation. The more involved or deeper your relationship is with another person, the more likely you will interpret their behaviours differently compared to someone you do not know well. For instance, let’s pretend that you are a manager, and two of your employees come to work late. One worker just happens to be your best friend and the other person is someone who just started and you do not know them well. You are more likely to interpret your best friend’s behaviour more altruistically than the other worker because you have known your best friend for a longer period. Besides, since this person is your best friend, this implies that you interact and are more involved with them compared to other friends.
Third, the expectations that we hold can impact the way we make sense of other people’s behaviours. For instance, if you overheard some friends talking about a mean professor and how hostile they are in class, you might be expecting this to be true. Let’s say you meet the professor and attend their class; you might still have certain expectations about them based on what you heard. Even those expectations might be completely false, and you might still be expecting those allegations to be true.
Fourth, there are assumptions about human behaviour. Imagine if you are a personal fitness trainer, do you believe that people like to exercise or need to exercise? Your answer to that question might be based on your assumptions. If you are a person who is inclined to exercise, then you might think that all people like to work out. However, if you do not like to exercise but know that people should be physically fit, then you would more likely agree with the statement that people need to exercise. Your assumptions about humans can shape the way that you interpret their behaviour. Another example might be that if you believe that most people would donate to a worthy cause, you might be shocked to learn that not everyone thinks this way. When we assume that all humans should act a certain way, we are more likely to interpret their behaviour differently if they do not respond in a certain way.
Fifth, relational satisfaction will make you see things very differently. Relational satisfaction is how satisfied or happy you are with your current relationship. If you are content, then you are more likely to view all your partner’s behaviours as thoughtful and kind. However, if you are not satisfied in your relationship, then you are more likely to view their behaviour has distrustful or insincere. Research has shown that unhappy couples are more likely to blame their partners when things go wrong compared to happy couples.19
In this section, we have discussed the three stages of perception: attending, organizing, and interpreting. Each of these stages can occur out of sequence. For example, if your parent/guardian had a bad experience at a car dealership based on their interpretation (such as “They overcharged me for the car and they added all these hidden fees.”), then it can influence their future selection (looking for credible and highly rated car dealerships, and then your parent/guardian can organize the information (car dealers are just trying to make money, the assumption is that they think most customers don’t know a lot about cars). Perception is a continuous process, and it is very hard to determine the start and finish of any perceptual differences.
- Perception involves attending, organizing, and interpreting.
- Perception impacts communication.
- Attending, organizing, and interpreting have specific definitions, and each is impacted by multiple variables.
- Take a walk to a place you usually go to on campus or in your neighbourhood. Before taking your walk, mentally list everything that you will see on your walk. As you walk, notice everything on your path. What new things do you notice now that you are deliberately “attending” to your environment?
- What affects your perception? Think about where you come from and your self-concept. How do these two factors impact how you see the world?
- Look back at a previous text or email that you got from a friend. After reading it, do you have a different interpretation of it now compared to when you first got it? Why? Think about how interpretation can impact communication if you didn’t know this person. How does it differ?
- Differentiate among and describe the various action models of interpersonal communication.
- Differentiate among and describe the various interactional models of interpersonal communication.
- Differentiate among and describe the various transactional models of interpersonal communication.
In the world of communication, we have several different models to help us understand what communication is and how it works. A model is a simplified representation of a system (often graphic) that highlights the crucial components and connections of concepts, which are used to help people understand an aspect of the real-world. For our purposes, the models have all been created to help us understand how real-world communication interactions occur. The goal of creating models is three-fold:
- to facilitate understanding by eliminating unnecessary components,
- to aid in decision making by simulating “what if” scenarios, and
- to explain, control, and predict events on the basis of past observations.20
Over the next few paragraphs, we’re going to examine three different types of models that communication scholars have proposed to help us understand interpersonal interactions: action, interactional, and transactional.
In this section, we will be discussing different models to understand interpersonal communication. The purpose of using models is to provide visual representations of interpersonal communication and to offer a better understanding of how various scholars have conceptualized it over time. The first type of model we’ll be exploring are , or communication models that view communication as a one-directional transmission of information from a source or sender to some destination or receiver.
Shannon and Weaver were both engineers for the Bell Telephone Labs. Their job was to make sure that all the telephone cables and radio waves were operating at full capacity. They developed the Shannon-Weaver model, which is also known as the linear communication model (Weaver & Shannon, 1963).21 As indicated by its name, the scholars believed that communication occurred in a linear fashion, where a sender encodes a message through a channel to a receiver, who will decode the message. Feedback is not immediate. Examples of linear communication were newspapers, radio, and television.
Early Schramm Model
The Shannon-Weaver model was criticized because it assumed that communication always occurred linearly. Wilbur Schram (1954) felt that it was important to notice the impact of messages.22 Schramm’s model regards communication as a process between an encoder and a decoder. Most importantly, this model accounts for how people interpret the message. Schramm argued that a person’s background, experience, and knowledge are factors that impact interpretation. Besides, Schramm believed that the messages are transmitted through a medium. Also, the decoder will be able to send feedback about the message to indicate that the message has been received. He argued that communication is incomplete unless there is feedback from the receiver. According to Schramm’s model, encoding and decoding are vital to effective communication. Any communication where decoding does not occur or feedback does not happen is not effective or complete.
Berlo’s SMCR Model
David K. Berlo (1960)23 created the SMCR model of communication. SMCR stands for sender, message, channel, receiver. Berlo’s model describes different components of the communication process. He argued that there are three main parts of all communication, which is the speaker, the subject, and the listener. He maintained that the listener determines the meaning of any message.
In regards to the source or sender of the message, Berlo identified factors that influence the source of the message. First, communication skills refer to the ability to speak or write. Second, attitude is the person’s point-of-view, which may be influenced by the listener. The third is whether the source has requisite knowledge on a given topic to be effective. Fourth, social systems include the source’s values, beliefs, and opinions, which may influence the message.
Next, we move on to the message portion of the model. The message can be sent in a variety of ways, such as text, video, speech. At the same time, there might be components that influence the message, such as content, which is the information being sent. Elements refer to the verbal and nonverbal behaviours of how the message is sent. Treatment refers to how the message was presented. The structure is how the message was organized. Code is the form in which the message was sent, such as text, gesture, or music.
The channel of the message relies on the basic five senses of sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. Think of how your mother might express her love for you. She might hug you (touch) and say, “I love you” (sound), or make you your favourite dessert (taste). Each of these channels is a way to display affection.
The receiver is the person who decodes the message. Similar to the models discussed earlier, the receiver is at the end. However, Berlo argued that for the receiver to understand and comprehend the message, there must be similar factors to the sender. Hence, the source and the receiver have similar components. In the end, the receiver will have to decode the message and determine its meaning. Berlo tries to present the model of communication as simple as possible. His model accounts for variables that will obstruct the interpretation of the model.
In this section, we’re going to explore the next evolution of communication models, interaction models. Interaction models view the sender and the receiver as responsible for the effectiveness of the communication. One of the biggest differences between the action and interaction models is a heightened focus on feedback.
Osgood and Schramm Model
Osgood-Schramm’s model of communication is known as a circular model because it indicates that messages can go in two directions.24 Hence, once a person decodes a message, then they can encode it and send a message back to the sender. They could continue encoding and decoding into a continuous cycle. This revised model indicates that: 1) communication is not linear, but circular; 2) communication is reciprocal and equal; 3) messages are based on interpretation; 4) communication involves encoding, decoding, and interpreting. The benefit of this model is that the model illustrates that feedback is cyclical. It also shows that communication is complex because it accounts for interpretation. This model also showcases the fact that we are active communicators, and we are active in interpreting the messages that we receive.
Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson Model
Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson argued that communication is continuous.25 The researchers argued that communication happens all the time. Every time a message is sent, then a message is returned, and it continues from Person A to Person B until someone stops. Feedback is provided every time that Person A sends a message. With this model, there are five axioms.
First, one cannot, not communicate. This means that everything one does has communicative value. Even if people do not talk to each other, then it still communicates the idea that both parties do not want to talk to each other. The second axiom states that every message has a content and relationship dimension. Content is the informational part of the message or the subject of discussion. The relationship dimension refers to how the two communicators feel about each other. The third axiom is how the communicators in the system punctuate their communicative sequence. The scholars observed that every communication event has a stimulus, response, and reinforcement. Each communicator can be a stimulus or a response. Fourth, communication can be analog or digital. Digital refers to what the words mean. Analogical is how the words are said or the nonverbal behaviour that accompanies the message. The last axiom states that communication can be either symmetrical or complementary. This means that both communicators have similar power relations, or they do not. Conflict and misunderstandings can occur if the communicators have different power relations. For instance, your boss might have the right to fire you from your job if you do not professionally conduct yourself.
The transactional models differ from the interactional models in that the transactional models demonstrate that individuals are often acting as both the sender and receiver simultaneously. Basically, sending and receiving messages happen simultaneously.
Barnlund’s Transactional Model
In 1970, Dean C. Barnlund created the transactional model of communication to understand basic interpersonal communication.26 Barnlund argues that one of the problems with the more linear models of communication is that they resemble mediated messages. The message gets created, the message is sent, and the message is received. For example, we write an email, we send an email, and the email is read. Instead, Barnlund argues that during interpersonal interactions, we are both sending and receiving messages simultaneously. Out of all the other communication models, this one includes a multi-layered feedback system. We can provide oral feedback, but our nonverbal communication (e.g., tone of voice, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, etc.) is equally important to how others interpret the messages we are sending we use others’ nonverbal behaviours to interpret their messages. As such, in any interpersonal interaction, a ton of messages are sent and received simultaneously between the two people.
The Importance of Cues
The main components of the model include cues. There are three types of cues: public, private, and behavioural. Public cues are anything that is physical or environmental. Private cues are referred to as the private objects of the orientation, which include the senses of a person. Behavioural cues include nonverbal and verbal cues.
The Importance of Context
Furthermore, the transactional model of communication has also gone on to represent that three contexts coexist during an interaction:
- Social Context: The rules and norms that govern how people communicate with one another.
- Cultural Context: The cultural and co-cultural identities people have (e.g., ability, age, biological sex, gender identity, ethnicity, nationality, race, sexual orientation, social class, etc.).
- Relational Context: The nature of the bond or emotional attachment between two people (e.g., parent/guardian-child, sibling-sibling, teacher-student, health care worker-client, best friends, acquaintances, etc.).
Through our interpersonal interactions, we create social reality, but all of these different contexts impact this reality.
The Importance of Noise
Another important factor to consider in Barnlund’s Transactional Model is the issue of noise, which includes things that disturb or interrupt the flow of communication. Like the three contexts explored above, there are another four contexts that can impact our ability to interact with people effectively:27
- Physical Context: The physical space where interaction is occurring (office, school, home, doctor’s office, is the space loud, is the furniture comfortable, etc.).
- Physiological Context: The body’s responses to what’s happening in its environment.
- Internal: Physiological responses that result because of our body’s internal processes (e.g., hunger, a headache, physically tired, etc.).
- External: Physiological responses that result because of external stimuli within the environment (e.g., are you cold, are you hot, the colour of the room, are you physically comfortable, etc.).
- Psychological Context: How the human mind responds to what’s occurring within its environment (e.g., emotional state, thoughts, perceptions, intentions, mindfulness, etc.).
- Semantic Context: The possible understanding and interpretation of different messages sent (e.g., someone’s language, size of vocabulary, effective use of grammar, etc.).
In each of these contexts, it’s possible to have things that disturb or interrupts the flow of communication. For example, in the physical context, hard plastic chairs can make you uncomfortable and not want to sit for very long talking to someone. Physiologically, if you have a headache (internal) or if a room is very hot, it can make it hard to concentrate and listen effectively to another person. Psychologically, if we just broke up with our significant other, we may find it difficult to sit and have a casual conversation with someone while our brains are running a thousand miles a minute. Semantically, if we don’t understand a word that someone uses, it can prevent us from accurately interpreting someone’s messages. When you think about it, with all the possible interference of noise that exists within an interpersonal interaction, it’s pretty impressive that we ever get anything accomplished.
More often than not, we are completely unaware of how these different contexts create noise and impact our interactions with one another during the moment itself. For example, think about the nature of the physical environments of fast-food restaurants versus fine dining establishments. In fast-food restaurants, the décor is bright, the lighting is bright, the seats are made of hard surfaces (often plastic), they tend to be louder, etc. This noise causes people to eat faster and increase turnover rates. Conversely, fine dining establishments have tablecloths, more comfortable chairs, dimmer lighting, quieter dining, etc. The physical space in a fast-food restaurant hurries interaction and increases turnover. The physical space in the fine dining restaurant slows our interactions, causes us to stay longer, and we spend more money as a result. However, most of us don’t pay that much attention to how physical space is impacting us while we’re having a conversation with another person.
Although we used the external environment here as an example of how noise impacts our interpersonal interactions, we could go through all of these contexts and discuss how they impact us in ways of which we’re not consciously aware. We’ll explore many of these contexts throughout the rest of this book.
As you can see, these models of communication are all very different. They have similar components, yet they are all conveyed very differently. Some have features that others do not. Nevertheless, there are transactional principles that are important to learn about interpersonal communication.
Communication is Complex
People might think that communication is easy. However, there are a lot of factors, such as power, language, and relationship differences, that can impact the conversation. Communication isn’t easy, because not everyone will have the same interpretation of the message. You will see advertisements that some people will love and others will be offended by. The reason is that people do not identically receive a message.
Communication is Continuous
In many of the communication models, we learned that communication never stops. Every time a source sends a message, a receiver will decode it, and it goes back-and-forth. It is an endless cycle, because even if one person stops talking, then they have already sent a message that the communication needs to end. As a receiver, you can keep trying to send messages, or you can stop talking as well, which sends the message to the other person that you also want to stop talking.
Communication is Dynamic
With new technology and changing times, we see that communication is constantly changing. Before social media, people interacted very differently. Some people have suggested that social media has influenced how we talk to each other. The models have changed over time because people have also changed how they communicate. People no longer use the phone to call other people; instead, they will text message others because they find it easier and less evasive.
The advantage of this model is it shows that there is a shared field of experience between the sender and receiver. The transactional model shows that messages happen simultaneously with noise. However, the disadvantages of the model are that it is complex, and it suggests that the sender and receiver should understand the messages that are sent to each other.
So, what ultimately does a model of mindful communication look like? Well, to start, we think mindful communication is very similar to the transactional model of human communication. All of the facets of transactional communication can be applied in this context as well. In Figure 2.9, we have combined the transactional model with Shauna Shapiro and Linda Carlson’s three parts of mindful practice: attention, intention, and attitude.28
We’re not proposing a new model of communication in this text; we’re proposing a new way of coupling interpersonal communication with mindfulness. So, how would mindful interpersonal communication work? According to Levine Tatkin, “Mindful communication is all about being more conscious about the way you interact with the other person daily. It is about being more present when the other person is communicating to you.”29 As such, we argue that mindful communication is learning to harness the power of mindfulness to focus our ability to communicate with other people interpersonally effectively.
Many of us engage in mindless communication every day. We don’t pay attention to the conversation; we don’t think about our intentions during the interaction; and we don’t analyze our attitudes while we talk. Have you ever found yourself doing any of the following during an interpersonal interaction?
- Constantly checking your smartphone.
- Focusing on anything but the other person talking.
- Forming your responses before the other person stops talking.
- Cutting the other person off while they are talking.
- Constantly interrupting the other person while they are talking.
- Getting impatient when the other person doesn’t “get to the point fast enough.”
- Trying to come up with solutions the person never asked for.
- Getting bored.
- Having biases against the other person or their ideas without really listening to them.
- Starting arguments for no reason.
- Finding yourself yelling or screaming at someone else.
- Refusing to “give in” or “find the middle ground” when engaged in conflict.
These are just a few examples of what mindless interpersonal interactions can look like when we don’t consider the attention, intention, and attitude. Mindful interpersonal communication, on the other hand, occurs when we engage in the following communication behaviours:30
- Listening to your partner without being distracted.
- Holding a conversation without being too emotional.
- Being non-judgmental when you talk, argue, or even fight with your partner.
- Accepting your partner’s perspective even if it is different from yours.
- Validating yourself and your partner.
The authors of this text truly believe that engaging in mindful interpersonal communicative relationships is very important in our day-to-day lives. All of us are bombarded by messages, and it’s effortless to start treating all messages as if they were equal and must be attended to within a given moment. Let’s look at that first mindless behaviour we talked about earlier, checking your cell phone while you’re talking to people. As we discussed, our minds have a habit of wandering 47% of the time.31 Our monkey brains are constantly jumping from idea to idea before we add in technology. If you’re continually checking your cell phone while you’re talking to someone, you’re allowing your brain to roam even more than it already does.
Effective interpersonal communication is hard. The goal of a mindful approach to interpersonal communication is to train ourselves to be in the moment with someone listening and talking. We’ll talk more about listening and talking later in this text. For now, we’re going to wrap-up this chapter by looking at some specific skills to enhance your interpersonal communication.
- In action models, communication was viewed as a one-directional transmission of information from a source or sender to some destination or receiver. These models include the Shannon and Weaver Model, the Schramm Model and Berlo’s SMCR model.
- Interactional models viewed communication as a two-way process, in which both the sender and the receiver equally share the responsibility for communication effectiveness. Examples of the interactional model are Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson Model and Osgood and Schramm Model.
- The transactional models differ from the interactional models in that the transactional models demonstrate that individuals are often acting as both the sender and receiver simultaneously. An example of a transactional model is Barnlund’s model.
- Choose one action model, one interactional model, and Barnlund’s transactional model. Use each model to explain one communication scenario that you create. What are the differences in the explanations of each model?
- Choose the communication model with which you most agree. Why is it better than the other models?
- Understand the skills associated with effective interpersonal skills.
- Explain how to improve interpersonal skills.
- Describe the principles of ethical communication.
In this chapter, we have learned about different aspects of interpersonal communication. Overall, some skills can make you a better interpersonal communicator. We will discuss each one in more detail below.
The most important part of communication is not the actual talking, but the listening part. If you are not a good listener, then you will not be a good communicator. One must engage in mindful listening. Mindful listening is when you give careful and thoughtful attention to the messages that you receive. People will often listen mindfully to important messages or to people that matter most. Think about how happy you get when you are talking to someone you really love or maybe how you pay more attention to what a professor says if they tell you it will be on the exam. In each of these scenarios, you are giving the speaker your undivided attention. Most of our listening isn’t mindful, but there will be times where it will be important to listen to what others are telling us so that we can fulfill our personal and/or professional goals.
People skills are a set of characteristics that will help you interact well with others.32 These skills are most important in group situations and where cooperation is needed. These skills can also relate to how you handle social situations. They can make a positive impact on career advancement but also in relationship development.33 One of the most essential people skills to have is the ability to understand people. Being able to feel empathy or sympathy to another person’s situation can go a long way. By putting yourself in other people’s shoes and understanding their hardships or differences, you can put things into perspective. It can help you build a stronger and better interpersonal relationship.
(EQ) is the ability to recognize your own emotions and the emotions of others.34 Emotionally intelligent people can label their feelings appropriately and use this information to guide their behaviour. EQ is highly associated with the ability to empathize with others. Furthermore, EQ can help people connect interpersonally. Research has demonstrated that people with higher levels of EQ are more likely to succeed in the workplace and have better mental health. They are often better leaders and effective managers of conflict.
The best interpersonal communicators are the ones who can use the appropriate skill in certain contexts. For instance, if it is a sombre event, then they might not laugh. Or if it is a joyful occasion, they might not cry hysterically, unless they are tears of joy. The best politicians can sense the audience and determine what skills would be appropriate for which occasion. We know that humour can be beneficial in certain situations. However, humor can also be inappropriate for certain people. It is essential to know what skill is appropriate to use and when it is necessary to use it.
The last interpersonal skill involves communication . We have seen several people in the business world that have gotten in trouble for not communicating ethically. It is important to be mindful of what you say to others. You do not want people to think you are deceptive or that you are lying to them. Trust is a hard thing to build. Yet, trust can be taken away from you very quickly. It is essential that every time you communicate, you should consider the ethics behind your words. As we will see throughout this book, words matter! So, what does it mean to communicate ethically interpersonally? Thankfully, the National Communication Association has created a general credo for ethical communication.35 The subheadings below represent the nine statements created by the National Communication Association to help guide conversations related to communication ethics.
We advocate truthfulness, accuracy, honesty, and reason as essential to the integrity of communication.
The first statement in the credo for ethical communication is one that has taken on a lot more purpose in the past few years, being truthful. We live in a world where the blurring of fact and fiction, real-life and fantasy, truth and lies, real news and fake news, etc. has become increasingly blurry. The NCA credo argues that ethical communication should always strive towards truth and integrity. As such, it’s important to consider our interpersonal communication and ensure that we are not spreading lies.
We endorse freedom of expression, diversity of perspective, and tolerance of dissent to achieve the informed and responsible decision making fundamental to a civil society.
You don’t have to agree with everyone. In fact, it’s perfectly appropriate to disagree with people and do so in a civilized manner. So much of our interpersonal communication in the 21st Century seems to have become about shouting, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” As such, it’s important to remember that it’s possible for many different vantage points to have equal value. From an ethical perspective, it’s very important to listen to others and not immediately start thinking about our comebacks or counter-arguments. When we’re only focused on our comebacks and counter-arguments, then we’re not listening effectively. Now, we are not arguing that people should have the right to their own set of facts. As we discussed in the previous statement, we believe in facts and think the idea of “alternative facts” is horrific. But often, people’s experiences in life lead them to different positions that can be equally valid.
We strive to understand and respect other communicators before evaluating and responding to their messages.
Along with what was discussed in the previous statement, it’s important to approach our interpersonal interactions from a position of understanding and respect. Part of the mindfulness approach to interpersonal communication that we’ve advocated for in this book involves understanding and respect. Too many people in our world today immediately shut down others with whom they disagree without ever giving the other person a chance. We know that it can be tough to listen to messages that you strongly disagree with, but we can still disagree and, at the end of the day, respect each other.
We promote access to communication resources and opportunities as necessary to fulfill human potential and contribute to the well‐being of individuals, families, communities, and society.
As communication scholars, we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to improve their communication. One of the reasons we’ve written this book is because we believe that all students should have access to an interpersonal communication textbook that is free. Furthermore, we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to develop their interpersonal communication skills, listening skills, presentation skills, and social skills. Ultimately, developing communication skills helps people in their interpersonal relationships and makes them better people as a whole. According to Sherwyn Morreale, Joseph Valenzano, and Janessa Bauer:
Communication can help couples connect on a deeper level and feel more satisfied with their relationships. Additionally, competent communication strengthens bonds among family members and helps them cope with conflict and stressful situations. Communication gives family members the tools they need to express their feelings and address their concerns in a constructive way, which ultimately helps when conflicts and stressful situations arise… Better interpersonal communication can improve the social health of a community by strengthening relationships among various community members.36
We promote communication climates of caring and mutual understanding that respect the unique needs and characteristics of individual communicators.
As communicators, we need to take a two-pronged approach to our interpersonal interactions. First, we need to care about the needs of others. We need to understand that our communication can either build people up or tear them down. We should strive to build people up through our interactions with them. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when you have to tell people that they’re wrong, but there are ways of doing this that correct people without attacking their self-esteem.
Second, we need to strive for mutual understanding. As we’ve learned in this chapter, a lot of things can make communication with each other very difficult. However, we should strive to ensure that our messages are interpreted correctly by others and that we’re interpreting others’ messages correctly as well. We should avoid jumping to conclusions and assuming that someone’s messages are always ill-intended.
We condemn communication that degrades individuals and humanity through distortion, intimidation, coercion, and violence, and through the expression of intolerance and hatred.
We believe that any communication that degrades another person should be seen as reprehensible by everyone. For many of us, it’s easy for us to clearly label obvious hate messages as disgusting (e.g., anti-immigrant signs, burning crosses, racist graffiti, etc.). However, many people engage in biased language without really realizing that it’s happening.
We are committed to the courageous expression of personal convictions in pursuit of fairness and justice.
We live in a world where injustices are still very prevalent. From anti-immigrant rhetoric to laws preventing medical treatment for transgender people, we believe that it’s important for people to pursue fairness and justice in our world today. As such, all of us need to remember this when we are interacting with others. Whether it’s remembering to call someone by their preferred pronouns or supporting individuals seeking equal rights and protection under the law, we should help those individuals.
We advocate sharing information, opinions, and feelings when facing significant choices while also respecting privacy and confidentiality.
We live in a world where we faced with innumerable choices about the future. As I’m writing this, I’m currently in self-imposed quarantine during the coronavirus outbreak of Spring 2020. During this period, we’ve all become used to the term “social distancing,” or avoiding large crowds of people and keeping at least six feet from others in public. During this period, there are a lot of strong opinions and feelings on this subject. When it comes to our interpersonal interactions, it’s important for people to share information, opinions, and feelings and not have them immediately dismissed. Again, this is not to say that we believe that people should have the right to their own facts, but people should be allowed to express their own opinions and feelings.
In addition to sharing information, opinions, and feelings, it’s important to remember to respect people’s privacy and confidentiality. Not everything we hear from another person is meant to be broadcast openly to the world. It’s important to remember not to tell other people’s business.
We accept responsibility for the short‐ and long‐term consequences for our own communication and expect the same of others.
Lastly, the National Communication Association’s Credo for Ethical Communication advocates that people take responsibility for the consequences of their communication. If you say something that hurts someone else’s feelings, it’s important to recognize that and apologize. If we accidentally spread false information, it’s important to correct the facts when we learn them.
Rodrick Hart and Don Burks coined the term “rhetorical sensitivity” to help explain awareness of our own communicative behaviours. According to Hart and Burks,
The rhetorically sensitive person (a) tries to accept role‐taking as part of the human condition, (b) attempts to avoid stylized verbal behaviour, (c) is characteristically willing to undergo the strain of adaptation, (d) seeks to distinguish between all information and that information acceptable for communication, and (e) tries to understand that an idea can be rendered in multi‐form ways.37
When it comes to the ethicality of our communicative choices, it’s important to be rhetorically sensitive to more fully understand the short- and long-term consequences that arise from our communicative behaviours.
- Skills associated with effective interpersonal communication are listening skills, people skills, emotional intelligence, appropriate skill selection, and ethical communication.
- Improving interpersonal communication skills requires practice and deliberate effort. The ability to identify problems and select appropriate communication skills is key to effective interpersonal communication.
- A set of principles guides ethical communication. These principles teach us that we must respect others, attempt to see the viewpoint of others, take responsibility for our communication, and make an effort to continually improve upon our skills.
- Recall a situation in which you experienced conflict. Now that you know some approaches to effective interpersonal communication evaluate the experience your recalled and write down what you could have done differently.
- Recall a situation in which your confidence has been broken. In other words, you asked someone to keep a secret and they didn’t. How did this make you feel? In what situations is it acceptable to violate the confidence of another person?
- We all do something well in relation to communication. What are your best communication skills? In what areas would you like to improve?
Communication model that views communication as a one-directional transmission of information from a source or sender to some destination or receiver.
The act of focusing on specific objects or stimuli in the world around you.
The pathways in which messages are conveyed.
People who are aware of their emotions and are sensitive to the emotions of others are better able to handle the ups and downs of life, to rebound from adversity, and to maintain fulfilling relationships with others.
The context or situation in which communication occurs.
The set of moral values each person carries throughout life—concepts of what is right and wrong, good and bad, or just and unjust.
Information shared back to the source of communication that keeps the communication moving forward and thus making communication a process.
Communication model that views the sender and the receiver as responsible for the effectiveness of the communication.
Interpretation is the act of assigning meaning to a stimulus and then determining the worth of the object (evaluation).
A simplified representation of a system (often graphic) that highlights the important components and connections of concepts, which are used to help people understand an aspect of the real-world.
Anything that can interfere with the message being sent or received.
Organizing is making sense of the stimuli or assigning meaning to it.
The process of acquiring, interpreting, and organizing information that comes in through your five senses.
The receiver decodes the message in an environment that includes noise.
The person initiating communication and encoding the message and selecting the channel.
Communication model that demonstrate that individuals are often acting as both the sender and receiver simultaneously.
uncertainty reduction theory
The tendency of human beings to eliminate unknown elements of individuals whom they have just met. Individuals wish to predict what another person thinks and how another person behaves. Strategies for reducing uncertainty include passive, active, and interactive.
In this chapter, we have learned about various things that can impact interpersonal communication. We learned about the perception process and the three states of the perception process: attending, interpreting, and organizing. We also discussed the various communication models to understand how the process of communication looks in interpersonal situations. Lastly, we briefly overviewed interpersonal communication skills.
Real-World Case Study
Addie and Patrick had been dating for 13 months. They discussed getting married and whether they might have children. One day, it came to light that Patrick had not been paying his credit card bill as he said he would. Addie approached him to ask about the situation. He became very angry with her and a huge fight ensued. They both called each other names and spoke to each other in ways they never expected. After the fight, Addie and Patrick apologized to one another and promised never to talk that way again to each other. Which principle of communication might Addie and Patrick consider as they move forward in their relationship?
- Paul tells Jenna that her last name must be Campbell, because she is “Mmmm…good.” Paul is trying to ________ the message to Jenna.
- provide feedback
- provide noise
- none of these
- Larry is very hungry because he skipped breakfast. He can’t pay attention to other people because he is focused on his hunger. This type of noise is:
- none of these
- Which type of schema focuses on the social position?
- Kara pays attention to advertisements about cars, because she is looking to buy a new car. The reason she is selecting these messages over others is because the ads:
- are different
- are intense
- appeal to her emotional states
- appeal to her motives
- are repetitious
- Mark just met a new student named Jenny. He is trying to learn more about her through her social media sites. According to uncertainty reduction theory, which strategy is Mark using to reduce uncertainty?
Form of communication where an individual or group of individuals sends a specific message to an audience.
The degree to which a couple sticks to a consistent schedule in their day-to-day lives.
The conscious development of skills such as greater ability to direct and sustain our attention, less reactivity, greater discernment and compassion, and enhanced capacity to disidentify from one’s concept of self.
An individual’s likelihood to be quiet, shy, and more reserved
When people are physically occupying the same space while interacting with one another.
Have you ever said something that someone else misinterpreted as something else? Some of the most common problems in interpersonal communication stem from the use of language. For instance, two students, Kelly and James, are texting each other. Kelly texts James about meeting for dinner, and James texts “K” instead of “okay.” Kelly is worried because she thinks James is mad. She wonders why he texted “K” instead of “k,” “ok,” “yes” or “okay.” James was in a hurry, and he just texted in caps because he was excited to see Kelly.
This example gives us an understanding of how language can influence how our perceptions. Kelly and James had two different perceptions of the same event. One person was worried, and the other person was excited. Chapter 4 examines verbal communication because we know that words are powerful. The words that we use can impact how other people perceive us and how to perceive others.
Language is a system of human communication using a particular form of spoken or written words or other symbols. Language consists of the use of words in a structured way. Language helps us understand others’ wants, needs, and desires. Language can help create connections, but it can also pull us apart. Language is so vital to communication. Imagine if you never learned a language; how would you be able to function? Without language, how could you develop meaningful connections with others? Language allows us to express ourselves and obtain our goals.
Language is the most important element in human communication. Language is made up of words, which are arbitrary symbols. In this chapter, we will learn about how words work, the functions of language, and how to improve verbal communication.
- Discover how words have different rules.
- Determine the level of abstraction.
- Comprehend the concept of metamessages.
One person might call a shopping cart a buggy, and another person might call it a cart. There are several ways to say you would like a beverage, such as, “liquid refresher,” “soda,” “Coke,” “pop,” “refreshment,” or “drink.” A pacifier for a baby is sometimes called a “paci,” “binkie,” “sookie,” or “mute button.” Linguist Robin Tolmach Lakoff asks, “How can something that is physically just puffs of air, a mere stand-in for reality, have the power to change us and our world?”1 This example illustrates that meanings are in people, and words don’t necessarily represent what they mean.
Words can have different rules to help us understand the meaning. There are three rules: semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic.2
First, semantic rules are the dictionary definition of the word. However, the meaning can change based on the context in which it is used. For instance, the word fly by itself does not mean anything. It makes more sense if we put the word into a context by saying things like, “There is a fly on the wall;” “I will fly to Dallas tomorrow;” “That girl is so fly;” or “The fly on your pants is open!” We would not be able to communicate with others if we did not have semantic rules.
A cute example of this is about a third-grade teacher who asked about a period. One male student in her class went on and on about how girls have monthly periods, but he did not realize that the teacher meant the use of periods for punctuation at the end of a sentence. Hence, semantic rules need to be understood to avoid embarrassment or misunderstandings.
Second, syntactic rules govern how we help guide the words we use. Syntactic rules can refer to the use of grammar, structure, and punctuation to help effectively convey our ideas. For instance, we can say “Where are you” as opposed to “where you are,” which can convey a different meaning and have different perceptions. The same thing can happen when you don’t place a comma in the right place. The comma can make a big difference in how people understand a message.
A great example of how syntactic rules is the Star Wars character, Yoda, who often speaks with different rules. He has said, “Named must be your fear before banish it you can” and “Happens to every guy sometimes this does.” This example illustrates that syntactic rules can vary based on culture or background.
Another example is Figure 4.1. In this case, we learn the importance that a comma can make in written in language. In the first instance, “Let’s eat grandma!” is quite different than the second one, “Let’s eat, grandma!” The first implies cannibalism and the second a family dinner. As the image says, punctuation saves lives.
Third, pragmatic rules help us interpret messages by analyzing the interaction completely. We need to consider the words used, how they are stated, our relationship with the speaker, and the objectives of our communication. For instance, the words “I want to see you now” would mean different things if the speaker was your boss versus your lover. One could be a positive connotation, and another might be a negative one. The same holds true for humor. If we know that the other person understands and appreciates sarcasm, we might be more likely to engage in that behavior and perceive it differently from someone who takes every word literally.
Most pragmatic rules are based on culture and experience. For instance, the term “Netflix and chill” often means that two people will hook up. Imagine someone from a different country who did not know what this meant; they would be shocked if they thought they were going to watch Netflix with the other person and just relax. Another example would be “Want to have a drink?”, which usually infers an alcoholic beverage. Another way of saying this might be to say, “Would you like something to drink?” The second sentence does not imply that the drink has to contain alcohol.
It is common for people to text in capital letters when they are angry or excited. You would interpret the text differently if the text was not in capital letters. For instance, “I love you” might be perceived differently from “I LOVE YOU!!!” Thus, when communicating with others, you should also realize that pragmatic rules can impact the message.
Language helps to create reality. Often, humans will label their experiences. For instance, the word “success” has different interpretations depending on your perceptions. Success to you might be a certain type of car or a certain amount of income. However, for someone else, success might be the freedom to do what they love or to travel to exotic places. Success might mean something different based on your background or your culture.
Another example might be the word “intimacy.” Intimacy to one person might be something similar to love, but to another person, it might be the psychological connection that you feel to another person. Words can impact a person’s reality of what they believe and feel.
If a child complains that they don’t feel loved, but the parents/guardians argue that they continuously show affection by giving hugs and doing fun shared activities, who would you believe? The child might say that they never heard their parents/guardians say the word love, and hence, they don’t feel love. So, when we argue that words can create a person’s reality, that is what we mean. Specific words can make a difference in how a person will receive the message. That is why certain rhetoricians and politicians will spend hours looking for the right word to capture the true essence of a message. A personal trainer might be careful to use the word “overweight” as opposed to “fat,” because it just sounds drastically different. At Disney world, they call their employees “cast members” rather than workers, because it gives a perception that each person has a part in helping to run the show. Even on a resume, you might select words that set you apart from the other applicants. For instance, if you were a cook, you might say “culinary artist.” It gives the impression that you weren’t just cooking food, you were making masterpieces with food. Words matter, and how they are used will make a difference.
When we first fall in love with someone, we will use positive adjectives to describe that person. However, if you have fallen out of love with that person, you might use negative or neutral words to describe that same person. Words can reflect attitudes. Some people can label one experience as pleasant and another person can have the opposite experience. This difference is because words reflect our attitudes about things. If a person has positive emotions towards another, they might say that that person is funny, mature, and thrifty. However, if the person has negative feelings or attitudes towards that same person, they might describe them has childish, old, and cheap. These words can give a connotation about how the person perceives them.
When we think of language, it can be pretty . For example, when we say something is “interesting,” it can be positive or negative. That is what we mean when we say that language is abstract. Language can be very specific. You can tell someone specific things to help them better understand what you are trying to say by using specific and concrete examples. For instance, if you say, “You are a jerk!”, the person who receives that message might get pretty angry and wonder why you said that statement. To be clear, it might be better to say something like, “When you slammed that door in my face this morning, it really upset me, and I didn’t think that behavior was appropriate.” The second statement is more descriptive.
In 1941, linguist S.I. Hayakawa created what is called the (Figure 4.2).3 The abstraction ladder starts abstract at the top, while the bottom rung and is very concrete. In Figure 4.2, we’ve shown how you can go from abstract ideas (e.g., information) through various levels of more concrete ideas down to the most concrete idea (e.g., interpersonal communication). Ideally, you can see that as we move down the ladder, the topic becomes more fine-tuned and concrete.
In our daily lives, we tend to use high levels of abstraction all the time. For instance, growing up, your parents/guardians probably helped you with homework, cleaning, cooking, and transporting you from one event to another. Yet, we don’t typically say thank you to everything; we might make a general comment, such as a thank you rather than saying, “Thank you so much for helping me with my math homework and helping me figure out how to solve for the volume of spheres.” It takes too long to say that, so people tend to be abstract. However, abstraction can cause problems if you don’t provide enough description.
Metacommunication is known as communication about communication.4 Yet, are relationship messages that are sent among people who they communicate. These messages can be verbal, nonverbal, direct, or indirect. For instance, if you see two friends just talking about what they did last weekend, they are also sending metamessages as they talk. Metamessages can convey affection, appreciation, disgust, ridicule, scorn, or contempt. Every time you send messages to others, notice the metamessages that they might be sending you. Do they seem upset or annoyed with certain things that you say? In this book, we want to stress the importance of mindfulness when speaking. You may not realize what metamessages you are sending out to others.
Words can have denotative meanings or connotative meanings. In this section, we will learn about the differences and the triangle of meaning.5 Researchers by the names of Ogden and Richards noticed that misunderstandings occur when people associate different meanings with the same message. Their model (Figure 4.4) illustrates that there is an indirect association between a word and the actual referent or thing it represents.
As you can see, when you hear the word “dog,” it conjures up meaning for different people. The word “dog” itself is a symbol and signifier, or sound elements or other linguistic symbols that represents an underlying concept or meaning. When we hear the word “dog,” it is what we call the “signified,” or the meaning or idea expressed when someone hears the word. In this case, maybe you have a dog, and you really see that dog as your best friend, or, as in my case, you call him your little “cuddle monster” because he always wants to be connected to you at all times. Again, our meaning that we attach to the symbol is still separate from the physical entity itself. In this case, there is a real dog named Teddy, who is the referent, or the physical thing that a word or phrase denotes or stands for.
Words can have a meaning, which is the dictionary definition. These are words that most people are familiar with, and they all can agree on the understanding of that word. If you asked a person what a car or a phone is, they would most likely know what you are talking about when you use those words.
Words can have a meaning, which is a subjective definition of the word. The word might mean something different from what you meant. For example, you may hear someone referring to their baby. You could fairly safely assume that the person is referring to their infant, but just as easily they could be referring to a significant other.
- Words have denotative and connotative meanings. Denotations are the dictionary definition, and connotations are what the words imply.
- Sometimes confusion occurs because people are too abstract in their language. To be clear and concise in language, you need to be descriptive and specific as possible.
- Metamessages involves several meanings and can be conveyed nonverbally and verbally.
- Create an example of an abstraction ladder of how communication can range from general to very specific.
- Denotative and Connotative Ability. In groups, find ten random words from the dictionary and ask everyone to write down at least five connotations of each of the words. Then, compare your lists. Discuss the similarities and differences between your word choices.
- Create a metamessages love board. As a class, make a list of all the ways you could tell someone you love them. Then, discuss how your metamessages might cause some misunderstandings or confusion.
- Distinguish the differences between instrumental and regulatory functions.
- Appreciate the interactional and imaginative functions of language.
- Examine the personal, ritual, and cultural functions of language.
Based on research examining how children learn language, it was found that children are trying to create “meaning potential.”6 In other words, children learn language so they can understand and be understood by others. As children age, language serves different functions.
Children will typically communicate in a fashion that lets parents/guardians know what they want to do. When children are born, parents/guardians have to figure out if the child is hungry, thirsty, dirty, or sick. Later, when the child acquires language, the child can let the parent/guardian know what they want by using simple words like “eat” or “drink.”
use language to fulfill a need. In Chapter 2, we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For us to meet our needs, we need to use language that other people understand.
Language can help us define what we can or cannot do. Often, you might see campaigns that say “Don’t drink and drive” or “Don’t text and drive” to help control behaviors while driving.
of language are to influence the behaviors of others through requests, rules, or persuasion. These functions do not necessarily coincide with our needs. These might be advertisements that tell us to eat healthier or exercise more using specific products.
of language are used to help maintain or develop the relationship. Interactional functions also help to alleviate the interaction. Examples might include “Thank you,” “Please,” or “I care about you.”
Imaginative functions of language help to create imaginary constructs and tell stories. This use of fantasy usually occurs in play or leisure activities. People who roleplay in video games will sometimes engage in imaginative functions to help their character be more effective and persuasive.
Next, we have , or the use of language to help you form your identity or sense of self. In job interviews, people are asked, “how do you describe yourself?” For some people, this is a challenging question because it showcases what makes you who you are. The words you pick, as opposed to others, can help define who you are.
Perhaps someone told you that you were funny. You never realized that you were funny until that person told you. Because they used the word “funny” as opposed to “silly” or “crazy,” it caused you to have perceptions about yourself. This example illustrates how words serve as a personal function for us. Personal functions of language are used to express identity, feelings, and options.
The of language is used to learn, discover, and explore. The heuristic function could include asking several questions during a lecture or adding commentary to a child’s behavior. Another example might be “What is that tractor doing?” or “why is the cat sleeping?”
of language are used to request or relay information. These statements are straightforward. They do not seek for an explanation. For instance, “my cat is asleep” or “the kitchen light isn’t working.”
We know a lot about a culture based on the language that the members of the group speak.7 Some words exist in other languages, but we do not have them in English. For instance, in China, there are five different words for shame, but in the English language, we only have one word for shame. Anthropologist Franz Boas studied the Inuit people of Baffin Island, Canada, in the late 1800s and noted that they had many different words for “snow.” In fact, it’s become a myth over the years that the Inuit have 50 different words for snow. In reality, as Laura Kelly points out, there are a number of Inuit languages, so this myth is problematic because it attempts to generalize to all of them.8 Instead, the Eskimo-Aleut language tends to have long, complicated words that describe ideas; whereas, in English, we’d have a sentence to say the same thing. As such, the Eskimo-Aleut language probably has 100s of different words that can describe snow.
Analyzing the Hopi Native American language, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf discovered that there is not a difference between nouns and verbs.9 To the Hopi people, their language showcases how their world and perceptions of the world are always in constant flux. The Hopi believe that everything is evolving and changing. Their conceptualization of the world is that there is continuous time. As Whorf wrote, “After a long and careful analysis the Hopi language is seen to contain no words, grammatical forms, construction or expressions that refer directly to what we call 'time', or to past, present or future.”10
A very popular theory that helps us understand how culture and language coexist is the Sapir-Worf hypothesis.11 Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf created this hypothesis to help us understand cultural differences in language use. The theory suggests that language impacts perceptions by showing a culture’s worldview. The hypothesis is also seen as linguistic determinism, which is the perspective that language influences our thoughts.
Sometimes, language has special rooted characteristics or linguistic relativity. Language can express not only our thoughts but our feelings as well. Language does not only represent things, but also how we feel about things. For instance, in the United States, most houses will have backyards. In Japan, due to limited space, most houses do not have backyards, and thus, it is not represented in their language. To the Japanese, they do not understand the concept of a backyard, and they don’t have a word for a backyard. All in all, language helps to describe our world and how we understand our world.
- Instrumental functions explain that language can help us accomplish tasks, and regulatory function explains that language can help us control behavior.
- Interactional functions help us maintain information, and imaginative functions allow us to create worlds with others.
- When we talk with others, language can be personal, ritual, or cultural. Personal functions help us identify ourselves. Ritual functions of language involve words that we routinely say to others, such as “hello” or “goodbye.” Cultural functions of language help use describe the worldview or perspectives of culture.
- Watch a clip of your favorite TV show and record how many statements are regulatory versus instrumental. Why do you think these differences exist? Do you think it would differ depending on the program? Why?
- Ask several classmates to describe themselves. Then, randomly read a set of descriptions to another classmate and ask them to identify who this person is. Discover if these personal characteristics are viewed by others or not. Determine why these differences might exist.
- Create a list of words that exist in English but are not found in other languages. Then, create a list of words that exist in other languages but not in English. Determine why those words might not exist in English or other cultures.
- Understand how naming and identity can influence perceptions.
- Comprehend how language can impact affiliation with others.
- Identify the difference between sexist and racist language.
By now, you can see that language influences how we make sense of the world. In this section, we will understand some of the ways that language can impact our perceptions and possibly our behavior. To be effective communicators, we need to realize the different ways that language can be significant and instrumental.
New parents/guardians typically spend a great deal of time trying to pick just the right name for their newborn. We know that names can impact other people’s perceptions.12 Our names impact how we feel and how we behave. For instance, if you heard that someone was named Stacy, you might think that person was female, nice, and friendly, and you would be surprised if that person turned out to be male, mean, and aggressive.
People with unusual names tend to have more emotional distress than those with common names.13 Names impact our identity because others will typically have negative perceptions of unusual names or unique spellings of names. Names can change over time and can gain acceptance. For instance, the name Madison was not even considered a female first name until the movie “Splash” in the 1980s.14
Some names are very distinctive, which also makes them memorable and recognizable. Think about musical artists or celebrities with unique names. It helps you remember them, and it helps you distinguish that person from others.
Some of the names encompass some cultural or ethnic identity. In the popular book, Freakonomics, the authors showed a relationship between names and socioeconomic status.15 They discover that a popular name usually starts with high socioeconomic families, and then it becomes popular with lower socioeconomic families. Hence, it is very conceivable to determine the socioeconomic status of people you associate with based on their birth date and name. Figure 4.5 shows some of the more popular baby names for girls and boys, along with names that are non-binary.
When we want others to associate with us or have an with us, we might change the way we speak and the words we use. All of those things can impact how other people relate to us. Researchers found that when potential romantic partners employed the same word choices regarding pronouns and prepositions, then interest also increased. At the same time, couples that used similar word choices when texting each other significantly increased their relationship duration.16 This study implies that we often inadvertently mimic other people’s use of language when we focus on what they say.
If you have been in a romantic relationship for a long period, you might create special expressions or jargon for the other person, and that specialized vocabulary can create greater closeness and understanding. The same line of thinking occurs for groups in a gang or persons in the military. If we adapt to the other person’s communication style or , then we can also impact perceptions of affiliation. Research has shown that people who have similar speech also have more positive feelings for each other.17 However, speech can also work in the opposite direction when we , or when we communicate in a very different fashion. For instance, a group from another culture might speak the same dialect, even though they can speak English, in order to create distance and privacy from others.
Before discussing the concepts of sexism and racism, we must understand the term “bias.” is an attitude that is not objective or balanced, prejudiced, or the use of words that intentionally or unintentionally offend people or express an unfair attitude concerning a person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or illness. We’ll explore more on the issue of biased language later in this chapter.
or bias against others based on their sex can come across in language. can be defined as “words, phrases, and expressions that unnecessarily differentiate between females and males or exclude, trivialize, or diminish either sex.”18 Language can impact how we feel about ourselves and others. For instance, there is a magazine called Working Mother, but there is not one called “Working Father.” Even though the reality is that many men who work also have families and are fathers, there are no words that tend to distinguish them from other working men. Whereas, women are distinguished when they both work and are mothers compared to other women who solely work and also compared to women who are solely mothers and/or wives.
Think about how language has changed over the years. We used to have occupations that were highly male-dominated in the workplace and had words to describe them. For instance, policemen, firemen, and chairmen are now police officers, firefighters, and chairpersons. The same can also be said for some female-dominated occupations. For instance, stewardess, secretary, and waitress have been changed to include males and are often called flight attendants, office assistants, and servers. Thus, to eliminate sexism, we need to be cautious of the word choices we use when talking with others. Sexist language will impact perceptions, and people might be swayed about a person’s capability based on the word choices.
Similarly, is the bias people have towards others of a different race. conveys that a racial group is superior or better than another race. Some words in English have racial connotations. Aaron Smith-McLallen, Blair T. Johnson, John Dovidio, and Adam Pearson wrote:
In the United States and many other cultures, the color white often carries more positive connotations than the color black… Terms such as “Black Monday,” “Black Plague”, “black cats” and the “black market” all have negative connotations, and literature, television, and movies have traditionally portrayed heroes in white and villains in black. The empirical work of John E. Williams and others throughout the 1960s demonstrated that these positive and negative associations with the colors black and white, independent of any explicit connection to race, were evident among Black and White children as young as 3 years old … as well as adults.19
Currently, there is an ongoing debate in the United States about whether President Trump’s use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” when referring to the coronavirus is racially insensitive. The argument for its racial insensitivity is that the President is specifically using the term as an “other” technique to allow his followers to place blame on Chinese people for the coronavirus. Unsurprisingly, as a result of the use of the phase “Chinese Virus,” there have been numerous violent attacks against individuals of Asian descent within the United States. Notice that we don’t say people of Chinese descent here. The people that are generally inflamed by this rhetoric don’t take the time to distinguish among people they label as “other.”
It is important to note that many words do not imply any type of sexual or racial connotations. However, some people might use it to make judgments or expectations of others. For example, when describing a bad learning experience, the student might say “Black professor” or “female student” as opposed to just saying the student and professor argued. These descriptors can be problematic and sometimes not even necessary in the conversation. When using those types of words, it can create slight factors of sexism/racism.
Muted group theory was initially developed to explain the way humans, specifically men and women, communicate.20 The theory claims that man-made communication is, just that, “man”-made. Similar to standpoint theory, muted group theory argues that the dominant members of society, typically men, create a language and system of communication that subverts or reduces other groups, specifically women. Muted group theory has been described as feminist theory, and even this nomenclature is a great example of the claims that the theory is making.21 The term “feminist” exists in a male-dominated culture and language and connotes a negative conception of that which it is used to describe. Even the fact that there is not a popular term used to describe those who fight for the rights and equal status of men, points to the fact that there is a problem. The word “feminist” exists because it deviates from what is perceived as the “norm.” Even the terminology we use to describe women, and a theory that calls attention to their subversion, we see as even more subversion.
Figure 4.6 represents the basic conceptualization of muted group theory. The blue circle represents the dominant group, and the solid arrow points to their perception of reality. Meanwhile, the pink circle represents the muted group, and the dashed line represents their perception of reality. Often what happens in society is that the dominant group’s perception of reality is just seen as reality. As such, the muted group’s perception of reality is seen as less than or more fanciful than the dominant group’s perception. In reality, the muted group often sees things that really do exist in a society that the dominant group either cannot see or chooses not to see based on its position in society as the dominant group.
One area in our society where we can examine muted group theory is about socioeconomic status. Here are just a few statements that wealthy people have made:
- When talking about a couple planning their wedding, “I feel sorry for them, because they have a budget.”
- “What do you mean, you don't know if you should get them? Whenever I want new clothes, I just ask my daddy for the money card.”
- The guy was looking on a website for cars, when a rich coworker asks, “why don't you just buy the car with cash so you don't have to make payments?” When the guy told his coworker he couldn’t afford to pay for a car in cash, his rich coworker replied, “Why don't you just have your parents buy it for you?”
- “If you’re making $50,000 and your salary gets down to $40,000 and you have to cut, it’s very severe to you. But it’s no less severe to these other people with these big numbers.”
- “People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress. Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”
- “You don't get the vote if you don't pay a dollar in taxes. But what I really think is it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars, you get a million votes. How's that?”
The perspectives illustrated in these statements are ones that most of us cannot easily relate to. The opposite is also true. People who live in the top 1% often have very flawed perceptions of what life is like for those who don’t have piles of money sitting around. Often those in the dominant group (in this case the top 1%) have no conceptualization of what life is like for those in muted groups (the bottom 99%). As such, those in muted groups often have a much clearer perception of reality.
Some research in this theory has been done on other subverted groups such as new kids at school.22 They found that it was normative patterns that created a system of subversion in the classroom. When a new student arrived, they inadvertently went against the popular normative habits of the class and, in doing so, ostracized themselves. Other students simultaneously asserted and solidified their dominance while lowering the status of the new student. This same thing can be seen in our male-dominated society. As women seek to make themselves known and heard, they are continually reduced, and male-centric standards are reinforced.
Heather Kissack (2010) focused on the subversion and muting of women in email communication within businesses. She found that women are consistently marginalized and muted in organizational emails in the workplace. This is surprising because it would seem that without the nonverbal cues of face-to-face communication, there would be less muting of women in computer-mediated communication. Unfortunately, in this study, one can see that it is the male-centric verbiage that has created this divide in social and organization status. Even as women attempted to un-mute themselves, they were increasingly muted and subverted.
- Names can impact how we perceive others. It can also impact how we feel about ourselves.
- We can increase affiliation with others through converging our language to others. We can decrease affiliation with others through diverging our language with others.
- Sexism and racism can be displayed through our language choices. It is important to be aware of the words we use so that we do not come across as sexist or racist.
- Create a list of names that you have heard that are unique. What makes these names so unique and memorable? Ask friends to give you their perceptions of those names. Does that match with what you think? Why or why not?
- Engage in a normal conversation with a friend or family member. Without having them know what you are doing, slowly and subtly converge your communication style to theirs. Record your observations. Then, with the same person, try to diverge your communication style. Re-record your observations. Ask if the person noticed any communication changes. How did it make them feel? How did you feel? Why?
- Make a list of all the words in the English language that are sexist or racists. Try to research those words on the Internet and determine how these words are sexists or racists. Then, provide alternatives for these words to be more politically correct.
- Differentiate between informal and formal language.
- Determine the different types of informal language.
- Understand improper language and biased language.
If you read or watch different types of programming, you will probably notice that there is a difference in language use based on the environment, who you are talking to, and the reason for communicating. In this section, we will discuss the different types of language. The types of language used will impact how others view you and if they will view you positively or negatively.
You probably know by now that how we communicate in different contexts can vary greatly. For example, how you compose a text to your best friend is going to use different grammatical structures and words than when you compose an email to your professor. One of the main reasons for this difference is because of formal and informal language. Table 4.1 provides a general overview of the major differences between formal and informal language.
|Formal Language||Informal Language|
|Used in carefully edited communication.||Used in impromptu, conversational communication.|
|Used in academic or official content.||Used in everyday communication.|
|The sentence structure is long and complicated.||The sentence structure is short, choppy, and improvised.|
|The emphasis is on grammatical correctness.||The emphasis is on easily understood messages using everyday phrases.|
|Uses the passive voice.||Uses the active voice.|
|Often communicated from a detached, third person perspective.||Perspective is less of a problem (1st, 2nd or 3rd).|
|Speakers/writers avoid the use of contractions.||Speakers/writers can actively include contractions.|
|Avoid the inclusion of emotionally laden ideas and words.||It allows for the inclusion of emotions and empathy.|
|Language should be objective.||Language can be subjective.|
|Language should avoid the use of colloquialisms.||It’s perfectly appropriate to use colloquialisms.|
|Only use an acronym after it has clearly been spelled out once.||People use acronyms without always clearly spelling out what it means.|
|All sentences should be complete (clear subjects and verbs).||Sentences may be incomplete (lacking a clear subject and/or verb).|
|The use of pronouns should be avoided.||The use of personal pronouns is common.|
|Avoids artistic languages as much as possible.||Includes a range of artistic language choices (e.g., alliteration, anaphora, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, etc.).|
|Arguments are supported by facts and documented research.||Arguments are supported by personal beliefs and opinions.|
|Language is gender neutral.||Language includes gender references.|
|Avoids the imperative voice.||Uses the imperative voice.|
Table 4.1 Formal vs. Informal Language
When applying for a job, you will most likely use formal language in your cover letter and resume. is official and academic language. You want to appear intelligent and capable, so formal language helps you accomplish those goals. Formal language often occurs when we write. Formal language uses full sentences and is grammatically correct. Formal language is more objective and more complex. Most legal agreements are written in formal language.
is common, everyday language, which might include slang words. It is continuous and casual. We use informal language when we talk to other people. It is more simple. Informal language tends to use more contractions and abbreviations. If you look at your text messages, you will probably see several examples of informal language.
is the specialized or technical language of a specific group or profession that may not be understood by outsiders.23 If you are really into cars or computers, you probably know a lot about the different parts and functions. Jargon is normally used in a specific context and may be understood outside that context. Jargon consists of a specific vocabulary that uses words that only certain people understand. The business world is full of jargon. Joanna Cutrara created a list of 14 commonly heard jargon phrases used in the business world:24
- Low Hanging Fruit
- Open the Kimono
- Giving 110%
- Out of Pocket
- Drink the Kool-Aid
- Bio Break
- Blue Sky Training
- Tiger Team
- Idea Shower or Thought Shower
- Moving the Goal Post
- Drill Down
- Gain Traction
If you’re like us, chances are you’ve heard a few of these jargon phrases in your workplace. Heck, you may have even found yourself using a few of them. Your workplace may even have some specific jargon only used in your organization. Take a minute and think through all of the jargon you hear on an average day.
are the use of informal words in communication.25 Colloquialism varies from region to region. Examples might be “wanna” instead of “want to” or “gonna” instead of “going to.” It shows us how a society uses language in their everyday lives. Here’s a short list of some common colloquialisms you may have used yourself:
- Bamboozle – to deceive
- Be blue – to be sad
- Beat around the bush – to avoid a specific topic
- Buzz off – go away
- Fell through the cracks – to be neglected
- Go bananas, or go nuts – go insane or be very angry
- Gobsmacked – shocked
- Gonna – going to
- Hit a writer’s block – unable to write
- Hit the hay – to go to sleep
- Pop into my head – to have a new thought
- Sticktoitiveness – to be persistent
- Threw me for a loop – to be surprised
- Throw someone under the bus – to throw the blame on another person
- Wanna – want to
- Y’all – you all
- Yinz – you all
refers to words that are employed by certain groups, such as young adults and teens.26 Slang is more common when speaking to others rather than written. Slang is often used with people who are similar and have experience with each other. Here is a list of some common slang terms you may use in your day-to-day life:
- BAE (baby / before all else)
- On Fleek (looking perfect)
- Bye Felica (saying goodbye to someone you don’t like)
- The Tea (gossip)
- Bro (typically a male friend)
- Cash (money)
- Cheesy (cheap or tacky)
- Ship (wanting people to be in a relationship, whether real or fictional)
- Frenemy (someone who is both a friend and an enemy)
- Thirsty (being overly eager or desperate)
- Throw Shade (to insult another person)
- Woke (being acutely aware of social injustice within society)
How many of these slang words do you use? What other slang words do you find yourself using? When it comes to slang, it’s important to understand that this list is constantly evolving. What is common slang today could be completely passé tomorrow. What’s common slang in the United States is not universal in English speaking countries.
are expressions or figures of speech whose meaning cannot be understood by looking at the individual words and interpreting them literally.27 Idioms can help amplify messages. Idioms can be used to provide artistic expression. For instance, “knowledge is power!”
Idioms can be hard to grasp for non-native speakers. As such, many instructors in the English as a Second Language world spend a good deal of time trying to explain idioms to non-native speakers. Table 4.2 presents a wide array of different idioms.
|Reused here from under a Creative Commons Attribution License. https://tinyurl.com/rtxklo5|
|ish||About. I'll meet you at 4ish.|
|a basket case||A wreck. He was a basket case after he was
thrown off the basketball team.
|a breath of fresh air||Refreshing/fun. She's a breath of fresh air.|
|a change of heart||Change my mind. I've had a change of heart.|
|a blessing in disguise||Something bad that turns out good. Losing his job turned out to be a blessing in disguise.|
|a dead end||That's a dead end job–time to find a new one.|
|a gut feeling||Feeling in my stomach. I have a gut feeling that everything is going to turn out all right.|
|a matter of opinion||It's a matter of opinion whether eating fried tarantulas is a gourmet treat.|
|a piece of cake||That test was a snap–it was a piece of cake. (easy).|
|a ripoff||You spent $500 for a watermelon! What a ripoff! You were cheated.|
|a pain in the neck||A pest. His little brother is a real pain in the neck.|
|be in hot water||Be in trouble. If you tell your boss off, you'll really be in hot water.|
|in the same boat||We're in the same situation. We're all in the same boat–so be cool.|
|on the same wavelength||We have the same ideas and opinions. We're on the same wavelength.|
|be on the ball||Very sharp. Very smart. He's really on the ball.|
|it's only a matter of time||Very soon. It's only a matter of time until his boss realizes that he is the one stealing money from the till.|
|be that as it may||As things stand. Be that as it may, I think you should reconsider your decision to move to Antarctica.|
|up in arms||Really angry. His father was up in arms when he learned that he had crashed his new car.|
|up in the air||Not sure. Plans are up in the air–we haven't decided what to do yet.|
|bend over backwards||Go out of your way. She really bent over backwards to make my stay enjoyable.|
|Big deal!||Not important (sarcastic). Losing an old sock is not a big deal.|
|cost an arm and a leg||Very expensive. His new Ferrari cost an arm and a leg.|
|cross your fingers||For good luck. Cross your fingers that I pass the English exam with flying colors.|
|draw a blank||I can't remember. I drew a blank when I tried to remember his brother's name.|
|Easier said than done||More difficult than it seems.|
|Am fed up with||Sick and tired of something. I'm fed up with whining friends who have everything!|
|from scratch||Make from basic ingredients. Her carrot cake was made from scratch.|
|for the time being||For now. For the time being, everything is fine at work.|
|get cold feet||Feel too scared to do something. John wanted to ask Maria out but he got cold feet and decided not to.|
|get out of the wrong side of the bed||In a bad mood. He must have gotten up out of the wrong side of the bed today.|
|get the picture||Understand. Do you get the picture?|
|get your act together||Get organized/stop wasting time. You better get your act together or you're going to fail all your classes.|
|give it a shot||Try. Why not try bungee jumping. Give it a shot.|
|give him a piece of your mind||Get angry and tell someone off. If I were you I would give him a piece of your mind.|
|give him the cold shoulder||Ignore someone. Brett walked right past me without saying a word. He gave me the cold shoulder.|
|go all out||Do your utmost for someone or something. His parents went all out for his graduation party.|
|go downhill||Get worse. After he got divorced, everything went downhill.|
|go up in smoke||Evaporate/disappear. His dreams of being a professional athlete went up in smoke when he broke his leg.|
|have a chip on your shoulder||I think you are great. He has such a chip on his shoulder that he hardly ever relates to anyone.|
|had it up to here||Can't take any more. I've had it up to here with noisy students!|
|mixed feelings||Positive and negative feelings together. I have very mixed feelings about her marrying a fisherman.|
|second thoughts||Thinking again about a decision. I'm having second thoughts about trekking in Greenland this summer.|
|throw a fit||Get really angry. His mother threw a fit when she heard that he lost her iPhone.|
|I’m all ears||To listen intently. Tell me about your wedding plans–I'm all ears.|
|in the bag||Certain. His new job is in the bag. He signed the contract.|
|in the middle of nowhere||Way out in the country. Their ski chalet is in the middle of nowhere.|
|Just my luck!||Bad luck. Just my luck to lose the winning lottery ticket.|
|keep an eye on||Watch carefully. Will you keep an eye on my nephew while I walk the dog?|
|bear in mind||Keep it in mind. Bear in mind, learning a new language isn't as easy as it seems.|
|learn by heart||Memorize. You have to learn irregular verbs by heart.|
|let the cat out of the bag||Spill the beans. Tell a secret. Don't let the cat out of the bag. Keep his surprise birthday party a secret.|
|make my day||Make my day great. The guy I have a crush on finally called me. He made my day.|
|miss the point||Don't understand the basic meaning. You are missing the point entirely.-.|
|no way||Impossible. You got all A's on your exams and you never studied. No way!|
|don't have a clue||I have no idea. I don't have a clue what the professor was talking about.|
|don't have the faintest idea||Don't understand. I don't have the faintest idea of what that article was talking about.|
|off the top of my head||Without thinking. Off the top of my head, I think it's worth $6 million.|
|on the dot||Ontime. He arrived at 6 o'clock on the dot.|
|out of sight, out of mind||You forget someone you don't see anymore.|
|out of the blue||Suddenly. Guess who called me out of the blue?|
|play it by ear||Make no plans–do things spontaneously. Let's just play it by ear tonight and see what comes up.|
|pull someone's leg||Kid someone. Stop pulling my leg. I know you are kidding!|
|red tape||Bureaucracy. It's almost impossible to set up a business in Greece because there is so much red tape.|
|read between the lines||Understand what is not stated. If you read between the lines, you'll realize that he is trying to dump you.|
|safe and sound||Fine. The Boy Scouts returned safe and sound from their camping adventure in Yellowstone National Park.|
|see eye to eye||Agree. He doesn't see eye to eye with his parents at all.|
|sour grapes||Pretend to not want something that you are desperate for. It's just sour grapes that he is criticizing George's villa in Italy.|
|slipped my mind||Forgot. I meant to call you last night, but it slipped my mind.|
|small talk||Chitchat. It's important to be able to make small talk when you meet new people for the first time.|
|talk shop||Talk about work. What a boring evening! Everyone talked shop- and they're all dog walkers!|
|the icing on the cake||Something that makes a good thing great. And the icing on the cake was that the movie for which he earned $12 million, also won the Oscar for best picture.|
|the last straw||The thing that ruins everything. When my boss asked me to cancel my wedding to complete a project–I said that's the last straw and I quit!|
|time flies||Time goes fast. Time flies when you are having fun.|
|you can say that again||You agree emphatically. Kanye West is a great singer.
You can say that again!
|you name it||Everything you can think of. This camp has every activity you can think it–like swimming, canoeing, basketball and you name it.|
|wouldn't be caught dead||Not even dead would I do something. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing that dress to the ball.|
|she's a doll||Someone really great. Thanks for helping me out. You're a doll.|
|full of beans||Lively–usually for a child. Little children are usually full of beans.|
|full of baloney||Not true. She's full of baloney–she doesn't know what she is talking about.|
|like two peas in a pod||Very similar. His two brothers are like peas in a pod.|
|a piece of cake||Very easy. My math test was so easy–a real piece of cake.|
|sounds fishy||Suspicious. Doubling your money in an hour sounds fishy to me.|
|a frog in my throat||I can't speak clearly. Ahem! Sorry I had a frog in my throat.|
|smell a rat||Something is suspicious. The policeman didn't believe the witness–in fact, he smelled a rat.|
|go to the dogs||Go downhill. Everything is going to the dogs in our town since the new mayor took office.|
|cat got your tongue||Silent for no reason. What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?|
|for the birds||Awful. How was the new Batman movie? Oh, it was for the birds.|
|pay through the nose||Pay lots of money. They paid through the nose to hold their wedding at Buckingham Palace.|
|tongue in cheek||Being ironic. I meant that tongue in cheek. I was kidding.|
|all thumbs||Clumsy. He couldn't put that simple table together–he's just all thumbs.|
|get off my back||Leave me alone. Bug off! Get off my back!|
|drive me up a wall||Drive me crazy. Rude people drive me up a wall.|
|spill the beans||Tell a secret. Hey, don't spill the beans. It's a secret.|
|hit the ceiling||Blow up. His dad hit the ceiling when he saw his dreadful report card.|
|go fly a kite||Get lost! Oh, leave me alone! Go fly a kite!|
|dressed to kill||Dressed in fancy clothes. Cinderella was dressed to kill when she arrived at the ball.|
|in stitches||Laughing a lot. We were all in stitches when we heard the latest joke.|
|feel like a million dollars||Feel great. I just slept for 15 hours–I feel like a million dollars.|
|at the end of my rope||Can't stand it anymore. The mother of four little children is at the end of her rope.|
|my head is killing me||Something hurts. My head is killing me–I should take an aspirin.|
|that's out of the question||Impossible. Me? Stand up and sing and dance in front of the whole school–out of the question!|
|I’m beat||Very tired.|
|It'll knock your socks off!||Thrills you. You'll love this summer's action movie. It'll knock your socks off.|
|beats me||Don't know. What's the capital of Outer Mongolia? Beats me!|
|hands down||No comparison. Hands down Mykonos is the world's most beautiful island.|
|goody-goody||Behaves perfectly. I can't stand Matilda–she's such a goody-goody and no fun at all.|
|pain in the neck||A big problem. Washing dishes is a pain in the neck.|
|like pulling teeth||Very difficult. Trying to get 2-year-olds to cooperate is like pulling teeth.|
|for crying out loud||Oh no! For crying out loud–let me finish this book–will you?|
|I’m at my wit's end||I'm desperate. I'm at my wit's end trying to deal with two impossible bosses.|
|like beating a dead horse||A waste of time. Trying to get my father to ever change his mind is like beating a dead horse.|
|out of this world||Fantastic! My vacation to Hawaii was out of this world!|
|cost an arm and a leg||Very expensive. A Rolls Royce costs an arm and a leg.|
|go figure||Try to guess why. Our English teacher gives us five tests a week and this week–no tests at all. Go figure.|
|in the nick of time||Just in time. The hero arrived in the nick of time to save the desperate damsel.|
|I’m up to my eyeballs in||Very busy. I'm up to my eyeballs in work this week.|
|I had a blast/a ball||A great time. I had a blast/ball at Sandy’s slumber party.|
|win-win situation||Both sides win. Selling their old stock of iPhones 10s was a
win-win situation. They got rid of the useless phones, and we bought them really cheaply.
|I’m swamped||Very busy. Let’s get together next week–this week I'm swamped.|
|It's a steal||Fantastic bargain. Getting a new computer for $300 dollars is a steal.|
|the sticks||Way out in the country. Who would want to live in the sticks–what would you do for excitement?|
|break the ice||Start a conversation. Talking about the weather is a good way to break the ice when you meet someone new.|
|give me a break||Leave me alone! Come on! Give me a break! I've been working all day long- and I just want to play a little bit of Angry Birds….|
|like talking to the wall||A waste of time. Dealing with many teenagers is like talking to a wall–they won't even respond to your questions.|
|see eye to eye||Agree. I hardly ever see eye to eye with my parents.|
|It's about time||It's time. It's about time you started your homework–it's midnight!|
|pays peanuts||Pays hardly anything. This job pays peanuts–$1 an hour!.|
|sleep like a log||Sleep soundly. Last night I slept like a log and didn’t hear the thunderstorm at all.|
|ace||Do great. I aced the math test. I got 100%.|
|easy as pie||Super easy. The English test was as easy as pie.|
|blabbermouth||Someone who tells secrets. Don’t tell Sophie your secrets or the whole town will know them.|
|don't bug me||Don’t bother me. Don’t bug me–I’m busy.|
|by the skin of my teeth||Barely manage something. I passed the geography test by the skin of my teeth.|
|can't make head nor tail of||I can’t understand. I can’t make head nor tail of this math chapter.|
|cool as a cucumber||Very calm. The policeman was cool as a cucumber when he persuaded the man not to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.|
Table 4.2 Common Idioms
is an idea or expression that has been so overused that it has lost its original meaning.28 Clichés are common and can often be heard. For instance, “light as a feather” or “happily ever after” are common clichés. They are important because they express ideas and thoughts that are popular in everyday use. They are prevalent in advertisements, television, and literature.
Improper language is not proper, correct, or applicable in certain situations.29 There are two different types of improper language: vulgarity and cursing. First, vulgarity includes language that is offensive or lacks good taste. Often, vulgar is lewd or obscene. Second, cursing is language that includes evil, doom, misfortune on a person or group. It can also include curse or profane words. People might differ in their perceptions about improper language.
is language that shows preference in favor of or against a certain point-of-view, shows prejudice, or is demeaning to others.30 Bias in language is uneven or unbalanced. Examples of this may include “mankind” as opposed to “humanity.”
|Businessman||Businessperson, Business Owner, Executive, Leader, Manager, etc.|
|Chairman||Chair or Chairperson|
|Cleaning Lady / Maid||Cleaner, Cleaning Person, Housecleaner, Housekeeper, Maintenance Worker, Office Cleaner, etc.|
|Male Flight Attendant or Stewardess||Flight Attendant|
|Female Doctor||Physician or Doctor|
|Manpower||Personnel or Staff|
|Congressman||Legislator, Member of Congress, or Member of the House of Representatives|
|Postman||Postal Employee or Letter carrier|
|Policeman||Police Officer / Law Enforcement Officer|
|Disabled||People with Disabilities|
|Schizophrenic||Person Diagnosed with Schizophrenia|
|Homosexual||Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual Men or Women|
Table 4.3 Biased Language
One specific type of biased language is called spin, or the manipulation of language to achieve the most positive interpretation of words, to gain political advantage, or to deceive others. In essence, people utilizing spin can make language choices that frame themselves or their clients in a positive way.
is language that can have various meanings. Google Jay Leno’s headlines videos. Sometimes he uses advertisements that are very abstract. For instance, there is a restaurant ad that says, “People are our best ingredient!” What comes to mind when you hear that? Are they actually using people in their food? Or do they mean their customer service is what makes their restaurant notable? When we are trying to communicate with others, it is important that we are clear in our language. We need others to know exactly what we mean and not imply meaning. That is why you need to make sure that you don’t use ambiguous language.
also make language unclear. People use euphemisms as a means of saying something more politely or less bluntly. For instance, instead of telling your parents/guardians that you failed a test, you might say that you did sub-optimal. People use euphemisms because it sounds better, and it seems like a better way to express how they feel. People use euphemisms all the time. For instance, instead of saying this person died, they might say the person passed away. Instead of saying that someone farted, you might say someone passed gas.
depends on the person communicating. People’s backgrounds vary. Hence, their perspectives will vary. I know a college professor that complains about her salary. However, other college professors would love to have a salary like hers. In other words, our language is based on our perception of our experiences. For instance, if someone asked you what would be your ideal salary, would it be based on your previous salary? Your parents? Your friends? Language is relative because of that reason. If I said, “Let’s go eat at an expensive restaurant,” what would be expensive for you? For some person, it would be $50, for another, $20, for someone else it might be $10, and yet there might be someone who would say $5 is expensive!
Often times, we think that people and things do not change, but they do change. If you ever watch afternoon talk shows, you might see people who go through amazing transformations, perhaps through weight loss, a makeover, or surgery or some sort. These people changed. states that things are not constant. Things vary over time, and our language should be representative of that change. For instance, Max is bad. It is important to note that Max might be bad at one time or may have displayed bad behavior, but it may not represent how Max will be in the future.
For the entire day, we want you to take a minute to pause before you text or email someone. When we text or email someone, we typically just put our thoughts together in a quick fashion. Take a second to decide how you plan to use your words. Think about which words would be best to get our message across effectively. After you have typed your message, take another few minutes to reread the message. Be mindful of how others might interpret your message. Would they read it at face value, or would they misinterpret the message because there is a lack of nonverbal messages? Do you need to add emojis or GIFS to change how the message is conveyed?
Researchers have found that when college students can address their emotions and are mindful of their feelings, it can enhance written communication with others.31 After doing this activity, try to be more mindful of the things that you send to other people.
- Formal language is more careful and more mannered than everyday speech, whereas informal language is appropriate in casual conversation.
- Informal language includes (1) Jargon, or technical language; (2) Colloquialism, or informal expressions; (3) Slang, or nonstandard language; (4) Idioms, or expressions or figures of speech; (5) clichés, or sayings that are overused and predictable.
- Create a list of jargon or slang words that you use and what they mean. Determine if there are differences between how words are used now compared to the past.
- Create a list of colloquialisms or idioms. Find an international student and see if these words make sense. What was confusing or unclear?
- Find clichés that are used in other cultures. Determine if you can find an American equivalent of each cliché.
- Examine ways to improve your vocabulary.
- Increase your awareness and adaptation of language.
- Realize the importance of checking for understanding.
In this chapter, you have learned the importance of language. In this last section, we will discuss ways to improve your verbal communication skills. To be a great interpersonal communicator, it is extremely important that you also know how to use language in the most effective way.
From an early age, you probably had words that you used most frequently because you were familiar with those words. As you get older and become more educated, your vocabulary has probably expanded to help you become more successful. Language is used to help express our feelings, intentions, and comprehension of others.32 An extensive vocabulary is a keen predictor of someone’s social status, education, and profession. Whether you like it or not, the words we use and the grammatical structure of how we use those words can impact our standing in school, work, and society. Here are some tips to help you improve your vocabulary.
First, be sure to use repetition. To become familiar with a word, you need to see it over and over again. Besides, you need to use it in conversations over and over again. The more times you repeat the word, the more likely you will memorize it, and it will become part of your daily repertoire.
Group Similar Words Together
Second, group similar words together. You should never learn vocabulary by looking at a list of words. Think of words as different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It doesn’t make sense to look at each piece of the puzzle individually. Rather, you need to fit them together to see the whole picture. The same thing should occur with words. You should memorize words that have similarities in some way. For instance, create a vocabulary around a theme, such as music, or an adjective, such as beautiful.
Build Your Vocabulary
Third, it is essential to make vocabulary that is personal to you. can be defined as all the words understood by a person or group of people. As early as four months, a baby can start to distinguish between language sounds and other sounds. According to David Crystal, language acquisition happens quite rapidly:
- By age 2, people can recognize and speak 200 words.
- By age 3, people can recognize and speak about 2000 words.
- By age 5, people can recognize and speak about 4,000 words.33
That means your average infant to toddler is learning three to four new words every day. Infants are hardwired to learn a language. If you want to ensure your child can speak multiple languages, it’s best to expose them to multiple languages during this crucial developmental cycle. Even though we start as infants, we continue to improve our vocabularies right through middle age:
- Most adult native test-takers range from 20,000–35,000 words
- Average native test-takers of age 8 already know 10,000 words
- Average native test-takers of age 4 already know 5,000 words
- Adult native test-takers learn almost 1 new word a day until middle age
- Adult test-taker vocabulary growth basically stops at middle age34
As you can see, most native English-speaking adults have fairly substantial vocabularies, but we do see a drop in new language acquisition as people enter into their middle age. As such, it’s important to keep learning.
One way to keep learning is to find words that have meaning for you. If you have ever heard a story about survival from someone who has gone through something life-changing, they probably used words that touched you and helped you to connect to the story. In the same fashion, you should find words that can relate to your story. When we find words that have personal meaning to us, we can use those words more effectively in our own vocabulary. Here are some essential tips for building your vocabulary:
- Keep a journal of words you don’t know.
- If you don’t know a word, look it up in a dictionary.
- Learn to recognize both Latin and Greek roots of words.
- Play vocabulary games (e.g., anagrams, Boggle, crossword puzzles, scrabble, etc.).
- Make synonym and antonym word lists.
- Take a writing and/or editing course.
Lastly, you should read regularly. It doesn’t matter what you read. As long as you are reading, you will probably come across words that you are unfamiliar with. When you do come across a word you don’t know, take the time to look it up. This practice is especially important when reading academic works because they are often full of ten-thousand-dollar words. Next time you read and run across a word that you don’t know, be sure to find the definition so that you can comprehend what is being said.
We would also recommend reading articles and books that stretch you. Don’t just read books like the Twilight and Harry Potter because those are written on a junior high or middle-school reading level.
After learning to improve your vocabulary, it’s also important to increase language awareness and adaptation. When we talk about , we are referring to a person’s ability to be mindful and sensitive to all functions and forms of language.35 For our purposes, we define as the ability to alter one’s linguistic choices in a communicatively competent manner. As such, it’s not just about being aware of language that leads to effective interpersonal interactions, but our ability to adapt our linguistic choices with different people to maximize the effectiveness of our interpersonal communication.
There are a couple of ways that people can increase their language awareness and adaptation. The first way is to engage in meaningful interpersonal communication with someone different from you. This person can be from a different country or different region of the country from you. When you speak to someone very different from you, you might notice how they use language differently or how they prefer certain words over others.
Another way might be to watch a foreign film. Check out different international films that have been nominated for an Academy Award. Most of them will be dubbed in English or have English subtitles. Pay attention to how the characters communicate with each other to create meaning. Does it give you an appreciation for how you speak?
Lastly, spend some time with a small child, preferably under the age of five. Pay attention to how the child communicates with you versus others (e.g., their friends, parents/guardians, siblings). Children under five are still acquiring words and learning to talk. When you communicate with someone who has a very limited vocabulary, it might help you see how you can adapt your language so that they will understand you.
As a speaker, you want to know that the receiver of your message understood what you said. This concept is also known as checking for understanding or verifying what has been said is also understood.36 Even if a person is smiling and nodding at you when you talk, it does not necessarily mean that they are paying attention to everything. They might be trying to be polite and/or friendly. The best way to check for understanding is to use the acronym: TAP. Think of communication like a tap dance; if you don’t hear any tapping, would it really be a tap dance? The same thing can be applied to communication. Did you communicate if the other person didn’t understand you or get what you were trying to say?
First, the T in TAP means to talk first. In other words, you explicitly present all the content. As you are talking, you are also trying to make sure that the other person is listening to you talk.
Second, the A in TAP stands for ask questions. After you talked to the person, try to ask specific questions. Rather than saying, “did you hear me?” or “were you listening, which are both yes/no questions, it would be more beneficial to ask, “what did I just say?” or “what did you hear me say?”
Third, the P in TAP means to be prepared to listen. Listen carefully to what the other person says. It is during this phase that you can see if they understood your message. Was the message correct? What emotions are they displaying after you said the message and asked questions? If we don’t ask questions, then we can’t be sure that the message was received effectively.
- The first part of this section provided several different ways to help you improve vocabulary (e.g., use repetition, group like words together, build your vocabulary, and read).
- Further and increase awareness (a person’s ability to be mindful and sensitive to all functions and forms of language) and adaptation of language (the ability to alter one’s linguistic choices in a communicatively competent manner).
- It’s important to remember the three basic steps to ensure understanding: T (talk first), A (ask questions), and P (prepare to listen).
- Go through the various key terms within this chapter. Did you know all of the definitions before reading this chapter? Which terms did you find difficult to understand? Why?
- Read a speech from either or . After reading/watching a speech, find a video where the speaker was interviewed. Watch how the speaker sounds when both giving a speech and when answering questions. Analyze the speaker’s use of both language awareness and adaptation.
- Find someone who does not speak English as their first language. During your interaction with that person, put into practice the TAP Method for understanding. How easy was it for you to understand this other person? Why? How did it feel to use the TAP method? Were you effective during your interpersonal interaction? Why?
Refers to words that relate to ideas or concepts that exist only in your mind and do not represent a tangible object.
A diagram that explains the process of abstraction.
A connection or association with others.
Language that has multiple meanings.
An attitude that is not objective or balanced, prejudiced, or the use of words that intentionally or unintentionally offend people or express an unfair attitude concerning a person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or illness.
Language that shows preference in favor of or against a certain point-of-view, shows prejudice, or is demeaning to others.
Informal word or jargon used among a particular group of people.
Expression that has been so overused that it has lost its original meaning.
Informal expression used in casual conversation that is often specific to certain dialects or geographic regions of a country.
What a word suggests or implies; connotations give words their emotional impact.
Adapting your communication style to the speaker to be similar.
The dictionary definition or descriptive meaning of a word.
Spoken or written discussion of a subject.
Adapting your communication style to the speaker to be drastically different.
Replacing blunt words with more polite words.
Official or academic language.
The use of language to explore and investigate the world, solve problems, and learn from your discoveries and experiences.
The use of language to play with ideas that do not exist in the real-world.
Common, everyday language people use during most interpersonal interactions.
The use of language as a means for meeting your needs, manipulating and controlling your environment, and expressing your feelings.
The use of language to help you form and maintain relationships.
The specialized or technical language of a specific group or profession that may not be understood by outsiders.
A system of human communication using a particular form of spoken or written words or other symbols.
The ability to alter one’s linguistic choices in a communicatively competent manner
a person’s ability to be mindful and sensitive to all functions and forms of language.
The perspective that language influences thoughts.
The view that language contains special characteristics.
The meaning beyond the words themselves.
The use of language to help you form your identity or sense of self.
bias against others on the basis of their race or ethnicity.
Language that demeans or insults people based on their race or ethnicity.
The use of language to control behavior.
Language that gains understanding by comparison.
The use of language to represent objects and ideas and to express your thoughts.
A theory that suggests that language impacts perceptions. Language is ascertained by the perceived reality of a culture.
Bias of others based on their biological sex.
Language that excludes individuals on the basis of gender or shows a bias toward or against people due to their gender.
The nonstandard language of a particular culture or subculture.
The manipulation of language to achieve the most positive interpretation of words, to gain political advantage, or to deceive others.
Language shows that people and things change.
All the words understood by a person or group of people.
In this chapter, we discussed the importance of verbal communication. To be an effective verbal communicator, it is necessary to understand that the words you use convey meanings that you might intentionally or unintentionally communicate to others. However, the meaning of language can vary from person to person.
This chapter also discusses the various rules of language. Verbal communication serves many purposes and works to clarify the meaning of nonverbal communication. The type of language that you use can impact how others will see you.
Finally, this chapter discusses the subcategories of verbal communication. The subcategories of verbal communication allow us to understand how misunderstandings might occur if language is not used effectively.
Real-World Case Study
Kory was an introverted and timid sixth-grader who moved to a new school. One day, he was searching on the Internet and he came across a negative website about him posted by some of his classmates. On the webpage, many of the students called him horrible names and made some damaging and hurtful remarks about his looks and sexuality. Every day, the words would get worse. The language became unbearable, and he went through a lot of torment because all of the statements about him were untrue. Kory had endured cyberbullying. He had considered suicide.
Cyberbullying seems to be a growing problem these days. Think about the ways you would deal with this situation. Here are some questions to discuss:
- As a student of this school, how can you stop this treatment?
- As a teacher or staff member, what can you do to prevent this from happening to others? How can you fix the problem now?
- What are some ways to help Kory?
- What should Kory do?
- How should he respond?
- The fact that the words “Come Here!” can have different interpretations based on the source of the message is related to:
- According to the abstraction ladder, which of the following statements is the most abstract?
- You are lazy!
- You need to tell me what I need to do to lose five pounds this month.
- You should workout.
- You need to eat healthier.
- That dress is too small on you and does not fit.
- Larry is madly in love with Sarah. You can tell this when he tells he brings her flowers or writes new songs to sing to her. Larry is using ____ to convey his feelings.
- Saying “I love you” every time you see your grandmother is a _____ function.
- In this chapter, you learned all of the following except:
- how naming affects perceptions
- language can impact affiliations
- there are three different rules to understanding language
- language can be sexist or racist
- language can influence perceptions of credibility