Jealousy and Interpersonal Conflict

While trying to learn more the issues that people argue about, I took a look at the conflict books to see what they had to say about jealousy, figuring this surely is one of things people in an interpersonal relationship argue about. I took a look at what I think is a fair sampling of our texts on conflict and communication (specifically, I looked at Folger, Poole, and Stutman’s Working Through Conflict; Cahn and Abigail’s Managing Conflict through Communication; Canary, Cupach, and Messman’s Relationship Conflict; Ting-Toomey and Oetzel’s Managing Intercultural Conflict Effectively; and Wilmot and Hocker’s Interpersonal Conflict). Not one of them has an entry on jealousy in their index. Am I missing something?


ABCD: Politeness and Face

When you hear the word politeness, you probably think of the rules of etiquette—the rules for dining, for sending and answering invitations, for giving and receiving gifts, for proper dress for an interview or party, and so on. And these certainly are a part of politeness. In fact, Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines polite as “having or showing good manners, esp. courteous, considerate, tactful, etc.”
One of the best ways to look at politeness in communication is from the perspective of Erving Goffman (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life) and the extension by Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson (Politeness: Some Universals in Language). These authors identify two types of politeness: negative politeness and positive politeness. Both of these forms of politeness are responsive to two needs that each person has: (1) the desire to be viewed positively by others, to be thought of favorably (this is referred to as maintaining positive face) and (2) the desire to be autonomous, to have the right to do as you wish (this is referred to as maintaining negative face). Politeness, then, refers to behavior that allows others to maintain both positive and negative face.
By “face” is meant the public image that you communicate to others. It’s not simply what you think of yourself (self-image or self-concept) but rather the image of yourself that you want to see validated or confirmed from your interpersonal interactions. “Face” is used here as it is in such expressions as “to save face” (to retain one’s self respect) or “to lose face” (to be embarrassed), or, even “to get in one’s face” (to be confrontational).
Although “face” is probably universal in the sense that everyone wants to maintain some degree of positive and negative face (the assumption being that all people want to be seen positively and yet be free to do as they wish), cultures differ widely in the importance of face. Generally collectivist cultures are thought to be more concerned with face than individualist cultures. And cultures also vary in the types of messages that are likely to attack face and in the responses they see as appropriate to face-threatening acts.

Positive Politeness and the Maintenance of Positive Face
To help another person maintain positive face, you speak respectfully to and about the person, you give the person your full attention, you say “excuse me” when appropriate. In short you treat the person as you would want to be treated. In this way you allow the person to maintain positive face through what is called positive politeness.
You attack the person’s positive face when you speak disrespectfully about the person, ignore the person or the person’s comments, and fail to use the appropriate expressions of politeness such as thank you and please. You also attack a person’s positive face when you criticize, contradict, disagree, or prove the person wrong. You attack a person’s positive face whenever your messages challenge the image that the person holds of himself or herself and wants to portray to others. Dissing (a message of disrespect) is a good example of positive face attack.

Negative Politeness and the Maintenance of Negative Face
To help another person maintain negative face, you respect the person’s right to be autonomous and so you request rather than demand that they do something; you say, “Would you mind opening a window” rather than “Open that window, damn it!” You might also give the person “an out” when making a request, allowing the person to reject your request if that is what the person wants. And so you say, “I know this may be a bad time and if it is please tell me, but I’m really strapped and could use a loan of $100” rather than “Loan me a $100” or “You have to lend me $100.” If you want a recommendation, you might say, “Would it be possible for you to write me a recommendation for graduate school” rather than “You have to write a recommendation for graduate school.” In this way you enable the person to maintain negative face through what is called negative politeness. Of course, we do this almost automatically.
You attack negative face when you demand a favor rather than request it. You also threaten negative face when you order someone to do something or when you give advice without the person asking (in effect, you’re saying, “you need to do XYZ.” Most negative face attacks are much more subtle, however. For example, your mother’s “Are you going to wear that?”—to use Deborah Tannen’s example (You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, 2006, Random House) —attacks negative face by criticizing or challenging your autonomy. This comment also attacks positive face by questioning (criticizing) your ability to dress properly.

Face-Threatening Acts
As you might have guessed, these acts that threaten positive or negative face have been given a special name, Face-Threatening Acts or FTAs.
Your own interpersonal behavior is designed to maintain both your positive and your negative face. And so, you interact with others in ways that are consistent with the positive image you wish others to have of you (you’re friendly, empathic, and supportive; you smile, nod approval, and otherwise follow the rules for polite interaction, for example)—that is, you communicate in ways that enable you to maintain positive face.
At the same time, you want to do what you want to do (you want to sleep late and not make breakfast for your partner, for example)—that is, you want to maintain negative face (your autonomy).

As you can see from just these examples, satisfying your positive and your negative face needs (that is, maintaining both positive and negative face) is not always easy. If you stay in bed instead of making breakfast, you protect your negative face but damage your positive face. If you lend your friend money, you protect positive face but (perhaps) lose negative face (if, let’s say, you wanted to buy new CDs with the money).
Because you want to protect both positive and negative face needs, you’re likely to establish close relationships with those who enable you to maintain face. These are the people who give you space and independence (satisfying your negative face needs) and who also positively reinforce and confirm your positive face behaviors, for example, they appreciate your help, your support, your friendliness. These are the people who do not violate or threaten your positive or your negative face needs.
At the same time, you’d likely avoid those who regularly or are likely to threaten your positive or negative face. The person who is overly-critical or who makes you look bad is likely to be avoided (because this is a threat to your positive face) as is the person who is overly demanding and thus interferes with your independence and autonomy (because this is a threat to your negative face).
Of course not all FTAs are equal. Some are mild threats and some are more severe. If, for example, someone criticizes your new jacket, you may see this as relatively mild and shrug it off. But, if that same person criticizes your personality or your intelligence, you may see this as more severe and may not be able to shrug this off so easily. Naturally, the importance of the FTA will depend on the individual’s self-concept and self-image and on his or her relationship to the person making the face threatening act. So, for example, if the image you want to communicate to others is “the brilliant student” then attacks on this image will be perceived as severe and will likely cause interpersonal problems. But, if your handwriting is criticized or attacked, and this is not an important part of your face, it’s likely to be perceived as mild and quickly dismissed.
FTAs by people in authority—your boss or your instructor, for example, are likely to have greater impact than, say, those same acts from an acquaintance you really don’t care much about. Similarly, FTAs by people who are extremely important to you (parents, children, lovers, best friends, for example) are likely to be perceived as more important than those from people to whom you have no close relationship.

Dealing with Face-Threatening Acts
Problems and interpersonal conflicts often arise when one’s face needs are attacked, when, for example, you’re taken for granted or when others demand rather than request that you do something. And of course problems can arise when you intend to be polite but the other person interprets it as an FTA. This is especially likely in intercultural situations where the nature of politeness and its rules vary widely. For example, the German male entering a restaurant or club before the woman to make sure that the place is respectable and suitable for his date, can easily be interpreted as impolite, perhaps even sexist.
People regularly use communication strategies to prevent FTAs (preventive strategies). So, for example, you might preface your discussion of a newspaper article by “hedging,” where you claim that you may be incorrect but as far as you understand the issue. . . . This hedge—an example of a preventive strategy—allows you an out if you’re proven wrong.
You also try to minimize FTAs when they do occur; that is, you use corrective strategies. If someone attacks your face needs, you may use corrective strategies such as an excuse (“I didn’t mean to imply that you’re overweight”) or an apology (“I’m sorry; that didn’t come out right” or “I was just trying to be funny”). Sometimes, however, a face-threatening act by one person may lead to a face-threatening response by the other person which may then lead to another face-threatening act, and on and on. The result is often a full-blown interpersonal conflict.

Face and Direct and Indirect Language
Often these face needs are discussed in terms of direct and indirect language. Directness is usually less polite and may infringe on a person’s need to maintain negative face—Write me the recommendation, Lend me $100. Indirectness—Do you think you could write a recommendation for me? Would it be possible for you to lend me $100 until next week when I get paid?—allows the person to maintain autonomy (negative face) and provides an acceptable way for the person to refuse your request. Of course, it might be argued that all requests are by their very nature FTAs. The argument is that a request is asking you to do something you would not be doing if the request was not made—hence, all requests attack your autonomy (you negative face needs). On the other hand, you live in an interpersonal world and you likely expect that requests will be made of you from time to time. And so you come to expect requests as part of interpersonal life. It is therefore more likely that a polite request will not be seen as a FTA whereas an impolite request (or a demand) will be perceived as face threatening.
Women, research finds, are more polite in their speech and not surprisingly use more indirect statements when making requests than do men. This difference seems to have both positive and negative implications. Indirect statements, in their being more polite, are generally perceived positively and yet they may also be perceived negatively if they are seen as being weaker and less authoritative than more direct statements. Indirect statements may also be seen as manipulative or underhanded whereas direct statements may be seen as straightforward and honest.

More on Politeness and Face
If you want to learn more about face and politeness you can pick up either the Goffman or the Brown and Levinson books mentioned earlier. For a communication perspective take a look at William Cupach and Sandra Metts, Facework (Sage, 1994) and Daena Goldsmith, “Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory,” in B. B. Whaley and W. Samter (eds.), Explaining Communication: Contemporary Theories and Exemplars (Erlbaum, 2007), pp. 219-236.


ABCD: Empathy

Empathy comes from the German philosopher Robert Vischer who used the term Einfuhlung to refer to an aesthetic sensitivity. As Answers.com explains, Theodore Lipps, another philosopher, broadened the term and used it to refer to feeling another’s feelings. It was in this sense that Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) used the term in his essays on psychoanalysis. The term became more important in the 1960’s—some attributing this popularity to Ralph Greenson’s article “Empathy and its Vicissitudes” in the Interpersonal Journal of Psychoanalysis 41 (1960): 418-424. The obvious connection between empathy and effective interpersonal communication (which itself came into being as an academic area in the 1960s) ensured its key-word status in all areas concerned with human behavior.
In Star Trek, the Next Generation one of the regular crew members was counselor Deanna Troi, who, being half Betazoid, was empathic and could easily read the thoughts and especially the feelings of others, even without their saying anything. And one of the most famous episodes of Star Trek (Episode 63, Season 3) focused on empathy. In one scene of “The Empath,” the Empath touches Kirk’s wounded head and immediately his wounds are transferred to her own head. Here the Empath not only feels as the other person feels but experiences it as well. And Johnny Smith of The Dead Zone, possessing a somewhat different kind of empathy, can recreate in vivid detail past experiences of others just by touching them. Of course, ordinary humans can’t do any of these things—although many of us like to think we can. What we can do is empathize with another person’s thoughts and feelings to some degree.
Interestingly enough, the ability to empathize may not, in fact, be limited to humans. Some animal researchers claim that some animals show empathy. For example, consider the male gorilla who watched a female try in vain to get water that had collected in an automobile tire and who then secured the tire and brought it to the female. This gorilla, it may be claimed, demonstrated empathy; he felt the other gorilla’s thirst (Angier, May 9, 1995, New York Times). Similarly, the animal that cringes when another of its species gets hurt seems also to be showing empathy.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines empathy as “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.” The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia defines it as the “ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feeling, desires, ideas, and actions.” Wikipedia gives a number of additional definitions:
• Heinz Kohut: “Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.”
• Roy Schafer: “Empathy involves the inner experience of sharing in and comprehending the momentary psychological state of another.”
• R. R. Greenson: “To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person.”
• Carl Rogers: Empathy means “to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he [or she] senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he [or she] perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth.”
Communication textbooks give similar meanings:
• Verderber and Verderber (Inter-Act): “the cognitive process of identifying with or vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”
• Adler, Rosenfeld, and Proctor (InterPlay): “the ability to recreate another person’s perspective, to experience the world from his or her point of view.”
• Jones, Remland, and Sanford (Interpersonal Communication through the Life Span): “The ability to feel what someone else is feeling.”
• Wood (Communication in Our Lives): “The ability to feel with another person or to feel what that person feels in a situation.”
One of the important aspects of empathy and which not all definitions make clear is that you never lose your own sense of self; you do not become the other person when you empathize. As Rogers makes clear, empathy occurs “without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth.”
Empathy is often confused with sympathy. If you look up these two terms in a dictionary, it will be hard to distinguish them; in many cases, you’ll see the same definitions given to both terms. Sympathy can be defined as a concern for another person. Usually the term refers to feeling sorry for someone’s disappointment or suffering, though it can certainly refer to positive feelings as well. The term may also refer to agreement as in “the two politicians are in sympathy with the new proposals.” However, there are two differences that are (in some cases) useful to make.
1. Empathy refers to the ability to feel another’s feelings (at least in part) but does not imply that you (as the empathic individual) agree with these feelings. Thus, you may empathize with the feelings of another but may think these feelings are foolish or destructive; that is, you don’t have to evaluate the feelings in the same way the other person does. Sympathy, on the other hand, does imply that you evaluate the feelings of the other in the same way. The expression “to be in sympathy with” refers to this similarity of feeling which is really a part of the definition of sympathy.
2. Empathy refers to the ability to feel what another is feeling while sympathy does not. You can sympathize with someone who is hurt and you might even want to try to reduce the hurt this person is feeling (perhaps because you love the person), but you don’t feel the hurting of the other person (as you would in empathy).
Textbooks in communication are primarily concerned with explaining the skills for achieving empathy. In The Interpersonal Communication Book and Interpersonal Messages I offer a few suggestions:
• Focus your concentration; pay close attention to the other person’s verbal and nonverbal messages.
• Avoid judgment or evaluation; these will get in the way of your understanding.
• Reflect back to the speaker the feelings you think the speaker is expressing to check your accuracy and to clarify the feelings of the speaker.
• Address mixed messages to, again, help the speaker explain what he or she is feelings and to help you get a clearer picture of these feelings.
The other part of empathy is the ability to let the other person know that you are in fact empathizing with him or her, that you do feel (to some degree at least) what he or she is feeling. Simple attentive postures and focused eye contact will tell the other person that you are trying to empathize. Saying, “I can see what you’re feeling” or “you must have been really hurting to do what you did” will further help the person see that you are empathizing and this will likely foster deeper and more meaningful communication about these feelings. Do be careful here, however. Most people who are experiencing deep feelings—take grief at the death of a loved one as an example—will resent others who imply that they know what the grief stricken is going through. To say, “I know exactly how you’re feeling” or “I can feel your pain” may be well-intended but may actually generate negative feelings. After all, you really don’t know what the person is feeling. The best advice here, it seems, is to be honest—say what you’re feeling and not what you think the other person wants to hear.
One communication expert suggests that empathy is best expressed in two distinct parts: thinking empathy and feeling empathy (Bellafiore, 2005). In thinking empathy you express an understanding of what the person means. For example, when you paraphrase someone’s comment, showing that you understand the meaning the person is trying to communicate, you’re communicating thinking empathy. The second part is feeling empathy; here you express your feeling of what the other person is feeling. You demonstrate a similarity between what you’re feeling and what the other person is feeling. Often you’ll respond with both thinking and feeling empathy in the same brief response; for example, when a friend tells you of problems at home, you may respond by saying, for example, Your problems at home do seem to be getting worse. I can imagine how you feel so angry at times.
Although empathy is usually considered as a positive quality of communication, there is some evidence to show that it has a negative side. For example, people are most empathic with those who are similar—racially and ethnically as well as in appearance and social status. The more empathy you feel toward your own group (and to people who are like you), the less empathy—possibly even the more hostility—you may feel toward other groups. The same empathy that increases your understanding of your own group may decrease your understanding of other groups. So while empathy may encourage group cohesiveness and identification, it can also create dividing lines between “us” and “them” (Angier, May 9, 1995, New York Times).

The Great Debaters

WOW! Debaters as heroes. I see they’re making a movie about Wiley College’s debate team of 1935—Denzel Washington is its director and star. Briefly, in 1935 Melvin B. Tolson, a poet and teacher, coached the debate team to a victory against USC (tho’ in the film it’s Harvard). What the film doesn’t mention, according to the New York Times article (December 5, 2007, A1, 27)--the link is to this article--is that “even though they beat the reigning champions, the Great Debaters were not allowed to call themselves victors because they did not belong to the debate society, Pi Kappa Delta, which did not allow black members until after World War II.”
One of the debaters, btw, was James Farmer Jr. who later founded the Congress of Racial Equality (1942).
Wiley, which has been under financial pressure for years, is hoping for a renewal with this film. Already the Administration building has been given a face-lift for the film and Wal-Mart has endowed a Melvin B. Tolson Scholarship Fund with a $100,000 donation.
You can listen to an interview with Hamilton Boswell discussing his being a part of Tolson’s debate team at nytimes.com/national.


ABCD: General Semantics

Semantics is a branch of linguistics concerned with the meaning dimension of language—the meanings of words and sentences. General Semantics also deals with meaning but in a very different way. In fact, the name “General Semantics” has proved problematic because it’s so easily confused with linguistic “semantics.” General Semantics really goes much beyond the study of meaning and encompasses a way of looking at language and a way of thinking about language and about things.
General Semantics (often abbreviated, capitalized, and referred to simply as GS) is the study among the relationships of language, thought, and behavior. It was developed by Alfred Korzybski and presented in his Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1933), an extremely difficult book to read. Korzybski used his knowledge of engineering and mathematics to explain this study which made his formulations difficult to understand for those without this background. Yet, a number of prominent people, some from communication and some from the sciences as well as some popular writers, quickly saw the value in this study and, fortunately, wrote simpler explanations of Korzybski’s formulations. These included Stuart Chase’s The Power of Words, Wendell Johnson’s People in Quandaries, S. I. Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action, Irving Lee’s Language Habits in Human Affairs, Harry Weinberg’s Levels of Knowing and Existence (with whom I had the privilege of taking courses at Temple University), and J. S. Bois’ The Art of Awareness and Explorations in Awareness. And just about every book by Albert Ellis incorporates the principles of General Semantics. If you pick up any one of these books, you’ll be amazed at the insights and new perspectives they give you. Harry Maynard, one of the great popularizers of General Semantics, once told me that General Semantics gave him an enormous intellectual advantage in his field (advertising and public relations); it taught him to look at things in different ways and to see what others didn’t. I feel the same way; if I have had any intellectual advantage it was due not only to my formal education (which was excellent) but largely to my application of General Semantics thinking to communication.
Unfortunately, there were many critics who vehemently denounced this study of language without understanding the foundations of General Semantics or its values. And, as a result, the study never had the impact in the academy that it should have had. Yet, and this is the surprisingly thing, many of its formulations—which were original to General Semantics—have been incorporated into the study of communication as well as other areas. In fact, even the critics make use of these insights without knowing, perhaps, that they came from General Semantics theory.
The Institute of General Semantics (www.generalsemantics.org) notes that General Semantics can help you integrate your four worlds: (1) the world that is out there, the world as it exists in constant process, the world as science tells us it exists; (2) the world within your skin, your nervous system and senses; (3) the world of “not words,” the world you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch; and (4) the world of words, of symbols, labels, assumptions and the like.
Here are just a few of the principles of General Semantics (for more, see the Institute’s website):
• The world in which you live is constantly changing and yet your language is relatively static. If your language, the way you talk about the world and its people, is to reflect accurately this constantly changing world, then it too must change. When your evaluations remain static even as the world changes, you’re in trouble. And so General Semanticists recommend dating your statements and your evaluations: Iraq2003 is not Iraq2007 and will not be the same as Iraq2010 (the dates are better written as subscripts). And, YOUyesterday, YOUtoday, and YOUtomorrow are different in some ways and you need to take these differences into consideration when you make evaluations, whether of yourself or of others.
• The world that you perceive is not the world that is out there; what you perceive through your senses is only a small part of what is. You never see all, nor can you ever say all about anything. What you perceive (of a thing or a person) is actually an abstraction of what is; your perception is limited to what your senses pick up. Some people are very perceptive and see a great deal; others are less perceptive and see a great deal less. But, all people see only a small portion of what is. When you assume that you know all or have said all, you’re not reflecting the world that science says exists. And so General Semanticists recommend that you add an implicit or even explicit etc. at the ends of your sentences to remind yourself that there is always more to be said, more to be learned, more perspectives and viewpoints to be considered.
In teaching General Semantics, one of the activities I used [btw, I put some of these exercises in a workbook, General Semantics: Guide and Workbook, I did years ago and that is long out of print but may be available in some libraries] was to give each student a small stone and ask them to examine it as closely as they could. After a minute or so, they would put the stone down and say they were finished; they knew all they could about the stone. But, I’d persist and urge them to continue examining the stone. I did this for at least 20 minutes—that’s a long time to examine a small piece of rock. Not surprisingly, by the end of the 20 minutes, they had come to realize that they still didn’t know all that could be learned about the stone. And people are a lot more complex. Yet—and this is the crucial part—we often make judgments about people after the first few seconds and certainly within the first four minutes. One of the many problems that this creates is that this judgment (that is made on the basis of this extremely short time) will function as a filter through which further information about this person will be perceived, given meaning, and modified. And, to make matters just a little bit worse, this judgment will prove extremely resistant to change.
Some 20 years after using that exercise, btw, I ran into a former student who became an artist and within the first two minutes of our discussion he mentioned the exercise with the stone and how it taught him a unique perspective for viewing art in general and his own art work in particular.
• Because you perceive the world through your own psychological and physiological makeup, each person sees the world differently. To assume that all people see things similarly or as you do, is simply absurd and is contradicted by everyday experience. This principle is especially important in relationship communication where, often at least, couples just don’t understand why and often resent it when the other person sees things differently. But, such differences are inevitable and the task in relationship communication is to appreciate, understand, and empathize with the (always different and always changing) perceptions of your partner or friend or family member. Without recognizing this, communication becomes virtually impossible.
• The words you use to describe the world are not the world; the map is not the territory, the word is not the thing. As Weinberg put it, “Whatever you say it is, it isn’t.” The word (what you say) is different from the thing (what science says is “out there”). At the extreme, you see this confusion of words and things in the allergic person who sneezes at the sight of paper flowers. More commonly it can be seen when people assume that what they call themselves or what others call them (slow, nerdy, passionate, disorganized) is what they are. What you are called and what you are, are two entirely different things. This doesn’t mean that the way in which something is talked about doesn’t influence perceptions; it certainly does. But, it does so through the person—as I. A. Richards’ triangle of meaning [kind of] illustrates. You are the one who gives meaning and credence to the words you use to describe yourself or to the words that others use to describe you.
• Everything is unique; there are no two things that are exactly alike—even snowflakes are different from each other. When things are covered by the same label, however, many assume that they are therefore similar or even identical. But, they aren’t. Each Iraqi, American, Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Canadian—and we could continue indefinitely—is unique. The fact that you have general labels that can be used to refer to the group does not mean that the members of that group are the same. As you know from members of your own groups—whatever they may be—no one is identical to you. You know you’re unique but sometimes (perhaps) may forget that every other person is also unique and different from any others—even those covered by the same label. And so, General Semanticists make use of the index (which, like the date, is best written as a subscript): politician1 is not politician2, professor1is not professor2, and on and on. This tendency to ignore differences among those covered by the same label is at the heart of the process of stereotyping (an earlier ABCD word, posted 10/4/07). If you recognize the uniqueness of each person or each idea, it would be impossible to stereotype. As General Semanticists are fond of saying, “the more you discriminate among, the less you discriminate against.”
This emphasis on uniqueness does not deny that many people share many qualities and it is these qualities that we try to capture when we talk about gender and cultural differences. So, while every man is different from every other man, men seem to have certain qualities in common. Similarly, every women is different from every other woman but women also seem to have certain qualities in common. As a result, we can talk about male-female differences (and, of course, similarities). And we use this same assumption when we talk about such cultural differences as individualism and collectivism, high and low power distance cultures, and high and low tolerance for ambiguity. Members of certain cultures have gross similarities which we can capture with such terms as individualism and collectivism but within the group of individualists, for example, there are variations and differences. And the same is true for all cultural labeling. So, we need to keep in mind both similarities and differences—especially when talking about gender and culture. Overemphasizing one and ignoring the other is likely to lead to a variety of misevaluations and errors of judgment.
• Language makes it easy for you to talk in extremes: black and white, good and evil, moral and immoral. As a result, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of people, things, and ideas are between these extremes. This tendency to polarize, as you can imagine, can create problems, pitting us against them, the good against the bad.
One of the exercises I use--and it’s in most of my books—is to ask students to identify the opposites of such words as good, birth, up, healthy, sane, and rich. Of course, bad, death, down, ill (or unhealthy), insane, and poor come quickly to mind. And there is great similarity in the students’ responses. Now, however, try to identify the middle area—the area between good and bad, birth and death, healthy and unhealthy, sane and insane, and rich and poor. This takes a lot more thought; it will actually take you a longer time to identify the middle terms than it took you to identify the opposites. And, if you do this with other people, you’ll likely see that there are more differences in the responses of middle terms than in the responses of opposites. This is just a simple demonstration to increase awareness that it’s easier to think and talk in terms of opposites than to think and talk about the middle. And yet, the vast majority of people are not at the extremes; they’re between the extremes. The implication is simple; we need to be careful when using opposites and we need to develop the ability to talk about the middle.
There’s actually a lot more to be said about General Semantics and I hope to do that in subsequent posts. For now, if you want to learn more about General Semantics pick up one of the books mentioned here, search the Internet, or (and I think this is the best first step) visit the Institute of General Semantics website (www.generalsemantics.org).


NCA Convention

Just returned from Chicago, from the 93rd annual NCA convention. The best thing about conventions is to meet old colleagues and make new ones. But, some of the programs were very interesting; they always rejuvenate me.
I hear the number of attendees was somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,200 which is terrific. If you were not able to attend, you can still get a CD containing many of the papers (for $25) by going to the NCA Store at http://www.NCAStore.com/ .
If any NCA officers are listening here, please, please, please don’t ever schedule programs at 2 different hotels that are a mile apart (maybe less but not a comfortable walk). [Programs were mainly at the Hilton but a good number were at the Palmer House.] Most people I talked to, didn’t even look at the programs at the Palmer House; it was just too much of a chore to get there and then get back to the Hilton for the next session.
My second plea would be to bring back the free coffee in the exhibition area. It brings people in and makes it easier to find long-lost colleagues, talk with students, and just take a convenient break from the programs.
Last, NCA must have a table in the exhibition hall or at least near by. Apparently NCA sold all the spaces available in the exhibit hall and so didn’t have a table of its own. I think most people want to be able to review the various [and excellent] NCA publications and purchase the disk of the programs while we’re at the convention, as we were able to do in the past. On the other hand, the fact that NCA was able to sell all the available spaces is a good sign that publishers are very, very interested in communication as a discipline. But, still, NCA needs its own table or booth.
Well, one more point. Conventions are funny things. Colleges normally pay for people to attend if they deliver a paper, so there is pressure to accept as many papers as possible to increase attendance. At the same time, the various divisions of NCA are each given a number of programs to fill and even if they don’t receive great papers, they’re still likely to fill the slots. Together, these two factors (and maybe others) contribute to the acceptance of papers that perhaps are too early in their development to command an audience. Many, many, many papers, of course, were excellent; some were even already accepted for publication in some of our best journals. But, it’s time for greater quality control to be instituted by divisions and caucuses as well as by NCA.

ABCD: Metacommunication

The prefix meta- can mean a variety of things but as used in communication, philosophy, and psychology it’s meaning is best translated as about. Thus, metacommunication is communication about communication, metalanguage is language about language, and metamessage is a message about a message.
Look at it this way. You can communicate about the world—about the desk you’re sitting at, the computer you’re using, or the passage you’re reading right now. We refer to this as object communication; you’re talking about objects. And the language you’re using is called an object language. But notice that you’re not limited to talking about objects; you can also talk about your talk; you can communicate about your communication. And this is referred to as metacommunication. In the same way, you can use language (i.e., metalanguage) to talk about language (i.e., object language). And you can talk about your messages with metamessages.
The distinction between object communication and metacommunication is not merely academic; it’s extremely practical and recognizing the difference between these two forms of communication is essential in untangling lots of conflicts and understanding a wide variety of interpersonal communication interactions.
Actually, you use this distinction every day, perhaps without realizing it. For example, when you send someone an e-mail with a seemingly sarcastic comment and then put a smiley at the end, the smiley communicates about your communication; it says something like “this message is not to be taken literally; I’m trying to be humorous.” The smiley is a metamessage; it’s a message about a message. When you say, in preface to some comment, “I’m not sure about this but. . .” you’re communicating a message about a message; you’re commenting on the message and asking that it be understood with the qualification that you may be wrong. When you conclude a comment with “I’m only kidding” you’re metacommunicating; you’re communicating about the communication.
In relationship communication you often talk in metalanguage and say things like, “we really need to talk about the way we communicate when we’re out with company” or “you’re too critical” or “I love when you tell me how much you love me.” In fact, it might be argued that relationship or couples therapy is largely (though not entirely) a process of exploring your communication patterns through metacommunication, through talking about the way you talk to and about each other.
And, of course, you can use nonverbal messages to metacommunicate. You can wink at someone to indicate that you’re only kidding, look longingly into another eyes when you say “I love you” to show that you really mean it, or sneer after saying “Yeah, that was great,” with the sneer contradicting the literal meaning of the verbal message.
In a similar way, meta- can prefix a large number of terms to distinguish them from their object counterparts. Thus, you can have, say, a theory about the way communication works or about first encounters or about persuasion but you can also have a metatheory, a theory about theories. For example, when you consider the qualities that a theory must have (say, it must have clearly defined terms and be capable of being disproven), these are metatheoretical statements; they are statements about theories and not about the way communication works or about first encounters or about persuasion; they are about theories as theories.
Like all your communication, your metacommunication may be used both effectively and ineffectively. Generally, it’s helpful to analyze your talking patterns and the ways in which you and your partner or management and workers, say, relate to each other. This is good; this is the effective use of metacommunication and can often lead to significant improvements in your own relationships. But, when you substitute talking about your communication for talking about a problem, you’re likely to create more problems than you had originally. For example, let’s say you’re part of a couple discussing your child’s getting into trouble with the police. As long as the conversation is focused on the child and the trouble with the police, it seems you’re addressing the problem at hand. But, there is also a tendency to substitute talk about the talk for talk about the problem. Let’s say one person says “You’re just an uncaring parent.” Then the other person focuses on being called “uncaring” and the conversation now veers off into whether “uncaring” is justified and may entail a list of all the actions that demonstrated a great deal of caring. The conversation (and soon-to-be argument) is now between the parents and their view of each other. When this type of talk becomes the sole or main topic of conversation, you’re into what is called a metacommunication spiral, with your talk focusing more and more on the ways you talk and less and less on the problem of the child.
So, the lessons to be learned from metacommunication are two fold: (1) use metacommunication to improve your interpersonal and relationship communication—to preface important messages or to analyze and ultimately improve relationship communication, for example, and (2) avoid metacommunication when it substitutes for addressing an immediate problem.


ABCD: Phatic Communion

Phatic communion (often relabeled phatic communication or phatic speech) refers to a form of relationship communication (as opposed to content communication) which opens the channels of communication. Its purpose is to communicate openness for communication, rather than, about content, say finances, the last movie you saw, or anything external to the relationship between you and the other person. It’s a kind of preface to the main business to be discussed. It’s the small talk that precedes the big talk.
In terms of content, phatic communion is trivial—How are you? What’s new? Where you been?—but in terms of relationships, it’s extremely important; it assures us that the normal social rules for communicating are operating here and that the two individuals want to communicate with each other. It says, the channels of communication are open, let’s talk.
Most often we think of phatic communion as verbal but it may also be communicated with nonverbal gestures (a warm handshake or a wave), facial expressions (a smile or a worrisome expression), and tone of voice.
One of the many skills of interpersonal communication is to recognize the importance of phatic communion, use it appropriately, and recognize the break point between phatic communion and the next stage in the conversation process. Without phatic communion, people would just begin with the “big” talk without even saying “hello” or “good seeing you again” which would clearly communicate that something is wrong, that, for some reason, the normal rules of conversation are not being followed.
People who answer the common phatic message, “How are you?” with an extended explanation of their recent illness rather than a simple “hello” are failing to see that “How are you?” is—usually at least—a phatic message that means hello and not an invitation to talk about your health. On the other hand, if you were in the hospital and a visitor said “How are you?” this message would probably not be phatic but would more likely be a request for information about your health.
Equally important is to recognize when these preliminaries, these phatic messages, have served their purpose and that it’s now time to move on to the business a hand. You see violations of this at company meetings where members continue to exchange phatic messages even though the preliminaries are over and that the meeting proper should begin.
Harry Weinberg, in his Levels of Knowing and Existence: Studies in General Semantics (Harper & Brothers, 1959) gives a good example to illustrate the importance of recognizing when communication is phatic:

If you are fixing a flat tire on a hot day and a passerby asks, “Got a flat?” he [or she] is asking you to be friendly. If you take his [or her] words literally, you are likely to become angry and say, “Any damn fool can see I have.”

Unlike most contemporary Americans who expect phatic communion to preface more extended and purposeful communication, the “plain speech” of early Quakers eliminated much phatic talk such as greetings or expressions of politeness; their aim was to use speech only when it served a specific useful function. For more on this take a look at Richard Bauman’s “Let your words be few: Symbolism of speaking and silence among seventeenth-century Quakers,” in L. Monaghan & J. E. Goodman, eds., A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication: Essential Readings (Blackwell, 2007), pp. 63-76. Of course, your communication instructor (and I) would argue that such phatic messages do communicate a useful function and that is to open the channels of communication, to say that normal communication rules operate here, and that I want to communicate.
The term phatic communion was originally coined by cultural anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in his article, “The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages,” which was published as an appendix to the highly influential Meaning of Meaning by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (in which Richards explained his famous “triangle of meaning”) and published in 1923 (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich). The term “communion” was used to convey the meaning of sharing, participating together, and commonality but because the term is also used in a religious context, writers probably felt more comfortable saying “phatic communication” or “phatic speech” and thus avoid the ambiguity that the term “communion” might create. All terms (phatic communion, phatic communication, phatic speech) convey similar meaning; all refer to the same type of communication.


Communication Apprehension

Take a look at this article in the New York Time Education Section--it's about shyness, reticence, communication apprehension and the efforts made to deal with it in communication classrooms. Citing McCroskey, Daly, and others in communication, the writer explains how important it is for students and instructors to deal with this issue. Highlighted are the courses at Wyoming and Penn State that provide models for dealing with these "problems."


ABCD: Jargon, Argot, Slang, and Taboo

As you no doubt have already discovered, there is not one but a variety of languages. Here I’d like to distinguish just four of these; others need to follow.

Jargon has two meanings. First and in popular usage, jargon refers to language that is overly complex or difficult for people to understand. As such it has a negative connotation; it’s language that should be avoided if your aim is clear and meaningful communication. If, on the other hand, your aim is to confuse or to intimidate jargon often serves well.
A second meaning of jargon, however, is the technical language of a profession which often is difficult or impossible for outsiders to understand. Psychologists, mathematicians, engineers, financial experts, and, of course, communication theorists and researchers have their own professional language (i.e., jargon).
So, while jargon enables members of the same profession to communicate more easily and more precisely with each other (as noted in the introduction to these ABCDs), jargon also prevents meaningful communication between those who are and those who are not members of the profession. The language of the real estate deed or the insurance policy is jargon-filled. The aim, quite often, is to put the non-professional at a disadvantage for not knowing the technical language. And unfortunately many people are reluctant to seek clarification—no one wants to appear ignorant—which, all too often, just results in jargon being added to the original jargon. It’s often helpful to remember that it’s the jargon-user’s obligation to make things clear to the non-professional and that you have the right to have the deed or policy explained in language that you can understand.
When used to increase accuracy among professionals, jargon serves a useful communication purpose; when used to confuse or confound the non-professional it is an unethical use of language and communication.

Argot (which comes from the French meaning slang) is very much like jargon except that instead of being the language of a professional class, it is (usually at least) the language of a criminal class. The specialized language of thieves, confidence hucksters, and prisoners would be considered argot. Like jargon, argot is understood only by members of the group. When terms become more widely known, the terms pass from true argot into slang. Cant is another word for argot; the word cant seems to be used more in England and argot more in the United States.

Slang is nonstandard language; it is overly casual language that would not be considered quite proper in “polite society”. “Buck” for dollar, “copper” or police officer, or “screw” for sexual intercourse are common examples. Slang is language that is widely known—people don’t have trouble understanding slang terms as they do jargon or argot—but only used in those informal situations where it doesn’t mark you as being ignorant or ill-mannered or impolite. When used in say public speaking situations, the result is often a startled reaction; the slang word or phrase will seem inappropriate and will in some way lower the level of the speech.

Taboo denotes something forbidden and may refer to just about anything that a social group might disapprove of—wearing certain colors to a wedding or funeral, eating certain foods, engaging in certain behaviors such as incest, or engaging in normally private activities in public. Applied to language, taboo refers to words (or nonverbal behaviors) or topics that would be considered coarse or inappropriate in social discourse. Profanity—that is, words your society would consider profane—is a good example of language taboo as are obscene gestures. Similarly, topics dealing with sexual fantasies, certain bodily functions, or various diseases or death would be considered taboo in many situations.
What is or isn’t taboo depends on the specific social group communicating. A term used regularly and without any special notice on the ball field may be regarded as taboo if said in a college classroom or when talking with people in authority. Similarly, what is considered a taboo topic will vary with the situation. Discussing your sexual fantasies in your course in Human Sexuality or with a therapist might be considered perfectly acceptable. Discussing these same fantasies with, say, pre-teens or with your grandparents would likely be considered socially inappropriate (that is, taboo).
As you can imagine, violating taboos can be very easy in intercultural situations since you really don’t know what is considered taboo in a culture with which you’re not familiar. For example, if you were an American at dinner at a Mexican house, you’d probably realize that the topic of illegal aliens is not your best conversation topic. But, not many people would realize that using a finger to call someone, giving an unwrapped gift or giving any gift on a first meeting or giving a clock as a gift, or not sending flowers or candy to a host would be taboo somewhere in the world. If you want to explore this topic in more detail take a look at Roger E. Axtell’s books, especially Do’s and Taboos Around the World (Wiley, 1993) and Gestures: The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World (Wiley, 1997). Although a bit dated, the material is still valid and, most important, will demonstrate the wide variety of and variations in taboos around the world.
Generally, as the formality of a situation increases, what is considered taboo also increases; the greater the formality, the more that is taboo. For example, terms that you use regularly in conversation with friends might well be considered taboo is used in a public speaking or job interview situation.


ABCD: Impression Management and Impression Formation

Most textbooks in communication (especially those in interpersonal communication) discuss impression management and impression formation, ways in which you communicate the impression you want to communicate and the ways in which you evaluate others. But, the concepts are equally applicable to the small group context, to interviewing, to organizational communication, to computer-mediated communication, and to public speaking. These are crucial concepts for understanding the role of the self and perception in all forms of communication.

Impression Management

Impression management (some writers use the term “self-presentation” or “identity management”) refers to the processes you go through to communicate the impression you want the other person to have of you. The strategies you use to achieve this desired impression will depend on your specific goal. Here are six of the major goals people have in seeking to communicate a specific impression and the strategies they’re likely to use. As you read these, consider your own attempts to communicate the “right” impression to others and the strategies you use to achieve this unique kind of communication.

To Be Liked
If you want to be liked—say you’re new at school or on the job and you want to be well liked, included in the activities of other students or work associates, and be thought of highly by these other people—you’d likely use what are now called affinity-seeking strategies; for example, you might display altruism and be of help to others, or show respect for the other person and help the person feel positive about himself or herself, or you might present yourself as socially equal to the other person.

To Be Believed
Let’s say you’re a politician and you want people to vote for you or to support a particular proposal you’re advancing. In this case you’d probably use credibility strategies, a concept that goes back some 2300 years and supported by contemporary research, and seek to establish your competence, your character, and your charisma. For example, to establish your competence, you might mention your great educational background or the courses you took that qualify you as an expert. To establish that you’re of good character, you might mention how fair and honest you are, your concern for enduring values, or your concern for others. And to establish your charisma—your take-charge, positive personality—you might demonstrate enthusiasm, be emphatic, or focus on the positive while minimizing the negative.

To Excuse Failure
If you were about to tackle a difficult task and were concerned that you might fail, you might use what are called self-handicapping strategies. In the more extreme form of this strategy, you actually set up barriers or obstacles to make the task impossible and so when you fail, you won’t be blamed or thought ineffective—after all, the task was impossible given the circumstances. Let’s say you aren’t prepared for your interpersonal communication exam and you feel you’re going to fail. Well, with this self-handicapping strategy, you might go out and party the night before so that when you do poorly in the exam, you can blame it on the all-night party rather than on your intelligence or knowledge. In the less extreme form, you manufacture excuses for failure and have them ready if you do fail. “The exam was unfair” is one such popular excuse but you might blame a long period without a date on your being too intelligent or too shy or too poor.

To Secure Help
If you want to be taken care of and protected or simply want someone to come to your aid, you might use self-deprecating strategies. Confessions of incompetence and inability often bring assistance from others. And so you might say, “I just can’t fix that drain and it drives me crazy; I just don’t know anything about plumbing” with the hope that the other person will offer help.

To Hide Faults
Much impression management is devoted not merely to presenting a positive image, but to suppressing the negative, to self-monitoring strategies. Here you carefully monitor (self-censor) what you say or do. You avoid your normal slang so as to make your colleagues think more highly of you; you avoid chewing gum so you don’t look juvenile or unprofessional. While you readily disclose favorable parts of your experience, you actively and strategically hide the unfavorable parts.

To Be Followed
In many instances you’ll want to get people to see you as a leader, as one to be followed in thought and perhaps in behavior. Here you can use a variety of influencing strategies. One set of such strategies are those normally grouped under power. And so, for example, you’d stress your knowledge (information power), your expertise (expert power), your right to lead by virtue of your position as, say, a doctor or judge or accountant (legitimate power). Another set of strategies are those of leadership where you might stress your prior experience, your broad knowledge, or your previous successes.

Impression Formation

Impression formation (sometimes referred to as person perception), on the other hand, refers to the processes you go through in forming an impression of another person. Here you would make use of a variety of perception processes, each of which has pitfalls and potential dangers. Here are a few:

Implicit Personality Theory
You might have a subconscious or implicit theory that tells you that certain qualities go with certain other qualities. And so if someone is energetic and eager, you may also infer that this person is intelligent because in this theory, energy, eagerness, and intelligence seem to go together. And so, in forming an impression of someone you might fill in qualities that you don’t observe but nevertheless have confidence that they exist in this person. If you believe a person has a variety of positive qualities, you’re likely to conclude that this person also has other positive qualities that even though you haven’t observed them, you’re pretty sure are present. This is often referred to as the “halo effect.” Similarly, if you believe a person has various negative qualities, you’re likely to conclude that this person also has other negative qualities, a situation referred to as the “reverse halo effect” or the “horns effect.”

Perceptual Accentuation
You may see what you expect or want to see. You see people you like as better looking and smarter than those you don’t like. You magnify or accentuate what will satisfy your needs and desires. This process, called perceptual accentuation, can lead you to perceive what you need or want to perceive rather than what is really there, and to fail to perceive what you don’t want to perceive, even though it is clearly present. For example, you may not perceive signs of impending problems because you’re focusing on what you want to perceive. You may not see signs of relationship deterioration or of your partner’s dissatisfaction because you’re so in love and you want to think that everything is fine.

In some instances you may be overly influenced by what comes first (called a primacy effect) or what comes last (called a recency effect). Research seems to agree that often your initial perceptions will influence your later perceptions. So, if on first meeting you don’t like someone, you’re more likely to find fault with this person or see negative qualities in this person on subsequent meetings. If your first impression is that this person is stupid, you may not see the clever insights that this person has. Not only are initial perceptions influential, they are also very resistant to change. This tendency to give greater importance to initial perceptions and to interpret later information in light of these first impressions can easily lead you to formulate a total picture of an individual on the basis of initial impressions that may not be typical or accurate. For example, if you judge a teacher as hesitant and ill-informed on the first day of class, you may be ignoring the influence of the context (for example, that’s it’s the teacher’s first job and she or he is really nervous). The teacher may be great on subsequent days but your perception may still be influenced by your initial impression. In some instances, of course, you might be more influenced by primacy, by the most recent things, as when you evaluate a singer or movie star by their last performance rather than by earlier efforts.

Often we maintain stereotypes of different ethnic groups or nationalities or affectional orientations. And, in many instances, we may see people through these stereotypes, these generalized pictures that we hold for a group and then apply them to a specific individual. Most often stereotypes are negative and are intended to distance ourselves from those who are unlike us in any of a variety of ways.
You can appreciate the impact that stereotyping has when you realize that it is often coupled with primacy. The process would go like this: (1) you have a stereotype (All Martians are stupid), (2) you apply the stereotype to a person you’re just meeting because you notice the person is of a particular ethnic origin (Martin is a Martian and therefore must be stupid like all other Martians), (3) your initial perception acts as a filter through which your subsequent interactions are seen (That last remark showed no insight; it was pretty stupid), and (4) you continue to see the person through the stereotype (Yep, Martin is just like all the others).

We all have a tendency to maintain balance among our perceptions or attitudes; we want consistency. You expect certain things to go together and other things not to go together. For example, you expect a person you like to like you in return. And, you probably also expect your friend to dislike your enemy and your enemy to dislike your friend. As you can see, this tendency to strive for consistency may lead you astray and to fail to see that your friend actually likes your enemy.

You also try to analyze the reasons or motivations for someone’s actions (or your own actions, for that matter). For example, if someone stands you up for a date, you probably want to figure out the reasons for this. Let’s say the person met some friends and preferred staying with them. If this is the case then you’d likely consider the person responsible for standing you up and you’d likely be disturbed by the behavior. But, let’s say the person was in a car accident on the way to meet you. In this case, you’d not consider the person responsible and you’d likely not be disturbed by being stood up. Generally, if you see the person as being in control of positive behavior, your perception is likely to be favorable. If you see the person as being in control of negative behavior, your perception is likely to be unfavorable. Of course, the down side to this analysis and the reason why so many attributions are incorrect is that you seldom can be certain of whether or not someone was or was not in control of his or her behavior. And when it comes to our own self-perceptions, you may come to excuse your failures by claiming that you weren’t responsible (if you do poorly at an interview you may blame it on the interviewer, for example). One of the dangers of this is that if you do make such excuses, you may not come to grips with the problem and its potential solution; after all, if it’s the interviewer’s fault why bother improving your own interviewing techniques.

Both impression management and impression formation are largely the result of the messages communicated; you manage the impression you give to other people by what you say (your verbal messages) and how you act and dress as well as how you decorate your office or apartment (your nonverbal messages). And you form impressions of others largely on the basis of how they communication, verbally and nonverbally.
Communication messages, however, are not the only means for impression management and impression formation. For example, you also communicate your self image and judge others by the people you and they associate with; if you associate with A-list people, then surely you must be A-list yourself. Similarly, you might form an impression of someone on the basis of that person’s age or gender. Or you might rely on what others have said about the person and form impressions that are consistent with these comments. And of course, they might well do the same in forming impressions of you.
Part of the art and skill of communication is to understand and be able to manage the processes by which others form impressions of you—to master the art of impression management, to present yourself as you want others to see you. Equally important is the ability to understand and be able to recognize how you form impressions of others. Are your impressions logical? Are they based on prejudices? Are they in need of updating? Are they the result of jealousy or compassion?


ABCD: Communication Apprehension and Related Terms

Communication apprehension is a fear of speaking (see, for example, Richmond & McCroskey, Communication: Apprehension, avoidance, and effectiveness, 5th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1998). Communication apprehension comes in two different forms: (1) trait apprehension influences all communication situations (you’ll fear and try to avoid all forms of communication interaction) and (2) state apprehension influences only certain situations. So, if you have state apprehension you may fear public speaking but have no fear or very little when speaking in groups or interpersonally. Or, you may fear speaking with new people. According to one survey between 10 and 20 percent of college students suffer “severe, debilitating communication apprehension” and another 20 percent suffer from apprehension to the degree that it interferes with their normal functioning (McCroskey & Wheeless, 1976).
Shyness refers to a general reluctance to interact with others. The term generally refers to a disposition, a general personality trait that influences all interactions. Yet, shy people are often more shy in some situations than in others. For example, people may be more shy in interacting with those in superior positions and much less shy when interacting with peers or family members. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Health, in an article by Lynne Henderson and Philip Zimbardo, shyness may be defined as “discomfort and/or inhibition in interpersonal situations that interferes with pursuing one’s interpersonal or professional goals.” Notice that Henderson and Zimbardo define shyness as dysfunctional—it interferes with your pursuing your own interpersonal or professional goals. Among the behavioral symptoms of shyness are: gaze aversion, dry mouth, low speaking voice, little body movement, dysfluencies in speech, sweating, and even dizziness. Affectively, shy people are more likely to feel shame, have low self-esteem, and feel lonely, depressed, and anxious.
Social phobia (more often referred to as social anxiety) is defined in the DSM-IV-TR as “an anxiety disorder characterized by a strong and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which the patient might feel embarrassment or humiliation.” As with communication apprehension, social phobia can be general—in which case you fear all or most social interactions and performances—or situational in which case only certain social situations (such as perhaps public speaking) generate fear. Notice especially that social phobia is described as a “disorder.” One researcher distinguishes it from shyness this way: “Shyness is a common human trait. Social anxiety is an emotional and behavioral illness causing immense suffering and severe impairment of functioning (Fishman, New York Times, 9/27/07, p. A32).
Reticence, developed by Gerald Philips (see Help for Shy People, Spectrum, 1981) refers to the reluctance to engage in communication and to avoid social and public interactions. Reticence is viewed as a problem of inadequate communication skills and the “treatment” is, logically enough, the acquisition of communication skills.
Unwillingness to communicate is a type of communication apprehension and refers to a person’s reluctance to communicate with others. See, for example, Judee K. Burgoon, “The Unwillingness to Communicate Scale: Development and Validation,” Communication Monographs 43 (1976):60-69.
As you can see, all of these terms refer to essentially the same phenomena—a fear of communication, a reluctance to interact with others. This fear can be mild—in which case it may even motivate you to do an especially thorough job in preparing your speech, for example—or severe (as in social anxiety)—in which case it may severely hinder your achieving your goals—to meet people, to have friends, to interview for a job, to attend company meetings, to give public presentations. Some of the definitions—mainly the ones from psychologists—view this behavior (social phobia, shyness) as dysfunctional, as a disorder. The other definitions—mainly those from communication theorists—view this behavior (communication apprehension, reticence, and unwillingness to communicate), as potentially dysfunctional but not necessarily so. These latter definitions view the behavior as one that can be changed largely through the acquisition of skills and appropriate experience.
Because of the importance of such effects most textbooks, especially in public speaking, discuss ways to reduce such communication apprehension. For example, I include the suggestion that you try to reverse the several factors known to cause apprehension. It’s helpful, for example, to gain experience with different kinds of speaking situations so that you can reduce the apprehension that newness and inexperience often bring. Additional suggestions include practicing performance visualization, systematically desensitizing yourself, and learning to think differently about yourself and your communication abilities (a kind of cognitive restructuring).
Two of the leading researchers in this general area maintain extremely useful websites; each deserves a visit. James McCroskey’s website may be found at www.jamescmccroskey.com and contains a wide variety of measuring instruments on fear of speaking along with papers and articles on the topic. Philip Zimbardo’s website may be found at www.zimbardo.com and contains a section on the shyness clinic in addition to papers and articles on a variety of topics.


ABCD: Self-Esteem

Self-esteem refers to the opinion you have of yourself; it’s your perceived self- value or self-worth. Self-esteem may be viewed as the evaluative part of your self-concept. That is, part of your self-concept consists of how valuable or worthy you think you are and that part is called self-esteem (Adler & Stewart, www.macses.ucsf.edu/Research/Psychosocial/notebook/self-esteem.html). One widely used definition is that self-esteem refers to a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the self (M. Rosenberg, Society and the adolescent self-image, Princeton University Press, 1965). In popular usage, the term usually refers to positive evaluations (in fact, Webster’s defines it as “holding a good opinion of one’s self; self-complacency”) but it can just as easily refer to negative opinions. Thus, you may have high self-esteem and think highly of yourself or low self-esteem in which case you think negatively about yourself. And of course you may have high self-esteem when it comes to certain topics and low self-esteem when it comes to other topics. For example, you might have high self-esteem on the ball field but low self-esteem in the chemistry lab. Concepts such as “self-confidence,” “body esteem,” and “self-efficacy” (your sense of competence) refer to some of the more specific forms of self-esteem.
Another way of defining self-esteem is to examine the items in the scale presented below as you measure your own self-esteem. It’s the most widely used and most highly regarded scale to measure self-esteem:

Below is a list of statements dealing with your general feelings about yourself. If you strongly agree, circle SA. If you agree with the statement, circle A. If you disagree, circle D. If you strongly disagree, circle SD.

1. I feel that I’m a person of worth, at least on an equal plan with others. SA, A, D, SD
2. I feel that I have a number of good qualities. SA, A, D, SD.
3. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure. SA, A, D, SD.
4. I am able to do things as well as most other people. SA, A, D, SD.
5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of. SA, A, D, SD.
6. I take a positive attitude toward myself. SA, A, D, SD.
7. On the whole, I am satisfied with myself. SA, A, D, SD.
8. I wish I could have more respect for myself. SA, A, D, SD.
9. I certainly feel useless at times. SA, A, D, SD.
10. At times I think I am no good at all. SA, A, D, SD.
Scoring: to score the items, assign the following values to each of your responses.
For items 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7: SA = 3, A = 2, D = 1, SD = 0 (these are the items that are positively valenced, indicating high self-esteem). For items 3, 5, 8, 9, 10: SA = 0, A = 1, D = 2, SD = 3 (these are the items that are negatively valenced, indicating low self-esteem).
Next, add all your responses. Your score should range from 0 (indicating extremely low self-esteem) to 30 (indicating extremely high self-esteem).
*This scale comes from Morris Rosenberg, Society and the Adolescent Self-Image (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965) and is used by permission (http://www.bsos.umd.edu/socy/grad/socpsy_rosenberg.html).

What’s particularly interesting about self-esteem is that it seems almost universally regarded as a good thing, as something that will influence positively what you do. High self-esteem, it is often thought, will lead to better academic performance, better job performance, and increased likeability—after all, it seems reasonable to assume that people with high self-esteem will perform better in school and on the job and will also be liked socially more than will people who have low self-esteem. However, the research that has been done on these topics—and there is much available—doesn’t really show that self-esteem leads to these benefits (R. F. Baumeister, J. D. Campbell, J. I. Krueger, and K. D. Vohs, Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth, www.ScientificAmerican.com, 2004). Rather, the research shows that there is a high correlation between the two. Thus, people with high self-esteem do function better academically. But, the question that this doesn’t answer is, Does the high self-esteem lead to better academic performance, or does better academic performance lead to high self-esteem? The same is true for job performance and for being liked by peers and associates. Unfortunately, some books and articles make it appear that the high correlation is somehow also causal; it isn’t.
When it comes to relationships, it may be argued that positive self-esteem helps in the development and maintenance of relationships and lessens the likelihood of relationship deterioration (C. L. Carmichael, F. Tsai, S. M. Smith, P. A. Caprariello, and H. T. Reis, “The Self and Intimate Relationships” in The Self, ed., C. Sedikides and S. J. Spencer (NY: Psychology Press, 2007, pp. 285-309). If you have high self-esteem, the argument goes, it seems you’d be more likely and more willing to initiate relationships than you would if you had low self-esteem. On the other hand, high self-esteem may lead you to wait until someone tries to initiate a relationship with you. After all, if you’re that hot, an alternative argument would hold, others should come to you.
In terms of maintenance and deterioration, you might assume that people with high self-esteem would maintain faith in themselves even when things in the relationship are going wrong. And they’ll believe that they have the ability to set things right; they’d be willing to fight for their relationship and be confident that they’d win. Low self-esteem people might feel incapable of re-directing a relationship and so may give up. On the other hand, you might argue that high self-esteem people, in a somewhat unhappy relationship, will feel that there are “other fish in the sea” and may simply move on to another relationship. A person low in self-esteem, however, might feel that this relationship needs to be saved because other relationships will not be easy to establish.
The research bearing on these issues does point to some positive benefits of self-esteem. For example, high positive self-esteem seems to improve persistence even in the face of failure, helps people perform better in groups, and decreases the likelihood that the individual will develop eating disorders (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, and Vohs, 2004). But, these benefits are a far cry from the larger benefits we assume will accrue to high self-esteem individuals.
It remains for research to go beyond establishing correlations to establishing causal relationships where we can say with some certainty that high self-esteem produces or leads to or causes specific positive or negative effects. One final thought. The widely acknowledged importance and usefulness of self-esteem coupled with the paucity of research confirming these values makes it difficult to know what the best thing to do is when writing the chapter on the self in an interpersonal or human communication textbook. In fact, I rethink this issue with every new edition. My solution—and please tell me if you disagree—has been to include a discussion of self-esteem but at the same time include a cautionary note that there is little research supporting the many beneficial claims. And so, for example, I also include several suggestions for increasing self-esteem: attack your self-destructive beliefs, secure affirmation from others through the exercise of effective communication skills, seek out nourishing people, and work on projects that will result in success and at the same time avoid projects that are simply impossible. But, I fear that the cautionary note gets lost because it seems so logical that self-esteem would have all these wonderful benefits and perhaps because we want it to.


College Endowments

It seems from recent reports that some of the largest fortunes are owned not merely by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet but by colleges and universities throughout the country. For example, Harvard University leads the list and has an endowment of $28 billion; Yale is second with $18 billion, Stanford is third with $14 billion, and the University of Texas is fourth and Princeton is fifth, each with a little more than $13 billion. Rounding out the top ten are MIT, Columbia, University of California, University of Michigan, and Texas A&M. Despite these enormous bank accounts, colleges pay no taxes. The people who work for them--cleaning the hallways, serving in the cafeterias, and running the physical plant, for example—pay taxes (often on minimum or near-minimum wages) but the university itself pays none. This is not to say that colleges should pay taxes—although if those with these large endowments did pay, it would ease the tax burden on every other US citizen—but rather to illustrate the sweet deal they have.
In contrast Bill Gate’s fortune is estimated at $56 billion and Warren Buffet’s at $52 billion—admittedly more than even Harvard and Yale. But, consider what these fortunes are used for. Gates has established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (now estimated at around $33 billion) which has contributed enormously to global health and research. And Warren Buffet has pledged close to $31 billion to the Gates foundation.
Given the example set by these two individuals—who, admittedly, are not typical—we need ask what these universities—also not typical—with endowments in the billions are doing with their money. As far as I can tell, they are doing very little other than investing it for growth (Harvard’s investments grew at a rate of 16.7% this last year while Yale’s grew at a rate of 17.2%) and running campaigns to raise still more money.
With a large part of the world starving, lacking clean water, and suffering from diseases (many of which could be prevented with adequate medical treatment), it seems that these universities have an obligation to pitch in and help out the rest of the world. What are these universities waiting for before they spend some of their money? Are they guarding against inflation (even though they raise tuition at a rate far in excess of the rate of inflation)? The world would be a lot better, to take one simple example, if just the five universities with the largest endowments gave half their fortunes to charity (a total of $43 billion), death from preventable illnesses could likely be made history throughout the world. These universities would still have enough for their day-to-day operation. I suspect that Harvard could easily get along with an endowment of only $14 billion and Yale could manage to eke out an existence with only $9 billion.
And to relate this just a bit to communication: Very few people seem to ask the question of what a college's responsibility is and what purpose these enormous endowments serve. I suspect people don't question this because these schools are expert communicators--their PR is unquestionably among the best in the world.


The Task of Rhetoric (Again)

So, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the law making it unlawful to lie about political candidates is itself unconstitutional and thereby has given politicians the freedom to lie about their opponents. And this, of course, is not an uncommon situation; Washington is just one state to rule that truth is not required when talking about politicians. The law allows lying and, in fact, will encourage politicians to develop deceptive strategies as long as they work. The only criterion that would need to be considered is effectiveness. Ethics doesn’t have to enter the equation. Here, then, is just another example of why a useful path (maybe not the only path) for rhetoric would be the focus on deception in public discourse. Someone or some group needs to be there to point out the deceptions such rulings will encourage as well as those deceptions that just seem to have become standard political discourse. No group seems better qualified than our own rhetoricians who already have an arsenal of methods and research strategies to apply to what seems to me to be a pretty important issue. Or should we rewrite our textbooks in public speaking, persuasion, public relations, and advertising to exclude ethics from the equation?


The Task of Rhetoric

Aristotle said that rhetoric was the art of observing in any given case all the available means of persuasion. Francis Bacon said rhetoric was the art of applying “reason to imagination for the better moving of the will.” George Campbell called it eloquence and defined it as “the art or talent by which discourse is adapted to its end.” I. A. Richards, perhaps trying to give rhetoric a really useful mission, said that rhetoric ought to be “a study of misunderstanding and its remedies.” And Kenneth Burke argued that rhetoric should focus, not on persuasion, but on identification. And there are hundreds of other suggested foci proposed over the 2300 years since Aristotle.

I’d like to propose yet another focus and task for rhetoric and that is that rhetoric should be the study of deception in public discourse, its causes and effects. A case in point: President Bush claimed recently that “This government does not torture people.” Well, here’s a perfect opportunity to illustrate just how much in error that statement is. Rhetoricians would be serving a unique and extremely useful purpose in devoting at least some of their energies to the study of deception in public, why people lie in public, and what effects these deceptive messages have on an audience and a nation.


ABCD: Stereotype

The term stereotype comes into the behavioral sciences such as psychology, communication, and sociology from the world of printing. A stereotype in printing was the mold or plate that was used to print the same image or piece of text over and over again. In his Public Opinion (1921) journalist Walter Lippmann used the term to refer to the “pictures in our heads.” These pictures or ingrained images in our head lead us to interpret what we see or hear in terms of these images. And so instead of seeing a particular migrant worker as an individual, you perceive this person filtered through the image you have in your head of “migrant workers.” Stereotypes are thinking-shortcuts; instead of concerning yourself with the specific individual, it’s a lot easier to simply apply the stereotype (the fixed image).
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines stereotype as “a generalization, usually exaggerated or oversimplified and often offensive, that is used to describe or distinguish a group.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image. The Media Awareness Network (www.media-awareness.ca) defines stereotype as “A fixed, commonly held notion or image of a person or group, based on an oversimplification of some observed or imagined trait of behavior or appearance.”
Although we often think of stereotypes as racial (and many are), stereotypes may actually refer to any group covered by the same label. If you can name the group to which an individual belongs, it’s possible to entertain a stereotype about that group and hence that individual.
Here’s a quick way to begin examining your own stereotypes. Consider the images that come to mind when you hear such group names as the elderly, lesbians, Republicans, grandparents, college students, or athletes. If the images that come to mind are vivid and clear cut, it’s likely that you have strong stereotypes. If no images or a varied group of very different images come to mind, then it’s likely that you don’t have strong stereotypes. Recognize too that stereotypes are, especially within the college environment, negatively perceived and so people are likely to minimize their own stereotypes at least when talking with others. Yet, stereotypes exert considerable influence on most people, even those who deny they have stereotypes.
Stereotypes—as the definitions cited make clear—are usually offensive; they have negative connotations. The elderly as absent minded, the athlete as dumb, or the mother-in-law as trouble maker—and you can easily fill in many others that are a lot more offensive—are examples that come readily to mind and that are negative. But, there are many stereotypes that are positive; the grandparent as all-loving and all-caring, the Asian student as dedicated and bright, and the African American as strong and athletic are good examples.
Three main problems that can result from stereotyping should be mentioned here.
First, stereotypes influence what you think about specific people who are members of a group. Because stereotypes are overly general, they frequently distort your perceptions of others, especially your initial perceptions. If you see a person through a stereotype, you’ll apply characteristics that go with the stereotype (illegal, loyal to family, dirty, hard working, and so on) but these characteristics may not apply to this particular individual. In this way you fail to perceive the individual accurately.
Second, you may fail to see the uniqueness in an individual if you only see him or her through your stereotype. And after all, meeting and interacting with other people are enjoyable largely because of the individual’s uniqueness. If you fail to see this, you’ll fail to enjoy and perhaps profit from this individual’s uniqueness.
Third, stereotypes—because they assume all members covered by the same label have the same characteristics—can often form the basis of (and often a misguided justification for) discrimination. If you can say that all members of X group are Y (and if Y is something negative), then discrimination in hiring, promoting, respecting, or learning from can easily follow. If all Martians are stupid or lazy or uneducated, then there’s little sense in hiring or promoting them and you certainly wouldn’t respect them or feel you could learn anything from them. General Semanticists, in their emphasis on recognizing uniqueness in everything and everyone, put it this way: “The more you discriminate among, the less you can discriminate against.” The more you distinguish among Martians, for example, the less you can discriminate against the group. The reason is simple: If you distinguish among members of a group, any stereotype will surely break down and be shown to be inadequately descriptive because you will see the enormous diversity within any group of people.
Stereotypes are relevant to all forms of communication but perhaps especially to intercultural communication. When you communicate with people who are different from you in terms of religion, nationality, ethnic background, affectional orientation, age, or gender, for example, you run the risk of interpreting them and their messages in terms of stereotypes.
With increased exposure to a wide variety of the members of any one group, your stereotypes are likely to breakdown. The reason for this is that through such exposure you’ll see the variations between and among individuals rather than the sameness that defined your stereotype. Once you see that gay men, for example, are as varied in their attitudes and values as are heterosexual men, you’ll have trouble retaining generalizations or stereotypes; you’ll see that there are just too many differences among gay men for any stereotype (despite Will and Grace) to seem reasonable.
Perhaps the best kind of exposure is through actual communication interaction. Reading about different groups or watching movies portraying group members will also help. And that, to my way of thinking, is one of the great advantages of a college education. It ensures that you’ll get this kind of exposure—to a wide variety of types of people (teachers and students) and to a wide variety of ideas about people, through lectures and readings.


Access to Research*

Here is the revised/final version of my Access to Research rant; this took a lot more time to write than I orignally thought. Hopefully, it will generate some useful discussion. I also sumbitted this to crtnet but don't know if it will appear.

The decision by many academic associations, including NCA, to partner with large publishing houses to print and market their journals has many advantages. Taylor & Francis—the publisher of NCA’s journals—identifies some of these in its position statement on copyright and author rights (www.Taylor&Francis.com). It provides for editing in a consistent style, digitizes the articles, includes meta-tags so that the research may be abstracted and indexed, registers the digital object identifier, and monitors electronic use of the research article. “In all our,” notes the T&F website, “we are working for the benefit of authors to ensure maximum access to and use of their articles, and to ensure that authors may gain from the goodwill associated with publishing in a Taylor & Francis journal. Yet, we are also seeking to enhance the reputation and prestige of the Journal, its editors and editorial board, its peer review processes, and the added value brought by the journal and its publisher.”
In addition, my understanding is that Taylor & Francis pays the professional association publishing the journals a fee (I have no idea what amount of money, if any, was paid to NCA) which the association can then use at its discretion, ideally perhaps to improve member services or to keep membership costs low (I have no idea what NCA did with the money, if, indeed, NCA did receive any money).
These advantages are important but may not fully justify this exclusive partnership. And some of these “advantages” may not be advantages at all. There may be a down side that should also be considered. Specifically, such exclusive partnering may not be in the best interests of (1) the field, (2) the authors of the articles, or (3) students and researchers trying to access this material. (4) Nor does it seem consistent with the notion that information should be available to all without consideration of financial resources.
(1) This partnering may not be in the best interests of the field of communication. If a major purpose of research publication is its dissemination throughout the academic community as well as the general population, then charging fees for access to the full-text article will clearly work against that purpose.
The aim of a professional organization such as NCA should be to get its research and theory out to others. Other things being equal, the fewer the restrictions, the more widely the material will likely be used. Psychologist George Miller, in his 1969 APA presidential address, urged his colleagues and the field in general to give psychology away by which he meant that psychologists should make a special effort to make their work available and relevant to everyone. [Speaking in 1969 Miller likely had no idea that articles could be digitized and made available to millions of people throughout the world right at their own desks. But, if he did, he surely would have been on the side of the free content movement advocating open access without restrictions to academic literature.] This idea has been echoed more recently by APA’s CEO, Raymond D. Fowler (www.apa.org/monitor/may99/rc.html) and seems a dominant theme of APA’s current website (www.apa.org).
In my view, this is exactly what the field of communication should be doing—giving its research and theory away. And, since the values of a discipline and its academic journals are measured, at least in part, by how often its theory and research are referenced, it seems only logical to make this research more, not less, readily available. This is even more important for Communication which has so often been called upon to defend its status as a discipline and its academic integrity.
The counter-argument to this is that this partnering actually increases the likelihood that NCA journal articles will be cited. The people who count, that is, professors and students—the argument continues—already have access to these articles (paid for by their colleges). In addition to this argument being obviously ethnocentric (after all, they’re really talking about American professors and students), it seems seriously lacking in supporting evidence. But, more important, before even considering the validity of this argument, it’s necessary to first examine the alternatives and compare them to the current system. My argument is that these alternatives have not been explored as fully as they should have been and should be now. And because of this, we really can’t determine if the current system is best serving the purposes of NCA members.
There are currently some good examples of giving communication away. One very good one and one that seems worthy of imitating is James McCroskey’s website which includes 43 communication research measures that “may be used for research or instructional purposes with no individualized permission. There is no cost for this use” (http://jamescmccroskey.com/measures/). Other examples include the journals Human Communication, Journal of Global Mass Communication, Russian Journal of Communication, Journal of Health & Mass Communication, Journal of Media Law & Ethics, and Journal of Communication Studies. Not only will these journals allow authors to retain the copyright of their article, but the journals will be open access, available electronically at no charge to the public.
NCA’s new online journal, Communication Currents (www.communicationcurrents.com), is another example of giving communication away. But, this is not enough, especially for an organization as large and as prestigious as NCA. In fact, after Goggling communication terms and concepts almost every day for hours each day since the advent of this new online journal, Communication Currents did not shown up once in the thousands of websites examined. And while my experience may not be typical, most members would agree, I think, that one slim online journal covering popular topics is surely not enough for a national organization and its affiliated organizations that together publish 20 or so journals and hundreds of research articles each year.
(2) This partnering may not be in the best interests of authors and researchers. Authors of the articles who want their research cited widely will suffer because fewer people will be willing to pay and go through the registration process for access to the research. It’s often easier to move on, avoid the annoying and costly paywalls, and find articles that are available in full text right there on your computer screen.
The same is true for reprinting articles or portions of articles from journals published under these restrictions. Recently, for example, I wanted to reprint five statements (a total of 52 words) that appeared as a measure of apprehension in the employment interview from a 1993 article in Communication Research Reports by Ayres, Ayres, and Sharp. Taylor & Francis, the journal’s publisher, wanted a fee of $638. Since the book was to be made available free with the purchase of other books, it did not have a budget that could support this kind of permission fee, and so the piece was deleted from the manuscript. I suspect (though I have no evidence) that the authors of the research were never consulted and had no say in the price Taylor & Francis put on their work or of the request to reprint their material.
While this was not a major inconvenience given the purpose of this piece in this particular text, the practice of charging such high rates can seriously damage new scholarly books or textbooks or their revisions. For example, if an author contemplates doing a reader—traditionally a book with a small audience and hence a small permission budget and yet a type of book that is crucial to small and emerging areas within communication—but the most relevant articles are from NCA publications and are too expensive, the alternatives are, unfortunately, to not use NCA articles or to cancel the proposed text. It’s a situation where no one wins.
Of course, having research reprinted in a textbook is certainly not a researcher’s major goal, nor should it be; but, it seems a nice bonus for researchers to know that their work is being read by students numbering in the 10s of thousands as well as by colleagues using the text.
Professional organizations like NCA do, I understand, maintain certain rights and can, in some cases, override these permission fees; yet, the control is still largely in the hands of the journal owners, not the author. For example, I, a not unseasoned author, didn’t know that I could have appealed the $638 fee to NCA. And anyway, this kind of appeal is simply not in the organizational system; permission editors wouldn’t know that they could do this. Further, and most important, it would just make work for NCA’s National Office which has more important business.
Nielsen/Net-Ratings estimate that 92 percent of all Internet searches that were conducted in the United States in June of 2007 were through Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft (www.mercurynews.com/portlet/article/html/fragments/print_article.jsp.?ARTICLEID=64, accessed 7/28/07). This means that at least 92 percent of all Internet searches would not yield one full-text NCA article without hitting a paywall.
Further, authors should consider the consequences of putting their research into another’s hands. For example, there are a number of restrictions identified on the Taylor & Francis website—not an easy read, btw, and so this is my interpretation—in a statement oddly called “the rights that you retain as author” (www.Taylor&Francis.com). For example, if you published an article in an NCA journal partnered with Taylor & Francis you would not be able to post your own published article on your own website or blog for a period of 12 to 18 months after publication. You would also be restricted from including your article in a dissertation if the dissertation is to be published commercially. At least this is what I get from reading the website. Authors should naturally check for themselves and not rely on this abbreviated account.
At this point, it becomes interesting to realize that the authors, journal referees, and journal editors all work for free (with perhaps some released teaching time also given free by the college) but that the publisher or printer is the only one to earn a profit.
NCA’s partnering with one publisher (in this case, Taylor & Francis) hands this publisher a virtual monopoly on communication research which is probably not in the best interests of the field. It’s also not clear, to me at least (one with no legal expertise at all), how this differs from what I understand to be the recent situation in which Wadsworth was encouraged by the Department of Justice to divest itself of certain communication textbooks, lest they be found in violation of DOJ regulations regarding monopoly in interpersonal and human communication.
For good or ill, the current academic system requires the vast majority of academics to publish in the field’s journals. They have no choice but to offer their work free of charge to a publisher and to agree to turn control of that research study over to the publisher that will then earn income from selling access to the research study. But, while the individual researcher has no choice, academic associations do. NCA, for example, has the choice to partner with these publishers and thus restrict the work of its own members to those who will pay for it or grant wider access and in fact encourage the giving away of our research and theory.
And while it may be argued that the interests of national academic associations are consistent with the interests of their members, this may not be true in all cases and certainly seems questionable here. The young assistant professor is not interested in how much money the association makes but with the access that others will have to his or her research so that it might get cited widely and thus help secure promotion or tenure.
(3) This partnering may not be in the best interests of students and researchers trying to access communication research. One of the reasons why access to these articles is of little concern to most professionals in communication or in any other academic field in the United States (and perhaps why so few people I’ve contacted actually know the terms of these agreements) is that we, as already noted, have access to these research databases through our college libraries. Similarly, students in most colleges in the United States have access through their college libraries. But, not everyone is so fortunate. Independent writers and researchers, for example, who are not associated with colleges that pay for access, will likely not have the financial resources to purchase the articles themselves. One of my former students and sometime communication instructor is perhaps typical of many; she has no access to full length articles—“the costs are high,” she writes, “and certainly not in the budget of a retiree.” Again, everyone loses in this situation—the retiree wanting to conduct her research and make a contribution as well as those who would learn from her research.
As a result, these people are likely to rely on the abstracts (which are generally available without charge) or on the more general (and much less authoritative) articles that are available on blogs and commercial websites. These articles—many of which are ill-informed, overly general, and often lacking any ethical foundation—will come to define the field of communication to the general population and to the non-communication professional unless we supplement (or even supplant) these with the solid research and theory studies that NCA’s journals publish regularly and that is easily and inexpensively available (or free). If you have a Google alert on “nonverbal communication” or regular search the web for this topic, you’d see a perfect example of this. Just about every day and sometimes more than once a day, articles report that 93% of our meaning is communicated nonverbally. This is not the kind of disinformation that communication professionals should want disseminated. But the important point to see is that we are actively supporting a system that make this type of information readily available (and hence easily cited) but our research and theory available only after paying a fee. So, while our (NCA and its members) objective is to disseminate well tested principles of communication (among other functions), we are actually helping to create a situation where much less reliable information becomes more readily available and more likely believed and acted upon.
Colleges pay for the databases to which their students are given access. And many textbook publishers also pay for the databases that they offer with their textbooks—Research Navigator at Allyn & Bacon and InfoTrac at Wadsworth are good examples. Not surprisingly, the cost of these databases is figured into the tuition a college charges its students and the cost of the textbook that publishers charge. The question that needs to be asked here is why should academic associations contribute to this increase in the cost of tuition and textbooks? And, perhaps more important, are there any alternatives?
One of the problems here is that once these large publishers gain more control over a discipline’s journals, their prices are likely to rise, creating an even greater information divide between those colleges that have the money and those that don’t. Harvard students have greater access to information than students at hundreds of small, private, and under-funded colleges throughout the country and especially throughout much of the world. And of course the prices for these databases often figure into the tuition charged which does nothing to lessen the culture gap between the haves and the have-nots. Small private colleges and their students suffer disproportionately since there is seldom the kind of money available that is needed to purchase access to these databases. While it may not discourage the start-up of new and innovative colleges (though I’m not completely sure of this), surely it would figure into what other academic programs or college services would need to be reduced to pay for this essential but expensive access to research. A college may chose to sacrifice a multitude of programs and services, but it cannot exist without providing their faculty and students with access to research. The current system, in fact, forces colleges to sacrifice certain services to pay for access to research that researchers gave to the journals without charge—a rather disconcerting irony.
Students and researchers in developing countries will suffer even more and will never be able to acquire the information they’ll need to become truly educated and truly competitive; their libraries and schools simply do not have the financial resources needed to purchase access to this research. These are problems that NCA’s current policies, and those of similar professional organizations, actively help to create and enlarge when they should be acting to minimize such discrepancies. [In fairness, I should add, that it is quite possible that NCA did investigate the impact of these decisions on, say, the access that schools in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America would have to NCA journals; I really don’t know. I hope these questions were raised.]
(4) Last, this partnering may not be justifiable in an ethical sense. We need to consider the ethical issues concerning the extent to which research and theory should be free or should come with a price tag, often a high tag. Taylor & Francis currently charges $25 per article to read online. (I have no idea if this fee can be increased by Taylor & Francis, by NCA, by both, or if the membership of NCA has any say in determining or in raising such fees.) If NCA journals become “iOpenAccess” journals—Taylor & Francis currently publishes 175 such journals largely in the science areas—authors will be able to make their own articles available for free on the Taylor & Francis website for a “one-off fee of $3100”. In addition, there is no 12 to 18 month embargo for posting your own iOpenAccess article. Is this the direction that NCA wants to go? Colleges with large budgets will be able to pay the fee for their faculty while less well-off colleges will not, creating a different but equally pernicious division between the haves and the have-nots. As you can easily imagine there will likely be few researchers in the developing world who will be able to afford this $3100 fee.
It is not at all clear by what right an organization takes possession of the research it publishes, sells it to a profit-making organization such as Taylor & Francis, and pays the author—not anything that the author negotiates, but what the professional organization negotiates, or, in most cases, nothing at all. The college or university that provides a reduced teaching load for a professor to conduct and publish research also gets nothing and yet it, in some ways, paid for the research. Similarly, these colleges (as well as the various government and private agencies that fund research) get only the prestige from the published research; they get no money which, it might be hoped, could be recycled to support more research.
All this is not to say that there are no advantages to such partnering. Publishing journals is obviously expensive and the cost of these publications must be taken into consideration. But, the easy way out—allowing the printer to control the published research to this large a degree—may be a cost too high to pay given that (1) the primary mission of an academic association is to disseminate its findings and make them available to all; (2) the needs and desires of those who conduct, write, and publish is to get their research disseminated as widely as possible and not just to those willing to pay for it; (3) the needs of students, researchers, and the population in general are to access the research and theory of a discipline easily and at no or low cost; and that (4) there seem reasonable ethical principles that would argue that information must be free and available to all.
All this is not to fault NCA or any professional organization or even Taylor & Francis and similar publishers but rather to suggest that it may be profitable to consider alternatives. There may be other (and better) ways to accomplish the goals of making our research readily available that do not include this exclusive partnership, but without sacrificing the advantages that publishers like Taylor & Francis do offer. Perhaps NCA could partner with other professional organizations and make their research available at a much reduced cost or even free. With more and more members opting to receive their journals online (rather than in print form), the cost of journal publishing decreases and becomes more easily capable of being covered by membership fees. Alternatives should, it seems, be considered.

*A bit of history. I began writing this essay to encourage the field of communication (I guess, mainly NCA members) to look at the potential down side of the practice of partnering with publishers who require a significant fee for accessing articles. I originally submitted this piece (cut to the required 1000 word limit) to Spectra. Oddly enough, I got two rejections (for the same submission). The first rejection (9/14/07) read: “Unfortunately we are not able to include it in Spectra as it is written as an OP Ed piece and Spectra does not have an OP ED section.” The second rejection (9/24/07) read: “After careful consideration, we have decided not to run it in Spectra, in part due to length.” In my submission letter I also asked that I would appreciate NCA pointing out any errors or misinterpretations in this essay and that I would correct or amend it accordingly. There were no comments from NCA other than the rejections. I also sent this piece to Taylor & Francis for the same reason and received a response saying “there are no comments to pass on.”
I also sent this to a number of people in the field who seemed much more interested in this issue and offered a variety of supportive and encouraging comments (some of which I’ve included in this revised version). All urged that this issue should be discussed more broadly than it has been. I thank them all for their input.