The Interpersonal Communication Book

I want to apologize to users of my Interpersonal Communication Book, 14th edition. A paragraph was omitted in the printing. The following paragraph would be inserted on page 130 before "Personal Distance." 

Intimate Distance. In intimate distance, ranging from actual touching to 18 inches, the presence of the other individual is unmistakable. Each person experiences the sound, smell, and feel of the other’s breath. You use intimate distance for lovemaking, comforting, and protecting. This distance is so short that most people do not consider it proper in public.

Again, I apologize.


Communication is Easy and Difficult: An Exercise

I'm developing this exercise for possible use in the new edition of Human Communication and I thought it might be of interest more generally for just about any course in speech communication or interpersonal communication. The ten items I have below can be changed and probably should be changed to better reflect the specific students in the class. 

The Exercise

This exercise is designed to explore the differences in difficulty of various communication interactions: what makes for a difficult communication experience, what individual differences influence what constitutes difficult communication, and the skills needed to make difficult communication easier.

To Know
Communication theorists and researchers often argue over whether communication is easy or difficult. Of course, if you think about the various communication interactions you engage in everyday, you’d have to conclude that communication is both easy and difficult.
Some communication interactions are simple, easy, and are performed almost automatically. Nodding to a colleague when passing each other, asking a salesperson where a particular item is, or arranging to meet a friend after class—most people would agree—are relatively easy interactions. This is not to say that even these simple activities cannot be improved by the application of communication skills; surely they can. But still they’re relatively easy to perform.
Other communication interactions, however, are difficult. For example, apologizing to a life partner for infidelity, leading a group to solve a workplace problem, or constructing a persuasive speech are relatively difficult tasks.
Clearly, then, communication exists on a continuum from easy at one end to difficult at the other end. One way to look at the goal of a communication course or textbook is to provide you with the skills you need to move “difficult” communication situations closer to the “easy” side.

Easy ___________________________________________ Difficult

To Do
Here are ten communication experiences. Individually or in small groups of five or six, place these along the continuum from easy to difficult by using the numbers from 1 (easiest) to 10 (most difficult).
a.     Tweeting about a favorite celebrity’s concert.
b.     Talking with a recruiter at a job fair.
c.      Asking a terminally ill patient if he or she has made a will.
d.     E-mailing a textbook author to express your opinion of the book.
e.      Telling a friend of his or her spouse’s infidelity.
f.       Apologizing to your life partner for a brief (a few months) romantic affair.
g.     Giving a toast at a friend’s wedding.
h.     Asking the most attractive person at your school for a date.
i.       Breaking up a long-term (three or four year) relationship; you’ve fallen in love with someone else.
j.       Making small talk on an elevator with people you’ve never seen before.

To Discuss
1.     What makes for difficult communication? What makes for easy communication? How would you define “difficult communication” and “easy communication”?
2.     In what specific ways does your own personality influence how you arranged these experiences and how you view “difficult” and “easy” communication?
3.     For which of these situations do you feel you have the requisite skills for effective communication? For which situations do you feel you need more skills and experience?


Polite Messages: An Exercise in Interpersonal Communication

This exercise is designed to help explain the concept of politeness in terms of positive and negative face (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Cupach & Metts, 1994; Goffman, 1967; Goldsmith, 2007; Holmes 1995; Metts & Cupach, 2008).

To Know
In Brown and Levinson’s (1987) theory of politeness, based in part on Goffman’s (1967) concept of face, we all have basically two needs: (1) the need to maintain positive face and (2) the need to maintain negative face. Positive face refers to the desire to be viewed positively by others, to be thought of favorably, to be held in high esteem. Negative face refers to the desire to be autonomous, to have the right to do as you wish, to not be imposed upon.
Politeness in interpersonal communication, then, refers to behavior that allows others to maintain both positive and negative face; and impoliteness refers to behaviors that attack either positive face (for example, you criticize someone) or negative face (for example, you make demands on someone).
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.” It is attacks on positive face—sometimes called FTAs for Face Threatening Acts—that the term dissing is meant to capture. Made popular in the 1980s in rap music, the term refers to a form of impoliteness in which you criticize, act rudely, insult, put down, offend, or disrespect another person, verbally and/or nonverbally. It attacks a person’s positive face needs, the need to be approved of, to be respected.
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!” 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, “If this is a bad time, please tell me, but I’m really strapped and could use a loan of $100” rather than “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 me a recommendation for graduate school.” In this way you enable the person to maintain negative face through what is called negative politeness.

To Do
Indicate how each of the following examples is impolite in terms of attacking positive and/or negative face by filling in as many boxes as you can in no more than 10 minutes.

Violation of Positive Face Needs
Violation of Negative Face Needs
1.      Failure to return the eye brow flash.

2.      Not indicating liking or +1 for a friend’s post.

3.      Criticizing another’s religious beliefs.

4.      Texting during dinner with a romantic partner.

5.      Cat calls.

6.      Asking for a favor.

7.      Interruptions which take over the speaker’s turn.

8.      Walking into another’s office without knocking.

9.      Not using normally expected honorifics such as Dr., Professor, General, or Officer.

10.  Accusing someone of some misdeed.

To Discuss
After all have completed this exercise, discussion might center on such issues as these:
1.      Under what circumstances can each of these behaviors become less impolite?
2.      Do you notice a gender difference in the use of these behaviors? If so, in what specific ways?
3.      What are some other examples of behaviors that violate our face needs?

To Read [References]
1.       Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals of language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2.       Cupach, W. R., & Metts, S. (1994). Facework. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
3.       Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. New York, NY: Pantheon.
4.       Goldsmith, D. J. (2007). Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory. In Explaining communication: Contemporary theories and exemplars (pp. 219–236), B. B. Whaley & W. Samter (eds.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
5.       Holmes, J. (1995). Women, men and politeness. New York, NY: Longman.

6.       Metts, S., & Cupach, W. R. (2008). Face theory. In Engaging theories in interpersonal communication: Multiple perspectives (pp. 203–214), L. A. Baxter & D. O. Braithwaite (eds.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.