Chapter six: communicating verbally learning objectives

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Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others (4e)



After studying the chapter, you should be able to

  1. Describe the relationship between words and meaning.

  2. Understand how words influence us and our culture.

  3. Identify word barriers and know how to manage them.

  4. Discuss how the words we use affect our relationships with others.

  5. Understand supportive approaches to relating to others.


Humans are symbolic by nature and use words. Words are symbolic, arbitrary, and context-bound. Words have both denotative and connotative meanings and can communicate about the concrete or abstract.

Meanings are in people, not in words. The words we use can be powerful. Words have the power to create something new or unfamiliar. Words have the power to affect our thoughts and actions. Words have the power to affect and reflect their host culture. Words should be used carefully and thoughtfully.

Verbal communication can be challenging at times. At least six barriers can interfere with our effective use of words: bypassing, lack of clarity, allness, static evaluation, polarization, and biased language.

A number of verbal strategies can enhance interpersonal relationships by establishing a positive and supportive climate and communicating a sense of value for others. We use words to establish a supportive relationship when we describe rather than evaluate, solve problems rather than control others, are genuine rather than manipulative, empathize rather than remain detached, are flexible rather than rigid toward others, and present ourselves as an equal rather than a superior.

We can also learn to use words to be appropriately assertive when we are communicating with others who create a defensive climate or are verbally aggressive, obnoxious, or use language to try and coerce or intimidate. The five steps to appropriately take care of yourself through the use of assertive behavior are to describe your view of the situation, disclose your feelings, identify the effects, wait for a response, and paraphrase the content and feelings of your partner's message.

CHAPTER OUTLINE (All key terms appear in bold)

I. Understanding how words work

A. Words are symbols that represent something else.

1. The triangle of meaning explains the relationships between referents, thoughts, and symbols (Ogden and Richards)

a. A symbol is a word, sound, or visual device that represents an image,
sound, concept, or experience.

b. Thought is the mental process of creating an image, sound, concept or

experience triggered by a referent or symbol.

c. A referent is the thing that a symbol represents.

B. Words are arbitrary.

  1. There is not necessarily a logical connection between the referent and the symbol.

  2. The arbitrary nature of most words means that there is no inherent meaning in a

C. Words are context-bound: They derive their meaning from the situation in which they are

D. Words are culturally bound.

  1. Culture consists of the rules, norms, values, and mores of a group of people that
    have been learned and shaped from one generation to the next.

  2. The meaning of a symbol, such as a word, can change from culture to culture.

  3. The study of words and meaning is called semantics.

  4. One important body of semantic theory, known as symbolic interaction, suggests
    that as a society we are bound together because of our common use of symbols.

  5. The theory of symbolic interaction also illuminates how we use our common
    understanding of symbols to form interpersonal relationships.

  6. Gender may also play a major role in how we interpret verbal messages.

a. Women tend to interpret messages based on how personally supportive
they perceive messages to be.

b. Men tend to interpret messages based on issues related to dominance and


E. Words communicate denotative and connotative meaning.

  1. Language is the vehicle through which we share our sense of the world with

  2. Language creates meaning on two levels: content and feelings.

a. The denotative level conveys content; the word's restrictive or literal

meaning as found in the dictionary.

b. The connotative level of language conveys feelings; the personal or

subjective meaning of a word.

F. Words communicate concrete or abstract meaning.

  1. Words can be placed along a continuum from abstract to concrete.

  2. We call a word concrete if we can experience its referent with one of our senses.

  3. If we cannot experience the referent with our senses, then the word is abstract.

4. In general, the more concrete the language, the easier it is for others to understand.

II. Recognizing the power of words.

A. Words have the power to create.

1. Words give us tools to create our world by naming and labeling what we


  1. When you label something as "good" or "bad," you are using language to create
    your own vision of how you experience the world.

  2. You create your self worth largely with self talk and with the labels you give

  3. One theorist believes you create your moods and emotional state with the words
    you use to label your feelings

B. Words have the power to affect thoughts and actions.

  1. Advertisers have long known that the way a product is labeled affects our
    propensity to purchase it.

  1. Words also have the power to affect policy and procedures.

  2. Words have the power to affect behavior.

C. Words have the power to affect and reflect culture

  1. A theory called linguistic determinism describes how use of language
    determines or influences thoughts and perceptions.

  2. Linguistic relativity explains that each language includes some unique features
    that are not contained in other languages.

  3. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is based on the principles of linguistic determinism
    and linguistic relativity.

a. Language shapes our thoughts and culture.

b. Your thoughts and culture affect the language you use to describe our


c. Your world view is your culturally acquired perspective for interpreting


III. Avoiding word barriers.

A. Bypassing is confusion caused by the same words meaning different things to different

1. It is estimated that the 500 words used most often in daily conversations in English have more than 14,000 dictionary definitions.

B. Lack of precision: uncertain meaning in words.

  1. Lack of clarity may be created through improper or imprecise use of words.

  2. A malapropism is a confusion of one word or phrase for another that sounds
    similar to it.

  3. Other imprecisions include using words out of context, using inappropriate
    grammar, or putting words in the wrong order.

  4. For most communication, the object is to be as specific and concrete as possible.

  5. You are being too precise if you use a restricted code: words that have a
    particular meaning to a person, group, or culture.

  6. Jargon is the use of specialized terms or abbreviations whose meanings are only
    known to a specific group.

C. Allness: The language of generalization.

  1. Allness is the tendency to use language to make unqualified, often untrue

  2. Avoid untrue generalizations by reminding yourself that your use and
    interpretation of a word is unique, and by using the words "to me."

  3. Indexing is avoiding generalizations by using statements that separate one
    situation, person, or example from another.

D. Static evaluation is the language of rigidity.

  1. Static evaluation is a pronouncement that does not take the possibility of change
    into consideration.

  2. The metaphor of "the map is not the territory" illustrates that words, like maps,
    must constantly change to represent and accommodate change.

  3. To avoid this barrier, date your observations and indicate the time period from
    which you draw your observations.

E. Polarization is the language of extremes that describes and evaluates what you observe in
terms of food or bad, old or new, beautiful or ugly.

  1. By describing things in extremes, leaving out the middle ground, your language
    does not accurately reflect reality.

  2. Family counselors who listen to family feuds find that the tendency to see things
    from an either/or point of view is a classic symptom of a troubled relationship.

F. Biased language represents insensitivity toward others.

  1. Avoid sexist language that describes roles in exclusively male or female terms.

  2. There are benefits from consciously remembering to use nonsexist language.

a. Monitoring your speech for sexist remarks can help you monitor your
attitudes about sexist assumptions you may hold.

b. Using nonsexist language will help you become more other-oriented.

c. Nonsexist language will make your speech more contemporary and

d. Your nonsexist language will empower others.

3. Talk about the sexual orientation of others by being other oriented and using
terms that are preferred by those being described.

a. Monitor your speech so that you are not, even unconsciously, using

phrases that depict a racial group or ethnic group in a negative,
stereotypical fashion.

b. The underlying principle in avoiding biased language is to imagine how

the listener might react to your words.

G. Avoid ethnic or racially biased language

H. Avoid language that demeans one's age, ability, or social class.

IV. Using words to establish supportive relationships with others.

A. For more than three decades, Jack Gibb's observational research has been used as a
framework for both describing and prescribing verbal behaviors that contribute to
feelings of either supportiveness or defensiveness.

B. Words and actions are tools we use to let someone know whether we support them or not.

C. Words can be used to create a supportive climate rather than an antagonistic one.

1. Describe your own feelings rather than evaluate the behavior of others, a. Most of us don't like to be judged or evaluated.

b. One way to avoid evaluating others is to eliminate the accusatory "you"
from your language.

c. Instead, use the word "I" to describe your own feelings and thoughts about

a situation or event.

d. In doing this you are, in essence, taking ownership of your thoughts and


e. This approach leads to greater openness and trust because your listener

does not feel rejected or as if you are trying to control him or her.

D. Solve problems rather than try to control others.

1. Be genuine rather than manipulative.

a. To be genuine means that you honestly seek to be yourself rather than

someone you are not.

b. It also means taking an honest interest in others and considering the

uniqueness of each individual and situation, avoiding generalizations or
strategies that focus only on your own needs and desires.

2. A manipulative person has hidden agendas.

E. Empathize rather than remain detached from others.

  1. Empathy is one of the hallmarks of supportive relationships.

  2. The opposite of empathy is neutrality.

  3. To be neutral is to be indifferent or apathetic toward another.

F. Be flexible rather than rigid toward others.

  1. Most people don't like someone who always seems certain that he or she is right.

  2. The "I'm right, you're wrong" attitude creates a defensive climate.

G. Present yourself as equal rather than superior.

1. You can antagonize others by letting them know that you view yourself as better

or brighter than they are.

2. Although some people have the responsibility and authority to manage others,

"pulling rank" does not usually produce a cooperative climate.

  1. Avoid using abstract language to impress others.

  2. When communicating with someone from another culture, you may need to use
    an elaborated code to get your message across. This means using conversation
    that uses many words and various ways of describing an idea or concept to
    communicate its meaning.

  1. The underlying goal of creating a supportive, rather than defensive,
    communication climate is the providing emotional support.

  2. Appropriate humor can be used to turn a tense, potentially conflict producing
    confrontation into a more supportive, positive conversation.

V. Using words to be appropriately assertive

A. At times, it is necessary to respond to others who communicate in a way that creates a

defensive climate.

B. Responding in an assertive manner allows you to make requests, ask for your rights,

and generally pursue your own best interests.

  1. Assertive is to be able to pursue one's own best interests without denying a
    partner's rights.

  2. Aggressive is expressing one's interests while denying the rights of others by
    blaming, judging, and evaluating other people.

  1. One way to respond appropriately to aggressive or inappropriate communication is
    through the use of "I" language that expresses your thoughts and feelings.

  2. Five steps to behaving assertively

a. Describe how you view the situation.

b. Disclose your feelings to help build empathy.

c. Identify the effects of the other person; behavior on you and others.

d. Be silent and wait for a response.

e. Paraphrase content and feelings

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