Credibility Argument

There’s an interesting announcement by the Cato Institute that is running in the New York Times and elsewhere, challenging the assumption that climate change is a crucial problem. You can see the ad at http://www.cato.org/fiscalreality. The interesting thing about this ad is that it relies almost entirely on "argument from credibility". Approximately 10% of the full-page announcement is devoted to what we’d call logical argument—e.g., “After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events. The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior.” The rest of the ad—about 80%--is devoted to a list of scientists, authors, and others (mainly Ph.D.s) who support the Institute’s position—115 to be exact—along with their degrees and affiliation or claim to authority. The website provides additional names. Regardless of what you think about climate change, the ad is interesting in terms of persuasion and the ways in which credibility and testimony can be used in building a persuasive case.


The Chain Letter as Dysfunctional Communication

One of the most annoying of all communication practices is the chain letter that demands that you do something—often something religious (and something I think most organized and respected religions would frown on)—and then send the letter on to an additional 10 people. [The other type of chain letter in which someone finds a great joke or article and sends it on to a mailing list of friends and relatives is a somewhat different (and only sometimes annoying) form of communication with different purposes.] If you do, you’ll be greatly rewarded; but, if you don’t, beware. Doom will soon find you. Here are just a few reasons why this form of communication needs to be labeled dysfunctional and why people who do this should reassess their motives and consider giving up this annoying practice.
1. First, it is culturally insensitive in that it assumes that the recipients of this email share (or should share) the same beliefs as the original writer. And if they don’t, they’re in big trouble. The sender makes this a moral issue—you must send this on to others or you violate crucial religious laws—exactly where these laws come from is never clear. Too ethnocentric for me.
2. Second, these promises and warnings are based on illogical Just World Thinking—the belief that good things happen to good people (that is, you’ll be rewarded if you say this prayer and pass it on to 10 others) and bad things happen to bad people (that is, you’ll be punished if you don’t say the prayer and distribute it). But, we know from just looking around—you don’t even have to read the newspapers—that lots of good people have terrible lives and lots of bad people have great lives. Too illogical for me.
3. Third, it insults the intelligence of the recipient. If the writer assumes that saying and distributing the prayer (or not) will influence what happens to the person, then the writer is taking us for idiots. Not even the most religious would assume a direct casual relationship between saying a prayer and passing it on, on the one hand, and receiving good fortune, on the other. Too insulting for me.
4. Fourth, it makes those who have some belief in these kinds of things, but might be embarrassed to send it on to others or might not know ten people, worry that they will soon experience difficulties. The expectation of these impending difficulties, of course, creates anxiety and discomfort for no reason at all. Too cruel for me.
5. Fifth, these chain letters are often motivated by the person’s fear—fear of not doing as directed and consequently suffering all sorts of harm. And so they comply and send it on to 10 others, only compounding the problem. While they may ease their own fear, they fail to take into consideration the fear, discomfort, and annoyance that these letters will generate in others (perhaps especially in those who believe). Too selfish for me.
6. Sixth, these chain letters are impolite; they attack a person’s need for positive and negative face. Chain letters attack a person’s need for positive face to be thought of positively (obviously the chain letter assumes he or she is an idiot) and the negative face needs for being autonomous (now the recipient is imposed upon and has to do something he or she would not normally have done). Too impolite for me.
7. Seventh, these letters invariably warn of dire consequences should you not do as directed, something every recipient should resent. For example, the last such letter I received just a few days ago threatened the person who ignored the letter by recalling that one person who ignored the letter had his son die, another lost a job, and another lost family—all for ignoring this intrusion and not doing as the writer demanded. Too threatening for me.
8. Eighth, these letters are time consuming and waste everyone’s time—to say nothing of bandwidth—to download, to read, to compile a list of 10 recipients, to send them on, and to read responses that are likely to follow. Too wasteful for me.
9. Ninth, they often include your email address which others on the list now have access to and can easily add you to their chain letters, compounding this invasion of privacy. Too intrusive for me.
10. Add your own.
All this is not to question the motives of the sender; often the sender is motivated by kindness and a desire to share good fortune with friends and relatives. I know personally that the last chain letter I received and referred to earlier was sent by a person with only the best of motives. So, I’m not blaming the messenger; I’m blaming the message. And we all know that meanings are not in the message, but in the person sending the message. And so, to the senders of these messages, let me ask you to consider the effects that your messages may have on others, even though you have the best of intentions in sending it. And, to the receivers of these messages, I’d say, use your delete button.


The Communication Functions of Politeness

After posting several items on politeness, I began considering the functions that politeness serves and searched the literature. Actually, very little attention has been devoted to politeness functions. What follows is a first attempt to spell out some of the purposes or functions that politeness serves in conversation or in communication generally.

Politeness serves at least seven important functions: (1) to avoid conflict, (2) to ensure cooperative interaction, (3) to manage impressions, (4) to establish power, (5) to ensure compliance, (6) to show deference, and (7) to be nice. The first two of these are widely reported in analyses of politeness (e.g., Eelen, 2001; Watts, 2003; Vilkki, 2006). These functions can best be viewed as goals to be achieved and politeness one of the relevant communication strategies. So, if you want to avoid conflict or ensure cooperative interaction, for example, one communication strategy is to be polite--to support the other person's need for both positive and negative face.

To Avoid Conflict

Politeness can often be used to avoid conflict or to minimize it. Apologizing, which is a classic form of politeness, is an obvious conflict avoider as would be such expressions as you're right, please forgive me, and I was wrong. By being polite you show the other person respect which is likely to lessen any feelings of hostility or even just annoyance. Politeness also helps to create a more positive atmosphere which is likely to help minimize the feelings of conflict and opposition.

To Ensure Cooperative Interaction

By being polite you show that you want the interaction to be cooperative and mutually satisfying. If, at the other extreme, you were rude, the conversation would likely last a lot shorter time and end with ill-feeling. Politeness creates more enjoyment and satisfaction and hence is likely to be pursued at greater length. The small talk on an elevator may also be viewed as a politeness strategy designed to tell the others that you're friendly and are operating with (and within) the established rules of society (i.e., you're not some psychopath).

To Manage Impressions

Consider meeting your new supervisor's family. Here, you're likely to be especially polite to create a desired impression. For example, it will make you appear more likable, certainly an impression you'd want to create. Because politeness demonstrates respect for the other person, the person is apt to respond to you with a certain degree of liking. Politeness here will also make you appear more credible--it takes a certain degree of knowledge and experience to demonstrate politeness, again, a desirable impression to create, whether in the workplace or at the singles club.

To Establish Power

Sometimes a display of politeness--perhaps more in the nature of etiquette--establishes power especially if the other person does not know the rules of social politeness--for eating in a exclusive restaurant or meeting a group of foreign dignitaries or meeting your romantic partner's parents. A person who lacks a knowledge of the rules of politeness is likely to feel awkward and ill-at-ease, making the person less powerful, less likely to be assertive, less likely to engage in argument or even lively discussion, less likely to order escargot (and at this point in my ideal post would be a video of Julia Roberts eating snails in a restaurant in Pretty Woman). Actually, you can see a clip at: http://www.videosurf.com/video/pretty-woman-full-movie-6-12-55084911.

To Ensure Compliance

Politeness is often a persuasive strategy, designed to influence someone to respond more favorably to your message or to gain someone's compliance. Politeness will function like a lubricant to get the wheels of compliance turning. I know you don't like to lend anyone money, and I understand that, but I thought maybe just this once.... Here, you show respect for the person's negative face needs (practicing what we earlier called negative politeness). Or you might laugh at the person's jokes and compliment the person on having a great sense of humor as a preface to asking a favor. Here you respond to the person's positive face needs to be thought of highly (practicing positive politeness).

To Show Deference

Politeness to show deference is probably the function of politeness that comes most quickly to mind and yet, clearly, is not the only function. But, it's an important one. Politeness is often a sign of deference as when a young person addresses an older person with Title + Last Name while being addressed with just First Name or a student addresses a professor with the honorific "professor" but receives a first name in return. One great scene occurs in In the Heat of the Night where Sidney Poitier responds to Rod Steiger's "What do they call you?" with "They call me Mr. Tibbs," a brief way of demanding respect and due deference. This line, btw, is rated Number 76 in the all time great movie lines by Premiere magazine (2007) and Number 16 in "movie quotes" by the American Film Institute (as reported on The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com/title/tt0061811/trivia). Take a look at the Premiere.com website for the entire list of 100 lines--the first, btw, is: "Here's looking at you, kid" from Casablanca.
In some cultures, this function of politeness is more important than others. In Japan, which is generally used as the society in which politeness rules are most important, one way to show deference is with the bow; a lower status person (say a junior executive) bows lower and for a longer length of time when meeting a higher status person (say the president of the corporation) who bows relatively little. In many European languages, you show deference by using different pronouns--the more formal pronouns showing greater politeness. In English, as in most languages, you have politeness tags--words like please and thank you--that signal politeness. An overuse or an underuse of these politeness tags may signal not deference but a low social status, a discomfort with the social situation, or a general lack of knowledge of the rules of social interaction.

To Be Nice

If you were to ask people why they are polite, they'd probably say something to the effect that it's the nice thing to do--you act politely to be nice without any attempt to manipulate the other person or to create a favorable impression of yourself. However, determining when someone is being polite just to be nice and when someone is being polite for some ulterior motive is another story.


Politeness in Conflict

This is a brief discussion of conflict strategies as seen through the concept of politeness.

Face-Attacking and Face-Enhancing Strategies: Politeness in Conflict

Face-attacking conflict strategies are those that attack a person’s positive face (for example, comments that criticize the person’s contribution to a relationship or any of the person’s abilities) or a person’s negative face (for example, making demands on a person’s time or resources or comments that attack the person’s autonomy). Face-enhancing strategies are those that support and confirm a person’s positive (praise, a pat on the back, a sincere smile) or negative face (giving the person space and asking rather than demanding), for example. Not surprisingly, academics have a special acronym for these: FTAs or Face Threatening Acts.
A wide range of conflict strategies could probably be viewed from the perspective of face and politeness. For the most part, it seems, the kinds of strategies textbook authors recommend to use are polite and the strategies recommended to avoid are impolite. But, several strategies seem especially appropriate to discuss in terms of politeness.
One popular but destructive face-attacking strategy is beltlining (Bach & Wyden, 1968). Much like fighters in a ring, each of us has a “beltline,” (here, an emotional one). When you hit below this emotional beltline, you can inflict serious injury. When you hit above the belt, however, the person is able to absorb the blow. With most interpersonal relationships, especially those of long standing, you know where the beltline is. You know, for example, that to hit Kristen or Matt with the inability to have children is to hit below the belt. You know that to hit Jack or Jill with the failure to get a permanent job is to hit below the belt. This type of face-attacking strategy causes all persons involved added problems.
Another such face-attacking strategy is blame. Instead of focusing on a solution to a problem, some members try to affix blame on the other person. Whether true or not, blaming is unproductive; it diverts attention away from the problem and from its potential solution and it creates resentment that is likely to be responded to with additional resentment. The conflict then spirals into personal attacks, leaving the individuals and the relationship worse off than before the conflict was ever addressed.
Strategies that enhance a person’s self image and that acknowledge a person’s autonomy will not only be polite, they’re likely to be more effective than strategies that attack a person self image and deny a person’s autonomy. Even when you get what you want, it’s wise to help the other person retain positive face because it makes it less likely that future conflicts will arise (Donahue & Kolt, 1992).
Instead of face-attacking, try face-enhancing strategies:
• Use messages that enhance a person’s self image
• Use messages that acknowledge a person’s autonomy
• Compliment the other person even in the midst of a conflict
• Make few demands, respect another’s time, give the other person space especially in times of conflict
• Keep blows to areas above the belt
• Avoid blaming the other person
• Express respect for the other’s point of view even when it differs greatly from your own


Politeness at Work

Here is a brief discussion of politeness on the job that will appear in the next edition of Interpersonal Messages. It's kind of a complement to the post on Relationship Politeness (2/27/09).
Politeness at work will prove important from your initial interview at a college job fair through the face-to-face interview, to your first day on the job, and, of course, to your progression up the organizational ladder. In one study some 80 percent of employees surveyed believed that they did not get respect at work, and 20 percent felt they were victims of weekly incivility. Rudeness in the workplace, it’s been argued, reduces performance effectiveness, hurts creativity, and leads to increased worker turnover—all of which are costly for the organization (Tsiantar, 2005). Not surprisingly, organizations are devoting considerable attention to politeness. A search of Google for “politeness +business” recently yielded over 1,000,000 sites.
Not surprisingly, the teaching of workplace politeness is now big business with thousands of firms offering their services to teach workplace politeness. A Google search for “business etiquette +consultant” yielded approximately 200,000 sites. Demonstrating the principles of politeness on the job is clearly one of the qualifications for moving up within any organization.
Politeness on the job follows the same general rules stressed for effective interpersonal interaction stressed throughout this text. For example, be positive, be expressive, listen carefully, and so on. Nevertheless, there are certain rules for polite interaction that take on special importance in the workplace. To complicate matters just a bit, each organization—much like each culture--will have somewhat different rules for what they consider polite. Nevertheless, here are a few general suggestions for politeness on the job, which seem near universal.
• Be respectful of a colleague’s time. This rule suggests lots of specifics; for example, don’t copy those who don’t need to be copied, be brief and organized, respond to requests as soon as possible and when not possible, alert the other person that, for example, “the figures will be sent as soon as they arrive, probably by the end of the day.”
• Be respectful of a person’s territory. Like animals, humans are very territorial. This is especially true in the business world where status distinctions are very important and govern the rules of territoriality. So, for example, don’t invade another’s office or desk space and don’t overspend your welcome. In brief, treat another’s work space as someone’s private territory into which you must be invited.
• Follow the rules for effective electronic communication, which will naturally differ from one workplace to another. Generally, look for rules governing the use of e-mails, Internet game playing, cell phones (see Chapter 4, p. 00), social networking (see Chapter 5, p. 000), and instant messaging.
• Discard your Facebook grammar, spelling, acronyms, and smileys. These may be seen as not showing sufficient respect for someone high in the company hierarchy. The general suggestion offered for people writing into newsgroups is appropriate here as well; watch how other people write before writing yourself. If you find no guidance here, your best bet is to write as if your email is being graded by your English professor. This means editing for conciseness, proof reading, and spell checking.
• Uses the appropriate medium for sending messages. Generally, the rule is to respond in kind—for example, if a question is asked in email, answer it in email.
• Avoid touching except in shaking hands. Touching is often interpreted as a sexual overture, so it’s best avoided on the job. Touching may also imply a familiarity that the other person may not welcome. Your best bet is to avoid initiating touching but don’t be offended if others put their arm on our shoulder or pat you on the back.
• In generally, follow the organization’s rules of politeness—for example, answering phones, to addressing the hierarchy, dress, lateness, and desk materials.
• Treat everyone politely, even the newest intern—as if that person will one day be your boss.


Interpersonal Communication: More Definitions

Yesterday, I posted a definition of interpersonal communication from one of my own books. I thought I'd search to see how other textbook writers define it. Here are just a few:

...interpersonal communication occurs when people treat one another as unique individuals, regardless of the context in which the interaction occurs or the number of people involved.
Adler, Rosenfeld, Proctor Interplay, p. 15

…interpersonal communication refers to the exchange of messages, verbal and nonverbal, between people regardless of the relationship they share.
--Guerrero, Andersen, Afifi Close Encounters, p. 11

…the transactional creation of meaning, either intentionally or unintentionally, within a dyadic social relationship.
--Jones, Remland, Sanford Interpersonal Communication through the Life Span, p. 10

Interpersonal communication involves at least two people who establish a communicative association.
Lane, Interpersonal Communication, p. 4

Interpersonal communication is a dynamic form of communication between two (or more) people in which the messages exchanged significantly influence their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relationships.
McCornack, Reflect and Relate, p. 20

…the process through which people create and manage their relationships, exercising mutual responsibility in creating meaning.
Verderber, Verderber Inter-Act, p. 3


Interpersonal Communication: A Definition

A comment on one of my posts came from a student studying interpersonal communication who was not sure what interpersonal communication was. [Hopefully, she was not using one of my books.] So, I thought I'd post this definition/explanation which comes from the revision manuscript of my Interpersonal Messages 2/e. I hope it helps.
Interpersonal communication is the verbal and nonverbal interaction between two interdependent people (sometimes more). This relatively simple definition implies a variety of characteristics.

(1) Interpersonal Communication Involves Interdependent Individuals
Interpersonal communication is the communication that takes place between people who are in some way “connected.” Interpersonal communication would thus include what takes place between a son and his father, an employer and an employee, two sisters, a teacher and a student, two lovers, two friends, and so on. Although largely dyadic in nature interpersonal communication is often extended to include small intimate groups such as the family. Even within a family however, the communication that takes place is often dyadic—mother to child, sister to sister, and so on.
Not only are the individuals simply “connected,” they are also interdependent, what one person does has an impact on the other person. The actions of one person have consequences for the other person. In a family, for example, a child’s trouble with the police will impact on the parents, other siblings, extended family members, and perhaps friends and neighbors.

(2) Interpersonal Communication Is Inherently Relational
Because of this interdependency, interpersonal communication is inevitably and essentially relational in nature. Interpersonal communication takes place in a relationship, it impacts the relationship, it defines the relationship. The way you communicate is determined in great part by the kind of relationship that exists between you and the other person. You interact differently with your interpersonal communication instructor and your best friend; you interact with a sibling in ways very different from the ways you interact with a neighbor, a work colleague, or a casual acquaintance.
But notice also that the way you communicate will influence the kind of relationship you have. If you interact in friendly ways, you’re likely to develop a friendship. If you regularly exchange hateful and hurtful messages, you’re likely to develop an antagonistic relationship. If you each regularly express respect and support for each other, a respectful and supportive relationship is likely to develop. This is surely one of the most obvious observations you can make about interpersonal communication. And yet, so many seem not to appreciate this very clear relationship between what you say and the relationship that develops (or deteriorates).

(3) Interpersonal Communication Exists on a Continuum
Interpersonal communication exists along a continuum, ranging from relatively impersonal at one end to highly personal at the other. At the impersonal end of the continuum, you have simple conversation between people who, we’d say, really don’t know each other—the server and the customer, for example. At the highly personal end is the communication that takes place between people who are intimately interconnected—a father and son, two long time lovers, or best friends, for example. A few characteristics distinguish the impersonal from the personal forms of communication (the first three are based on Gerald Miller’s widely used analysis.
• Role vs. Personal Information. Notice that in the impersonal example, the individuals are likely to respond to each other according to the role they are currently playing; the server treats the customer not as a unique individual but as one of many customers. And the customer, in turn, acts towards the server not as a unique individual but as he or she would react to any server. The father and the son, however, react to each other as unique individuals. They act on the basis of personal information.
• Societal vs. Personal Rules. Notice too that the server and the customer interact according to the rules of society governing the server-customer interaction. The father and the son, on the other hand, interact on the basis of personally established rules. The way they address each other, their touching behavior, and their degree of physical closeness, for example, are unique to them and are established by them rather than by society.
• Predictive and Explanatory Data. In impersonal relationships you're able to predict the other person's behavior with only a fair likelihood of accuracy. For example, you can predict (to a modest extent) some of the behaviors of the other students in your class. But, as you get to observe and interact with them over time—that is, as you get to know them better, your accuracy in prediction increases and, in addition, you’ll also begin to explain their behaviors (at least to some extent). That is, as you move along the continuum from impersonal to highly personal, your ability to predict and explain behaviors increases.
• Social vs. Personal Messages. Still another difference is found in the messages exchanged. The messages that the server and customer exchange, for example, are themselves impersonal; there is little self-disclosure and little emotional content, for example. Between the father-son, however, the messages may run the entire range and may at times be highly personal with lots of disclosure and emotion.

(4) Interpersonal Communication Involves Verbal and Nonverbal Messages
The interpersonal interaction involves the exchange of verbal and nonverbal messages. The words you use as well as your facial expressions--your eye contact and your body posture, for example, send messages. Likewise, you receive messages through your sense of hearing as well as through your other senses especially visual and touch. Even silence sends messages. These messages, as you’ll see throughout this course, will vary greatly depending on the other factors involved in the interaction. You don’t talk to a best friend in the same way you talk to your college professor or your parents.

(5) Interpersonal Communication Exists in Varied Forms
Often interpersonal communication takes place face-to-face: talking with other students before class, interacting with family or friends over dinner, trading secrets with intimates. This is the type of interaction that probably comes to mind when you think of interpersonal communication. But, of course, much conversation takes place online. Online communication is a major part of people’s interpersonal experience throughout the world. Such communications are important personally, socially, and professionally.

(6) Interpersonal Communication Is Transactional
Some early theories viewed the communication process as linear.In this linear view of communication, the speaker spoke and the listener listened; after the speaker finished speaking, the listener would speak. Communication was seen as proceeding in a relatively straight line. Speaking and listening were seen as taking place at different times—when you spoke, you didn’t listen; and when you listened, you didn’t speak.
A more satisfying view, and the one currently held by most communication theorists, sees communication as a transactional process in which each person serves simultaneously as speaker and listener. According to the transactional view, at the same time that you send messages, you’re also receiving messages from your own communications and from the reactions of the other person. And at the same time that you’re listening, you’re also sending messages. In a transactional view, each person is seen as both speaker and listener, as simultaneously communicating and receiving messages.