Susan Selk
Business Administration, Management, Interpersonal Communication, Psychology
Material Type:
Academic Lower Division
  • Other Review
    Creative Commons Attribution

    Education Standards

    Introduction to Business and Professional Communication

    Introduction to Business and Professional Communication


    This text provides the student with an introduction to communication in a business and professional setting with the focus on exploring the common human communication behaviors that are at play in organizations as well as in life. 

    The text is divided into five parts that cover the process of human communication, organizational communication and culture, interpersonal communication, interviewing, communicating in groups and teams, meetings, and building effective presentations.

    Originally, the development of these materials arose from the desire of the Speech Communication Discipline at El Paso Community College to provide SPCH 1321 students with a cost-effective textbook that was similar in content to the other textbook choices. This textbook is a revision of the initial OER materials and adds new information from a variety of OER sources.


    Part 1: Understanding Business and Professional Communication


    Communication Talk Social - Free image on Pixabay

    You are probably reading this book because you are taking a Communication course that is required by your college or university. Many colleges and universities around the country require students to take some type of communication class in order to graduate. These institutions have come to recognize that effective communication skills are some of the top skills sought by prospective employers. Courses in communication can prepare their students for their careers.

    These communication classes include courses in public speaking, interpersonal communication, business/organizational, and professional communication, or a survey class that is a combination of all of them. While this text will touch on aspects found in these courses, the focus will be on communication in organizations, businesses, and the professions. We will explore what communication is, culture and organizational culture, how organizations manage communication within and without the organization, and a variety of individual communication skills that will help you be an effective communicator in not only an organizational setting but in your life in general.

    As professors, we hear a lot of people talk about communication both on and off our campuses. We’re often surprised at how few people can actually explain what communication is, what Communication departments are about, or even why they often need to take a course in communication before they graduate. Even our majors sometimes have a hard time explaining to others what it is they study in college.

    Throughout this book, we will not only provide you with the basics of how communication operates in organizations but also provide you with the basics for understanding what communication is and how you can effectively use the study of Communication in your life, both in the workplace and outside of it. Hopefully, the information in this text will help you and your classmates have a productive conversation about the process of communication and the important role that it plays in every facet of our lives.

     The material is organized into five parts that will take you from general to more specific concepts that will help you improve or enhance the communication skills that you already possess. Here is a brief overview of each part:

    Part 1: Understanding Business and Professional Communication will provide you with some basic principles related to communication, the process and definition of communication, the importance of being an effective communicator, an overview of organizational communication, the role of culture in communication, and more specifically, how organizations create their own culture.

    Part 2: Building Effective Personal Communication Skills will focus on the process of listening, on the elements and functions of verbal and nonverbal communication, and on interpersonal communication skills including communication climate, sending positive messages, and conflict management

    Part 3: Preparing for the Job Interview will help you start thinking about how to go about writing resumes, cover letters, and other important information about the job search and interview process.

    Part 4: Communicating Effectively in Groups and Meetings. It is unlikely that you will be able to avoid working in groups or going to meetings when working in an organizational setting. It’s more likely that they will be a fact of life for you. The chapters in this part will help you understand the behaviors that can make you an effective communicator in both of these communication contexts.

    Part 5: Developing Effective Presentations. Just as working in groups and meetings will be a fact of life in your career, it is also likely that giving presentations will be as well. This section of the text will provide information to help you improve and hone your speaking skills including choosing topics, effective organization and structure, creating effective presentation aids, and delivering an exciting presentation.

    Now that you have a general idea about what you will be studying and how it can help you, let’s begin by discovering what communication is.

    For easier Navigation, please download the attached OER Table of Contents.

    A group of people working together




    Survey of Communication Study. Authored by: Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn. Provided by: Humboldt State University. Located at: License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

    Image of women. Authored by: Peter van der Sluijs. Located at: License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike



    Chapter 1 Understanding the Process of Communication

    The Connected, But Alone TED talk by Sherry Turkle can be used as the basis for an assignment that focuses on the components of a communication model. Asking the question, "About which component of the model does the speaker appear to be speaking?" yields a variety of interesting responses!

    The Communication Model video provides good supplemental information with relevant examples.


    Section Objectives

    By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

    • define the term “communication” and explain the primary types of communication.
    • explain the three parts of communication.
    • explain five axioms of communication.
    • define the term “communication competence” and explain the attributes of communication competence.
    • explain the linear and transactional models of communication.
    • identify and explain the contexts of communication.


    What is Communication?

    Communicating is something that we do all day. It is automatic, and yet, it often is something that we don’t think about, especially in terms of the effectiveness of our own communication behaviors. How often have you come away from a conversation and wondered whether or not you were understood by the other party or parties in the conversation? 

    Take a moment or two and try to write your own definition of communication. We’re guessing it’s more difficult than you think. Don’t be discouraged. For decades, communication professionals have had difficulty coming to any consensus about how to define the term communication (Hovland; Morris; Nilsen; Sapir; Schramm; Stevens). Even today, there is no single agreed-upon definition of communication. In 1970 and 1984, Frank Dance looked at 126 published definitions of communication in our literature and said that the task of trying to develop a single definition of communication that everyone likes is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Thirty years later, defining communication still feels like nailing Jell-O to a wall.


    Two people talking on a park bench


    Breaking down the process into parts might be helpful. One way to look at this is that all communication is composed of three parts that make a whole: sharing, understanding, and meaning.

    Sharing means doing something together with one or more person(s). In communication, sharing occurs when you convey thoughts, feelings, ideas, or insights to others. You also share with yourself (a process called intrapersonal communication) when you bring ideas to consciousness, ponder how you feel about something, figure out the solution to a problem, or have a classic “Aha!” moment when something becomes clear.

    The second keyword is understanding. “To understand is to perceive, to interpret, and to relate our perception and interpretation to what we already know.” (McLean, 2003) Understanding the words and the concepts or objects they refer to is an important part of the communication process.

    Finally, meaning is what you share through communication. For example, by looking at the context of a word and by asking questions, you can discover the shared meaning of the word and better understand the message.

    There are doubtless countless good definitions of communication, but it’s important to provide you with a definition for the context of this book so that you understand the approach taken for each chapter in this book. We are not arguing that this definition of communication is the only one you should consider viable, but you will understand the content of this text better if you understand how we have come to define communication.

    Taking all of these elements into consideration, "Communication is the process of people sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings in commonly understandable ways in order to share meaning" will be our working definition for this course.

    5 Axioms of Communication

    Quite a lot of communication is carried on below the level of consciousness. You don't have to think about this sort of communication; it just happens automatically. This certainly saves some effort, but it does not always have the effect you might have chosen if you had had the opportunity to consult yourself about the matter!

    Even when you think you are not sending any messages, that absence of messages is quite evident to any observer and can itself constitute quite a significant message. Not only that, but we usually transmit quite a few non-verbal messages unconsciously, even when we think we are not sending any messages at all.

    This means that, unless you are a hermit, you cannot really avoid communicating. You can, of course, very easily get your communication scrambled – often in both directions – but that is not much consolation. In other words, you "cannot not" communicate… but you "cannot" communicate accurately!

    The "cannot not" part of that last sentence is in fact, the first and best-known of Paul Watzlawick's (1967) five axioms of communication. Despite their age and the changes that have occurred in the usage of some of the terms employed, each one has something helpful to offer, especially if, as you read them, you think of how these axioms may apply to interactions to which you have been a part.

    Axiom 1 (cannot not)

    "One cannot not communicate." Because every behavior is a kind of communication, people who are aware of each other are constantly communicating. Any perceivable behavior, including the absence of action, has the potential to be interpreted by other people as having some meaning.

    Axiom 2 (content & relationship)

    Every communication has a content and relationship aspect such that the latter classifies the former and is, therefore, a meta-communication." Each person responds to the content of communication in the context of the relationship between the communicators.

     Just as the interpretation of the words "What an idiot you are" could be influenced by the following words, "Just kidding", it could also be influenced by the relationship between the communicators. In the example given, the word "idiot" might be accepted quite happily from a close friend but convey an entirely different meaning in other circumstances.

    Axiom 3 (punctuation)

    "The nature of a relationship is dependent on the punctuation of the partners' communication procedures." In many cases, communication involves a veritable hurricane of messages flying in all directions. This applies especially to the non-verbal messages. The "punctuation" referred to is the process of organizing groups of messages into meanings. This is likened to the punctuation of written language. In either case, the punctuation can sometimes alter the meaning considerably.

    For example, consider the occurrence of an angry response after an interruption, the latter having followed a suggested course of action. This might be interpreted as anger at the suggested course of action if the interruption was "punctuated out" of the sequence so that the suggestion and the anger were effectively grouped together as a tight sequence. However, if the receiver punctuated the information so that the interruption and the anger formed a tight sequence, it might be interpreted as anger at the interruption.

    Axiom 4 (digital & analogic)

    "Human communication involves both digital and analogic modalities." This one needs a bit of translating! The term "digital", which today usually refers either to numbers, computers or fingers, is used in this axiom to refer to discrete, defined elements of communication. These are usually words, but very specific gestures with generally agreed meanings would also qualify.

    The term "analogic" also needs some translation. It is a variant of analogical, the adjective derived from analogy. It therefore refers to a correspondence, in certain respects, between things which are otherwise different. In this case, it describes a type of communication in which the representation to some extent evokes the thing to which it refers. For example, shaking a fist in front of a person's face would evoke the idea of violence.

    Axiom 5 (symmetric or complementary)

    "Inter-human communication procedures are either symmetric or complementary, depending on whether the relationship of the partners is based on differences or parity." A "symmetric" relationship here means one in which the parties involved behave as equals from a power perspective. The chance of airing all the relevant issues should be greater, but it certainly does not guarantee that the communication will be optimal. The parties could simply be equally submissive, or equally domineering. However, communication between equals often does work well.

    A "complementary" relationship here means one of unequal power, such as parent-child, boss-employee or leader-follower. This is much more efficient in some situations. For example, the unequal (complementary) relationship between soldiers and their officers means that soldiers are very likely to obey a surprising order, such as "Get out of the truck and jump in the river!" without delay – rather than debating it, perhaps with great interest, but quite possibly at fatal length.

    Communication Competence

    How well do you communicate? What about your friends? Answering these questions needs some further exploration. Let's learn about the definition of communication competence and about some characteristics of competent communicators to better formulate the answers to these questions. Think about your communication behaviors in terms of what you may perform competently and what might need some improvement.

    Defining Competence

    What does it mean to be a competent communicator?  It's important to point out that while competence tends to be a somewhat abstract term, we are going to attempt to conceptualize competence in terms of behaviors and characteristics that are perceived as more desirable.  Thus, competence is a perception and may vary from person to person.  For example, I might perceive myself to be a very competent communicator, but another person may not perceive me in that way.  

    The term Communication Competence has many definitions, but for the purposes of this section, we will break down the definition into the perception of communication that is effective and adapted appropriately for the situation (Spitzberg, 2013; Cupach and Spitzberg, 1984).  

    There are many facets to this definition and many specific characteristics of competence to discuss.  

    Characteristics of Competent Communicators

    There are several characteristics that have been identified as Competent by researchers. Cupach and Spitzberg (1984) conceptualize competence based on the following characteristics:

    Effective - Competent communicators are effective, meaning they achieve their intended goal.  Recall that all communication is goal-driven.  This characteristic is difficult to achieve because it relies not only on message production from the sender but also on message comprehension from the receiver.  Noise/interference can also play a role in whether or not a message is effective.  Thus, some of the effectiveness is out of the sender's control, making this behavior difficult for the sender.  

    Adaptable - Competent communicators are able to adapt their communication to specific situations.  For example, in a job interview, they may use a formal tone, proper grammar, make strong eye contact, dress formally, and use formal vocabulary.  That night, the same person may go out with friends and dress casually, use informal grammar, and slang terms, and sit with their arms crossed.  Adaptability relates to the term self-monitoring.  High self-monitors are more likely to adapt their communication to the situation, whereas low self-monitor is more likely to keep their communication patterns consistent in every situation.  

    Empathetic - Competent communicators are empathetic, meaning they are able to view others' perspectives as their own, especially in terms of emotion.  For example, when a friend calls to say they had a fight with their romantic partner, an empathetic response might be, "Wow, that must be really difficult for you."  An unempathetic response might be "Oh.  So break up with them."  Note that empathy generally requires an acknowledgment of emotion. 

    Conversational Involvement - This characteristic refers to your engagement in your everyday interactions.  A competent communicator will maintain strong eye contact in their interactions, perhaps nod at appropriate times, say "mmhmm" or "yeah" to acknowledge receipt of a message.  A competent communicator will provide appropriate nonverbal feedback to acknowledge their involvement in the conversation.

    Conversational Management - This refers to your ability to regulate conversation.  For example, a competent communicator will engage in turn-taking when in conversations instead of interrupting.  A competent communicator would know when it is appropriate to ask questions to further the conversation and read nonverbal cues/feedback from the receiver to know when the conversation is over.  Have you ever met someone who has poor conversational management skills?  You may not be able to seem to end a conversation with the person because they just keep talking...or perhaps the other extreme. You may know someone with who you cannot have a conversation with because you don't get any feedback, thus the conversation just becomes awkward.  

    Appropriate - This characteristic is very similar to the others we've already discussed, but it's worth having its own category.  A competent communicator would understand and communicate appropriately for the situation.  They would know when it's appropriate to use slang and profanities (perhaps at home), and when to use formal vocabulary (perhaps at work).  Note this is different from the adaptability discussed above because in order to adapt appropriately, you would need to understand what is appropriate.  

    Other Characteristics of Competence

    The list above encompasses the main characteristics discussed by Cupach and Spitzberg (1984). In a later volume (2011), they list several other characteristics of competent communicators.  The following list explains some of these other characteristics.  

    • Cognitive Complexity - Cognitive complexity is the ability to think about a situation from many perspectives.  For example, when conversing with another person, someone who does not have a high level of this skill will perceive the content at face value.  Someone with a high level of cognitive complexity will be able to perceive the content beyond face value.  Does this person have an ulterior motive?  What is the intent of their message?  What else could this person mean besides the words they actually say?  Those are questions someone who is cognitively complex would be pondering during an interaction.  
    • Ethical - A competent communicator will be an ethical speaker, meaning they do not try to purposely deceive, offend, or trick others.  An ethical speaker will also use his/her own words and cite sources if necessary.  An ethical speaker will also have a goal-driven purpose and will not waste the time of the audience or other speakers.  
    • Listening Skills - This is a very broad skill that we could easily cover in an entire class.  In a more basic sense, a competent communicator will actively listen to the sender.  Active listening means they are engaged with the sender while minimizing noise and distractions.  An active listener will be able to paraphrase the content, intent, and tone of each message back to the sender.  
    • Self Monitoring - A high self-monitor is aware of their behaviors and adjusts accordingly in different contexts.  A low self-monitor will not adjust their behaviors to different contexts.  This is similar to adaptability, but adaptability is more about adapting communicative behaviors, whereas self-monitoring is more about the self-awareness of the need to adapt different behaviors to different situations.  
    • Strong eye contact, along with other nonverbal cues that are appropriate - A competent communicator will be self-aware of their nonverbal behaviors and will adapt appropriately. Competent communicators make strong eye contact with others during conversation to demonstrate their conversational involvement.  

    Two Models of Communication

    Let’s examine two models of communication to help you further grasp our definition of the process. Shannon and Weaver proposed a Mathematical Model of Communication (often called the Linear Model) that serves as a basic model of communication. This model suggests that communication is simply the transmission of a message from one source to another. Watching YouTube videos serves as an example of this. You act as the receiver when you watch videos, receiving messages from the source (the YouTube video). To better understand this, let’s break down each part of this model.

    The Linear Model of Communication is a model that suggests communication moves only in one direction. The Sender encodes a Message, then uses a certain Channel (verbal/nonverbal communication) to send it to a Receiver who decodes (interprets) the message. Noise is anything that interferes with or changes the original encoded message. Let's look at these components a little more closely:

    A sender is someone who encodes and sends a message to a receiver through a particular channel. The sender is the initiator of communication. For example, when you text a friend, ask a teacher a question, or wave to someone you are the sender of a message.

    • A receiver is the recipient of a message. Receivers must decode (interpret) messages in ways that are meaningful for them. For example, if you see your friend make eye contact, smile, wave, and say “hello” as you pass, you are receiving a message intended for you. When this happens, you must decode the verbal and nonverbal communication in ways that are meaningful to you.

    • A message is the particular meaning or content the sender wishes the receiver to understand. The message can be intentional or unintentional, written or spoken, verbal or nonverbal, or any combination of these. For example, as you walk across campus, you may see a friend walking toward you. When you make eye contact, wave, smile, and say “hello,” you are offering a message that is intentional, spoken, verbal and nonverbal.

    • A channel is the method a sender uses to send a message to a receiver. The most common channels humans use are verbal and nonverbal communication which we will discuss in more detail in other chapters. Verbal communication relies on language and includes speaking, writing, and sign language. Nonverbal communication includes gestures, facial expressions, paralanguage, and touch. We also use communication channels that are mediated (such as television or the computer) which may utilize both verbal and nonverbal communication. Using the greeting example above, the channels of communication include both verbal and nonverbal communication.

     Noise is anything that interferes with the sending or receiving of a message. Noise is external (a jackhammer outside your apartment window or loud music in a nightclub), and internal (physical pain, psychological stress, or nervousness about an upcoming test). External and internal noise makes encoding and decoding messages more difficult. Using our ongoing example, if you are on your way to lunch and listening to music on your phone when your friend greets you, you may not hear your friend say “hello,” and you may not wish to chat because you are hungry. In this case, both internal and external noise influenced the communication exchange. Noise is in every communication context, and therefore, NO message is received exactly as it is transmitted by a sender because noise distorts it in one way or another.


    Linear Model of Communication

    Linear Model of Communication by Andy Schmitz

    A major criticism of the Linear Model of Communication is that it suggests communication only occurs in one direction. It also does not show how context, or our personal experiences, impact communication. Television serves as a good example of the linear model. Have you ever talked back to your television while you were watching it? Maybe you were watching a sporting event or a dramatic show, and you talked at the people in the television. Did they respond to you? We’re sure they did not. Television works in one direction. No matter how much you talk to the television, it will not respond to you. Now apply this idea to the communication in your relationships. It seems ridiculous to think that this is how we would communicate with each other on a regular basis. This example shows the limits of the linear model for understanding communication, particularly human-to-human communication.

    Given the limitations of the Linear Model, Barnlund adapted the model to more fully represent what occurs in most human communication exchanges. The Transactional Model demonstrates that communication participants act as senders AND receivers simultaneously, creating reality through their interactions. Communication is not a simple one-way transmission of a message: The personal filters and experiences of the participants impact each communication exchange. The Transactional Model demonstrates that we are simultaneously senders and receivers, and that noise and personal filters always influence the outcomes of every communication exchange.

    Transctional Model of Communication

    Transactional Model of Communication by Andy Schmitz

    The Transactional Model of Communication adds to the Linear Model by suggesting that both parties in a communication exchange act as both sender and receiver simultaneously, encoding and decoding messages to and from each other at the same time.

    While these models are overly simplistic representations of communication, they illustrate some of the complexities of defining and studying communication. Going back to Smith, Lasswell, and Casey, as Communication scholars we may choose to focus on one, all, or a combination of the following: senders of communication, receivers of communication, channels of communication, messages, noise, context, and/or the outcome of communication. We hope you recognize that studying communication is simultaneously detail-oriented (looking at small parts of human communication), and far-reaching (examining a broad range of communication exchanges)

    The Elements of Communication Video

    As you finish this section, please view the video below for some additional perspective on the process of human communication. 


    The Elements of Communication


    5 Axioms of Communication  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License

    Communication for Business Professionals by eCampusOntario is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

    Communication Competence Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License - Communication Competence 


    McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication. Boston, MA: Allyn Bacon.

    McWorthy, E. (2014, November 26). Communication Competence. OER Commons. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from

    Watzlawick, P., Beavin-Bavelas, J., Jackson, D. 1967. Some Tentative Axioms of Communication. In Pragmatics of Human Communication - A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies and Paradoxes. W. W. Norton, New York.

    The Elements of Communication, Youtube






    1.1 Types of Communication

    Section Objectives: 

    By the end of this section you will be able

    •   to identify and define four contexts of communication.

    Communication in Context

    Now that we have examined the eight components of communication, let’s examine this in context. Is a quiet dinner conversation with someone you care about the same experience as a discussion in class or giving a speech? Is sending a text message to a friend the same experience as writing a professional project proposal or a purchase order? Each context has an influence on the communication process. Contexts can overlap, creating an even more dynamic process. You have been communicating in many of these contexts across your lifetime, and you’ll be able to apply what you’ve learned through experience in each context to business communication.

    Intrapersonal Communication

    Have you ever listened to a speech or lecture and gotten caught up in your thoughts so that, while the speaker continued, you were no longer listening? During a phone conversation, have you ever been thinking about what you are going to say or what question you might ask instead of listening to the other person? Finally, have you ever told yourself how you did after you wrote a document or gave a presentation? As you “talk with yourself” you are engaged in intrapersonal communication. 

    Intrapersonal communication involves one person; it is often called “self-talk” (Wood, 1997). Donna Vocate’s book(1994) on intrapersonal communication explains how, as we use language to reflect on our own experiences, we talk ourselves through situations. For example, the voice within you that tells you, “Keep on Going! I can DO IT!” when you are putting your all into completing a five-mile race; or that says, “This report I’ve written is pretty good.” Your intrapersonal communication can be positive or negative and directly influences how you perceive and react to situations and communication with others.

    What you perceive in communication with others is also influenced by your culture, native language, and your world view. As the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas said, “Every process of reaching understanding takes place against the background of a culturally ingrained preunderstanding” (Habermas, 1984).  

    For example, you may have certain expectations of time and punctuality. You weren’t born with them, so where did you learn them? From those around you as you grew up. What was normal for them became normal for you, but not everyone’s idea of normal is the same.

    When your supervisor invites you to a meeting and says it will start at 7 p.m., does that mean 7:00 sharp, 7-ish, or even 7:30? In the business context, when a meeting is supposed to start at 9 a.m., is it promptly a 9 a.m.? Variations in time expectations depend on regional and national cultures as well as individual corporate cultures. In some companies, everyone may be expected to arrive ten to fifteen minutes before the announced start time to take their seats and be ready to commence business at 9:00 sharp. In other companies, “meeting and greeting” from about 9 to 9:05 or even 9:10 is the norm. When you are unfamiliar with the expectations for a business event, it is always wise to err on the side of being punctual, regardless of what your internal assumptions about time and punctuality may be.



    Interpersonal Communication

    The second major context within the field of communication is Interpersonal Communication. Interpersonal communication normally involves two people and can range from intimate and very personal to formal and impersonal. You may carry on a conversation with a loved one, sharing a serious concern. Later, at work, you may have a brief conversation about plans for the weekend with the security guard on your way home. What’s the difference? Both scenarios involve interpersonal communication but are different in levels of intimacy. The first example implies a trusting relationship established over time between two caring individuals. The second example level implies some previous familiarity and is really more about acknowledging each other than any actual exchange of information, much like saying hello or goodbye.

    Group Communication

    Have you ever noticed how a small group of people in class sit near each other? Perhaps they are members of the same sports program or just friends, but no doubt they often engage in group communication.

    “Group communication is a dynamic process where a small number of people engage in a conversation” (McLean, 2005, p. 14). Group communication is generally defined as involving three to eight people. The larger the group, the more likely it is to break down into smaller groups.

    To take a page from marketing, does your audience have segments or any points of convergence/divergence? We could consider factors like age, education, sex, and location to learn more about groups and their general preferences as well as dislikes. You may find several groups within the larger audience, such as specific areas of education, and use this knowledge to increase your effectiveness as a business communicator.

    Public Communication

    In public communication, one person speaks to a group of people; the same is true of public written communication, where one person writes a message to be read by a small or large group. The speaker or writer may ask questions, and engage the audience in a discussion (in writing, examples are an e-mail discussion or a point-counter-point series of letters to the editor), but the dynamics of the conversation are distinct from group communication, where different rules apply. In a public speaking situation, the group normally defers to the speaker. For example, the boss speaks to everyone, and the sales team quietly listens without interruption.

    This generalization is changing as norms and expectations change, and many cultures have a tradition of “callouts” or interjections that are not to be interpreted as interruptions or competition for the floor, but instead as affirmations. The boss may say, as part of a charged-up motivational speech, “Do you hear me?” and the sales team is expected to call back, “Yes, Sir!” The boss, as a public speaker, recognizes that intrapersonal communication (thoughts of the individual members) or interpersonal communication (communication between team members) may interfere with this classic public speaking dynamic of all to one, or the audience devoting all its attention to the speaker, and incorporate attention getting and engagement strategies to keep the sales team focused on the message.

    Mass Communication

    How do you tell everyone on campus where and when all the classes are held? Would a speech from the front steps work? Perhaps it might meet the need if your school is a very small one. A written schedule that lists all classes would be a better alternative. How do you let everyone know there is a sale on in your store, or that your new product will meet their needs, or that your position on a political issue is the same as your constituents? You send a message to as many people as you can through mass communication. Does everyone receive mass communication the same way they might receive a personal phone call? Not likely. Some people who receive mass mailings assume that they are “junk mail” (i.e., that they do not meet the recipients’ needs) and throw them away unopened. People may tune out a television advertisement with a click of the mute button, delete tweets or ignore friend requests on Facebook by the hundreds, or send all unsolicited e-mails straight to the spam folder unread.

    Mass media is a powerful force in modern society and our daily lives, and is adapting rapidly to new technologies. Mass communication involves sending a single message to a group. It allows us to communicate our message to a large number of people, but we are limited in our ability to tailor our message to specific audiences, groups, or individuals. As a business communicator, you can use multimedia as a visual aid or reference common programs, films, or other images that your audience finds familiar yet engaging. You can tweet a picture that is worth far more than 140 characters, and you are just as likely to elicit a significant response. By choosing messages or references that many audience members will recognize or can identify with, you can develop common ground and increase the appeal of your message.

    Key Takeaways

    This chapter provided you with principles of communication, the definition used for this text, and five axioms of communication. You also learned about the eight components of communication as well as two models of communication; the first model, the linear model that depicts communication as one-way, one person talks and the other listens, and the later model which shows communication as a transaction between communicators who are sending and receiving messages simultaneously. Finally, this chapter discussed the contexts in which communication can occur and the importance of understanding the influence the context has on the way in which we communicate in those contexts.


    1. Think about the definition of communication that we will be using for this course. Is there anything that you would change, add, or subtract? If so, what would that be? How does it relate to your experience as a communicator?

    2. The chapter talks about the three parts of communication. Think of a recent communication interaction in which you have participated, whether be effective or not effective. Reflect on it and explain each part in light of the interaction. 

    3. Think about and explain the similarities and differences of the linear model and the transactional model of communicaton.

    4. Think about the four contexts of communication. Briefly describe an experience that you have had related to each context. How did you feel about your experience? Was the communication within the context effective? Why or why not?


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    Chapter 2: What is Organizational Communication?

    The What Is Organizational Communication? video by Professor Matthew Koschmann provides an interesting contrast using two, one traditional and one not, views of organizational communication. The video works very well with a discussion assignment that explores the similarities and differences of the two views.

    Section Objectives

    After reading this  section you will be able to:

    • explain what an organization is. 
    • explain what organizational communication is.

    If you have ever worked a part-time job during the school year, worked a full-time summer job, volunteered for a non-profit, or belonged to a social organization, you have experienced organizational communication. It’s likely that you’ve been a job seeker, an interviewee, a new employee, a co-worker, or maybe a manager. In each of these situations, you make various choices regarding how you choose to communicate with others in an organizational context.

    We participate in organizations in almost every aspect of our lives. In fact, you will spend the bulk of your waking life in the context of organizations (March & Simon). Think about it; that means you will spend more time with your co-workers than your family! At the center of every organization is what we are studying throughout this book – Communication. Organizational communication is a broad and ever-growing specialization in the field of Communication. For the purpose of this chapter, we will provide a brief overview of the field, highlighting what organizational communication is and how it is studied.

    What Is An Organization?

    Before we define organizational communication let’s look at what an organization is, and how pervasive they are in today’s society. Etzioni states, “We are born in organizations, educated by organizations, and most of us spend much of our lives working for organizations” (1). Simply put, from birth to death, organizations impact every aspect of our lives (Deetz). Stephen Robbins defines an organization as a "consciously coordinated social unit composed of two or more people, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or set of goals" (4). Why have organizations in the first place? Perhaps, we organize together for common social, personal, political, or professional purposes. We organize to achieve what we cannot accomplish individually.

    Global Organization Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project

    Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

    Stephen P. Robbins defines an organization as a “consciously coordinated social unit composed of two or more people, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or set of goals” (4). Why have organizations in the first place? We organize together for common social, personal, political, or professional purposes. We organize together to achieve what we cannot accomplish individually.

    When we study organizational communication our focus is primarily on corporations, manufacturing, the service industry, and for-profit businesses. However, organizations also include not-for-profit companies, schools, government agencies, small businesses, and social or charitable agencies such as churches or a local humane society. Organizations are complicated, dynamic organisms that take on a personality and culture of their own, with unique rules, hierarchies, structures, and divisions of labor. Organizations can be thought of as systems of people (Goldhaber) who are in constant motion (Redding). Organizations are social systems (Thayer; Katz & Kahn) that rely on communication to exist. Simon puts it quite simply: “Without communication, there can be no organization” (Simon 57).

    Defining Organizational Communication

    We define organizational communication’ as the sending and receiving of messages among interrelated individuals within a particular environment or setting to achieve individual and common goals. Organizational communication is highly contextual and culturally dependent. Individuals in organizations transmit messages through face-to-face, written, and mediated channels.

    Organizational communication helps us to 1) accomplish tasks relating to specific roles and responsibilities of sales, services, and production; 2) acclimate to changes through individual and organizational creativity and adaptation; 3) complete tasks through the maintenance of policy, procedures, or regulations that support daily and continuous operations; 4) develop relationships where “human messages are directed at people within the organization-their attitudes, morale, satisfaction, and fulfillment” (Goldhaber); and coordinate, plan, and control the operations of the organization through management (Katz & Kahn; Redding; Thayer). Organizational communication is how organizations represent, present, and constitute their organizational climate and culture—the attitudes, values and goals that characterize the organization and its members.

    Organizational communication largely focuses on building relationships and interacting with internal organizational members and the interested external public. As Mark Koschmann explains in his animated YouTube video, we have two ways of looking at organizational communication. The conventional approach focuses on communication within organizations. The second approach is communication as an organization — meaning organizations are a result of the communication of those within them. Communication is not just about transmitting messages between senders and receivers. Communication literally constitutes or makes up, our social world. Much of our communication involves sending and receiving relatively unproblematic messages and acting on that information. Other times things are a bit more complex, such as when you need to resolve a conflict with a close friend or family member. There is much more going on in these situations than merely exchanging information. You are actually engaging in a complex process of meaning and negotiating rules created by the people involved. View the video here: What is Organizational Communication?

    For organizations to be successful, they must have competent communicators. Organizational communication study shows that organizations rely on effective communication and efficient communication skills from their members. A number of surveys (Davis & Miller; Holter & Kopka; Perrigo & Gaut) identify effective oral and written communication as the most sought-after skills by those who run organizations. The U.S. Department of Labor reported communication competency as the most vital skill necessary for the 21st-century workforce to achieve organizational success (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills). The Public Forum Institute maintained that employees need to be skilled in public presentation, listening, and interpersonal communication to flourish in an organization.

    Organizations seek people who can follow and give instructions, accurately listen, provide useful feedback, get along with coworkers and customers, network, provide serviceable information, work well in teams, and creatively and critically solve problems and present ideas in an understandable manner. Developing organizational communication awareness and effectiveness is more than just having know-how or knowledge. Efficient organizational communication involves knowing how to create and exchange information, work with diverse groups or individuals, communicate in complicated and changing circumstances, as well as having the aptitude or motivation to communicate in appropriate manners.



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    2.1 Communication Channels, Flows, & Networks

    Section Objectives

    After reading this section, you will be able to:

    • understand the way in which communication channels, and networks operate in organizations.
    • differentiate between face-to-face, written, oral, Web-based, and other common channels of business communication
    • differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate uses of different communication channels
    • differentiate between downward, upward, horizontal, diagonal, and external communication flows
    • differentiate between formal and informal communication networks
    • define and explain the function of an organizational chart.

    Communication Flows, Channels, and Networks

    You should understand the components of the process of communication from Chapter 1. The beginning of this chapter helped your understanding of what organizational communication is. Now, we will take a look at the important role that our choice of channels of communication and the way that communication flows in an organization plays in the effectiveness of an organization.

    The channels that are required by an organization and that we choose to use to communicate with our co-workers and the way in which our organization structures the flows of communication can tell us something about what type of organization it is and the culture that exists because of the way in which communication occurs within the organization. We will discuss this later on in this chapter.

    As we learned in Chapter 1, a channel is the means by which information is passed from a sender to a receiver. Determining the most appropriate channel, or medium, is critical to the effectiveness of communication. Channels include oral means such as telephone calls and presentations, and written modes such as reports, memos, and email.

    Communication channels differ along a scale from rich to lean. Think about how you would select a steak—some have more fat than others; they are rich and full of flavor and body. If, however, you are on a diet and just want the meat, you will select a lean steak. Communication channels are similar: rich channels are more interactive, provide opportunities for two-way communication, and allow both the sender and receiver to read the nonverbal messages. The leanest channels, on the other hand, trim the “fat” and present information without allowing for immediate interaction, and they often convey “just the facts.” The main channels of communication are grouped below from richest to leanest:

    • Richest channels: face-to-face meeting; in-person oral presentation
    • Rich channels: online meetings; video conference
    • Lean channels: teleconference; phone call; voice message; video (e.g., Facetime)
    • Leanest channels: blog; report; brochure; newsletter; flier; email; phone text; social media posts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook)

    Oral vs Written Communication

    Oral communications tend to be richer channels because information can be conveyed through speech as well as nonverbally through tone of voice and body language. Oral forms of communication can range from a casual conversation with a colleague to a formal presentation in front of many employees. Richer channels are well suited to complex (or potentially unsettling) information, since they can provide opportunities to clarify meaning, reiterate information, and display emotions.

    While written communication does not have the advantage of immediacy and interaction, it can be the most effective means of conveying large amounts of information. Written communication is an effective channel when context, supporting data, and detailed explanations are necessary to inform or persuade others. One drawback to written communications is that they can be misunderstood or misinterpreted by an audience that doesn’t have subsequent opportunities to ask clarifying questions or otherwise respond.

    The following are some examples of different types of communication channels and their advantages:

    • Web-based communication, such as video conferencing, allows people in different locations to hold interactive meetings. Other Web-based communication, such as information presented on a company Web site, is suited for sharing transaction details (such as order confirmation) or soliciting contact information (such as customer phone number and address)
    • Emails provide instantaneous written communication; effective for formal notices and updates, as well as informal exchanges.
    • Letters are a more formal method of written communication usually reserved for important messages such as proposals, inquiries, agreements, and recommendations.
    • Presentations are usually oral and usually include an audiovisual component, like copies of reports, or material prepared in Microsoft PowerPoint or Adobe Flash.
    • Telephone meetings/conference calls allow for long-distance interaction.
    • Message boards and Forums allow people to instantly post information to a centralized location.
    • Face-to-face meetings are personal, interactive exchanges that provide the richest communication and are still the preferred method of communication in business. 

    So, we have written and oral channels, channels that range from rich to lean, and then, within those, multiple channels from which the sender can choose. How do you decide the best channel for your message? When deciding which communication channel to use, the following are some of the important factors to consider:

    • the audience and their reaction to the message;
    • the length of time it will take to convey the information;
    • the complexity of the message;
    • the need for a permanent record of the communication;
    • the degree to which the information is confidential;  and
    • the cost of the communication.

    If you choose the wrong channel—that is, if the channel is not effective for the type of message and meaning you want to create—you are likely to generate misunderstanding and possibly end up making matters worse. Using the wrong channels can impede communication and can even create mistrust. For example, a manager wants to compliment an employee for his work on a recent project. She can use different approaches and channels to do this. She could send the an employee a text: “Hey, nice work on the project!” Or she could send him an email containing the same message. She could also stop by his desk and personally compliment him. She could also praise him in front of the whole department during a meeting. In each case the message is the same, but the different channels alter the way the message is perceived. If the employee spent months working on the project, getting a “Hey, nice work on the project!” text message or email might seem like thin praise—insulting even. If the employee is shy, being singled out for praise during a departmental meeting might be embarrassing. A face-to-face compliment during a private meeting might be received better. As you can see, getting the channel right is just as important as sending the right message. 

    Communication Flows In organizations

    Graphic showing social network analysis

    Communication within a business can involve different types of employees and different functional parts of an organization. These patterns of communication are called flows, and they are commonly classified according to the direction of interaction: downward, upward, horizontal, diagonal, and external. As you learn about each of these, we will discuss how these flows function at Little Joe’s Auto Sales.

    Picture of a car dealership 

    When leaders and managers share information with lower-level employees, it’s called downward, or top-down communication. In other words, communication from superiors to subordinates in a chain of command is a downward communication. This communication flow is used by the managers to transmit work-related information to the employees at lower levels.  Ensuring effective downward communication isn’t always easy. Differences in experience, knowledge, levels of authority, and status make it possible that the sender and recipient do not share the same assumptions or understanding of context, which can result in messages being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Creating clearly worded, unambiguous communications and maintaining a respectful tone can facilitate effective downward communication.

    Little Joe holds a meeting every morning with his entire sales staff. In this meeting, he gives them information on new cars on the lot, current interest rates available to customers, and how close they are to meeting the company’s monthly sales goals. The most important information shared is a “hot sheet” that lists the cars that need to be sold ASAP because they have been on the lot for more than forty-five days. Every car sold from the hot sheet earns the salesperson a $500 bonus, adding more than a little motivation to the mix. As Little Joe goes through his morning briefing, the sales staff listen, take notes, and sometimes ask a few clarifying questions, but clearly, the purpose of this daily pow-wow is for Little Joe to convey the information his staff needs to perform their jobs and meet the expectations of management.

    Upward communication is the transmission of information from lower levels of an organization to higher ones; the most common situation is employees communicating with managers. Managers who encourage upward communication foster cooperation, gain support and reduce frustration among their employees. The content of such communication can include requests, estimations, proposals, complaints, appeals, reports, and any other information directed from subordinates to superiors. Upward communication is often made in response to downward communication; for instance, when employees answer a question from their manager. In this respect, upward communication is a good measure of whether a company’s downward communication is effective.

    The availability of communication channels affects employees’ overall satisfaction with upward communication. For example, an open-door policy sends the signal to employees that the manager welcomes impromptu conversations and other communication. This is likely to make employees feel satisfied with their level of access to channels of upward communication and less apprehensive about communicating with their superiors. For management, upward communication is an important source of information that can inform business decisions. It helps to alert management of new developments, levels of performance, and other issues that may require their attention.

    One afternoon, Frances knocks at Little Joe’s office door, which is always open. Frances wants Little Joe to know that he has a couple interested in one of the new cars on the hot sheet, a 2015 Sonata, but the car is out of their price range by just a hair. Frances knows the couple from his church and really wants to help them get reliable transportation, but he also knows he needs to get the deal past the finance manager. Frances wants to know if it’s possible for him to cut the price to his customers and give up his $500 bonus for selling the car. Little Joe agrees since it really makes no difference who gets the $500—Frances or the customer.

    Horizontal communication, also called lateral communication, involves the flow of messages between individuals and groups on the same level of an organization, as opposed to up or down. Sharing information, solving problems, and collaborating horizontally is often more timely, direct, and efficient than up or down communication since it occurs directly between people working in the same environment. Communication within a team is an example of horizontal communication; members coordinate tasks, work together, and resolve conflicts. Horizontal communication occurs formally in meetings, presentations, and formal electronic communication, and informally in other, more casual exchanges within the office.

    When there are differences in style, personality, or roles among coworkers, horizontal communication may not run smoothly. According to Professor Michael Papa, horizontal communication problems can occur because of territoriality, rivalry, specialization, and simple lack of motivation. Territoriality occurs when members of an organization regard other people’s involvement in their area as inappropriate or unwelcome. Rivalry between individuals or teams can make people reluctant to cooperate and share information. Specialization is a problem that occurs when there is a lack of uniform knowledge or vocabulary within or between departments. Finally, horizontal communication often fails simply because organization members are unwilling to expend the additional effort needed to reach out beyond their immediate team.

    Little Joe picks up his phone and calls Brian, the finance manager. He explains that Frances is going to send a deal through on a hot-sheet car that is $500 less than the bottom line, but if the rest of the deal is solid, Brian should approve it. Brian immediately begins to object, when Little Joe cuts him off and says that Frances is waiving his hot-sheet bonus. When Little Joe hangs up with Brian, he tells Frances he’s set—now go sell that car!

    A graphic showing diagonal flow of communication with an arrow

    Diagonal communication is the sharing of information among different structural levels within a business. This kind of communication flow is increasingly the norm in organizations (in the same way that cross-functional teams are becoming more common), since it can maximize the efficiency of information exchange. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Diagonal communication routes are the straight lines that speed communications directly to their recipients, at the moment communication is necessary. Communications that zigzag along horizontal and vertical routes, on the other hand, are vulnerable to the schedules and availability of the individuals who reside at each level.

    Frances returns to his customers and tells them he thinks he’s got a way to make the deal work. Brian, the finance manager, approves the deal per his conversation with Little Joe, so all that’s left is the final inspection in the service department. The customers have told Frances they need to be home by 3 pm, but when Frances sees the time and looks over at the line of cars waiting for final inspection, his stomach drops. There’s no way he is going to get them out of the dealership by three, and he’s afraid he’ll lose the sale. He heads over to the service department to find Marcie, the service manager. He finds her in one of the service bays and explains his situation, asking if there’s any way his customer can be moved ahead in the line. Marcie checks her clipboard, does some quick calculations, and calls over one of the service techs. She tells him to locate the 2015 Sonata and get it up on the lift next. Smiling, she turns to Frances and says, “Mission accomplished.” 

    Another type of communication flow is external when an organization communicates with people or organizations outside the business. Recipients of external communication include customers, lawmakers, suppliers, and other community stakeholders. External communication is often handled by marketing and sales. Annual reports, press releases, product promotions, and financial reports are all examples of external communication.

    The last thing Frances does before he hands the keys to his customers is to affix a Little Joe’s Auto license plate frame to the front and back of the Sonata. Now everyone who sees his customers driving their new car will know where they bought it. He hopes this sale will generate more business for himself and the dealership, so along with the keys to the car, he gives them several business cards and a coupon for a free oil change. At 2:30, Frances waves goodbye to his customers as they drive their new Sonata off the lot.

    In order to close this deal, the communication at Little Joe’s Auto has flowed in every direction—upward, downward, horizontally, diagonally, and externally. 

    Communication Networks

    By now you know that business communication can take different forms and flow between different kinds of senders and receivers. Another way to classify communication is by network.

    An organization’s formal communication network is comprised of all the communication that runs along its official lines of authority. In other words, the formal network follows reporting relationships. As you might expect, when a manager sends an email to her sales team describing the new commission structure for the next set of sales targets, that email (an example of downward communication) is being sent along the company’s formal network that connects managers to their subordinates.

    An informal communication network, on the other hand, doesn’t follow authority lines and is established around the social affiliation of members of an organization. Such networks are also described as “grapevine communication.” They may come into being through the rumor mill, social networking, graffiti, spoof newsletters, and spontaneous water-cooler conversations.

    Informal vs. Formal Networks

    Formal communication

    •  follows practices shaped by hierarchy, technology systems, and official policy.
    •  usually involves documentation, while informal communication usually leaves no recorded trace for others to find or share.
    •  in traditional organizations can frequently be “one-way”: They are initiated by management and received by employees.
    • content is perceived as authoritative because it originates from the highest levels of the company.

    Informal communication occurs in any direction and takes place between individuals of different status and roles.

    Informal communication frequently crosses boundaries within an organization and is commonly separate from workflows. That is, it often occurs between people who do not work together directly but share an affiliation or a common interest in the organization’s activities and/or a motivation to perform their jobs well.

    Informal communication occurs outside an organization’s established channels for conveying messages and transmitting the information.

    In the past, many organizations considered informal communication (generally associated with interpersonal, horizontal communication) a hindrance to effective organizational performance and tried to stamp it out. This is no longer the case. The maintenance of personal networks and social relationships through information communication is understood to be a key factor in how people get work done. It might surprise you to know that 75 percent of all organizations’ practices, policies, and procedures are shared through grapevine communication.[1]

    While informal communication is important to an organization, it also may have disadvantages. When it takes the form of a “rumor mill” spreading misinformation, informal communication is harmful and difficult to shut down because its sources cannot be identified by management. Casual conversations are often spontaneous, and participants may make incorrect statements or promulgate inaccurate information. Less accountability is expected from informal communications, which can cause people to be indiscreet, careless in their choice of words, or disclose sensitive information.

    What is an Organizational Chart?

    The formal flows of communication are pictured in a company's organizational chart. These flows are usually created by management in order to create the official structure of an organization and reflect the "chain of command" or rather, the "who reports to whom" in an organization.  The culture of a company can often be affected by this intentionally created structure. Some companies are very tall in structure, whereas some are flat. A basic understanding of organizational charts will help you relate to the information in the next folder, which gives us a chronological look at organizational or corporate communication. 

    Two Examples of Organizational Charts

    The first figure below depicts a relatively tall structure with some horizontal communication or coordination but separates the flows between the Marketing Division and the Finance Division. Two managers oversee several supervisors who, in turn, supervise more people who aren't depicted in the chart. A case could be made that this structure could be from a

    Bureaucratic Management Style. 

    Image of a Tall Organizational Chart

    The organizational chart shown below represents a Flat Organizational Chart where there is not as many layers of communication. A company from Scientific Management School of thought often had a flat structure with downward communication and very little upward communication. 

    Image of a flat organizational chart

    Publicdebt_structure.gif (697 × 337 pixels, file size: 12 KB, MIME type: image/gif)

    Keith Davis, "Grapevine Communication Among Lower and Middle Managers," Personnel Journal, April, 1969, p. 272. 



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    2.2 A Chronological Look At Understanding Organizational Communication and Organizational Culture

    Section Objectives

    By the end of reading this chapter, you will be able to:

    • explain the five theoretical perspectives for understanding organizational communication.

    Now that you have a better understanding of the concept of organizational communication, let’s look at five different perspectives for understanding organizational communication that have developed over time.

    Classical Management Perspective

    The original perspective for understanding organizational communication can be described using a machine metaphor. At the beginning of the industrial age, when people thought science could solve almost every problem, American Frederick Taylor, Frenchman Henri Fayol, and German Max Weber tried to apply scientific solutions to organizations. They wanted to determine how organizations and workers could function in an ideal way. Organizations during the industrial revolution wanted to know how they could maximize their profits, so the classical management perspective focused on worker productivity. Please see the Case in Point below for an example of this focus.

    Case In Point


    After running a restaurant successfully for 11 years, Richard and Maurice McDonald decided to improve it. They wanted to make food faster, sell it cheaper and spend less time worrying about replacing cooks and carhops. The brothers closed the restaurant and redesigned its food-preparation area to work less like a restaurant and more like an automobile assembly line.

    Their old drive-in had already made them rich, but the new restaurant – which became McDonald’s – made the brothers famous. Restaurateurs traveled from all over the country to copy their system of fast food preparation, which they called the Speedee Service System. Without cars, Carl and Maurice would not have had a drive-in restaurant to tinker with. Without assembly lines, they would not have had a basis for their method of preparing food.

    Being a short-order cook took skill and training, and good cooks were in high demand. The Speedee system, however, was completely different. Instead of using a skilled cook to make food quickly, it used lots of unskilled workers, each of whom did one small, specific step in the food preparation process.

    Instead of being designed to facilitate the preparation of a variety of food relatively quickly, the kitchen’s purpose was to make a very large amount of very few items.

    When you visit different restaurants belonging to the same fast-food chain, the menu and food are pretty much the same. There’s one reason for this uniformity in fast food – it’s a product of mass production.

    The machine metaphor of classical management suggests that three basic aspects should exist in organizations: Specialization, Standardization, and Predictability (Miller). Those who advocated this perspective argued that every employee should have a specialized function; thus, essentially, any individual could perform a job if they are properly trained. If one individual fails to do the job, they are easily replaceable with another person since people are seen as simply parts of a machine.

    Taylor developed his Theory of Scientific Management from his early days as a foreman in a machine shop. Little did he know how drastically he was going to influence organizations and our notions of working life. Taylor could not understand why organizations and individuals would not want to maximize efficiency. In Copley’s biography about Taylor, he reveals a man who was driven by perfection: “The spectacle of a [man] doing less than [his] best was to him morally shocking. He enthusiastically believed that to do anything less than your best is to add to the sum of the world’s unrighteousness” (207). However, workers were not always as enthusiastic about efficiency and quality as Taylor, especially given the significant difference in status and pay between management and labor. For the common laborer during the industrial revolution, this new approach to employment meant possibly losing your job if a “scientific” formula showed that fewer workers could do the same job. If you don’t think this is alive today, think about organizations such as Apple that have employees overseas to manufacture iPhones.

    Organizational Communication Then
    Frederick Taylor

    In today’s world, fast food chains are good examples of classical management. Next time you buy that Whopper or Big Mac, you can thank the influence of American businessman Frederick Taylor. Literally using a stopwatch, Taylor used his time and motion studies to prove that for every job, there is one best way to perform it in the shortest amount of time. This meant properly selecting, training, and rewarding the appropriate worker with the right task (Taylor, 1947). Peek into the kitchen the next time you order that burger, fries, and coke. It is likely that you will see employees separated by station and task, doing their specific part to fulfill your order. Likewise, the design of hard plastic seats and bright colors in fast food restaurants is done with the intention of getting customers in and out of the restaurant in an efficient and expedient manner.


    During this time, Weber was also developing his ideas about bureaucracy. He was fascinated with what the ideal organization should look like and believed that effective hierarchies helped organizations operate effectively. Precise rules, a division of labor, centralized authority, and a distinctly defined hierarchy should be driven by rational thought void of emotion and outside influence (Weber). These qualities would allow organizations to operate in a somewhat predictable manner — employees knew what to expect and who was in charge, and management could make decisions based on familiar, relevant information rather than irrational feelings. Think about the bureaucracy of your college campus; there are numerous divisions of labor, rules, policies, and procedures. Registering for classes, tracking transcripts, obtaining financial aid, and living in campus housing, are all part of the time you spend navigating the bureaucracy on your campus. Imagine a campus without bureaucracy. What if you couldn’t easily access your transcripts? What if no one kept track of your progress through college? How would you know what to do and when you were done? What if there was no process for applying for financial aid? While bureaucracies can be slow, tedious, and often inefficient, they provide the structure we have come to rely on to accomplish personal and professional goals.

    Fayol’s theory of classical management focused on how management worked, specifically looking at what managers should do to be most effective. For Fayol, organizational members should be clear about who is in charge, and everyone should know their role in an organization. He argued that organizations should be grouped in a precise hierarchy that limits the flow of communication to top-down communication. During this time, Weber was also developing his ideas about bureaucracy. He was fascinated with what the ideal organization should look like and believed that effective hierarchies helped organizations operate effectively. Precise rules, a division of labor, centralized authority, and a distinctly defined hierarchy should be driven by rational thought void of emotion and outside influence (Weber). These qualities would allow organizations to operate in a somewhat predictable manner — employees knew what to expect and who was in charge, and management could make decisions based on familiar, relevant information rather than irrational feelings. Think about the bureaucracy of your college campus; there are numerous divisions of labor, rules, policies, and procedures. Registering for classes, tracking transcripts, obtaining financial aid, and living in campus housing, are all part of the time you spend navigating the bureaucracy on your campus. Imagine a campus without bureaucracy. What if you couldn’t easily access your transcripts? What if no one kept track of your progress through college? How would you know what to do and when you were done? What if there was no process for applying for financial aid? While bureaucracies can be slow, tedious, and often inefficient, they provide the structure we have come to rely on to accomplish personal and professional goals.

    Theory X is an example of a classical management theory where managers micro-manage employees by using reward-punishment tactics, and limiting employee participation in decision-making(McGregor). This theory sees employees as basically lazy or unmotivated. Because of this, managers must closely supervise their workers. Those that do not do their work are disposable parts of the machine. This allows for management to mistreat and abuse their employees, ultimately lowering the very thing they were after greater productivity.

    Organizations using this approach can still be found today. Have you ever had a boss or manager who treated you like an interchangeable part of a machine that had little value? If so, you’ve experienced aspects of the classical management perspective at work. While scientific approaches to organizations were an interesting starting point for determining how to communicate, the classical management approach fell short in many ways. Thus, development and refinement continued to occur regarding ways to understand organizational communication.

    Human Relations Perspective

    Because classical management was so mechanical and did not treat people as humans, organizational scholars wanted to focus on the human elements of organizations. The human relations approach focuses on how organizational members relate to one another and how individuals’ needs influence their performance in organizations. In 1924 Elton Mayo and his team of Harvard scientists began a series of studies that were initially interested in how to modify working conditions to increase worker productivity, decrease employee turnover, and change the overall poor organizational effectiveness at the Hawthorne Electric Plant near Chicago (Roethlisberger & Dickson).

    Mayo’s team discovered that no matter what changes they made to the work environment (such as adjusting lighting and temperature levels, work schedules, and worker isolation), worker productivity increased simply due to the fact that researchers were paying attention to them. Simply paying attention to workers and addressing their social needs yielded significant changes in their productivity. This is where the term “The Hawthorne Effect” developed. Mayo’s work provided an impetus for a new way of looking at workers in organizations.

    Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that human beings are actually motivated to satisfy their personal needs. His theory is still of interest to us today as we try to comprehend the relevance of human relations in the workplace. Papa, Daniels and Spiker s describe McGregor’s contributions: “As management theorists became familiar with Maslow’s work, they soon realized the possibility of connecting higher-level needs to worker motivation. If organizational goals and individual needs could be integrated so that people would acquire self-esteem and, ultimately, self-actualization through work, then motivation would be self-sustaining” (33). Remember that Theory X managers do not trust their employees because they think workers are inherently unmotivated and lazy. At the other end of the managerial spectrum, Theory Y managers (those that take a human relations perspective to employees) assume that workers are self-motivated, seek responsibility, and want to achieve success. As a result of this changing perspective, managers began to invite feedback and encourage a degree of participation in organizational decision-making, thus focusing on human relationships as a way to motivate employee productivity. Today many companies make employees happy by keeping them well-rested and supplying them with ways to catch up on sleep even at work.

    Human Resources Perspective

    The Human Resources perspective picks up where human relations left off. The primary criticism of human relations was that it still focused on productivity, trying to achieve worker productivity simply by making workers happy. The idea that a happy employee would be a productive employee makes initial sense. However, happiness does not mean that we will be productive workers. As a matter of fact, an individual can be happy with a job and not work very hard. Another reason scholars tried to improve the human relations perspective was because manipulative managers misused it by inviting participation from employees on the surface but not really doing anything with the employees’ contributions. Imagine your boss encouraging everyone to put their ideas into a suggestion box but never looking at them. How would you feel?

    Human Resources attempts to truly embrace participation by all organizational members, viewing each person as a valuable human resource. Employees are valuable resources that should be fully involved to manifest their abilities and productivity. Using this approach, organizations began to encourage employee participation in decision-making.

    An example of the human resources perspective is William Ouchi’s Theory Z. Ouchi believed that traditional American organizations should be more like Japanese organizations. Japanese culture values lifetime employment, teamwork, collective responsibility, and a sound mind and body. This contrasts with many American work values such as short-term employment, individualism, and non-participation. Many U.S. companies implemented Japanese organizational concepts such as quality circles (QC), quality of work life (QWL) programs, management by objectives (MBO), and W. E. Deming’s notion of total quality management (TQM). Each of these approaches was designed to flatten hierarchies, increase participation, implement quality control, and utilize teamwork. Human Resources works “by getting organizational participants meaningfully involved in the important decisions that regulate the enterprise” (Brady 15).

    Systems Perspective

    Collectively, individuals in organizations achieve more than they can independently (Barnard; Katz & Kahn; Redding; von Bertalanffy; Skyttner). The systems perspective for understanding organizations is “concerned with problems of relationships, of structure, and of interdependence rather than with the constant attributes of objects” (Katz & Kahn 18). An organization is like a living organism and must exist in its external environment in order to survive. Without this interaction, an organization remains what we call closed and withers away (Buckley).

    Case In Point
    Outsources Jobs

    The US News & World Reports Article,Outsourcing to China Cost U.S. 3.2 Million Jobs Since 200–New research shows that more than three-quarters of jobs lost were in manufacturing states that,

    “Jobs outsourced to China have diminished American employment opportunities and have helped contribute to wage erosion since 2001, when China entered the World Trade Organization, new research shows.

    Between 2001 and 2013, the expanded trade deficit with China cost the U.S. 3.2 million jobs, and three-quarters of those jobs were in manufacturing, according to a report released Thursday from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington thinktank. Those manufacturing jobs lost accounted for about two-thirds of all jobs lost within the industry over the 2001 to 2013 period.”

    Read the rest of  the article here to see the impact of systems theory at the organizational and national levels.

    Apple Headquarters

    All organizations have basic properties. Equifinality means that a system (organization) can reach its goals from different paths. Each professor that teaches public speaking, for example, does so in a different way but the end result is that the students in each of the classes as completed a course in public speaking. Negative entropy is the ability of an organization to overcome the possibility of becoming run down. Companies like Apple do everything they can to stay ahead of their competition and keep their products ahead of the curve. Requisite variety means that organizations must be responsive to their external environment and adjust when needed. Apple is always under pressure to come up with the newest and best technology. When Apple goes a long time without doing so, the public begins to be critical. Homeostasis points to an organization’s need for stability in a turbulent environment. When gas prices go up, for example, organizations impacted by these rising costs take steps to ensure their survival and profitability. Complexity states that the more an organization grows and interacts, the more elaborate it becomes (Katz & Kahn; von Bertalanffy; Miller). Think about how huge companies such as Verizon must have elaborate organizational systems in place to deal with all of its employees and customers in a competitive marketplace.

    If an organization is a system, how do we use the role of communication to analyze interactions among organizational members? Karl Weick’s Theory of Organizing suggests that participants organize through their communication and make sense of unpredictable environments through interactions. Simply put, organizations exist as a result of the interactions of people in those organizations. An organization is more than just a physical building with people inside. Communication is the “process of organizing” implying that communication actually is the organization (Eisenberg & Goodall). Regardless of whether the focus is on message or the meaning, systems theory stresses the interdependence of integrated people in organizations and the outcomes they produce as a result of their interactions.

    Cultural Perspective

     Each organization has unique characteristics and cultural differences such as language, traditions, symbols, practices, pastimes, and social conveniences that distinguish it from other organizations. Likewise, they are rich with their own histories, stories, customs, and social norms.

    fast food

    Fast food restaurants such as In-and-Out and Chipotle have a culture of serving high quality food at a fast rate, yet they are very different organizations. Chipotle’s company motto is “good food is good business” ( We can understand organizations by seeing them as unique cultures.

    Simply put, the cultural perspective states that organizations maintain: 1) Shared values and beliefs, 2) Common practices, skills, and actions, 3) Customarily observed rules, 4) Objects and artifacts, and 5) Mutually understood meanings. Shockley-Zalabak contends, “Organizational culture reflects the shared realities and shared practices in the organization and how these realities create and shape organizational events” (63). Not every individual in an organization shares, supports, or engages in organizational values, beliefs, or rules in a similar manner. Instead, organizational culture includes various perspectives in a continually changing, emerging, and complex environment.

    Some people try to treat culture as a “thing.” However, organizational cultures emerge through interaction. Members share meaning, construct reality, and make sense of their environment on an ongoing basis. As Morgan states, “There is often more to culture than meets the eye and our understandings are usually much more fragmented and superficial than the reality itself” (151).


    How Culture Works in Organizations

    When we become involved with organizations, we learn from other people in the organization “the correct way to perceive, think, and feel” (Schein 12). There are three interdependent levels that provide insight into how culture works in organizations.

    • Artifacts are the first type of communicative behavior we encounter in organizations. Artifacts are symbols used by an organization to represent the organization’s culture. You might observe artifacts such as office technology, office architecture and arrangement, lighting, artwork, written documents, personal items on desks, clothing preferences, personal appearance, name tags, security badges, policy handbooks, or websites. You might observe routine behavior such as work processes, patterned communication (greetings), non-verbal characteristics (eye contact and handshakes), rituals, ceremonies, stories, or informal/formal interactions between supervisor and subordinate. All of these are artifacts that tell us something about an organization’s cultural values and practices. What artifacts represent the college or university you are attending right now?
    • Values are an organization’s preference for how things should happen or strategies for determining how things should be accomplished correctly. Hackman and Johnson believe that values “serve as the yardstick for judging behavior” (33). Many times there is a disconnect between what an organization says it values and their actual behavior. Disney espouses family values, for example, yet many of their subsidiary companies produce media that do not hold up these values. A way around this for Disney is to make sure to use other names, such as Touchstone Pictures, so that the Disney name is not attached to anything antithetical to “family values.”
    • Basic assumptions are the core of what individuals believe in organizations. These “unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings” ultimately influence how you experience the world as an organizational member (Schein 24). Unspoken beliefs reveal how we treat other individuals, what we see as good and bad in human nature, how we discover truth, and our place in the environment (Hackman & Johnson; Burtscher). Basic assumptions guide how organizations treat employees and provide services to customers. Imagine that you work overtime almost everyday without pay. Why would you do this? Maybe you hold the basic assumption that people who work hard ultimately get ahead by being given promotions and pay raises. Imagine if you did this for years with no recognition or acknowledgement. What does that say about your basic assumptions in comparison to those of the organization?

    Looking at organizations from the cultural perspective began in the 1980s (Putnam & Kim). During this time, several popular books focused on ideal corporate cultures, and the cultural perspective became a hot topic. Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life (Deal & Kennedy) and In Search of Excellence (Peters & Waterman) described cultural elements that mark prosperous organizations. The authors talked with Fortune 500 companies and determined that if an organization demonstrates a bias for action, has a close relationship with customers, has identifiable values, reveres individuals that exemplify organizational values (heroes), and has a solid communication network; it is a healthy organization.

    Culture is complicated and unstable. Each organization has its own unique identity, its distinct ways of doing things, and its own ways of performing culture (Pacanowsky & O ‘Donnell-Trujillo). The books mentioned above prompted many organizations to try to replicate the companies with “strong” or “excellent” cultures. Ironically, several of the companies identified with strong or excellent cultures have had a difficult time maintaining productivity over the last twenty years.

    An important focal point of the cultural perspective is the climate of an organization. Climate is the general workplace atmosphere or mood experienced by organizational members (Tagiuri; Green). Organizational climate is a “subjective reaction to organization members’ perception of communication events” (Shockley-Zalabak 66). Do you like working with the people at your job? Are you satisfied with the general climate of your college campus? Are you appropriately rewarded for the work you do? Do you feel like a valued member of your church or social group? Climate has a direct effect on organizational relationships and members’ satisfaction and morale. Researcher Jack Gibb proposes that interpersonal communication in organizational relationships, especially between superiors and subordinates, contributes to the overall climate of organizations. Gibb identifies a continuum of climate characteristics ranging from supportive to defensive behaviors that lead to member satisfaction or dissatisfaction.



    Survey of Communication Study. Authored by: Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn. Provided by: Humboldt State University. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike


    2.3 Challenges in Organizational Communication

    Section Objectives:

    At the end of reading this section, you will:

    • understand the challenges to organizational communication.
    • explain the future directions of organizational communication.
    • be able to identify the behaviors linked to ineffective communication.
    • explain the importance of ethics in organizational communication.
    • explain the role that perception plays in organizational communication.

    Challenges in Organizational Communication

    As you continue your education in college, you’ll continue to understand the need to be prepared for a perpetually evolving, increasingly diverse, and unpredictable global workplace. The key to organizational success, both for you and the organizations with whom you are involved, is effective communication. As you have probably experienced in both your personal relationships and organizational relationships, communication is not always successful. If you have ever worked on a group project for one of your classes, you have likely experienced many of the communicative challenges organizations face in this increasingly fast-paced and global world.

    Case In Point
    The Ant Colony and Organizational Communication

    The YouTube video ‘Inside the Colony’ shows the system in which ants use to communicate and live. What are some things we can draw from their lives into daily lives using organizational communication? Write bullet points on your ideas and pick the top on to discuss in class.

    Ineffective communication can cause many problems that can impact relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, and morale as we interact in organizations. Gerald Goldhaber summarizes Osmo Wiio’s “laws” of communication that are good to remember as you interact in increasingly complex organizations. Wiio pessimistically warns that: 1) If communication can fail, it will fail, 2) If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be misunderstood in the manner that does the most damage, 3) The more communication there is, the more tricky it is for the communication to be successful, and 4) There is always someone who thinks they know better what you said than you do.

    One of the greatest challenges facing organizations is the practice of ethics. Ethics are a basic code of conduct (morals) that individuals and groups use to assess whether something is right or wrong. How ethical are you as an organizational participant? Do you always make ethical personal and professional decisions? Have you ever withheld a bit of truth to lessen the impact of revealing the whole truth? What if you accidentally overhear that an individual who is up for a promotion has been stealing from the organization? Do you tell your boss? Or, on a greater scale, what if you discover that your organization is withholding vital information from consumers or violating lawful practices? Do you blow the whistle or stay loyal to your company? When you write your resume, how accurately do you describe your work history? Each of these scenarios deals directly with ethical considerations and ethical communication.

    Case In Point

    A good example of an ethical dilemma that occurs in the workplace happened to me when one of my co-workers, who is also my good friend, was putting down more hours on her time card than she was actually working. This upset me, because I worked the exact same amount of time as her, yet I was being paid much less. Because our boss was so busy all the time, she never noticed this unfair violation of lawful practices. I had to choose between remaining silent which would prevent my friend from getting in trouble, or speaking out against the injustice in order to sustain a fair workplace.

    -Anonymous Coworker

    Many organizations practice a climate of “survival of the fittest” as individuals scramble their way up the ladder of success at any cost. Comedian Jimmy Durante posited this advice: “Be nice to people on your way up because you might meet ‘em on your way down.” Obviously, not every organization has this type of cutthroat culture, but with an inherent hierarchy and imbalance of power, organizations are ripe for unethical behaviors. Because of the competitive nature of many business climates and the push for profits, organizational and individual ethics are often tested.

    Do organizations have a moral responsibility to act ethically outside of their capitalistic and legal obligations? “Since 1985, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms have been convicted of serious crimes, ranging from fraud to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste” (Eisenberg & Goodall 337). The Chevron Corporation, the second largest oil company in the U.S., is just one example of an unethical organization. Tax evasion and several environmental infractions, including dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest, are examples of their ethical behavior (Sandhu, 2012). Other unethical practices common in organizations include exploiting workers, tax loopholes, overbilling, and dumping toxins. Despite these unfortunate, immoral practices, all of us have an obligation to communicate ethically in all aspects of our lives, including organizations.


    Case In Point
    The Case of Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc.

    In 2007 several major brands of pet food were recalled due to a contaminant in the food. As a result of the poisoned food, thousands of dogs and cats developed renal failure and many died. Many upset customers asked the pet food companies to take financial responsibility for the costs that were incurred while seeking vital veterinary care for their sick pets. Some companies responded ethically with financial settlements; others failed in their ethical responsibility. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. (the maker of Science Diet) was one such company. In a letter sent to a customer seeking reimbursement for treating their sick cat, Hill’s wrote a one sentence letter stating, “. . . it appears we are unable to settle your claim for Oscar’s future medical expenses.”

    Thinking of this incident in ethical terms Kreps’ three principles of ethical communication are of relevance. He states ethical treatment should 1) Tell the truth, 2) Do no harm, and 3) Treat people justly. Has Hills, Inc. engaged in ethical communication? How could they have done so?

    Differences in perception and the failure to clarify communication can lead to miscommunication at interpersonal as well as organizational levels. Organizationally, communication failure occurs due to information overload, communication anxiety, unethical communication, bad timing, too little information, message distortion, lack of respect, insufficient information, minimal feedback, ineffective communication, and even disinterest or apathy. To be successful in our organizational environments, we need to be earnest participants, as well as active listeners, to ensure effective communication and mutual satisfaction. Organizations cannot successfully operate without effective communication at every level.

    Future Directions

    As with many other specializations in the field of Communication, the area of organizational communication is changing faster than organizations, individuals, and scholars can adapt. It is difficult for organizations to anticipate and keep in front of the changes they encounter. What worked during the industrial age may no longer be relevant in the 21st century. In fact, what worked ten years ago likely does not work today. A sense of urgency, a fast pace, inconsistency, information overload, regenerating technology, and constant change characterize the dynamic changes as organizations move from operating in the industrial age to the information age. When this book was first published, for example, iPhones were just coming on the market. We referred to cds, dvds, and palm pilots in the original text. That was only eight eight years ago, and now we don’t use many of those technologies. Miller identifies four elements of the changing landscape for organizations: 1) Organizations are becoming more global, 2) Images and identity are becoming increasingly important, 3) There is a shift to a more predominant service economy, and 4) The changing workforce is highlighted by the “disposable worker” (Conrad & Poole), downsizing, early retirement, and temporary workers.

    As a result, new directions of research are emerging. These changes are forcing those of us in organizational communication to reexamine existing communicative practices relative to the changing dynamics of organizations. For example, can a person lead without any personal, face-to-face contact? How do organizational values impact ethics, and what is the attitude towards ethical communication in this increasingly competitive age? How should work-life issues such as working parents, affirmative action, and drug screening be handled? With increasing diversity in the workplace, what is the role of intercultural communication? In this age of elevated tensions, how do stress and emotions communicatively manifest themselves in the workplace? What is the impact of our social media postings on our work lives?

    Organizational Communication Now
    Leadership in the Social Age

    This article is about leadership and their ability to be flexible in the workplace. “Today’s leaders face challenges related to business disruption, ambiguity, complexity, widely connected constituencies, and how to communicate with multiple constituencies simultaneously”. This ties into how work is different now than it was 10 years ago.

    • Leadership is about who, not what.

    • Leadership is personal.

    • Make experiences true learning experiences.

    Scholars are continuing to communicatively adapt and respond to the changing landscape in terms of what we teach, research, and practice. Expect to see a variety of approaches and distinctively unique research agendas that will likely highlight the ways in which you will spend your life working in organizations that are different from today.

    Key Takeaways

    In this chapter, you learned that an organization is a “consciously coordinated social unit composed of two or more people, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or set of goals” (Robbins 4). Organizations are dynamic and are created through our communication. Organizational communication is the sending and receiving of messages among interrelated individuals within a particular environment or setting to achieve individual and common goals. Organizational communication is highly contextual and culturally dependent.

    The study of organizational communication developed as a result of the rapid changes brought on by the industrial revolution in the past 150 years. The more formal study of organizational communication took root in the mid-1900s and has gained increasing attention over the past 60 years. We examined three predominant periods of organizational communication during this time. The Era of Preparation (1900 to 1940) is the era in which practitioners and scholars focused on public address, business writing, managerial communication, and persuasion. The Era of Identification and Consolidation (1940-1970) saw the beginnings of business and industrial communication with certain group and organizational relationships becoming important. During the Era of Maturity and Innovation (1970 –present) organizational communication has worked to rationalize its existence through rigorous research methods and scholarship.

    Those in the field of organizational communication study a variety of communication activities in organizational settings. Researchers focus on communication channels, communication climates, network analysis, and superior-subordinate communication. Since the 1980s, this specialization has expanded to include the study of organizational culture, power and conflict management, and organizational rhetoric. Other content areas of focus include communication in groups and teams, leadership, conflict and conflict management, communication networks, decision-making and problem-solving, ethics, and communication technology. Introductory organizational communication classrooms often focus on skill development in socialization, interviewing, individual and group presentations, work relationships, performance evaluation, conflict resolution, stress management, decision making, or external publics.

    Since the start of the industrial revolution, perspectives regarding organizational communication have continued to be developed and refined. The initial organizational communication perspective, founded on scientific principles, is the classical management perspective which focused on specialization, standardization, and predictability in organizations. Following this perspective were the human relations and human resources perspectives which further tried to incorporate human satisfaction, needs, and participation as a means for creating effective organizations and productive employees. The systems perspective allowed researchers to understand organizations as a “whole greater than the sum of their parts.” This perspective focuses on the interactions of the people who form organizations, with the basic assumption that all people in the organization impact organizational outcomes. Finally, the cultural perspective understands organizations as unique cultures with their own sets of artifacts, values, and basic assumptions. As part of the cultural perspective, we can examine the climate of an organization to reveal how an organization impacts its members and how members impact an organization.

    The future of organizational communication is complex and rapidly changing. As a result, there are many challenges to organizations. Two of the most compelling challenges are ethics and the rapid changes occurring in organizational life. As competition continues to increase and greater demands are placed on organizations and individuals, ethics is becoming an essential focus of examination for organizational communication and behavior. Likewise, the rapid advances in technology and globalization are creating increased challenges and demands on organizational members.


    1. Think of an organization you have worked in. What theoretical perspective did the organization take towards its workers? What was it like working within the boundaries of that perspective?
    2. What kinds of organizations does the classical management approach work in today? What kinds of organizations does it not work in?
    3. What needs of Maslow’s do you want your job to help you fulfill? Why?
    4. How would you describe the “culture” of your campus? What does this tell you about your campus?
    5. Explain ethical communication in organizations. What are the challenges? What are the benefits?
    6. Review Osmo Wiio’s Laws of Communication. Give an example of a time when one of these rules has applied to you.




    Survey of Communication Study. Authored by: Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn. Provided by: Humboldt State University. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike


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    Redding, W. Charles, and Phillip K. Tompkins. “Organizational communication: Past and present tenses.” Handbook of organizational communication. 1988. 5-33.

    Robbins, Stephen P., and Timothy A. Judge. Organizational Behavior 15th Edition. Prentice Hall, 2012.

    Roethlisberger, Fritz Jules, and William J. Dickson. Management and the Worker. Vol. 5. Psychology Press, 2003.

    Sandhu, Ravjot. “Ravjot Sandhu’s Blog.” Ravjot Sandhus Blog. N.p., 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.

    Sayeekumar, Manimozhi. “Organizational Communication and Reports.” Language in India. 2013: 690-695.

    Schein, Edgar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. Vol. 2. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

    Schoeneborn, Dennis. “Organization as Communication: A Luhmannian Perspective.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

    Shockley-Zalabak, Pamela, Keyton, Joann. Case Studies for Organizational Communication: Understanding Communication Processes. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Pub.(2006). Print.

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    Skyttner, Lars. General Systems Theory Problems, Perspectives, Practice. Singapore: World Scientific, (2005). Print.

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    Weick, Karl E. The social psychology of organizing (Topics in social psychology series). (1979).


    Chapter 3 : Communication and Culture

    Section Objectives

    After reading this section you will be able to:

    • describe what it means to be a provisional communicator.
    • define culture and co-culture.
    • explain how culture may impact communication choices.


    Humans are naturally egocentric. Since we can exist only within our own heads, it is perfectly natural for us to assume everyone else thinks, perceives, and communicates as we do. The only world we can experience is the world as we see it, and it can be very challenging to understand that varied perceptions, values, and beliefs exist which are equally valid.

    Being a provisional communicator can be challenging. Provisionalism is the ability to accept the diversity of perceptions and beliefs and to operate in a manner sensitive to that diversity. Being provisional does not mean we abandon our own beliefs and values, nor does it mean we have to accept all beliefs and values as correct. Instead, provisionalism leads us to seek to understand variations in human behaviors and to understand the field of experience out of which the other person operates. This adds an extra step to the interpretation process:

    We interpret the world within our own life experiences, but then...

    We stop and consider, “How was the message intended?” or “What other factors may be motivating this behavior?”

    Diverse people at a market

    Figure Image 1

    For example, in the dominant U.S. culture, we are taught it is rude to stare at people, especially those markedly different from ourselves. We consider such extended gazes unsettling, and we question why the person is doing it. This is not true, however, in all cultures. When Keith was in China several years ago (Image 1), he had to acclimate to this cultural difference. Since he stood out as markedly different; lighter skinned, bald, taller, and larger than the average Chinese, he would regularly catch people staring at him, and many were doing so quite openly and obviously. If he had simply used an egocentric interpretation, interpreting them according to his own culture, he would have drawn the conclusion they were very rude. Since Keith knew from various travel books of this cultural difference, he was able to be provisional and understand their behavior was perfectly appropriate within the context of their culture. If he had not learned about the culture, he might have experienced even greater culture shock. This term refers to the discomfort felt when interacting in a new environment with few familiar cues to guide our communication behaviors (Martin & Nakayama, 2018).

    Culture and Communication

    Each of us exists within a dominant culture and is a member of several co-cultures. Our culture is the broad set of shared beliefs and values that form a collective vision of ourselves and others. Culture is learned, and it can be so ingrained it becomes a challenge to identify how it influences our thoughts and behaviors. For example, in U.S. culture, we place a high value on self-determination: we have a fundamental right to make choices we deem best for us. As long as our actions do not harm others or inhibit their choices, we feel free to follow the life path of our choosing. If others attempt to force us to act or think in certain ways, we tend to rebel. Other cultures are more collectivist, and the emphasis is placed on doing what is best for the group. In such cultures, engaging in individual behaviors that reflect poorly on the group is a powerful social taboo. For example, in some Asian cultures, if a student performs poorly academically, it is seen as a reflection on the entire family, bringing shame to all. The pressures to succeed are based not on personal achievement but on maintaining the honor of the entire family. Contrast that to the dominant U.S. culture in which students are generally seen as failing or succeeding on their own merit.

    Cultures do not have static sets of beliefs and values; instead, they will evolve over time. In the U.S., we have seen large cultural shifts in the past 50 years. Sexual mores have changed quite dramatically, as have our attitudes about individual rights. While in the past, women were restricted to a narrow range of careers, today, we assume men and women are equally able to pursue the career of their choice. We continue to evolve attitudes toward minorities and immigrants. During the past ten years, the changes in attitudes toward homosexuality and the civil rights of same-sex couples have been quite striking.

    Native Americans in traditional clothing

    Figure Image 2

    It is also important to note a broad culture, like the U.S., will also have a number of cultural groups within it, sometimes called co-cultures. This refers to an identifiable group with their own unique traits operating within the larger culture, such as Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and similar groups with their own distinct cultures. In addition to culture and co-culture, others terms are used to refer to this aspect of cultures, such as majority and minority cultures or dominant and non-dominant cultures or macro- and micro-cultures. These terms attempt to reflect the importance of culture in the broader sense and the reality of the greater power that some cultures have within a society. Some groups within a larger culture relate to the social identities of those involved. These may be based on regions (the old South, the East Coast, urban, rural), religion or beliefs: (Catholics, Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists), or affiliation (street gangs, NASCAR fans, college students). Such groups are not cultures per se but groups of people who share concerns and who might perceive similarities due to common interests or characteristics (Lustig & Koester, 2010).


    parents reading to their children

    Figure Image 3

    Within each of the social groups, communication is influenced.


    • The use of specific gestures, colors, and styles of dress in inner city gangs;
    • The classic Southern Accent;
    • The use of regional sayings, such as “you betcha,” or “whatever” in rural Minnesota;
    • The more quiet nature of Native Americans who may prefer to listen and observe.

    These cultural groups and social identities operate within the larger culture while maintaining the traits that make these smaller groups unique. These variations in lifestyle, communication behaviors, values, beliefs, art, food, and such provide a rich quilt of human experience, and for the provisional communicator, one who can accept and appreciate these difference, it can be an invigorating experience to move among them.


    LibreTexts content is licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

    Contributed by Keith Green, Ruth Fairchild, Bev Knudsen, & Darcy Lease-Gubrud

    Professors (Communication) at Ridgewater College

    Published by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

    Article type Section or Page Author:Keith Green, Ruth Fairchild, Bev Knudsen, & Darcy Lease-Gubrud LicenseCC BY-NC


    Martin, J.N., & Nakayama, T.K. (2018). Experiencing intercultural communication: An introduction. 6th edition. New York: McGraw Hill.




    3.1 Thinking About Culture

    Section Objectives

    After completing this section, you will be able to

    • apply Hofstede’s dimensions of culture to oneself and a group.
    • show how Hall’s cultural variations apply to oneself and a group.
    • identify barriers to intercultural competence.

    Hofstede's Dimensions of Culture

    Individualism and Collectivism


    Hoftede'd Dimensions of Culture

    Figure Image 4

    According to Hofstede,

    The left side of this dimension, called Individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. Its opposite, Collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society's position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we” (Hofstede, 2012a).

    In a highly individualistic culture, members are able to make choices based on personal preference with little regard for others, except for close family or significant relationships. They can pursue their own wants and needs free from concerns about meeting social expectations. The United States is a highly individualistic culture. While we value the role of certain aspects of collectivism, such as government, social organizations, or other forms of collective action, at our core, we strongly believe it is up to each person to find and follow their path in life.

    In a highly collectivistic culture, just the opposite is true. It is the role of individuals to fulfill their place in the overall social order. Personal wants and needs are secondary to the needs of the society at large. There is immense pressure to adhere to social norms and those who fail to conform risk social isolation, disconnection from family, and perhaps some form of banishment. China is typically considered a highly collectivistic culture. In China, multigenerational homes are common, and tradition calls for the oldest son to care for his parents as they age.

    High Power-Distance and Low Power-Distance

    Power distance continuum Figure Image 5

    Power is a normal feature of any relationship or society. How power is perceived, however, varies among cultures:

    The power distance dimension of culture expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect power to be distributed unequally. The fundamental issue is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low power distance, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power (Hofstede, 2012a).

    In high power-distance cultures, the members accept some having more power and some having less power and that this power distribution is natural and normal. Those with power are assumed to deserve it, and likewise those without power are assumed to be in their proper place. In such a culture, there will be a rigid adherence to the use of titles, “Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Officer,” “Reverend,” and so on. The directives of those with higher power are to be obeyed with little question.

    In low power-distance cultures, the distribution of power is considered far more arbitrary and viewed as a result of luck, money, heritage, or other external variables. For a person to be seen as having power, something must justify their power. A wealthy person is typically seen as more powerful in western cultures. Elected officials, like United States Senators, will be seen as powerful since they had to win their office by receiving majority support. In these cultures, individuals who attempt to assert power are often faced with those who stand up to them, question them, ignore them, or otherwise refuse to acknowledge their power. While some titles may be used, they will be used far less than in a high power-distance culture. For example, in colleges and universities in the U.S., it is far more common for students to address their instructors on a first-name basis and engage in casual conversation on personal topics. In contrast, in a high power-distance culture like Japan, the students rise, and bow as the teacher enters the room, address them formally at all times, and rarely engage in any personal conversation

    High Uncertainty Avoidance and Low Uncertainty Avoidance

    Uncertainty avoidnace continuum Figure Image 6

    As you have already learned in this course, humans do not like uncertainty, and the drive to lower uncertainty to increase predictability and comfort is quite strong. How cultures handle uncertainty varies:

    The uncertainty avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong [uncertainty avoidance] maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. Weak [uncertainty avoidance] societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles (Hofstede, 2012a).

    Consider how one avoids uncertainty: by limiting change, adhering to tradition, and sticking to past practice. High uncertainty avoidance cultures place a very high value on history, doing things as they have been done in the past, and honoring stable cultural norms. Even though the U.S. is generally low in uncertainty avoidance, we can see some evidence of a degree of higher uncertainty avoidance related to certain social issues. As society changes, there are many who will decry the changes as they are “forgetting the past,” “dishonoring our forebears,” or “abandoning sacred traditions.” In the controversy over same-sex marriage, the phrase “traditional marriage” is used to refer to a two-person, heterosexual marriage, suggesting same-sex marriage is a violation of tradition. Changing social norms creates uncertainty, and for many change is very unsettling.

    In a low uncertainty avoidance culture, change is seen as inevitable, normal, and even preferable to stasis. In such a culture, innovation in all areas is valued, whether it be in technology, business, social norms, or human relationship. Businesses in the U.S. that can change rapidly, innovate quickly, and respond immediately to market and social pressures are seen as far more successful. While Microsoft™ has long dominated the world market in computer operating systems, they are regularly criticized for being slow to change and to respond to changing consumer demands, which suggests a high uncertainty avoidance culture within that business. Apple™, on the other hand, has been praised for its innovation and ability to respond more quickly to market demands, suggesting a low uncertainty avoidance culture.

    Long-Term Orientation and Short-Term Orientation

    Long-term short-term continuum Figure Image 7

    People and cultures view time in different ways. For some, the “here and now” is paramount, and for others, “saving for a rainy day” is the dominant view.

    The long-term orientation dimension can be interpreted as dealing with society’s search for virtue. Societies with a short-term orientation generally have a strong concern with establishing the absolute Truth. They are normative in their thinking. They exhibit great respect for traditions, a relatively small propensity to save for the future, and a focus on achieving quick results. In societies with a long-term orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on the situation, context, and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results (Hofstede, 2012a).

    In a long-term culture, significant emphasis is placed on planning for the future. For example, the savings rates in France and Germany are 2-4 times greater than in the U.S., suggesting cultures with more of a “plan ahead” mentality (Pasquali & Aridas, 2012). These long-term cultures see change and social evolution are normal, integral parts of the human condition.
    In a short-term culture, emphasis is placed far more on the “here and now.” Immediate needs and desires are paramount, with longer-term issues left for another day. The U.S. falls more into this type. Legislation tends to be passed to handle immediate problems, and it can be challenging for lawmakers to convince voters of the need to look at issues from a long-term perspective. With fairly easy access to credit, consumers are encouraged to buy now versus waiting. We see evidence of the need to establish “absolute Truth” in our political arena on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and gun control. Our culture does not tend to favor middle grounds in which truth is not clear-cut.


    Masculine and Feminine

    Masculine Feminin Continuum Figure Image 8

    Expectations for gender roles are a core component of any culture. All cultures have some sense of what it means to be a “man” or a “woman.” Masculine cultures are traditionally seen as more aggressive and domineering, while feminine cultures are traditionally seen as more nurturing and caring. Hofstede (2012a) states:

    The masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material reward for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.

    In a masculine culture, such as the U.S., winning is highly valued. We respect and honor those who demonstrate power and high degrees of competence. Consider the role of competitive sports such as football, basketball, or baseball, and how the rituals of identifying the best are significant events. The 2017 Super Bowl had 111 million viewers, (Huddleston, 2017) and the World Series regularly receives high ratings, with the final game in 2016 ending at the highest rating in ten years (Perez, 2016).

    More feminine societies, such as those in the Scandinavian countries, will certainly have their sporting moments. However, the culture is far more structured to provide aid and support to citizens, focusing their energies on providing a reasonable quality of life for all (Hofstede, 2012b)

    Indulgence and Restraint

    Indulgence Restrant Continuum Figure Image 9

    A more recent addition to Hofstede’s dimensions of culture, the indulgence/restraint continuum addresses the degree of rigidity of social norms of behavior. He states:

    Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms (Hofstede, 2012a).

    Indulgent cultures are comfortable with individuals acting on their more basic human drives. Sexual mores are less restrictive, and one can act more spontaneously than in cultures of restraint. Those in indulgent cultures will tend to communicate fewer messages of judgment and evaluation. Every spring, thousands of U.S. college students flock to places like Cancun, Mexico, to engage in a week of fairly indulgent behavior. Feeling free from the social expectations of home, many will engage in some intense partying, sexual activity, and fairly limitless behaviors.

    Cultures of restraint, such as many Islamic countries, have rigid social expectations of behavior that can be quite narrow. Guidelines on dress, food, drink, and behaviors are rigid and may even be formalized in law. In the U.S., a generally indulgent culture, there are sub-cultures that are more restraint-focused. The Amish are highly restrained by social norms, but so too can be inner-city gangs. Areas of the country, like Utah with its large Mormon culture, or the Deep South with its large evangelical Christian culture, are more restrained than areas such as San Francisco or New York City. Rural areas often have more rigid social norms than do urban areas. Those in more restraint-oriented cultures will identify those not adhering to these norms, placing pressure on them, either openly or subtly, to conform to social expectations.

    Hall’s Variations

    In addition to these six dimensions from Hofstede, anthropologist Edward T. Hall identified two more significant cultural variations (Raimo, 2008).

    Monochronic and Polychronic

    Monochronic and Polychronic Continuum Figure Image 10

    Another aspect of variations in time orientation is the difference between monochronic and polychronic cultures. This refers to how people perceive and value time.

    In a monochronic culture, like the U.S., time is viewed as linear, as a sequential set of finite time units. These units are a commodity, much like money, to be managed and used wisely; once the time is gone, it is gone and cannot be retrieved. Consider the language we use to refer to time: spending time; saving time; budgeting time; making time. These are the same terms and concepts we apply to money; time is a resource to be managed thoughtfully. Since we value time so highly, that means:

    • Punctuality is valued. Since “time is money,” if a person runs late, they are wasting the resource.
    • Scheduling is valued. Since time is finite, and only so much is available, we need to plan how to allocate the resource. Monochronic cultures tend to let the schedule drive activity, much like money dictates what we can and cannot afford to do,
    • Handling one task at a time is valued. Since time is finite and seen as a resource, monochronic cultures value fulfilling the time budget by doing what was scheduled. Compare this to a financial budget: funds are allocated for different needs, and we assume those funds should be spent on the item budgeted. In a monochronic culture, since time and money are virtually equivalent, adhering to the “time budget” is valued.
    • Being busy is valued. Since time is a resource, we tend to view those who are busy as “making the most of their time;” they are seen as using their resources wisely.

    In a polychronic culture like Spain, time is far, far more fluid. Schedules are more like rough outlines to be followed, altered, or ignored as events warrant. Relationship development is more important, and schedules do not drive activity. Multi-tasking is far more acceptable, as one can move between various tasks as demands change. In polychronic cultures, people make appointments, but there is more latitude for when they are expected to arrive. David's appointment may be at 10:15, but as long as he arrives sometime within the 10 o’clock hour, he is on time.

    Consider a monochronic person attempting to do business in a polychronic culture. The monochronic person may expect meetings to start promptly on time, stay focused, and for work to be completed in a regimented manner to meet an established deadline. Yet those in a polychronic culture will not bring those same expectations to the encounter, sowing the seeds for some significant intercultural conflict.

    High Context and Low Context

    High Context Low Context Chart

    Figure Image 11

    The last variation in culture to consider is whether the culture is high context or low context. To establish a little background, consider how we communicate. When we communicate, we use a communication package consisting of all of our verbal and nonverbal communication. Our verbal communication refers to our use of language, and our nonverbal communication refers to all other communication variables: body language, vocal traits, and dress.

    In low-context culturesverbal communication is given primary attention. The assumption is that people will say what they mean relatively directly and clearly. Little will be left for the receiver to interpret or imply. In the U.S. if someone does not want something, we expect them to say, “No.” While we certainly use nonverbal communication variables to get a richer sense of the meaning of the person’s message, we consider what they say to be the core, primary message. Those in a high-context culture find the directness of low-context cultures quite disconcerting, to the point of rudeness.

    In high-context culturesnonverbal communication is as important, if not more important, than verbal communication. How something is said is a significant variable in interpreting what is meant. Messages are often implied and delivered quite subtly. Japan is well known for the reluctance of people to use blunt messages, so they have far more subtle ways to indicate disagreement than a low-context culture. Those in low context cultures find these subtle, implied messages frustrating.


    Graph of the Dimensions of Culture Figure Image 

    In summary, Hofstede’s Dimensions and Hall’s Cultural Variations give us some tools to use to identify, categorize, and discuss diversity in communication. As we learn to see these differences, we are better equipped to manage intercultural encounters, communicate more provisionally, and adapt to cultural variations.

    While intended to show only broad cultural differences, these eight variables also can be useful tools to identify variations among individuals within a given culture. We can use them to identify sources of conflict or tension within a given relationship. For example, Keith tends to be a short-term oriented, indulgent, monochronic person, while his wife tends to be long-term oriented, restrained, and more polychronic. Needless to say, they frequently experience their own personal “culture clashes.”

    In our effort to become better communicators, understanding a few additional concepts is helpful. One of those is the distinction between race and ethnicity. Both of these terms are used in varied ways; neither is distinctly definedRace is seen as a social construct that developed based on biological traits. Current findings in genetic studies show those traits are not as distinct as once thought. However, many communities and co-cultures have been based on race, and some of them developed distinct communication patterns in response to interactions with the dominant culture. People in those communities rely on codeswitching to alter their language use and behavior as they interact within their co-culture or within the dominant cultureEthnicity is generally used to refer to traits associated with country of birth which may encompass language, religion, customs, or geographic location. Some people identify closely with their ethnic heritage, especially if their immigrant experience is more recent. Other aspects of cultural identity that play an important role in understanding intercultural communication are gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, social class, and generation. Students interested in learning more about those components may begin by identifying the values of their own cultures (both dominant and co-cultures).

    Intercultural Competence

    Before looking at how to be more competent in intercultural interactions, it is important to identify some of the barriers. Verderber and MacGeorge (2016) give six:

    • Anxiety: While an intercultural situation will not necessarily result in culture shock, it is not unusual to experience some level of discomfort in such situations. The apprehension we feel can make the interaction awkward or can lead us to avoid situations that we deem too unfamiliar.
    • Assumed similarity or difference: If we expect that restaurants will be the same in Asia as they are in the U.S., we are likely to be disappointed. Likewise, if we think no one in another country will understand us, we might miss the opportunity to connect with others who share similar interests.
    • Ethnocentrism: Assuming our culture is superior to or more important than all others will make it difficult to successfully engage with people from other cultures.
    • Stereotyping: We can create stereotypes of people within our culture or of people from other cultures. Either way, it stops us from seeing people as individuals, and we instead see them as a certain age, race, gender, ability, or whatever. Stereotyping is a process of judging that we all need to work to avoid.
    • Incompatible communication code: Even within our own language, we may have trouble understanding the messages of others. When the languages are different, it may be more difficult. Nonverbal communication also varies between cultures, so it is not always a good substitute for verbal communication.
    • Incompatible norms and values: People of one culture may be offended by the norms or values of another culture. For example, less-significant differences in values, such as which foods are most desired, may be offensive. For example, in India, cows are considered sacred, yet in the U.S., beef is widely consumed. However, different cultural values about business practices or expansion of territory can lead to international conflict.

    Moving beyond those barriers and toward ethnorelativism is at the core of becoming a more competent intercultural communicator. Ethnorelativism is the knowledge that "cultures can only be understood relative to one another, and that particular behavior can only be understood within a cultural context" (Bennett, 1993, p. 46). The image below shows the Bennett Model that begins on the left with denial, meaning the person is unaware the cultural differences exist or is avoiding contact with other cultures or worldviews (Bennett, 2011). As they progress to the right, individuals may move through phases of actually belittling other cultures (defense), indifference to cultural differences (minimization), accepting cultural differences without judging them, and adapting thinking and behaviors to operate successfully in a new culture before reaching integration in which one is comfortable interacting in a variety of cultures.


    De elopment of Cultural Sensitivity Figure Image 13

    While few people truly reach the integration stage, anyone can strive to increase their intercultural communication competence. It takes time and effort, beginning with having an attitude of openness, respect, and curiosity. That leads to a desire to learn more about culture in general and about specific cultures, as well as an interest in learning new communication skills. Different cultures have different expectations for language use, nonverbals, and relationships. These can be learned through observation, language study, formal cultural study, or cultural immersion. The ultimate goals are to embrace a point of view that encourages you to see the value in other cultures, a provisional or ethnorelative view, and to be able to communicate effectively and appropriately in a new culture (Deardorff, 2006). To achieve this, it is key to value other cultures and respect people from all cultures.


    Contributed by Keith Green, Ruth Fairchild, Bev Knudsen, & Darcy Lease-Gubrud

    Professors (Communication) at Ridgewater College

    Published by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

    Article type Section or Page Author:Keith Green, Ruth Fairchild, Bev Knudsen, & Darcy Lease-Gubrud LicenseCC BY-NC




    3.2 More about Organizational Culture

    Section Objectives

    After reading this section, you will be able to

    • describe strategies used by managers to create and maintain a consistent organizational culture
    • describe strategies used by managers to create and maintain a consistent organizational culture.

    Building Organizational Culture

    Organizational culture refers to the collective behavior of the people who make up an organization; this includes their values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs, and habits. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders. A strong culture is integral to long-term organizational sustainability and success, and one of management’s primary responsibilities is to both define and communicate this sense of shared culture.

    The process of ingraining culture into an organization is simply one of communicating and integrating a broad cultural framework throughout the organizational process. Central to this process is ensuring that each and every employee both understands and aligns with the values and direction of the broader organization. This creates a sense of community among employees and ensures that the broader objectives and mission of the organization are clear.

    While there are a variety of cultural perspectives and many organizational elements within a culture, the initial process of instilling culture is relatively consistent from a managerial perspective. The creation of a given culture is often defined by management’s strategy for addressing the following issues:

    • The paradigm: Management determines both the mission and vision of the organization and sets groundwork for the values that employees are expected to align with. Determining these factors and communicating them effectively is absolutely critical to successfully instilling organizational culture.
    • Control systems: An example of this may be an employee handbook where behavioral expectations are laid out explicitly (where possible) for employees to read and understand.
    • Organizational structures: The choice of an organizational structure has enormous cultural implications for the openness of communication, organization of resources, and flow of information.
    • Power structures: Power and culture are often intertwined: the degree to which specific individuals are free (or not) to make decisions is indicative of the openness and fluidity of the organization.
    • Symbols: All strong brands associate with symbols (think logos). These are not randomly selected: symbols show which specific facets of an organizational culture management considers most important.
    • Rituals and routines: Routines are strong behavior modifiers that significantly impact the culture of a given organization. A looser and more open work environment (limited routines, high individual freedom) may create more innovation, while heavily structured routines may create more efficiency and predictability.
    • Stories and myths: Finally, stories are powerful communicators of culture. Walmart uses Sam Walton’s founding as a powerful myth to promote efficiency and the desire to try new things and integrate various products and services. This is organizationally defining.



    Cultural change in an organization: The feedback loop of cultural change in an organization involves people’s intentions to enable, engage, encourage, and exemplify the new desired behaviors; this, in turn, influences the frequency of behaviors. After enough reinforcement, those behaviors become the norm, which self-reinforces through increasing people’s exemplification of those behaviors.

    Overall, managers must be aware of their role as cultural ambassadors and their responsibility in creating a context for successfully instilling organizational culture. For example, promoting a strong authoritarian hierarchy and strong innovation would be an oversight in the field of organizational culture from a management professional. Managers must be careful to instill the culture that is most conducive to both the strategy and objectives of the organization over the long term.



    3.3 Building an Organizational Culture

    Section Objectives

    After reading this section, you will be able to

    • recognize the role of management in communicating and teaching organizational culture to employees and subordinates.
    • undertand that corporate culture is used to control, coordinate, and integrate company subsidiaries.
    • explain that the role of the manager is essential to the successful communication of a given organizational culture because managers are figureheads and role models for how individuals in the organization should behave.
    • understand that  what is considered a “healthy” organizational culture 
    • Analyze the primary drivers and positive characteristics of a high-performing culture.

    Understanding Corporate Culture

    Corporate culture is used to control, coordinate, and integrate company subsidiaries. Culture runs deeper than this definition, however, because culture also represents the embedded values, traditions, beliefs, and behaviors of a given group. Culture is indicative not only of what individuals pursue and believe in but also of their behaviors, assumptions, and communications. As a result, culture is both complex to create and challenging to communicate and imbue within the organization.

    Communicating Culture

    The role of the manager is essential to the successful communication of a given organizational culture because managers are figureheads and role models for how individuals in the organization should behave. While it is too simplistic to say that culture is a top-down communicative process, there is relevance to the idea that culture generally begins with the founders of the organization and the values they emphasize in the organizational growth and hiring process.



    Organization triangle: This organization triangle illustrates the idea that structure, process, and the people involved all contribute to the culture of an organization.

    Leaders have a number of tools and strategies at their disposal to communicate culture. Some of the most critical of these are structure, hierarchy, mission and vision statements, employee handbooks, hiring processes, and employee training and initiation. With many diverse tools for communicating culture comes the challenge of aligning each perspective for consistency of message: for instance, the employee training program must emphasize the same values as the mission statement and must match the executive mandate for organizational structure and design.

    Communication is the core tool for managing this cultural integration, enabling executives to remind employees what the organization stands for and why it’s important. Holding company-wide quarterly meetings to emphasize objectives and strategy and sending out emails with key successes and developmental challenges are great ways to keep the conversation going.

    The Role of HR

    It is also critical to make the hiring process match and promote the culture by hiring talent that is consistent with cultural expectations and implementing training programs that effectively emphasize what the organization stands for and why. Human resource professionals are tasked with identifying candidates with culturally consistent perspectives and with underlining the importance of cultural considerations in interviews and onboarding processes.

    Building a Culture of High Performance

    A high-performing culture is a results-driven business culture focused on generating efficiency and completing objectives. Organizations need to be productive in order to achieve their goals. Over time, productivity can become a part of organizational culture, eventually becoming integrated into the company’s operations and processes. The business becomes known for its productivity, and high performance becomes second nature for its employees. A high-performing culture is defined by a focus on generating and accomplishing objectives. There is a strong sense of both results orientation and employee interdependence.

    A High-Performing team

    An effective way to achieve high-performing culture is to create high-performing teams. A high-performing team is best defined as a group of interdependent employees whose skills and personalities complement one another and lead to above-average operational results. High-performance teams are a central building block of a high-performance culture, and they thrive in innovative and empowering environments.

    Leadership in any team environment is critical to success, but leadership within a high-performance culture is often complex. While leadership is normally static in a hierarchical environment, high-performance teams benefit from shared leadership by utilizing the different talents and perspectives of each team member in the decision-making process. This creates a strong culture of shared leadership which in turn can generate above-average results and highly motivated employees who trust one another.

    Culture is defined by creating its own consciousness in an organization, indicating shared norms and values. These shared values are central elements of the organization, as they generate buy-in and dedication from employees. These shared values create an expectation of success, both professional and personal, that can create high levels of trust and shared accountability. In short, shared values are key to creating strong team dynamics.

    There are ten elements in particular that are important to successfully integrate high-performance teams within an organizational culture:

    1. Participative leadership – Involve the entire team when making decisions, and rely on specialists only when applicable.
    2. Effective decision-making – Ensure that decision-making is both strategic and efficient. Group decision-making is often slowed when team dynamics are weak, which requires team-building to fix.
    3. Open and clear communication – As always with group dynamics, communication is key to success. Ensure everyone is speaking and listening.
    4. Valued diversity – Team synergy is lost when groupthink dominates the discussion. Instill open-mindedness and dispel social fears of disagreeing.
    5. Mutual trust – Reliance upon one another and trust in each other’s skills and capabilities allows for less duplication of work and more overall synergy.
    6. Managing conflict – Conflict is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing. Deal with it calmly and without personal biases or emotions. Let the best ideas win.
    7. Clear goals – SMART objectives are essential to high performance, just as understanding where one is going is essential to finding the best route.
    8. Defined roles and responsibilities – Everyone should have a clear understanding of why they are on the team and what they are responsible for.
    9. Coordinated relationships – Building strong team dynamics requires team members to understand each other and build strong relationships. Utilize ice-breaking activities and promote casual discussion to get this started.
    10. Positive atmosphere – Wherever possible, make sure the general perspective is one of constructive commentary. Maintaining a positive outlook empowers communication and improves team spirit.

    New York Yankees on the Mound

    New York Yankees: Teamwork

    As you can see, it takes a variety of elements to bring an organizational culture from a functioning culture to a culture of high performance. Could you think of organizations that you are familiar with? Would you consider them to be high-performance cultures? Why or why not? If not, what would management need to do to take transform and maintain the organizational culture? It will be helpful for you when you are searching for employment to ask these questions about organizations for which you might have an interest in applying for a job. It's good to know if you think that you would be a good fit or not.



    Curation and Revision. Provided by: LicenseCC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike


    Change management. Provided by: Wiktionary. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

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    Organizational culture. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

    organization. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

    The Learning Organization. Provided by: Wikibooks. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

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    Key Three. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at

    New York Yankees image:

    Part 2: Building Effective Personal Communication Skills

    Part 2: Building Effective, Personal Communication Skills, will focus on the process of listening, on the elements and functions of verbal and nonverbal communication, and on interpersonal communication skills. After completing this section, you should have a better understanding of your communication behaviors and how to best interpret those of others. Remember that interpersonal communication relates to your everyday life both in and outside of work. The concepts and skills in this part of the text should help you to gain an awareness of those behaviors that are effective and those that are not.





      Chapter 4 The Elements of Listening

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

      • describe the stages of the listening process.
      • discuss the four main types of listening.
      • compare and contrast the four main listening styles.

      Understanding How and Why We Listen

      What is Listening?

      Listening is the learned process of receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding to verbal and nonverbal messages. We begin to engage with the listening process long before we engage in any recognizable verbal or nonverbal communication. It is only after listening for months as infants that we begin to consciously practice our own forms of expression. In this section, we will learn more about each stage of the listening process, the main types of listening, and the main listening styles.

      The Main Purposes of Listening

      The main purposes of listening are (Hargie, 2011)

      • to focus on messages sent by other people or noises coming from our surroundings;
      • to better our understanding of other people’s communication;
      • to critically evaluate other people’s messages;
      • to monitor nonverbal signals;
      • to indicate that we are interested or paying attention;
      • to empathize with others and show we care for them (relational maintenance); and
      • to engage in negotiation, dialogue, or other exchanges that result in shared understanding of or agreement on an issue.

      The Listening Process

      Listening is a process and as such, doesn’t have a defined start and finish. Like the communication process, listening has cognitive, behavioral, and relational elements and doesn’t unfold in a linear, step-by-step fashion. Models of processes are informative in that they help us visualize specific components, but keep in mind that they do not capture the speed, overlapping nature, or overall complexity of the actual process in action. The stages of the listening process are receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding.


      Before we can engage other steps in the listening process, we must take in stimuli through our senses. In any given communication encounter, it is likely that we will return to the receiving stage many times as we process incoming feedback and new messages. This part of the listening process is more physiological than other parts, which include cognitive and relational elements. We primarily take in information needed for listening through auditory and visual channels. Although we don’t often think about visual cues as a part of listening, they influence how we interpret messages. For example, seeing a person’s face when we hear their voice allows us to take in nonverbal cues from facial expressions and eye contact. The fact that these visual cues are missing in e-mail, text, and phone interactions presents some difficulties for reading contextual clues into meaning received through only auditory channels.

      A Sign on a Playground that says "listen"

      The first stage of the listening process is receiving stimuli through auditory and visual channels. Britt Reints – LISTEN – CC BY 2.0.

      The material on perception in this chapter discusses some of the ways in which incoming stimuli are filtered. These perceptual filters also play a role in listening. Some stimuli never make it in, some are filtered into sub-consciousness, and others are filtered into various levels of consciousness based on their salience. Recall that salience is the degree to which something attracts our attention in a particular context and that we tend to find salient things that are visually or audibly stimulating and things that meet our needs or interests. Think about how it’s much easier to listen to a lecture on a subject that you find very interesting.

      It is important to consider noise as a factor that influences how we receive messages. Some noise interferes primarily with hearing, which is the physical process of receiving stimuli through internal and external components of the ears and eyes, and some interfere with listening, which is the cognitive process of processing the stimuli taken in during hearing. While hearing leads to listening, they are not the same thing. Environmental noise, such as other people talking, the sounds of traffic, and music, interfere with the physiological aspects of hearing. Psychological noise like stress and anger interfere primarily with the cognitive processes of listening. We can enhance our ability to receive, and in turn listen, by trying to minimize noise.


      During the interpreting stage of listening, we combine the visual and auditory information we receive and try to make meaning out of that information using schemata. The interpreting stage engages cognitive and relational processing as we take in informational, contextual, and relational cues and try to connect them in meaningful ways to previous experiences. It is through the interpreting stage that we may begin to understand the stimuli we have received. When we understand something, we are able to attach meaning by connecting information to previous experiences. Through the process of comparing new information with old information, we may also update or revise particular schemata if we find the new information relevant and credible. If we have difficulty interpreting information, meaning we don’t have previous experience or information in our existing schemata to make sense of it, then it is difficult to transfer the information into our long-term memory for later recall. In situations where understanding the information we receive isn’t important or isn’t a goal, this stage may be fairly short or even skipped. After all, we can move something to our long-term memory by repetition and then later recall it without ever having understood it. A student might remember earning perfect scores on exams in their anatomy class in college because they were able to memorize and recall, for example, all the organs in the digestive system. In fact, they might still be able to do that now over a decade later. But, neither then, nor now could they tell you the significance or function of most of those organs, meaning they didn’t really get to a level of understanding but simply stored the information for later recall.


      Our ability to recall information is dependent on some of the physiological limits of how memory works. Overall, our memories are known to be fallible. We forget about half of what we hear immediately after hearing it, recall 35 percent after eight hours, and recall 20 percent after a day (Hargie, 2011). Our memory consists of multiple “storage units,” including sensory storage, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory (Hargie, 2011).

      Our sensory storage is very large in terms of capacity but limited in terms of length of storage. We can hold large amounts of unsorted visual information but only for about a tenth of a second. By comparison, we can hold large amounts of unsorted auditory information for longer—up to four seconds. This initial

      memory storage unit doesn’t provide much use for our study of communication, as these large but quickly expiring chunks of sensory data are primarily used in reactionary and instinctual ways.

      As stimuli are organized and interpreted, they make their way to short-term memory, where they either expire and are forgotten or are transferred to long-term memory. Short-term memory is a mental storage capability that can retain stimuli for twenty seconds to one minute. Long-term memory is a mental storage capability to which stimuli in short-term memory can be transferred if they are connected to existing schema and in which information can be stored indefinitely (Hargie, 2011). Working memory is a temporarily accessed memory storage space that is activated during times of high cognitive demand. When using working memory, we can temporarily store information and process and use it at the same time. This is different from our typical memory function in that information usually has to make it to long-term memory before we can call it back up to apply to a current situation. People with good working memories are able to keep recent information in mind and process it, and apply it to other incoming information. This can be very useful during high-stress situations. A person in control of a command center like the White House Situation Room should have a good working memory in order to take in, organize, evaluate, and then immediately use new information instead of having to wait for that information to make it to long-term memory and then be retrieved and used.

      Although recall is an important part of the listening process, there isn’t a direct correlation between being good at recalling information and being a good listener. Some people have excellent memories and recall abilities and can tell you a very accurate story from many years earlier during a situation in which they should actually be listening and not showing off their recall abilities. Recall is an important part of the listening process because it is most often used to assess listening abilities and effectiveness. Many quizzes and tests in school are based on recall and are often used to assess how well students comprehended information presented in class, which is seen as an indication of how well they listened. When recall is our only goal, we excel at it. Experiments have found that people can memorize and later recall a set of faces and names with near 100 percent recall when sitting in a quiet lab and asked to do so. However, throw in external noise, more visual stimuli, and multiple contextual influences, and we can’t remember the name of the person we were just introduced to one minute earlier. Even in interpersonal encounters, we rely on recall to test whether or not someone was listening. Imagine that Juan is talking to his friend Belle, who is sitting across from him in a restaurant booth. Juan, annoyed that Belle keeps checking her phone, stops and asks, “Are you listening?” Belle inevitably replies, “Yes,” since we rarely fess up to our poor listening habits, and Juan replies, “Well, what did I just say?”


      When we evaluate something, we make judgments about its credibility, completeness, and worth. In terms of credibility, we try to determine the degree to which we believe a speaker’s statements are correct and/or true. In terms of completeness, we try to “read between the lines” and evaluate the message in relation to what we know about the topic or situation being discussed. We evaluate the worth of a message by making a value judgment about whether we think the message or idea is good/bad, right/wrong, or desirable/undesirable. All these aspects of evaluating require critical thinking skills, which we aren’t born with but must develop over time through our own personal and intellectual development.

      Studying communication is a great way to build your critical thinking skills because you learn much more about the taken-for-granted aspects of how communication works, which gives you tools to analyze and critique messages, senders, and contexts. Critical thinking and listening skills also help you take a more proactive role in the communication process rather than being a passive receiver of messages that may

      not be credible, complete, or worthwhile. One danger within the evaluation stage of listening is to focus your evaluative lenses more on the speaker than the message. This can quickly become a barrier to effective listening if we begin to prejudge a speaker based on his or her identity or characteristics rather than on the content of his or her message. We will learn more about how to avoid slipping into a person-centered rather than message-centered evaluative stance later in the chapter.


      Responding entails sending verbal and nonverbal messages that indicate attentiveness and understanding or a lack thereof. From our earlier discussion of the communication model, you may be able to connect this part of the listening process to feedback. Later, we will learn more specifics about how to encode and decode the verbal and nonverbal cues sent during the responding stage, but we all know from experience some signs that indicate whether a person is paying attention and understanding a message or not.

      We send verbal and nonverbal feedback while another person is talking and after they are done. Back-channel cues are the verbal and nonverbal signals we send while someone is talking and can consist of verbal cues like “uh-huh,” “oh,” and “right,” and/or nonverbal cues like direct eye contact, head nods, and leaning forward. Back-channel cues are generally a form of positive feedback that indicates others are actively listening. People also send cues intentionally and unintentionally that indicate they aren’t listening. If another person is looking away, fidgeting, texting, or turned away, we will likely interpret

      those responses negatively.

      Students in a classroom

      Listeners respond to speakers nonverbally during a message using back-channel cues and verbally after a message using paraphrasing and clarifying questions.

      Duane Storey – Listening – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

      Paraphrasing is a responding behavior that can also show that you understand what was communicated. When you paraphrase information, you rephrase the message into your own words. For example, you might say the following to start off a paraphrased response: “What I heard you say was…” or “It seems like you’re saying…” You can also ask clarifying questions to get more information. It is often a good idea to pair a paraphrase with a question to keep a conversation flowing. For example, you might pose the following paraphrase and question pair: “It seems like you believe you were treated unfairly. Is that right?” Or you might ask a standalone question like “What did your boss do that made you think he was ‘playing favorites?’” Make sure to paraphrase and/or ask questions once a person’s turn is over, because interrupting can also be interpreted as a sign of not listening. Paraphrasing is also a good tool to use in computer-mediated communication, especially since miscommunication can occur due to a lack of nonverbal and other contextual cues.

      The Importance of Listening

      Understanding how listening works provide the foundation we need to explore why we listen, including various types and styles of listening. Listening helps us achieve the basic goals of the study communication we talked about in Chapter 1 (Who? What? What channel? To whom? What are the results?) Effective listening is also key to our achievement of sharing meaning through communication. Listening is also important in academic, professional, and personal contexts.

      In terms of academics, poor listening skills were shown to contribute significantly to failure in a person’s first year of college (Zabava & Wolvin, 1993). In general, students with high scores for listening ability have greater academic achievement. Interpersonal communication skills, including listening, are also highly sought after by potential employers, consistently ranking in the top ten in national surveys (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2010).

      Poor listening skills, lack of conciseness, and inability to give constructive feedback have been identified as potential communication challenges in professional contexts. Even though listening education is lacking in our society, research has shown that introductory communication courses provide important skills necessary for functioning in entry-level jobs, including listening, writing, motivating/persuading, interpersonal skills, informational interviewing, and small-group problem-solving (DiSalvo, 1980). Training and improvements in listening will continue to pay off, as employers desire employees with good communication skills, and employees who have good listening skills are more likely to get promoted.

      Listening also has implications for our personal lives and relationships. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of listening to make someone else feel better and to open our perceptual field to new sources of information. Empathetic listening can help us expand our self and social awareness by learning from other people’s experiences and by helping us take on different perspectives. Emotional support in the form of empathetic listening and validation during times of conflict can help relational partners manage common stressors of relationships that may otherwise lead a partnership to deteriorate (Milardo & Helms-Erikson, 2000). The following list reviews some of the main functions of listening that are relevant in multiple contexts.

      Listening Types

      Listening serves many purposes, and different situations require different types of listening. The type of listening we engage in affects our communication and how others respond to us. For example, when we listen to empathize with others, our communication will likely be supportive and open, which will then lead the other person to feel “heard” and supported and hopefully view the interaction positively (Bodie & Villaume, 2003). The main types of listening we will discuss are discriminative, informational, critical, and empathetic (Watson, Barker, & Weaver III, 1995).

      Discriminative Listening

      Discriminative listening is a focused and usually instrumental type of listening that is primarily physiological and occurs mostly at the receiving stage of the listening process. Here we engage in listening to scan and monitor our surroundings in order to isolate particular auditory or visual stimuli. For example, we may focus our listening on a dark part of the yard while walking the dog at night to determine if the noise we just heard presents us with any danger. Or we may look for a particular nonverbal cue to let us know our conversational partner received our message (Hargie, 2011). In the absence of a hearing impairment, we have an innate and physiological ability to engage in discriminative listening. Although this is the most basic form of listening, it provides the foundation on which more intentional listening skills are built. This type of listening can be refined and honed. Think of how musicians, singers, and mechanics exercise specialized discriminative listening to isolate specific aural stimuli and how actors, detectives, and sculptors discriminate visual cues that allow them to analyze, make meaning from, or recreate nuanced behavior (Wolvin & Coakley, 1993).

      Informational Listening

      Informational listening entails listening with the goal of comprehending and retaining information. This type of listening is not evaluative and is common in teaching and learning contexts ranging from a student listening to an informative speech to an out-of-towner listening to directions to the nearest gas station. We also use informational listening when we listen to news reports, voice mail, and briefings at work. Since retention and recall are important components of informational listening, good concentration and memory skills are key. These also happen to be skills that many college students struggle with, at least in the first years of college, but will be expected to have mastered once they get into professional contexts. In many professional contexts, informational listening is important, especially when receiving instructions. I caution my students that they will be expected to process verbal instructions more frequently in their profession than they are in college. Most college professors provide detailed instructions and handouts with assignments so students can review them as needed, but many supervisors and managers will expect you to take the initiative to remember or record vital information. Additionally, many bosses are not as open to questions or requests to repeat themselves as professors are.

      Critical Listening

      Critical listening entails listening with the goal of analyzing or evaluating a message based on information presented verbally and information that can be inferred from context. A critical listener evaluates a message and accepts it, rejects it, or decides to withhold judgment and seek more information. As constant consumers of messages, we need to be able to assess the credibility of speakers and their messages and identify various persuasive appeals and faulty logic (known as fallacies), whether it be in a public presentation, a group discussion, or an interpersonal exchange. Critical listening is important during persuasive exchanges, but it is recommended to always employ some degree of critical listening because you may find yourself in a persuasive interaction that you thought was informative. We know from experience that people often disguise inferences as facts. Critical-listening skills are useful when listening to a persuasive speech in this class or another setting and when processing any of the persuasive media messages we receive daily. You can see judges employ critical listening, with varying degrees of competence, on talent competition shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race, America’s Got Talent and The Voice. While the exchanges between judge and contestant on these shows is expected to be subjective and critical, critical listening is also important when listening to speakers that have stated or implied objectivity, such as parents, teachers, political leaders, doctors, and religious leaders. We will learn more about how to improve your critical thinking skills later in this chapter.

      Empathetic Listening

      Wpman cradling a child

      We support others through empathetic listening by trying to “feel with” them. Stewart Black – Comfo rt – CC BY 2.0.

      Empathetic listening is the most challenging form of listening and occurs when we try to understand or experience what a speaker is thinking or feeling. Empathetic listening is distinct from sympathetic listening. While the word empathy means to “feel into” or “feel with” another person, sympathy means to “feel for” someone. Sympathy is generally more self-oriented and distant than empathy (Bruneau, 1993). Empathetic listening is other-oriented and should be genuine. Because of our own centrality in our perceptual world, empathetic listening can be difficult. It’s often much easier for us to tell our own story or to give advice than it is to really listen to and empathize with someone else. We should keep in mind that sometimes others just need to be heard and our feedback isn’t actually desired.

      Empathetic listening is key for dialogue and helps maintain interpersonal relationships. In order to reach dialogue, people must have a degree of open-mindedness and a commitment to civility that allows them to be empathetic while still allowing them to believe in and advocate for their own position. An excellent example of critical and empathetic listening in action is the international Truth and Reconciliation movement. The most well-known example of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) occurred in South Africa as a way to address the various conflicts that occurred during apartheid (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, 2012). The first TRC in the United States occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, as a means of processing the events and aftermath of November 3, 1979, when members of the Ku Klux Klan shot and killed five members of the Communist Worker’s Party during a daytime confrontation witnessed by news crews and many bystanders. The goal of such commissions is to allow people to tell their stories, share their perspectives in an open environment, and be listened to. The Greensboro TRC states its purpose as such:[1] The truth and reconciliation process seeks to heal relations between opposing sides by uncovering all pertinent facts, distinguishing truth from lies, and allowing for acknowledgement, appropriate public mourning, forgiveness and healing…The focus often is on giving victims, witnesses and even perpetrators a chance to publicly tell their stories without fear of prosecution.

      Listening Styles

      Just as there are different types of listening, there are also different styles of listening. People may be categorized as one or more of the following listeners: people-oriented, action-oriented, content-oriented, and time-oriented listeners. Research finds that 40 percent of people have more than one preferred listening style and that they choose a style based on the listening situation (Bodie & Villaume, 2003). Other research finds that people often still revert back to a single preferred style in times of emotional or cognitive stress, even if they know a different style of listening would be better (Worthington, 2003). Following a brief overview of each listening style, we will explore some of their applications, strengths, and weaknesses.

      • People-oriented listeners are concerned about the needs and feelings of others and may get distracted from a specific task or the content of a message in order to address feelings.
      • Action-oriented listeners prefer well-organized, precise, and accurate information. They can become frustrated if they perceive communication to be unorganized or inconsistent or a speaker to be “long-winded.”
      • Content-oriented listeners are analytic and enjoy processing complex messages. They like in-depth information and like to learn about multiple sides of a topic or hear multiple perspectives on an issue. Their thoroughness can be difficult to manage if there are time constraints.
      • Time-oriented listeners are concerned with completing tasks and achieving goals. They do not like information perceived as irrelevant and like to stick to a timeline. They may cut people off and make quick decisions (taking shortcuts or cutting corners) when they think they have enough information.

      People-Oriented Listeners

      People-oriented listeners are concerned about the emotional states of others and listen with the purpose of offering support in interpersonal relationships. People-oriented listeners can be characterized as “supporters” who are caring and understanding. These listeners are sought out because they are known as people who will “lend an ear.” They may or may not be valued for the advice they give, but all people often want is a good listener. This type of listening may be especially valuable in interpersonal communication involving emotional exchanges, as a person-oriented listener can create a space where people can make themselves vulnerable without fear of being cut off or judged. People-oriented listeners are likely skilled, empathetic listeners and may find success in supportive fields like counseling, social work, or nursing. Interestingly, such fields are typically feminized in that people often associate the characteristics of people-oriented listeners with roles filled by women.

      Action-Oriented Listeners

      Action-oriented listeners focus on what action needs to take place in regard to a received message and try to formulate an organized way to initiate that action. These listeners are frustrated by disorganization because it detracts from the possibility of actually doing something. Action-oriented listeners can be thought of as “builders”—like an engineer, a construction site foreperson, or a skilled project manager. This style of listening can be very effective when a task needs to be completed under time, budgetary, or other logistical constraints. One research study found that people prefer an action-oriented style of listening in instructional contexts (Imhof, 2004). In other situations, such as interpersonal communication, action-oriented listeners may not actually be very interested in listening, instead taking a “What do you want me to do?” approach. For example, you may have a friend who experienced the loss of a family member; whereas you have never had that experience. It may be difficult for you to connect with your friend in an empathetic way if you are generally an action-oriented listener. Your action-oriented approach may be helpful in a different way than those people who are people-oriented listeners. You may be able to help your friend organize phone calls or emails. Perhaps you can help make arrangements or food for after the service. As you can see from this example, the action-oriented listening style often contrasts with the people-oriented listening style.

      Content-Oriented Listeners

      Content-oriented listeners like to listen to complex information and evaluate the content of a message, often from multiple perspectives, before drawing conclusions. These listeners can be thought of as “learners,” and they also ask questions to solicit more information to fill out their understanding of an issue. Content-oriented listeners often enjoy high-perceived credibility because of their thorough, balanced, and objective approach to engaging with information. Content-oriented listeners are likely skilled informational and critical listeners and may find success in academic careers in the humanities, social sciences, or sciences. Ideally, judges and politicians would also possess these characteristics.

      Time-Oriented Listeners

      Time-oriented listeners are more concerned about time limits and timelines than they are with the content or senders of a message. These listeners can be thought of as “executives,” and they tend to actually verbalize the time constraints under which they are operating.

      Woman tlaking on a phone next to a water cooler

      Figure: Time-oriented listeners listen on a schedule, often giving people limits on their availability bysaying, for example, “I only have about five minutes.”. JD Lasica – Business call – CC BY-NC 2.0.

      For example, a time-oriented supervisor may say the following to an employee who has just entered his office and asked to talk: “Sure, I can talk, but I only have about five minutes.” These listeners may also exhibit nonverbal cues that indicate time and/or attention shortages, such as looking at a clock, avoiding eye contact, or nonverbally trying to close down an interaction. Time-oriented listeners are also more likely to interrupt others, which may make them seem insensitive to emotional/personal needs. People often get action-oriented and time-oriented listeners confused. Action-oriented listeners would be happy to get to a conclusion or decision quickly if they perceive that they are acting on well-organized and accurate information. They would, however, not mind taking longer to reach a conclusion when dealing with a complex topic, and they would delay making a decision if the information presented to them didn’t meet their standards of organization. Unlike time-oriented listeners, action-oriented listeners are not as likely to cut people off (especially if people are presenting relevant information) and are not as likely to take shortcuts.

      Key Takeaways

      Getting integrated: Listening is a learned process and skill that we can improve on with concerted effort. Improving our listening skills can benefit us in academic, professional, personal, and civic contexts.

      Listening is the process of receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding to verbal and nonverbal messages. In the receiving stage, we select and attend to various stimuli based on salience. We then interpret auditory and visual stimuli in order to make meaning out of them based on our existing schemata. Short-term and long-term memory stores stimuli until they are discarded or processed for later recall. We then evaluate the credibility, completeness, and worth of a message before responding with verbal and nonverbal signals.

      Discriminative listening is the most basic form of listening, and we use it to distinguish between and focus on specific sounds. We use informational listening to try to comprehend and retain information. Through critical listening, we analyze and evaluate messages at various levels. We use empathetic listening to try to understand or experience what a speaker is feeling. People-oriented listeners are concerned with others’ needs and feelings, which may distract from a task or the content of a message. Action-oriented listeners prefer listening to well-organized and precise information and are more concerned about solving an issue than they are about supporting the speaker. Content-oriented listeners enjoy processing complicated information and are typically viewed as credible because they view an issue from multiple perspectives before making a decision. Although content-oriented listeners may not be very effective in situations with time constraints, time-oriented listeners are fixated on time limits and listen in limited segments regardless of the complexity of the information or the emotions involved, which can make them appear cold and distant to some.


      1. The recalling stage of the listening process is a place where many people experience difficulties. What techniques do you use or could you use to improve your recall of certain information such as people’s names, key concepts from your classes, or instructions or directions given verbally?

      2. Getting integrated: Identify how critical listening might be useful for you in each of the following contexts: academic, professional, personal, and civic.

      3. Listening scholars have noted that empathetic listening is the most difficult type of listening. Do you agree? Why or why not?

      4. Which style of listening best describes you and why? Which style do you have the most difficulty with or like the least and why?


      CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. Have questions or comments? For more information contact us at or check out our status page at


      Bodie, G. D. and William A. Villaume, “Aspects of Receiving Information: The Relationships between Listening Preferences, Communication Apprehension, Receiver Apprehension, and Communicator Style,” International Journal of Listening 17, no. 1 (2003): 48.

      Bruneau, T., “Empathy and Listening,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 188.

      Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Truth and Reconciliation Commission website, accessed July 13, 2012,

      DiSalvo, V. S. “A Summary of Current Research Identifying Communication Skills in Various Organizational Contexts,” Communication Education 29 (1980), 283–90.

      Hargie, O., Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 189–99.

      Imhof, M., “Who Are We as We Listen? Individual Listening Profiles in Varying Contexts,” International Journal of Listening 18, no. 1 (2004): 39.

      Milardo, R. M. and Heather Helms-Erikson, “Network Overlap and Third-Party Influence in Close Relationships,” in Close Relationships: A Sourcebook, eds. Clyde Hendrick and Susan S. Hendrick (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 37.



      4.1 Barriers to Effective Listening and Bad Listening Practices


      Section Objectives

      After reading this section, you will be able to

      • Discuss some of the environmental and physical barriers to effective listening.
      • Explain how cognitive and personal factors can present barriers to effective listening.
      • Discuss common bad listening practices.

      Barriers to effective listening are present at every stage of the listening process (Hargie, 2011). At the receiving stage, noise can block or distort incoming stimuli. At the interpreting stage, complex or abstract information may be difficult to relate to previous experiences, making it difficult to reach understanding. At the recalling stage, natural limits to our memory and challenges to concentration can interfere with remembering. At the evaluating stage, personal biases and prejudices can lead us to block people out or assume we know what they are going to say. At the responding stage, a lack of paraphrasing and questioning skills can lead to misunderstanding. In the following section, we will explore how environmental and physical factors, cognitive and personal factors, and bad listening practices present barriers to effective listening.

      Barriers to Effective Listening

      Environmental and Physical Barriers to Listening

      Environmental factors such as lighting, temperature, and furniture affect our ability to listen. A room that is too dark can make us sleepy, just as a room that is too warm or cool can raise awareness of our physical discomfort to the point that it is distracting. Some seating arrangements facilitate listening, while others separate people. In general, listening is easier when listeners can make direct eye contact with and are in close physical proximity to a speaker. For example, when group members are allowed to choose a leader, they often choose the person who is sitting at the center or head of the table (Andersen, 1999). Even though the person may not have demonstrated any leadership abilities, people subconsciously gravitate toward speakers that are nonverbally accessible. The ability to effectively see and hear a person increases people’s confidence in their abilities to receive and process information. Eye contact and physical proximity can still be affected by noise. As we learned in Chapter 1, environmental noises such as a whirring air conditioner, barking dogs, or a ringing fire alarm can obviously interfere with listening despite direct lines of sight and well-placed furniture.

      Physiological noise, like environmental noise, can interfere with our ability to process incoming information. This is considered a physical barrier to effective listening because it emanates from our physical body. Physiological noise is noise stemming from a physical illness, injury, or bodily stress. Ailments such as a cold, a broken leg, a headache, or a poison ivy outbreak can range from annoying to unbearably painful and impact our listening relative to their intensity. Another type of noise, psychological noise, bridges physical and cognitive barriers to effective listening. Psychological noise, or noise stemming from our psychological states, including moods and level of arousal, can facilitate or impede listening. Any mood or state of arousal, positive or negative that is too far above or below our regular baseline creates a barrier to message reception and processing. The generally positive emotional state of being in love can be just as much of a barrier as feeling hatred. Excited arousal can also distract as much as anxious arousal. Stress about upcoming events ranging from losing a job to having surgery, to wondering about what to eat for lunch, can overshadow incoming messages. While we will explore cognitive barriers to effective listening more in the next section, psychological noise is relevant here, given that the body and mind are not completely separate. In fact, they can interact in ways that further interfere with listening. Fatigue, for example, is usually a combination of psychological and physiological stresses that manifests as stress (psychological noise) and weakness, sleepiness, and tiredness (physiological noise). Additionally, mental anxiety (psychological noise) can also manifest itself in our bodies through trembling, sweating, blushing, or even breaking out in rashes (physiological noise).

      Cognitive and Personal Barriers to Listening

      Aside from the barriers to effective listening that may be present in the environment or emanate from our bodies, cognitive limits, a lack of listening preparation, difficult or disorganized messages, and prejudices can interfere with listening. Whether you call it multitasking, daydreaming, glazing over, or drifting off, we all cognitively process other things while receiving messages. If you think of your listening mind as a wall of ten televisions, you may notice that in some situations, five of the ten televisions are tuned into one channel. If that one channel is a lecture being given by your professor, then you are exerting about half of your cognitive processing abilities on one message. In another situation, all ten televisions may be on different channels. The fact that we have the capability to process more than one thing at a time offers some advantages and disadvantages. But unless we can better understand how our cognitive capacities and personal preferences affect our listening, we are likely to experience more barriers than benefits.

      Difference between Speech and Thought Rate

      Our ability to process more information than what comes from one speaker or source creates a barrier to effective listening. While people speak at a rate of 125 to 175 words per minute, we can process between 400 and 800 words per minute (Hargie, 2011). This gap between speech rate and thought rate gives us an opportunity to side-process any number of thoughts that can be distracting from a more important message. Because of this gap, it is impossible to give one message our “undivided attention,” but we can occupy other channels in our minds with thoughts related to the central message. For example, using some of your extra cognitive processing abilities to repeat, rephrase, or reorganize messages coming from one source allows you to use that extra capacity in a way that reinforces the primary message.

      The difference between speech and thought rate connects to personal barriers to listening, as personal concerns are often the focus of competing thoughts that can take us away from listening and challenge our ability to concentrate on others’ messages. Two common barriers to concentration are self-centeredness and lack of motivation (Brownell, 1993). For example, when our self-consciousness is raised, we may be too busy thinking about how we look, how we’re sitting, or what others think of us to be attentive to an incoming message. Additionally, we are often challenged when presented with messages that we do not find personally relevant. In general, we employ selective attention, which refers to our tendency to pay attention to the messages that benefit us in some way and filter others out. So the student who is checking his or her Twitter feed during class may suddenly switch his or her attention back to the previously ignored professor when the following words are spoken: “This will be important for the exam.”

      Students in a classroom

      Drifting attention is a common barrier to listening. Try to find personal relevance in the message to help maintain concentration. Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 3.0.

      Another common barrier to effective listening that stems from the speech and thought rate divide is response preparation. Response preparation refers to our tendency to rehearse what we are going to say next while a speaker is still talking. Rehearsal of what we will say once a speaker’s turn is over is an important part of the listening process that takes place between the recalling and evaluation and/or the evaluation and responding stage. Rehearsal becomes problematic when response preparation begins as someone is receiving a message and hasn’t had time to engage in interpretation or recall. In this sense, we are listening with the goal of responding instead of with the goal of understanding, which can lead us to miss important information that could influence our response.

      “Getting Plugged In”

      Technology, Multitasking, and Listening

      Do you like to listen to music while you do homework? Do you clean your apartment while talking to your mom on the phone? Do you think students should be allowed to use laptops in all college classrooms? Your answers to these questions will point to your preferences for multitasking. If you answered “yes” to most of them, then you are in line with the general practices of the “net generation” of digital natives for whom multitasking, especially with various forms of media, is a way of life. Multitasking is a concept that has been around for a while and emerged along with the increasing expectation that we will fill multiple role demands throughout the day. Multitasking can be pretty straightforward and beneficial—for example, if we listen to motivating music while working out. But multitasking can be very inefficient, especially when one or more of our concurrent tasks are complex or unfamiliar to us (Bardhi, Rohm, & Sultan, 2010).

      Media multitasking specifically refers to the use of multiple forms of media at the same time, and it can have positive and negative effects on listening (Bardhi, Rohm, & Sultan, 2010). The negative effects of media multitasking have received much attention in recent years as people question the decreasing attention span within our society. Media multitasking may promote inefficiency because it can lead to distractions and plays a prominent role for many in procrastination. The numerous options for media engagement that we have can also lead to a feeling of chaos as our attention is pulled in multiple directions, creating a general sense of disorder. And many of us feel a sense of enslavement when we engage in media multitasking, as we feel like we can’t live without certain personal media outlets.

      Media multitasking can also give people a sense of control, as they use multiple technologies to access various points of information to solve a problem or complete a task. An employee may be able to use her iPad to look up information needed to address a concern raised during a business meeting. She could then e-mail that link to the presenter, who could share it with the room through his laptop and an LCD projector. Media multitasking can also increase efficiency, as people can carry out tasks faster. The links to videos and online articles that I’ve included in this textbook allow readers like you to quickly access additional information about a particular subject to prepare for a presentation or complete a paper assignment. Media multitasking can also increase engagement. Aside from just reading material in a textbook, students can now access information through an author’s blog or Twitter account.

      Media multitasking can produce an experience that feels productive, but is it really? What are the consequences of our media- and technology-saturated world? Although many of us like to think that we’re good multitaskers, some research indicates otherwise. For example, student laptop use during class has been connected to lower academic performance (Fried, 2008). This is because media multitasking has the potential to interfere with listening at multiple stages of the process. The study showed that laptop use interfered with receiving, as students using them reported that they paid less attention to the class lectures. This is because students used the laptops for purposes other than taking notes or exploring class content. Of the students using laptops, 81 percent checked e-mail during lectures, 68 percent used instant messaging, and 43 percent surfed the web. Students using laptops also had difficulty with the interpretation stage of listening, as they found less clarity in the parts of the lecture they heard and did not understand the course material as much as students who didn’t use a laptop. The difficulties with receiving and interpreting obviously create issues with recall that can lead to lower academic performance in class. Laptop use also negatively affected the listening abilities of students not using laptops. These students reported that they were distracted, as their attention was drawn to the laptop screens of other students.

      1. What are some common ways that you engage in media multitasking? What are some positive and negative consequences of your media multitasking?

      2. What strategies do you or could you use to help minimize the negative effects of media multitasking?

      3. Should laptops, smartphones, and other media devices be used by students during college classes? Why or why not? What restrictions or guidelines for use could instructors provide that would capitalize on the presence of such media to enhance student learning and help minimize distractions?

      Lack of Listening Preparation

      Another barrier to effective listening is a general lack of listening preparation. Unfortunately, most people have never received any formal training or instruction related to listening. Although some people think listening skills just develop over time, competent listening is difficult, and enhancing listening skills takes concerted effort. Even when listening education is available, people do not embrace it as readily as they do opportunities to enhance their speaking skills. Listening is often viewed as an annoyance or a chore or just ignored or minimized as part of the communication process. In addition, our individualistic society values speaking more than listening, as it’s the speakers who are sometimes literally in the spotlight. Although listening competence is a crucial part of social interaction and many of us value others we perceive to be “good listeners,” listening just doesn’t get the same kind of praise, attention, instruction, or credibility as speaking. Teachers, parents, and relational partners explicitly convey the importance of listening through statements like “You better listen to me,” “Listen closely,” and “Listen up,” but these demands are rarely paired with concrete instruction. So unless you plan on taking more communication courses in the future (and hopefully you do), this chapter may be the only instruction you receive on the basics of the listening process, some barriers to effective listening, and how we can increase our listening competence.

      Bad Messages and/or Speakers

      Bad messages and/or speakers also present a barrier to effective listening. Sometimes our trouble listening originates in the sender. In terms of message construction, poorly structured messages or messages that are too vague, too jargon filled, or too simple can present listening difficulties. In terms of speakers’ delivery, verbal fillers, monotone voices, distracting movements, or a disheveled appearance can inhibit our ability to cognitively process a message (Hargie, 2011). As we will learn in the next section, speakers can employ particular strategies to create listenable messages that take some of the burden off the listener by tailoring a message to be heard and processed easily. many strategies for creating messages. Speakers can employ many strategies that are tailored for oral delivery, including things like preview and review statements, transitions, and parallel wording. Listening also becomes difficult when a speaker tries to present too much information. Information overload is a common barrier to effective listening that good speakers can help mitigate by building redundancy into their speeches and providing concrete examples of new information to help audience members interpret and understand the key ideas.


      Oscar Wilde said, “Listening is a very dangerous thing. If one listens, one may be convinced.” Unfortunately, some of our default ways of processing information and perceiving others lead us to rigid ways of thinking. When we engage in prejudiced listening, we are usually trying to preserve our ways of thinking and avoid being convinced of something different. This type of prejudice is a barrier to effective listening because when we prejudge a person based on his or her identity or ideas, we usually stop listening in an active and/or ethical way.

      We exhibit prejudice in our listening in several ways, some of which are more obvious than others. For example, we may claim to be in a hurry and only selectively address the parts of a message that we agree with or that aren’t controversial. We can also operate from a state of denial where we avoid a subject or person altogether so that our views are not challenged. Prejudices that are based on a person’s identity, such as race, age, occupation, or appearance, may lead us to assume that we know what he or she will say, essentially closing down the listening process. Keeping an open mind and engaging in perception checking can help us identify prejudiced listening and hopefully shift into more competent listening practices.

      Distorted Listening

      Distorted listening occurs in many ways. Sometimes we just get the order of information wrong, which can have relatively little negative effects if we are casually recounting a story, annoying effects if we forget the order of turns (left, right, left or right, left, right?) in our driving directions, or very negative effects if we recount the events of a crime out of order, which leads to faulty testimony at a criminal trial. Rationalization is another form of distorted listening through which we adapt, edit, or skew incoming information to fit our existing schemata. We may, for example, reattribute the cause of something to better suit our own beliefs. If a professor is explaining to a student why he earned a “D” on his final paper, the student could reattribute the cause from “I didn’t follow the paper guidelines” to “this professor is an unfair grader.” Sometimes we actually change the words we hear to make them better fit what we are thinking. This can easily happen if we join a conversation late, overhear part of a conversation, or are being a lazy listener and miss important setup and context. Passing along distorted information can lead to negative consequences ranging from starting a false rumor about someone to passing along incorrect medical instructions from one health-care provider to the next (Hargie, 2011). Last, the addition of material to a message is a type of distorted listening that actually goes against our normal pattern of listening, which involves reducing the amount of information and losing some of “weaving a tall tale” is related to the practice of distorting through addition, as inaccurate or fabricated information is added to what was actually heard. Addition of material is also a common feature of gossip. An excellent example of the result of distorted listening is provided by the character Anthony Crispino on Saturday Night Live, who passes along distorted news on the “Weekend Update” segment. In past episodes, he has noted that Lebron James turned down the Cleveland Show to be on Miami Vice (instead of left the Cleveland Cavaliers to play basketball for the Miami Heat) and that President Obama planned on repealing the “Bush haircuts” (instead of the Bush tax cuts).

      Bad Listening Practices

      The previously discussed barriers to effective listening may be difficult to overcome because they are at least partially beyond our control. Physical barriers, cognitive limitations, and perceptual biases exist within all of us, and it is more realistic to believe that we can become more conscious of and lessen them than it is to believe that we can eliminate them altogether. Other “bad listening” practices may be habitual, but they are easier to address with some concerted effort. These bad listening practices include interrupting, eavesdropping, aggressive listening, narcissistic listening, defensive listening, selective listening, insensitive listening, and pseudo-listening.


      Conversations unfold as a series of turns, and turn-taking is negotiated through a complex set of verbal and nonverbal signals that are consciously and subconsciously received. In this sense, conversational turn-taking has been likened to a dance where communicators try to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. One of the most frequent glitches in the turn-taking process is an interruption, but not all interruptions are considered “bad listening.” An interruption could be unintentional if we misread cues and think a person is done speaking only to have him or her start up again at the same time we do. Sometimes interruptions are more like overlapping statements that show support (e.g., “I think so too.”) or excitement about the conversation (e.g., “That’s so cool!”). Back-channel cues like “uh-huh,” as we learned earlier, also overlap with a speaker’s message. We may also interrupt out of necessity if we’re engaged in a task with the other person and need to offer directions (e.g., “Turn left here.”), instructions (e.g., “Will you whisk the eggs?”), or warnings (e.g., “Look out behind you!”). All these interruptions are not typically thought of as evidence of bad listening unless they become distracting for the speaker or are unnecessary.

      Unintentional interruptions can still be considered bad listening if they result from mindless communication. As we’ve already learned, the intended meaning is not as important as the meaning that is generated in the interaction itself. So if you interrupt unintentionally, but because you were only half-listening, then the interruption is still evidence of bad listening. The speaker may form a negative impression of you that can’t just be erased by you noting that you didn’t “mean to interrupt.” Interruptions can also be used as an attempt to dominate a conversation. A person engaging in this type of interruption may lead the other communicator to try to assert dominance, too, resulting in a competition to see who can hold the floor the longest or the most often. More than likely, though, the speaker will form a negative impression of the interrupter and may withdraw from the conversation.


      Eavesdropping is a bad listening practice that involves a calculated and planned attempt to secretly listen to a conversation. There is a difference between eavesdropping on and overhearing a conversation. Many, if not most of the interactions we have throughout the day occur in the presence of other people. However, given that our perceptual fields are usually focused on the interaction, we are often unaware of the other people around us or don’t think about the fact that they could be listening in on our conversation. We usually only become aware of the fact that other people could be listening in when we’re discussing something private.

      Man with a glass listening at a wall

      Figure: Eavesdropping entails intentionally listening in on a conversation that you are not a part of. Alan Strakey – Eavesdropping  – CC BY-ND 2.0.

      People eavesdrop for a variety of reasons. People might think another person is talking about them behind their back or that someone is engaged in illegal or unethical behavior. Sometimes people eavesdrop to feed the gossip mill or out of curiosity (McCornack, 2007). In any case, this type of listening is considered bad because it is a violation of people’s privacy. Consequences for eavesdropping may include an angry reaction if caught, damage to interpersonal relationships, or being perceived as dishonest and sneaky. Additionally, eavesdropping may lead people to find out information that is personally upsetting or hurtful, especially if the point of eavesdropping is to find out what people are saying behind their backs.

      Aggressive Listening

      Aggressive listening is a bad listening practice in which people pay attention in order to attack something that a speaker says (McCornack, 2007). Aggressive listeners like to ambush speakers in order to critique their ideas, personality, or other characteristics. Such behavior often results from built-up frustration within an interpersonal relationship. Unfortunately, the more two people know each other, the better they will be at aggressive listening. Take the following exchange between long-term partners:

      I’ve been thinking about making a salsa garden next to the side porch. I think it would be really good to be able to go pick our own tomatoes and peppers, and cilantro to make homemade salsa.

      Really? When are you thinking about doing it?

      Next weekend. Would you like to help?

      I won’t hold my breath. Every time you come up with some “idea of the week,” you get so excited about it. But do you ever follow through with it? No. We’ll be eating salsa from the store next year, just like we are now.

      Although Summer’s initial response to Deb’s idea is seemingly appropriate and positive, she asks the question because she has already planned her upcoming aggressive response. Summer’s aggression toward Deb isn’t about a salsa garden; it’s about a building frustration with what Summer perceives as Deb’s lack of follow-through on her ideas. Aside from engaging in aggressive listening because of built-up frustration, such listeners may also attack others’ ideas or mock their feelings because of their own low self-esteem and insecurities.

      Narcissistic Listening

      Narcissistic listening is a form of self-centered and self-absorbed listening in which listeners try to make the interaction about them (McCornack, 2007). Narcissistic listeners redirect the focus of the conversation to them by interrupting or changing the topic. When the focus is taken off them, narcissistic listeners may give negative feedback by pouting, providing negative criticism of the speaker or topic, or ignoring the speaker. A common sign of narcissistic listening is the combination of a “pivot,” when listeners shift the focus of attention back to them, and “one-upping,” when listeners try to top what previous speakers have said during the interaction. You can see this narcissistic combination in the following interaction:

      My boss has been really unfair to me lately and hasn’t been letting me work around my class schedule. I think I may have to quit, but I don’t know where I’ll find another job.

      Why are you complaining? I’ve been working with the same stupid boss for two years. He doesn’t even care that I’m trying to get my degree and work at the same time. And you should hear the way he talks to me in front of the other employees.

      Narcissistic listeners, given their self-centeredness, may actually fool themselves into thinking that they are listening and actively contributing to a conversation. We all have the urge to share our own stories during interactions because other people’s communication triggers our own memories about related experiences. It is generally more competent to withhold sharing our stories until the other person has been able to speak and we have given the appropriate support and response. But we all shift the focus of a conversation back to us occasionally, either because we don’t know another way to respond or because we are making an attempt at empathy. Narcissistic listeners consistently interrupt or follow another speaker with statements like “That reminds me of the time…,” “Well, if I were you…,” and “That’s nothing…” (Nichols, 1995) As we’ll learn later, matching stories isn’t considered empathetic listening, but occasionally doing it doesn’t make you a narcissistic listener.


      Do you have a friend or family member who repeats stories? If so, then you’ve probably engaged in pseudo-listening as a politeness strategy. Pseudo-listening is behaving as if you’re paying attention to a speaker when you’re actually not (McCornack, 2007). Outwardly visible signals of attentiveness are an important part of the listening process, but when they are just an “act,” the pseudo-listener is engaging in bad listening behaviors. She or he is not actually going through the stages of the listening process and will likely not be able to recall the speaker’s message or offer a competent and relevant response. Although it is a bad listening practice, we all understandably engage in pseudo-listening from time to time. If a friend needs someone to talk but you’re really tired or experiencing some other barrier to effective listening, it may be worth engaging in pseudo-listening as a relational maintenance strategy, especially if the friend just needs a sounding board and isn’t expecting advice or guidance. We may also pseudo-listen to a romantic partner or grandfather’s story for the fifteenth time to prevent hurting their feelings. We should avoid pseudo-listening when possible and should definitely avoid making it a listening habit. Although we may get away with it in some situations, each time we risk being “found out,” which could have negative relational consequences.

      Key Takeaways

      • Environmental and physical barriers to effective listening include furniture placement, environmental noise such as sounds of traffic or people talking, physiological noise such as a sinus headache or hunger, and psychological noise such as stress or anger.

      • Cognitive barriers to effective listening include the difference between speech and thought rate that allows us “extra room” to think about other things while someone is talking and limitations in our ability or willingness to concentrate or pay attention. Personal barriers to effective listening include a lack of listening preparation, poorly structured and/or poorly delivered messages, and prejudice.

      • There are several bad listening practices that we should avoid, as they do not facilitate effective listening:

      • Interruptions that are unintentional or serve an important or useful purpose are not considered bad listening. When interrupting becomes a habit or is used in an attempt to dominate a conversation, then it is a barrier to effective listening.
      • Distorted listening occurs when we incorrectly recall information, skew information to fit our expectations or existing schemata or add material to embellish or change information.
      • Eavesdropping is a planned attempt to secretly listen to a conversation, which is a violation of the speakers’ privacy.
      • Aggressive listening is a bad listening practice in which people pay attention to a speaker in order to attack something they say.
      • Narcissistic listening is self-centered and self-absorbed listening in which listeners try to make the interaction about them by interrupting, changing the subject, or drawing attention away from others.
      • Pseudo-listening is “fake listening,” in that people behave like they are paying attention and listening when they actually are not.


      1. We are capable of thinking faster than the speed at which the average person speaks, which allows us some room to put mental faculties toward things other than listening. What typically makes your mind wander?

      2. Bad speakers and messages are a common barrier to effective listening. Describe a time recently when your ability to listen was impaired by the poor delivery and/or content of another person.

      3. Of the bad listening practices listed, which do you use the most? Why do you think you use this one more than the others? What can you do to help prevent or lessen this barrier?


      CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. Have questions or comments? For more information contact us at or check out our status page at


      Andersen, P. A., Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 57–58.

      Bardhi, F., Andres J. Rohm, and Fareena Sultan, “Tuning in and Tuning out: Media Multitasking among Young Consumers,” Journal of Consumer Behaviour 9 (2010): 318.

      Brownell, J., “Listening Environment: A Perspective,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 245.

      Fried, C. B., “In-Class Laptop Use and Its Effects on Student Learning,” Computers and Education 50 (2008): 906–14.

      Hargie, O., Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 200.

      McCornack, S., Reflect and Relate: An Introduction to Interpersonal Communication (Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2007), 208.

      Nichols, M. P., The Lost Art of Listening (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 1995), 68–72.

      The LibreTexts libraries are Powered by MindTouch® and are supported by the Department of Education Open Textbook Pilot Project, the UC Davis Office of the Provost, the UC Davis Library, the California State University Affordable Learning Solutions Program, and Merlot. We also acknowledge previous

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      4.2 Improving Listening Competence

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • Identify strategies for improving listening competence at each stage of the listening process.
      • Summarize the characteristics of active listening.
      • Apply critical-listening skills in interpersonal, educational, and mediated contexts.
      • Practice empathetic listening skills.
      • Discuss ways to improve listening competence in relational, professional, and cultural contexts.

      Many people admit that they could stand to improve their listening skills. This section will help us do that. In this section, we will learn strategies for developing and improving competence at each stage of the listening process. We will also define active listening and the behaviors that go along with it. Looking back to the types of listening discussed earlier, we will learn specific strategies for sharpening our critical and empathetic listening skills. In keeping with our focus on integrative learning, we will also apply the skills we have learned in academic, professional, and relational contexts and explore how culture and gender affect listening.

      Listening Competence at Each Stage of the Listening Process

      We can develop competence within each stage of the listening process, as the following list indicates (Ridge, 1993):

      1. To improve listening at the receiving stage,

      • Prepare yourself to listen,
      • discern between intentional messages and noise,
      • concentrate on stimuli most relevant to your listening purpose(s) or goal(s),
      • be mindful of the selection and attention process as much as possible,
      • pay attention to turn-taking signals so you can follow the conversational flow, and avoid interrupting someone while they are speaking in order to maintain your ability to receive stimuli and listen.

      2. To improve listening at the interpreting stage,

      • identify main points and supporting points;
      • use contextual clues from the person or environment to discern additional meaning;
      • be aware of how a relational, cultural, or situational context can influence meaning;
      • be aware of the different meanings of silence; and
      • note differences in tone of voice and other paralinguistic cues that influence meaning.

      3. To improve listening at the recalling stage,

      • use multiple sensory channels to decode messages and make more complete memories;
      • repeat, rephrase, and reorganize information to fit your cognitive preferences; and use mnemonic devices as a gimmick to help with recall.

      4. To improve listening at the evaluating stage,

      • Separate facts, inferences, and judgments;
      • be familiar with and able to identify persuasive strategies and fallacies of reasoning;
      • assess the credibility of the speaker and the message; and
      • be aware of your own biases and how your perceptual filters can create barriers to effective listening.

      5. To improve listening at the responding stage,

      • ask appropriate clarifying and follow-up questions and paraphrase information to check understanding
      • give feedback that is relevant to the speaker’s purpose/motivation for speaking,
      • adapt your response to the speaker and the context, and
      •  do not let the preparation and rehearsal of your response diminish earlier stages of listening.

      Active Listening

      Active listening refers to the process of pairing outwardly visible positive listening behaviors with positive cognitive listening practices. Active listening can help address many of the environmental, physical, cognitive, and personal barriers to effective listening that we discussed earlier. The behaviors associated with active listening can also enhance informational, critical, and empathetic listening.

      Active Listening Can Help Overcome Barriers to Effective Listening

      Being an active listener starts before you actually start receiving a message. Active listeners make strategic choices and take action in order to set up ideal listening conditions. Physical and environmental noises can often be managed by moving locations or by manipulating the lighting, temperature, or furniture. When possible, avoid important listening activities during times of distracting psychological or physiological noise. For example, we often know when we’re going to be hungry, full, more awake, less awake, more anxious, or less anxious, and advance planning can alleviate the presence of these barriers. For college students, who often have some flexibility in their class schedules, knowing when you best listen can help you make strategic choices regarding what class to take and when. And student options are increasing, as some colleges are offering classes in the overnight hours to accommodate working students and students who are just “night owls” (Toppo, 2011). Of course, we don’t always have control over our schedule, in which case we will need to utilize other effective listening strategies that we will learn more about later in this chapter.

      In terms of cognitive barriers to effective listening, we can prime ourselves to listen by analyzing a listening situation before it begins. For example, you could ask yourself the following questions:

      1. “What are my goals for listening to this message?”

      2. “How does this message relate to me / affect my life?”

      3. “What listening type and style are most appropriate for this message?”

      As we learned earlier, the difference between speech and thought processing rate means listeners’ level of attention varies while receiving a message. Effective listeners must work to maintain focus as much as possible and refocus when attention shifts or fades (Wolvin & Coakley, 1993). One way to do this is to find the motivation to listen. If you can identify intrinsic and or extrinsic motivations for listening to a particular message, then you will be more likely to remember the information presented. Ask yourself how a message could impact your life, your career, your intellect, or your relationships. This can help overcome our tendency toward selective attention. As senders of messages, we can help listeners by making the relevance of what we’re saying clear and offering well-organized messages that are tailored for our listeners. We will learn much more about establishing relevance, organizing a message, and gaining the attention of an audience in public speaking contexts later in the book.

      Given that we can process more words per minute than people can speak, we can engage in internal dialogue, making good use of our intrapersonal communication to become better listeners. Three possibilities for internal dialogue include covert coaching, self-reinforcement, and covert questioning; explanations and examples of each follow (Hargie, 2011):

      Covert coaching involves sending yourself messages containing advice about better listening, such as “You’re getting distracted by things you have to do after work. Just focus on what your supervisor is saying now.”

      Self-reinforcement involves sending yourself affirmative and positive messages: “You’re a good active listener. This will help you do well on the next exam.”

      Covert questioning involves asking yourself questions about the content in ways that focus your attention and reinforce the material: “What is the main idea from that PowerPoint slide?” “Why is he talking about his brother in front of our neighbors?”

      Internal dialogue is a more structured way to engage in active listening, but we can use more general approaches as well. For example, we could occupy the “extra” channels in our minds with thoughts that are related to the primary message being received instead of thoughts that are unrelated. We can use those channels to resort, rephrase, and repeat what a speaker says. When we resort, we can help mentally repair disorganized messages. When we rephrase, we can put messages into our own words in ways that better fit our cognitive preferences. When we repeat, we can help messages transfer from short-term to long-term memory.

      Other tools can help with concentration and memory. Mental bracketing refers to the process of intentionally separating out intrusive or irrelevant thoughts that may distract you from listening (McCornack, 2007). This requires that we monitor our concentration and attention and be prepared to let thoughts that aren’t related to a speaker’s message pass through our minds without us giving them much attention. Mnemonic devices are techniques that can aid in information recall (Hargie 2011). Starting in ancient Greece and Rome, educators used these devices to help people remember information. They work by imposing order and organization on the information. Three main mnemonic devices are acronyms, rhymes, and visualization, and examples of each follow:

      Acronyms. HOMES—to help remember the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).

      Rhyme. “Righty tighty, lefty loosey”—to remember which way most light bulbs, screws, and other coupling devices turn to make them go in or out.

      Visualization. Imagine seeing a glass of port wine (which is red) and the red navigation light on a boat to help you remember that the red light on a boat is always on the port side, which will also help you remember that the blue light must be on the starboard side.

      Active Listening Behaviors

      From the suggestions discussed previously, you can see that we can prepare for active listening in advance and engage in certain cognitive strategies to help us listen better. We also engage in active listening behaviors as we receive and process messages.

      Eye contact is a key sign of active listening. Speakers usually interpret a listener’s eye contact as a signal of attentiveness. While a lack of eye contact may indicate inattentiveness, it can also signal cognitive processing. When we look away to process new information, we usually do it unconsciously. Be aware, however, that your conversational partner may interpret this as not listening. If you really do need to take a moment to think about something, you could indicate that to the other person by saying, “That’s new information to me. Give me just a second to think it through.” We already learned the role that back-channel cues play in listening. An occasional head nod and “uh-huh” signal that you are paying attention. However, when we give these cues as a form of “autopilot” listening, others can usually tell that we are pseudo-listening, and whether they call us on it or not, that impression could lead to negative judgments.

      A more direct way to indicate active listening is to reference previous statements made by the speaker. Norms of politeness usually call on us to reference a past statement or connect to the speaker’s current thought before starting a conversational turn. Being able to summarize what someone said to ensure that the topic has been satisfactorily covered and understood or being able to segue in such a way that validates what the previous speaker said helps regulate conversational flow. Asking probing questions is another way to directly indicate listening and to keep a conversation going since they encourage and invite a person to speak more. You can also ask questions that seek clarification and not just elaboration. Speakers should present complex information at a slower speaking rate than familiar information, but many will not. Remember that your nonverbal feedback can be useful for a speaker, as it signals that you are listening but also whether or not you understand. If a speaker fails to read your nonverbal feedback, you may need to follow up with verbal communication in the form of paraphrased messages and clarifying questions.

      As active listeners, we want to be excited and engaged but don’t let excitement manifest itself in interruptions. Being an active listener means knowing when to maintain our role as listeners and resisting the urge to take a conversational turn. Research shows that people with higher social status are more likely to interrupt others, so keep this in mind and be prepared for it if you are speaking to a high-status person or try to resist it if you are the high-status person in an interaction (Hargie, 2011).



      Good note-taking skills allow listeners to stay engaged with a message and aid in recall of information.

      Steven Lilley – Note taking – CC BY-SA 2.0.

      Note-taking can also indicate active listening. Translating information through writing into our own cognitive structures and schemata allows us to better interpret and assimilate information. Of course, note-taking isn’t always a viable option. It would be fairly awkward to take notes during a first date or a casual exchange between new coworkers. But in some situations where we wouldn’t normally consider taking notes, a little awkwardness might be worth it for the sake of understanding and recalling the information. For example, many people don’t think about taking notes when getting information from their doctor or banker. I actually invite students to take notes during informal meetings because I think they sometimes don’t think about it or don’t think it’s appropriate. But many people would rather someone jot down notes instead of having to respond to follow-up questions on information that was already clearly conveyed. To help facilitate your note-taking, you might say something like “Do you mind if I jot down some notes? This seems important.”

      In summary, active listening is exhibited through verbal and nonverbal cues, including steady eye contact with the speaker; smiling; slightly raised eyebrows; upright posture; body position that is leaned in toward the speaker; nonverbal back-channel cues such as head nods; verbal back-channel cues such as “OK,” “mmhum,” or “oh”; and a lack of distracting mannerisms like doodling or fidgeting (Hargie, 2011).

      “Getting Competent”

      Listening in the Classroom

      The following statistic illustrates the importance of listening in academic contexts: four hundred first-year students were given a listening test before they started classes. At the end of that year, 49 percent of the students with low scores were on academic probation, while only 4 percent of those who scored high were (Conaway, 1982). Listening effectively isn’t something that just happens; it takes work on the part of students and teachers. One of the most difficult challenges for teachers is eliciting good listening behaviors from their students, and the method of instruction teachers use affects how a student will listen and learn (Beall et al., 2008). Given that there are different learning styles, we know that to be effective, teachers may have to find some way to appeal to each learning style. Although teachers often make this attempt, it is also not realistic or practical to think that this practice can be used all the time. Therefore, students should also think of ways they can improve their listening competence, because listening is an active process that we can exert some control over. The following tips will help you listen more effectively in the classroom:

      Be prepared to process challenging messages. You can use the internal dialogue strategy we discussed earlier to “mentally repair” messages that you receive to make them more listenable (Rubin, 1993). For example, you might say, “It seems like we’ve moved on to a different main point now. See if you can pull out the subpoints to help stay on track.”

      Act like a good listener. While I’m not advocating that you engage in pseudo-listening, engaging in active listening behaviors can help you listen better when you are having difficulty concentrating or finding motivation to listen. Make eye contact with the instructor and give appropriate nonverbal feedback. Students often take notes only when directed to by the instructor or when there is an explicit reason to do so (e.g., to recall information for an exam or some other purpose). Since you never know what information you may want to recall later, take notes even when it’s not required that you do so. As a caveat, however, do not try to transcribe everything your instructor says or includes on a PowerPoint, because you will likely miss information related to main ideas that is more important than minor details. Instead, listen for main ideas.

      Figure out from where the instructor most frequently speaks and sit close to that area. Being able to make eye contact with an instructor facilitates listening, increases rapport, allows students to benefit more from immediacy behaviors, and minimizes distractions since the instructor is the primary stimulus within the student’s field of vision.

      Figure out your preferred learning style and adopt listening strategies that complement it.

      Let your instructor know when you don’t understand something. Instead of giving a quizzical look that says “What?” or pretending you know what’s going on, let your instructor know when you don’t understand something. Instead of asking the instructor to simply repeat something, ask her or him to rephrase it or provide an example. When you ask questions, ask specific clarifying questions that request a definition, an explanation, or an elaboration.

      1. What are some listening challenges that you face in the classroom? What can you do to overcome them?

      2. Take the Learning Styles Inventory survey at the following link to determine what your primary learning style is: Do some research to identify specific listening/studying strategies that work well for your learning style.

      Becoming a Better Critical Listener

      Critical listening involves evaluating the credibility, completeness, and worth of a speaker’s message. Some listening scholars note that critical listening represents the deepest level of listening (Floyd, 1985). Critical listening is also important in a democracy that values free speech. The US Constitution grants US citizens the right to free speech, and many people duly protect that right for you and me. Since people can say just about anything they want, we are surrounded by countless messages that vary tremendously in terms of their value, degree of ethics, accuracy, and quality. Therefore it falls on us to responsibly and critically evaluate the messages we receive. Some messages are produced by people who are intentionally

      misleading, ill informed, or motivated by the potential for personal gain, but such messages can be received as honest, credible, or altruistic even though they aren’t. Being able to critically evaluate messages helps us have more control over and awareness of the influence such people may have on us. In order to critically evaluate messages, we must enhance our critical-listening skills.

      Some critical-listening skills include distinguishing between facts and inferences, evaluating supporting evidence, discovering your own biases, and listening beyond the message. Part of being an ethical communicator is being accountable for what we say by distinguishing between facts and inferences (Hayakawa & Hayakawa, 1990). This is an ideal that is not always met in practice, so a critical listener should also make these distinctions, since the speaker may not. Since facts are widely agreed-on conclusions, they can be verified as such through some extra research. Take care in your research to note the context from which the fact emerged, as speakers may take a statistic or quote out of context, distorting its meaning. Inferences are not as easy to evaluate, because they are based on unverifiable thoughts of a speaker or on speculation. Inferences are usually based at least partially on something that is known, so it is possible to evaluate whether an inference was made carefully or not. In this sense, you may evaluate an inference based on several known facts as more credible than an inference based on one fact and more speculation. Asking a question like “What led you to think this?” is a good way to get information needed to evaluate the strength of an inference.

      Distinguishing among facts and inferences and evaluating the credibility of supporting material are critical-listening skills that also require good informational-listening skills. In more formal speaking situations, speakers may cite published or publicly available sources to support their messages. When speakers verbally cite their sources, you can use the credibility of the source to help evaluate the credibility of the speaker’s message. For example, a national newspaper would likely be more credible on a major national event than a tabloid magazine or an anonymous blog. In regular interactions, people also have sources for their information but are not as likely to note them within their message. Asking questions like “Where’d you hear that?” or “How do you know that?” can help get information needed to make critical evaluations. Discovering your own biases can help you recognize when they interfere with your ability to fully process a message. Unfortunately, most people aren’t asked to critically reflect on their identities and their perspectives unless they are in college, and even people who were once critically reflective in college or elsewhere may no longer be so. Biases are also difficult to discover, because we don’t see them as biases; we see them as normal or “the way things are.” Asking yourself “What led you to think this?” and “How do you know that?” can be a good start toward acknowledging your biases.

      Last, to be a better critical listener, think beyond the message. A good critical listener asks the following questions: What is being said and what is not being said? In whose interests are these claims being made? Whose voices/ideas are included and excluded? These questions take into account that speakers intentionally and unintentionally slant, edit, or twist messages to make them fit particular perspectives or for personal gain. Also, ask yourself questions like “What are the speaker’s goals?” You can also rephrase that question and direct it toward the speaker, asking them, “What is your goal in this interaction?” When you feel yourself nearing an evaluation or conclusion, pause and ask yourself what influenced you. Although we like to think that, we are most often persuaded through logical evidence and reasoning, we are susceptible to persuasive shortcuts that rely on the credibility or likability of a speaker or on our emotions rather than the strength of his or her evidence (Petty & Cacioppo, 1984). So keep a check on your emotional involvement to be aware of how it may be influencing your evaluation. Also, be aware that how likable, attractive, or friendly you think a person is may also lead you to more positively evaluate his or her messages.

      Other Tips to Help You Become a Better Critical Listener

      Ask questions to help get more information and increase your critical awareness when you get answers like “Because that’s the way things are,” “It’s always been like that,” “I don’t know; I just don’t like it,” “Everyone believes that,” or “It’s just natural/normal.” These are not really answers that are useful in your critical evaluation and may be an indication that speakers don’t really know why they reached the conclusion they did or that they reached it without much critical thinking on their part.

      Be especially critical of speakers who set up “either/or” options, because they artificially limit an issue or situation to two options when there are always more. Also be aware of people who overgeneralize, especially when those generalizations are based on stereotypical or prejudiced views. For example, the world is not just Republican or Democrat, male or female, pro-life or pro-choice, or Christian or atheist.

      Evaluate the speaker’s message instead of his or her appearance, personality, or other characteristics. Unless someone’s appearance, personality, or behavior is relevant to an interaction, direct your criticism to the message.

      Be aware that critical evaluation isn’t always quick or easy. Sometimes you may have to withhold judgment because your evaluation will take more time. Also keep in mind your evaluation may not be final, and you should be open to critical reflection and possible revision later.

      Avoid mind reading, which is assuming you know what the other person is going to say or that you know why they reached the conclusion they did. This leads to jumping to conclusions, which shortcuts the critical evaluation process.

      “Getting Critical”

      Critical Listening and Political Spin

      In just the past twenty years, the rise of political fact checking occurred as a result of the increasingly sophisticated rhetoric of politicians and their representatives (Dobbs, 2012). As political campaigns began to adopt communication strategies employed by advertising agencies and public relations firms, their messages became more ambiguous, unclear, and sometimes outright misleading. While there are numerous political fact-checking sources now to which citizens can turn for an analysis of political messages, it is important that we are able to use our own critical-listening skills to see through some of the political spin that now characterizes politics in the United States.

      Since we get most of our political messages through the media rather than directly from a politician, the media is a logical place to turn for guidance on fact checking. Unfortunately, the media is often manipulated by political communication strategies as well (Dobbs, 2012). Sometimes media outlets transmit messages even though a critical evaluation of the message shows that it lacks credibility, completeness, or worth. Journalists who engage in political fact checking have been criticized for putting their subjective viewpoints into what is supposed to be objective news coverage. These journalists have fought back against what they call the norm of “false equivalence.” One view of journalism sees the reporter as an objective conveyer of political messages. This could be described as the “We report; you decide” brand of journalism. Other reporters see themselves as “truth seekers.” In this sense, the journalists engage in some critical listening and evaluation on the part of the citizen, who may not have the time or ability to do so.

      Michael Dobbs, who started the political fact-checking program at the Washington Post, says, “Fairness is preserved not by treating all sides of an argument equally, but through an independent, open-minded approach to the evidence” (Dobbs, 2012). He also notes that outright lies are much less common in politics than are exaggeration, spin, and insinuation. This fact puts much of political discourse into an ethical gray area that can be especially difficult for even professional fact checkers to evaluate. Instead of simple “true/false” categories, fact checkers like the Washington Post issue evaluations such as “Half true, mostly true, half-flip, or full-flop” to political statements. Although we all don’t have the time and resources to fact check all the political statements we hear, it may be worth employing some of the strategies used by these professional fact checkers on issues that are very important to us or have major implications for others. Some fact-checking resources include,, and The caution here for any critical listener is to be aware of our tendency to gravitate toward messages with which we agree and avoid or automatically reject messages with which we disagree. In short, it’s often easier for us to critically evaluate the messages of politicians with whom we disagree and uncritically accept messages from those with whom we agree. Exploring the fact-check websites above can help expose ourselves to critical evaluation that we might not otherwise encounter.

      1. One school of thought in journalism says it’s up to the reporters to convey information as it is presented and then up to the viewer/reader to evaluate the message. The other school of thought says that the reporter should investigate and evaluate claims made by those on all sides of an issue equally and share their findings with viewers/readers. Which approach do you think is better and why?

      2. In the lead-up to the war in Iraq, journalists and news outlets did not critically evaluate claims from the Bush administration that there was clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Many now cite this as an instance of failed fact checking that had global repercussions. Visit one of the fact-checking resources mentioned previously to find other examples of fact checking that exposed manipulated messages. To enhance your critical thinking, find one example that critiques a viewpoint, politician, or political party that you typically agree with and one that you disagree with. Discuss what you learned from the examples you found.

      Becoming a Better Empathetic Listener

      A prominent scholar of empathetic listening describes it this way: “Empathetic listening is to be respectful of the dignity of others. Empathetic listening is a caring, a love of the wisdom to be found in others whoever they may be” (Bruneau, 1993). This quote conveys that empathetic listening is more philosophical than the other types of listening. It requires that we are open to subjectivity and that we engage in it because we genuinely see it as worthwhile.

      Combining active and empathetic listening leads to active-empathetic listening. During active-empathetic listening a listener becomes actively and emotionally involved in an interaction in such a way that it is conscious on the part of the listener and perceived by the speaker (Bodie, 2011). To be a better empathetic listener, we need to suspend or at least attempt to suppress our judgment of the other person or their message so we can fully attend to both. Paraphrasing is an important part of empathetic listening, because it helps us put the other person’s words into our frame of experience without making it about us. In addition, speaking the words of someone else in our own way can help evoke within us the feelings that the other person felt while saying them (Bodie, 2011). Active-empathetic listening is more than echoing back verbal messages. We can also engage in mirroring, which refers to a listener’s replication of

      the nonverbal signals of a speaker (Bruneau, 1993). Therapists, for example, are often taught to adopt a posture and tone similar to their patients in order to build rapport and project empathy.

      Empathetic listeners should not steal the spotlight from the speaker. Offer support without offering your own story or advice.

      Blondinrikard Froberg – Spotlight – CC BY 2.0.

      Paraphrasing and questioning are useful techniques for empathetic listening because they allow us to respond to a speaker without taking “the floor,” or the attention, away for long. Specifically, questions that ask for elaboration act as “verbal door openers,” and inviting someone to speak more and then validating their speech through active listening cues can help a person feel “listened to” (Hargie, 2011). I’ve found that paraphrasing and asking questions are also useful when we feel tempted to share our own stories and experiences rather than maintaining our listening role. These questions aren’t intended to solicit more information, so we can guide or direct the speaker toward a specific course of action. Although it is easier for us to slip into an advisory mode—saying things like “Well if I were you, I would…”—we have to resist the temptation to give unsolicited advice.

      Empathetic listening can be worthwhile, but it also brings challenges. In terms of costs, empathetic listening can use up time and effort. Since this type of listening can’t be contained within a proscribed time frame, it may be especially difficult for time-oriented listeners (Bruneau, 1993). Empathetic listening can also be a test of our endurance, as its orientation toward and focus on supporting the other requires the processing and integration of much verbal and nonverbal information. Because of this potential strain, it’s important to know your limits as an empathetic listener. While listening can be therapeutic, it is not appropriate for people without training and preparation to try to serve as a therapist. Some people have chronic issues that necessitate professional listening for the purposes of evaluation, diagnosis, and therapy. Lending an ear is different from diagnosing and treating. If you have a friend who is exhibiting signs of a more serious issue that needs attention, listen to the extent that you feel comfortable and then be prepared to provide referrals to other resources that have training to help. To face these challenges, good empathetic listeners typically have a generally positive self-concept and self-esteem, are nonverbally sensitive and expressive, and are comfortable with embracing another person’s subjectivity and refraining from too much analytic thought.

      Becoming a Better Contextual Listener

      Active, critical, and empathetic listening skills can be helpful in a variety of contexts. Understanding the role that listening plays in professional, relational, cultural, and gendered contexts can help us more competently apply these skills. Whether we are listening to or evaluating messages from a supervisor, parent, or intercultural conversational partner, we have much to gain or lose based on our ability to apply listening skills and knowledge in various contexts.

      Listening in Professional Contexts

      Listening and organizational-communication scholars note that listening is one of the most neglected aspects of organizational-communication research (Flynn, Valikoski, & Grau, 2008). Aside from a lack of research, a study also found that business schools lack curriculum that includes instruction and/or training in communication skills like listening in their master of business administration (MBA) programs (Alsop, 2002). This lack of a focus on listening persists; even though we know that more effective listening skills have been shown to enhance sales performance and those managers who exhibit good listening skills help create open communication climates that can lead to increased feelings of supportiveness, motivation, and productivity (Flynn, Valikoski, & Grau, 2008). Specifically, empathetic listening and active listening can play key roles in organizational communication. Managers are wise to enhance their empathetic listening skills, as being able to empathize with employees contributes to a positive communication climate. Active listening among organizational members also promotes involvement and increases motivation, which leads to more cohesion and enhances the communication climate.

      Organizational scholars have examined various communication climates specific to listening. Listening environment refers to characteristics and norms of an organization and its members that contribute to expectations for and perceptions about listening (Brownell, 1993). Positive listening environments are perceived to be more employee centered, which can improve job satisfaction and cohesion. But how do we create such environments?

      Positive listening environments are facilitated by the breaking down of barriers to concentration, the reduction of noise, the creation of a shared reality (through shared language, such as similar jargon or a shared vision statement), intentional spaces that promote listening, official opportunities that promote listening, training in listening for all employees, and leaders who model good listening practices and praise others who are successful listeners (Brownell, 1993). Policies and practices that support listening must go hand in hand. After all, what does an “open-door” policy mean if it is not coupled with actions that demonstrate the sincerity of the policy?

      “Getting Real”

      Becoming a “Listening Leader”

      Dr. Rick Bommelje has popularized the concept of the “listening leader” (, 2012). As a listening coach, he offers training and resources to help people in various career paths increase their listening competence. For people who are very committed to increasing their listening skills, the International Listening Association has now endorsed a program to become a Certified Listening Professional (CLP), which entails advanced independent study, close work with a listening mentor, and the completion of a written exam.[1] There are also training programs to help with empathetic listening that are offered through the Compassionate Listening Project. These programs evidence the growing focus on the importance of listening in all professional contexts.

      Scholarly research has consistently shown that listening ability is a key part of leadership in professional contexts and competence in listening aids in decision making. A survey sent to hundreds of companies in the United States found that poor listening skills create problems at all levels of an organizational hierarchy, ranging from entry-level positions to CEOs (Hargie, 2011). Leaders such as managers, team coaches, department heads, and executives must be versatile in terms of listening type and style in order to adapt to the diverse listening needs of employees, clients/customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

      Even if we don’t have the time or money to invest in one of these professional-listening training programs, we can draw inspiration from the goal of becoming a listening leader. By reading this book, you are already taking an important step toward improving a variety of communication competencies, including listening, and you can always take it upon yourself to further your study and increase your skills in a particular area to better prepare yourself to create positive communication climates and listening environments. You can also use these skills to make yourself a more desirable employee.

      1. Make a list of the behaviors that you think a listening leader would exhibit. Which of these do you think you do well? Which do you need to work on?

      2. What do you think has contributed to the perceived shortage of listening skills in professional contexts?

      3. Given your personal career goals, what listening skills do you think you will need to possess and employ in order to be successful?

      Listening in Relational Contexts

      Listening plays a central role in establishing and maintaining our relationships (Nelson-Jones, 2006). Without some listening competence, we wouldn’t be able to engage in the self-disclosure process, which is essential for the establishment of relationships. Newly acquainted people get to know each other through increasingly personal and reciprocal disclosures of personal information. In order to reciprocate a conversational partner’s disclosure, we must process it through listening. Once relationships are formed, listening to others provides a psychological reward, through the simple act of recognition, that helps maintain our relationships. Listening to our relational partners and being listened to in return is part of the give-and-take of any interpersonal relationship. Our thoughts and experiences “back up” inside of us, and getting them out helps us maintain a positive balance (Nelson, Jones, 2006). So something as routine and seemingly pointless as listening to our romantic partner debrief the events of his or her day or our roommate recount his or her weekend back home shows that we are taking an interest in their lives and are willing to put our own needs and concerns aside for a moment to attend to their needs. Listening also closely ties to conflict, as a lack of listening often plays a large role in creating conflict, while effective listening helps us resolve it.

      Listening has relational implications throughout our lives, too. Parents who engage in competent listening behaviors with their children from a very young age make their children feel worthwhile and appreciated, which affects their development in terms of personality and character (Nichols, 1995).



      Figure: Parents who exhibit competent listening behaviors toward their children provide them with a sense of recognition and security that affects their future development.. Madhavi Kuram – Listen to your kids – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

      A lack of listening leads to feelings of loneliness, which results in lower self-esteem and higher degrees of anxiety. In fact, by the age of four or five years old, the empathy and recognition shown by the presence or lack of listening has molded children’s personalities in noticeable ways (Nichols, 1995). Children who have been listened to grow up expecting that others will be available and receptive to them. These children are therefore more likely to interact confidently with teachers, parents, and peers in ways that help develop communication competence that will be built on throughout their lives. Children who have not been listened to may come to expect that others will not want to listen to them, which leads to a lack of opportunities to practice, develop, and hone foundational communication skills. Fortunately for the more-listened-to children and unfortunately for the less-listened-to children, these early experiences become predispositions that don’t change much as the children get older and may actually reinforce themselves and become stronger.

      Listening and Culture

      Some cultures place more importance on listening than other cultures. In general, collectivistic cultures tend to value listening more than individualistic cultures that are more speaker oriented. The value placed on verbal and nonverbal meaning also varies by culture and influences how we communicate and listen. A low-context communication style is one in which much of the meaning generated within an interaction comes from the verbal communication used rather than nonverbal or contextual cues. Conversely, much of the meaning generated by a high-context communication style comes from nonverbal and contextual cues (Lustig & Koester, 2006). For example, US Americans of European descent generally use a low-context communication style, while people in East Asian and Latin American cultures use a high-context communication style.

      Contextual communication styles affect listening in many ways. Cultures with a high-context orientation generally use less verbal communication and value silence as a form of communication, which requires listeners to pay close attention to nonverbal signals and consider contextual influences on a message. Cultures with a low-context orientation must use more verbal communication and provide explicit details, since listeners aren’t expected to derive meaning from the context. Note that people from low-context cultures may feel frustrated by the ambiguity of speakers from high-context cultures, while speakers from high-context cultures may feel overwhelmed or even insulted by the level of detail used by low-context communicators. Cultures with a low-context communication style also tend to have a monochronic orientation toward time, while high-context cultures have a polychronic time orientation, which also affects listening.

      As we learned in Chapter 2, cultures that favor a structured and commodified orientation toward time are said to be monochronic, while cultures that favor a more flexible orientation are polychronic. Monochronic cultures like the United States value time and action-oriented listening styles, especially in professional contexts, because time is seen as a commodity that is scarce and must be managed (McCorncack, 2007). This is evidenced by leaders in businesses and organizations who often request “executive summaries” that only focus on the most relevant information and who use statements like “Get to the point.” Polychronic cultures value people and content-oriented listening styles, which makes sense when we consider that polychronic cultures also tend to be more collectivistic and use a high-context communication style. In collectivistic cultures, indirect communication is preferred in cases where direct communication would be considered a threat to the other person’s face (desired public image). For example, flatly turning down a business offer would be too direct, so a person might reply with a “maybe” instead of a “no.” The person making the proposal, however, would be able to draw on contextual clues that they implicitly learned through socialization to interpret the “maybe” as a “no.”

      Listening and Gender

      Research on gender and listening has produced mixed results. Much of the research on gender differences and communication has been influenced by gender stereotypes and falsely connected to biological differences. More recent research has found that people communicate in ways that conform to gender stereotypes in some situations and not in others, which shows that our communication is more influenced by societal expectations than by innate or gendered “hard-wiring.” For example, through socialization, men are generally discouraged from expressing emotions in public. A woman sharing an emotional experience with a man may perceive the man’s lack of emotional reaction as a sign of inattentiveness, especially if he typically shows more emotion during private interactions. The man, however, may be listening but withholding nonverbal expressiveness because of social norms. He may not realize that withholding those expressions could be seen as a lack of empathetic or active listening. Researchers also dispelled the belief that men interrupt more than women do, finding that men and women interrupt each other with similar frequency in cross-gender encounters (Dindia, 1987). So men may interrupt each other more in same-gender interactions as a conscious or subconscious attempt to establish dominance because such behaviors are expected, as men are generally socialized to be more competitive than women. However, this type of competitive interrupting isn’t as present in cross-gender interactions because the contexts have shifted.

      Key Takeaways

      You can improve listening competence at the receiving stage by preparing yourself to listen and distinguishing between intentional messages and noise; at the interpreting stage by identifying main points and supporting points and taking multiple contexts into consideration; at the recalling stage by creating memories using multiple senses and repeating, rephrasing, and reorganizing messages to fit cognitive preferences; at the evaluating stage by separating facts from inferences and assessing the credibility of the speaker’s message; and at the responding stage by asking appropriate questions, offering paraphrased messages, and adapting your response to the speaker and the situation.

      Active listening is the process of pairing outwardly visible positive listening behaviors with positive cognitive listening practices and is characterized by mentally preparing yourself to listen, working to maintain focus on concentration, using appropriate verbal and nonverbal back-channel cues to signal attentiveness, and engaging in strategies like note taking and mentally reorganizing information to help with recall.

      In order to apply critical-listening skills in multiple contexts, we must be able to distinguish between facts and inferences, evaluate a speaker’s supporting evidence, discover our own biases, and think beyond the message.

      In order to practice empathetic listening skills, we must be able to support others’ subjective experience; temporarily set aside our own needs to focus on the other person; encourage elaboration through active listening and questioning; avoid the temptation to tell our own stories and/or give advice; effectively mirror the nonverbal communication of others; and acknowledge our limits as empathetic listeners.

      Getting integrated: Different listening strategies may need to be applied in different listening contexts.

      • In professional contexts, listening is considered a necessary skill, but most people do not receive explicit instruction in listening. Members of an organization should consciously create a listening environment that promotes and rewards competent listening behaviors.
      • In relational contexts, listening plays a central role in initiating relationships, as listening is required for mutual self-disclosure, and in maintaining relationships, as listening to our relational partners provides a psychological reward in the form of recognition. When people aren’t or don’t feel listened to, they may experience feelings of isolation or loneliness that can have negative effects throughout their lives.
      • In cultural contexts, high- or low-context communication styles, monochronic or polychronic orientations toward time, and individualistic or collectivistic cultural values affect listening preferences and behaviors.
      • Research regarding listening preferences and behaviors of men and women has been contradictory. While some differences in listening exist, many of them are based more on societal expectations for how men and women should listen rather than biological differences.


      1. Keep a “listening log” for part of your day. Note times when you feel like you exhibited competent listening behaviors and note times when listening became challenging. Analyze the log based on what you have learned in this section. Which positive listening skills helped you listen? What strategies could you apply to your listening challenges to improve your listening competence?

      2. Apply the strategies for effective critical listening to a political message (a search for “political speech” or “partisan speech” on YouTube should provide you with many options). As you analyze the speech, make sure to distinguish between facts and inferences, evaluate a speaker’s supporting evidence, discuss how your own biases may influence your evaluation, and think beyond the message.

      3. Discuss and analyze the listening environment of a place you have worked or an organization with which you were involved. Overall, was it positive or negative? What were the norms and expectations for effective listening that contributed to the listening environment? Who helped set the tone for the listening environment?


      Article type: Section or Page  Author: anonymous License: CC BY-NC-SA OER program or Publisher: The Publisher Who Must Not Be Named Show TOC: no

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      Alsop, R., Wall Street Journal-Eastern Edition 240, no. 49 (2002): R4.

      Beall, M. L., et al., “State of the Context: Listening in Education,” The International Journal of Listening 22 (2008): 124.

      Bodie, G. D., “The Active-Empathetic Listening Scale (AELS): Conceptualization and Evidence of Validity within the Interpersonal Domain,” Communication Quarterly 59, no. 3 (2011): 278.

      Brownell, J., “Listening Environment: A Perspective,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 243.

      Bruneau, T., “Empathy and Listening,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 194.

      Conaway, M. S., “Listening: Learning Tool and Retention Agent,” in Improving Reading and Study Skills, eds. Anne S. Algier and Keith W. Algier (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1982).

      Dindia, K., “The Effect of Sex of Subject and Sex of Partner on Interruptions,” Human Communication Research 13, no. 3 (1987): 345–71.

      Dobbs, M., “The Rise of Political Fact-Checking,” New America Foundation (2012): 1.

      Floyd, J. J.,Listening, a Practical Approach (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1985), 39–40.

      Flynn, J., Tuula-Riitta Valikoski, and Jennie Grau, “Listening in the Business Context: Reviewing the State of Research,” The International Journal of Listening 22 (2008): 143.

      Hargie, O., Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 193.

      Hayakawa, S. I. and Alan R. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, 5th ed. (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1990), 22–32., Dr. Rick Listen-Coach, accessed July 13, 2012,

      Lustig, M. W. and Jolene Koester, Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication across Cultures, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2006), 110–14.

      McCornack, S., Reflect and Relate: An Introduction to Interpersonal Communication (Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2007), 192.

      Nelson-Jones, R., Human Relationship Skills, 4th ed. (East Sussex: Routledge, 2006), 37–38.

      Nichols, M. P., The Lost Art of Listening (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 1995), 25.

      Petty, R. E. and John T. Cacioppo, “The Effects of Involvement on Responses to Argument Quantity and Quality: Central and Peripheral Routes to Persuasion,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 46, no. 1 (1984): 69–81.

      Ridge, A., “A Perspective of Listening Skills,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 5–6.

      Rubin, D. L., “Listenability = Oral-Based Discourse + Considerateness,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 277.

      Toppo, G., “Colleges Start Offering ‘Midnight Classes’ for Offbeat Needs,” USA Today, October 27, 2011, accessed July 13, 2012,–10–26/college-midnight-classes/50937996/1.

      Wolvin, A. D. and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley, “A Listening Taxonomy,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 19.

      1. “CLP Training Program,” International Listening Assocation, accessed July 13, 2012,

      2. “Training,” The Compassionate Listening Project, accessed July 13, 2012,

      The LibreTexts libraries are Powered by MindTouch® and are supported by the Department of Education Open Textbook Pilot Project, the UC Davis Office of the Provost, the UC Davis Library, the California State University Affordable Learning Solutions Program, and Merlot. We also acknowledge previous National Science Foundation support under grant numbers 1246120, 1525057, and 1413739. Unless otherwise noted, LibreTexts content is licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. Have questions or comments? For more information contact us at or check out our status page at



      4.3 Listenable Messages and Effective Feedback

      Section Objectives

      By the end reading this section, you will be able to

      • List strategies for creating listenable messages.
      • Evaluate messages produced by others using competent feedback.
      • Discuss strategies for self-evaluation of communication.

      We should not forget that sending messages is an important part of the listening process. Although we often think of listening as the act of receiving messages, that passive view of listening overlooks the importance of message construction and feedback. In the following section, we will learn how speakers can facilitate listening by creating listenable messages and how listeners help continue the listening process through feedback for others and themselves.

      Creating Listenable Messages

      Some of the listening challenges we all face would be diminished if speakers created listenable messages. Listenable messages are orally delivered messages that are tailored to be comprehended by a listener (Rubin, 1993). While most of our communication is in an “oral style,” meaning spoken and intended to be heard, we sometimes create messages that are unnecessarily complex in ways that impede comprehension. Listenable messages can be contrasted with most written messages, which are meant to be read.

      The way we visually process written communication is different from the way we process orally delivered and aurally received language. Aside from processing written and spoken messages differently, we also speak and write differently. This becomes a problem for listening when conventions of written language get transferred into oral messages. You may have witnessed or experienced this difficulty if you have ever tried or watched someone else try to orally deliver a message that was written to be read, not spoken. For example, when students in my classes try to deliver a direct quote from one of their research sources or speak verbatim a dictionary definition of a word, they inevitably have fluency hiccups in the form of unintended pauses or verbal trip-ups that interfere with their ability to deliver the content. These hiccups consequently make the message difficult for the audience to receive and comprehend.

      This isn’t typically a problem in everyday conversations because when we speak impromptu, we automatically speak in an oral style. We have a tendency, however, to stray from our natural oral style when delivering messages that we have prepared in advance—like speeches. This is because we receive much more training in creating messages to be read than in creating messages to be spoken. We are usually just expected to pick up the oral style of communicating through observation and trial and error. Being able to compose and deliver messages in an oral style, as opposed to a written style, is a crucial skill to develop in order to be a successful public speaker. Since most people lack specific instruction in creating messages in an oral rather than written style, you should be prepared to process messages that aren’t as listenable as you would like them to be. The strategies for becoming an active listener discussed earlier in this chapter will also help you mentally repair or restructure a message to make it more listenable. As a speaker, in order to adapt your message to a listening audience and to help facilitate the listening process, you can use the following strategies to create more listenable messages:

      Use shorter, actively worded sentences.

      Use personal pronouns (“I want to show you…”).

      Use lists or other organizational constructions like problem-solution, pro-con, or compare-contrast.

      Use transitions and other markers that help a listener navigate your message (time markers like “today”; order indicators like “first, second, third”; previews like “I have two things I’d like to say about that”; and reviews like “So, basically I feel like we should vacation at the lake instead of the beach because…”).

      Use examples relevant to you and your listener’s actual experiences.

      Giving Formal Feedback to Others

      The ability to give effective feedback benefits oneself and others. Whether in professional or personal contexts, positive verbal and nonverbal feedback can boost others’ confidence, and negative feedback, when delivered constructively, can provide important perception checking and lead to improvements. Of course, negative feedback that is not delivered competently can lead to communication difficulties that can affect a person’s self-esteem and self-efficacy. Although we rarely give formal feedback to others in interpersonal contexts, it is important to know how to give this type of feedback, as performance evaluations are common in a variety of professional, academic, and civic contexts.

      It is likely that you will be asked at some point to give feedback to another person in an academic, professional, or civic context. As companies and organizations have moved toward more team-based work environments over the past twenty years, peer evaluations are now commonly used to help assess job performance. The key to good feedback is to offer constructive criticism, which consists of comments that are specific and descriptive enough for the receiver to apply them for the purpose of self-improvement. The following are guidelines I provide my students for giving feedback, and they are also adaptable to other contexts.

      When Giving Feedback to Others

      1. Be specific. I often see a lack of specific comments when it comes to feedback on speech delivery. Students write things like “Eye contact” on a peer comment sheet, but neither the student nor I know what to do with the comment. While a comment like “Good eye contact” or “Not enough eye contact” is more specific, it’s not descriptive enough to make it useful.

      2. Be descriptive. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a descriptive comment that isn’t also specific because the act of adding detail to something usually makes the point clearer as well. The previous “Not enough eye contact” comment would be more helpful and descriptive like this: “You looked at your notes more than you looked at the audience during the first thirty seconds of your speech.”

      3. Be positive. If you are delivering your feedback in writing, pretend that you are speaking directly to the person and write it the same way. Comments like “Stop fidgeting” or “Get more sources” wouldn’t likely come out during verbal feedback because we know they sound too harsh. The same tone, however, can be communicated through written feedback. Instead, make comments that are framed in such a way as to avoid defensiveness or hurt feelings.

      4. Be constructive. Although we want to be positive in our feedback, comments like “Good job” aren’t constructive because a communicator can’t actually take that comment and do something with it. A comment like “You were able to explain our company’s new marketing strategy in a way that even I, as an engineer, could make sense of. The part about our new crisis communication plan wasn’t as clear. Perhaps you could break it down the same way you did the marketing strategy to make it clearer for people like me who are outside the public relations department.” This statement is positively framed, specific, and constructive because the speaker can continue to build on the positively reviewed skill by applying it to another part of the speech that was identified as a place for improvement.

      5. Be realistic. Comments like “Don’t be nervous” aren’t constructive or realistic. Instead, you could say, “I know the first speech is tough, but remember that we’re all in the same situation, and we’re all here to learn. I tried the breathing exercises discussed in the book, and they helped calm my nerves. Maybe they’ll work for you, too?” I’ve also had students make comments like “Your accent made it difficult for me to understand you,” which could be true but may signal a need for more listening effort since we all technically have accents, and changing them, if possible at all, would take considerable time and effort.

      6. Be relevant. Feedback should be relevant to the assignment, task, and/or context. I’ve had students give feedback like “Rad nail polish” and “Nice smile,” which, although meant as compliments, are not relevant in formal feedback unless you’re a fashion consultant or a dentist.

      Giving Formal Feedback to Yourself

      An effective way to improve our communication competence is to give ourselves feedback on specific communication skills. Self-evaluation can be difficult because people may think their performance was effective and therefore doesn’t need critique, or they may become their own worst critic, which can negatively affect self-efficacy. The key to effective self-evaluation is to identify strengths and weaknesses, evaluate yourself within the context of the task, and set concrete goals for future performance. What follows are guidelines that I give my students for self-evaluation of their speeches.

      When Giving Feedback to Yourself

      1. Identify strengths and weaknesses. We have a tendency to be our own worst critics, so steer away from nit-picking or overfocusing on one aspect of your communication that really annoys you and sticks out to you. It is likely that the focus of your criticism wasn’t nearly as noticeable or even noticed at all by others. For example, I once had a student write a self-critique of which about 90 percent focused on how his face looked red. Although that was really salient for him when he watched his video, I don’t think it was a big deal for the audience members.

      2. Evaluate yourself within the context of the task or assignment guidelines. If you are asked to speak about your personal life in a creative way, don’t spend the majority of your self-evaluation critiquing your use of gestures. People have a tendency to overanalyze aspects of their delivery, which usually only accounts for a portion of the overall effectiveness of a message, and under analyze their presentation of key ideas and content. If the expectation was to present complex technical information in a concrete way, you could focus on your use of examples and attempts to make the concepts relevant to the listeners.

      3. Set goals for next time. Goal setting is important because most of us need a concrete benchmark against which to evaluate our progress. Once goals are achieved, they can be “checked off” and added to our ongoing skill set, which can enhance confidence and lead to the achievement of more advanced goals.

      4. Revisit goals and assess progress at regular intervals. We will not always achieve the goals we set, so it is important to revisit the goals periodically to assess our progress. If you did not meet a goal, figure out why and create an action plan to try again. If you did achieve a goal, try to build on that confidence to meet future goals.

      Key Takeaways

      To create listenable messages, which are orally delivered messages tailored to be comprehended by a listener, avoid long, complex sentences; use personal pronouns; use lists or other organizational constructions; use transitions and other markers to help your listener navigate your message, and use relevant examples.

      Getting integrated: Although we rarely give formal feedback in interpersonal contexts, we give informal feedback regularly to our relational partners that can enhance or detract from their self-esteem and affect our relationships. While we also give informal feedback in academic, professional, and civic contexts, it is common practice to give formal feedback in the form of performance evaluations or general comments on an idea, product, or presentation.

      When giving feedback to others, be specific, descriptive, positive, constructive, realistic, and relevant.

      When giving feedback to yourself, identify strengths and weaknesses, evaluate yourself within the contexts of the task or assignment, set goals for next time, and revisit goals to assess progress.


      1. Apply the strategies for creating listenable messages to a speech you recently gave or a speech you are currently working on. Which strategies did/will you employ? Why?

      2. Recall an instance in which someone gave you feedback that didn’t meet the guidelines that are listed in this section. In what ways did the person’s feedback fall short of the guidelines, and what could the person have done to improve the feedback?

      3. Using the guidelines for self-evaluation (feedback to self), assess one of your recent speeches. If you haven’t given a speech recently, assess another communication skill using the same guidelines, such as your listening abilities or your skill at providing constructive criticism.


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      Rubin, D. L., “Listenability = Oral-based Discourse + Considerateness,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 269.

      The LibreTexts libraries are Powered by MindTouch® and are supported by the Department of Education Open Textbook Pilot Project, the UC Davis Office of the Provost, the UC Davis Library, the California State University Affordable Learning Solutions Program, and Merlot. We also acknowledge previous National Science Foundation support under grant numbers 1246120, 1525057, and 1413739. Unless otherwise noted, LibreTexts content is licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. Have questions or comments? For more information contact us at or check out our status page at


      Chapter 5 Verbal Communication: Delivering Your Message

      Verbal Communication: Where is the meaning?


      Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.

      Anne Morrow Lindbergh

      The meanings of words are not in the words; they are in us.

      S. I. Hayakawa

      Successful business communication is often associated with writing and speaking well, being articulate or proficient with words. Yet, in the quote above, the famous linguist S. I. Hayakawa wisely observes that meaning lies within us, not in the words we use. Indeed, communication in this text is defined as the process of understanding and sharing meaning. Pearson, J., & Nelson, P. (2000). An introduction to human communication: Understanding and sharing. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. When you communicate, you are sharing meaning with one or more other people—this may include members of your family, your community, your work community, your school, or any group that considers itself a group.

      How do you communicate? How do you think? We use language as a system to create and exchange meaning with one another, and the types of words we use to influence both our perceptions and others' interpretation of our meanings. What kinds of words would you use to describe your thoughts and feelings, your preferences in music, cars, food, or other things that matter to you?

      Imagine that you are using written or spoken language to create a bridge over which you hope to transport meaning, much like a gift or package, to your receiver. You hope that your meaning arrives relatively intact so that your receiver receives something like what you sent. Will the package look the same to them on the receiving end? Will they interpret the package, its wrapping and colors the way you intended? That depends.

      What is certain is that they will interpret it based on their framework of experience. The package represents your words arranged in a pattern that both the source (you) and the receiver (your audience) can interpret. The words as a package try to contain the meaning and deliver it intact, but they themselves are not the meaning. That lies within us.



      Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

      5.1 What Is Language?


      Section Objectives:

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • Describe and define “language.”
      • Describe the role of language in perception and the communication process.

      Are you reading this sentence? Does it make sense to you? When you read the words I wrote, what do you hear? A voice in your head? Words across the internal screen of your mind? If it makes sense, then you may very well hear the voice of the author as you read along, finding meaning in these arbitrary symbols packaged in discrete units called words. The words themselves have no meaning except that which you give them.

      For example, I’ll write the word “home,” placing it in quotation marks to denote its separation from the rest of this sentence. When you read that word, what comes to mind for you? A specific place? Perhaps a building that could also be called a house? Images of people or another time? “Home,” like “love” and many other words, is quite individual and open to interpretation.

      Still, even though your mental image of home may be quite distinct from mine, we can communicate effectively. You understand that each sentence has a subject and verb, and a certain pattern of word order, even though you might not be consciously aware of that knowledge. You weren’t born speaking or writing, but you mastered—or, more accurately, are still mastering as we all are—these important skills of self-expression. The family, group, or community wherein you were raised taught you the code. The code came in many forms. When do you say “please” or “thank you,” and when do you remain silent? When is it appropriate to communicate? If it is appropriate, what are the expectations, and how do you accomplish it? You know because you understand the code.

      We often call this code “language”: a system of symbols, words, and/or gestures used to communicate meaning. Does everyone on earth speak the same language? Obviously, no. People are raised in different cultures, with different values, beliefs, customs, and different languages to express those cultural attributes. Even people who speak the same language, like speakers of English in London, New Delhi, or Cleveland, speak and interact using their own words that are community-defined, self-defined, and have room for interpretation. Within the United States, depending on the context and environment, you may hear colorful sayings that are quite regional, and may notice an accent, pace, or tone of communication that is distinct from your own. This variation in our use of language is a creative way to form relationships and communities, but can also lead to miscommunication.

      Words themselves, then, actually hold no meaning. It takes you and me to use them to give them life and purpose. Even if we say that the dictionary is the repository of meaning, the repository itself has no meaning without you or me to read, interpret, and use its contents. Words change meaning over time. “Nice” once meant overly particular or fastidious; today it means pleasant or agreeable. “Gay” once meant happy or carefree; today it refers to homosexuality. The dictionary entry for the meaning of a word changes because we change how, when, and why we use the word, not the other way around. Do you know every word in the dictionary? Does anyone? Even if someone did, there are many possible meanings of the words we exchange, and these multiple meanings can lead to miscommunication.

      Business communication veterans often tell the story of a company that received an order of machine parts from a new vendor. When they opened the shipment, they found that it contained a small plastic bag into which the vendor had put several of the parts. When asked what the bag was for, the vendor explained, “Your contract stated a thousand units, with a maximum 2 percent defective. We produced the defective units and put them in the bag for you.” If you were the one reading that contract, what would “defective” mean to you? We may use a word intending to communicate one idea only to have a coworker miss our meaning entirely.

      Sometimes we want our meaning to be crystal clear, and at other times, less so. We may even want to present an idea from a specific perspective, one that shows our company or business in a positive light. This may reflect our intentional manipulation of language to influence meaning, as in choosing to describe a car as “preowned” or an investment as a “unique value proposition.” We may also influence other’s understanding of our words in unintentional ways, from failing to anticipate their response to ignoring the possible impact of our word choice.

      Languages are living exchange systems of meaning and are bound by context. If you are assigned to a team that coordinates with suppliers from Shanghai, China, and a sales staff in Dubuque, Iowa, you may encounter terms from both groups that influence your team.

      As long as there have been languages and interactions between the people who speak them, languages have borrowed words (or, more accurately, adopted—for they seldom give them back). Think of the words “boomerang,” “limousine,” or “pajama”; do you know which languages they come from? Did you know that “algebra” comes from the Arabic word “al-jabr,” meaning “restoration”?

      Does the word “moco” make sense to you? It may not, but perhaps you recognize it as the name chosen by Nissan for one of its cars. “Moco” makes sense to both Japanese and Spanish speakers, but with quite different meanings. The letters come together to form an arbitrary word that refers to the thought or idea of the thing in the semantic triangle (see Figure 2.9).


      Figure 2.1 Semantic Triangle

      Triangle of meaning

      Source: Adapted from Ogden and Richards.Odgen, C., & Richards, I. (1932). The meaning of meaning: A study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of symbolism. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & World.

      This triangle illustrates how the word (which is really nothing more than a combination of four letters) refers to the thought, which then refers to the thing itself. Who decides what “moco” means? To the Japanese, it may mean “cool design,” or even “best friend,” and may be an apt name for a small, cute car, but to a Spanish speaker, it means “booger” or “snot”—not a very appealing name for a car.

      Each letter stands for a sound, and when they come together in a specific way, the sounds they represent when spoken express the “word” that symbolizes the event.McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. For our discussion, the key word we need to address is “symbolizes.” The word stands in for the actual event, but is not the thing itself. The meaning we associate with it may not be what we intended. For example, when Honda was contemplating the introduction of the Honda Fit, another small car, they considered the name “Fitta” for use in Europe. As the story goes, the Swedish Division Office of Honda explained that “fitta” in Swedish is a derogatory term for female reproductive organ. The name was promptly changed to “Jazz.”

      The meaning, according to Hayakawa, Hayakawa, S. I. (1978). Language in thought and action. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. is within us, and the word serves as a link to meaning. What will your words represent to the listener? Will your use of a professional term enhance your credibility and be more precise with a knowledgeable audience, or will you confuse them?


      Language is a system of words used as symbols to convey ideas, and it has rules of syntax, semantics, and context. Words have meaning only when interpreted by the receiver of the message.


      1. Using a dictionary that gives word origins, such as the American Heritage College DictionaryMerriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, or the New Oxford American Dictionary, find at least ten English words borrowed from other languages. Share your findings with your classmates.
      2. Visit several English-language Web sites from different countries—for example, Australia, Canada, and the United States. What differences in spelling and word usage do you find? Discuss your results with your classmates.
      3. From your viewpoint, how do you think thought influences the use of language? Write a one- to two-page explanation.
      4. What is meant by conditioned in this statement: “people in Western cultures do not realize the extent to which their racial attitudes have been conditioned since early childhood by the power of words to ennoble or condemn, augment or detract, glorify or demean?”Moore, R. (2003). Racism in the English language. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Discuss your thoughts with a classmate.
      5. Translations gone wrong can teach us much about words and meaning. Can you think of a word or phrase that just doesn’t sound right when it was translated from English into another language, or vice versa? Share it with the class and discuss what a better translation would be.




      Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike




      5.2 Creating Effective Messages

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

      • describe three different types of messages and their functions.
      • describe five different parts of a message and their functions.

      Before we explore the principles of language, it will be helpful to stop for a moment and examine some characteristics of the messages we send when we communicate. When you write or say something, you not only share the meaning(s) associated with the words you choose, but you also say something about yourself and your relationship to the intended recipient. In addition, you say something about what the relationship means to you as well as your assumed familiarity as you choose formal or informal ways of expressing yourself. Your message may also carry unintended meanings that you cannot completely anticipate. Some words are loaded with meaning for some people so that by using such words, you can “push their buttons” without even realizing what you’ve done. Messages carry far more than the literal meaning of each word, and in this section, we explore that complexity.

      Primary Message Is Not the Whole Message

      When considering how to effectively use verbal communication, keep in mind there are three distinct types of messages you will be communicating: primary, secondary, and auxiliary. Hasling, J. (1998). Audience, message, speaker. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

      Primary messages refer to the intentional content, both verbal and nonverbal. These are the words or ways you choose to express yourself and communicate your message. For example, if you are sitting at your desk and a coworker stops by to ask you a question, you may say, “Here, have a seat.” These words are your primary message.

      Even such a short, seemingly simple, and direct message could be misunderstood. It may seem obvious that you are not literally offering to “give” a “seat” to your visitor, but to someone who knows only formal English and is unfamiliar with colloquial expressions, it may be puzzling. “Have a seat” may be much more difficult to understand than “please sit down.”

      Secondary messages refer to the unintentional content, both verbal and nonverbal. Your audience will form impressions of your intentional messages, both negative and positive, over which you have no control. Perceptions of physical attractiveness, age, gender, ethnicity, or even simple mannerisms and patterns of speech may unintentionally influence the message.

      Perhaps, out of courtesy, you stand up while offering your visitor a seat; or perhaps your visitor has an expectation that you ought to do so. Perhaps a photograph of your family on your desk makes an impression on your visitor. Perhaps a cartoon on your bulletin board sends a message.

      Auxiliary messages refer to the intentional and unintentional ways a primary message is communicated. This may include vocal inflection, gestures, and posture, or rate of speech that influence the interpretation or perception of your message.

      When you say, “Here, have a seat,” do you smile and wave your hand to indicate the empty chair on the other side of your desk? Or do you look flustered and quickly lift a pile of file folders out of the way? Are your eyes on your computer as you finish sending an e-mail before turning your attention to your visitor? Your auxiliary message might be, “I’m glad you came by; I always enjoy exchanging ideas with you,” or “I always learn something new when someone asks me a question.” On the other hand, it might be, “I’ll answer your question, but I’m too busy for a long discussion,” or maybe even, “I wish you’d do your work and not bother me with your dumb questions!”

      Parts of a Message

      When you create a message, it is often helpful to think of it as having five parts:

      1. Attention statement
      2. Introduction
      3. Body
      4. Conclusion
      5. Residual message

      Each of these parts has its own function.

      The attention statement, as you may guess, is used to capture the attention of your audience. While it may be used anywhere in your message, it is especially useful at the outset. There are many ways to attract attention from readers or listeners, but one of the most effective is the “what’s in it for me” strategy: telling them how your message can benefit them. An attention statement like, “I’m going to explain how you can save up to $500 a year on car insurance,” is quite likely to hold an audience’s attention.

      Once you have your audience’s attention, it is time to move on to the introduction. In your introduction, you will make a clear statement of your topic; this is also the time to establish a relationship with your audience. One way to do this is to create common ground with the audience, drawing on familiar or shared experiences or by referring to the person who introduced you. You may also explain why you chose to convey this message at this time, why the topic is important to you, what kind of expertise you have, or how your personal experience has led you to share this message.

      After the introduction comes the body of your message. Here you will present your message in detail, using any of a variety of organizational structures. Regardless of the type of organization you choose for your document or speech, it is important to make your main points clear, provide support for each point, and use transitions to guide your readers or listeners from one point to the next.

      At the end of the message, your conclusion should provide the audience with a sense of closure by summarizing your main points and relating them to the overall topic. In one sense, it is important to focus on your organizational structure again and incorporate the main elements into your summary, reminding the audience of what you have covered. In another sense, it is important not to merely state your list of main points again, but to convey a sense that you have accomplished what you stated you would do in your introduction, allowing the audience to have psychological closure.

      The residual message, a message or thought that stays with your audience well after the communication is finished, is an important part of your message. Ask yourself of the following:

      • What do I want my listeners or readers to remember?
      • What information do I want to have the audience retain or act upon?
      • What do I want the audience to do?



      Messages are primary, secondary, and auxiliary. A message can be divided into a five-part structure composed of an attention statement, introduction, body, conclusion, and residual message.


      1. Choose three examples of communication and identify the primary message. Share and compare with classmates.
      2. Choose three examples of communication and identify the auxiliary message(s). Share and compare with classmates.
      3. Think of a time when someone said something like “please take a seat” and you correctly or incorrectly interpreted the message as indicating that you were in trouble and about to be reprimanded. Share and compare with classmates.
      4. How does language affect self-concept? Explore and research your answer, finding examples that can serve as case studies.
      5. Choose an article or opinion piece from a major newspaper or news Web site. Analyze the piece according to the five-part structure described here. Does the headline serve as a good attention statement? Does the piece conclude with a sense of closure? How are the main points presented and supported? Share your analysis with your classmates. For a further challenge, watch a television commercial and do the same analysis.



      Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at BY-NC-SA: Attribution


      5.3 Principles of Verbal Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • Identify and describe five key principles of verbal communication.
      • Explain how the rules of syntax, semantics, and context govern language.
      • Describe how language serves to shape our experience of reality.

      Verbal communication is based on several basic principles. In this section, we’ll examine each principle and explore how it influences everyday communication. Whether it’s a simple conversation with a coworker or a formal sales presentation to a board of directors, these principles apply to all contexts of communication.

      Language Has Rules

      Language is a code, a collection of symbols, letters, or words with arbitrary meanings that are arranged according to the rules of syntax and are used to communicate. (Pearson, J., & Nelson, P. (2000). An introduction to human communication: Understanding and sharing (p. 54). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

      In the first of  Note 2.1, “Introductory Exercises,” for this chapter, were you able to successfully match the terms to their meanings? Did you find that some of the definitions did not match your understanding of the terms? The words themselves have meaning within their specific context or language community. But without a grasp of that context, “my bad” may have just sounded odd. Your familiarity with the words and phrases may have made the exercise easy for you, but it isn’t an easy exercise for everyone. The words themselves only carry meaning if you know the understood meaning and have a grasp of their context to interpret them correctly.

      There are three types of rules that govern or control our use of words. You may not be aware that they exist or that they influence you, but from the moment you put a word into text or speak it, these rules govern your communications. Think of a word that is all right to use in certain situations and not in others. Why? And how do you know?

      Syntactic rules govern the order of words in a sentence. In some languages, such as German, syntax or word order is strictly prescribed. English syntax, in contrast, is relatively flexible and open to style. Still, there are definite combinations of words that are correct and incorrect in English. It is equally correct to say, “Please come to the meeting in the auditorium at twelve noon on Wednesday” or, “Please come to the meeting on Wednesday at twelve noon in the auditorium.” But it would be incorrect to say, “Please to the auditorium on Wednesday in the meeting at twelve noon come.”

      Semantic rules govern the meaning of words and how to interpret them.Martinich, A. P. (Ed.). (1996). The philosophy of language (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Semantics is the study of meaning in language. It considers what words mean, or are intended to mean, as opposed to their sound, spelling, grammatical function, and so on. Does a given statement refer to other statements already communicated? Is the statement true or false? Does it carry a certain intent? What does the sender or receiver need to know in order to understand its meaning? These are questions addressed by semantic rules.

      Contextual rules govern meaning and word choice according to context and social customs. For example, suppose Greg is talking about his coworker, Carol, and says, “She always meets her deadlines.” This may seem like a straightforward statement that would not vary according to context or social custom. But suppose another coworker asked Greg, “How do you like working with Carol?” and, after a long pause, Greg answered, “She always meets her deadlines.” Are there factors in the context of the question or social customs that would influence the meaning of Greg’s statement?

      Even when we follow these linguistic rules, miscommunication is possible, for our cultural context or community may hold different meanings for the words used than the source intended. Words attempt to represent the ideas we want to communicate, but they are sometimes limited by factors beyond our control. They often require us to negotiate their meaning or to explain what we mean in more than one way, in order to create a common vocabulary. You may need to state a word, define it, and provide an example in order to come to an understanding with your audience about the meaning of your message.

      Our Reality Is Shaped by Our Language

      What would your life be like if you had been raised in a country other than the one where you grew up? Malaysia, for example? Italy? Afghanistan? Or Bolivia? Or suppose you had been born male instead of female, or vice versa. Or had been raised in the northeastern United States instead of the Southwest, or the Midwest instead of the Southeast. In any of these cases, you would not have the same identity you have today. You would have learned another set of customs, values, traditions, other language patterns, and ways of communicating. You would be a different person who communicated in different ways.

      You didn’t choose your birth, customs, values, traditions, or your language. You didn’t even choose to learn to read this sentence or to speak with those of your community, but somehow you accomplished this challenging task. As an adult, you can choose to see things from a new or diverse perspective, but what language do you think with? It’s not just the words themselves, or even how they are organized, that makes communication such a challenge. Your language itself, ever-changing and growing, in many ways determines your reality. Whorf, B. L. (1956). Science and linguistics. In J. B. Carroll (Ed.), Language, thought and reality (pp. 207–219). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. You can’t escape your language or culture completely and always see the world through a shade or tint of what you’ve been taught, learned, or experienced.

      Suppose you were raised in a culture that values formality. At work, you pride yourself on being well-dressed. It’s part of your expectation for yourself and, whether you admit it or not, for others. Many people in your organization, however, come from less formal cultures, and they prefer business casual attire. You may be able to recognize the difference, and because humans are highly adaptable, you may get used to a less formal dress expectation, but it won’t change your fundamental values.

      Thomas KuhnKuhn, T. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. makes the point that “paradigms, or a clear point of view involving theories, laws, and/or generalizations that provide a framework for understanding, tend to form and become set around key validity claims, or statements of the way things work.”McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication (p. 50). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. The paradigm, or worldview, may be individual or collective. And paradigm shifts are often painful. New ideas are always suspect and usually opposed, without any other reason than because they are not already common. Ackerman, B. A. (1980). Social justice in the liberal state. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

      As an example, consider the earth-heavens paradigm. Medieval Europeans believed that the Earth was flat and that the edge was to be avoided. Otherwise, you might fall off. For centuries after the acceptance of a “round earth” belief, the earth was still believed to be the center of the universe, with the sun and all planets revolving around it. Eventually, someone challenged the accepted view. Over time, despite considerable resistance to protect the status quo, people came to better understand the earth and its relationship to the heavens.

      In the same way, the makers of the Intel microprocessor once thought that a slight calculation error, unlikely to negatively impact 99.9 percent of users, was better left as is and hidden. Emery, V. (1996). The Pentium chip story: A learning experience. Retrieved from Like many things in the information age, the error was discovered by a product user, became publicly known, and damaged Intel’s credibility and sales for years. Recalls and prompt public communication in response to similar issues are now the industry-wide protocol.

      Paradigms involve premises that are taken as fact. Of course, the Earth is the center of the universe, of course, no one will ever be impacted by a mathematical error so far removed from most people’s everyday use of computers, and of course, you never danced the macarena at a company party. We now can see how those facts, attitudes, beliefs, and ideas of “cool” are overturned.

      How does this insight lend itself to your understanding of verbal communication? Do all people share the same paradigms, words, or ideas? Will you be presenting ideas outside your audience’s frame of reference? Outside their worldview? Just as you look back at your Macarena performance, get outside your frame of reference and consider how to best communicate your thoughts, ideas, and points to an audience that may not have your same experiences or understanding of the topic.

      By taking into account your audience’s background and experience, you can become more “other-oriented,” a successful strategy to narrow the gap between you and your audience. Our experiences are like sunglasses, tinting the way we see the world. Our challenge, perhaps, is to avoid letting them function as blinders, like those worn by working horses, which create tunnel vision and limit our perspective.

      Language Is Arbitrary and Symbolic

      As we have discussed previously, words, by themselves, do not have any inherent meaning. Humans give meaning to them, and their meanings change across time. The arbitrary symbols, including letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, stand for concepts in our experience. We have to negotiate the meaning of the word “home,” and define it through visual images or dialogue in order to communicate with our audience.

      Words have two types of meanings: denotative and connotative. Attention to both is necessary to reduce the possibility of misinterpretation. The denotative meaning is the common meaning often found in the dictionary. The connotative meaning is often not found in the dictionary but in the community of users itself. It can involve an emotional association with a word, positive or negative, and can be individual or collective but is not universal.

      With a common vocabulary in both denotative and connotative terms, effective communication becomes a more distinct possibility. But what if we have to transfer meaning from one vocabulary to another? That is essentially what we are doing when we translate a message. In such cases, language and culture can sometimes make for interesting twists. The New York Times Sterngold, J. (1998, November 15). (Lost and gained, in the translation. New York Times. Retrieved from )noted that the title of the 1998 film There’s Something About Mary proved difficult to translate when it was released in foreign markets. The movie was renamed to capture the idea and to adapt to local audiences’ frame of reference: In Poland, where blonde jokes are popular and common, the film title (translated back to English for our use) was For the Love of a Blonde. In France, Mary at All Costs communicated the idea, while in Thailand, My True Love Will Stand All Outrageous Events dropped the reference to Mary altogether.

      Capturing our ideas with words is a challenge when both conversational partners speak the same language, but across languages, cultures, and generations, the complexity multiplies exponentially.

      Language Is Abstract

      Words represent aspects of our environment and can play an important role in that environment. They may describe an important idea or concept, but the very act of labeling and invoking a word simplifies and distorts our concept of the thing itself. This ability to simplify concepts makes it easier to communicate, but it sometimes makes us lose track of the specific meaning we are trying to convey through abstraction. Let’s look at one important part of life in America: transportation.

      Take the word “car” and consider what it represents. Freedom, status, or style? Does what you drive say something about you? To describe a car as a form of transportation is to consider one of its most basic and universal aspects. This level of abstraction means we lose individual distinctions between cars until we impose another level of labeling. We could divide cars into sedans (or saloons) and coupes (or coupé) simply by counting the number of doors (i.e., four versus two). We could also examine cost, size, engine displacement, fuel economy, and style. We might arrive at an American classic, the Mustang, and consider it for all these factors and its legacy as an accessible American sports car. To describe it in terms of transportation only is to lose the distinctiveness of what makes a Mustang a desirable American sports car.

      Ladder of abstraction Abstraction continuum

      Figure 2.2 Abstraction Ladder

      We can see how, at the extreme level of abstraction, a car is like any other automobile. We can also see how, at the base level, the concept is most concrete. “Mustang,” the name given to one of the best-selling American sports cars, is a specific make and model with specific markings; a specific size, shape, and range of available colors; and a relationship with a classic design. By focusing on concrete terms and examples, you help your audience grasp your content.

      Language Organizes and Classifies Reality

      We use language to create and express some sense of order in our world. We often group words that represent concepts by their physical proximity or their similarity to one another. For example, in biology, animals with similar traits are classified together. An ostrich may be said to be related to an emu and a nandu, but you wouldn’t group an ostrich with an elephant or a salamander. Our ability to organize is useful but artificial. The systems of organization we use are not part of the natural world but an expression of our views about the natural world.

      What is a doctor? A nurse? A teacher? If a male came to mind in the case of the word “doctor” and a female came to mind in reference to “nurse” or “teacher,” then your habits of mind include a gender bias. There was once a time in the United States where that gender stereotype was more than just a stereotype, it was the general rule, the social custom, the norm. Now it no longer holds true. More and more men are training to serve as nurses. Business Week noted in 2008 that one-third of the U.S. physician workforce was female.Arnst, C. (2005, April 17). Are there too many women doctors? As an MD shortage looms, female physicians and their flexible hours are taking some of the blame. Business Week. Retrieved from

      We all use systems of classification to navigate through the world. Imagine how confusing life would be if we had no categories such as male/female, young/old, tall/short, doctor/nurse/teacher. These categories only become problematic when we use them to uphold biases and ingrained assumptions that are no longer valid. We may assume, through our biases, that elements are related when they have no relationship at all. As a result, our thinking is limited, and our grasp of reality is impaired. It is often easier to spot these biases in others, but it behooves us as communicators to become aware of them in ourselves. Holding them unconsciously will limit our thinking, our grasp of reality, and our ability to communicate successfully.


      Language is a system governed by rules of syntax, semantics, and context; we use paradigms to understand the world and frame our communications.


      1. Write at least five examples of English sentences with correct syntax. Then rewrite each sentence, using the same words in an order that displays incorrect syntax. Compare your results with those of your classmates.
      2. Think of at least five words whose denotative meaning differs from their connotative meaning. Use each word in two sentences, one employing the denotative meaning and the other employing the connotative. Compare your results with those of your classmates.
      3. Do you associate meaning with the car someone drives? Does it say something about them? List five cars you observe people you know driving and discuss each one, noting whether you perceive that the car says something about them or not. Share and compare with classmates.






      5.4 Language as an Obstacle to Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • Demonstrate six ways in which language can be an obstacle or barrier to communication.
      • Explain the differences between clichés, jargon, and slang.
      • Explain the difference between sexist or racist language and legitimate references

      As you use language to make sense of your experiences, as part of our discussion, you no doubt came to see that language and verbal communication can work both for you and against you. Language allows you to communicate, but it also allows you to miscommunicate and misunderstand. The same system we use to express our most intimate thoughts can be frustrating when it fails to capture our thoughts, to represent what we want to express, and to reach our audience. For all its faults, though, it is the best system we have, and part of improving the communication process is the clear identification of where it breaks down. Anticipate where a word or expression may need more clarification and you will be on your way to reducing errors and improving verbal communication.

      In an article titled “The Miscommunication Gap,” Susan Washburn lists several undesirable results of poor communication in business: Washburn, S. (2008, February). The miscommunication gap. ESI Horizons, 9(2). Retrieved from

      • Damaged relationships
      • Loss of productivity
      • Inefficiency and rework
      • Conflict
      • Missed opportunities
      • Schedule slippage (delays, missed deadlines)
      • Scope creep…or leap (gradual or sudden changes in an assignment that make it more complex and difficult than it was originally understood to be)
      • Wasted resources
      • Unclear or unmet requirements

      In this section we discuss how words can serve either as a bridge, or a barrier, to understanding and communication of meaning. Our goals of effective and efficient business communication mean an inherent value of words and terms that keeps the bridge clear and free of obstacles.


      cliché is a once-clever word or phrase that has lost its impact through overuse. If you spoke or wrote in clichés, how would your audience react? Let’s try it. How do you react when you read this sentence: “A cliché is something to avoid like the plague, for it is nothing but a tired old war horse, and if the shoe were on the other foot you too would have an axe to grind”? As you can see, the problem with clichés is that they often sound silly or boring.

      Clichés are sometimes a symptom of lazy communication—the person using the cliché hasn’t bothered to search for original words to convey the intended meaning. Clichés lose their impact because readers and listeners tend to gloss over them, assuming their common meaning while ignoring your specific use of them. As a result, they can be obstacles to successful communication.


      Let’s pretend you’ve been assigned to the task of preparing a short presentation on your company’s latest product for a group of potential customers. It’s a big responsibility. You only have one opportunity to get it right. You will need to do extensive planning and preparation, and your effort, if done well, will produce a presentation that is smooth and confident, looking simple to the casual audience member.

      What words do you use to communicate information about your product? Is your audience familiar with your field and its specialized terms? As potential customers, they are probably somewhat knowledgeable in the field, but not to the extent that you and your coworkers are; even less so compared to the “techies” who developed the product. For your presentation to succeed, your challenge is to walk a fine line between using too much profession-specific language on the one hand, and “talking down” to your audience on the other hand.

      While your potential customers may not understand all the engineering and schematic detail terms involved in the product, they do know what they and their organizations are looking for in considering a purchase. Your solution may be to focus on common ground—what you know of their past history in terms of contracting services or buying products from your company. What can you tell from their historical purchases? If your research shows that they place a high value on saving time, you can focus your presentation on the time-saving aspects of your new product and leave the technical terms to the user’s manual.

      Jargon is an occupation-specific language used by people in a given profession. Jargon does not necessarily imply formal education, but instead focuses on the language people in a profession use to communicate with each other. Members of the information technology department have a distinct group of terms that refer to common aspects in their field. Members of the marketing department, or advertising, or engineering, research, and development also have sets of terms they use within their professional community. Jargon exists in just about every occupation, independent of how much formal education is involved—from medicine and law; to financial services, banking, and insurance; to animal husbandry, auto repair, and the construction trades.

      Whether or not to use jargon is often a judgment call, and one that is easier to make in speaking than in writing. In an oral context, we may be able to use a technical term and instantly know from feedback whether or not the receiver of the message “got it.” If they didn’t, we can define it on the spot. In written language, we lack that immediate response and must attend more to the context of receiver. The more we learn about our audience, the better we can tailor our chosen words. If we lack information or want our document to be understood by a variety of readers, it pays to use common words and avoid jargon.


      Think for a moment about the words and expressions you use when you communicate with your best friends. If a coworker was to hang out with you and your friends, would they understand all the words you use, the music you listen to, the stories you tell and the way you tell them? Probably not, because you and your friends probably use certain words and expressions in ways that have special meaning to you.

      This special form of language, which in some ways resembles jargon, is slang. Slang is the use of existing or newly invented words to take the place of standard or traditional words with the intent of adding an unconventional, nonstandard, humorous, or rebellious effect. It differs from jargon in that it is used in informal contexts, among friends or members of a certain age group, rather than by professionals in a certain industry.

      If you say something is “phat,” you may mean “cool,” which is now a commonly understood slang word, but your coworker may not know this. As word “phat” moves into the mainstream, it will be replaced and adapted by the communities that use it.

      Since our emphasis in business communication is on clarity, and a slang word runs the risk of creating misinterpretation, it is generally best to avoid slang. You may see the marketing department use a slang word to target a specific, well-researched audience, but for our purposes of your general presentation introducing a product or service, we will stick to clear, common words that are easily understood.

      Sexist and Racist Language

      Some forms of slang involve put-downs of people belonging to various groups. This type of slang often crosses the line and becomes offensive, not only to the groups that are being put down, but also to others who may hear it. In today’s workplace there is no place where sexist or racist language is appropriate. In fact, using such language can be a violation of company policies and in some cases antidiscrimination laws.

      Sexist language uses gender as a discriminating factor. Referring to adult women as “girls” or using the word “man” to refer to humankind are examples of sexist language. In a more blatant example, several decades ago a woman was the first female sales representative in her company’s sales force. The men resented her and were certain they could outsell her, so they held a “Beat the Broad” sales contest. (By the way, she won.) Today, a contest with a name like that would be out of the question.

      Racist language discriminates against members of a given race or ethnic group. While it may be obvious that racial and ethnic slurs have no place in business communication, there can also be issues with more subtle references to “those people” or “you know how they are.” If race or ethnicity genuinely enters into the subject of your communication—in a drugstore, for example, there is often an aisle for black hair care products—then naturally, it makes sense to mention customers belonging to that group. The key is that mentioning racial and ethnic groups should be done with the same respect you would desire if someone else were referring to groups you belong to.


      In seeking to avoid offensive slang, it is important not to assume that a euphemism is a solution. A euphemism involves substituting an acceptable word for an offensive, controversial, or unacceptable one that conveys the same or similar meaning. The problem is that the audience still knows what the expression means and understands that the writer or speaker is choosing a euphemism for the purpose of sounding more educated or genteel.

      Euphemisms can also be used sarcastically or humorously—“H-E-double-hockey-sticks,” for example, is a euphemism for “hell” that may be amusing in some contexts. If your friend has just gotten a new job as a janitor, you may jokingly ask, “How’s my favorite sanitation engineer this morning?” But such humor is not always appreciated and can convey disrespect even when none is intended.

      Euphemistic words are not always disrespectful, however. For example, when referring to a death, it is considered polite in many parts of the United States to say that the person “passed” or “passed away” rather than the relatively insensitive word “died.” Similarly, people say, “I need to find a bathroom,” when it is well-understood they are not planning to take a bath.

      Still, these polite euphemisms are exceptions to the rule. Euphemisms are generally more of a hindrance than a help to understanding. In business communication, the goal is clarity, and the very purpose of euphemism is to be vague. To be clear, choose words that mean what you intend to convey.


      Doublespeak is the deliberate use of words to disguise, obscure, or change meaning. Doublespeak is often present in bureaucratic communication, where it can serve to cast a person or an organization in a less unfavorable light than plain language would do.

      When you ask a friend, “How does it feel to be downsized?” you are using a euphemism to convey humor, possibly even dark humor. Your friend’s employer was likely not joking, though, when the action was announced as a “downsizing” rather than as a “layoff” or “dismissal.” In military communications, “collateral damage” is often used to refer to civilian deaths, but no mention of the dead is present. You may recall the “bailout” of the U.S. economy in 2008, which quickly came to be called the “rescue” and finally the “buy in” as the United States bought interests in nine regional and national banks. The meaning changed from saving an economic system or its institutions to investing in them. This change of terms, and the attempt to change the meaning of the actions, became common in comedy routines across the nation.

      Doublespeak can be quite dangerous when it is used deliberately to obscure meaning, and the listener cannot anticipate or predict consequences based on the (in)effective communication. When a medical insurance company says, “We insure companies with up to twenty thousand lives,” is it possible to forget that those “lives” are people? Ethical issues quickly arise when humans are dehumanized and referred to as “objects” or “subjects.” When genocide is referred to as “ethnic cleansing,” is it any less deadly than when called by its true name?

      If the meaning was successfully hidden from the audience, one might argue that the doublespeak was in fact effective. But our goal continues to be clear and concise communication with a minimum of misinterpretation. Learn to recognize doublespeak by what it does not communicate as well as what it communicates.

      Each of these six barriers to communication contributes to misunderstanding and miscommunication, intentionally or unintentionally. If you recognize one of them, you can address it right away. You can redirect a question and get to essential meaning rather than leaving with a misunderstanding that impacts the relationship. In business communication, our goal of clear and concise communication remains constant, but we can never forget that trust is the foundation for effective communication. Part of our effort must include reinforcing the relationship inherent between source and receiver, and one effective step toward that goal is to reduce obstacles to effective communication.


      To avoid obstacles to communication, avoid clichés, jargon, slang, sexist and racist language, euphemisms, and doublespeak.


      1. Identify at least five common clichés and look up their origins. Try to understand how and when each phrase became a cliché. Share your findings with your classmates.
      2. Using your library’s microfilm files or an online database, look through newspaper articles from the 1950s or earlier. Find at least one article that uses sexist or racist language. What makes it racist or sexist? How would a journalist convey the same information today? Share your findings with your class.
      3. Identify one slang term and one euphemism you know is used in your community, among your friends, or where you work. Share and compare with classmates.
      4. How does language change over time? Interview someone older than you and someone younger than you and identify words that have changed. Pay special attention to jargon and slang words.
      5. Is there ever a justifiable use for doublespeak? Why or why not? Explain your response and give some examples.
      6. Can people readily identify the barriers to communication? Survey ten individuals and see if they accurately identify at least one barrier, even if they use a different term or word.



      Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at


      5.5 Improving Verbal Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • List and explain the use of six strategies for improving verbal communication.
      • Demonstrate the appropriate use of definitions in an oral or written presentation.
      • Understand how to assess the audience, choose an appropriate tone, and check for understanding and results in an oral or written presentation.

      Throughout the chapter, we have visited examples and stories that highlight the importance of verbal communication. To end the chapter, we need to consider how language can be used to enlighten or deceive, encourage or discourage, empower or destroy. By defining the terms we use and choosing precise words, we will maximize our audience’s understanding of our message. In addition, it is important to consider the audience, control your tone, check for understanding, and focus on results. Recognizing the power of verbal communication is the first step to understanding its role and impact on the communication process.

      Define Your Terms

      Even when you are careful to craft your message clearly and concisely, not everyone will understand every word you say or write. As an effective business communicator, you know it is your responsibility to give your audience every advantage in understanding your meaning. Yet your presentation would fall flat if you tried to define each and every term—you would end up sounding like a dictionary.

      The solution is to be aware of any words you are using that may be unfamiliar to your audience. When you identify an unfamiliar word, your first decision is whether to use it or to substitute a more common, easily understood word. If you choose to use an unfamiliar word, then you need to decide how to convey its meaning to those in your audience who are not familiar with it. You may do this in a variety of ways. The most obvious, of course, is to state the meaning directly or to rephrase the term in different words. But you may also convey the meaning in the process of making and supporting your points. Another way is to give examples to illustrate each concept or use parallels from everyday life.

      Overall, keep your audience in mind and imagine yourself in their place. This will help you to adjust your writing level and style to their needs, maximizing the likelihood that your message will be understood.

      Choose Precise Words

      To increase understanding, choose precise words that paint as vivid and accurate a mental picture as possible for your audience. If you use language that is vague or abstract, your meaning may be lost or misinterpreted. Your document or presentation will also be less dynamic and interesting than it could be.

      Table 2.2 “Precisely What Are You Saying?” lists some examples of phrases that are imprecise and precise. Which one evokes a more dynamic image in your imagination?

      Table 2.2 Precisely What Are You Saying?

      The famous writer William Safire died in 2009; he was over seventy.

      The former Nixon speech writer, language authority, and New York Times columnist William Safire died of pancreatic cancer in 2009; he was seventy-nine.

      Clumber spaniels are large dogs.

      The Clumber Spaniel Club of America describes the breed as a “long, low, substantial dog,” standing 17 to 20 inches high and weighing 55 to 80 pounds.

      It is important to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy.

      Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products can improve your health during pregnancy and boost your chances of having a healthy baby.

      We are making good progress on the project.

      In the two weeks since inception, our four-member team has achieved three of the six objectives we identified for project completion; we are on track to complete the project in another three to four weeks.

      For the same amount spent, we expected more value added.

      We have examined several proposals in the $10,000 range, and they all offer more features than what we see in the $12,500 system ABC Corp. is offering.

      Officers were called to the scene.

      Responding to a 911 call, State Police Officers Arellano and Chavez sped to the intersection of County Route 53 and State Highway 21.

      The victim went down the street.

      The victim ran screaming to the home of a neighbor, Mary Lee of 31 Orchard Street.

      Several different colorways are available.

      The silk jacquard fabric is available in ivory, moss, cinnamon, and topaz colorways.

      This smartphone has more applications than customers can imagine.

      At last count, the BlackBerry Tempest has more than 500 applications, many costing 99 cents or less; users can get real-time sports scores, upload videos to TwitVid, browse commuter train schedules, edit e-mails before forwarding, and find recipes—but so far, it doesn’t do the cooking for you.

      A woman was heckled when she spoke at a health care event.

      On August 25, 2009, Rep. Frank Pallone (Democrat of New Jersey’s 6th congressional district) hosted a “town hall” meeting on health care reform where many audience members heckled and booed a woman in a wheelchair as she spoke about the need for affordable health insurance and her fears that she might lose her home.

      Consider Your Audience

      In addition to precise words and clear definitions, contextual clues are important to guide your audience as they read. If you are speaking to a general audience and choose to use a word in professional jargon that may be understood by many—but not all—of the people in your audience, follow it by a common reference that clearly relates its essential meaning. With this positive strategy you will be able to forge relationships with audience members from diverse backgrounds. Internal summaries tell us what we’ve heard and forecast what is to come. It’s not just the words, but also how people hear them that counts.

      If you say the magic words “in conclusion,” you set in motion a set of expectations that you are about to wrap it up. If, however, you introduce a new point and continue to speak, the audience will perceive an expectancy violation and hold you accountable. You said the magic words but didn’t honor them. One of the best ways to display respect for your audience is to not exceed the expected time in a presentation or length in a document. Your careful attention to contextual clues will demonstrate that you are clearly considering your audience.

      Take Control of Your Tone

      Does your writing or speech sound pleasant and agreeable? Simple or sophisticated? Or does it come across as stuffy, formal, bloated, ironic, sarcastic, flowery, rude, or inconsiderate? Recognizing our own tone is not always easy, as we tend to read or listen from our own viewpoint and make allowances accordingly.

      Once we have characterized our tone, we need to decide whether and how it can be improved. Getting a handle on how to influence the tone and make your voice match your intentions takes time and skill.

      One useful tip is to read your document out loud before you deliver it, just as you would practice a speech before you present it to an audience. Sometimes hearing your own words can reveal their tone, helping you decide whether it is correct or appropriate for the situation.

      Another way is to listen or watch others’ presentations that have been described with terms associated with tone. Martin Luther King Jr. had one style while President Barack Obama has another. The writing in The Atlantic is far more sophisticated than the simpler writing in USA Today, yet both are very successful with their respective audiences. What kind of tone is best for your intended audience?

      Finally, seek out and be receptive to feedback from teachers, classmates, and coworkers. Don’t just take the word of one critic, but if several critics point to a speech as an example of pompous eloquence, and you don’t want to come across in your presentation as pompous, you may learn from that example speech what to avoid.

      Check for Understanding

      When we talk to each other face-to-face, seeing if someone understood you isn’t all that difficult. Even if they really didn’t get it, you can see, ask questions, and clarify right away. That gives oral communication, particularly live interaction, a distinct advantage. Use this immediacy for feedback to your advantage. Make time for feedback and plan for it. Ask clarifying questions. Share your presentation with more than one person, and choose people that have similar characteristics to your anticipated audience.

      If you were going to present to a group that you knew in advance was of a certain age, sex, or professional background, it would only make sense to connect with someone from that group prior to your actual performance to check and see if what you have created and what they expect are similar. In oral communication, feedback is a core component of the communication model, and we can often see it, hear it, and it takes less effort to assess it.

      Be Results Oriented

      At the end of the day, the assignment has to be complete. It can be a challenge to balance the need for attention to detail with the need to arrive at the end product—and its due date. Stephen CoveyCovey, S. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. suggests beginning with the end in mind as one strategy for success. If you have done your preparation, know your assignment goals and desired results, have learned about your audience, and tailored the message to their expectations, then you are well on your way to completing the task. No document or presentation is perfect, but the goal itself is worthy of your continued effort for improvement.

      Here the key is to know when further revision will not benefit the presentation and to shift the focus to test marketing, asking for feedback, or simply sharing it with a mentor or coworker for a quick review. Finding balance while engaging in an activity that requires a high level of attention to detail can be challenge for any business communicator, but it is helpful to keep the end in mind.


      • To improve communication, define your terms, choose precise words, consider your audience, control your tone, check for understanding, and aim for results.


      • Choose a piece of writing from a profession you are unfamiliar with. For example, if you are studying biology, choose an excerpt from a book on fashion design. Identify several terms you are unfamiliar with, terms that may be considered jargon. How does the writer help you understand the meaning of these terms? Could the writer make them easier to understand? Share your findings with your class.
      • In your chosen career field or your college major, identify ten jargon words, define them, and share them with the class.
      • Describe a simple process, from brushing your teeth to opening the top of a bottle, in as precise terms as possible. Present to the class.




      Additional Resources

      Benjamin Lee Whorf was one of the twentieth century’s foremost linguists. Learn more about his theories of speech behavior by visiting this site.

      Visit Infoplease to learn more about the eminent linguist (and U.S. senator) S. I. Hayakawa.

      Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker is one of today’s most innovative authorities on language. Explore reviews of books about language Pinker has published. offers a wealth of definitions, synonym finders, and other guides to choosing the right words.

      Visit Goodreads and learn about one of the best word usage guides, Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage

      Visit Goodreads and learn about one of the most widely used style manuals, The Chicago Manual of Style

      For in-depth information on how to present visuals effectively, visit the Web site of Edward Tufte, a Professor Emeritus at Yale University, where he taught courses in statistical evidence, information design, and interface design.

      The “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most famous speeches of all time. View it on video and read the text.

      The Religious Communication Association, an interfaith organization, seeks to promote honest, respectful dialogue reflecting diversity of religious beliefs.

      To learn more about being results oriented, visit the Web site of Stephen Covey, author of the best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

      This page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike License and contains content from a variety of sources published under a variety of open licenses, including:

      If you believe that a portion of this Open Course Framework infringes another’s copyright, contact us.

      Chapter 6 Nonverbal Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • define nonverbal communication

      Defining Nonverbal Communication

      Like verbal communication, we use nonverbal communication to share meaning with others. Just as there are many definitions for verbal communication, there are also many ways to define nonverbal communication, let’s look at a few.

      Burgoon, Buller, and Woodall define nonverbal communication similarly to how we defined verbal communication in the previous chapter. They state that nonverbal behaviors are “typically sent with intent, are used with regularity among members of a social community, are typically interpreted as intentional, and have consensually recognized interpretations” (113). In our opinion, this sounds too much like verbal communication and might best be described as symbolic and systematic nonverbal communication.

      Mead differentiated between what he termed as “gesture” versus “significant symbol,” while Buck and VanLear took Mead’s idea and argued that “gestures are not symbolic in that their relationship to their referents is not arbitrary,” a fundamental distinction between verbal and nonverbal communication (524). Think of all the ways you unconsciously move your body throughout the day. For example, you probably do not sit in your classes and constantly think about your nonverbal behaviors. Instead, much of the way you present yourself nonverbally in your classes is done unconsciously. Even so, others can derive meaning from your nonverbal behaviors, whether they are intentional or not. For example, professors watch their students’ nonverbal communication in class (such as slouching, leaning back in the chair, or looking at their watch) and make assumptions about them (they are bored, tired, or worrying about a test in another class). These assumptions are often based on acts that are typically done unintentionally.

      Nonverbal Communicators in Sillouette

      While we certainly use nonverbal communication consciously at times to generate and share particular meanings, when examined closely, it should be apparent that this channel of communication is not the same as verbal communication, which is “an agreed-upon rule-governed system of symbols.” Rather, nonverbal communication is most often spontaneous, unintentional and may not follow formalized symbolic rule systems.




      6.1 Differences Between Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

      • explain the differences between verbal and nonverbal communication.
      • explain the behaviors that make nonverbal communication unique.

      Differences Between Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

      There are four fundamental differences between verbal and nonverbal communication. The first difference between verbal and nonverbal communication is that we use a single channel (words) when we communicate verbally versus multiple channels when we communicate nonverbally. Try this exercise! Say your first and last name at the same time. You quickly find that this is an impossible task. Now, pat the top of your head with your right hand, wave with your left hand, smile, shrug your shoulders, and chew gum at the same time. While goofy and awkward, our ability to do this demonstrates how we use multiple nonverbal channels simultaneously to communicate.

      Language graphic                                     Nonverbal graphic


      In the previous chapter, we learned how difficult it can be to decode a sender’s single verbal message due to the arbitrary, abstract, and ambiguous nature of language. But, think how much more difficult it is to decode the even more ambiguous and multiple nonverbal signals we take in, like eye contact, facial expressions, body movements, clothing, personal artifacts, and tone of voice all at the same time. Despite this difficulty, Motley found that we learn to decode nonverbal communication as babies. Hall found that women are much better than men at accurately interpreting the many nonverbal cues we send and receive (Gore). How we interpret these nonverbal signals can also be influenced by our gender as the viewer.


      Man crossing his arms with a slight smile                             Woman holding a cup       

      How would you interpret the nonverbal behaviors of both of these people? What is your impression of them based on these behaviors?

      Nonverbal communication is similar in that we evaluate nonverbal cues in relation to one another and consider the context of the situation. Suppose you see your friend in the distance. She approaches, waves, smiles, and says “hello.” To interpret the meaning of this, you focus on the wave, smile, tone of voice, her approaching movement, and the verbal message. You might also consider the time of day, if there is a pressing need to get to class, etc.A second difference between verbal and nonverbal communication is that verbal communication is distinct (linear) while nonverbal communication is continuous (in constant motion and relative to context). Distinct means that messages have a clear beginning and end and are expressed in a linear fashion. We begin and end words and sentences in a linear way to make it easier for others to follow and understand. If you pronounce the word “cat” you begin with the letter “C” and proceed to finish with “T.” Continuous means that messages are ongoing and work in relation to other nonverbal and verbal cues. Think about the difference between analog and digital clocks. The analog clock represents nonverbal communication in that we generate meaning by considering the relationship of the different arms to each other (context). Also, the clock’s arms are in continuous motion. We notice the speed of their movement, their position in the circle and to each other, and their relationship with the environment (is it day or night?).

      Man in car yelling

      What message might this driver be trying to convey?

      A third difference between verbal and nonverbal communication is that we use verbal communication consciously while we generally use nonverbal communication unconsciously. Conscious communication means that we think about our verbal communication before we communicate. Unconscious communication means that we do not think about every nonverbal message we communicate. If you ever heard the statement as a child, “Think before you speak,” you were being told a fundamental principle of verbal communication. Realistically, it’s nearly impossible not to think before we speak. When we speak, we do so consciously and intentionally. In contrast, when something funny happens, you probably do not think, “Okay, I’m going to smile and laugh right now.” Instead, you react unconsciously, displaying your emotions through these nonverbal behaviors. Nonverbal communication can occur as unconscious reactions to situations. We are not claiming that all nonverbal communication is unconscious. At times we certainly make conscious choices to use or withhold nonverbal communication to share meaning. Angry drivers use many conscious nonverbal expressions to communicate to other drivers! In a job interview you are making conscious decisions about your wardrobe, posture, and eye contact.

      Case In Point

      Body language expert and author, Vanessa Van Edwards, reveals some interesting facts about body language in western culture in an interview with AM Northwest Today on September 18, 2013. She explains that men are not as good at reading body language cues as women because they use different areas of their brains when decoding. She states, “women might be better at reading body language because … [they] have 14 to 16 active brain areas while evaluating others, whereas men only have 4 to 6 active.” Edwards also explains how men and women nonverbally lie differently because they tend to lie for different reasons; “Men lie to appear more powerful, interesting, and successful, … [whereas] women lie … more to protect other's feelings.” To learn more about differences in female and male body language, you can read the full article and watch the video.

      A fourth difference between verbal and nonverbal communication is that some nonverbal communication is universal (Hall, Chia, and Wang; Tracy & Robins). Verbal communication is exclusive to the users of a particular language dialect, whereas some nonverbal communication is recognized across cultures. Although cultures most certainly have particular meanings and uses for nonverbal communication, there are universal nonverbal behaviors that almost everyone recognizes. For instance, people around the world recognize and use expressions such as smiles, frowns, and the pointing of a finger at an object. Note: Not all nonverbal gestures are universal! For example, if you travel to different regions of the world, find out what is appropriate! For example, if you go to South Korea don’t offer payment with only one hand. Click here for an example.

      Let us sum up how nonverbal communication is unique:

      • Nonverbal communication uses multiple channels simultaneously.
      • Nonverbal communication is continuous.
      • Nonverbal communication can be both conscious and unconscious.
      • Certain nonverbal communication is universally understood.

      Now that you have a definition of nonverbal communication, and can identify the primary differences between verbal and nonverbal communication, let’s examine what constitutes nonverbal communication. In this next section, we show you eight types of nonverbal communication we regularly use: kinesics, haptics, appearance, proxemics, environment, chronemics, paralanguage, and silence.



      Survey of Communication Study. Authored by: Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn. Provided by: Humboldt State University. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

      Image of Verbal Communication chart. Authored by: Spaynton. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

      Image of Nonverbal Communication Chart. Authored by: Spaynton. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

      Image of smiling girl. Authored by: Spaynton. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

      Image of guy with arms folded. Authored by: Spaynton. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

      Image of guy in car. Authored by: Spaynton. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike



      6.2 Types of Nonverbal Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • identify and explain four types of nonverbal communication.
      • understand that we send and interpret an infinite number of combination of nonverbal behavior while communicatinb.

      Types of Nonverbal Communication

      Kinesics is the study of how we use body movement and facial expressions. We interpret a great deal of meaning through body movement, facial expressions, and eye contact. Many people believe they can easily interpret the meanings of body movements and facial expressions in others. In reality, it is almost impossible to determine an exact meaning for gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact. Even so, we rely a great deal on kinesics to interpret and express meaning. We know that kinesics can communicate liking, social status, and even relational responsiveness (Mehrabian). Facial expressions are a primary method of sharing emotions and feelings (Ekman & Friesen; Scherer, Klaus, & Scherer). For example, imagine yourself at a party, and you see someone across the room you are attracted to.

      Woman with tattoos

      Tattoos, hairstyle, dress, and makeup are all part of personal appearance.

      What sort of nonverbal behaviors do you engage in to let that person know? Likewise, what nonverbal behaviors are you looking for from them to indicate that it’s safe to come over and introduce yourself? We are able to go through exchanges like this using only our nonverbal communication.

      Haptics is the study of touch. Touch is the first type of nonverbal communication we experience as humans and is vital to our development and health (Dolin & Booth-Butterfield; Wilson, et al.). Those who don’t have positive touch in their lives are less healthy both mentally and physically than those who experience positive touch. We use touch to share feelings and relational meanings. Hugs, kisses, handshakes, or even playful roughhousing demonstrate relational meanings and indicate relational closeness. In western society, touch is largely reserved for family and romantic relationships. Generally, girls and women in same-sex friendships have more liberty to express touch as part of the relationship than men in same-sex friendships. However, despite these unfortunate social taboos, the need for touch is so strong that men are quite sophisticated at finding ways to incorporate this into their friendships in socially acceptable ways. One such example is wrestling among adolescent and young adult males. Do you ever wonder why you don’t see as many women doing this? Perhaps it’s because wrestling is socially acceptable for men, whereas women are more likely to hug, hold hands, and sit touching one another. In contrast, an exchange student from Brazil recognized the differences in touch between cultures when arriving in the United States. She was surprised when someone hesitated to remove an eyelash from her face and apologized for touching her. In her country, no one would hesitate to do this act. She realized how much more physical touch is accepted and even expected in her culture. Cultural norms around touch and gender constructs, and everyone can prevent and limit touching behaviors in ways that are comfortable to them.

      Personal Appearance, Objects, and Artifacts are types of nonverbal communication we use on our bodies and surroundings to communicate meaning to others. Consider your preferences for hairstyle, clothing, jewelry, automobiles, and the way you maintain your body. Your choices express meanings to those around you about what you value and the image you wish to put forth. As with most communication, our choices for personal appearance, objects, and artifacts occur within cultural contexts and are interpreted in light of these contexts. Consider the recent trendiness and popularity of tattoos. While once associated primarily with prison and armed services, tattoos have become mainstream and are used to articulate a variety of personal, political, and cultural messages.

      Proxemics is the study of how our use of space influences the ways we relate with others. It also demonstrates our relational standing with those around us (May). Edward Hall developed four categories of space we use in the U.S. to form and maintain relationships. Intimate space consists of space that ranges from touch to eighteen inches. We use intimate space with those with whom we are close (family members, close friends, and intimate partners). Intimate space is also the context for physical fighting and violence. Personal space ranges from eighteen inches to four feet and is reserved for most conversations with non-intimate others (friends and acquaintances). Social space extends from four to twelve feet and is used for small group interactions such as sitting around a dinner table with others or a group meeting. Public space extends beyond twelve feet and is most often used in public speaking situations. We use space to regulate our verbal communication and communicate relational and social meanings. A fun exercise to do is to go to a public space and observe people. Based on their use of the above categories of space, try to determine what type of relationship the people are in Romantic, Family, or Friends.

      Our environments are nonverbal acts through our use of spaces we occupy , like our homes, rooms, cars, or offices. Think of your home, room, automobile, or office space. What meanings can others perceive about you from these spaces? What meanings are you trying to send by how you keep them? Think about spaces you use frequently and the nonverbal meanings they have for you. Most educational institutions intentionally paint classrooms in dull colors. Why? Dull colors on walls have a calming effect, theoretically keeping students from being distracted by bright colors and excessive stimuli. Contrast the environment of a classroom to that of a fast food restaurant. These establishments have bright colors and hard plastic seats and tables. The bright colors generate an upbeat environment, while the hard plastic seats are just uncomfortable enough to keep patrons from staying too long–remember, it’s FAST food (Restaurants See Color As Key Ingredient). People and cultures place different emphasis on the use of space as a way to communicate nonverbally.

      Case In Point


      Feng Shui, which means wind and water, is the ancient Chinese art of living in harmony with our environment. Feng Shui can be traced as far back as the Banpo dwellings in 4000 BCE. The ideas behind Feng Shui state that how we use our environment and organize our belongings affects the energy flow (chi) of people in that space, and the person/people who created the environment. The inclusion or exclusion, and placement of various objects in our environments, are used to create a positive impact on others. The theory is to use the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth to design a space. Feng Shui is applicable to cities, villages, homes, and public spaces. The Temple of Heaven in Bejing, China, is an example of Feng Shui architecture. To keep harmony with the natural world, the Temple houses the Hall of Annual Prayer, which is comprised of four inner, 12 middle, and 12 outer pillars representing the four seasons, 12 months, and 12 traditional Chinese hours.

      Visual example of Feng Shui

      Chronemics is the study of how people use time. Are you someone who is always early or on time? Or are you someone who arrives late to most events? Levine believes our use of time communicates a variety of meanings to those around us. Think about the person you know who is most frequently late. How do you describe that person based on their use of time? Now, think about someone else who is always on time. How do you describe that person? Is there a difference? If so, these differences are probably based on their use of time. In the U.S., we place a high value on being on time and respond more positively to people who are punctual. But, in many Arab and Latin American countries, time is used more loosely, and punctuality is not necessarily a goal to achieve. You may have heard the expression “Indian time” to refer to “the perception of time [that] is circular and flexible” (Harris, Shutiva). This is the belief that activities will commence when everyone is present and ready, not according to an arbitrary schedule based on a clock or calendar. Neither approach is better than the other, but the dissimilar uses of time can create misunderstandings among those from different cultural groups.

      Paralanguage is the term we use to describe vocal qualities such as pitch, volume, inflection, rate of speech, and rhythm. While the types of nonverbal communication we’ve discussed so far are non-vocal, some nonverbal communication is actually vocal (noise is produced). How we say words often expresses greater meaning than the actual words themselves. Sarcasm and incongruence are two examples of this. The comedian Stephen Wright bases much of his comedy on his use of paralanguage. He talks in a completely monotone voice throughout his act and frequently makes statements such as, “I’m getting really excited,” while using a monotone voice accompanied by a blank facial expression. The humor lies in the congruency—his paralanguage and facial expression contradict his verbal message. Watch an example of his humor. Stephen Wright

      Nonverbal Communication Now


      An organization of women called Women in Black uses silence as a form of protest and hope for peace, particularly peace from war and the unfair treatment of women. Women in Black began in Israel in 1988 by women protesting Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Women in Black continues to expand and now functions in the United States, England, Italy, Spain, Azerbaijan, and Yugoslavia. Women gather in public spaces, dressed in black, and stand in silence for one hour once a week. Their mission states, “We are silent because mere words cannot express the tragedy that wars and hatred bring. We refuse to add to the cacophony of empty statements that are spoken with the best intentions yet have failed to bring lasting change and understanding or to the euphemistic jargon of the politicians, which has perpetuated misunderstanding and fear that leads to war….our silence is visible.”

      Whenever you use sarcasm, your paralanguage is intended to contradict the verbal message you say. As Professors, we have found that using sarcasm in the classroom can backfire when students do not pick up our paralinguistic cues and focus primarily on the verbal message. We have learned to use sarcasm sparingly so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

      Finally, silence serves as a type of nonverbal communication when we do not use words or utterances to convey meanings. Have you ever experienced the “silent treatment” from someone? What meanings did you take from that person’s silence? Silence is powerful because the person using silence may be refusing to engage in communication with you. Likewise, we can use silence to regulate the flow of our conversations. Silence has a variety of meanings, and, as with other types of nonverbal communication, context plays an important role for interpreting the meaning of silence. For example, the Day of Silence protest, which has taken place every year since 1996, is a day in which students use their silence as a tool to get people to stand up for LGBT rights. Here, like in the Women in Black movement, the participants believe that silence sends a louder message than anything they could say. Do you think they are right? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of using silence as a political strategy?  

      You should now recognize the infinite combination of verbal and nonverbal messages we can share. When you think about it, it really is astonishing that we can communicate effectively at all. We engage in a continuous dance of communication where we try to stay in step with one another. With an understanding of the definition of nonverbal communication and the types of nonverbal communication, let’s consider the various functions nonverbal communication serves in helping us communicate. (Ekman; Knapp; Malandro & Barker).



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      6.3 Functions of Nonverbal Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to 

      • identify and explain the functions of nonverbal communication.
      • explain the influence that culture can have on nonverbal communication.

      Functions of Nonverbal Communication

      You learned that we use verbal communication to express ideas, emotions, experiences, thoughts, objects, and people. But what functions does nonverbal communication serve as we communicate (Blumer)? Even though it’s not through words, nonverbal communication serves many functions to help us communicate meanings with one another more effectively.

      • We use nonverbal communication to duplicate verbal communication. When we use nonverbal communication to duplicate, we use nonverbal communication that is recognizable to most people within a particular cultural group. Obvious examples include a head-nod or a head-shake to duplicate the verbal messages of “yes” or “no.” If someone asks if you want to go to a movie, you might verbally answer “yes” and at the same time nod your head. This accomplishes the goal of duplicating the verbal message with a nonverbal message. Interestingly, the head nod is considered a “nearly universal indication of accord, agreement, and understanding” because the same muscle in the head nod is the same one a baby uses to lower its head to accept milk from its mother’s breast (Givens). We witnessed a two year old girl who was learning the duplication function of nonverbal communication and didn’t always get it right. When asked if she wanted something, her “yes” was shaking her head side to side as if she was communicating “no.” However, her “no” was the same head-shake, but it was accompanied by the verbal response “no.” So, when she was two, she thought that the duplication was what made her answer “no.”
      • We use nonverbal communication to replace verbal communication. If someone asks you a question, instead of a verbal reply “yes” and a head-nod, you may choose to simply nod your head without the accompanying verbal message. When we replace verbal communication with nonverbal communication, we use nonverbal behaviors that are easily recognized by others, such as a wave, head-nod, or head-shake. This is why it was so confusing for others to understand the young girl in the example above when she simply shook her head in response to a question. This was cleared up when someone asked her if she wanted something to eat, and she shook her head. When she didn’t get food, she began to cry. This was the first clue that the replacing function of communication still needed to be learned. Consider how universal shaking the head side-to-side is as an indicator of disbelief, disapproval, and negation. This nonverbal act is used by human babies to refuse food or drink; rhesus monkeys, baboons, bonnet macaques, and gorillas turn their faces sideways in aversion; and children born deaf/blind head shake to refuse objects or disapprove of touch (Givens).
      • We use nonverbal cues to complement verbal communication. If a friend tells you that she recently received a promotion and a pay raise, you can show your enthusiasm in a number of verbal and nonverbal ways. If you exclaim, “Wow, that’s great! I’m so happy for you!” while at the same time smiling and hugging your friend, you are using nonverbal communication to complement what you are saying. Unlike duplicating or replacing, nonverbal communication that complements cannot be used alone without the verbal message. If you simply smiled and hugged your friend without saying anything, the interpretation of that nonverbal communication would be more ambiguous than using it to complement your verbal message.
      • We use nonverbal communication to accent verbal communication. While nonverbal communication complements verbal communication, we also use it to accent verbal communication by emphasizing certain parts of the verbal message. For instance, you may be upset with a family member and state, “I’m very angry with you.” To accent this statement nonverbally, you might say, “I’m VERY angry with you,” placing your emphasis on the word “very” to demonstrate the magnitude of your anger. In this example, it is your tone of voice (paralanguage) that serves as the nonverbal communication that accents the message. Parents might tell their children to “come here.” If they point to the spot in front of them dramatically, they are accenting the “here” part of the verbal message.
      • We use nonverbal communication to regulate verbal communication. Generally, it is pretty easy for us to enter, maintain, and exit our interactions with others nonverbally. Rarely, if ever, would we approach a person and say, “I’m going to start a conversation with you now. Okay, let’s begin.” Instead, we might make eye contact, move closer to the person, or face the person directly — all nonverbal behaviors that indicate our desire to interact. Likewise, we do not generally end conversations by stating, “I’m done talking to you now,” unless there is a breakdown in the communication process. We are generally proficient in enacting nonverbal communication, such as looking at our watch, looking in the direction we wish to go, or being silent to indicate an impending end in the conversation. When there is a breakdown in the nonverbal regulation of conversation, we may say something to the effect, “I really need to get going now.” In fact, we’ve seen one example where someone does not seem to pick up on the nonverbal cues about ending a phone conversation. Because of this inability to pick up on the nonverbal regulation cues, others have literally had to resort to saying, “Okay, I’m hanging up the phone right now,” followed by actually hanging up the phone. In these instances, there was a breakdown in the use of nonverbal communication to regulate the conversation.
      • We use nonverbal communication to contradict verbal communication. Imagine that you visit your boss’s office, and she asks you how you’re enjoying a new work assignment. You may feel obligated to respond positively because it is your boss asking the question, even though you may not truly feel this way. However, your nonverbal communication may contradict your verbal message, indicating to your boss that you really do not enjoy the new work assignment. In this example, your nonverbal communication contradicts your verbal message and sends a mixed message to your boss. Research suggests that when verbal and nonverbal messages contradict one another, receivers often place greater value on the nonverbal communication as the more accurate message (Argyle, Alkema & Gilmour). One place this occurs frequently is in greeting sequences. You might say to your friend in passing, “How are you?” She might say, “Fine” but have a sad tone to her voice. In this case, her nonverbal behaviors go against her verbal response. We are more likely to interpret the nonverbal communication in this situation than the verbal response
      • We use nonverbal communication to mislead others. We can also use nonverbal communication to deceive and, often, focus on a person’s nonverbal communication when trying to detect deception. Recall a time when someone asked your opinion of a new haircut. If you did not like it, you may have verbally stated that you liked the haircut and provided nonverbal communication to further mislead the person about how you really felt. Conversely, when we try to determine if someone is misleading us, we generally focus on the nonverbal communication of the other person. One study suggests that when we only use nonverbal communication to detect deception in others, 78% of lies and truths can be detected (Vrij, Edward, Roberts, & Bull). However, other studies indicate that we are really not very effective at determining deceit in other people (Levine, Feeley & McCornack), and that we are only accurate 45 to 70 percent of the time when trying to determine if someone is misleading us (Kalbfleisch; Burgoon, et al.; Horchak, Giger, Pochwatko). When trying to detect deception, it is more effective to examine both verbal and nonverbal communication to see if they are consistent (Vrij, Akehurst, Soukara, & Bull). Even further than this, Park, Levine, McCornack, Morrison, & Ferrara argue that people usually go beyond verbal and nonverbal communication and consider what outsiders say physical evidence, and the relationship over a longer period of time. Read further in this article if you want to learn more about body language and how to detect lies.
      • We use nonverbal communication to indicate relational standing(Mehrabian; Burgoon, Buller, Hale, & deTurck; Le Poire, Duggan, Shepard, & Burgoon; Sallinen-Kuparinen; Floyd & Erbert). Take a few moments today to observe the nonverbal communication of people you see in public areas. What can you determine about their relational standing from their nonverbal communication? For example, romantic partners tend to stand close to one another and touch one another frequently. On the other hand, acquaintances generally maintain greater distances and touch less than romantic partners. Those who hold higher social status often use more space when they interact with others. In the United States, it is generally acceptable for women in platonic relationships to embrace and be physically close while males are often discouraged from doing so. Contrast this to many other nations where it is custom for males to greet each other with a kiss or a hug and hold hands as a symbol of friendship. We make many inferences about relational standing based on the nonverbal communication of those with whom we interact and observe. Imagine seeing a couple talking to each other across a small table. They both have faces that looked upset, red eyes from crying, closed body positions, are leaning into each other, and are whispering emphatically. Upon seeing this, would you think they were having a “Breakup conversation”?

      • We use nonverbal communication to demonstrate and maintain cultural norms. We’ve already shown that some nonverbal communication is universal, but the majority of nonverbal communication is culturally specific. For example, in United States culture, people typically place high value on their personal space. In the United States people maintain far greater personal space than those in many other cultures. If you go to New York City, you might observe that any time someone accidentally touches you on the subway he/she might apologize profusely for the violation of personal space. Cultural norms of anxiety and fear surrounding issues of crime and terrorism appear to cause people to be more sensitive to others in public spaces, highlighting the importance of culture and context.
      • Contrast this example to norms in many Asian cultures where frequent touch in crowded public spaces goes unnoticed because space is not used in the same ways. For example, watch this short video of how space is used in China’s subway system.

        If you go grocery shopping in China as a westerner, you might be shocked that shoppers would ram their shopping carts into others’ carts when they wanted to move around them in the aisle. This is not an indication of rudeness, but a cultural difference in the negotiation of space. You would need to adapt to using this new approach to personal space, even though it carries a much different meaning in the U.S. Nonverbal cues such as touch, eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures are culturally specific and reflect and maintain the values and norms of the cultures in which they are used.

        A woman smiling and frowning

      • We use nonverbal communication to communicate emotions. While we can certainly tell people how we feel, we more frequently use nonverbal communication to express our emotions. Conversely, we tend to interpret emotions by examining nonverbal communication. For example, a friend may be feeling sad one day, and it is probably easy to tell this by her nonverbal communication. Not only may she be less talkative, but her shoulders may be slumped, and she may not smile. One study suggests that it is important to use and interpret nonverbal communication for emotional expression and, ultimately, relational attachment and satisfaction (Schachner, Shaver, & Mikulincer). Research also underscores the fact that people in close relationships have an easier time reading the nonverbal communication of emotion of their relational partners than those who aren’t close. Likewise, those in close relationships can more often detect concealed emotions (Sternglanz & Depaulo).

      Now that you know the functions of nonverbal communication, think about how these behaviors operate in your experience. What influence do they have on your day-to-day interactions? Knowledge of these behaviors and the function they serve might just help you navigate your life in organizations more effectively!

      More To Consider...



      If you don’t think the things that Communication scholars study (like nonverbal communication) applies to you, think again! A quick search of nonverbal communication on Google will yield a great many sites devoted to translating nonverbal research into practical guides for your personal life. One example on is the article “10 Things You Can Tell About Your Date Through Body Language,” written by Reveal Calvin Klein (2014). In the article, Klein outlines 10 nonverbal cues to read to see if someone is interested in you romantically. While we won’t vouch for the reliability of these types of pieces, they do show the relevance of studying areas like nonverbal communication has in our personal lives.


      You may be thinking that getting the right degree at the right college is the way to get a job. Think again! It may be a good way to get an interview, but once at the interview, what matters? College Journal reports that, “Body language comprises 55% of the force of any response, whereas the verbal content only provides 7%, and paralanguage, or the intonation — pauses, and sighs given when answering — represents 38% of the emphasis.” If you show up to an interview smelling of cigarette smoke, chewing gum, dressed inappropriately, and listening to music on your phone, you’re probably in trouble.

      About.Com states that these are some effective nonverbal practices during interviews:

      • Make eye contact with the interviewer for a few seconds at a time.
      • Smile and nod (at appropriate times) when the interviewer is talking, but don’t overdo it. Don’t laugh unless the interviewer does first.
      • Be polite and keep an even tone to your speech. Don’t be too loud or too quiet.
      • Don’t slouch.
      • Do relax and lean forward a little toward the interviewer so you appear interested and engaged.
      • Don’t lean back. You will look too casual and relaxed.
      • Keep your feet on the floor and your back against the lower back of the chair.
      • Pay attention, and be attentive and interested.
      • Listen.
      • Don’t interrupt.
      • Stay calm. Even if you had a bad experience at a previous position or were fired, keep your emotions to yourself and do not show anger or frown.
      • Not sure what to do with your hands? Hold a pen and your notepad, or rest an arm on the chair or on your lap, so you look comfortable. Don’t let your arms fly around the room when you’re making a point.



      In Japan, it is considered improper for women to be shown with their mouths open in public. Not surprisingly, this makes it difficult to eat particular foods, such as hamburgers. So, in 2013, the Japanese Burger chain, Freshness Burger, developed a solution: the liberation wrapper. The wrapper, or mask, hides women’s mouths as they eat, thus allowing them to maintain the expected gendered nonverbal behavior for the culture. To read and see more about this, click here for the article. 

      Key Takeaways

      In this chapter, you have learned that we define nonverbal communication as any meaning shared through sounds, behaviors, and artifacts other than words. Some of the differences between verbal and nonverbal communication include the fact that verbal communication uses one channel while nonverbal communication occurs through multiple channels simultaneously. As a result, verbal communication is distinct while nonverbal communication is continuous. For the most part, nonverbal communication is enacted at an unconscious level while we are almost always conscious of our verbal communication. Finally, some nonverbal communication is considered universal and recognizable by people all over the world, while verbal communication is exclusive to particular languages.

      There are many types of nonverbal communication including kinesics, haptics, appearance, objects, artifacts, proxemics, our environment, chronemics, paralanguage, and silence. These types of nonverbal communication help us share meanings in our interactions. Now that you have a basic understanding of verbal and nonverbal communication as a primary focus of study in our field, let’s look at how theory helps us understand our world.


      1. Have you ever communicated with someone outside of your culture? How were their nonverbals similar to your own, or different?
      2. Have you ever had your nonverbal cues misinterpreted? For example, someone thought you liked them because your proxemics suggested an intimate relationship. How did you correct the misinterpretation?
      3. What kind of nonverbal communication do you use every day? What does it accomplish for you?
      4. Which do you consider has greater weight when interpreting a message from someone else, verbal or nonverbal communication? Why?



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      Chapter 7 Interpersonal Communication

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

      • Define interpersonal communication.

      Think about your relationships in the last few years. You may have just transitioned from high school to a community college or university. Perhaps you and your friends from high school went to different colleges and are now living far apart from each other. If you have recently been separated by distance from friends or family, you have noticed that it is more difficult to stay connected and share all of the little things that go on in your day. As you continue to grow and change in college, it is likely that you will create relationships along the way. Being away from your family, you will probably notice changes to your relationships with them. All of these dynamics, and many more, fall under the scope of interpersonal communication.

      Two people in conversation

      Before going any further, let's define interpersonal communication. “Inter” means between, among, mutually, or together. The second part of the word “personal” refers to a specific individual or particular role that an individual may occupy. Thus, interpersonal communication is communication between individual people. We often engage in interpersonal communication in dyads, which means between two people. It may also occur in small groups, such as you and your housemates trying to figure out a system for household chores.

      Important to know is that the definition of interpersonal communication is not simply a quantitative one. What this means is that you cannot define it by merely counting the number of people involved. Instead, Communication scholars view interpersonal communication qualitatively, meaning that it occurs when people communicate with each other as unique individuals. Thus, interpersonal communication is a process of exchange where there is desire and motivation on the part of those involved to get to know each other as individuals.

      The purpose of this chapter is to give a very brief overview of a few of the concepts that may relate to the way we communicate interpersonally in the workplace setting. Given that conflict is a natural part of interpersonal communication, we will also discuss multiple ways of understanding and managing conflict. But before we go into detail about some fundamental concepts, let’s examine two important aspects of interpersonal communication: self-disclosure and climate.



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      7.1 Self-Disclosure

      Section Objective

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

      • explain the concept of self-disclosure.
      • explain the concept of the Johari Window.

      Interpersonal Communication Now


      One emerging area of interest in the arena of interpersonal communication is self-disclosure in a classroom setting and the challenges that teachers face in dealing with personal boundaries. Melanie Booth wrote an article discussing this issue, incorporating her personal experiences. Even though self-disclosure challenges boundaries between teacher-student or student-student, she states that it can offer “transformative” learning opportunities that allow students to apply what they have learned to their life in a deeper more meaningful way. She concludes that the “potential boundary challenges associated with student self-disclosure can be proactively managed and retroactively addressed with careful thought and action and with empathy, respect, and ethical responses toward our students” (Booth).

      Because interpersonal communication is the primary means by which we get to know others as unique individuals, it is important to understand the role of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is the process of revealing information about yourself to others that is not readily known by them—you have to disclose it. In face-to-face interactions, telling someone “I am a white woman” would not be self-disclosure because that person can perceive that about you without being told. However, revealing “I am an avid surfer” or “My favorite kind of music is “electronic trance” would be examples of self-disclosure because these are pieces of personal information others do not know unless you tell them. Given that our definition of interpersonal communication requires people to “build knowledge of one another” to get to know them as unique individuals, the necessity for self-disclosure should be obvious.

      There are degrees of self-disclosure, ranging from relatively safe (revealing your hobbies or musical preferences), to more personal topics (illuminating fears, dreams for the future, or fantasies). Typically, as relationships deepen and trust is established, self-disclosure increases in both breadth and depth. We tend to disclose facts about ourselves first (I am a Biology major), then move towards opinions (I feel the war is wrong), and finally disclose feelings (I’m sad that you said that). An important aspect of self-disclosure is the rule of reciprocity. This rule states that self-disclosure between two people works best in a back and forth fashion. When you tell someone something personal, you probably expect them to do the same. When one person reveals more than another, there can be an imbalance in the relationship because the one who self-discloses more may feel vulnerable as a result of sharing more personal information.


      The sections of the Johari Window

      Johari Window

      One way to visualize self-disclosure is the Johari Window which comes from combining the first names of the window’s creators, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. The window is divided into four quadrants: the arena, the blind spot, the facade, and the unknown (Luft).

      The arena area contains information that is known to us and to others, such as our height, hair color, occupation, or major. In general, we are comfortable discussing or revealing these topics with most people. Information in the blind spot includes those things that may be apparent to others yet we are unaware of it in ourselves. The habit of playing with your hair when nervous may be a habit that others have observed, but you have not. The third area, the façade, contains information that is hidden from others but is known to you. Previous mistakes or failures, embarrassing moments, or family history are topics we typically hold close and reveal only in the context of safe, long-term relationships. Finally, the unknown area contains information that neither others nor we know about. We cannot know how we will react when a parent dies or just what we will do after graduation until the experience occurs. Knowing about ourselves, especially our blind and unknown areas enables us to have a healthy, well-rounded self-concept. As we make choices to self-disclose to others, we are engaging in negotiating relational dialectics.

      Relational Dialectics

      One way we can better understand our personal relationships is by understanding the notion of relational dialectics. Baxter describes three relational dialectics that are constantly at play in interpersonal relationships. Essentially, they are a continuum of needs for each participant in a relationship that must be negotiated by those involved. Let’s take a closer look at the three primary
      relational dialectics that are at work in all interpersonal relationships.

      autonomy novelty openness triangle

      • Autonomy-Connection refers to our need to have a close connection with others as well as our need to have our own space and identity. We may miss our romantic partner when they are away but simultaneously enjoy and cherish that alone time. When you first enter a romantic relationship, you probably want to be around the other person as much as possible. As the relationship grows, you likely begin to desire fulfilling your need for autonomy or alone time. In every relationship, each person must balance how much time to spend with the other versus how much time to spend alone.
      • Novelty-Predictability is the idea that we desire predictability as well as spontaneity in our relationships. In every relationship, we take comfort in a certain level of routine as a way of knowing what we can count on the other person in the relationship. Such predictability provides a sense of comfort and security. However, it requires balance with novelty to avoid boredom. An example of balance might be friends who get together every Saturday for brunch but make a commitment to always try new restaurants each week.
      • Openness-Closedness refers to the desire to be open and honest with others while at the same time not wanting to reveal everything about yourself to someone else. One’s desire for privacy does not mean they are shutting out others. It is a normal human need. We tend to disclose the most personal information to those with whom we have the closest relationships. However, even these people do not know everything about us. As the old saying goes, “We all have skeletons in our closet,” and that’s okay.

      How We Handle Relational Dialectics

      Understanding that these three dialectical tensions are at play in all relationships is a first step in understanding how our relationships work. However, awareness alone is not enough. Couples, friends, or family members have strategies for managing these tensions in an attempt to meet the needs of each person. Baxter identifies four ways we can handle dialectical tensions.

      Dialectical Tension

      The first option is to neutralize the extremes of the dialectical tensions. Here, individuals compromise, creating a solution where neither person’s need (such as novelty or predictability) is fully satisfied. Individual needs may be different and never fully realized. For example, if one person seeks a great deal of autonomy, and the other person in the relationship seeks a great deal of connection, neutralization would not make it possible for either person to have their desires met. Instead, each person might feel like they are not getting quite enough of their particular need met.

      The second option is separation. This is when someone favors one end of the dialectical continuum and ignores the other or alternates between the extremes. For example, a couple in a commuter relationship in which each person works in a different city may decide to live apart during the week (autonomy) and be together on the weekends (connection). In this sense, they are alternating between the extremes by being completely alone during the week yet completely together on the weekends.

      When people decide to divide their lives into spheres, they are practicing segmentation. For example, your extended family may be very close and choose to spend religious holidays together. However, members of your extended family might reserve other special days such as birthdays, for celebrating with friends. This approach divides needs according to the different segments of your life.

      The final option for dealing with these tensions is reframing. This strategy requires creativity not only in managing the tensions, but understanding how they work in the relationship. For example, the two ends of the dialectic are not viewed as opposing or contradictory at all. Instead, they are understood as supporting the other need, as well as the relationship itself. A couple who does not live together, for example, may agree to spend two nights of the week alone or with friends as a sign of their autonomy. The time spent alone or with others gives each person the opportunity to develop themselves and their own interests so that they are better able to share themselves with their partner and enhance their connection.

      In general, there is no one right way to understand and manage dialectical tensions since every relationship is unique. However, always satisfying one's needs and ignoring the other may be a sign of trouble in the relationship (Baxter). It is important to remember that relational dialectics are a natural part of our relationships and that we have a lot of choice, freedom, and creativity in how we work them out with our relational partners. It is also important to remember that dialectical tensions are negotiated differently in each relationship. How we self-disclose and manage dialectical tensions contribute greatly to what we call the communication climate in relationships.



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      7.2 Communication Climate

      Section Objectives

      By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

      • Understand the role of communication climate on interpersonal communication.
      • define and explain what confirming and disconfirming climates are.
      • explain the various types of messages that contribute to these types of climates.


      Interpersonal Communication Now


      In a study published in the journal Science, researchers reported that the sickening feeling we get when we are socially rejected (being ignored at a party or passed over when picking teams) is real. When researchers measured brain responses to social stress, they found a pattern similar to what occurs in the brain when our body experiences physical pain. Specifically, “the area affected is the anterior cingulated cortex, a part of the brain known to be involved in the emotional response to pain” (Fox). The doctor who conducted the study, Matt Lieberman, a social psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “It makes sense for humans to be programmed this way. . .Social interaction is important to survival.”

        Communication Climate

        Do you feel organized or confined in a clean workspace? Are you more productive when the sun is shining than when it’s gray and cloudy outside? Just as factors like weather and physical space impact us, communication climate influences our interpersonal interactions. Communication climate is the “overall feeling or emotional mood between people” (Wood 245). If you dread going to visit your family during the holidays because of tension between you and your sister, or you look forward to dinner with a particular set of friends because they make you laugh, you are responding to the communication climate—the overall mood that is created because of the people involved and the type of communication they bring to the interaction. Let’s look at two different types of communication climates: Confirming and Disconfirming climates.

        Confirming and Disconfirming Climates

        Positive and negative climates can be understood along three dimensions—recognition, acknowledgment, and endorsement. We experience Confirming Climates when we receive messages that demonstrate our value and worth from those with whom we have a relationship. Conversely, we experience Disconfirming Climates when we receive messages that suggest we are devalued and unimportant. Obviously, most of us like to be in confirming climates because they foster emotional safety as well as personal and relational growth. However, it is likely that your relationships fall somewhere between the two extremes. Let’s look at three types of messages that create confirming and disconfirming climates.

        • Recognition Messages: Recognition messages either confirm or deny another person’s existence. For example, if a friend enters your home and your smile, hug him, and say, “I’m so glad to see you” you are confirming his existence. If you say “good morning” to a colleague and she ignores you by walking out of the room without saying anything, she is creating a disconfirming climate by not recognizing you as a unique individual.
        • Acknowledgement Messages: Acknowledgement messages go beyond recognizing another’s existence by confirming what they say or how they feel. Nodding our head while listening, or laughing appropriately at a funny story, are nonverbal acknowledgment messages. When a friend tells you she had a really bad day at work, and you respond with, “Yeah, that does sound hard, do you want to go somewhere quiet and talk?” you are acknowledging and responding to her feelings. In contrast, if you were to respond to your friend’s frustrations with a comment like, “That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me today,” you would be ignoring her experience and presenting yours as more important.
        • Endorsement Messages: Endorsement messages go one step further by recognizing a person’s feelings as valid. Suppose a friend comes to you upset after a fight with his girlfriend. If you respond with, “Yeah, I can see why you would be upset,” you are endorsing his right to feel upset. However, if you said, “Get over it. At least you have a girlfriend,” you would be sending messages that deny his right to feel frustrated at that moment. While it is difficult to see people we care about in emotional pain; people are responsible for their own emotions. When we let people own their emotions and do not tell them how to feel, we are creating supportive climates that provide a safe environment for them to work through their problems.

        3 types of messages in communication climate

        Now that you understand that we must self-disclose to form interpersonal relationships, and that self-disclosure takes place in communication climates, we will discuss some other behaviors important to building effective interpersonal behaviors in the workplace.



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        7.3 Managing Interpersonal Conflict

        Section Objective

        By the end of reading this section you will be able to

        • understand the nature of conflict.
        • identify and explain the types of conflict.
        • identify and explain conflict management strategies.

        Thinking About Conflict

        Chess Board

        When you hear the word “conflict,” do you have a positive or negative reaction? Are you someone who thinks conflict should be avoided at all costs? While conflict may be uncomfortable and challenging it doesn’t have to be negative. Think about the social and political changes that came about from the conflict of the civil rights movement during the 1960’s. There is no doubt that this conflict was painful and even deadly for some civil rights activists, but the conflict resulted in the elimination of many discriminatory practices and helped create a more egalitarian social system in the United States. Let’s look at two distinct orientations to conflict, as well as options for how to respond to conflict in our interpersonal relationships.

        Conflict as Destructive

        When we shy away from conflict in our interpersonal relationships, we may do so because we conceptualize it as destructive to our relationships. As with many of our beliefs and attitudes, they are not always well-grounded and lead to destructive behaviors. Augsburger outlined four assumptions of viewing conflict as destructive.

        1. Conflict is a destructive disturbance of the peace.
        2. The social system should not be adjusted to meet the needs of members; rather, members should adapt to the established values.
        3. Confrontations are destructive and ineffective.
        4. Disputants should be punished.

        When we view conflict this way, we believe that it is a threat to the established order of the relationship. Think about sports as an analogy of how we view conflict as destructive. In the U.S. we like sports that have winners and losers. Sports and games where a tie is an option often seem confusing to us. How can neither team win or lose? When we apply this to our relationships, it’s understandable why we would be resistant to engaging in conflict. I don’t want to lose, and I don’t want to see my relational partner lose. So, an option is to avoid conflict so that neither person has to face that result.

        Conflict as Productive

        In contrast to seeing conflict as destructive, also possible, even healthy, is to view conflict as a productive natural outgrowth and component of human relationships. Augsburger described four assumptions of viewing conflict as productive.

        1. Conflict is a normal, useful process.
        2. All issues are subject to change through negotiation.
        3. Direct confrontation and conciliation are valued.
        4. Conflict is a necessary renegotiation of an implied contract—a redistribution of opportunity, release of tensions, and renewal of relationships.

        From this perspective, conflict provides an opportunity for strengthening relationships, not harming them. Conflict is a chance for relational partners to find ways to meet the needs of one another, even when these needs conflict. Think back to our discussion of dialectical tensions. While you may not explicitly argue with your relational partners about these tensions, the fact that you are negotiating them points to your ability to use conflict in productive ways for the relationship as a whole and the needs of the individuals in the relationship.

        Types of Conflict

        Understanding the different ways of valuing conflict is a first step toward engaging in productive conflict interactions. Likewise, knowing the various types of conflict that occur in interpersonal relationships also helps us to identify appropriate strategies for managing certain types of conflict. Cole states that there are five types of conflict in interpersonal relationships: Affective, Conflict of Interest, Value, Cognitive, and Goal.

        • Affective conflict. Affective conflict arises when we have incompatible feelings with another person. For example, if a couple has been dating for a while, one of the partners may want to marry as a sign of love while the other decides they want to see other people. What do they do? The differences in feelings for one another are the source of affective conflict.
        • Conflict of Interest. This type of conflict arises when people disagree about a plan of action or what to do in a given circumstance. For example, Julie, a Christian Scientist, does not believe in seeking medical intervention but believes that prayer can cure illness. Jeff, a Catholic, does believe in seeking conventional medical attention as a treatment for illness. What happens when Julie and Jeff decide to have children? Do they honor Jeff’s beliefs and take the kids to the doctor when they are ill, or respect and practice Julie’s religion? This is a conflict of interest.
        • Value Conflict. A difference in ideologies or values between relational partners is called value conflict. In the example of Julie and Jeff, a conflict of interest about what to do concerning their children’s medical needs results from differing religious values. Many people engage in conflict about religion and politics. Remember the old saying, “Never talk about religion and politics with your family.”
        • Cognitive Conflict. Cognitive conflict is the difference in thought processes, interpretation of events, and perceptions. Marsha and Victoria, a long-term couple, are both invited to a party. Victoria declines because she has a big presentation at work the next morning and wants to be well-rested. At the party, their mutual friends Michael and Lisa notice Marsha spending the entire evening with Karen. Lisa suspects Marsha may be flirting and cheating on Victoria, but Michael disagrees and says Marsha and Karen are just close friends catching up. Michael and Lisa are observing the same interaction but have a disagreement about what it means. This is an example of cognitive conflict.
        • Goal Conflict. Goal conflict occurs when people disagree about a final outcome. Jesse and Maria are getting ready to buy their first house. Maria wants something that has long-term investment potential while Jesse wants a house to suit their needs for a few years and then plans to move into a larger house. Maria has long-term goals for the house purchase, and Jesse is thinking in more immediate terms. These two have two different goals in regard to purchasing a home.

        People interacting at work

        Strategies for Managing Conflict

        When we ask our students what they want to do when they experience conflict, most of the time, they say “resolve it.” While this is understandable, also important to understand is that conflict is ongoing in all relationships, and our approach to conflict should be to “manage it” instead of always trying to “resolve it.”

        One way to understand options for managing conflict is by knowing five major strategies for managing conflict in relationships. While most of us probably favor one strategy over another, we all have multiple options for managing conflict in our relationships. Having a variety of options available gives us flexibility in our interactions with others. Five strategies for managing interpersonal conflict include dominating, integrating, compromising, obliging, and avoiding (Rahim; Rahim & Magner; Thomas & Kilmann). One way to think about these strategies, and your decision to select one over another, is to think about whose needs will be met in the conflict situation. You can conceptualize this idea according to the degree of concern for the self and the degree of concern for others.

        When people select the dominating strategy or win-lose approach, they exhibit high concern for the self and low concern for the other person. The goal here is to win the conflict. This approach is often characterized by loud, forceful, and interrupting communication. Again, this is analogous to sports. Too often, we avoid conflict because we believe the only other alternative is to try to dominate the other person. In relationships where we care about others, it’s no wonder this strategy can seem unappealing.

        The obliging style shows a moderate degree of concern for self and others, and a high degree of concern for the relationship itself. In this approach, the individuals are less important than the relationship as a whole. Here, a person may minimize the differences or a specific issue in order to emphasize the commonalities. The comment, “The fact that we disagree about politics isn’t a big deal since we share the same ethical and moral beliefs,” exemplifies an obliging style.

        The compromising style is evident when both parties are willing to give up something in order to gain something else. When environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill agreed to end her two-year-long tree sit in Luna as a protest against the logging practices of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) and pay them $50,000 in exchange for their promise to protect Luna and not cut within a 20-foot buffer zone, she and PALCO reached a compromise. If one of the parties feels the compromise is unequal, they may be less likely to stick to it long-term. When conflict is unavoidable, many times, people will opt for a compromise. One of the problems with compromise is that neither party fully gets their needs met. If you want Mexican food and your friend wants pizza, you might agree to compromise and go someplace that serves Mexican pizza. While this may seem like a good idea, you may have really been craving a burrito, and your friend may have really been craving a pepperoni pizza. In this case, while the compromise brought together two food genres, neither person got their desire met.

        When one avoids a conflict, one may suppress feelings of frustration or walk away from a situation. While this is often regarded as expressing a low concern for self and others because problems are not dealt with, the opposite may be true in some contexts. Take, for example, a heated argument between Ginny and Pat. Pat is about to make a hurtful remark out of frustration. Instead, she decides that she needs to avoid this argument right now until she and Ginny can come back and discuss things more calmly. In this case, temporarily avoiding the conflict can be beneficial. However, conflict avoidance over the long term generally has negative consequences for a relationship because neither person is willing to participate in the conflict management process.

        Finally, integrating demonstrates a high level of concern for both self and others. Using this strategy, individuals agree to share information, feelings, and creativity to try to reach a mutually acceptable solution that meets both of their needs. In our food example above, one strategy would be for both people to get the food they want, then take it on a picnic in the park. This way, both people are getting their needs met fully and in a way that extends beyond original notions of win-lose approaches for managing the conflict. The downside to this strategy is that it is very time-consuming and requires high levels of trust.



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        Key Takeaways

        Interpersonal communication is communication between individuals that view one another as unique. Quite often, interpersonal communication occurs in dyads. In order for interpersonal communication to occur, participants must engage in self-disclosure, which is the revealing of information about oneself to others that is not known by them. As we self-disclose, we manage our relationships by negotiating dialectical tensions, which are opposing needs in interpersonal relationships. We use a variety of strategies for navigating these tensions, including neutralization, separation, segmentation, and reframing.

        As we navigate our interpersonal relationships, we create communication climates, which are the overall feelings and moods people have for one another and the relationship. When we engage in disconfirming messages, we produce a negative relational climate, while confirming messages can help build a positive relational climate

        Finally, all relationships experience conflict. Conflict is often perceived as an indicator that there is a problem in a relationship. However, conflict is a natural and ongoing part of all relationships. The goal for conflict is not to eliminate it, but to manage it. There are five primary approaches to managing conflict which include dominating, obliging, compromising, avoiding, and integrating.


        1. Select an important person in your life and pay attention to your communication climate. How do you and this other person demonstrate recognition, acknowledgement, and endorsement.
        2. How was conflict managed in your family while growing up? Was it viewed as positive or negative? How did those early messages and lessons about conflict shape your current attitudes?



        Survey of Communication Study. Authored by: Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn. Provided by: Humboldt State University. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike


        Augsburger, David W. Conflict Mediation across Cultures: Pathways and Patterns. Louisville, KY:Westminster/John Knox, 1992. Print.

        Baxter, L.A. “Dialectical Contradictions in Relational Development.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 7 (1990): 69-88. Web.

        Bell, Sandra, and Simon Coleman. “The Anthropology of Friendship: Enduring Themes and Future Possibilities.” The Anthropology of Friendship. Oxford, UK: Berg, 1999. 1-20. Print.

        Booth, Melanie. “Boundaries And Student Self-Disclosure In Authentic, Integrated Learning Activities And Assignments.” New Directions For Teaching & Learning2012.131 (2012): 5-14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

        Burleson , Brant R., Amanda J. Holmstrom, and Susanne M. Jones. “Some Consequences for Helpers Who Deliver “Cold Comfort”: Why It’s Worse for Women than Men to Be Inept When Providing Emotional Support.” Sex Roles 53.3-4 (2005): 153-72. Web.

        Carrier, J. G. “People Who Can Be Friends: Selves and Social Relationships.” The Anthropology of Friendship. Ed. Sandra Bell and Simon Coleman. Oxford, UK: Berg, 1999. 21-28. Print.

        Coates, Jennifer. Women, Men, and Language: A Sociolinguistic Account of Sex Differences in Language. London: Longman, 1986. Print.

        Cole, Mark. Interpersonal Conflict Communication in Japanese Cultural Contexts. N.p.: n.p., 1996. Print.

        Echols, Leslie, and Sandra Graham. “Birds of a Different Feather: How Do Cross-Ethnic Friends Flock Together?.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 59.4 (2013): 461-488.

        Harriman, Ann. Women/men/management. New York: Praeger, 1985. Print.

        Kim, Kyungil, and Arthur Markman. “Individual Differences, Cultural Differences, and Dialectic Conflict Description and Resolution.” International Journal of Psychology, 48.5 (2013): 797-808.

        Luft, Joseph. Of Human Interaction. Palo Alto, CA: National, 1969. Print.

        Mathews, Alicia, Valerian J. Derlega, and Jennifer Morrow. “What Is Highly Personal Information and How Is It Related to Self-Disclosure Decision-Making? The Perspective of College Students.” Communication Research Reports 23.2 (2006): 85-92. Web.

        Monsour, Mike, and William K. Rawlins. “Transitional Identities And Postmodern Cross-Gender Friendships: An Exploratory Investigation.” Women & Language37.1 (2014): 11-39. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

        Nishina, Adrienne, Jaana Juvonen, and Melissa R. Witkow. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will make me feel sick: The psychosocial, somatic, and scholastic consequences of peer harassment.” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 34.1 (2005): 37-48.

        Olson, David, and H. McCubbin. Families: What Makes Them Work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1983. Print.

        Özad, Bahire Efe, and Gülen Uygarer. “Attachment Needs and Social Networking Sites.” Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal 42.1 (2014): 43-52. Web.

        Pearson, Judy C. Communication in the Family: Seeking Satisfaction in Changing times. Vol. 2. New York: Harper & Row, 1992. Print.

        Rahim, M. Afzalur. Managing conflict in organizations. Transaction Publishers, 2015.

        Rahim, M. Afzalur, and Nace R. Magner. “Confirmatory factor analysis of the styles of handling interpersonal conflict: first-order factor model and its invariance across groups.” Journal of applied psychology 80.1 (1995): 122.

        Rawlins, W. K. (1981). Friendship as a communicative achievement. Temple University.

        Thomas, Kenneth Wayne, and Ralph H. Kilmann. Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. Tuxedo, NY: XICOM, 1974. Print.

        Wood, Julia T. Interpersonal Communication in Everyday Encounters. 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1999. Print.







        Part 3: Preparing for the Job Interview

        Job Interview Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures

        There is more to job interviews than simply going to them! In Part 3, we will explore various aspects of employment interviews, including resumes, cover letters, and other elements that will help you present your best self as you progress in your chosen field. If you already have experience, think about your positive and not-so-positive interview behaviors. This information should help you build on your experience. For those of you who have no experience, this is your chance to start building positive behaviors that will aid you in having successful interview experiences even if you don't get the job!





        Image: CC0 1.0 Un(CC0 1.0)
        Public Domain DedicationTwo people in a job interview

        Chapter 8 Communication and Your Career

        Thinking About the Link Between You and Your Career Goals

        Think back to the time when you first began to contemplate college. Do you remember any specific thoughts? Were you excited about the idea? What began to draw you into the web of college life? What compels you to be here now? Your decision to come to college was likely related to your career in one way or another.  You may have come to college to gain knowledge or training that will help you in your prospective career. You may have come to college to figure out what you want your career to be.

        So how do you go from college to a career? Here are some basic “steps.”

        1. Self-Examination. Take the time to critically look at yourself—your hobbies and skills. What do you enjoy? What are you good at? What jobs can these apply to?
        2. Explore. If you don’t know what you want to do, take the time to explore your options instead. If you can, take introductory classes—these types of classes often give a broad introduction to fields of study. If that isn’t an option, you can also talk to an academic counselor about your different options. There are also a vast number of personality and job aptitude tests available.
        3. Find a Mentor. Find someone already established in their career (whether they work in your field or not). Having a mentor who’s already established themselves can be extremely helpful—especially when you come up against setbacks. They’ve likely faced similar situations, and they can give you the perspective and advice you need. These types of mentors can be a parent, a teacher, a school counselors.
        4. Find experiences. try it out. you may think you want to do something, but you find you can’t actually stand doing it once you get into a work setting.

        It is important to note that these steps don’t always happen in this order, and sometimes you may find yourself suddenly back at step one—examining yourself all over again to figure out what you want to do. Making your way into a career isn’t necessarily going to be a linear path, and that’s ok, in fact, it’s pretty normal. As you learn and grow, your interests, passions, and skills will evolve with you.

        It is likely that you will take or already have taken classes that will help you examine key connections between your motivations to be in college and your ultimate success in achieving your career goals. However, in this chapter, we will show how the basic steps listed above can be used in your job-search process when it comes to communicating who you are to potential employers. Don't wait to gain experience and knowledge because they can be used to convey who you are in the interview, cover letter, and resume writing process.



        Why It Matters: Career Exploration. Provided by: Lumen Learning. LicenseCC BY: Attribution


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        8.1 Interviewing

        Two People in an Interview

        One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.

        —Arthur Ashe, champion tennis player

        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

        • Describe effective strategies to prepare for an interview


        Preparing For a Job Interview

        If your résumé and cover letter have served their purposes well, you will be invited to participate in an interview with the company or organization you’re interested in. Congratulations! It’s an exciting time, and your prospects for employment are very strong if you put in the time to be well-prepared.

        In this section, we look at how to get ready for an interview, what types of interviews you might need to engage in, and what kinds of questions you might be asked.

        Preparing Effectively for a Job Interview

        Review the Job Description

        When you prepare for an interview, your first step will be to carefully read and reread the job posting or job description. This will help you develop a clearer idea of how you meet the skills and attributes the company seeks.

        Research the Company or Organization

        Researching the company will give you a wider view of what the company is looking for and how well you might fit in. Your prospective employer may ask you what you know about the company. Being prepared to answer this question shows that you took time and effort to prepare for the interview and that you have a genuine interest in the organization. It shows good care and good planning—soft skills you will surely need on the job.

        Practice Answering Common Questions

        Most interviewees find that practicing the interview in advance with a family member, a friend, or a colleague eases possible nerves during the actual interview. It also creates greater confidence when you walk through the interview door. In the “Interview Questions” section below, you’ll learn more about specific questions you will likely be asked and corresponding strategies for answering them.

        Plan to Dress Appropriately

        Interviewees are generally most properly dressed for an interview in business attire, with the goal of looking highly professional in the eyes of the interviewer. These examples from UTEP should give some ideas about appropriate dress for an interview. Click here: Dress for Success 

        Come Prepared

        Plan to bring your résumé, cover letter, and a list of references to the interview. You may also want to bring a portfolio of representative work. Leave behind coffee, chewing gum, and any other items that could be distractions.

        Be Confident

        Above all, interviewees should be confident and “courageous.” By doing so, you make a strong first impression. As the saying goes, “There is never a second chance to make a first impression.”



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        8.2 Interview Types and Techniques


        Abstract Interview Figures


        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

        • Differentiate between different types of interview situations and identify appropriate interview techniques for each
        • Analyze different question types common in interviews

        Interview Types and Techniques

        Every interview you participate in will be unique: The people you meet with, the interview setting, and the questions you’ll be asked will all be different from interview to interview.

        The various factors that characterize any given interview can contribute to the sense of adventure and excitement you feel. But it’s also normal to feel a little nervous about what lies ahead. With so many unknowns, how can you plan to “nail the interview” no matter what comes up?

        A good strategy for planning is to anticipate the type of interview you may find yourself in. There are common formats for job interviews, described in detail below. By knowing a bit more about each type and knowing techniques that work for each, you can plan to be on your game no matter what form your interview takes.

        Screening Interviews

        Screening interviews might best be characterized as “weeding-out” interviews. They ordinarily take place over the phone or in another low-stakes environment in which the interviewer has maximum control over the amount of time the interview takes. Screening interviews are generally short because they glean only basic information about you. If you are scheduled to participate in a screening interview, you might safely assume that you have some competition for the job and that the company is using this strategy to whittle down the applicant pool. With this kind of interview, your goal is to win a face-to-face interview. For this first shot, though, prepare well and challenge yourself to shine. Try to stand out from the competition, and be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.

        Phone or Web Conference Interviews

        If you are geographically separated from your prospective employer, you may be invited to participate in a phone interview or online interview instead of meeting face-to-face. Technology, of course, is a good way to bridge distances. The fact that you’re not there in person doesn’t make it any less important to be fully prepared, though. In fact, you may wish to be all the more “on your toes” to compensate for the distance barrier. Make sure your equipment (phone, computer, Internet connection, etc.) is fully charged and works. If you’re at home for the interview, make sure the environment is quiet and distraction-free.  If the meeting is online, make sure your video background is pleasing and neutral, like a wall hanging or even a white wall.

        One-on-One Interviews

        The majority of job interviews are conducted in this format—just you and a single interviewer—likely with the manager you would report to and work with. The one-on-one format gives you both a chance to see how well you connect and how well your talents, skills, and personalities mesh. You can expect to be asked questions like “Why would you be good for this job?” and “Tell me about yourself.” Many interviewees prefer the one-on-one format because it allows them to spend in-depth time with the interviewer. Rapport can be built. As always, be very courteous and professional. Have handy a portfolio of your best work.

        Panel Interviews

        An efficient format for meeting a candidate is a panel interview, in which perhaps four to five coworkers meet simultaneously with a single interviewee. The coworkers comprise the “search committee” or “search panel,” which may consist of different company representatives such as human resources, management, and staff. One advantage of this format for the committee is that meeting together gives them a common experience to reflect on afterward. In a panel interview, listen carefully to questions from each panelist, and try to connect fully with each questioner. Be sure to write down names and titles so you can send individual thank-you notes after the interview.

        Serial Interviews

        Serial interviews are a combination of one-on-one meetings with a group of interviewers, typically conducted as a series of meetings staggered throughout the day. Ordinarily, this type of interview is for higher-level jobs when it’s important to meet at length with major stakeholders. If your interview process is designed this way, you will need to be ultra prepared, as you will be answering many in-depth questions. Stay alert.

        Lunch Interviews

        In some higher-level positions, candidates are taken to lunch or dinner, especially if this is a second interview (a “call back” interview). If this is you, count yourself lucky and be on your best behavior because even if the lunch meeting is unstructured and informal, it’s still an official interview. Do not order an alcoholic beverage, and use your best table manners. You are not expected to pay or even to offer to pay. But, as always, you must send a thank-you note.

        Group Interviews

        Group interviews are comprised of several interviewees and perhaps only one or two interviewers who may make a presentation to the assembled group. This format allows an organization to prescreen candidates quickly. It also gives candidates a chance to quickly learn about the company. As with all interview formats, you are being observed. How do you behave with your group? Do you assume a leadership role? Are you quiet but attentive? What kind of personality is the company looking for? A group interview may reveal this.

        For a summary of the interview formats we’ve just covered (and a few additional ones), take a look at the following video, Job Interview Guide—10 Different Types of Interviews in Today’s Modern World.

        Interview Questions

        For most job candidates, the burning question is, “What will I be asked?” There’s no way to anticipate every single question that may arise during an interview. It’s possible that, no matter how well-prepared you are, you may get a question you just didn’t expect. But that’s okay. Do as much preparation as you can—which will build your confidence—and trust that the answers will come.

        To help you reach that point of sureness and confidence, take time to review the common interview questions below. Think about your answers. Make notes if that helps. And then conduct a practice interview with a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Speak your answers out loud. Below is a list of resources that contain common interview questions and good explanations/answers you might want to adopt.

        100 top job interview questions—be prepared for the interview (from

        This site provides a comprehensive set of interview questions you might expect to be asked, categorized as basic interview questions, behavioral questions, salary questions, career development questions, and other kinds. Some of the listed questions provide comprehensive answers, too.

        Interview Questions and Answers (from BigInterview)

        This site provides text and video answers to the following questions: Tell me about yourself, describe your current position, why are you looking for a new job, what are your strengths, what is your greatest weakness, why do you want to work here, where do you see yourself in five years, why should we hire you, and do you have any questions for me?

        Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers (from CollegeGrad)

        This site explores some of the most difficult questions you will face in job interviews. The more open-ended the question, the greater the variation among answers. Once you have become practiced in your interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.

        Why Should We Hire You?

        From the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business Career Management Office, here is a video featuring representatives from recruiting companies offering advice for answering the question, “Why should we hire you?” As you watch, make mental notes about how you would answer the question in an interview for a job you really want. 

        Now that you have some knowledge related to types of interviews and some basic techniques, let's explore some things that you will need to accomplish before you get to the interview; your resume and cover letter!




        Outcome: Interviews. Provided by: Lumen Learning. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

        College Success. Authored by: Linda Bruce. Provided by: Lumen Learning. LicenseCC BY: Attribution


        Image of two men during interview. Authored by: Samuel Mann. Located at BY: Attribution

        Image of two seated figures. Authored by: Bill Strain. Located at BY: Attribution

        Why Should We Hire You? How to Answer this Interview Question. Authored by: Fisher OSU. Located at BY: Attribution

        Foundations of College Success: Words of Wisdom. Authored by: Thomas C. Priester, editor. Provided by: Open SUNY Textbooks. Located at BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


        Job Interview Guide - 10 Different Types of Interviews in Today's Modern World. Authored by: InterviewMastermind. Located at Rights ReservedLicense Terms: Standard YouTube License

        8.3 Resumes and Cover Letters


        A student being tutored

        The most important tool you have on a résumé is language.

        —Jay Samit, digital media innovator


        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

        • Define the purpose and contents of a résumé
        • Identify characteristics of an effective résumé
        • Identify characteristics of an effective cover letter


        Purpose of Résumés and Cover Letters

        A résumé is a “selfie” for business purposes. It is a written picture of who you are—it’s a marketing tool, a selling tool, and a promotion of you as an ideal candidate for any job you may be interested in.

        The word résumé comes from the French word résumé, which means “a summary.” Leonardo da Vinci is credited with writing one of the first known résumés, although it was more of a letter that outlined his credentials for a potential employer, Ludovico Sforza. The résumé got da Vinci the job, though, and Sforza became a longtime patron of da Vinci and later commissioned him to paint The Last Supper.

        Résumés and cover letters work together to represent you in the brightest light to prospective employers. With a well-composed résumé and cover letter, you stand out—which may get you an interview and then a good shot at landing a job.

        In this section we discuss résumés and cover letters as key components of your career development tool kit. We explore some of the many ways you can design and develop them for the greatest impact in your job search.

        Your Résumé: Purpose and Contents

        Your résumé is an inventory of your education, work experience, job-related skills, accomplishments, volunteer history, internships, residencies, and/or more. It’s a professional autobiography in outline form to give the person who reads it a quick, general idea of who you are. With a better idea of who you are, prospective employers can see how well you might contribute to their workplace.

        As a college student or recent graduate, though, you may be unsure about what to put in your résumé, especially if you don’t have much employment history. Still, employers don’t expect recent grads to have significant work experience. And even with little work experience, you may still have a host of worthy accomplishments to include. It’s all in how you present yourself.

        Elements of Your Successful Résumé

        Perhaps the hardest part of writing a résumé is figuring out what format to use to organize and present your information in the most effective way. There is no correct format, per se, but most résumés follow one of the four formats below. Which format appeals to you the most?

        1. Reverse chronological résumé: A reverse chronological résumé (sometimes also simply called a chronological résumé) lists your job experiences in reverse chronological order—that is, starting with the most recent job and working backward toward your first job. It includes starting and ending dates. Also included is a brief description of the work duties you performed for each job and highlights of your formal education. The reverse chronological résumé may be the most common and perhaps the most conservative résumé format. It is most suitable for demonstrating a solid work history and growth and development in your skills. It may not suit you if you are light on skills in the area you are applying to, or if you’ve changed employers frequently, or if you are looking for your first job. Reverse Chronological Résumé Examples
        2. Functional résumé: A functional résumé is organized around your talents, skills, and abilities (more so than work duties and job titles, as with the reverse chronological résumé). It emphasizes specific professional capabilities, like what you have done or what you can do. Specific dates may be included but are not as important. So if you are a new graduate entering your field with little or no actual work experience, the functional résumé may be a good format for you. It can also be useful when you are seeking work in a field that differs from what you have done in the past. It’s also well-suited for people in unconventional careers. Functional Résumé Examples
        3. Hybrid résumé: The hybrid résumé is a format reflecting both the functional and chronological approaches. It’s also called a combination résumé. It highlights relevant skills, but it still provides information about your work experience. With a hybrid résumé, you may list your job skills as most prominent and then follow with a chronological (or reverse chronological) list of employers. This résumé format is most effective when your specific skills and job experience need to be emphasized. Hybrid Résumé Examples
        4. Video, infographic, and website résumé: Other formats you may wish to consider are the video résumé, the infographic résumé, or even a website résumé. These formats may be most suitable for people in multimedia and creative careers. Certainly, with the expansive use of technology today, a job seeker might at least try to create a media-enhanced résumé. But the paper-based, traditional résumé is by far the most commonly used—in fact, some human resource departments may not permit the submission of any format other than paper-based. 
        5. Video Resume 
        6. Infographic Résumé Examples
        7. Web-Site Résumé Examples

        An important note about formatting is that, initially, employers may spend only a few seconds reviewing each résumé—especially if there is a big stack of them or they seem tedious to read. That’s why it’s important to choose your format carefully so it will stand out and make the first cut.

        Writing Effective Résumés

        For many people, the process of writing a résumé is daunting. After all, you are taking a lot of information and condensing it into a very concise form that needs to be both eye-catching and easy to read. Don’t be scared off, though! Developing a good résumé can be fun, rewarding, and easier than you think if you follow a few basic guidelines. In the following video, a résumé-writing expert describes some keys to success. Writing a Resume from Scratch

        Contents and Components To Include

        1. Your contact information: name, address, phone number, professional email address
        2. A summary of your skills: 5–10 skills you have gained in your field; you can list hard skills as well as soft skills. Hard skills include proficiency in foreign language, computer programming, or coding. Soft skills include communication skills, leadership skills, or problem-solving.
        3. Work experience: depending on the résumé format you choose, you may list your most recent job first; include the title of the position, employer’s name, location, employment dates (beginning, ending)
        4. Volunteer experience: volunteering at the library, hospital, and the like. This kind of experience can be especially important if you don't have a lot of work experience. Include place and dates along with your duties as a volunteer.
        5. Education and training: formal and informal experiences matter; include academic degrees, professional development, certificates, internships, etc.
        6. References statement (optional): “References available upon request” is a standard phrase used on résumés, although it is often implied
        7. Other sections: may include a job objective, a brief profile, a branding statement, a summary statement, additional accomplishments, and any other related experiences


        Résumés resemble snowflakes in as much as no two are alike. Although you can benefit from giving yours a stamp of individuality, you will do well to steer clear of personal details that might elicit a negative response. It is advisable to omit any confidential information or details that could make you vulnerable to discrimination, for instance. Your résumé will likely be viewed by a number of employees in an organization, including human resource personnel, managers, administrative staff, etc. By aiming to please all reviewers, you gain maximum advantage.

        • Do not mention your age, gender, height, or weight.
        • Do not include your social security number.
        • Do not mention religious beliefs or political affiliations unless they are relevant to the position.
        • Do not include a photograph of yourself or a physical description.
        • Do not mention health issues.
        • Do not use first-person references (I, me).
        • Do not include wage/salary expectations.
        • Do not use abbreviations.
        • Proofread carefully—absolutely no spelling mistakes are acceptable.

        Top Ten Tips for a Successful Résumé

        1. Aim to make a résumé that’s 1–2 pages long on letter-size paper.
        2. Make it visually appealing.
        3. Use action verbs and phrases.
        4. Proofread carefully to eliminate any spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typographical errors.
        5. Include highlights of your qualifications or skills to attract an employer’s attention.
        6. Craft your letter as a pitch to people in the profession you plan to work in.
        7. Stand out as different, and courageous.
        8. Be positive and reflect only the truth.
        9. Be excited and optimistic about your job prospects!
        10. Keep refining and reworking your résumé; it’s an ongoing project.

        Remember that your résumé is your professional profile. It will hold you in the most professional and positive light, and it’s designed to be a quick and easy way for a prospective employer to evaluate what you might bring to a job. When written and formatted attractively, creatively, and legibly, your résumé is what will get your foot in the door. You can be proud of your accomplishments, even if they don’t seem numerous. Let your résumé reflect your personal pride and professionalism.

        In the following video, Résumé Tips for College Students From Employers, several college graduate recruiters summarize the most important points about crafting your résumé. You can download a transcript of the video here:  transcript here

        Video: Resume Tips from Employers

        Video: How to Write a Great Resume and Cover Letter


        Writing Effective Cover Letters

        A display of cover letters on a desk

        Cover letters matter. When you have to go through a pile of them, they are probably more important than the résumé itself.


        What Is a Cover Letter?

        A cover letter is a letter of introduction, usually 3–4 paragraphs in length, that you attach to your résumé. It’s a way of introducing yourself to a potential employer and explaining why you are suited for a position. Employers may look for individualized and thoughtfully written cover letters as an initial method of screening out applicants who may lack necessary basic skills or who may not be sufficiently interested in the position.

        Find examples of a variety of cover letters here: Cover Letter Examples

        Often an employer will request or require that a cover letter be included in the materials an applicant submits. There are also occasions when you might submit a cover letter uninvited: for example, if you are initiating an inquiry about possible work or asking someone to send you information or provide other assistance.

        With each résumé, you send out, always include a cover letter specifically addressing your purposes.

        Characteristics of an Effective Cover Letter

        Cover letters should accomplish the following:

        • Get the attention of the prospective employer
        • Set you apart from any possible competition
        • Identify the position you are interested in
        • Specify how you learned about the position or company
        • Present highlights of your skills and accomplishments
        • Reflect your genuine interest
        • Please the eye and ear

        The following video features Aimee Bateman, founder of, who explains how you can create an incredible cover letter. You can download a transcript of the video  transcript link  Video: Five Steps to an Incredible Cover Letter

        More About Cover Letters





        Student Cover Letter Samples (from About Careers)

        This site contains sample student/recent graduate cover letters (especially for high school students and college students and graduates seeking employment) as well as cover letter templates, writing tips, formats and templates, email cover letter examples, and examples by type of applicant


        How to Write Cover Letters (from CollegeGrad)

        This site contains resources about the reality of cover letters, using a cover letter, the worst use of the cover letter, the testimonial cover letter technique, and a cover letter checklist


        LinkedIn Cover Letter

        This site contains articles, experts, jobs, and more: get all the professional insights you need on LinkedIn


        Cover Letters (from the Yale Office of Career Strategy)

        This site includes specifications for the cover letter framework (introductory paragraph, middle paragraph, concluding paragraph), as well as format and style

        Your Cover Letter: It’s Like Online Dating

        The following is an excerpt from the “It’s Like Online Dating” essay by Jackie Vetrano. Writing a cover letter may feel like a chore, but the payoff will be well worth it if you land the job you want!


        Sending a Message—The Cover Letter

        After searching through dozens of profiles, online daters generally find a handful of people they can picture themselves with. There’s only one way to find out more about the person, and that’s by sending the first message.

        The challenging part of the first message I send through online dating sites is determining what to say. I’ve never met these people before, but I do have access to their dating profiles filled with their hobbies, hometowns, and more. This is a perfect starting point for my message, especially if we both root for the same football team or if the other person likes to run as much as I do.

        Your cover letter serves as an introduction to your future employer and should complement your résumé to create a shining first impression. It is incredibly challenging to sit in front of a blank screen trying to find a good starting point, which means you should look at the job posting and organization’s Web site for ideas about what to include.

        Generally, these job postings provide a set of hard skills (such as proficiency with certain technology) and soft skills (such as public speaking, teamwork, or working in a flexible environment) required and desired for the posted position. This information provides you a list of what should be explained in your cover letter. Demonstrating your hard skills is a simple enough task by using examples or stating certifications, but describing your soft skills may require a little more thought. These soft skills can be exhibited by discussing specific examples of past experiences in previous jobs you’ve held, volunteer work, or work you’ve done in college classes.

        After you have crafted your cover letter, you should send it to a few people you trust for their opinion and overall proofreading along with the job posting for their reference. It’s obvious that your cover letter should be free of spelling and grammar errors, but these trustworthy individuals will also be able to provide helpful insight about the examples you’ve used to display your soft skills.

        —Jackie Vetrano, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom



        Outcome: Resumes and Cover Letters. Provided by: Lumen Learning. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

        College Success. Authored by: Linda Bruce. Provided by: Lumen Learning. LicenseCC BY: Attribution


        Image of helping write a resume. Authored by: Gangplank HQ. Located at BY: Attribution

        Foundations of College Success: Words of Wisdom. Authored by: Thomas C. Priester, editor. Provided by: Open SUNY Textbooks. Located at BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

        Image of resume. Authored by: Flazingo Photos. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

        Resumes. Authored by: David McMurrey. Located at BY: Attribution

        Image of piles of paper on a table. Authored by: woodleywonderworks. Located at BY: Attribution


        English for Business Success. Authored by: Anonymous. Provided by: Anonymous. Located at BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


        WHY DO I NEED A RESUME?. Authored by: Leinard Tapat. Located at Rights ReservedLicense Terms: Standard YouTube License

        Resume Tips for College Students From Employers. Authored by: Clarkson University. Located at Rights ReservedLicense Terms: Standard YouTube License

        5 Steps to an Incredible Cover Letter. Authored by: Aimee Bateman. Located at Rights ReservedLicense Terms: Standard YouTube License

        Resume Tutorial. Authored by: Cameron Cassidy. Located at Rights ReservedLicense Terms: Standard YouTube License



        Part 4: Communicating Effectively in Groups and Meetings

        Work Meeting | Leader speaking to young business people in a… | Flickr

        Leader speaking to people in a meeting

        Although we often like to do things for ourselves, it is unlikely that you will be able to avoid working in groups or going to meetings when working in an organizational setting. It’s more likely that they will be a fact of life for you. The chapters in this part of the textbook will help you understand the behaviors that can make you an effective communicator in both of these communication contexts. 


        Chapter 9 Group Communication

        Group Communication Overview

        Have you ever had this happen to you in a college class? At the beginning of the semester your professor hands out the syllabus and explains that a group project is part of the course requirements. You, and others in the class, groan at the idea of this project because you have experienced the difficulties and frustrations of working in a group, especially when your grade depends on the work of others. Does this sound familiar? Why do you think so many students react negatively to these types of assignments? Group work can be fraught with complications. But, the reality is, many companies are promoting groups as the model working environment (Forbes).


        Group of people around a computer

        “When I die, I would like the people I did group projects with to lower me in to my grave so they can let me down one last time.” – Jessica Clydesdale, frustrated student

        Chances are that a class assignment is not your first and only experience with groups. Most likely, you have already spent and will continue to spend a great deal of your time working in groups. You may be involved with school athletics in which you are part of a specialized group called a team. You may be part of a work or professional group. Many of you participate in social, religious, and/or political groups. The family in which you were raised, regardless of the configuration, is also a group. No matter what the specific focus—sports, profession, politics, or family—all groups share some common features.

        While group communication is growing in popularity and emphasis, both at the academic and corporate levels, it is not a new area of study. The emergence of group communication study came about in the mid-1950s, following World War II, and has been a focus of study ever since. Group communication is often closely aligned with interpersonal communication and organizational communication, which is why we have placed it as a chapter between these two areas of specialization. In your personal, civic, and professional lives, you will engage in group communication. Let’s take a look at what constitutes a group or team in the next section.





        9.1 Defining Groups and Teams

        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this section, you should be able to:

        • Define what constitutes a group and team.
        • I dentify and explain the characteristics of groups
        • Identify and explain the types of groups

        Defining Groups and Teams

        To understand group and team communication, we must first understand the definition of a group. Many people think that a group is simply a collection of people, but that is only part of it. If you walk out your front door and pull together the first ten people you see, do you have a group? No! According to Wilson and Hanna, groups are defined as “a collection of three or more individuals who interact about some common problem or interdependent goal and can exert mutual influence over one another” (14). They go on to say that the three key components of groups are “size, goal orientation, and mutual influence” (14). Interpersonal communication is often thought about in terms of dyads or pairs. Organizational communication might be thought of as a group that is larger than 12 people. While there are exceptions, for the most part, group size is often thought of in terms of 3-12 people.

        For example, Joseph Bonito, a communication professor at the University of Arizona, allows no more than five people in a group to ensure that everyone’s opinions are reflected equally in a discussion. (Baughman and Everett-Haynes). According to Bonito, if there are too many people in a group, it’s possible that some individuals will remain silent without anyone noticing. He suggests using smaller groups when equal participation is desirable. So, if the ten people you gathered outside of your front door were all neighbors working together as part of a “neighborhood watch” to create safety in the community, then you would indeed have a group.

        For those of you who have participated on athletic teams, you’ll notice that these definitions also apply to a team. While all of the qualities of groups hold true for teams, teams have additional qualities not necessarily present for all groups. We like to define a team as a specialized group with a strong sense of belonging and commitment to each other that shapes an overall collective identity. Members of a team each have their own part, or role, to fulfill in order to achieve the team’s greater goals. One member’s strengths can be another member’s weaknesses, so working in a team is beneficial when balancing individual input. While all members of an athletic team share some athletic ability and special appreciation for a particular sport, for example, members of a football team, for example, have highly specialized skills as indicated in the various positions on the team—quarterback, receiver, and running back. In addition to athletic teams, work and professional teams also share these qualities. Now that you know how to define groups and teams, let’s look at the characteristics of groups and teams, as well as the different types of groups and teams.

        Characteristics of Groups

        • Interdependence. Groups cannot be defined simply as three or more people talking to each other or meeting together. Instead, a primary characteristic of groups is that members of a group are dependent on the others for the group to maintain its existence and achieve its goals. In essence, interdependence is the recognition by those in a group of their need for the others in the group (Lewin; Cragon, Wright& Kasch; Sherblom). Imagine playing in a basketball game as an individual against the five members of another team. Even if you’re considered the best basketball player in the world, it’s highly unlikely you could win a game against five other people. You must rely on four other teammates to make it a successful game.

        Musicians playing together

        • Interaction. It probably seems obvious to you that there must be interaction for groups to exist. However, what kind of interaction must exist? Since we all communicate every day, there must be something that distinguishes the interaction in groups from other forms of communication. Cragon, Wright, and Kasch state that the primary defining characteristic of group interaction is that it is purposeful. They go on to break down purposeful interaction into four types: problem-solving, role-playing, team building, and trust building (7). Without purposeful interaction, a true group does not exist. Roles, norms, and relationships between members are created through interaction. If you’re put into a group for a class assignment, for example, your first interaction probably centers around exchanging contact information, settings times to meet, and starting to focus on the task at hand. It’s purposeful interaction in order to achieve a goal.
        • Synergy. One advantage of working in groups and teams is that they allow us to accomplish things we wouldn’t be able to accomplish on our own. Remember the discussion in this text about Systems Theory which suggests that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This is the very idea of synergy (Sherblom). In an orchestra or band, each person is there to perform in order to help the larger unit make music in a way that cannot be accomplished without each member working together.
        • Common Goals. Having interaction and synergy would be relatively pointless in groups without a common goal. People who comprise groups are brought together for a reason or a purpose. While most members of a group have individual goals, a group is largely defined by the common goals of the group. Think of the example at the beginning of the chapter: Your common goal in a class group is to learn, complete an assignment, and earn a grade. While there may be differences regarding individual goals in the group (what final grade is acceptable for example), or how to achieve the common goals, the group is largely defined by the common goals it shares.
        • Shared Norms. Because people come together for a specific purpose, they develop shared norms to help them achieve their goals. Even with a goal in place, random interaction does not define a group. Group interaction is generally guided by norms a group has established for acceptable behavior. Norms are essentially expectations of the group members, established by the group, and can be conscious and formal or unconscious and informal. A couple of examples of group norms include the expectation that all members show up at group meeting times, the expectation that all group members focus on the group instead of personal matters (for example, turning cell phones and other distractions off), and the expectation that group members finish their part of the work by the established due date. When members of the group violate group norms, other members of the group get frustrated, and the group’s overall goal may be affected.
        • Cohesiveness. One way that members understand the idea of communicating in groups and teams is when they experience a sense of cohesiveness with other members of the group. When we feel like we are part of something larger, we experience a sense of cohesion or wholeness and may find a purpose that is bigger than our own individual desires and goals. It is the sense of connection and participation that characterizes the interaction in a group as different from the defined interaction among loosely connected individuals. If you’ve ever participated in a group that achieved its goal successfully, you are probably able to reflect back on your feelings of connection with the other members of that group.

        You may be asking yourself, what about teams? We have focused primarily on groups, but it’s critical to remember the importance of team communication characteristics as well as group communication characteristics. Check out this article that breaks down team characteristics and skills that ensure team success (we bet you’ll find similarities to the group characteristics that we have just explained).

        Types of Groups

        Not all groups are the same or brought together for the same reasons. Brilhart and Galanes categorize groups “on the basis of the reason they were formed and the human needs they serve” (9). Let’s take a look!

        • Primary Groups. Primary groups are ones we form to help us realize our human needs like inclusion and affection. They are not generally formed to accomplish a task but rather to help us meet our fundamental needs as relational beings, like acceptance, love, and affection. These groups are generally longer term than other groups and include family, roommates, and other relationships that meet as groups on a regular basis (Brilhart & Galanes). These special people in your life constitute primary groups because they offer love and support for the long run. Given this, primary groups are typically more meaningful than secondary groups.
        • Secondary Groups. Unlike primary groups, we form secondary groups to accomplish work, perform a task, solve problems, and make decisions (Brilhart & Galanes; Sherblom; Cragan, Wright & Kasch). Larson and LaFasto state that secondary groups have “a specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained; and coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for the attainment of the team goal or objective” (19)


        People surfing together

        • Activity Groups. Activity Groups are ones we form for the purpose of participating in activities. I’m sure your campus has many clubs that are organized for the sole purpose of doing activities. On our campus for example, a popular club on our campus is the Surf Club, in which members meet for the purpose of scheduling surfing times, arranging rides, and choosing where to surf.
        • Personal Growth Groups. We form Personal Growth Groups to obtain support and feedback from others, as well as to grow as a person. Personal Growth Groups may be thought of as therapy groups. An example that is probably familiar to you is Alcoholics Anonymous, where alcoholics can share their stories and struggles and get support from others affected by alcohol. There are many personal growth groups available for helping us develop as people through group interaction with others, such as book clubs, weight watchers, and spiritual groups
        • Learning Groups. Learning Groups focus mainly on obtaining new information and gaining knowledge. If you have ever been assigned to a group in a college class, it most likely was a learning group with the purpose of interacting in ways that can help those in the group learn new things about the course content.
        • Problem-Solving Groups. These groups are created for the express purpose of solving a specific problem. The very nature of organizing people into this type of group is to get them to collectively figure out effective solutions to the problem they have before them. Committees are excellent examples of people who are brought together to solve problems.

        After looking at the various types of groups, it’s probably easy for you to recognize just how much of your daily interaction occurs within the contexts of groups. In reality, we spend a great deal of time in groups, and understanding the types of groups you’re in, as well as their purpose, goes a long way toward helping you function as a productive member.



        Survey of Communication Study. Authored by: Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn. Provided by: Humboldt State University. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

        Image of band. Authored by: _mattxb. Located at BY: Attribution

        Image of surfers. Authored by: Stan Shebs. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike


        9.2 Understanding Communication in Group and Teams

        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

        • understand the role that groups play in society
        • understand cultural influences on groups.
        • explain how power develops in groups.

        The Importance of Studying Communication in Groups and Teams

        One of the reasons communication scholars study groups and teams is because of the overwhelming amount of time we spend interacting in groups in professional contexts. More and more professional organizations are turning to groups and teams as an essential way of conducting business and getting things done. Even professions that are seemingly independent, such as being a college professor, are heavily laden with group work. The process of writing this book was a group effort as the authors and their students worked in groups to bring the book to you. Each of us had specific roles and tasks to perform.

        Another vital area of group communication concerns the study of social change or social movement organizations. Groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Organization of Women (NOW) are all groups bound together by a shared social and political commitment—-to promote the rights of nonhuman animals, African-Americans, and women respectively. While individuals can be committed to these ideas, the social, political, and legal rights afforded to groups like these would not have been possible through individual action alone. It was when groups of like-minded people came together with shared commitments and goals, pooling their skills and resources, that change occurred. Just about any Interest Group you can think of has a presence in Washington D.C., and spends money to maintain that presence. Visit here for more information on Interest Groups.

        The study of social movements reveals the importance of groups for accomplishing goals. Bowers, Ochs, Jensen and Schulz, in The Rhetoric of Agitation and Control, explain seven progressive and cumulative strategies through which movements progress as they move toward success. Three of the seven strategies focus explicitly on group communication—-promulgation, solidification, and polarization. Promulgation refers to  “a strategy where agitators publicly proclaim their goals, and it includes tactics designed to win public support” (23). Without a sufficient group, the actions of individual protestors are likely to be dismissed. The strategy of solidification “occurs mainly inside the agitating group” and is “primarily used to unite followers” (29). The point is to unite group members and provide sufficient motivation and support. The communication that occurs through the collective action of singing songs or chanting slogans serves to unite group members. Because the success of social movements depends in part on the ability to attract a large number of followers, most employ the strategy of polarization, which is designed to persuade neutral individuals or “fence sitters” to join a group (40). The essence of this strategy is captured in the quote from Eldridge Cleaver, “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Taken together, these three strategies stress that the key to group success is the sustained effort of group members working together through communication.

        Not only do Communication scholars focus on work and social movements, but we are also interested in the role that one’s cultural identity and membership play in our communicative choices and how we interpret the communication of others. This focus sheds interesting insights when we examine membership and communication in groups and teams. One reason for this is that different cultures emphasize the role of individuals, while other cultures emphasize the importance of the group. For example, collectivist cultures are ones that place a high value on group work because they understand that outcomes of our communication impact all members of the community and the community as a whole, not just the individuals in the group. Conversely, individualistic cultures are ones that place a high value on the individual person above the needs of the group. Thus, whether we view group work as favorable or unfavorable may stem from our cultural background. The U.S. is considered an individualistic culture in that we value the work and accomplishments of the individual through ideals such as being able to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” and create success for yourself.

        Power in Groups

        Given the complexity of group interaction, it’s short-sighted to try to understand group communication without looking at notions of power (think back to Critical Theories and Research Methods). Power influences how we interpret the messages of others and determines the extent to which we feel we have the right to speak up and voice our concerns and opinions to others. Take a moment to reflect on the different ways you think about power. What images come to mind for you when you think of power? Are there different kinds of power? Are some people inherently more powerful than others? Do you consider yourself to be a powerful person? We highlight three ways to understand power as it relates to group and team communication. The word “power” literally means “to be able” and has many implications.

        If you associate power with control or dominance, this refers to the notion of power as power-over. According to Starhawk, “power-over enables one individual or group to make the decisions that affect others and to enforce control” (9). Control can and does take many forms in society. Starhawk explains that,

        This power is wielded in the workplace, in the schools, in the courts, and in the doctor’s office. It may rule with weapons that are physical or by controlling the resources we need to live: money, food, medical care, or by controlling more subtle resources: information, approval, and love. We are so accustomed to power-over, so steeped in its language and its implicit threats, that we often become aware of its functioning only when we see its extreme manifestations. (9)

        When we are in group situations, and someone dominates the conversation, makes all of the decisions, or controls the resources of the group, such as money or equipment, this is power-over.

        Power from within refers to a more personal sense of strength or agency. Power from within manifests itself when we can stand, walk, and speak “words that convey our needs and thoughts” (Starhawk 10). In groups, this type of power “arises from our sense of connection, our bonding with other human beings, and with the environment” (10). As Heider explains in The Tao of Leadership, “Since all creation is a whole, separateness is an illusion. Like it or not, we are team players. Power comes through cooperation, independence through service, and a greater self through selflessness” (77). If you think about your role in groups, how have you influenced other group members? Your strategies indicate your sense of power from within.

        Finally, groups manifest power-with, which is “the power of a strong individual in a group of equals, the power not to command, but to suggest and be listened to, to begin something and see it happen” (Starhawk 10). For this to be effective in a group or team, at least two qualities must be present among members: 1) All group members must communicate respect and equality for one another, and 2) The leader must not abuse power-with and attempt to turn it into power-over. Have you ever been involved in a group where people did not treat each other as equals or with respect? How did you feel about the group? What was the outcome? Could you have done anything to change that dynamic?

        Teams performing a task

        Obviously, communication is the central activity of every group because it is how we organize and maintain groups. While we can all tell positive and negative stories about being in groups, how are they formed in the first place? To answer this question, let's look at the next section.



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        9.3 The Nature of Groups

        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this chapter, you will be able to

        • Explain how groups and teams form.
        • Identify and explain types of group roles
        • Identify and explain individual group roles

        Forming Groups

        Sometimes we join a group because we want to. Other times, we might be assigned to work in groups in a class or at work. Either way, Lumsden, Lumsden, and Wiethoff give three reasons why we form groups. First, we may join groups because we share similar interests or attractions with other group members. If you are a certain major in college, chances are you share some of the same interests as others in your class groups. Also, you might find yourself attracted to others in your group for romantic, friendship, political, religious, or professional reasons. On our campus, our majors have formed the Communication Club to bring together students in the major. A second reason we join groups is called drive reduction. Essentially, we join groups, so our work with others reduces the drive to fulfill our needs by spreading out involvement. As Maslow explains, we have drives for physiological needs like security, love, self-esteem, and self-actualization. Working with others helps us achieve these needs, thereby reducing our obligation to meet these needs ourselves (Maslow; Paulson). If you accomplished a task successfully for a group, your group members likely complimented your work, thus fulfilling some of your self-esteem needs. If you had done the same work only for yourself, the building up of your self-esteem might not have occurred. A third reason we join groups is for reinforcement. We are often motivated to do things for the rewards they bring. Participating in groups provides reinforcement from others in the pursuit of our goals and rewards.

        Much like interpersonal relationships, groups go through a series of stages as they come together. These stages are called forming, storming, norming, and performing (Tuckman; Fisher; Sherblom; Benson; Rose, Hopthrow & Crisp). Groups that form to achieve a task often go through a fifth stage called termination which occurs after a group accomplishes its goal. Let’s look at each of the stages of group formation and termination.

        • Forming. Obviously, for a group to exist and work together, its members must first form the group. During the forming stage, group members begin to set the parameters of the group by establishing what characteristics identify the members of the group as a group. During this stage, the group’s goals are made generally clear to members, initial questions and concerns are addressed, and initial role assignments may develop. This is the stage when group norms begin to be negotiated and established. Essentially, norms are a code of conduct that may be explicit or assumed and dictate acceptable and expected behavior of the group.
        • Storming. The storming stage might be considered comparable to the “first fight” of a romantic couple. After the initial politeness passes in the forming stage, group members begin to feel more comfortable expressing their opinions about how the group should operate and the participation of other members in the group. Given the complexity of meeting both individual goals as well as group goals, there is constant negotiation among group members regarding participation and how a group should operate. Imagine being assigned to a group for a class, and you discover that all the members of the group are content with getting a C grade, but you want an A. If you confront your group members to challenge them to have higher expectations, you are in the storming stage.
        • Norming. Back to our romantic couple example, if the couple can survive the first fight, they often emerge on the other side of the conflict feeling stronger and more cohesive. The same is true in groups. If a group is able to work through the initial conflict of the storming stage, there is the opportunity to really solidify the group’s norms and get to the task at hand as a cohesive group. Norming signifies that the members of a group are willing to abide by group rules and values to achieve the group’s goals.
        • Performing. Performing is the stage we most often associate as the defining characteristic of groups. This stage is marked by a decrease in tensions, less conscious attention to norm establishment, and a greater focus on the actual work at hand to accomplish the group’s goals. While there still may be episodes of negotiating conflict and re-establishing norms, performing is about getting to the business at hand. When you are in a weekly routine of meeting at the library to work on a group project, you are in the performing stage.

        Baseball team in the dugout


        • Terminating. Groups that are assigned a specific goal and timeline will experience the fifth stage of group formation, termination. Think about groups you have been assigned to in college. We’re willing to bet that the group did not continue once you achieved the required assignment and earned your grade. This is not to say that we do not continue relationships with other group members. But, the defining characteristics of the group established during the forming stage have come to an end, and thus, so has the group.

        Now that you understand how groups form let’s discuss the ways in which people participate in groups. Since groups are comprised of interdependent individuals, one area of research that has emerged from studying group communication is the focus on the roles that we play in groups and teams. Having an understanding of the various roles we play in groups can help us understand how to interact with various group members.

        Group Communication Now

        Technology is changing so many things about the ways we communicate. This is also true in group communication. One of the great frustrations for many people in groups is simply finding a time that everyone can meet together. However, computer technology has changed these dynamics as more and more groups “meet” in the virtual world rather than face-to-face. But what is the impact of technology on how groups function? Dr. Kiran Bala argues that “new media has brought a sea of changes in intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, and mass communication processes and content.” With group chat available on almost all social media networks and numerous technological devices, we have a lot to learn about how communication technologies are changing our notions of working in groups and individual communication styles.

        Groups Roles

          A leader talking to a group ​ 

        Take a moment to think about the individuals in a particular group you were in and the role each of them played. You may recall that some people were extremely helpful, and organized and made getting the job done easy. Others may have been more difficult to work with or seemed to disrupt the group process. In each case, the participants were performing roles that manifest themselves in most groups. Early studies on group communication provide an overwhelming number of different types of group roles. To simplify, we provide an overview of some of the more common roles. As you study group roles, remember that we usually play more than one role at a time and that we do not always play the same roles from group to group.

        We organize group roles into four categories—task, social-emotional, procedural, and individual. Task roles are those that help or hinder a group’s ability to accomplish its goalsSocial-emotional roles are those that focus on building and maintaining relationships among individuals in a group (the focus is on how people feel about being in the group). Procedural roles are concerned with how the group accomplishes its task. People occupying these roles are interested in following directions, proper procedures, and going through appropriate channels when making decisions or initiating policy. The final category, individual roles, includes any role “that detracts from group goals and emphasizes personal goals” (Jensen & Chilberg 97). When people come to a group to promote their individual agenda above the group’s agenda, they do not communicate in ways that are beneficial to the group. Let’s take a look at each of these categories in more detail.

        • Task Roles. While there are many task roles a person can play in a group, we want to emphasize five common ones. The Task Leader is the person that keeps the group focused on the primary goal or task by setting agendas, controlling the participation and communication of the group’s members, and evaluating the ideas and contributions of participants. Your associated student president probably performs the task leader role. Information Gatherers are those people who seek and/or provide the factual information necessary for evaluating ideas, problem-solving and reaching conclusions. This is the person who serves as the liaison with your professors about what they expect from a group project. Opinion Gatherers are those that seek out and/or provide subjective responses about ideas and suggestions. They most often take into account the values, beliefs, and attitudes of members. If you have a quiet member of your group, the opinion gatherer may ask, “What do you think?” in order to get that person’s feedback. The Devil’s Advocate is the person who argues a contrary or opposing point of view. This may be done positively in an effort to ensure that all perspectives are considered or negatively as the unwillingness of a single person to participate in the group’s ideas. The Energizer is the person who functions as the group’s cheerleader, providing energy, motivation, and positive encouragement.
        • Social-Emotional Roles. Group members play a variety of roles in order to build and maintain relationships in groups. The Social-Emotional Leader is the person who is concerned with maintaining and balancing the social and emotional needs of the group members and tends to play many, if not all, of the roles in this category. The Encourager practices good listening skills in order to create a safe space for others to share ideas and offer suggestionsFollowers are group members that do what they are told, going along with decisions and assignments from the group. The Tension Releaser is the person that uses humor or can skillfully change the subject in an attempt to minimize tension and avoid conflict. The Compromiser is the one who mediates disagreements or conflicts among members by encouraging others to give in on small issues for the sake of meeting the goals of the group. What role do you find yourself most likely to enact in groups? Or, do you find you switch between these roles depending on the group?
        • Procedural Roles. Groups cannot function properly without having a system of rules or norms in place. Members are responsible for maintaining the norms of a group and play many roles to accomplish this. The Facilitator acts like a traffic director by managing the flow of information to keep the group on taskGatekeepers are those group members that attempt to maintain proper communicative balance. These people also serve as the points of contact between times of official group meetings. The Recorder is the person responsible for tracking group ideas, decisions, and progress. Often, a written record is necessary. Thus, this person has the responsibility for keeping, maintaining, and sharing group notes. If you’re the person who pulls out a pen and paper in order to track what the group talks about, you’re the recorder.
        • Individual Roles. Because groups are made of individuals, group members often play various roles in order to achieve individual goals. The Aggressor engages in forceful or dominating communication to put others down or initiate conflict with other members. This communication style can cause some members to remain silent or passive. The Blocker is the person that fusses or complains about small procedural matters, often blocking the group’s progress by not letting them get to the task. They worry about small details that, overall, are not important to achieving the group’s desired outcome. The Self-Confessor uses the group as a setting to discuss personal or emotional matters not relevant to the group or its task. This is the person that views the group as one that is there to perform group therapy. The Playboy or Playgirl shows little interest in the group or the problem at hand and does not contribute in a meaningful way or at all. This is the person who does essentially no work yet still gets credit for the group’s work. The Joker or Clown uses inappropriate humor or remarks that can steer the group from its mission.

        Now that you have learned about group roles, we will explore leadership in group and group norms. 



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        9.4 Group Leadership and Norms

        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this chapter, you will be able to

        • identify and explain three types of leadership styles.
        • identify and explain the three norms related to group behaviors.

        Leadership in Groups

        While we’ve examined roles we can play in groups, the role that often gets the most attention is that of the leader. Like defining communication, many people have an idea of what a leader is but can’t really come up with a good definition for the term as there are many ways to conceptualize the role of a leader. One way to do this is to think of leaders in terms of their leadership styles. Let’s look at three broad leadership styles to better understand the communication choices leaders can make, as well as the outcome of such choices, in a group.

        Leadership Continuum

        First, let’s visualize leadership styles by seeing them as a continuum. The position to the left (Laissez-faire) indicates a leader who exerts little to no control over a group. In contrast, the position on the right (Authoritarian) indicates a leader who seeks complete control. The position in the middle (Democratic) is one where a leader maintains a moderate level of control or influence in a group with the group’s permission (Bass & Stogdill; Berkowitz).

        • Laissez-faire is a French term that literally means “let do.” This leadership style is one in which the leader takes a laid-back or hands-off approach. For a variety of reasons, leaders may choose to keep their input at a minimum and refrain from directing a group. What do you think some reasons may be for selecting this leadership style? Perhaps a person feels uncomfortable being a leader. Perhaps a person does not feel that she/he possesses the skills required to successfully lead the group. Or, perhaps, the group is highly skilled, motivated, and efficient and does not require much formal direction from a leader. If the latter is the case, then a laissez-faire approach may work well. However, if a group is in need of direction, then a laissez-faire style may result in frustration and inefficiency.
        • An authoritarian leadership style is one in which a leader attempts to exert maximum control over a group. This may be done by making unilateral decisions rather than consulting all members, assigning members to specific tasks or duties, and generally controlling group processes. This leadership style may be beneficial when a group is in need of direction, or there are significant time pressures. Authoritarian leaders may help a group stay efficient and organized in order to accomplish its goals. However, group members may be less committed to the outcomes of the group process than if they had been a part of the decision-making process. One term that you may have heard on your campus is “shared governance.” In general, faculty do not like working in groups where one person is making the decisions. Instead, most faculty prefer a system where all members of a group share in the leadership process. This can also be called the democratic style of leadership.
        • The democratic style of leadership falls somewhere in the middle of laissez-faire and authoritarian styles. In these situations, the decision-making power is shared among group members, not exercised by one individual. In order for this to be effective, group members must spend considerable time sharing and listening to various positions and weighing the effects of each. Groups organized in this fashion may be more committed to the outcomes of the group, creative, and participatory. However, as each person’s ideas are taken into account, this can extend the amount of time it takes for a group to accomplish its goals.

        While we’ve certainly oversimplified our coverage of the complex nature of group leaders, you should be able to recognize that there are pros and cons to each leadership style, depending on context. There is not one right way to be a leader for every group. Effective leaders are able to adapt their leadership style to fit the needs of the group. Furthermore, as a group’s needs and members change over time, leadership styles can accommodate natural changes in the group’s life cycle. Take a moment to think of various group situations in which each leadership style may be the most and the least desirable. What are examples of groups where each style of leadership could be practiced effectively?

        Group Norms

        Every group in which we participate has a set of norms as we discussed in the “norming” stage. Each group’s rules and norms are different, and we must learn them to be effective participants. Some groups formalize their norms and rules, while others are less formal and more fluid. Norms are the recognized rules of behavior for group members. Norms influence the ways we communicate with other members and, ultimately, the outcome of group participation. Norms are important because, as we highlighted in the “norming” stage of group formation, they are the defining characteristics of groups.

        Brilhart and Galanes divide norms into two categories. General norms “direct the behavior of the group as a whole” (130). Meeting times, how meetings run, and the division of tasks are all examples of general norms that groups form and maintain. These norms establish the generally accepted rules of behavior for all group members. The second category of norms is role-specific norms. Role-specific norms “concern individual members with particular roles, such as the designated leader” (130).

        Not only are there norms that apply to all members of a group, but there are also norms that influence the behaviors of each role. Consider our brief discussion on leadership. If a group’s members are self-motivated and do not need someone imposing structure, they will set a norm that the group leader should act as a laissez-faire or democratic leader rather than an authoritarian leader. Violation of this norm will most likely result in conflict if leaders try to impose their will. A violation like this will send a group back to the “storming” stage to renegotiate the acceptable norms of the group. When norms are violated, group members most often will work to correct the violation to get the group back on task and functioning properly. Have you ever been in a group in which a particular group member did not do the task that was assigned to them? What happened? How did the group handle this situation as a whole? What was the response of the person who did not complete the task? In hindsight, would you have handled it differently? If so, how?

        As groups progress through the various stages and as members engage in the various roles, the group is in a continual process of decision-making. Since this is true, it makes sense to ask the question, “How is it that groups make decisions?”



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        9.5 Making Decisions in Groups

        Section Objectives

        By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

        • understand and explain a method for group decision-making.
        • understand and explain the influence that time has on the group decision-making process.
        • understand and explain the influence that technology and media has on group interactions.

        Decision Making In Groups

        When groups need to get a job done, they should have a method in place for making decisions. The decision-making process is a norm that may be decided by a group leader or by the group members as a whole. Let’s look at four common ways of making decisions in groups. To make it simple, we will again use a continuum as a way to visualize the various options groups have for making decisions. On the left side are those methods that require maximum group involvement (consensus and voting). On the right are those methods that use the least amount of input from all members (compromise and authority rule).

        Group Decision-making Continuum

        The decision-making process that requires the most group input is called consensus. To reach a consensus, group members must participate in the crafting of a decision and agree to adopt it. While not all members may support the decision equally, all will agree to carry it out. In individualistic cultures like the U.S., where a great deal of value is placed on independence and freedom of choice, this option can be seen by group members as desirable since no one is forced to go along with a policy or plan of action to which they are opposed. Even though this style of decision-making has many advantages, it has its limitations as well—it requires a great deal of creativity, trust, communication, and time on the part of all group members. When groups have a hard time reaching a consensus, they may opt for the next strategy, which does not require buy-in from all or most of the group.

        Group Communication and You

        Okay, you’re a Communication major, and this whole idea of working in groups really appeals to you and seems to come naturally. But perhaps you’re not a Communication major, and you’re thinking to yourself that your future career isn’t really going to require group or team work. Well, you might want to think again. Forbes magazine released an article titled The Ten Skills Employers Most Want in 2015 Graduates which stated that technical knowledge related to the job is not nearly as important as effective teamwork and communications skills. In fact, the top three skills listed include 1) the ability to work in a team structure, 2) the ability to make decisions and solve problems, and 3) the ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization. Even non-Communication majors need to develop effective group communication skills to succeed at work.

        Even non-Communication majors need to develop effective group communication skills to succeed at work.

        Voting by majority may be as simple as having 51% of the vote for a particular decision, or may require a larger percentage, such as two-thirds or three-fourths, before reaching a decision. Like consensus, voting is advantageous because everyone is able to have an equal say in the decision process (as long as they vote). Unlike consensus, everyone may not be satisfied with the outcome. In a simple majority, 49% of voters may be displeased and may be resistant to abide by the majority vote. In this case the decision or policy may be difficult to carry out and implement. For example, our campus recently had a department vote on whether or not they wanted to hire a particular person to be a professor. Three faculty voted yes for the person, while two faculty voted no. Needless to say, there was a fair amount of contention among the professors who voted. Ultimately, the person being considered for the job learned about the split vote and decided that he did not want to take the job because he felt that the two people that voted no would not treat him well.

        Toward the right of our continuum is compromise. This method often carries a positive connotation in the U.S. because it is perceived as fair since each member gives up something, as well as gains something. Nevertheless, this decision making process may not be as fair as it seems on the surface. The main reason for this has to do with what is being given up and obtained. There is nothing in a compromise that says these two factors must be equal (that may be the ideal, but it is often not the reality). For individuals or groups that feel they have gotten the unfair end of the bargain, they may be resentful and refuse to carry out the compromise. They may also foster ill will toward others in the group, or engage in self-doubt for going along with the compromise in the first place. However, if groups cannot make decisions through consensus or voting, compromise may be the next best alternative.

        At the far right of our continuum is decision by authority rule. This decision-making process requires essentially no input from the group, although the group’s participation may be necessary for implementing the decision. The authority in question may be a member of the group who has more power than other members, such as the leader, or a person of power outside the group. While this method is obviously efficient, members are often resentful when they feel they have to follow another’s orders and feel the group process was a façade and waste of valuable time.

        During the decision making process, groups must be careful not to fall victim to groupthink. Groupthink happens when a group is so focused on agreement and consensus that they do not examine all of the potential solutions available to them. Obviously, this can lead to incredibly flawed decision making and outcomes. Groupthink occurs when members strive for unanimity, resulting in self-deception, forced consent, and conformity to group values and ethics (Rose, Hopthrow & Crisp). Many people argue that groupthink is the reason behind some of history’s worst decisions, such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, The Pearl Harbor attack, The North Korea escalation, the Vietnam escalation, and the Bush administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq (Rose, Hopthrow & Crisp). Let’s think about groupthink on a smaller, less detrimental level. Imagine you are participating in a voting process during a group meeting where everyone votes yes on a particular subject, but you want to vote no. You might feel pressured to conform to the group and vote yes for the sole purpose of unanimity, even though it goes against your individual desires.

        As with leadership styles, appropriate decision-making processes vary from group to group depending on the context, culture, and group members. There is no “one-way fits all” approach to making group decisions. When you find yourself in a task or decision-making group, you should consider taking stock of the task at hand before deciding as a group the best ways in which to proceed.

        Group Work and Time

        By now, you should recognize that working in groups and teams has many advantages. However, one issue that is of central importance to group work is time. When working in groups, time can be both a source of frustration, as well as a reason to work together. One obvious problem is that it takes much longer to make decisions with two or more people as opposed to just one person. Another problem is that it can be difficult to coordinate meeting times when taking into account people’s busy lives of work, school, family, and other personal commitments. On the flip side, when time is limited, and there are multiple tasks to accomplish, it is often more efficient to work in a group where tasks can be delegated according to resources and skills. When each member can take on certain aspects of a project, this limits the amount of work an individual would have to do if he/she were solely responsible for the project.

        For example, Alex, Kellsie, and Teresa all had a project to work on. The project was large and would take a full semester to complete. They had to split up the amount of work equally to each person as well as based on skills. The thought of doing all the work alone was daunting in terms of the required time and labor. Being able to delegate assignments and work together to achieve a professional result for their project indicated that the best option for them was to work together. In the end, the group’s work produced different results and views that you wouldn’t have necessarily come to working alone. On the flip side, imagine having to work in a group where you believe you could do just the same on your own. When deciding whether or not to work in groups, it is important to consider time. Is the time and effort of working in a group worth the outcome? Or is it better to accomplish the task as an individual?

        Groups and Technology and Social Media

          Social media and technology are changing the ways we communicate in groups. There is no doubt that technology is rapidly changing the ways we communicate in a variety of contexts, and group communication is no exception. Many organizations use computers and cell phones as a primary way to keep groups connected, given their ease of use, low cost, and asynchronous nature. In fact, it’s likely that your course web pages also have “group forums” for class groups to deal with the complexities of finding times to meet. In fact, the group that worked on this chapter used Google Docs to have live chats online, transfer documents back and forth, and form messages to achieve the group’s goals–all without ever having to meet in person. As you enter the workforce, you’ll likely find yourself participating in virtual groups with people who have been brought together from a variety of geographical locations.

          Group Communication and You

          Today, we know that social media has the power to bring people together and drive change. Sports fans flock to Twitter and other social media outlets to follow their favorite teams and athletes. Less than 5 percent of TV is sports, but 50 percent of what is tweeted is about sports. And if there was any thought that this phenomenon was only for Americans, that was quickly debunked by worldwide usage statistics.

          “The power to create the global sports village and encourage the next generation of pro-social media sports fans is at our fingertips.” -Adam C. Earnheardt

          While communication technologies can be beneficial for bringing people together and facilitating groups, they also have drawbacks. When we lack face-to-face encounters and rely on asynchronous forms of communication, there is greater potential for information to be lost and messages to be ambiguous. The face-to-face nature of traditional group meetings provides immediate processing and feedback through the interaction of group members. When groups communicate through email, threads, discussion forums, text messaging, etc., they lose the ability to provide immediate feedback to other members. Also, using communication technologies takes a great deal more time for a group to achieve its goals due to the asynchronous nature of these channels.

          Case in Point

          Text message example

          This screenshot is from an iMessage group chat between the group that is responsible for this chapter’s content. Texting helped our group stay connected, updated, and motivated without having to meet face-to-face.

          Nevertheless, technology is changing the ways we understand groups and participate in them. We have yet to work out all of the new standards for group participation introduced by technology. Used well, technology opens the door for new avenues of working in groups to achieve goals. Used poorly, technology can add to the many frustrations people often experience working in groups and teams.







          Group Communication Key Takeaways

          We participate in groups and teams at all stages and phases of our lives, from play groups to members of an athletic team, to performing in a band or performing in a play. We form groups based on personal and professional interests, drive reduction, and reinforcement. Through group and teamwork, we can save time and resources, enhance the quality of our work, succeed professionally, or accomplish socio-political change.

          As you recall, a group is composed of three or more people who interact over time, depend on each other, and follow shared rules and norms. A team is a specialized group with a strong sense of collective identity and compatible and complementary resources. There are five general types of groups depending on the intended outcome. Primary groups are formed to satisfy our long-term emotive needs. Secondary groups are more performance-based and concern themselves with accomplishing tasks or decision-making. Personal growth groups focus on specific areas of personal problem-solving while providing a supportive and emotionally positive context. Learning groups are charged with the discovery and dissemination of new ideas, while problem-solving groups find solutions.

          Once a group comes together, they go through typical stages (forming, storming, norming, performing, and terminating) to develop roles, create a leadership strategy, and determine the process for decision-making. While numerous specific group roles exist, the four categories of roles include task, social-emotional, procedural, and individual roles. It is likely that members will occupy multiple roles simultaneously as they participate in groups.

          There are three broad leadership styles ranging from least to the most control—laissez-faire, democratic, and authoritarian. Also related to power and control are options for decision-making. Consensus gives members the most say; voting and compromise may please some but not others, and authority rule gives all control to the leader. None of the options for leadership styles and decision-making are inherently good or bad—the appropriate choice depends on the individual situation and context. It is important for groups not to become victims of groupthink as they make decisions.

          New technologies are continually changing how we engage in group communication. The asynchronous nature of communication technologies can facilitate group processes. However, they also have the potential to slow groups down and make it more difficult to accomplish group goals.


          1. What are the differences between the terms “team” and “group?” Write down a team you have been a part of and a group you have been a part of. In what ways were they effective or not effective?
          2. Review all the different types of group roles. Reflect back on a time when you worked in a group and discuss the role(s) you played. If there were any individuals in this group that prevented the group’s progress, identify their role and explain why it was problematic.
          3. Thinking back to groups that you have been involved with in the past, which types of groups had the most effective leader(s) and what were the qualities of those leaders that made them so strong?
          4. What are the potential strengths of group discussions? What are the potential limitations of group discussions? What are some strategies to enhance a group’s cohesion?
          5. Reflect back on a time when you were working on a group project in class. Discuss each stage of development (forming, storming, norming, performing, and terminating) as it applied to this group.
          6. How were/are decisions made in your family? Has the process changed over time? What kinds of communication surround the decision making?



          Survey of Communication Study. Authored by: Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn. Provided by: Humboldt State University. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

          Image of group decision continuum. Authored by: Spaynton. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

          Image of screen shot from phone. Authored by: Spaynton. Located at BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike


          Adams, Susan. “The 10 Skills Employers Most Want In 2015 Graduates.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 12 Nov. 2014. Web.

          Bala, Kiran. “Social Media and Changing Communication Patterns” Global Media Journal-Indian Edition 5.1. 2014. Web.

          Bass, Bernard M., and Ralph M. Stogdill. Handbook of leadership. Vol. 11. New York: Free Press, 1990.

          Baughman, Rachel & Everett-Haynes, La Monica. “Understanding the How-To Of Effective Communication in Small Groups” UANews, 2013. n. pag. Web.

          Benson, Jarlath F. Working More Creatively with Groups. 3rd ed. Abingdon, England: Routledge, 2010. Print.

          Berkowitz, Leonard. “Sharing leadership in small, decision-making groups.” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 48.2 (1953): 231.

          Bowers, John W., et al. The Rhetoric of Agitation and Control. Waveland Press, 2010.

          Brilhart, J., and G. Galanes.Group discussion (1998).

          Cragan, John, and David W. Wright, and Chris Kasch. Communication in Small Groups: Theory, process, and skills. Cengage Learning, 2008.

          Earnheardt, Adam C., Ph.D. “On Becoming a (Pro) Social Med#a Sports Fan.” Spectra 50.3 (2014): 18-22. Print. National Communication Association

          Fisher, B. Aubrey. “Decision emergence: Phases in group decision‐making.” Communications Monographs 37.1 (1970): 53-66.

          Heider, John. The Tao of Leadership: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age. 1st ed. Green Dragon, (2005). 178. Print.

          Hughes, Richard L., and Steven K. Jones. “Developing and Assessing College Student Teamwork Skills.” New Directions For Institutional Research (2011). Wily Periodicals. Web.

          Jensen, Arthur D., and Joseph C. Chilberg. Small group communication: Theory and application. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1991.

          Larson, Carl E., and Frank MJ LaFasto. Teamwork: What must go right/what can go wrong. Vol. 10. Sage, 1989.

          Lewin, Kurt. Field Research in Social Science. New York: Harper, 1951. Print.

          Lumsden, Gay, Donald Lumsden, and Carolyn Wiethoff. Communicating in groups and teams: Sharing leadership. Cengage Learning, 2009.

          Maslow, Abraham Harold. Motivation and Personality. 2nd Ed. New York, London: Harper & Row, 1970. Print.

          PAC, WIPP, ed. “America Turns the Page: Historic Number of Women in the 113th Congress.” (2013): 1-2. America Turns the Page: Historic Number of Women in the 113th Congress. WIPP/PAC. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

          Paulson, Edward. “Group Communication and Critical Thinking Competence Development Using a Reality-Based Project.” Business Communication Quarterly74.4 (2011): 399-411.

          Richards, Amy, and Jennifer Baumgardner. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminist, and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000. Print.

          Rose, Meleady, Hopthrow, Tim, Crisp, Richard J. “The Group Decision Effect: Integrative Processes and Suggestions for Implementation.” Personality and Social Psychology Review (2012). Sage. Web.

          Sherblom, John C. Small Group and Team Communication. Allyn & Bacon, 2002.

          Stacks, Don W., and Michael B. Salwen, eds. An integrated approach to communication theory and research. Routledge, 2014.

          Starhawk. Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power Authority, and Mystery. San Francisco: Harper, 1987. Print.

          Tuckman, Bruce W. “Developmental sequence in small groups.” Psychological bulletin 63.6 (1965): 384.

          Wilson, Gerald L., and Michael S. Hanna. Groups in context: Leadership and participation in small groups. McGraw-Hill, 1990.



          Chapter 10: Business and Professional Meetings

          Business and Professional Meetings

          Section Objectives

          By the end of reading this section, you will be able to

          • understand how to prepare for and conduct business meetings.
          • explain the necessary elements of an agenda
          • explain the necessary behaviors needed for an effective meeting


          Group of diverse people having a business meeting | Free for… | Flickr

          Business and professional meetings are a part of the communication climate of any business. Some view meetings as boring, pointless, and futile exercises, while others see them as opportunities to exchange information and produce results. A combination of preparation and execution makes all the difference. Remember, too, that meetings do not have to take place in a physical space where the participants meet face to face. Instead, a number of technological tools make it possible to hold virtual meetings in which the participants are half a world away from one another. Virtual meetings are formally arranged gatherings where participants, located in distinct geographic locations, come together via the Internet.


          A meeting, like a problem-solving group, needs a clear purpose statement. The specific goal for the specific meeting will clearly relate to the overall goal of the group or committee. Determining your purpose is central to an effective meeting and getting together just to get together is called a party, not a meeting. Do not schedule a meeting just because you met at the same time last month or because it is a standing committee. Members will resent the intrusion into their schedules and quickly perceive the lack of purpose.

          Similarly, if the need for a meeting arises, do not rush into it without planning. A poorly planned meeting announced at the last minute is sure to be less than effective. People may be unable to change their schedules, may fail to attend, or may impede the progress and discussion of the group because of their absence. Those who attend may feel hindered because they needed more time to prepare and present comprehensive results to the group or committee.

          If a meeting is necessary, and a clear purpose can be articulated, then you’ll need to decide how and where to meet. Distance is no longer an obstacle to participation, as we will see later in this section when we explore some of the technologies for virtual meetings. However, there are many advantages to meeting in person. People communicate not just with words but also with their body language—facial expressions, hand gestures, head nodding or head shaking, and posture. These subtleties of communication can be key to determining how group members really feel about an issue or question. Meeting in real-time can be important, too, as all group members have the benefit of receiving new information at the same time. For purposes of our present discussion, we will focus on meetings taking place face-to-face in real-time.

          If you have a purpose statement for the meeting, then it also follows that you should be able to create an agenda or a list of topics to be discussed. You may need to solicit information from members to formulate an agenda, and this premeeting contact can serve to encourage active participation. The agenda will have a time, date, place, and method of interaction noted, as well as a list of participants. It will also have a statement of purpose, a list of points to be considered, and a brief summary of relevant information that relates to each point. Somewhere on the agenda, the start and end times need to be clearly indicated, and it is always a good idea to leave time at the end for questions and additional points that individual members may want to share. If the meeting has an emotional point or theme, or the news is negative, plan for additional time for discussion, clarification, and recycling of conversations as the participants process the information.

          Table 15.2 Meeting Agenda Elements




          Title, time, date, location, phone number, e-mail contact, and any other information necessary to get all participants together.


          Expected participants

          Subject Line

          Purpose statement

          Call to Order

          Who will call the meeting to order?


          If everyone is new, this is optional. If even one person is new, everyone should briefly introduce themselves with their name and respective roles.

          Roll Call

          This may quietly take place while introductions are made.

          Reading of the minutes

          Notes from the last meeting are read (if applicable) with an opportunity to correct. These are often sent out before the meeting so participants have the opportunity to review them and note any needed corrections.



          Old Business

          List any unresolved issues from last time or issues that were “tabled,” or left until this meeting.

          New Business

          This is a list of items for discussion and action.


          This is optional and applies if there are subcommittees or groups working on specific, individual action items that require reports to the group or committee.

          Good of the Order

          This is the time for people to offer any news that relates to the topic of the meeting that was otherwise not shared or discussed.


          Note time, date, place meeting adjourned and indicate when the next meeting is scheduled.

          Table 15.2 Meeting Agenda Elements



          Title Header

          Title, time, date, location, phone number, e-mail contact, and any other information necessary to get all participants together.


          Expected participants

          Subject Line

          Purpose statement

          Call to Order

          Who will call the meeting to order?


          If everyone is new, this is optional. If even one person is new, everyone should briefly introduce themselves with their name and respective roles.

          Roll Call

          This may quietly take place while introductions are made.

          Reading of the minutes

          Notes from the last meeting are read (if applicable) with an opportunity to correct. These are often sent out before the meeting so participants have the opportunity to review them and note any needed corrections.



          Old Business

          List any unresolved issues from last time or issues that were “tabled,” or left until this meeting.

          New Business

          This is a list of items for discussion and action.


          This is optional and applies if there are subcommittees or groups working on specific, individual action items that require reports to the group or committee.

          Good of the Order

          This is the time for people to offer any news that relates to the topic of the meeting that was otherwise not shared or discussed.


          Note time, date, place meeting adjourned and indicate when the next meeting is scheduled.

          If you are planning an intense work session, you need to consider the number of possible interactions among the participants and limit them. Smaller groups are generally more productive. If you are gathering to present information or to motivate the sales staff, a large audience, where little interaction is expected, is appropriate. Each member has a role, and attention to how and why they are interacting will produce the best results. Review the stages of group formation in view of the idea that a meeting is a short-term group. You can anticipate a “forming” stage, and if roles are not clear, there may be a bit of “storming” before the group establishes norms and becomes productive. Adding additional participants for no clear reason will only make the process more complex and may produce negative results.

          Inviting participants via e-mail has become increasingly common across businesses and industries. Software programs like Microsoft Outlook allow you to initiate a meeting request and receive an “accept” or “decline” response that makes the invitation process organized and straightforward. Reliance on a software program, however, may not be enough to encourage and ensure participation. A reminder on the individual’s computer may go off fifteen minutes prior to the meeting, but if they are away from their computer or if Outlook is not running, the reminder will go unseen and unheard. A reminder e-mail on the day of the meeting, often early in the morning, can serve as a personal effort to highlight the activities of the day.

          If you are the person responsible for the room reservation, confirm the reservation a week before the meeting and again the day before the meeting. Redundancy in the confirmation process can help eliminate double-booking a room where two meetings are scheduled at the same time. If technology is required at the meeting, such as a microphone, conference telephone, or laptop and projector, make sure you confirm their reservation at the same time as you confirm the meeting room reservation. Always personally inspect the room and test these systems prior to the meeting. There is nothing more embarrassing than introducing a high-profile speaker, such as the company president, and then finding that the PowerPoint projector is not working properly.

          Conducting the Meeting

          The world is a stage, and a meeting is a performance, the same as an interview or speech presentation. Each member has a part to play, and they should each be aware of their roles and responsibilities prior to the meeting. Everyone is a member of the group, ranging from new members to full members. If you can reduce or eliminate the storming stage, all the better. A clearly defined agenda can be a productive tool for this effort.

          People may know each other by role or title but may not be familiar with each other. Brief introductions can serve to establish identity and credibility and help the group transition to performance. The purpose of the meeting should be clearly stated, and if there are rules or guidelines that require a specific protocol, they should be introduced.

          Mary Ellen GuffeyGuffey, M. (2007). Essentials of business communication (7th ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson/Wadsworth. provides a useful participant checklist that is adapted here for our use:

          • Arrive on time and stay until the meeting adjourns (unless there are prior arrangements)
          • Leave the meeting only for established breaks or emergencies
          • Be prepared and have everything you need on hand
          • Turn off cell phones and personal digital assistants
          • Follow the established protocol for turn taking
          • Respect time limits
          • Demonstrate professionalism in your verbal and nonverbal interactions
          • Communicate interest and stay engaged in the discussion
          • Avoid tangents and side discussions
          • Respect space, and don’t place your notebook or papers all around you
          • Clean up after yourself
          • Engage in polite conversation after the conclusion

          If you are cast in the role of meeting leader, you may need to facilitate the discussion and address conflict. The agenda serves as your guide, and you may need to redirect the discussion to the topic, but always demonstrate respect for each and every member. You may also need to intervene if a point has reached a stalemate in terms of conflict (this text offers specific guidelines for managing interpersonal conflict that apply here).

          There has been quite a discussion on the role of seating arrangements in meeting within the field of business communication. Generally, a table that is square, rectangular, or U-shaped has a fixed point at which the attention is directed, often referred to as the head of the table. This space is often associated with power, status, and hierarchy and may play an important role in the flow of interactions across the meeting. If information is to be distributed and presented from administration to managers, for example, a table with a clear focal point for the head or CEO may be indicated. Tables that are round, or tables arranged in a circular pattern, allow for a more egalitarian model of interaction, reducing the hierarchical aspects while reinforcing the clear line of sight among all participants. If a meeting requires intense interaction and collaboration, generally, a round table or a circular pattern is indicated.

          Some meetings do not call for a table but rather rows of seats, all facing toward the speaker; you probably recognize this arrangement from many class lectures you have attended. For relatively formal meetings in which information is being delivered to a large number of listeners, and little interaction is desired, seating in rows is an efficient use of space.

          Transitions are often the hardest part of any meeting. Facilitating the transition from one topic to the next may require you to create links between each point. You can specifically note the next point on the agenda and verbally introduce the next speaker or person responsible for the content area. Once the meeting has accomplished its goals in the established time frame, it is time to facilitate the transition to a conclusion. You may conclude by summarizing what has been discussed or decided and what actions the group members are to take as a result of the meeting. If there is a clear purpose for holding a subsequent meeting, discuss the time and date and specifically note assignments for next time.

          Feedback is an important part of any communication interaction. Minutes are written documents that serve to record the interaction and can provide an opportunity for clarification. Minutes often appear as the agenda with notes in relation to actions taken during the meeting or specific indications of who is responsible for what before the next meeting. In many organizations, minutes of the meeting are tentative, like a rough draft, until they are approved by the members of the group or committee. Normally minutes are sent within a week of the meeting if it is a monthly event and more quickly if the need to meet more frequently has been determined. If your organization does not call for minutes, you can still benefit by reviewing your notes after a meeting and comparing them with those of others to make sure you understood what was discussed and did not miss—or misinterpret—any key information.


          Strategies for Effective Meetings

          You want an efficient and effective meeting, but recognize that group communication, by definition, can be chaotic and unpredictable. To stay on track, consider the following strategies:

          • Send out the last meeting’s minutes one week before the next meeting.
          • Send out the agenda for the current meeting at least one week in advance.
          • Send out reminders for the meeting the day before and the day of the meeting.
          • Schedule the meeting in Outlook or a similar program so everyone receives a reminder.
          • Start and end your meetings on time.
          • Make sure the participants know their roles and requirements before the meeting.
          • Make sure all participants know one another before the discussion starts.
          • Formal communication styles and references to the agenda can help reinforce the time frame and tasks.
          • Follow Robert’s Rules of Order when applicable, or at least be familiar with them.
          • Make sure notes taken at the meeting are legible and can be converted to minutes for distribution later.
          • Keep the discussion on track, and if you are the chair or leader of a meeting, don’t hesitate to restate a point to interject and redirect the attention back to the next agenda point.
          • If you are the chair, draw a clear distinction between on-topic discussions and those that are more personal, individual, or off-topic.
          • Communicate your respect and appreciation for everyone’s time and effort.
          • Clearly communicate the time, date, and location or means of contact for the next meeting.

          Using Technology to Facilitate Meetings

          Given the widespread availability and increasingly low cost of electronic communication, technologies that once served to bring people together across continents and time zones are now also serving people in the same geographic area. Rather than traveling (by plane, car, or even elevator within the same building) to a central point for face-to-face interaction, busy and cost-conscious professionals often choose to see and hear each other via one of many different electronic interface technologies. It is important to be aware of the dimensions of nonverbal communication that are lost in a virtual meeting compared to an in-person meeting. Nevertheless, these technologies are a boon to today’s business organizations, and knowing how to use them is a key skill for all job seekers. We will discuss the technologies by category, beginning with audio-only, then audio-visual, and finally social media.

          Audio-Only Interactions

          The simplest form of audio-only interaction is, of course, a telephone call. Chances are that you have been using the phone all your life, yet did you know that some executives hire professional voice coaches to help them increase their effectiveness in phone communication? When you stop to think about it, we use a great many audio-only modes of communication, ranging from phone calls and voice-activated telephone menus to radio interviews, public address systems, dictation recording systems, and computer voice recognition technology. The importance of audio communication in the business world has increased with the availability of conference calls, Web conferences, and voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) communications.

          Your voice has qualities that cannot be communicated in written form, and you can use these qualities to your advantage as you interact with colleagues. If you are sending a general informative message to all employees, an e-mail may serve you well, but if you are congratulating one employee on receiving an industry award, your voice as the channel carries your enthusiasm.

          Take care to pay attention to your pronunciation of words, stating them correctly in normal ways, and avoiding words that you are not comfortable with as you may mispronounce them. Mispronunciation can have a negative impact on your reputation or perceived credibility. Instead of using complicated words that may cause you to stumble, choose a simple phrase if you can, or learn to pronounce the word correctly before you use it in a formal interactive setting.

          Your voice quality, volume, and pitch also influence how your spoken words are interpreted. Quality often refers to the emotional tone of your voice, from happy and enthusiastic to serious or even sad. In most business situations, it is appropriate to speak with some level of formality yet avoid sounding stilted or arrogant. Your volume (the loudness of your voice) should be normal, but do make sure your listeners can hear you. In some situations, you may be using a directional microphone that only amplifies your voice signal if you speak directly into it.

          If your audience includes English learners, remember that speaking louder (i.e., shouting) does not help them to understand you any better than speaking in a normal tone. Your word choices will make a much more significant impact when communicating across cultures; strive to use direct sentences and avoid figures of speech that do not translate literally.

          Pitch refers to the frequency, high or low, of your voice. A pleasant, natural voice will have some variation in pitch. A speaker with a flat pitch, or a monotone (one-tone) voice, is often interpreted as being bored and often bores his or her listeners.

          If you are leaving a voice mail, state all the relevant information in concise, clear terms, making sure to speak slowly; don’t forget to include your contact information, even if you think the person already knows your phone number. Imagine you were writing down your phone number as you recite it, and you will be better able to record it at a “listener-friendly” speed. Don’t leave a long, rambling voicemail message. You may later wish you had said less, and the more content you provide, the more you increase the possibility for misunderstandings without your being present for clarification.

          Audio-Visual Interactions

          Rather than call each other, we often call and interact in both audio and visual ways via the Internet. There are several ways to interface via audio and video, and new technologies in this area are being invented all the time. For example, VoIP software allows the participants to see and hear each other across time and distance with one-on-one calls and video conferencing. The audio portion of the call comes through a headset, and the callers see each other on their computer monitors as if they were being broadcast on television. This form of audio-visual communication is quickly becoming a low- or no-cost business tool for interaction.

          If you are going to interact via audio and visual signals, make sure you are prepared. Appropriate dress, setting, and attitude are all required. The integration of a visual signal into the traditional phone call means that nonverbal gestures can now be observed in real-time and can both aid and detract from the message.

          If you are unfamiliar with the technology, practice with it before your actual business interaction. Try out the features with a friend and know where to find and access the information. If the call doesn’t go as planned, or the signal isn’t what you expected or experienced in the past, keep a good attitude and try again.

          Social Media

          Online communities, forums, blogs, tweets, cloud computing, and avatar-activated environments are some of the continually developing means of social media being harnessed by the business world. The Internet is increasingly promoting tools and platforms for people to interact. From bulletin boards that resemble the FreeNet posts of years past to interactive environments like Second Life to Social Networks such as Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok, people are increasingly representing and interpreting themselves online.

          Humans seek interaction, and this has led to new ways to market, advertise, and interact; however, caution is warranted when engaging in social media online. When you use these media, remember a few simple cautions:

          1. Not everything is as it appears. The individuals on the forum may not all be who they represent themselves to be.
          2. The words you write and the images you send, regardless of how much you trust the recipient, may become public and can remain online forever.
          3. Always consider what you access and what you post and how it represents you and your employer, even if you think others cannot know where you work or who you are.
          4. Be aware that Internet service providers (ISPs) are required by law to archive information concerning the use and traffic of information that can become available under subpoena.

          Forums are often theme-based Web sites that gather a community of individuals dedicated to a common interest. From owner-enthusiast Web sites that celebrate the new Mini Cooper, where owners discuss modifications and sell parts to each other, to forums that emphasize a viewpoint, such as the Life After the Oil Crash (LATOC) discussion board, affectionately called doomers, people come together to compare notes around areas of interest.

          Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn allow people to link to, and interact with, others who work in their industry or related ones. More general social media sites include MySpace and Facebook, which also present threaded discussions and dynamic interfaces with groups that may or may not be limited to those that the user intends. Interactive writing platforms such as blogs, wikis, and cloud computing involve having common documents stored on the Internet, which can be accessed from multiple sites at once, further facilitating the interaction. Blogs are Web pages with periodic posts that may or may not feature feedback responses from readers. Wikis are collaborations on Web content that are created and edited by users. Cloud computing involves secure access to files from anywhere as information is stored remotely. Somewhere between a social networking site, where people gather virtually to interact, and a computer game lies the genre of avatar-activated virtual worlds such as Second Life. In these environments, users can meet others and make friends, participate in activities, and create and trade virtual property and services.

          Business and industry organizations may also incorporate posts and threaded discussions, but often under a password-protected design on a company’s intranet or other limited-access platforms. Employees may use their business-provided computer equipment to access sites that are not business related (if not specifically blocked), but all information associated with each business’s computer is subject to inspection, archival, and supervision.

          Every computer is assigned an Internet protocol or IP address. The IP address can be specifically traced back to the original user, or at least to the computer itself and to who is responsible for its use. From an e-mail via one of the free sites (e.g., Juno, Google’s Gmail, or Yahoo! Mail) to cloud computing and wikis, your movements across the Web leave clear “footprints.”

          Whether you maintain a personal Web page, a blog, or engage with peers and colleagues via Twitter, take care when considering what personal information to make public. Privacy is an increasing issue online, and your safety is a priority. Always represent yourself and your organization with professionalism, knowing that what you search for and how you use your business computer can and often is subject to inspection.

          KEY TAKEAWAY

          Meetings require planning, choice of appropriate technology, and understanding of organizational communication.


          1. Take notes in one of your classes as if they were the official minutes of a meeting. Does the class “meeting” have a purpose? What preparations were made, and what technology was used? Is there a follow-up or a plan for the next class meeting? Compare your notes with another student to see if you understood all the information conveyed in the class.
          2. Collaborate with one or more classmates and contribute to a computing cloud or a wiki. What was the activity like? Did you learn new information that you would not have learned by studying individually?
          3. Make an audio recording of your voice and listen to it. Are there aspects of your voice quality, pronunciation, or delivery style that you would like to improve? Practice daily and make more recordings until you notice improvement.

          KEY TAKEAWAY

          With good planning and preparation, meetings can be productive, engaging, and efficient.


          1. Create a sample agenda for a business meeting to discuss the quarterly sales report and results from the latest marketing campaign. Decide what information is needed and what position might normally be expected to produce that information. Note in your agenda all the elements listed above, even if some elements (such as “good of the order”) only serve as a placeholder for the discussion that will take place.

          2. Write a brief description of a meeting you recently attended and indicate one way you perceived it as being effective. Compare with classmates.

          3. Write a brief description of a meeting you recently attended and indicate one way you perceived it as being ineffective. Compare with classmates.



          Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at: License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike









          Part 5: Developing Effective Presentations


          Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance | TED Talk


          Just as working in groups and meetings will be a fact of life in your career, it is also likely that giving presentations will be as well. This section of the text will provide information to help you improve and hone your speaking skills, including choosing topics, effective organization and structure, creating effective presentation aids, and delivering an exciting presentation.

          License: Image Copyright: © Ryan Lash / CC BY-NC 3.0

          Chapter 11: Presentation Speaking

          Getting Started

          Mark Twain makes a valid point that presentations require preparation. If you have the luxury of time to prepare, take full advantage of it. Speeches don’t always happen when or how we envision them. Preparation becomes especially paramount when the element of unknown is present, forcing us to improvise. One mistake or misquote can and will be quickly rebroadcast, creating lasting damage. Take full advantage of the time to prepare for what you can anticipate, but also consider the element of surprise. In this chapter we discuss the planning and preparation necessary to prepare an effective presentation. You will be judged on how well you present yourself, so take the time when available to prepare.

          Now that you are concerned with getting started and preparing a speech for work or class, let’s consider the first step. It may be that you are part of a team developing a sales presentation, preparing to meet with a specific client in a one-on-one meeting or even setting up a teleconference. Your first response may be that a meeting is not a speech, but your part of the conversation has a lot in common with a formal presentation. You need to prepare, you need to organize your message, and you need to consider the audience’s expectations, their familiarity with the topic, and even individual word choices that may improve your effectiveness. Regardless of whether your presentation is to one individual (interpersonal) or many (group), it has as its foundation the act of communication. Communication itself is a dynamic and complex process, and the degree to which you can prepare and present effectively across a range of settings will enhance your success as a business communicator.

          If you have been assigned a topic by the teacher or your supervisor, you may be able to go straight to the section on narrowing your topic. If not, then the first part of this chapter will help you. This chapter will help you step by step in preparing for your speech or oral presentation. By the time you have finished this chapter, you will have chosen a topic for your speech, narrowed the topic, and analyzed the appropriateness of the topic for yourself as well as the audience. From this basis, you will have formulated a general purpose statement and specific thesis statement to further define the topic of your speech. Building on the general and specific purpose statements you formulate, you will create an outline for your oral presentation.

          Through this chapter, you will become more knowledgeable about the process of creating a speech and gain confidence in your organizational abilities. Preparation and organization are two main areas that, when well developed prior to an oral presentation, significantly contribute to reducing your level of speech anxiety. If you are well prepared, you will be more relaxed when it is time to give your speech. Effective business communicators have excellent communication skills that can be learned through experience and practice. In this chapter we will work together to develop your skills in preparing clear and concise messages to reach your target audience.



          Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution

          11.1 Myths and Realities of Public Speaking

          Myths and Realities of Public Speaking

          Section Objectives

          By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

          • Describe common myths and realities of public speaking.

          Now that you have identified your purpose, chosen your topic and thesis statement, and gathered and organized your material, you are almost ready to put your speech into its final form. At this juncture, let’s examine some common public speaking myths and outline the guidelines you’ll need to consider as you prepare to face your audience. There are a lot of myths associated with public speaking. In many ways, these guidelines dispel common perceptions of public speaking and may lead you to be more open with yourself and your audience as you prepare and present your speech.

          Speaking in Public Is Not Like Killing Lions

          From an evolutionary biology perspective, our bodies have developed to respond to stress in advantageous ways. When we needed to run from a bear, hunt a lion, or avoid a snake, our bodies predictably got us prepared with a surge of adrenaline. (Burnham, T., & Phelan, J. (2000). Mean genes: From sex to money to food: Taming our primal instincts. Cambridge, MA: Perseus). Hunters who didn’t respond well to stress or failed at hunting were less likely to live long enough to reach maturity and reproduce. So we have the successful hunter to thank for our genes, but people in developed countries today do not need hunting skills to feed their families.

          While food is still an issue in many parts of the world, our need to respond to threats and stress has shifted from our evolutionary roots to concern over our job, our relationships, and how we negotiate a modern economy. Communication is a great resource and tool, and we can apply the principles and lessons to ourselves. We can create the perception that the speech is like defeating the lion and really get ourselves worked up. Or we can choose to see it as a natural extension of communication with others.

          Speaking in public itself is not inherently stressful, but our response to the stimulus can contribute to or reduce our level of stress. We all will have a stress response to a new, unknown, or unfamiliar stimulus. Nevertheless, the butterflies in our stomachs are a response we can choose to control by becoming more familiar with the expectations, preparation, and performance associated with speaking in public.

          You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

          Letting go of perfection can be the hardest guideline to apply to ourselves. It’s also in our nature to compare ourselves to others and ourselves. You might forgive a classmate for the occasional “umm” during a speech, but then turn right around and spend a lot of mental effort chastising yourself for making the same error in your presentation. We all have distinct strengths and weaknesses. Knowing yourself and where you need to improve is an important first step. Recognizing that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that you won’t become a world-class speaker overnight may be easier said than done.

          It may help to recognize that your listeners don’t want to see you fail; on the contrary, they want you to do well because when you do, they will be able to relax and enjoy your presentation. You might be surprised to know that not everyone counts each time you say “umm.” However, if “umm,” “ahhh,” or “you know what I mean” are phrases that you tend to repeat, they will distract your audience from your message. Eliminating such distracting habits can become a goal for improvement. Improvement is a process, not an end in itself; in fact, many people believe that learning to speak in public is more about the journey than the destination. Each new setting, context, and audience will present new challenges, and your ability to adapt learned through your journey of experience will help you successfully meet each new challenge.

          Organization Is Key to Success

          Have you ever thought of a great comeback to something someone said a while after they said it? Wouldn’t it have been nice to be quick and articulate and able to deliver your comeback right then and there? Speaking in public gives you a distinct advantage over “off-the-cuff” improvisation and stumbling for the right comeback. You get to prepare and be organized. You know you’ll be speaking to an audience in order to persuade them to do, think, or consider an idea or action.

          What issues might they think of while you are speaking? What comebacks or arguments might they say if it were a debate? You get to anticipate what the audience will want to know, say, or hear. You get to prepare your statements and visual aids to support your speech and create the timing, organization, and presentation of each point. Many times in life, we are asked to take a position and feel unprepared to respond. Speaking in public gives you the distinct opportunity to prepare and organize your ideas or points in order to make an impact and respond effectively.

          Speaking in Public Is Like Participating in a Conversation

          This may sound odd at first, but consider the idea of an “enlarged conversation” described by Julia T. Wood, Woods, J. (2001). Communication mosaics: An introduction to the field of communication (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. She expresses a clear connection between everyday speech and public dialogue. Sometimes we take a speech turn, while at other times, we remain silent while others take their turn. We do this all day long and think nothing of it. We are often the focus of attention from friends and colleagues, and it hardly ever makes us nervous. When we get on a stage, however, some people perceive that the whole game has changed. It hasn’t. We still take turns, and the speaker will take a longer turn as part of an enlarged conversation. People in the audience will still communicate feedback, and the speaker will still negotiate his or her turn just the way they would in an everyday conversation. The difference is all about how we, as the speaker, perceive the context.

          Some people feel that the level of expectations, the need for perfection, or the idealistic qualities we perceive in eloquent speakers are required, and then focus on deficiencies, fears, and the possibility of failing to measure up. By letting go of this ideal, we can approach the challenge with a more pragmatic frame of mind. The rules we play comfortably by in conversation daily are the same as we shift to a larger conversation within the context of public speaking. This viewpoint can offer an alternative as you address your apprehensions and help you let go of unrealistic expectations.

          KEY TAKEAWAY

          Public speaking does not have to be a “fright or flight” experience; it can be like holding half of a friendly conversation. This will especially be true if you do a good job of preparing and organizing your presentation ahead of time.


          1.Have you ever done a creative visualization exercise?

          • Try this one and see how it helps you prepare your speech. Choose a quiet place, sit in a comfortable position, and close your eyes. Picture yourself getting up to give your oral presentation. Picture what you want to happen—you will speak confidently, clearly, and engagingly. Your audience will listen attentively and consider the merit of your points. When you are finished, they will applaud and express appreciation for the good job you have done.

          2. Write out a series of goal statements, one for each part or point of your presentation. What do you want to accomplish with each section, visual aid, or statement? Share your results with classmates.

          3. Consider the elements of a speech to inform and adapt them for a speech to persuade. In what ways would you adjust key points or issues?



          Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution


          11. 2 Before You Choose a Topic

          Before You Choose a Topic

          Section Objectives

          By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

          • Describe and implement the steps in the process of planning a speech.

          As you begin to think about choosing your topic, there are a few key factors to consider. These include the purpose of the speech, its projected time length, the appropriateness of the topic for your audience, and your knowledge or the amount of information you can access on the topic. Let’s examine each of these factors.

          Determine the General and Specific Purpose

          It is important for you to have a clear understanding of your purpose, as all the other factors depend on it. Here’s a brief review of the five general purposes for speaking in public:

          • Speech to inform. Increase the audience’s knowledge, teach about a topic or issue, and share your expertise.
          • Speech to demonstrate. Show the audience how to use, operate, or do something.
          • Speech to persuade. Influence the audience by presenting arguments intended to change attitudes, beliefs, or values.
          • Speech to entertain. Amuse the audience by engaging them in a relatively light-hearted speech that may have a serious point or goal.
          • Ceremonial speech. Perform a ritual function, such as giving a toast at a wedding reception or a eulogy at a funeral.

          For in-depth information about these types of speeches, The Public Speaking Project Libretext, can help you understand the theories and principles that are at work in each type of speech. Just search the table of contents for the type of speech you are preparing.

          You should be able to choose one of these options. If you find that your speech may fall into more than one category, you may need to get a better understanding of the assignment or goal. Starting out with a clear understanding of why you are doing what you are supposed to do will go a long way in helping you organize, focus, prepare, and deliver your oral presentation.

          Once you have determined your general purpose—or had it determined for you if this is an assigned speech—you will still need to write your specific purpose. What specifically are you going to inform, persuade, demonstrate, or entertain your audience with? What type of ceremony is your speech intended for? A clear goal makes it much easier to develop an effective speech. Try to write in just one sentence exactly what you are going to do. Here are some examples according to general purpose:

          To inform my audience about the history of the ford mustang

          To persuade my audience to exercise at least three times a week

          To entertain my audience by relating the story of my disastrous first fishing trip

          Notice that each example includes two pieces of information. The first is the general purpose (to inform or to persuade) and the second is the specific subject you intend to talk about.

          Can I Cover the Topic in Time?

          Your next key consideration is the amount of time in which you intend to accomplish your purpose. Consider the depth, scope, and amount of information available on the topic you have in mind. In business situations, speeches or presentations vary greatly in length, but most often the speaker needs to get the message across as quickly as possible—for example, in less than five minutes. If you are giving a speech in class, it will typically be five to seven minutes; at most, it may be up to ten minutes. In those ten minutes, it would be impossible to tell your audience about the complete history of the Ford Mustang automobile. You could, however, tell them about four key body style changes since 1965. If your topic is still too broad, narrow it down to something you can reasonably cover in the time allotted. For example, focus on just the classic Mustangs, the individual differences by year, and how to tell them apart.

          You may have been assigned a persuasive speech topic linking global warming to business, but have you been given enough time to present a thorough speech on why human growth and consumption are clearly linked to global warming? Are you supposed to discuss “green” strategies of energy conservation in business, for example? The topic of global warming is quite complex and, by definition, involves a great deal of information, debate over interpretations of data, and analysis of the diverse global impacts. Rather than try to explore the chemistry, the corporate debates, or the current government activities that may be involved, you can consider how visual aids may make the speech vivid for the audience. You might decide to focus on three clear examples of global warming to capture your audience’s attention and move them closer to your stated position: “green” and energy-saving strategies are good for business.


          Image of a man holding a light bulb

          Visual aids may make this speech vivid for the audience. © 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation FIGURE 10.1

          Visual aids may make this speech vivid for the audience.

          Perhaps you’ll start with a brownie on a plate with a big scoop of ice cream on top, asking your audience what will happen when the ice cream melts. They will probably predict that the melted ice cream will spread out over the plate in a puddle, becoming a deeper puddle as the ice cream continues to melt. Next, you might display a chart showing that globally, temperatures have risen, followed by a map of the islands that have lost beaches due to rising tides. To explain how this had happened, you may show two pictures of Antarctica—one taken in 1993 and the other in 2003, after it lost over 15 percent of its total mass as the Ross Ice Shelf melted, cracked, and broke off from the continent. You may then make a transition to what happens when water evaporates as it goes into the atmosphere. Show a picture of the hole in the ozone over Chile and much of South America, and hold up a bottle of sunscreen, saying that even SPF 45 isn’t strong enough to protect you. Finally, you may show a pie graph that illustrates that customers are aware of the environmental changes, and the extent of their purchase decision is based on the perception of a product’s “green” features or support of related initiatives. In just a few minutes, you’ve given seven visual examples to support your central position and meet your stated purpose.

          The Public Speaking Project Libretext can also help you understand the significance of presentation aids, their functions, and the variety of possibilities for audio and visual aids.

          Will My Topic Be Interesting to My Audience?

          Remember that communication is a two-way process; even if you are the only one speaking, the audience is an essential part of your speech. Put yourself in their place and imagine how to make your topic relevant for them. What information will they actually use once your speech is over?

          For example, if you are speaking to a group of auto mechanics who specialize in repairing and maintaining classic cars, it might make sense to inform them about the body features of the Mustang, but they may already be quite knowledgeable about these features. If you represent a new rust treatment product used in the restoration process, they may be more interested in how it works than any specific model of car. However, if your audience belongs to a general group of students or would-be car buyers, it would be more useful to inform them about how to buy a classic car and what to look for. General issues of rust may be more relevant and can still be clearly linked to your new rust treatment product.

          For a persuasive speech, in addition to considering the audience’s interests, you will also want to gauge their attitudes and beliefs. If you are speaking about global warming to a group of scientists, you can probably assume that they are familiar with the basic facts of melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and ozone depletion. In that case, you might want to focus on something more specific, such as strategies for reducing greenhouse gases that can be implemented by businesses and industries. Your goal might be to persuade this audience to advocate for such strategies and support or even endorse the gradual implementation of the cost- and energy-saving methods that may not solve all the problems at once but serve as an important first step.

          In contrast, for a general audience, you may anticipate skepticism that global warming is even occurring or that it poses any threat to the environment. Some audience members may question the cost savings, while others may assert that the steps are not nearly enough to make a difference. The clear, visual examples described above will help get your point across, but if you are also prepared to answer questions—for example, “If the earth is heating up, why has it been so cold here lately?” or “Isn’t this just part of a warming and cooling cycle that’s been happening for millions of years?”—you may make your speech ultimately more effective. By asking your listeners to consider what other signs they can observe that global warming is occurring, you might highlight a way for them to apply your speech beyond the classroom setting. By taking small steps as you introduce your assertions, rather than advocating a complete overhaul of the system or even revolution, you will more effectively engage a larger percentage of your audience.

          How Much Information about My Topic Is Readily Available?

          For a short speech, especially if it is a speech to entertain, you may be able to rely completely on your knowledge and ideas. But in most cases, you will need to gather information so that you can make your speech interesting by telling the audience things they don’t already know. Try to choose a topic that can be researched in your college or university libraries. You may need to do some initial checking of sources to be sure the material is available.

          Putting It All Together

          When you have determined your general purpose, the amount of material appropriate to the time allowed for your speech, and the appropriateness for your audience, then you should be well on your way to identifying the topic for your speech. As a double-check, you should be able to state your specific purpose in one sentence. For example, the specific purpose of our “Classic Cars” speech could be stated as, “By the end of my speech, I want my audience to be more informed about the three ways in which they can determine whether a classic car is a rust bucket or diamond in the rough, and be aware of one product solution.”

          KEY TAKEAWAY

          Speech planning begins with knowing your general and specific purpose, your time allotment, your audience, and the amount of information available. Consider completing the exercises below. They may help you get started.


          1. Complete the following sentence for your speech: By the end of my speech, I want the audience to be more informed (persuaded, have a better understanding of, entertained by) about ___________________.If you can’t finish the sentence, you need to go back and review the steps in this section. Make sure you have given them sufficient time and attention. An effective speech requires planning and preparation, and that takes time. Know your general and specific purpose, and make sure you can write it in one sentence. If you don’t know your purpose, the audience won’t either.

          2. Make a list of topic that interest you and meet the objectives of the assignment. Trade the list with a classmate and encircle three topics that you would like to learn more about on their list. Repeat this exercise. What topic received the most interest and why? Discuss the results with your classmates.



          Communication For Business Success. Authored by: anonymous. Located at: License: CC BY: Attribution





          11.4 Finding Resources

          Finding Resources

          Section Objectives

          By the end of reading this section, you will be able to:

          • Understand the importance of research in developing your topic.
          • Use resources to gather information effectively.
          • Document your sources correctly and avoid plagiarism.

          Now that you know your general purpose, have committed to a topic, and have written your thesis statement, it’s time to gather information. If you have chosen the topic from your list, you probably already know a lot about it. But in most cases, you will still need information from sources other than yourself to establish credibility, create a more comprehensive speech, and make sure no important aspect of your topic is left out.

          Your time is valuable, and you’ll need to plan ahead to avoid a rushed frenzy right before your due date. You’ll feel more confident if you budget your time wisely and give yourself an opportunity to reflect on what you have prepared, and this will help you feel more relaxed as you deliver your speech, reducing your speech anxiety.

          Narrow Your Topic and Focus on Key Points

          By now, you have developed an idea of your topic, but even with your purpose and thesis statement, you may still have a broad subject that will be a challenge to cover within the allotted time. You might want to revisit your purpose and thesis statement and ask yourself: how specific is my topic? If flying an airplane is your topic area and you are going to inform your audience about the experience, discuss the history and basic equipment, and cover the basic requirements necessary to go on your first flight. Plus, look at reference information on where your audience could go locally to take flying lessons, you might find that five to seven minutes simply is not enough time. Rather than stating that you need more time, or that you’ll just rush through it, consider your audience and what they might want to learn. How can you narrow your topic to better consider their needs? As you edit your topic, considering what is essential information and what can be cut, you’ll come to focus on the key points naturally and reduce the pressure on yourself to cover too much information in a short amount of time.

          If you haven’t presented many speeches, five to seven minutes may seem like an eternity, but when you are in front of an audience, the time will pass quickly. Consider how you feel about the areas of your speech, and you’ll soon see how it could easily turn into an hour-long presentation. You need to work within the time limits and show your audience respect as you stay within them, recognizing that they, too will be presenting speeches in the same time frame. For yourself and your audience, narrow your topic to just the key points. Perhaps you will begin with a description and a visual image of your first flight, followed by a list of the basic equipment and training needed. Finally, a reference to local flying schools may help you define your speech. While the history of flying may be fascinating and may serve as a topic in itself for another speech, it would add too much information to this particular brief speech.

          As you begin this process, keep an open mind for the reference materials available. The access to information on the Internet is amazing, but not all the information has equal value. Try not to just go with the first three examples, Web sites or sources you run across but instead skim, rather than read in-depth, the information at that relates to your topic and what you find of interest. Look for abstracts, or brief summaries of information, before you commit time to read an article all the way through. Look for indexes to identify key terms you might want to cover before eliminating them as you narrow your topic. Take notes as you search or bookmark pages with your Web browser in order to go back to a site or source that at first you passed over but now think may make a relevant contribution to your speech. Consider the source and its credibility. While a high school Web page assignment may prove interesting, the link to the research in the field, the author of a study, or a university source may provide much credible information. Once you have identified sources you consider to be valuable, you will assemble the information and key points needed to make your speech effective much better.

          Plan Your Search for Information

          When preparing a speech, it is important to gather information from books, magazines, newspapers, electronic sources, and interviews with people who know a lot about your topic. With information from a variety of sources, you will have many possibilities when it comes to developing your speech. If you keep in mind the key information you need to support your thesis, you will save yourself time, as you can choose and edit information as you go along. Also, consider your other responsibilities in other classes or with work and family. You’ll have to schedule time for your investigation and make it a priority, but it will necessarily compete with other priorities. Perhaps scheduling for yourself time in the library, a visit to the local flight school to interview a flight instructor, and some Internet search time in the evenings may help you create a to-do list that you can use to structure your research. Remember that this investigation will be more fun if your topic is one in which you are actually interested.

          Before you go to the library, look over your information sources. Do you read a magazine that relates to the topic? Did you read a recent news article that might be relevant? Is there a book, CD-ROM, or music that has the information you can use? Think of what you want your audience to know and how you could show it to them. Perhaps cover art from a CD or a line from a poem may make an important contribution to your speech. You might even know someone who has experience in the area you want to research.

          As you begin to investigate your topic, make sure you consider several sides of an issue. Let’s say you are going to make an informative speech at a town council meeting about the recent history of the commuter rail service in your town. At first, you may have looked at two sides, rail versus private cars. Automobile dealers, oil companies, and individual drivers wanted the flexibility of travel by car, while rail advocates argued that commuter trains would lower costs and energy consumption. If you take another look, you see that several other perspectives also have a bearing on this issue. Many workers commuted by bus prior to the railroad, so the bus companies would not want the competition. Property owners objected to the noise of trains and the issue of eminent domain (i.e., the taking of private property by the government). To serve several towns that are separated by open space, the rail lines cut through wildlife habitats and migration corridors. We now have five perspectives on the central issue, which makes the topic all the more interesting.

          Make sure, as you start your investigation for information, that you always question the credibility of the information. Sources may have no review by peers or editors, and the information may be misleading, biased, or even false. Be a wise information consumer.

          Ethics, Content Selection, and Avoiding Plagiarism

          An aspect of sifting and sorting information involves how you will ethically present your material. You may be tempted to omit information that may be perceived as negative or may not be well received. For example, you may be tempted to omit mention of several train accidents that have occurred or of the fact that train fares have risen as service has been cut back. If your purpose is to inform, you owe it to your audience to give an honest presentation of the available facts. By omitting information, you are not presenting an accurate picture and may mislead your audience. Even if your purpose is to persuade, omitting the opposing points will present a one-sided presentation. The audience will naturally consider what you are not telling them as well as what you are presenting and will raise questions. Instead, consider your responsibility as a speaker to present all the information you understand to be complete and do it honestly and ethically.

          As another example, suppose you work for a swimming pool construction company and are speaking to inform a neighborhood group about pool safety. You have photos of pools you have worked on, but they aren’t very exciting. There are many more glamorous swimming pool photos on free Internet sites. Who can really tell if the pool in the picture is yours or not? Furthermore, the “Terms of Use” on the site state that photos may be downloaded for personal use. Wouldn’t this speech to inform be considered personal use? In fact, it probably would not, even if your informative speech is not a direct sales pitch. And even if you don’t actually tell your audience, “My company built this pool,” it would be reasonable for them to assume you did unless you specifically tell them otherwise.

          As a student, you are no doubt already aware that failing to cite sources or including a sentence or paragraph you copied from a blog on the Internet for an English essay is called plagiarism and is grounds for an F on your paper. At many schools, plagiarism can even be grounds for expulsion. Similarly, in your professional life, it behooves you to be truthful with your audience and give credit where credit is due for several reasons. First, misrepresenting your employer’s work could be illegal under statutes related to fraud; it could put not only your job but also your employer’s contractor license in jeopardy. Second, someone in your audience could recognize one of the photos (after all, they can browse the Internet as easily as you can) and embarrass you by pointing it out during your presentation. Third, by using photos that display your company’s actual work, you will feel more confident, reducing your speech anxiety. You have a responsibility to your audience and engaging in plagiarism fails in that responsibility.

          Staying Organized

          Before you start browsing on your computer, go to the library, or make the trip for an interview, make sure you have designated a space where you can keep all your materials in one place. Decide on a name for the project and use it to set up a subdirectory in your computer as well as a physical receptacle, such as a cardboard box or a manila folder.

          As you gather information online, open a new document in whatever writing program you use and save it as “Sources.” Every time you find information that may prove useful, copy the Web address or reference/citation information and paste it into your document. If you are gathering information from books or periodicals, use one sheet of paper as your “Sources” document. This will save you a lot of time later when you are polishing your speech.

          Plan to use your time effectively. What information do you hope to find in the library? Make a list. Try to combine tasks and get your investigation completed efficiently. Go to the library once with a list rather than three times without one. Ask the research librarian for assistance in grouping information and where to find it.

          As you search through articles, books, Web sites, and images for your presentation, consider how each element relates specifically to the key points in your speech. Don’t just look for the first citation or reference that fits your list. Rushing through the research process can result in leaving out key areas of support or illustration in your speech, an outcome you may not be happy with. Instead, enjoy the fun of searching for material for your speech—but be aware that it is easy for your list under each key point to grow and grow with “must include” information. As we discussed earlier, narrowing your topic is a key strategy in crafting a good speech. Try not to “commit” to information until you have gathered more than you need, then go back and choose the most relevant and the most interesting facts, quotations, and visual aids.

          You might think of this as the “accordion phase” of preparing your speech, as the amount of material first gets bigger and then smaller. You’ll feel a sense of loss as you edit and come to realize that your time frame simply does not allow for all the great information you found—but remember that nobody else will know what didn’t go into your speech, they will just appreciate the good material you did choose. As you sift through information, look for the promising, effective elements to include and omit the rest. In your English class, you often need to edit and revise a paper to produce a rough draft before your final draft. This process parallels the production of a rough draft. By taking notes with your key point in mind, you’ll begin to see your speech come together.