Here is an exercise that I think will prove effective around the middle of the semester, with the coverage of conversation, or perhaps at the end of the semester. It might even be useful right at the beginning of the course to illustrate some of the ways we talk about interpersonal communication. The general purpose of this exercise is to clarify the concepts and principles discussed throughout the course and to illustrate how these can be identified in and applied to specific interpersonal interactions. As with all material on this blog, feel free to use this as you wish; just include a credit note. If you do use it, I’d appreciate any reactions—good or bad—that you might have. I look at this as a work in progress and so anything you care to share would be helpful.
The Exercise (in Brief):
This exercise focuses on analyzing interpersonal discourse in terms of the concepts and principles discussed throughout an interpersonal course and textbook.
(1) Read through the dialogues presented below and select one for analysis. Try to get a picture of what is going on.
(2) Review the list of 100+ terms presented below and select those terms that you feel describe the interpersonal communication going on in the dialogue. Then try one or more of these suggestions:
• In small groups or with the class as a whole, explain your discourse analysis. Explain why the terms you selected describe the interaction. This process should help clarify some of the ways in which messages are perceived and why some are more effective than others.
• Rewrite one of the dialogues to reflect more effective patterns of interpersonal communication and, using the terms provided here or others you find more relevant, explain (in small groups or with the class as a whole) why the rewritten version is, in fact, more effective. This process should help distinguish effective from ineffective discourse and illustrate ways to make your own interpersonal communication more effective and more satisfying.
• Small groups can each take a different dialogue, analyze the discourse, and report their findings back to the larger group.
Admittedly these are overly short so feel free to fill in any additional dialogue you think would be consistent with each of the characters. As an alternative to using these dialogues, you might use one or more interactions from a film; television drama or sitcom; print, online, or televised interview; or commercial (see blog post for January 8, 2008, Dysfunctional Relationships, for some examples of suitable commercials). If different groups selected sequential scenes from the same movie, it could be used to illustrate how characters are developed and presented to the audience through their verbal and nonverbal interpersonal communication messages—admittedly, a purpose somewhat off the beaten path.
The Student, the Teacher, and the Parent
Seven-year-old child arriving home from school: I hate that teacher; I can’t stand that school.
Parent: O.K., now what did you do? I’d better not have to go to another parent-teacher conference.
Partner 1 arriving home with a box of Danish pastry. I just went out and got us some Danish; we can have them with our coffee.
Partner 2: Don’t you ever listen to me? I’m trying to lose some weight; I can’t eat that.
Helping a Friend
Friend 1: You got to help me out. You’ve got to tell Pat I was working late last night with you.
Friend 2: You don’t think I’m not going to lie for you, do you?
The New College Students
College Student 1 (Chris): Hi, Pat. I see the New Students reception is on Saturday. Would you like to go together?
College Student 2 (Pat): No, not really.
Chris: Aren’t you going?
Pat: Yeah, I’m going but I’m not sure who I’m going with. I may go with C.J. or with Mel.
Chris: You’re all in the same dorm?
Pat: No, not really.
Mother or Father: Your child got into trouble at school today.
Mother or Father: What’s the big deal this time? Chewing gum?
Serious Dating Partners
Dating Partner 1: So I went out with my ex. So, big deal! We’re friends.
Dating Partner 2: Well, that has to stop. I’m not going to have people see me as your second choice.
Sibling 1: Can I wear your new sweater tonight? I have a really important date.
Sibling 2: You always want to wear my clothes. Why don’t you just buy your own. And anyway I think I’m going to wear the sweater tonight myself.
Terms for Describing Interpersonal Interactions:
Here are 100+ terms that may be used to describe interpersonal communication—a mixture of communication jargon and popular expressions. These are certainly not the only concepts and principles you might use; feel free to select others if you feel they would be more relevant and revealing.
Abusive, Accommodating, Accusatory, Active, Active and inactive listening, Affinity seeking, Affirmative, Aggressive, Ambiguous, Angry, Argumentative, Assertive, Attentive, Avoiding, Belittling, Beltlining, Caring, Clear, Closed, Cold, Collaborative, Competent, Competing, Complimentary, Compromising, Concerned, Confirming, Conflict generating, Confrontational, Constructive, Content focused, Cooperative, Critical, Critical listening, Crude, Culturally insensitive, Culturally sensitive, Deceptive, Defensive, Demanding, Demoralizing, Depth listening, Dialogic, Direct, Disclosive, Disconfirming, Dishonest, Distant, Dogmatic, Double binding, Emotional, Empathic, Empathic listening, Equal, Ethical, Evaluative, Excluding, Expressive, Extensional, Face saving, Face threatening, Feminine, Formal, Friendly, Gunnysacking, Helpful, High monitored, Honest, Hostile, I-message, Immediate, Impersonal, Impolite, Including, Incompetent, Inconsiderate, Indifferent, Indirect, Informal, Insensitive, Insulting, Insulting, Intensional, Intimate, Judgmental, Logical, Loving, Low monitored, Manipulative, Masculine, Mindful, Mindless, Mixed, Monologic, Negative, Negative, Neutral, Nonimmediate, Nonjudgmental listening, Objective, Objective listening, Open, Other oriented, Passive, Perceptive, Personal, Polarizing, Polite, Positive, Present focused, Rejecting, Relationship focused, Satisfying, Sensitive, Stereotypical, Superior, Supportive, Surface listening, Tension producing, Trusting, Truthful, Unassertive, Uncaring, Unconcerned, Understanding, Unethical, Unsatisfying, Warm, You-message